The Decline of European Naval Forces

The Decline of European Naval Forces: Challenges to Sea power in an Age of Fiscal Austerity and Political Uncertainty. By Jeremy Stohs. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2018.
Reviewed by David Hobbs

JEREMY STOHS is an Austrian American defence analyst at Kiel University’s Institute for Security Policy and its associated Centre for Maritime Strategy and Security. He is also a non-resident fellow of the Austrian Centre for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies and this book is one of a series produced by Kiel University on sea power. The author is, therefore, well connected and his subject is a timely reminder of the importance of sea power that has the potential to stimulate thought and discussion. Continue reading

Know thy enemy: Naval intelligence in SE Asia

Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Asia by Richard A. Mobley and Edward J. Marolda
Reviewed by LCDR Mark Munson, USN

Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Asia by Richard A. Mobley and Edward J. Marolda is the seventh book in the Naval History and Heritage Command’s The U.S. Navy and the Vietnam War series, and addresses the role of U.S. Navy intelligence in the Vietnam War. It serves as useful reference for both students of the Vietnam War and Navy intelligence, illuminating both the drastic technological changes that have taken place over the last 50 years, as well as the unchanging nature of core intelligence principles. Continue reading

Seven at Santa Cruz: The Life of Stanley ‘Swede’ Vejtasa

Seven at Santa Cruz: The Life of Fighter Ace Stanley ‘Swede’ Vejtasa. By Ted Edwards. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2018
Reviewed by Tim Coyle

The recent discovery of the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS ‘Lexington’, sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea, revealed the physical remains of this gallant ship and crew and reminds us of its importance in the battle which was pivotal in the Pacific War and its significance to Australia. The battle, fought 4 to 8 May 1942, is commemorated annually in Australia, together with our US allies. Among the ghostly images in the ship was a Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter showing, in brilliant colour illuminated by the remotely operated vehicle’s powerful lights, four rising sun flags indicative of aerial victories against Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft by that plane and pilot. Continue reading

India and China at Sea. Competition for Naval Dominance

India and China at Sea. Competition for Naval Dominance in the Indian Ocean. Edited by David Brewster

Reviewed by Anthony Bergin*

Beijing claims the South China Sea as China’s own. But it completely rejects any notion that the Indian Ocean should be treated either as India’s ocean or as an Indian preserve. The implications of these inconsistent positions may become increasingly important in the China–India relationship, and have important consequences for other countries in the region. Continue reading

Earl Beatty: The Last Naval Hero

Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty: The Last Naval Hero – An Intimate Biography. By Stephen Roskill. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 1980 – rereleased with new introduction 2018
Reviewed by Tim Coyle

THIS book’s name, at first sight, might seem to some students of the Royal Navy in the First World War as overly grandiose; particularly labelling Beatty as ‘the last naval hero’. Continue reading

Naval Officers under Hitler

Naval Officers under Hitler: The Men of Crew 34. By Eric C. Rust. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1991, paperback reprint 2017.
Reviewed by Gregory P. Gilbert

AT the beginning of 1934 a group of German 17 to 18 year olds commenced their service in the German Navy. Ever since their time of joining they were known as Crew 34. Continue reading

The Life of the Third Reich’s Highest Scoring U-boat Commander

Otto Kretschmer: The Life of the Third Reich’s Highest Scoring U-boat Commander. By Lawrence Paterson
Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 2018.

Reviewed by John Johnston.

SINKING or damaging over 300,000 tons of British, allied, and neutral shipping between the outbreak of war in September 1939 and his capture in March 1941 made Otto Kretschmer the Tonnenkönig or tonnage king of the German U-boat service in the Second World War. Continue reading

The Luftwaffe and the War at Sea 1939-1945

The Luftwaffe and the War at Sea 1939-1945: As seen by Officers of the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. Edited by David Isby. Greenhill Books, Barnsley, 2005, paperback edition 2017.
Reviewed by Gregory P. Gilbert.

FROM the earliest days of military flight the political struggle for control over maritime air power has been a recurring leitmotif. Many of our Australian readers will be aware of the ongoing tensions between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force peaking every twenty years or so. Some arguments have changed but differences in strategic policy outlooks have led to inter-Service disagreements during the early 1920s, the late 1930s, throughout the late 1950s and into early 1960s, the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the early 21st century. In my view we need to recognise that there are inherent differences in outlook between the sea and the air Services. We should recognise these differences as a good thing instead of as an either/or dichotomy. Indeed, I would suggest that the implications for the Australian Armed Forces have yet to work themselves out, even though many believe that the contemporary joint Australian Defence Force has resolved any outstanding controversy.

‘The Luftwaffe and the War at Sea 1939-1945’ examines air power at sea from the context of the Germans who served in the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) during the World War II. This book contains a though provoking series of reports covering first-hand experiences in commanding maritime air power during a war. It offers German experiences that are a counterpoint to the traditional British experience of deep tensions and divisions between RN and RAF strategic level commanders. I would contend that the wartime relationship between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe has much in common with the current relationship between the RAN and the RAAF in the maritime environment, and as a result this book is a very useful source that should challenge some of our contemporary beliefs in the effectiveness of today’s joint Australian Defence Force.

When Germany started to rearm in 1933 the Kriegsmarine developed its own naval air arm to best meet the requirements for maritime air power. This in turn generated a number of policy conflicts and some duplication of effort between the German Navy and Air Force. Unlike the British and many other national armed forces, the Germans had an overwhelming psychological need for clear and concise lines of command. So in order to resolve areas for potential conflict the German commands sought resolutions from their supreme leader, Adolf Hitler. Now there was a common saying at the time that Hitler commanded a Prussian Army, an Imperial Navy and a Nazi Air Force. In practice every time Grossadmiral Raeder, the head of the Kriegsmarine, asked Hitler for clarification on a naval air arm issue, Hitler would decide in favour of Reich Marshal Goering and the Luftwaffe. From the beginning, the Reich Ministry for Air was responsible for supplying all aircraft, equipment and weapons as well as air personnel for the reformed naval air arm. Units were initially transferred to the authority of the Fleet Command for operations. Policy conflicts continued however so in 1939 a protocol was agreed where control over all naval air units passed to the Luftwaffe – the Commander in Chief, Air. Maritime reconnaissance and tactical participation of air units in naval engagements were to be placed under naval command. As can be imagined it did not take long before the naval air activities became low priority tasks having to be done with fewer resources, inexperienced personnel and generally obsolete aircraft. Over time the German air force developed its own naval air fleet and gradually the Luftwaffe absorbed even the few naval activities defined in the 1939 protocol. During 1941 the last coastal air group under naval command was transferred to the Luftwaffe but the air force command never accepted the strategic mindset required to operate aircraft in pursuit of a maritime strategy. The German Air Force was organised around fighting an air strategy and achieving victory in the air. It was just not all that interested in winning a war at sea. Despite major concerns within the German Navy over the overwhelming failure of maritime air power, the Navy leadership did not have the political capital to fight for the successful application of a maritime strategy.

This book is not all about the German Navy’s views. On the surface there would appear to be no reason why a maritime air power could not operate effectively under air force leadership just as well as under naval leadership. At the tactical level air force and naval personnel mostly worked very well together despite the glaring limitations imposed upon them by the decisions made at higher levels. Unfortunately, for them, the limitations led overwhelmingly to numerous disasters in the war at sea.

‘The Luftwaffe and the War at Sea’ includes a chapter written in 1944 from a Luftwaffe perspective (pp. 123-160) which highlights one of the underlying reasons why the Luftwaffe failed to win the war at sea. To quote just one paragraph: –

“There had never been any doubt of the possibility and the necessity of using the bulk of the Luftwaffe in full force for strategic purposes on land, and later also at sea. The strategic idea was present in the leadership as well as in the technical department of the bombing forces, which were created for and completely suited to these purposes. It is therefore in accordance with the situation to concentrate on this ‘strategic air force’ and to make only parts of it available for direct support of the Army and Navy. The weaker the Luftwaffe formations used for ‘cooperation’ with other branches of the Service, were, the stronger would be the strategic force which could be built up and trained.”

This helps demonstrate why navies and air forces do not often see eye to eye when it comes to warfighting. Navies have to fight and win at sea using a maritime strategy to achieve victory. Air forces on the other hand have to fight and win in the air using an air power strategy to achieve victory. Depending upon the circumstances either one or a combination of these strategies may be the preferred approach to actual warfighting, (not forgetting ground, cyber, or other domain based strategies). For the Germans their ground based Blitzkrieg approach was paramount until the defeat of France in 1940, then an air power strategy dominated during the Battle of Britain, after which, from the last few months of 1940 at least, the most likely way that Germany could have defeated Britain was through application of a maritime strategy. Aircraft should have be used to support each of these strategies to the largest extent possible. Overall the joint approach needs to promote each and every Service oriented strategy and all other approaches to warfighting – not as selections from a multiple choice questionnaire but as part of a spaghetti diagram where alternatives come to the fore or recede to the background depending upon time, place and other circumstances.

This book is highly recommended for all air and sea power enthusiasts. ‘The Luftwaffe and the War at Sea 1939-1945’ is an effective counter for anyone who believes that our modern joint, seamless Australian Defence Force is an intellectual reality.

Wartime Standard Ships

Wartime Standard Ships. By Nick Robins. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 2017.

Reviewed by Tim Coyle

AS the name implies this book examines merchant ships constructed to standardised designs to meet the exponential demands for wartime sea transportation and to replace losses. British and US designs comprise most of the book’s coverage; however, German and Japanese wartime projects also receive attention.

Any mention of wartime standard ships brings the famous US designed and built Liberty ships to mind of which over 2700 were constructed. The later improved Victory ships, together with the C2 freighters and T2 tankers, demonstrated the enormous US production capability which greatly contributed to victory in World War 2. So adaptable were the US designs that many were taken into naval service as amphibious attack transports, stores ships and underway replenishment tankers. Prefabrication and welding, undertaken by semi-skilled workforces in ‘greenfield’ shipyards, turning out huge numbers of ships was not only a war winning formula but was the future of maritime trade. Hundreds of these vessels formed the core of the post-war merchant fleets, many remaining in service under various flags well into the 1960s.

The standard ships concept originated in World War One with the depredations caused by the German U-boat campaign. British shipowners not only decried the losses but also the Admiralty’s intransigence in allocating shipbuilding capacity to warship construction. The matter came to a head in summer 1916 when shipping executives established a number of greenfield sites to construct agreed common designs. By 1917 bureaucratic wrangling finally led to a program to construct four classes of standardised dry cargo ships. Production peaked in 1918 with 120 hulls, dropping to 110 in post-war 1919 and progressively declining to the program conclusion in 1921. As was to be the case post World War Two, the British wartime shipping program provided sound and economical ships for world trade in the 1920s and 30s and into the 1940s.

The US and Canadian shipbuilding expanded exponentially in World War One from a low base. By 1918 the US became the leading shipbuilding nation, both in terms of technology and output. The British Shipbuilding Controller placed orders in US yards in December 1916 for standard designs. However, each yard had its own concepts of what constituted a standard design and the variety of these ships are fully detailed in the book, supported by numerous photographs providing the reader with a comprehensive visual and textual understanding of the solutions to the massive Allied emergency building program.

While the book concentrates on the ship designs there are several well-known, but nevertheless dramatic, photographs depicting shipyard production in the vast World War Two US shipyards. Most of the shipyard workers performed monotonous production line duties. This led to absenteeism and a photograph in the book shows a stark condemnation to the temptation to take an unauthorised day off. A large billboard headed ‘Absentees Sabotage Ships’ states absentees constitute an ‘Axis Pay-Off Department’ castigating recalcitrants with details such as ‘Absentees have lost 514446 hours’ and ‘375000 hours build one ship’.

Merchant mariners enjoyed a relatively high standard of habitability in the US-built ships, not the least of which was the centralised accommodation for all hands in the central superstructure as opposed to the traditional separation of officers and crew, the latter normally banished to an after deckhouse. However, some 30 percent of Liberty ships suffered structural deficiencies due to sagging of the hull at mid-length caused by the cooling and contraction of the welded metal, mainly in the upper deck. Sub-standard steel, inexperienced workers and extreme cold added to the weaknesses which manifested themselves around hatchways and deck edges. Rectification through strengthening saw these ships rejuvenated to continue in service for many years.

The book concludes with an analysis of the influence of standard ship design on naval architecture. Wartime Standard Ships is a fine technical historical treatise on the ships that carried the war effort in the two major 20th century conflicts and seamlessly transitioned to the post-war merchant fleets that contributed to post-war rebuilding and development of the world economy. The many illustrations provide nostalgic views of the ships to those who can remember the pre-container era.

One Liberty and two Victory ships are preserved as operating museums. The Liberty Jerimiah O’Brien operates from San Francisco and Victories Lane Victory and American Victory sail from San Pedro and Tampa respectively on bi-annual short cruises in local waters.