British Cruiser Warfare – The Lessons of the Early War, 1939-1941, Alan Raven

British Cruiser Warfare – The Lessons of the Early War, 1939-1941, Alan Raven

This is an excellent study of the wartime service of the Royal Navy’s cruisers between the outbreak of the war and the end of 1941, a period that included the Norwegian campaign, a period of dominance in the Mediterranean that ended when the Luftwaffe arrived in the theatre (leading to the very costly battles around Crete), the hunt for the Bismarck and the start of the Arctic convoys.

We start with a sizable chronological account of every combat to involve British cruisers during this period. This is very well organised, with the chronological order interupted to allow major events that took place over several days to be examined together (such as the hunt for the Bismarck). There is a great deal of detail here, especially on issues like the accuracy of gunnery, the damage suffered by the British cruisers and how that was countered. This is followed by a series of examinations of specific topics, which cover an impressively wide range of topics from code breaking to damage control, anti-aircraft tactics to daily life onboard. These sections bring together the evidence from the chronology nicely and provide a good of analysis many topics that are often only mentioned in passing.

The book is very well researched, with the vast majority of the information coming directly from original primary sources (a vast array of Admiralty records are listed), so any factually material can be taken as entirely trustworthy. It also means that there is an unusually high level of detail, no doubt only a fraction of the amount available to the author. This approach makes this book extremely valuable for anyone researching the role of the British navy during the Second World War. 

One minor irritant is that the author sometimes comes across as annoyingly arrogant. This is certainly the first time I’ve seen ‘commerical historian’ used as an insult. There is even one example of ‘historian’ (author’s quote marks) used for an issue where they appear to be correct!  Sometimes the author’s comments on accepted opinions aren’t entirely justified – in one case he suggests that a British cruiser couldn’t have been surprised because she opened fire first in a clash with Italian destroyers, ignoring the possibility that both sides might have been surprised and the British simply recovered quickest. However this is a minor quibble, and doesn’t do anything to reduce the overall value of this excellent work – it just grates a little when writing for a commercial audience!

This is a splendid piece of research, providing a detailed and accurate examination of the role of British cruisers during the first part of the Second World War, when the pattern for much of what was to come was set, and many of the hardest battles were fought or begun.

Chronology of Events from September 1939-December 1941

Anti-Invasion Duties, June-November 1940
Surface Gunnery
Shore Bombardment
Anti-Aircraft Tactics
The Cruiser as a Fighter Directing Ship
How a Cruiser is Organised to Fight
ASDIC in Cruisers
Shipborne Aircraft
Damage and Damage Control
Repair Facilities
The Human Condition
British Breaking of German Codes
British Breaking of Italian Codes
German and Italian Breaking of British Codes
British Study of German and Italian Radio Traffic Analysis Procedures and British Counterintelligence Radio Procedurs, re Operations ‘Substance’ and ‘Style’
Royal Navy Cruiser Activiy in Reaction to DF-ing on Enemy Radio Signals in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean from January to June 1941
Intelligence as it Related to Selected Naval Encounters
The Use of ‘Special Intelligence’ in the Aftermath of the Sinking of the Bismarck
German Raiders and the Search Procedures Used to Locate Them
Signals Interception and Direction-Finding (‘Y’ and DF-ing)
Radio Communications
Radio Warfare
The Italian Navy
The German Navy
British Cruisers
Weather Damage

Author: Alan Raven
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2019

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