Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two Books You Should Read

I am making a serious effort to read an average of one book per week this year.  Here an reviews of the last two returned to the bookshelf completed.

First up is Paul G. Halpern's "The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1914-1918"(Naval Institute Press, 1987).

Any book of First World War naval history is doomed to be anticlimactic. Unless the author veers into "speculative fiction", there is NOT going to be a sea-going showdown in the Adriatic, Black Sea, or even in the North Sea.  What emerges from this study by Paul Halpern is an incredibly documented  examination of naval strategy, as influences by procurement, politics, and often personalities.

The major powers entered the final summer of peace expecting to one day see a major fleet action between the forces of France and Britain, on one side, and Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the other. When Italy chose to remain neutral, then eventually join the Allies, the Austrian fleet was facing a potentially overwhelming force.  A combination of poor equipment, inter-Allied jealousy, poor allocation of  resources, and a huge learning curve in anti-submarine warfare led to the Austrians being able to maintain a "fleet in being" long after their opponents should have forced their hand.

Halpern gives many examples of the logistical shortcomings faced by both sides. Due to the location of  some Allied repair centers, in order to maintain thirty destroyers on station, it was necessary to have ninety available. Italian capital ships seldom left port, because of the threats of mines and submarines. Shortages of coal and oil kept many boilers 'cold' while in port. when an emergency arose, the ships needed were not ready.  Wooden trawlers, so important to the maintenance of the anti-submarine Barrages, were on duty for such extended periods that their hulls became unseaworthy.

Submarine warfare dominates the action in the book. The political effects are discussed at length, especially the Austrian reaction to German unlimited warfare, and the use of Austrian flags on German subs, when attacking vessels belonging to nations not yet at war with Germany.

This book is not a "light" or easy read, but it is a very important one for those seeking to understand why the Allies did not pursue a more aggressive strategy in the Mediterranean and Adriatic. It deserves a place on the shelf of anyone interested in Naval or diplomatic history.

My second review is on a subject I never tire of studying: the Monitor and the Merrimack.  William C. Davis wrote "Duel Between the First Ironclads" in 1975.

This book moves at a brisk pace, following the design and building of the first two ironclad ships to see battle. Some of the in-fighting among the designers and manufacturers is covered, particularly the animosity between Virginia  designers John Porter and John Brooke. There is a good discussion of the design of the ships armored protection,and a basic description of the guns mounted on the two vessels.

Both of the days of battle at Hampton Roads are covered in some detail, as is the later history of both ships, and the men who commanded them.  At only 170 pages, plus notes, this book is an ideal quick and enjoyable read, full of action. There are forty-one illustrations and photos.

NEXT WEEK: Memoir of Battle at Sea: Hampton Roads 1862

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