Casemate Publishing: Books Reviewed in 2008
Naval Warfare 1914 - 1918
Author: Tim Benbow
Forward by: Gary Sheffield
ISBN: 978- 1 -906626-05- 1
Publishers: Amber Books Ltd
Publication Date: October 2008
Publisher's Title Information
The struggle for naval supremacy helped create the conditions for the outbreak of World War (.After the coronation of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany's ambitions for its "place in the sun" sidelined the traditional and familiar rivalry between France and the British Empire. The naval arms race inspired by HMS Dreadnought may have captured the headlines, but the opening stages of the naval war were dominated by the threat from German cruisers stationed outside European waters, until they were hunted down and sunk by the Royal Navy, notably at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.
Germany switched its focus to the U-boat, seeing it as a weapon capable of winning the war by starving Britain into surrender. Unrestricted submarine warfare led to the sinking of millions of tonnes of shipping, but it would also force the USA to enter the war on the Allied side in 1917.
In the Mediterranean, the French fleet took the lead, while Austria-Hungary supported German actions. The Allied attempt in 1915 to use maritime power to break the strategic deadlock with an amphibious operation in the Dardanelles ultimately failed, although Allied sea power helped sustain the successful campaigns against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.
What would prove to be the decisive naval engagement of the war took place in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland. Whilst the clash itself was inconclusive, the German High Seas Fleet would be all but confined to port for the rest of the war, handing the initiative to the Royal Navy. The resultant command of the seas allowed the Allies to carry fresh American armies and much-needed supplies to Europe in 1917.
However, victory for the Allies was ultimately delivered by economic blockade. The prevention of imports of war materials, and even food, weakened the fighting power and morale of the German Army and Navy; it was the mutiny of the High Seas Fleet in October 1918 that prompted the German Revolution and the Kaiser's subsequent abdication.
Tim Benbow took a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Brasenose College, Oxford. He then moved to St. Antony's College, where he completed an M Phil, and a D Phil in International Relations, concentrating on strategic studies. He also spent a year at Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar and a year at King's College, London. After his doctorate, he remained at Oxford, conducting a research project and teaching International Relations and Strategic Studies, including one year as Tutor in Politics at University College. He spent two years teaching at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (and also taught at the University of Exeter, where he was an Honorary Fellow), before joining the Defence Studies Department at the Joint Services Command and Staff College in 2004.
Gary Sheffield is Professor of War Studies at the Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham. His publications include Forgotten Victory:The First World War - Myths and Realities (Headline), Somme (Cassell) and Douglas Haig:War Diaries and Letters 1914-18 (coeditor with John Bourne: Phoenix). Educated at Leeds University and King's College London, he has previously taught at the Department of War Studies, RMA Sandhurst and Joint Services Command and Staff College.
This excellent book covers all the important naval battles of WWI, viz, 'The East Coast Raids', 'Battle of Heligoland Bight 1914', 'Cuxhaven Raid 1914', 'Coronel 1914', 'Falkland Islands 1914', 'Battle of Dogger Bank 1915', 'Jutland 1916' and 'Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids 1918' and other important actions, most of which are indicated on a very clear and precise map inside the book's covers.
Some of these are not so well known. The Cuxhaven Raid may be seen as the birth of the 'carrier task force' concept. It was Christmas Day 1914 and British seaplanes were launched from their carriers to attack the German airship base near Cuxhaven. Since they had little idea of its appearance or even its exact location, not surprisingly results were negligible, but it did produce an aerial counter-attack on the seaplane carriers and their escorts. In this respect it was a highly significant event in the history of warfare: it was the first attempt to exert sea power upon land by means of the air, and it resulted in the first sea battle of a type that would become common in World War II, an engagement in which aircraft were the primary striking arms of both sides.
Before the well-illustrated chapters on the above events, the 'Introduction' discusses 'The coming of the war' with facts about iron-hulled ships such as HMS Warrior, the worlds first iron-hulled ship (1861). My Great Grandfather served in Warrior as a Gunner RMA. By that time she was in reserve (1875) and commanded by Captain William Whyte at Portland, Dorset.
Chapter 1 'Distant Waters' discusses the challenges faced by the Royal Navy caused by German ships stationed outside Europe and their battle fleets based across the North Sea and more importantly the submarine threat. Also included are full details of the cruise of the 'Emden' who sunk twenty-three vessels before being sunk by HMAS Sydney.
There are chapters on the 'Dardanelles and Gallippoli', 'The Battle of Jutland', 'The U-Boat Contained' and finally 'The Closing Stages' all expertly written up with full illustrations and maps. Since many of the battles were so complicated, it is vital to have good descriptive diagrams. Jutland is a good example where diagrams are needed to show 'The Battlecruiser Action' with the 'Run to the South' and 'The Run to the North', and 'The Main Fleet Action'.
You can of course buy individual books, which cover particular battles. However if you are looking for a general book on the naval battles of WWI this covers them all and is highly recommended.
Other titles available in The History of World War I:
The Western Front 1914-1916 Michael S. Neiberg
The Western Front 1917-1918 Andrew Wiest
The Eastern Front 1914-1920 Michael S. Neiberg & David Jordan
Gallipoli & The Middle East 1914-1918 Edward J. Erickson
The Balkans, Italy &Africa 1914-1918 David Jordan