20 Dec 22

The subject of How to Grow a Navy immediately appealed to this reviewer, with the added expectation associated with any new book by Geoff Till. As with his previous books, Till provides a sophisticated discussion of seapower, maritime strategy, naval history and the contemporary, with an ease of accessibility that will draw in the reader, even if new to the field. The opening of Till’s preface further entices the reader with his account of the inspiration for How to Grow a Navy: the reading of Henry Maydman’s Naval Speculations, published in 1691. Till will of course be very familiar to readers of the NR, and his breadth and depth of knowledge and experience is well-reflected in this book.

As Till explains in the opening to his first chapter, “developing maritime power and growing navies has had its advocates, many of whom have suspected that there’s more to it than building a few ships and drafting in some fishermen and soldiers to operate them”. Across 14 chapters, Till examines the process by which maritime power and navies are developed, with reference to numerous historical examples – some well-known such as Germany in the lead-up to the First World War, or Admiral Gorshkov and the growth of Soviet naval power; others less well-known. There is also much reference to the history and development of Chinese maritime power, including a valuable discussion of the influence of Admiral Liu Huaqing, a figure central to the development of the modern Chinese Navy.

Till’s analysis addresses subjects from ‘A Predisposition to the Maritime?’, the role of articulating a vision for the development of maritime power, to the wider grand strategic debates on the generation of maritime power and the resources-commitments problem, the maritime contribution in a joint context, through to ‘Establishing Naval Policy and Setting Strategy’. Till also discusses the wider requirements of the maritime defence industrial base, personnel, naval administration, the role of coastguards, fleet design, and maintaining maritime power. His conclusion focuses on the development of Chinese maritime power, again discussing the broader context, and linking back to the guiding thread throughout the book provided by Maydman.

As would be expected, How to Grow a Navy is a deeply fascinating and thought-provoking book. It follows academic convention, is extensively referenced, and includes a most valuable bibliography. There are typos and punctuation errors, which should have been identified in the proof-reading process; there are also a few minor errors, such as referring to the new Chinese Type 075 LHD as the Type 081, and describing the Astute-class as diesel-powered. However, those errors do not detract from the quality of the book. How to Grow a Navy will be a most valuable addition to the bookshelf of anyone concerned with the study or use of maritime power, the development of strategy, and national policy, or simply an interest in what it takes to build a navy. Till, in discussing readiness, states, “Because ‘performance’ is so much more difficult to quantify, there is a natural tendency to assess this by what you put into readiness rather than on what you get out of it – to focus on inputs rather than outputs”. How to Grow a Navy requires investment in time and attention to study, but its output to the reader in knowledge and understanding, will be considerable.