Naval Battles of the First World War, Geoffrey Bennett

Naval Battles of the First World War, Geoffrey Bennett

This book was written fifty years after the end of the First World War by a naval historian who also served in the Royal Navy from 1923 until 1955, so entered the navy at a time when its upper ranks were dominated by men who had fought in the war. This naval background gave Bennett a good understanding of the capabilities of both fleets (the early years of his career will have been dominated by surviving ships from the war), and the tactics of the time.

The book is divided into three sections. The first part looks at the battles with Germany's overseas squadrons and surface raiders. The most famous part of this campaign involved Admiral Von Spee's squadron, and its victory at Coronel and destruction at the Falklands, but there were plenty of other surface raiders at the start of the war. This section also looks at the war against Turkey, including the early disappointment when two German warships reached Istanbul, and the Dardanelles campaign. Part two looks at the battles nearer to home - described as Home Waters here, but covering a rather wider area than that. This section includes the main battles, with most space dedicated to Jutland, but including some coverage of the last two years of the war. Part three looks at the U-Boat war and the Zeebrugge and Ostend raids.

It's a sign of how controversial Jutland was that Bennett allocated a short chapter to discussing who won. Both sides claimed to have won, and the Germans did have the advantage of having inflicted heavier losses on the British, but Jutland was the last time that the High Seas Fleet attempted to contest control of the North Sea. Bennett just comes to the conclusion that the battle was indeed a British victory, if not the crushing 'Trafalgar' that the British public wanted. Scheer's own history of the war rather supports Bennett's conclusions on Jutland - although he claimed the battle as a victory, he also admitted that his fleet wouldn't be able to go to see until mid-August, and in all of his messages to his superiors after the battle insisted that unrestricted U-boat war was essential, effectively admitting that the High Seas Fleet couldn't win control of the waters around Britain.

Act Three is the weakest part of the book. The U-Boat war was by far the most dangerous part of Germany's naval war effort, and deserved much more coverage than it gets here. The single chapter does cover the outline of events quite well, but isn't enough for such an important topic.

Overall this is a good introduction to the major British naval campaigns of the First World War. It was written long enough after the First World War to ensure that good sources were available from both sides (and long enough after the Second World War to allow a neutral tone). The level of detail is about right for a general history - not too detailed, but with in-depth material when required. Most recent books on this topic tend to focus on a single topic (Jutland or von Spee being the favourites), so despite its age this is still a useful single volume history of the main events at sea during the First World War. 

Prologue
1 - Operation 'ZZ'

Act One: Overseas
2 - A Curse on the Orient
3 - Lone Wolf
4 - The Long Voyage
5 - Von Spee's Triumph
6 - Sturdee's Revenge

Act Two: Home Waters
7 - First Blood
8 - The Long Wait
9 - Beatty versus Hipper
10 - Jellico versus Scheer
11 - Scheer's Escape
12 - Who won?

Act Three: Under the Sea
13 - U-Boat and Q-ships
14 - Twisting the Dragon's tail

Epilogue
15 - Death of a Fleet

Author: Geoffrey Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 320
Publisher: Pen & Sword Maritime
Year: 2014 edition of 2005 original


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