Fireship: The Terror Weapon of the Age of Sail, Peter Kirsch

Fireship: The Terror Weapon of the Age of Sail, Peter Kirsch

This book looks at the fireship, one of the most feared weapons of the age of sail. Best known to British readers because of its role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the heyday of the fireship came during the series of Anglo-Dutch Wars, and it remained in use into the early years of the nineteenth century.

Kirsch starts with a look at the Ancient precursors of the fireship. This section hints at the high quality of what is to come - even though it lies outside the main period of the book, there is a interesting account of the debate over the nature of Greek Fire.

The text is well organised, with a mix of chapters on particular wars and examples of the use of fireships mixed in with chapters on the design, building and crewing of the ships. He also examines the moral backdrop to the use of the fireship, which sometimes met with disapproval from more conventional naval authorities.

Krisch has produced a book that combines a wide scope with an impressive detailed knowledge of naval warfare over the three centuries that saw the fireship at its most potent. A good number of vivid contemporary accounts of fireship actions support the text, giving us a clear idea of the fear inspired by these often ineffective weapons.

The book is lavishly illustrated, with some very impressive double-page spreads. Hardly any page is without a picture or diagram of some sort, each well chosen to illustrate the text.

This is a very impressive piece of work – a high quality monograph that does full justice to its subject. Kirsch has produced an essential read for anyone interested in naval warfare in the age of sail.

Firepots and Greek Fire
The Hellburners of Antwerp
John Hawkins and the Spanish Fireship
The Invincible Armada
The Fireship joins the Battlefleet
The Mother-and-Child Boat and other Chinese Specialities
The Battle of the Downs
Acquiring and Fitting out Fireships
The Captain and his Crew
The First Anglo-Dutch War
The Second Anglo-Dutch War: the pinnacle of fireship success
The Four Days' Battle
Fireship against Fireship: the Second Anglo-Dutch War continues
Countermeasures: Changing tactics and fireship warfare
The Line of Battle dominates: the Third Angle-Dutch War and the Scanian War
Purpose-built Fireships, Machines-vessels and Others
FIreships in the Eighteenth Century
The Last Fireships: the nineteenth century

Author: Peter Kirsch
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2009

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