In Action with Destroyers 1939–1945 — The Wartime Memoirs of Commander J A J Dennis DSC RN by Alec Dennis, Edited by Anthony J Cumming was published by Pen & Sword Maritime on 2 November 2017 (ISBN: 9781526718495).
This book contains the wartime memoirs of Alec Dennis, who served on four destroyers during the Second World War, two of them as the commanding officers.
The destroyers were the workhorses of most navies during the Second World War and Commander Dennis saw action in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian Oceans. The two vessels he commanded were HMS Valorous (the fifth HMS Valorous, ex-HMS Montrose, a V-class flotilla leader of the British Royal Navy that saw service in World War I, the Russian Civil War, and World War II) and HMS Tetcott (a Type II British Hunt-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy during World War II. She was the only Royal Navy ship to be named after the Tetcott fox hunt).
Commander Dennis was mentioned in Despatches three times (Norway, sinking the Scharnhorst and in the North Sea) and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (Greece 1942).
The experiences of Commander Dennis provide a great read, reading like a Boy’s Own tale. The text is very easy to read and the book is difficult to put down. The editor, Anthony Cumming, has taken pains to preserve most of Dennis’s recollections although he does admit that Dennis removed some recollections that, fairly or unfairly, were not very complimentary to senior officers.
The book was unfortunately released after Dennis’s death. It is split into the following sections, following Acknowledgements, a Foreword, Maps and Editor’s Introduction:
The End of Peace and the Phoney War
The Finest Hour
Crisis in the Mediterranean
The Far East ann Back
The Tide Turns
The Final Victory
This is followed by the Editor’s Historical Notes, End Notes, Bibliography and an Index. There are around 20 illustrations in the centre of the book as well.
It has been a fairly stressful few weeks for me here but a few pages of this book in the evening transports me to those momentous days of the Second World War and a feeling of what life was like on the workhorses of the fleet – the destroyers. A brilliant read!
We all know the Battle of Actium — Antony and Cleopatra’s final act against Octavian and the start of the Augustan Peace in Rome, albeit now with an Emperor. Professor Lee Fratantuono re-examines the ancient evidence and presents a compelling and solidly documented account of what took place in the waters off the promontory of Leucas in late August and early September of 31 B.C.
Rather than present a coherent story cross referencing different sources, Prof Fratantuono has adopted an approach when examining the battle of looking at the sources independently and then analyzing the evidence presented by them to draw his conclusions.
Fratantuono notes in the preface that his,
“interest in Actium has romance as its genesis: the twin lures of poetry and cinema, the poets of Augustan Rome and the cinematic depiction of the battle in Mankiewicz’s 1963 Cleopatra, a film that despite is numerous problems of both film quality and historical accuracy, was a contributing factor to [his] early interest in antiquity”
He goes on later to note that the methodology used in this study “will be to examine closely the surviving literary attestation of the naval conflict at Actium, with a view to reconstruction and analysis of what might have happened”.
This is the approach he takes with the first part of the book looking at Greek Historical Sources. These are:
the Evidence of Plutarch
The Lost Appian
The Evidence of Dio Cassius
The Evidence of Josephus
The Second Part deals with Roman Historical Sources
Lost Roman Sources
Florus’ and Eutropius’ Detached Accounts
The Evidence of Orosius
The Third Part looks at Actium in Verse
The Shield of Aeneas
Horace’s Epodes — The Earliest Evidence?
Horace’s Cleopatra Ode
The Evidence of Elegy: Propertius
The Allegorized Actium
The Lost Carmen de Bello Aegyptiaco/Atiaco
Part Four then is Analyzing the Evidence
So What Really Happened?
The Birth of a Romantic Legend
Part Five examines the Aftermath
‘Death Comes in the End’
The book finishes with an Afterword looking at Actium and Roman Naval Practice.
There is, as well, a preface and introduction as well as bibliography, index, endnotes and further reading. There are also a couple of maps and battle dispositions as well.
All-in-all I enjoyed reading this, especially as it introduced me to some areas I had managed to avoid all these years, namely the literary and poetic evidence – I guess there is more than just Plutarch and Dio Cassius.
Prof Fratantuono concludes at the end that Antony intended to fight and fight he did at Actium. He also discusses the involvement of the Egyptian vessels and concludes that they must have fought that day as well, either as part of the main battle or during the breakout at the end of the day. Prof Fratantuono is certain that Antony was planning on winning the battle that day, and so he is at odds with the views of the previous writer’s on the battle who suggested that Antony and Cleopatra always intended flight, or that they intended to launch a withdrawal that could lead to a strategic victory.
Antony and Cleopatra were planning on winning that day. The withdrawal at the end of the day, tactical or not, was a loss. The fleet remaining would have surrendered quickly and land forces in Greece and the East would also have surrendered to Octavian (and did).
Prof Fratantuono also hazards some estimates of the number of ships involved in the battle by looking at the numbers given in Plutarch, Florus and Orosius. Plutarch, for example, estimated that Antony and Cleopatra had a fleet of 500 ships to Octavian’s 250. Orosius however estimated the Antonian fleet at 200 ships. There were 60 Egyptian vessels, which if added to Florus’ estimate for Antony’s fleet of 170 ships gives a total of 230 ships. Similar numerical discord exists between Plutarch’s estimate of Octavian’s fleet of 250 vessels and Florus’ estimate of 400 ships. There is some discussion on whether these are beaked vessels only but Prof Fratantuono concludes around 250 vessels for Octavian against 230 in the fleet of Antony and Cleopatra would seem a reasonable estimate. This seems a workable estimate — if outnumbered 2:1 it would be unlikely that Antony would give battle, similarly with Octavian.
The Battle of Actium 31 BC — War for the World was published by Pen & Sword Military on 31 May 2016 (ISBN: 9781473847149) and consists of 194 pages.
I found Prof Fratantuono’s writing style easy to read and his discussion is, in my opinion, a good discourse of this topic. It now sits on my bookshelf with other ancient naval tomes.
Like volume I, this is a reprint of a book first published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, in 1994 the picked up by Conway Maritime Press in 2002. It was reprinted again in April 2005 by Conway’s. This volume deals with sixteen Vosper MTB designs, and the US 70′, 77′ and 80′ Elco designs.
Also, as with Volume 1, there are copies of volume 2 from 2002 available still, new, for US $72.40 at various outlets.
Vosper was established as a company in 1871. They became famous for the unstepped planing hull-form they developed which was the basis of their Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB) and Motor Gun Boats (MGB) for the Royal Navy in World War II. The original boats had a length of 68 feet and were based upon the prototype MTB 102, which survives to this day as a museum piece.
Vosper’s designs were copied by many, especially given the speeds they acheived with their planing hulls. Apart from MTBs and MGBs, Vosper also built high speed launches for the the Royal Air Force for the rescue of air crew who ditched into the sea.
Vospers were not only built in the United Kingdom but also in the United States under license.
The illustration here are some of the vessels illustrated with differing camouflage designs are taken from the book. Apologies for the quality, I photographed with my tablet and one hand and it is a heavy tome.
As with the previous volume, the detail, drawings, plans and photographs in this book are super. Al Ross had a reputation as a very fine draughtsman and it shows in his drawings throughout the volume. Lambert covers the details of the vessels, the equipment that was present on the vessels, selected weapon systems and additional data.
The table of contents, apart from the usual sections of Foreword, Preface, Abbreviations and the like covers:
Elco – a short history
Vosper’s private venture (MTB 102) and Bloodhound
Vosper MTB designs 1938-39
The Vosper 45ft MTB Design
Vosper designs 1940
Vosper designs 1941
Vosper designs 1942
Vosper designs 1943-45
The Elco 70ft PT
The Elco 77ft PT
The Elco 80ft PT
The Packard 4M-2500 marine engine
Selected weapons systems (0.5in Vickers machine guns; 20mm Oerlikons (single and twin); 9mm Lanchester machine carbine; 18in and 21in torpedo tubes; PT torpedo armament and the Dewandre turret)
Additional data covering US 20mm, 37mm and 40mm mounts and guns; Rocket launchers; Development of bridge and wheelhouse during the Second World War; Notes on operating the Royal Navy Packard engines; Free French Vosper MTBs; The Vosper survivors; and Restored Elco PT 617.
As with the first volume, the writing in the book is clear an easy to both follow and understand. It has been fascinating to read about these vessels, so much so that I am looking for similar works on Axis boats. It is a shame that the third volume mooted back in the 1990s never eventuated as it would have dealt with the British Power Boat 70ft MTBs and MGBs which were also very successful boats.
This also is a must have book for anyone interested in coastal warfare and a great companion to Volume 1. There is nothing I can think of that is really missing from this coverage. Best, along with volume 1, it is on special at the moment (23 July 2019) at Pen and Sword.
Allied Coastal Forces of World War II – Volume I, written by John Lambert and Al Ross deals with Fairmile Designs and the US Submarine Chasers. It was published on 12 December 2018 by Seaforth Publishing, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books, is 256 pages long and has ISBN: 9781526744494*(see below).
I do love naval history and I have a particular interest in small boats (and big ships and all in between truth be told). This volume deals with some of my favourite vessels, the Fairmiles.
Fairmile Marine was a British boat building company founded in 1939 by the car manufacturer Noel Macklin using his garage at Cobham Fairmile in Surrey for manufacturing assembly. His company was run as an agency of the Admiralty, the company carrying out business without turning a profit, the staff being in effect part of the civil service.
His first design was the Fairmile A Motor Launch (ML) but the most ubiquitous of the Fairmiles was the Fairmile B ML. Over 600 of these were built over the period 1940 to 1945. Originally designed as submarine chasers the Motor Launches were fitted with ASDIC. Later versions of the Fairmiles (the C, D and F versions) were fitted out as gunboats with the Ds also rigged as Motor Torpedo Boats.
Coastal naval warfare in both the North Sea and the Mediterranean were fiercely fought skirmishes between the Allied MLs, MGBs and MTBs and the Axis E-Boats, R-Boats, MAS boats and the like. The Fairmile boats made up a considerable portion of Coastal Command and fought in all theatres.
The illustration here are some of the vessels illustrated with differing camouflage designs are taken from the book. Apologies for the quality, I photographed with my tablet and one hand and it is a heavy tome.
The detail, drawings, plans and photographs in this book are super. The authors cover the details of the vessels, the equipment that was present on the vessels, selected weapon systems and additional data, including the fate of most of the vessels. For example, we can see the builder, when a vessel was completed and its fate. In the case of ML 400, this vessel was built in New Zealand and completed on 18 November 1942. It served in the RNZN where it sailed as HMNZS Kahu, being sold in 1947 and sailing then as the Dolphin.
The US Submarine Chasers are covered as well, although not in as great a detail.
The table of contents, apart from the usual sections of Forewards, Authors Notes, Prefaces, Abbreviations and the like covers:
The Fairmile company
The Fairmile B ML
The Canadian Fairmile B ML
The Fairmile C motor gunboat
The Fairmile D MTB/MGB
The Fairmile F MGB
The Fairmile H Landing Craft
The SC 497 class 110 ft sub chaser
Depth Charges and anti-submarine equipment
British Coastal Forces radar
British Coastal Forces camouflage
Engines and engineering
Weapons systems (depth charge projectors, flares, machine guns, 1- and 2-pounder guns, 4.5in guns and the like
The extensive appendices include:
Schedule of British Builders
Fairmile production analysis Yard analysis Consumption of major materials
all in all, 12 appendices.
The writing in the book is clear an easy to both follow and understand. Best, most of the book is in shorter chapters making it easier to read and follow over shorter reading sessions. I have learnt so much from this work that I am really itching to start on their volume 2 which covers perhaps the most famous of the Allied coastal vessels, the Vosper MTBs and US Elcos. There is a third volume being prepared covering the British Power Boat 70ft MTBs and MGBs which were very successful boats.
This really is a must have book for anyone interested in coastal warfare. There is nothing I can think of that is really missing from this coverage. Best, it is on special at the moment (20 July 2019) at Pen and Sword.
* Please note the following (21 July 2019):
This work was originally published in 1994. in the US it was published by the Naval Institute Press (and I am guessing by Conway’s in the UK). In 2005 it was reprinted and published by Conway’s in the UK (and I am guessing that the Naval Institute Press may well have republished then too). I have not seen either of those editions so I can’t comment on any change in content in this edition. I can, however, note that a new copy of the 1994 version is selling on Amazon for US $225 dollars and the 2005 version new for US $165.60. The £32.00 current version from Pen and Sword therefore looks good value by comparison.
I should also note that unfortunately, the third volume covering the British Power Boat 70ft MTBs and MGBs was never published.
I had a couple of packages arrive recently with the odd book to read. OK. so there was a lot. Some interesting titles in there however and I wuill get around to reviewing when I get a chance (which means when I actually finish reading a few. The temptation is to read them concurrently rather than serially. I shall try and resist that temptation.
The first batch will be pretty quick reading:
The second batch will tale a wee bit longer I will admit:
Mind you, I started on the second batch, in particular Steve Dunn’s. Southern Thunder, The Royal Navy and the Scandinavian Trade in World War One, which frankly I new absolutely nothing about. I can see some great scenarios for a wargame or three there as well as the need to acquire some more ships. Navwar order coming up.
Before anything else, I need to point out that I have a vested interest in this volume. There is a photograph on Page 77 of RSS Swordsman, a modernised Västergötland boat on the Singapore Navy. The photograph was taken by me at a Republic of Singapore Navy Open Day at Changi Naval Base.
Having said that I look forward each year to the release of the World Naval Review with its summary and roundup of the world’s navies. This edition is the tenth annual edition, but regrettably I have only been reading this publication since 2018. I am thinking of starting to look for copies of the previous editions.
Covered in this volume are:
Regional Review – North and South America
Royal Canadian Navy
The Peruvian Navy
Regional Review – Asia and The Pacific
Republic of Singapore Navy
The Indian Ocean and Africa
Europe and Russia
Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carriers
Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers
World Naval Aviation
Modern Naval Communications: An Overview
Autonomous Systems: A New Horizon for Surface Fleets
The introduction is a great place to start reading the Review as it lists the top 10 countries by defence expenditure over the ten years 2008-2017. It then looks at defence budgets and plans and follows that with a summary of the change in type of the Major Fleet Strengths for the ten years 2009-2018.
For example, Australia in 2009 is listed as:
6 x SSK
12 x CG/FFG/DDG
6 x MCMV
2 x AO/AOR/AFS
In 2018 this had changed to:
2 x LHA/LHD/LPH
1 x LPD/LSD
6 x SSK (if they can keep 6 crews up to it)
11 x CG/FFG/DDF
6 x MCMV
2 x AO/AOR/AFS
which partly reflects the change in roles of the RAN over that 10 year period.
Similar comparisons exist for the US, Royal, Brazilian, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean (both), and Indian navies over the same ten years.
The regional review then looks at the strengths of major regional navies. For example, the Americas lists current strengths for Argentina; Brazil; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Ecudor; Peru and the USA.
Given that the cost of regular updates from Janes is beyond most of us, World Naval Review becomes my go to publication for a review of the recent past as well as what is on the horizon for the near future. This is one of my favourite reads along with Warship.
The book is available on both sides of the ditch, published by Seaforth, an imprint of Pen and Sword and also available through the US Naval Institute Press, along with Amazon, Book Depository and so on. It was published in hardcopy, ePub and Kindle versions.
Hardcover : 192 pages
Publisher: Seaforth Publishing (UK) and Naval Institute Press (US)
Date: November 15, 2018
Interestingly I cannot find this on the Pen and Sword website, even though my copy came from Pen and Sword. Look for this publication at:
Back in September 2018 I reviewed Volume 1 of Julian Corbett’s Maritime Operations of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905. Volume 2 arrived recently and replaced my reading list for a period of time as I followed the maritime operations from the Genesis of the Russian Baltic Fleet, through the Battle of Tsushima (or as Corbett describes it, the Battle of the Sea of Japan) and which completes with a look at the two Sakhalin expeditions.
So this volume covers:
Genesis of the Baltic Fleet
Cruise of the Smolensk and Peterburg
The Dogger Bank Incident
Situation at Port Arthur to the First Attack on 203-metre hill
The Blockade of Kwangtung
Destruction of the Ships at Port Artur and the Torpedo Attack on the Sevastopol
Fall of Port Arthur
Progress of the Baltic Fleet
Japanese Preparations for the Baltic Fleet
Fleet Movements in March and April
Concentration of and the Final Approach of the Baltic Fleet up to Contact
The Battle of the Sea of Japan (Tsushima) in five phases
Admiral Nebogatov’s Surrender
The Sakhalin Expeditions
I will admit that in the past I have tended to stop reading the histories at the climax that is Tsushima so reading the last chapters in this book were well worth the effort.
Adding Corbett to my Kindle copies of Semenoff as well as the works by Hough, and Warner & Warner in particular, I feel I have a good view (at least as good as an historical view can get) of the Maritime side of the Russo-Japanese War (RJW). I will look for further works on the land warfare at the time but I can’t help but wonder if the performance of the Japanese against the Russians during the RJW encouraged the Japanese to take on the Soviets and Mongolians at Khalkin-gol (Nomonhan), a battle that resulted in the Japanese agreeing to a peace with the Soviets and which allowed the Soviets to concentrate on their war with Germany.
Julian Corbett (Later Sir Julian Corbett) wrote the Maritime Operations of the Russo-Japanese War as a confidential publication for the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty War Staff. It was never made available to the general reader until well after Corbett’s death. Corbett composes a picture of the war by writing a continuous narrative that weaves the interrelationship of land and sea events as they affect each other. He examines the political objectives, the geography of the area as well as the naval aspects to tell that story. Because Corbett writes in a continues narratives he is easy to read as well.
Naval Institute Press published a hardback version of Corbett’s work back in 1994. This is the first release of the history in paperback. It is also released in an eBook version (Kindle). As with Volume 1, there are none of the original illustrations that accompanied the 1914/1915 editions of Corbett’s work.
This volume is smaller than the first volume but arguably more exciting. There are 24 chapters in this volume. 11 Appendices and an Index.
For example, on page 404 is Appendix III, which contains a translation of the Instructions for the Vladivostok Squadron sent by Vice-Admiral Stark to Rear-Admiral Baron Shtakelberg at Vladivostok and notes:
I must point out that Japan has not subscribed to the Paris Declaration of the 16th April 1856; and therefore we shall not hesitate to inflict as much damage as possible to the enemy on the sea. Being convinced that during war the Japanese merchant vessels will not think twice about flying the flags of other nationalities, I am forwarding to your Excellency copies of the regulations laid down for Japanese merchant vessels, which may be of use in establishing the actual nationality of vessels stopped by you, of which only valuable prizes captured at no great distance from Vladivostok may be sent to that port; all the remainder must be sent to the bottom without consideration of pity and without hesitation.
This book belongs on any naval historian’s bookshelf, and now that it is available in both paperback and electronic form it is available to a wider reading audience.
As before, as a companion set to Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, Vols 1 and 2, look for a copy of The Russo-Japanese War at Sea 1904-5: Volume 1-Port Arthur, the Battles of the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan and Volume 2: The Battle of Tsushima and the Aftermath by Vladimir Semenoff These works provide a view of the war from the Russian side.
In the same way I did with Volume 1, I highly recommend this work, especially for any naval historian, general reader with an interest in naval or Asian history, or anyone interested in the zenith of the pre-dreadnought period.
I mentioned the Little Wars TV Channel a while ago as a favoured YouTube channel and the Little Wars guys are preparing another season. I suspect there is a frustrated TV channel executive in the group.
Another channel that I particularly enjoy at the moment is Drachinifel’s. As many of you know, I have a great interest in matters nautical, both historical and wargaming. I have a collection of 1/3000 scale ships for wargaming with, 1/1200 coastal forces and ancient galleys tucked away somewhere.
As mentioned above, Drachinifel’s channel is one of interest to me at the moment. In a series of 7 to 10 minute pieces (sometimes longer) he looks at a particular ship of interest and builds a programme around it – with contemporary photographs where available, sometimes with reference to a model and with archival film where available. He also runs a Patreon account to garner support for his efforts.
The link to his channel is below – well worth having a look if your bent is a nautical bent (and even if it is not).
I had my reading schedule well planned out then River Gunboats –
An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Roger Branfill-Cook turned up in the mail and for the last couple of weeks it has taken over from my reading pile. What a great book.
Branfill-Cook has surveyed the river gunboat from their first appearance in 1824 with the Honourable East India Company’s gunboat Diana, in action on the Irrawaddy River in Burma through the river gunboats used in the First and Second World Wars to The US Brown Water Navy in Vietnam and into today’s gunboats.
What was amazing to me was the number of nations that ran river gunboats and Branfill-Cook notes vessels from places such as the Republic of Acre (I had to look this one up but let me give you a hint – think South America 1899); Austria-Hungary; Cameroon; USA and CSA; Estonia; Manchukuo; Sudan (and the Mahdi); Uzbekistan; and Yugoslavia to name a few of the 56 states listed as having gunboats.
Around 40 military campaigns in the 150 years from 1824 involved gunboats – some campaigns were large, some small and some are best described as bizarre. The book does not only look at the historic vessels but updates on modern riverine craft of today.
Apart from a useful bibliography, there are two appendices – one briefly dealing with River Gunboat Camouflage Schemes and the other looking at River and Gunboats in Popular Culture – and many of the older movies mentioned there can be found today on YouTube.
Each chapter looks at the vessels used by that country and includes photographs of the vessels where possible as well as details such as the date launched, armament, speed, and fate.
As an example of the content and as I mentioned Acre above, the entry for Acre covers the period July 1899 to November 1903 and the three declared republics. The gunboats involved were the Bolivian armed launch Rio Afua later captured by the insurgents and renamed Independencia. After the diplomatic peace settlement of 1903 the Independencia became part of the Brazilian Navy.
The book is in Hardcover. The book contains 336 pages and is published in the US by the Naval Institute Press (published on October 15, 2018). US ISBN: 9781591146148.