Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews PROVIDED BY - Rob Jerrard

Conway Maritime Press, Anovabooks 2007

Conway’s The War At Sea in Photographs 1939-1945

Edition: First (Hardback)

Author: Stuart Robertson & Stephen Dent

ISBN: 9781844860456

Publishers: Conway Maritime

Price: £25.00

Publication Date: 2007

Publicer's Title Information

The small, lightweight, 35mm cameras that were available by the time of the Second World War revolutionised war photography. Unencumbered by heavy equipment, including tripods and photographic plates, the photographer could now get much closer to the action and respond instinctively to changing situations, shooting a series of pictures on a single film. Although their smaller format meant that technically the images were usually less sharp and more grainy, this tonal harshness gave the pictures a gritty realism and immediacy. And with the easing of censorship, the photographers were able to publish unflinching images of conflict and the catastrophic consequences of war as never before. From a naval point of view, developments in submarine and aircraft carrier technology completely changed how a war would be fought at sea. Navies of the protagonists were expected to provide many support services, from the protection of convoys to the landing of troops on hostile shores, which literally enabled the war to go global. "Conway's War at Sea" describes the Second World War through the chronology of naval events. Chapters are organised by year, with a concise introduction followed by pages of photographs, each accompanied by an informative caption. They include the work of photojournalists on assignment and specialist naval photographers attached to a particular unit or ship, who captured the confusion of a sinking vessel or the moment of impact of a kamikaze attack. Often grainy, blurred, damaged, these intense images are balanced by the more organised, framed shots of naval personnel in training, in preparation for battle, and planning operations in shore bases, as well as dockyard workers and harbour facilities. From the scuttling of the Graf Spee and the Channel Dash of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, to the Operations Room at Western Approaches, and the US Marines wading ashore at Iwo Jima; from the amateur photography of a serviceman on board a destroyer to Robert Capa's images of the mayhem on Omaha Beach, this collection is a moving and informative addition to the library of anyone interested in the Second World War.


I think this will prove to be a very popular book with all Naval enthusiasts because it contains photographs not previously published.  The book states correctly that many photographs in today’s private collections were 'illegally' shot for sailors as souvenirs by official photographers whilst on board ship - known to the British photographers as 'Rabbit work' to supplement their wages. 

One of my tasks for the last decade has been to use my own Royal Naval website at to collect war and peace-time 'unofficial' photographs and I now have a large collection which I will pass on.

Opening the book at 1941 one inevitably confronts the now familiar sight of HMS Barham blowing up.  These pictures are correctly described as ‘some of the best known of the horrifying last moments of a British Battleship’.  John Turner, Gaumont British newsreel cameraman, who captured these images from on board HMS Valiant died 7 March 2007, aged 91.  According to this book, reports vary as to the number of torpedoes that struck Barham.  I have a copy of the log of HMS Queen Elizabeth for Tuesday 25 November 1941 and it records as follows, '16.25 Barham torpedoed, conning tower of submarine sighted, bearing 210, 1626 emergency turn to starboard, 1629 Barham listing 50 degrees to port, course 320 full ahead 22 knots, 1631 Barham blown up by 3 torpedoes, half of screen detached to save lives'. 

The evidence of the most senior surviving officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Reginald Stratton Brown was, "My impression was four".  Others say three.  One survivor who I had a telephone conversation with, said three.  He like my Uncle was a member of the Royal Marine Band.  See\royalnavy\barham\barham.htm

Whilst I think this is a superb book, it does suffer from having to cover such a long period and all the Navies involved.  An example of this is the loss of HMS Ark Royal with just one photograph on Page 82.  There exists a magnificent series of books, which admittedly could cost you a lot of money to purchase, ‘Britain at War the Royal Navy a Complete Record in Text and Pictures’.  There were 5 volumes, the volume which covers January 1941 - March 1942 has 387 illustrations and there are five photographs of the sinking of Ark Royal.  The one photograph in this book merely states that there is a destroyer alongside taking off crew.  In fact I think this is HMS Legion and it is known that some of the crew were taken off by HMS Laforey. 

Moving forward, another fine example are some excellent photographs of life on board a British Minesweeper, HMS Sandown.  Of course what makes this book worth having is the immense variety of photographs in black and white and colour of navies, including Britain (including Commonwealth), USA, Italy and Germany.

There are some photographs of crews relaxing such as a cricket net erected on the flight deck of HMS Formidable in Sydney harbour in 1945.  However one photograph on Page 137 set me wondering.  It was probably taken on HMS Indomitable 10 August 1942.  It states that the crew are dispersing on the flight deck.  They are all dressed in white shorts and white fronts and look as if they have just been dismissed from divisions.  But why are a few Ratings in white shoes and short white socks?

This superb book concludes as it should with the Japanese surrender and also U-Boats surrendering - those that did that is.  Is there any significance that the last photograph of all shows the crew playing cricket on the flight deck of a British Aircraft Carrier with the caption "This is clearly a no-ball".  Being 1945, the bigger game was over and they had been on the winning side - all that had gone before had been “not cricket”!

Rob Jerrard

The Naval Officer’s Pocket-Book 1944

Edition: 2007 Reprinted

Author: Compiled by Brian Lavery

ISBN: 9781844860548

Publishers: Conway

Price: £6.99

Publication Date: 20th August 2007

Publisher’s Title Information

‘The art of command be the complete master, and yet the complete friend of every man on board; the temporal lord and yet the spiritual brother of every rating; to be detached and yet not dissociated.’

A Seaman's Pocket-Book, 1943, re-issued by Conway in September 2006, has found huge appeal with the British public. Presented in the same format, the Officer's Handbook gathers together useful advice and instruction for those naval officers fighting the Second World War on all aspects of their job, expressed in the benevolent language of the day, when authority was respected.

The Handbook has been compiled and edited by Brian Lavery, who provides commentary and an introduction. Sections include: the Officer's Aid Memoire containing notes of the training course at one of the officer training schools; Notes for medical officers and treatment of battle casualties afloat; Notes for captains on taking command of their first ship; Notes for commanding officers; Notes on the handling and safety of ships and notes on dealing with disobedience and mutiny.

While suffused with nostalgia and charm, the various contents of this book are an authentic presentation of matters of training, authority and deportment in the wartime navy. The book is sure to appeal not only to those who served in the war or had a relative who was in the officer class, but also to anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of the day-to-day administration of the wartime navy.

The Author

Brian Lavery is one of Britain's leading naval historians and a prolific author. His most recent publication is the highly successful Churchill's Navy (2006) (ISBN 9781844860357).  Brian lives in Greenwich, London.


When Sir Alec Guinness was asked what was the best performance, he had ever given, he did not mention Kind Hearts and Coronets Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or even Star Wars. Instead he referred to "That of a very inefficient, undistinguished, junior officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.’  For in May 1943, I was in dubious command of LCI(L) (landing craft infantry (large) 124 with a crew of twenty..., We were all very young and inexperienced; my own lack of know-how and swift rash judgements hampered the Allied Cause like small but irritating gnatbites."

By mid-1943 the Royal Navy had endured nearly four years of total conflict, and expanded from 204,562 officers and men, including Royal Marines and reserves at the beginning of 1939, to a total of 660,000 in June 1943. It had to go well outside its normal recruitment range to find temporary officers from among those had no experience of the sea. Young men were conscripted into the Royal Navy. Possible officers were selected at a basic training camp, mostly on the basis of previous education, for the navy believed that high standards of literacy and numeracy were essential to get though the intensive course.

The selected men, known as CW candidates, were sent to sea for at least three months' active service as ordinary seamen, followed by an interview by a group of retired admirals. After that, the successful candidates were sent to HMS King Alfred, a shore training camp at Hove, with satellites at Lancing College and Mowden School. They were to train as 'seamen' or 'executive' officers. Engineers, aircrew and other specialists were recruited and trained separately.

King Alfred was commanded by Captain John  Pelly, who had retired from the navy in 1934 and was recalled at the start of the war. He interviewed each cadet personally, but otherwise he was a rather retiring figure.  His stated aim was,to instil in every man the alertness, enthusiasm, broadminded­ness, sense of responsibility, conscience and good humour (as well as a basic knowledge of technical subjects) which centuries of Service experience have shown to be necessary if a Naval Officer is to carry out his normal duties.'

By 1943 trainees were assumed to be 'proficient in the very elementary knowledge of seamanship, founded on the "Seaman's Pocket Book", though not all came up to standard .   After around three months' training, successful candidates were commissioned as temporary officers and wore the wavy stripes of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, though they were not volunteers. Those who failed the course at King Alfred were sent ignominiously to spend the rest of the war on the lower deck. Passes were commissioned as sub lieutenants with a single stripe on each arm. Those over 25 were likely to be promoted to full lieutenant quite quickly. Each man was given a choice of which type of ship he wanted to serve in, but the needs of the service were paramount. Destroyers were the most glamorous; closely followed by the fast, light craft of coastal forces. The greatest number of newly trained officers went to the two areas of largest growth in the navy: landing craft that would put the troops ashore in North Africa, Italy and Normandy, and the escort vessels that would defeat the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic and ensure the supply chain that was essential in winning the war.

In landing craft and the small ships used by coastal forces, promotion to command of a ship was often quite fast. A newly commissioned officer might spend a few months as first lieutenant before taking charge of a landing craft with a crew of about ten, and perhaps six tanks or 200 troops on board for a landing. Escort vessels were much larger, with up to ten officers and 150 men. Most King Alfred graduates would take charge of a watch at sea, and take responsibility for the welfare of a division of seamen. Each would also be responsible for a part of the ship's equipment as an anti­submarine, anti-aircraft or gunnery officer, signals or radar officer, and perhaps might undertake further training for the role. A few, such as the novelist Nicholas Monsarrat, would eventually take command of escort vessels after several years of service.

The Documents

There is no single document that sums up the experience of naval officers during the Second World War, but the seven pamphlets reproduced here deal with almost every aspect of life, except for fighting, and technical subjects like engineering. They include seamanship, naval law, leading officers and men, battle casualties, etiquette and paperwork. Together they give a very vivid picture of life on board a warship, and the great responsibilities borne by those who commanded them. In general, the Royal Navy was some way behind the United States Navy in producing clear, readable material for trainees. Mostly it relied on out-of-date official books, designed for career officers in big ships. These pamphlets were mostly produced informally, but they already reflected a great deal of wartime experience as well as centuries of tradition. They describe the duties of naval officers and the expectations placed on them during the almost intolerable strain of a relentless war. They are printed here roughly in the order of the seniority of those they were intended for, to give a progressive view of a wartime officer's career. They start with a manual for officer training, then through the duties and etiquette of medical officers and of junior officers in HMS Duncan. The last three deal with the responsibilities of captains, who might be very inexperienced and quite junior in rank in wartime.

1. The Officer's Aide Memoire

Standard naval textbooks on subjects like navigation were too long to be digested easily, while there were no modern works on how to run a small ship. The Officers Aide Memoire, issued under Captain Pelly's name in September 1943, was intended to fill this gap. He acknowledged that the leadership section came from `various sources'. In fact most of it is taken from the instructions issued to newly joined officers in HMS Hood by Captain Francis Pridham, which was in its second edition by January 1938. At first sight it seems strange that a document intended for regular officers in the biggest warship in the world should be adapted for temporary officers in landing craft, escorts, minesweepers and MTBs.  But the peacetime navy did very little to train its officers in leadership. Roderick Macdonald, commissioned in 1939, wrote, `Public school boys were for some reason assumed to have absorbed Leadership at school since it was not taught or alluded to in the training cruiser.'`' Secondly the navy was facing a crisis with its petty officers in 1938, as many of the older men had recently retired, while the navy was going through first expansion programme for 20 years, and the strains were already showing. The Aide Memoire also included much detail on ship administration, and a thumbnail sketch of the principles of navigation. It had many references to paragraphs in the King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, for it was found in wartime that passages  and A. I. is too comprehensive a volume and its relevant passages too difficult to find..."

The Aide Memoire was produced after King Alfred had been operational for more than three years, when its training system was at its peak. It forms a remarkably concise distillation of 30 years' experience as a naval officer and was designed to enable an officer, who might be confronted with an administrative problem, to find the answer quickly by looking up the relevant reference to the governing regulation or authority. The Aide Memoire proved extremely popular to officers serving at sea, judging by the number of requests for copies from Commanding Officers.

Most of its lessons in leadership and navigation are still valid today. King Alfred was one of the great successes of the war, training 22,500 naval officers.

This can truly be said to be pocket-sized, at least it would have been in 1944 because in those days male clothing would have accommodated it. I am not so sure now? This book is packed with information and diagrams including the 'typical gunnery layout of a modern destroyer' inside the front cover and the 'plan of the Bridge of HMS Duncan' (a 'D' Class Leader D 99), launched 7 July 1932 and sold for scrap September 1945.

Also included is a diagram of the 'Wardroom and some of the Officers' cabins of a River Class Frigate'.

There is an extremely good Introduction explaining the 'Documents', viz, 'Officers' Aide Memoir HMS King Alfred 1943', still worth reading since it covers such matters as leadership, bearing and example, firmness and fairness, loyalty to your ship, smartness and knowledge in serving your men. It is interesting to note that for the purposes of the Naval Discipline Act a Leading Seaman was not a Superior Officer and striking one came under Section 43 of the Naval Discipline Act, 'an act to the prejudice of good order and Naval discipline' - now where have I heard that before? That would be telling!

Other documents are 'HMS Duncan - Captain's Standing Orders' written by Commander Peter Gretton who had a long distinguished Naval career. In the early 1950's he served first as Naval Assistant to the 1st Sea Lord, then commander of the cruiser HMS Gambia, before going to Washington [United States] as a naval chief of staff on the Joint Services Mission. From 1956-57 he was Commodore in command of the naval task group for the atomic bomb tests at Christmas Island, being promoted to Rear-Admiral in 1958. He was Senior Naval Member of the Directing Staff of the Imperial Defence College (1958-60) before serving as Flag Officer in command of sea training (1960-61), then a Vice-Admiral, a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff and 5th Sea Lord until his retirement in 1963.

He died 11 November 1992 aged 80 and his Obituary can be found in 'The Daily Telegraph Book of Naval Obituaries' Grub Street Publishers, 2004 Pages 92-96. Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Gretton as he became wrote several books including 'Crisis Convoy the story of HX231', which he dedicated to 'My Wife - Ex-WRNS'. The remaining documents are 'Your Ship', 'The Home Fleet Destroyers Orders' and 'Dealing with Mutiny'.

This is a super little book which I am sure would still benefit today's Officers as so much should still be relevant. There is a Glossary of an Acronyms and an Index, however the 1944 - 45 Calendar like so much else in the book will be of historical interest only.

I will leave you with the words of wisdom to be found on the rear cover

'...a sailor does not want to be mustered on someone else's messdeck to hear a succession of vague and longwinded discourses on nothing in particular. Neither does he enjoy false heroics or "flannel". Like his tot, the sailor prefers his talks neat... make certain that you have something quite definite to say, and work out exactly how to say it beforehand. If Winston Churchill has to rehearse all his speeches, there is not reason why you should not.'

Rob Jerrard

Warship 2007

Edition: Vol XXIX

Author: Edited by John Jordan

ISBN: 9781844860418

Publishers: Conway (Anova Books)

Price: £40

Publication Date 2007

Warship is devoted to the design, development and service history of the world's combat ships. The contributors are respected authorities; so detailed and accurate information is the keynote of all the articles - fully supported by plans, tables and photographs.

Volume XXIX includes:


Jon Wise recounts the tortuous development of the Sea Slug missile. The article reveals how poor choices of configuration and propulsion in the early stages of the missile's development impacted on stowage and handling arrangements on board ship, ensuring that Sea Slug became a `dead end' in the development of an effective surface-to-air missile for the Royal Navy.


David Hobbs writes about a little-known plan drawn up in 1917 by the Staff of the Grand Fleet for a major air strike on the Ger­man High Seas Fleet at Willelmshaven using massed torpedo­ carrying aircraft launched from the decks of existing and spe­cially-converted aircraft-carriers.


For David K Brown the eminent Victorian constructor Nathaniel Barnaby was a much misunderstood man, blamed for decisions over which he had little influence and, conversely, credited for the work of others.


John Jordan completes his study of the French flotilla craft of the interwar period with this article on the two-ship Mogador class. The fastest and most powerful ships of their type when completed in 1938-39, they were beset by technical and con­ceptual flaws.


Vincent O'Hara and Enrico Cernuschi tell the story of naval aviation in the Italian Navy from the early years to the present. The article explains the failure of the Regia Marina to build a single aircraft-carrier during the interwar period.


William Schleihauf describes the gunnery trials the Royal Navy conducted using the ex-German battleship Baden in 1921. The main focus of the trials was to test the effectiveness of the new generation of APC shells delivered to the Grand Fleet in 1918, but the lessons learned would also be incorporated in the pro­tection system of the new generation of battleships.


Hans Lengerer writes about the design process of the IJN destroyers of the Hatsuharu class, which was plagued by con­flicting demands and resulted in ships with serious stability problems; these had to be resolved by major redesign and recon­struction.


Mark Brady tells the story of the Destroyer Base built for the Grand Fleet during the First World War, and recounts the `detective story’, which led to the identification of destroyers in a famous aerial photograph of the base taken by an airship dur­ing the final year of the war.


Philippe Caresse's article on the French pre-dreadnought battle­ship Iena commemorates the centenary of her loss in 2007. Iena was being refitted in dock at Toulon when a series of massive magazine explosions devastated the after part of the ship, with considerable loss of life.

THE LOSS OF THE BATTLESHIP NOVOROSSIISK Stephen McLaughlin investigates the loss of the Soviet battle­ship Novorossiisk (ex-Italian Giulio Cesare) at Sevastopol in 1955, together with many of her crew, and reviews the various theories which have been advanced regarding the cause of the explosion which resulted in her sinking.


Conrad Waters summarises the significant naval events and developments during 2006. Tables of current force strengths are provided for all the major regions.


Short articles on interesting aspects of worldwide warship histo­ry, heritage and research, including detailed plan and profile views of the French CDS Bouvines by Ian Sturton; an account of the restoration of part of the armament of the monitor M33 by Peter Lawton and Jo Lawler; a description by David K Brown of two little known post-war anti-torpedo projects; and follow-ups to various articles in recent editions of Warship.


Reviews of some of the latest publications on naval history, including Norman Friedman's major new book British Destroyers and Frigates.


Soviet cruisers of the Second World War from the Boris Lemachko collection, with detailed captions provided by Richard Worth.

Yachts on Canvas

Edition: 2005

Author: James Taylor, FRSA

ISBN: 1844860205

Publishers: Conway Maritime Press

Price £30

Publication Date: 31 Aug 2005

Publisher’s Title Information

Since the seventeenth century, artists everywhere have been fascinated by yachts. Whether drawn to the vigour of ocean racing or the quiet nostalgia of cruising, they have found the yacht to be a rich and relentless artistic source.
Truly international in scope, "Yachts on Canvas" reproduces the finest achievements of some of the world's leading maritime artists. Oils, watercolours, pen-and-ink, collages - these images span the various styles, times and nationalities of yachting.
James Taylor's comprehensive text accompanies the compositions. In addition to providing a detailed study alongside each image, the author also presents a chronological history of the yacht. Bonham's, Christie's, Sotheby's, the New York Yacht Club, the Royal Cork Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron have all contributed towards the collation of these paintings, many of which have never before been published. The broad and diverse nature of this international selection means that it is of interest to many: not only to yachting and art enthusiasts, but also to collectors, auction houses and historians.

About the Author

James Taylor FRSA read Art History at St Andrews and Museum Studies at Manchester University. After a time at Phillips Fine Art Auctioneers and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, he was appointed Assistant Curator of Pictures at the National Maritime Museum in 1988. He contributes regularly to a variety of journals such as Antique Collector and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He has published Marine Painting (Studio Editions, 1995) and has curated major exhibitions on yachting art.


This is a book for a wide audience, especially maritime historians, sailing craft enthusiasts and marine artists.  Those in the business of selling or displaying such works will find this book an essential tool and a source of shear pleasure.  Covering the period from 1600 up to these modern days one is made to realise that the racing and pleasure yachts have been and continues to be a way of life to so many owners.

The well-chosen format of 11" x 112/3 " gives the 145 paintings a change to show off their splendours. One of the first in the book and finest examples of the art of using format to full advantage can be found on the introduction spread with the painting by John Mecray of  'Columbia versus Shamrock 1'.  The viewer is given the chance to be amazed at the size of the boats when compared with the crews on deck and the astonishing amount of canvas they must have carried.  There is also the chance, thanks to the fine quality printing, to study the artist's truly great technique in oil paint.

James Taylor is more than qualified to present such a subject. His serious connections with the National Maritime Museum alone, make him more than competent to gather together such a fine catalogue of maritime paintings and write about the artists, painting techniques, composition and some most interesting high­lights of history behind the subjects in a most entertaining manner.

The book covers 400 years of the pleasure of yachts and yachting, so the reader can be treated to and study the change of style and technique by marine artists.  All sailing craft whether they are mercantile or military are beautiful in one way or another but yachts have a special place in the annals of maritime art.  Within those four centuries of yachting, the period which is most revered is the 19th century.  This period seems to be more grandly covered than any other.  From the rakish schooners and seemingly over- canvassed cutters through to the amazing 'J' class boats into the 20th century, the subject has been covered by artists so that there is hardly a single vessel of note that has not been recorded in paint.  As marine artists are noted for technical accuracy, these paintings are a great source for researchers and maritime historians.

123 marine artists are featured to one extent or another in this book, many of them are written about in detail by James Taylor. His expert knowledge of the subject means that he can give a good insight into their paintings according to the amount and type of training they had. This book contains not only a glorious selection of the very best yacht paintings, but most interesting accounts of the lives and working practices of the artists.

Every painting in this book has some detail or feature worthy of study but there is one that is such a gem for what has been left out rather than put in. One of my favourite marine paintings of all time is to be found on page 117. It is wonderful in every way. I love it more for the fact that the artist, Charles Murray Padday, failed to give the helmsman and feet!

John Batchelor

Aviation, Marine, Military Artist

Come Hell & High Water

Edition: HB

Author: Jean Hood

ISBN: 1844860345

Publishers: Conway Maritime

Price: £20

Publication Date: 28th Sept 2006

Publisher’s Title Information

This collection of 17 remarkable maritime stories stretches from 1752 to 2005 across several countries, including warships and merchantmen, steam and sail, the humble and the prestigious. Encompassing the major causes of maritime disaster - war, weather, navigation, human failings and technology - it highlights the themes and qualities that make the maritime drama so compelling: and it dares to challenge the popular perception of the Titanic as the greatest shipwreck story of all time.

The drunken captain of an unseaworthy ferry who refuses to return to port in bad weather because he would have to refund the fares; the naval captain who entrusts the navigation of his frigate to a passenger; the crew who callously ignored freezing survivors on a dismasted wreck; the passengers who seriously believed a ship could be unsinkable. But for every instance of cruelty, criminal negligence and bad luck over the past 250 years there is another of courage, leadership, humanity and sheer audacity: the Americans who went to save the crew of the Squalus submarine trapped at a depth beyond the capability of any previous rescue equipment; the French fisherman who swam through heavy seas to a convict ship in distress; the German commander who risked his life and his U-boat to help survivors; the Spaniard who used his bowsprit as a lifeline. It brings dramatic stories, some barely known outside their own countries, some inexplicably neglected in their own, to vivid life and asks the question: what are the ingredients of a great maritime drama?

The Author

Jean Hood studied English at the University of Durham, and spent many years working as Information Officer at Lloyd's Register of Shipping. She is the author of Marked for Misfortune and Trafalgar Square: A Visual History of London's Landmark Through Time.


This is a fascinating compilation of 17 individual maritime incidents.  The stories have been carefully chosen by the author to be those less well known in popular history, the exceptions being the Titanic and Kursk.  Well researched and presented, these stories span 253 years of seafaring encompassing military and civilian vessels ranging from mighty warship to coastal paddle steamer.  The book gives an insight into the spectrum of human nature from its very worst to its very best, reflected in the characters portrayed.

 Desperate to find sanctuary, the survivors of a sailing ship destroyed by fire, journey along the South American coast.  Treachery and mutiny among the shipwrecked crew of an East Indiaman, who using collective skills built a vessel and sailed to safety along the African coast.  Battered by a hurricane force storm in the Atlantic, a convoy of decimated sailing ships battle for survival.  Drifting crippled, a merchantman is cruelly left unaided by a passing ship.  A French frigate commanded by an incompetent aristocrat, is badly navigated and grounded, inept attempts at refloating her lead men to commit acts of self preservation in boats leaving the majority to a uncertain fate aboard an awful raft in an act of criminal culpability, incredible tales of inhumanity, suffering and cannibalism follow.  Put to sea in overwhelming weather by a greedy captain and owner, a Liverpool paddle steamer bound for Anglesey is wrecked, resulting in a needless loss of lives.  A ship bound for Australia with women prisoners aboard is beached on the French coast by the weather with no hope of refloating and doomed to be wrecked by the tide.  Survivors aboard a stricken paddle steamer out of New York in the Atlantic, are rescued by the determined efforts of others.  A flawed order from an Admiral attempting to display naval superiority, goes unchecked by his subordinates leading to a disastrous collision and subsequent loss of ship and lives in calm waters with no enemy action.  Those lost on a vessel bound for Rio are rescued and subsequently cared for by Spanish locals.  The author, challenging some of the popular beliefs, reviews the titanic disaster.  Determination, tenacity, technological development and experimentation made the first submarine rescue a possibility and reality.

A brave and daring raid by mini- submersibles on British warships in Alexandria in 1941 was successful and showed that the Italians were capable of courage and military strategy.  U-boat operations during WW2 are a controversial subject as is the story of an attempted rescue by one crew following the sinking of a liner by them.  One heroic merchant captain of the 1950s, and his rescuer survived together, attempting to salvage his ship while clandestine calls were made to the Daily Mirror from darkest Cornwall.  Finally the ill-fated Kursk,  cover-up and subsequent international controversy.  Five years later, it all ended very differently when similar circumstances tested new resolves.

The book is completed with an interesting, well-written, thought-provoking conclusion, which encompasses the whole subject of seagoing dangers and disasters and ends by questioning the realities of the popular myth of ‘women and children first’.

John Shaw

Send A Gunboat: The Victorian Navy and Supremacy at Sea 1854-1904

Edition: Revised 2007 (1967 originally Published)

Authors: Antony Preston & John Major

ISBN: ISBN 10: 0851779239 ISBN 13:9780851779232

Publishers: Conway Maritime (Anova Books)

Price £25

Publication Date: March 2007

Publisher’s Title information

Since its original publication, 'Send a Gunboat' has remained the standard reference work on the remarkable story of the Victorian Royal Navy's fleet of small warships, which enforced the Pax Britannica around the world for half a century.  As Professor Andrew Lambert states in his Foreword to this revised edition: ‘Despite the emergence of much new work since 1967, addressing almost every aspect of the subject ... the book remains the baseline for any study of naval force in British Imperial diplomacy between the Crimean War of 1854-56 and the Entente Cordiale of 1904.’

The period is greatly misunderstood, and the phrase ‘gunboat diplomacy’ has generally been used to suggest a crude use of naval strength to bully and coerce weaker nations.  In fact, the Pax Britannica was a much more subtle and complex concept, calling for the use of limited force to create a favourable climate for international trade. The book is divided into two sections: the first examines the role of the gunboat in British foreign policy during those critical 50 years; the second provides a comprehensive listing of all the vessels of the gunboat navy from the Crimean War up to 1914 with specifications and details of launch and fate. The second section is supported with a number of appendices including a brand new section on HMS Gannet, the last surviving small ship of the Victorian navy which, as a composite screw sloop, is representative of the smaller warships built to patrol the shores of the British Empire.

With a Foreword by Andrew Lambert and Afterword by Eric Grove, which together set this classic work in context and bring it up to date with an examination of whether ‘gunboat diplomacy’ can be applied to the modern age, the revised edition is fully illustrated throughout with more than 100 additional images to the original, including rare photographs, making it an indispensable addition to the library of naval historians and enthusiasts of the Victorian navy.

The Authors

Antony Preston is generally regarded as the most respected naval commentator and historian of his generation.  He was born in 1938 in Salford, Lancashire, and educated at King Edward VII School, Johannesburg, and the University of Witwatersrand.  He wrote numerous books, the first of which was ‘Send a Gunboat’, and contributed extensively to naval magazines.  His long-standing relation­ship with Conway Maritime Press began in the 1970s when he was one of the editors of the Warship Profile series. He was the found­ing editor of the Warship annual and returned to the editorship in 1996 until his death in 2004.  He was also the author of the Royal Navy Submarine Service: A Centennial History and World's Worst Warships, and was a major contributor to Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships series.

John Major was born in 1936 and educated at West Hartlepool Grammar School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.  He did his National Service in the Royal Navy, and was present at the Suez operation.  He began his academic career at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, ending as Reader in International History at the University of Hull. His publications include articles on the United States Navy, Prize Possession: the United States and the Panama Canal 1903-1979, The Year of D-Day: the 1944 Diary of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, and History of Quotations.

Professor Andrew Lambert is Laughton Professor of Naval History at King's College, London.

Dr Eric Grove is Director of the Centre for International Security and War Studies at the University of Salford.

We are reminded in the Introdution that 'Send a gunboat! is a phrase that can evoke the spirit of nineteenth-century imperialism in a powerful way? What phrase could rouse such deep conflicting emotions, the nostalgic longing for vanished glory or a passionate rejection of Victorian arrogance? Yet 'gunboat diplomacy' is a phenomenon largely misunder­stood by its supporters and its detractors.


This is as it says a reprint of a pioneering book with the story enlarged since 1967 when it was first published. 

Appendix D tells the story of the last survivor, HMS Gannet.  There are new illustrations, however, all of the old illustrations have been retained. 

Some of the names are familiar because they gave their name to the shore base, eg HMS Dolphin.  In ‘The Genealogy of the Gun Boat Navy’ on Page 179 the ‘Dolphin Class Sloops’ are discussed with some fine photographs.  Dolphin was used at Gosport (Fort Blockhouse) where she housed submarine crews and ultimately gave her name to the submarine base.  There is a black and white photograph of her alongside, moored at Fort Blockhouse in 1908 and another as a Training Ship at Leith Nautical College, where she was in 1967 - however she went for scrap in 1977.

Another familiar name is ‘Dryad’.  HMS Rattler a ‘Bramble Class Gunboat’ was reduced to harbour service in 1910 and renamed ‘HMS Dryad’.  She is shown in a photograph on Page 182 and included in the photograph are HMS Vernon and HMS Warrior (1860), by that time hulks.  Dryad finished up as a navigational school ship, which of course is how HMS Dryad at Southwick, Hampshire got its name.  Having served in Dolphin, Vernon and Dryad it is fascinating to learn how the names developed.

The last photograph in the book indicates the vulnerability of such ships, it is a photograph of the crew of HMS Wasp, all 73 lost on passage from Singapore to Hong Kong in 1877.

Many of these gunboats had very varied careers their useful life being extended by this method, eg Melita built at Malta, served Mediterranean Fleet, then as a boom defence vessel and finally a salvage ship. 

For the Gun Boat the end came in about 1905 evidenced by extracts from the ‘Fisher papers’ in which Sir John Fisher set out his views.  The Gunboat can be said to have reigned from 1854 to 1914, Fisher said:-

"Gunboats, and all vessels of like class, have been grad­ually losing value except for definite purposes under spe­cial conditions.  As far as this country is concerned, the very places consecrated as the spheres of gunboat activity are those remote from the covering aid of large ships... since the redistribution of the Fleet the Empire has had to do without the ubiquitous gunboat, and, if the truth be told, scarcely seems to have missed ...."

The author’s of this book point out that, 'to this the opposition countered with the argument that while Fisher's policy certainly covered the heart of the Empire (the British Isles), it left the arteries (that is, the supply routes) wide open.  In other words, although the Navy was to have its battle-fleet to defend Home waters against enemy attack, it was to be denied the equally vital supporting craft indispensable in a national emergency.  The result would be a service as top-heavy - and as vul­nerable - as an Army consisting solely of artillery'.

This book covers all aspects of the gun boat from its Crimean debut to the end and has excellent Appendices covering,  inter alia, 'Ships Lost', 'Those Afloat in 1867', 'Those Afloat in 1876',  'Those Afloat in 1889' and 'HMS Gannet Survival and Restoration' (She is now at Chatham, Kent and open to the public). 

Her Motto perhaps sums it all up, 'Deeds not words'.

Rob Jerrard


"Royal Navy & Maritime Book Reviews" Copyright Rob Jerrard