14 Oct 19
Posted by: James Bosbotinis

Having principally focused on maritime strategy and naval aviation, this reviewer was keen to develop a greater knowledge and understanding of sub-sea warfare. The Deadly Trade seeks to provide a ‘complete history of submarine warfare from Archimedes to the present’, an arguably ambitious goal, and the reason for the book’s 729 pages. The author, Iain Ballantyne, is however, well-placed to write such a book. Ballantyne will be familiar to readers as the Editor of the naval magazine Warships International Fleet Review, and books on subjects including the destruction of the Bismarck, the Royal Navy Submarine Service, and the ships and submarine to bear the name Warspite.

The Deadly Trade is divided into four sections, encompassing: ‘Genesis Ancient Times to 1914’, which covers the early history of efforts to develop sub-surface/submarine warfare. This is followed by ‘Blood in the Water 1914 to 1919’ and ‘Contagion 1920-1945’, which principally examine the role of submarine warfare in the two World Wars, but also discussed German efforts to maintain submarine design, construction and operational expertise. The final section, ‘Only the Dead 1946 to Present Day’, primarily focuses on the Cold War rivalry between the US and Soviet Union, but also examines submarine operations in the Korean War, the 1971 India-Pakistan War (a fascinating account), and operations in the Falklands War, and Operation DESERT STORM (particularly with regard to Royal Navy diesel-electric submarines). The role of submarines in the post-Cold War period is also discussed, including the contribution of submarines to operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, 2011 intervention in Libya, and Russia’s maritime resurgence. North Korea’s efforts to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability and China’s naval development are also discussed. The development of the submarine by the early 21st century is described by Ballantyne as having “…been transformed from the weapon of the weak against the strong into a hammer for the strong to wield against comparatively weak rogue regimes or elusive terrorist groups”.

The breadth and depth of the author’s research of, and engagement with the subject is evident. The Deadly Trade provides a fascinating, highly detailed yet compelling and accessible history of submarine warfare. It is very well-written and engages the reader effectively. Although Ballantyne discusses such issues as the evolution of submarine technology, the changing roles of submarines in naval strategy, and the dynamics of deterrence, the author’s style of writing ensures that the book will be of interest and clear to the casual reader. The depth and breadth of the author’s research is commendably illustrated by the comprehensive endnotes and expansive ‘Bibliography and Sources’, which will be particularly valuable to researchers. This covers 40 pages, and is sub-divided into factual and fictional books, collections of official documents, newspaper articles, magazine and periodical articles, obituaries, museum archival materials, official reports, online resources, television documentaries, and interviews the author has conducted with serving and veteran submariners. The book also features useful maps, diagrams and black and white illustrations, and three photographic plates, the last of which includes colour photographs and illustrations. The Deadly Trade is written and presented to a high standard, with only a very few minor typos, although the 1999 accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by a United States Air Force B-2A bomber is misattributed to submarine-launched cruise missiles. This does not detract from what is an excellent book. The Deadly Trade will appeal greatly to the casual reader and those with an academic or professional interest in the subject. Moreover, at £12.99, the book is excellent value for money. The Deadly Trade is highly recommended.