Formidable - A True Story of disaster and courage, Steve R. Dunn

Formidable - A True Story of disaster and courage, Steve R. Dunn

HMS Formidable was a ten year old pre-dreadnought battleship, verging on being obsolete after the appearance of the all-big-gun HMS Dreadnought, commissioned only two years after her. On 1 January 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel while under the command of Admiral Bayly, commander of the Channel Fleet.  This book looks at every aspect of her loss - from Bayly’s unwillingness to accept that there was any threat from U-boats to the individual actions of the survivors and from the memorials to the dead to the fate of their relatives. The author has an impressive level of knowledge of the Royal Navy of this period, which allows him to paint a full picture of this costly naval disaster.

One weakness is the author’s obvious dislike of Churchill and the influence of the Admiralty in this period. This produces one section that feels rather out of balance - for most of the text it is clear that Admiral Bayly’s refusal to accept that the U-boat posed a real threat to his fleet was the main cause of the disaster. However Bayly never accepted the blame, and persistently attempted to clear his name. As a result there is a section of the book where the author briefly sympathises with Bayly, despite earlier having made it quite clear that much of the blame for the loss of the Formidable really did lie with him. Unusually the disaster didn’t actually harm Bayly’s career much, and he ended up playing a big part in the First World War’s Battle of the Atlantic as commander on the Irish station.

Away from this section, this is an excellent study of one of the more unnecessary naval disasters of the First World War, covering an impressively wide range of topics to give a good idea of how the loss of a single ship could affect every part of the nation.

Part I: Tragedy
1 - The Big Ship
2 - The Captain
3 - The Quickening Tide
4 - U-24
5 - On Board HMS Formidable
6 - The Struggle
7 - The Dogs and some Funerals

Part II: Invictus
8 - Après le Déluge
9 - To Be an Admiral
10 - The Culprit
11 - The Admiral and the Admiralty
12 - The Captain Went Down with the Ship
13 - Pro Patria
14 - Patriotism and Propaganda
15 - The Dogs of War

Part III: Wraiths
16 - Memorial to the Fallen
17 - Those Left Behind
18 - Postscript
19 - Envoi

1 - The 'Lassie Legend'
2 - The Missing Boy
3 - Naval Courts of Inquiry
4 - St Mary's Church, Northchurch, Ensigns
5 - Propaganda and the Defence of the Realm Act - part two
6 - Loxley's Predecessors

Author: Steve R. Dunn
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 256
Publisher: Book Guild
Year: 2015

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