Wartime Standard Ships – Review

Wartime Standard Ships, published by Seaforth Naval and written by Nick Robins (ISBN: 9781848323766, published: 23rd August 2017) looks at the Wartime Standard Ships of both World Wars.

There are many books looking at “linchpins to victory” and “decisive contributions to the winning of the war”, be they the fleets, corvettes, rapid production, the RAF and the Battle of Britain, Dunkirk, the entry of the USA, the Soviet efforts and so on. A war cannot be won, however, if  a country is cut off from its supplies of food, raw materials and completed goods and keeping those supplies coming (as Germany and Japan failed to do in World War 2) is critical to winning the war.

This was the very real threat facing England the United Kingdom in both World Wars as the German u-boat campaigns went into full swing. The solution (apart from more and better convoy escorts) was to build ships faster than the enemy can sink them.

To rapidly build ships, standard designs become necessary and that is the theme of this book. Nick Robins discusses Standard Ships from the concept of them (austere, functional and lots of them), through the design criteria and then splitting the book into essentially two sections, looking first at the First World War and then the Second World War. In both cases he discusses ship building in Great Britain, the USA and Canada in particular. Interestingly the Australians, who owned substantial fleets in both wars in terms of numbers if not weight, and who were one of the main suppliers of food and raw materials, did not really get into the swing of building Standard Ships.

The author also looks at the Standard Ships built by the Germans in the Second World War and the limited numbers of the Japanese Standard Ships. The Liberty Ship is covered in some detail of course as is its successor, the Victory Ship.

Robins concludes by examining the successes and failures, concluding that perhaps the “unparalleled success of the American ship-building programmes in both World Wars” was a major contribution to victory. Robins quotes the United States Maritime Commission in 1943 which noted:

The Liberty ship is a product of war use. It can be classed with the tank, the fighting plane and other materials of war. It was produced to be expendable if necessary. If expended, it had served its purpose.

The 172 pages of this book are well illustrated with relevant black and white photographs as well as interesting sidebars. I have a well-known interest in naval history and the ships that form much of it and had of course heard of the Liberty and Victory ships and the contribution of the merchant marine to the overall victory but in this book it seemed that I was learning something new on every page.

There is a useful References chapter at the end of the book and index that contains among other things, a lot of references to individual vessels.

This is another good work on a little understood subject and one that will continue to keep these largely defenceless vessels in the place they deserve to be in the history of both World Wars. Recommended.

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A New Project – The Lobster War

A number of posts have been floating around the Internet recently about a game called Cod Wars, set in the period of the Royal Navy’s losses to the plucky Icelanders. The game was developed by David Manley, run at Salute this year and there is a write up on his blog, Don’t Throw Bloody Spears at Me! This had me reading about the Cod Wars. The Cod Wars led on to the Turbot Troubles of Newfoundland (and I learned a lot about Newfoundland’s political history at the same time). All this then naturally enough led to the Lobster War.

Briefly, [from Wikipedia] the Lobster War (also known as Lobster Operation) is a name given to a dispute over spiny lobsters which occurred from 1961 to 1963 between Brazil and France. The Brazilian government refused to allow French fishing vessels to catch spiny lobsters 100 miles off the Brazilian northeast coast, arguing that lobsters “crawl along the continental shelf”, while the French sustained that “lobsters swim” and that therefore, they might be caught by any fishing vessel from any country. The dispute was resolved unilaterally by Brazil, which extended its territorial waters to a 200-mile zone, taking in the disputed lobsters’ bed.

There was, however, two fleets mobilised and involved and it could have got nasty. Best reason yet for this as a project however is the chance to use some 1960s naval technology and by 1960s I mean anything from about 1942 onward. The competing fleets were the Brazilian and French Fleets. The Brazillians utilised:

  • Ipiranga (V17) – a corvette
  • Paraná (D29) – a Fletcher class destroyer
  • Babitonga Pará (D-27) – a Fletcher class destroyer
  • Acre (D 10) – a destroyer
  • Araguari (D-15) – a destroyer
  • Greenhalgh (D 24) – a destroyer
  • Almirante Barroso (C-11) – a cruiser
  • Tamandaré (C-12) – a cruiser
  • Minas Gerais – an aircraft carrier
  • Riachuelo (S15) – submarine
  • 1 Squadron of B-17 maritime patrol aircraft
  • 1 Squadron of P-15
  • 4 x P-16 Tracker

Arrayed against this formidable force were the French forces offshore Brazil and the west coast of Africa:

  • Offshore Brazil:
    • Tartu (D636) – escort vessel (I guess like a frigate)
    • Paul Goffeny – despatch boat
  • Offshore West Africa:
    • Clemenceau – aircraft carrier
    • De Grasse – cruiser
    • Cassard (D623) – escort vessel
    • Jauréguiberry – escort vessel The Picard – destroyer
    • Le Gascon – destroyer
    • L’Agenais – destroyer
    • Le Béarnais – destroyer
    • Le Vendéen – destroyer
    • La Baise A625 – tanker

What’s not to like about this – could make for some fun wargaming. Now to hunt up my Navwar catalogue!