30 Jul 19
Posted by: Simon Bellamy

According to its editorial, this edition of an annual volume has been expanded for 2019, with more feature articles than before. The result is an extraordinarily wide-ranging, if eclectic, collection of papers on warship design, development and operational history. This diverse coverage, both in terms of nations and eras, is immediately evident from a glance at the table of contents. The fourteen articles include subjects as varied as the design of a late nineteenth century French battleship; development of the Japanese fleet which defeated Russia’s in their war of 1904-5; and, intriguingly, Italy’s plans in the late 1950s to build a fleet of nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines. Closer to home, there are contributions on the conversion of a British armed merchant cruiser in 1939, and an analysis of Netherlands-UK cooperation on equipment programmes in the Cold War.

However, operational histories and general ship design are not the only topics, with some articles focusing on very specific issues. There is a piece on a turbine developed for Royal Navy capital ships before the First World War, and one on magazine explosions in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Other articles cover smaller vessels, such as Imperial German Navy torpedo boats or Australia’s first class of destroyers, and there is even a feature on a 1930s coast defence battery at Toulon. Book reviews, brief notes on little-known aspects of warship history, and a photo gallery, with extraordinary images of the Polish Navy in the fateful days of the late 1930s, complete the book. The editor has assembled a team of authors from an impressively wide range of countries and professional backgrounds, including a naval architect, a marine engineer, retired officers and several historians, notably David Hobbs, author of a number of well-known works on the Royal Navy.

As one would expect from this publisher, the work has very high production standards and is attractively produced. Articles are generously illustrated with high-quality photographs and detailed yet clear design drawings, whilst extensive footnotes indicate the depth of the authors’ research. The technical nature of the content could make for rather dry reading, but the illustrations and a well-conceived layout, with short articles and plenty of subheadings, have created an accessible and readable text. From the editorial, written in April 2018, it is clear that the 2020 volume will have a full complement of articles on similar subjects.

With its focus on issues such as ship design and construction, the book is more for the connoisseur than for those with a more general interest in naval history. However, for an academic reader there will be much of interest, and it will no doubt find a place in research libraries. By covering such a wide range of topics, the book lacks a sense of coherence which might have enabled the editor to highlight themes or draw conclusions with wider implications. However, the undoubted benefit of choosing such esoteric material is that readers will learn about issues which surely could not be easily researched from many other sources. If uncovering neglected topics for a specialist audience is an aim of the book, the editor and his contributors have succeeded admirably.