I’m a bit of a gruff creature when it comes to the commercialisation of Christmas – but there’s one thing that I fervently believe: a book is a present that, if well chosen for the recipient, will give hours of pleasure and be a lasting reminder in itself of someone putting thought, not just money, into a Yuletide gift. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone in this somewhat eclectic selection. They range from titles featuring the Napoleonic era to a biography of the admiral who created Armistice Day to an account of undersea war during World War II. So do consider adding one or more from this selection to your gift-buying list – or just indulging yourself!
Nelson’s Navy in 100 Objects by Gareth Glover
The Royal Navy of Nelson’s time was such a vast organisation that it is sometimes hard to comprehend its full scope. During the Napoleonic Wars it was the largest employer in the world. Not only did the Royal Navy maintain a fleet of close on 1,000 ships, including over 100 line-of-battle ships, but it was also responsible for the entire organisation of maintaining them at sea – from the recruitment of crews, the maintenance and protection of bases throughout the world, the production and delivery of food supplies to feed this vast fleet and the procurement of naval supplies to keep the ships at sea. The Royal Navy was often Britain’s last line of defence and many of its most successful officers became superstars, although none eclipsed Admiral Lord Nelson, who became the personification of the Navy. The whole country revelled in their successes and ‘Jolly Jack Tar’ became a source of national pride, a large number of naval terms being taken into normal life, some still used to this day. This lavishly illustrated volume is charged with atmosphere and will be of interest both to students of history and those with a specific interest in all things Nelson.
Mediterranean Naval Battles that Changed the World by Quentin Russell
Choosing seven decisive naval engagements from the Greek defeat of the Persians at Salamis in the fifth century BC to the Siege of Malta during the Second World War, historian Russell tells the story of the Mediterranean as a theatre of war at sea. Each of these fiercely-fought engagements changed the course of history. As well as focusing on each battle in detail, the history of the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean and the effect of the development of naval architecture and design on the outcomes is examined in this book. Lepanto was the last major battle fought between galleys; Navarino was the significant combat to be fought entirely by sailing ships; and Cape Matapan (where a young Duke of Edinburgh saw action) was the first operation to exploit the breaking of the Italian naval Enigma codes. The seven battles included are: Salamis (480 BC), Actium (31 BC), Lepanto (1571), the Nile (aka Aboukir Bay, 1798), Navarino (1827), Cape Matapan 1941 and the Siege of Malta 1940-42. A sweeping treatment indeed of the importance of the Mediterranean Sea through the ages.
‘Rosy’ Wemyss, Admiral of the Fleet by John Johnson-Allen
Rosslyn Wemyss, a distinguished admiral in his time, is largely forgotten today. As the Allied Naval Representative at the Armistice negotiations on 11th November, 1918, he left an indelible mark on the life of this country when he was responsible, with Marshal Foch, for the creation of Armistice Day. Wemyss joined the Navy at the age of 13 in 1877, at the same time as Prince George, the younger son of the Prince of Wales, they became lifelong friends. In 1915, then a rear admiral, he was tasked with creating a naval base at Mudros, to serve the Gallipoli campaign and was in command of the landings and then the evacuation of all the troops. The evacuation was so successful that only one man was lost from the approximately 140,000 who were taken off the beaches. From there, he was sent to Port Said to command the East Indies and Red Sea Station. For the next 18 months he was involved in supporting the Arab Revolt and helping T.E. Lawrence and the Arabs to oust the Turks from all the ports on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. In 1917 he returned to the United Kingdom to become Deputy First Sea Lord, stepping up to the post of First Sea Lord at the end of the year. A fascinating insight into the life of a top-ranking Admiral.
Total Undersea War by Aaron Hamilton
During the last year of World War II the once surface-bound diesel-electric U-boat ushered in the age of total undersea war with the introduction of an air mast, or ‘snorkel’ as it became known among the men who served in Doenitz’s submarine fleet. U-boats no longer needed to surface to charge batteries or refresh air; they rarely communicated with their command, operating silently and alone among the shallow coastal waters of the United Kingdom and across to North America. At first, U-boats could remain submerged continuously for a few days, then a few weeks, and finally for months at a time, and they set underwater endurance records not broken for nearly a quarter of a century. The introduction of the snorkel was of paramount concern to the Allies, who strove to frustrate the impact of the device before war’s end. Every subsequent wartime U-boat innovation was subordinated to the snorkel, including the new Type XXI ‘Electro-boat wonder weapon’. The snorkel’s introduction foreshadowed the nearly un-trackable weapon and instrument of intelligence that the submarine became and remains in the postwar world. This exhaustive treatment draws upon wartime documents from archives around the world. Extensive notes and references are included.
North Brittany & Channel Islands Cruising Companion by Peter and Jane Cumberlidge
This update of the popular pilot guide covering the North Brittany coast, the Channel Islands and the harbours on the west side of the Cherbourg peninsula is packed with comprehensive pilotage and nautical information as well as suggestions of what to do ashore, including the best places to eat. Flicking through the book many of the numerous colour photographs reminded me of some of the highlights of my trips for location research for the Kydd Series. In particular, the section on the Channel Islands brought back warm memories of St Peter Port in Guernsey and St Helier in Jersey. As well as spectacular photographs, the book is enhanced with colour charts. A must-have for yachtsmen cruising these waters.
Leith-Built Ships Volume 2 by R O Neish
I launched my naval career as a seagoing shipwright, so my interest in historical accounts of shipbuilding is not surprising. Scotland has a long proud history of this activity, most recently centred on the west, the Clyde in particular, but many people are unaware of the part played by the shipbuilders of Leith, in the east of Scotland. Leith had begun building ships some 400 years before the great shipyards of the Clyde and these vessels reached all corners of the globe. With a pedigree of shipbuilding second to none going back over 660 years of recorded history, the ships built at Leith deserve their place in history and this book, the second of a trilogy, continues the story focusing on the period 1918-1939. Among the fascinating tales is the launch then tragic loss of the largest sailing ship ever built in a British shipyard, the five-masted auxiliary barque Kobenhavn.