Project Rainfall

Project Rainfall. By Tom Gilling. Allen and Unwin, Sydney 2019.

Reviewed by Mark Edmonds

Writing credible books and articles about national security and classified intelligence matters is complicated at the best of times. While sometimes there may be an abundance of material, such as in the case of the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, evaluating and contextualising it can be problematic.

Unauthorised disclosures (including those from government sources) is rarely free of some form of contamination, including personal or ideological grievances. And given the nature of the intelligence community, information is necessarily compartmentalised. Even accidental disclosures – dossiers left in hotel lobbies or filing cabinets that had not been properly sanitised before being disposed of – may not always give a prospective author “the big picture”.

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Eagles over the Sea. Luftwaffe’s marine ops

Eagles Over the Sea 1935-1942: A History of Luftwaffe Maritime Operations. By Lawrence Paterson. Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 2019.

Reviewed by Darren Puttock

Since the end of World War II in 1945 there has been an enormous amount of academic research, historical discussions and books dedicated to the German Luftwaffe. Studies of aircraft, analysis of tactics, profiles of leadership and exploration of famous air campaigns are readily available; however, until Lawrence Patterson’s book Eagles over the Sea 1935-1942, Luftwaffe maritime operations have featured only as comprehensive aircraft studies or sections of wider Luftwaffe writings. Eagles over the Seacorrects this oversight and provides the reader with detailed insights into Luftwaffe maritime operations.

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History of Nelson Battalion of Royal Naval Division

Nelson at war, 1914-19: the history of the Nelson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division, by Roy Swalea. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword, 2019 (GBP 14,99; USD 29,95).

Reviewed by  John Johnston

When war broke out in the late summer of 1914, the Royal Navy hastily raised a division’s worth of men, most of them stokers from the fleet reserve, to serve ashore as infantry soldiers. The organisation of the division into two naval brigades and a Royal Marine Light Infantry brigade, with four battalions in each, suggests that the intention was to create a force to guard the English coast against a German invasion, the fear of which had been a constant theme in military and naval writings for much of the previous quarter of a century. However, the RND had scarcely had time to muster before it was sent to reinforce the Belgian defence at Antwerp, a debacle in which it lost more than a third of its original strength.

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Glasgow Museums – The ship Models

Glasgow Museums – The Ship Models. A History and Complete Illustrated Catalogue. Emily Malcolm & Michael R Harrison. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 2019.

Reviewed by David Hobbs

This beautifully produced book was published in co-operation with the Glasgow Museums with the intention of both illustrating and giving background information about their remarkable collection of over 600 ship models.  The majority represent ships built on the Clyde between the late eighteenth and early twenty-first centuries and the collection as a whole is an important international resource for the study of shipbuilding as well as being a delight for generations of model-makers and collectors.  

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British Town Class Cruisers

British Town Class Cruisers. Design, Development and Performance. Southampton and Belfast Classes. By Conrad Waters. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 2019.

Reviewed by David Hobbs

Conrad Waters will be best known to ANI members as the editor of Seaforth’s very successful annual World Naval Review since its first edition in 2010.  His book on the Royal Navy’s Town class cruisers is clearly the result of many years of painstaking and dedicated research and the author’s deep interest in the subject is apparent on every page.  

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The Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Age

The Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Age : Senior Service 188-1815. By Mark Jessop. Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, 2019.

Reviewed by John Johnston

With more than 6.000 book titles in print, interest in the long wars against the French Republic and the Empire evidently remains unsated. More than 600 titles deal with the naval history of the Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, and nearly 400 are devoted to the battle of Trafalgar.

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French Armoured Cruisers 1887-1932

French Armoured Cruisers 1887-1932. John Jordan and Philippe Caresse. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 2019.

Reviewed by Tim Coyle

French design – in fashion, jewellery, architecture, ships, cars or aircraft – is generally regarded by the rest of the world as elegant, innovative and spirited (‘elan’). French warship design arguably follows these characteristics, exemplified in the battleships Richelieu and Jean Bart of the 1940s and 50s and the battlecruisers Strasbourg and Dunkerque of the same era.

French armoured cruiser designs, the subject of this book may, in the subjective opinion of some, be characterised by the French word ‘bizarre’; none more so that the initial examples of this type, Dupuy-De-Lome and the Amiral Charner class with their enormous ‘plough’ bows.

But the design had purposeful reasoning for the era. Dupuy-De-Lome was the first modern armoured cruiser featuring lightweight armour plating of nickel steel applied to the ships’ sides providing resistance to high-explosive shell penetration.  The French Marine Nationale (MN) was captivated by the Jeune Ecole of dashing young officers looking for small, fast attack craft at the expense of ponderous battleships. The Ecole regarded the fast armoured cruiser as ideal for commerce raiding and the older conservative battleship adherents also saw value in the concept as the cruisers could operate in the van of the battle fleet for scouting and screening. The French design worried the British who saw the 11 initial French armoured cruisers as threats to trade.  

The armoured cruisers, in addition to their innovative protection, also enjoyed superior firepower through exceptional weapons design. Engineering was another strength with the excellent Belleville and Niclause boilers. However the armoured cruiser era was short; they were obsolescent by 1914, replaced by all-big-gun, turbine-powered battlecruisers. The 23 ships in service at the outbreak of World War One were a tactical asset in the Mediterranean and useful in the Channel and the Atlantic. 

Dupuy-De-Lome suffered a life of technical failures but as first-of-type it had an influence in world navies.  The four Charner class cruisers were generally successful but, unsurprisingly, their curvaceous hull form rendered them exceptionally wet in seaways causing, among other inconveniences, short circuits in turret electrical circuits.

Subsequent examples – Pothuau, D’Entrecasteux and the three ship Dupleix class, were all considered generally unsatisfactory. Jean d’Arc was an attempt at addressing previous shortfalls with hull form, turret design and machinery installation but was, in turn a disappointment. It wasn’t until the 1898 three-ship Gueydon class that French armoured cruiser achieved a settled ‘fleet’ design. The following five Gloire class built on the success of the Gueydons and remained in service in World War One on the Atlantic coast. The five Gambetta class of 1905 (by now considerably better looking than their predecessors) so impressed the Royal Navy that they responded with the Duke of Edinburgh and Warrior classes. Happily the perceived threat to British trade exemplified in the Gambettas was neutralised when the Entente Cordiale was signed between Britain and France. 

A weakness in the MN acquisition process was the practice of tinkering with incremental improvements rather than standardise on a settled design. The French battlefleet was known as the ‘flotte d’echantillons’, or ‘fleet of samples’ in which almost every ship differed from its fellows. So it was with the next two armoured cruisers, Jules Michelet and Ernest Renan. Far from being follow-on Gambrettas, they even differed from each other and suffered under internal MN politics. In the event the two ships compared favourably with their RN opposite numbers.

The last of the armoured cruisers were Edgar Quinet and Waldeck-Rousseau commissioned in 1910 and 1911 respectively. But the armoured cruiser niche in naval line-of-battle was closing with the appearance of the battlecruiser in the RN and Imperial German Navy. In summing up the French armoured cruiser era the writers state: ‘The problem for the armoured cruiser as a type was that it was neither fish nor fowl: armoured cruisers were too costly to perform the scouting role, for which light cruisers sufficed; on the other hand their guns were unable to penetrate battleship armour and they were too vulnerable to the fire of bigger guns to be able to stand in the line-of-battle’. 

These fascinating ships are portrayed in this book in exceptional detail. Scores of technical drawings, adapted from original MN files, cover practically all aspects of the individual ships – from engineering spaces to frame cross sections, turret details and command and control spaces. The photographs are superb; some are double page spreads showing not only the individual ships but fleet bases. Additional to the ships’ technical descriptions there are chapters on the MN organisation detailing the cruiser divisions 1903-14, training cycles and much more. Finally a full description of the ships’ deployments and operations in World War One rounds out this excellent study.

The years 1880 to 1914 saw dramatic technological advances in the world’s leading navies. France, with its national characteristics of design flair, fully embraced this extraordinary period with its dramatic armoured cruisers. Obsolete before their time, some remained in service until 1932 in diminished roles. In comparison with their erstwhile protagonist, the RN, the French cruisers were a courageous experiment which this book admirably demonstrates.

French Armoured Cruisers 1887-1932 is a splendid book for naval construction enthusiasts, modellers, historians of the period and even Francophiles. Vive la difference!

Liberty’s Provenance

Liberty’s Provenance; The Evolution of the Liberty Ship from its Sunderland Origins. By John Henshaw. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley 2019.

Reviewed by Tim Coyle

The Liberty ship, together with the C-47 aircraft and the Jeep are considered by some to have contributed to victory in World War 2. This is undoubtedly a subjective opinion; however, there is no doubt that these designs were innovative, flexible and suitable for mass production as only the United States’ prodigious production capability could accomplish between 1942 and 1945. Two thousand, seven hundred and ten Liberty ships were produced between April 1941 and 10 July 1944 when production was switched to an improved ‘Victory’ ship. Generally regarded as a triumph of American design and production this book sets out to set the record straight.

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Defence of the Empire 1756-1956

Britain’s Island Fortresses; Defence of the Empire 1756-1956. By Bill Clements, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, 2019.

Reviewed by Tim Coyle

Scattered throughout the former British Empire ‘on which the sun never set’ lie huge weathered   guns pointing out to sea, some standing mute but proud in their original fortresses, others bedraggled and ignored. All were placed in their locations to defend British island colonies from assault from the sea. The mighty fortresses at Hong Kong and Singapore were the only ones to be tested in battle and they failed against innovative tactics overwhelming them from an unexpected quarter.

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Large Scale Warship Models

Large Scale Warship Models. From kits to scratch building. By Kerry Lang. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 2019.

Reviewed by David Hobbs

Kerry Lang is a professor of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who builds model ships and Napoleonic War figures for fun and relaxation.  He sets himself high standards, winning a number of awards in both Canada and the UK, and his latest challenge is to build a submarine that both dives and surfaces under radio control.

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