Sunday, August 23, 2009


By Stephen McLaughlin
Retail Price : $89.95
ISBN 1557504814Binding : HBNumber of Pages : 528Number of Photos : 105 monochromeNumber of Line Art Drawings: 96
Drawing on Russian research, Stephen McLaughlin has compiled the design histories of all Russian armored line-of-battle ships from the Pëtr Velikii of the 1870s for the czar to concepts in the 1950s for Stalin. By using practically all source material, this book provides a fresh look at Russian battleships, compares them factually with foreign contemporaries, and corrects errors of detail in previous accounts. Over half of Russia’s forty completed or acquired battleships met violent ends. War, political revolution, and oppression constantly leave their marks.
The book has 49 chapters, all short. Chapters 1–24 cover ironclads, pre-dreadnought battleships, the Russo-Japanese war, and subsequent revolutionary activities, including the Potëmkin incident. At a time when a warship was reckoned to lose 10% of her fighting capability every 1,000 miles from base, Russian pre-dreadnoughts sailed halfway around the globe and then fought a refreshed Japanese fleet at Tsushima. An interesting chapter covers the technical lessons that the Russians drew from the war. At the same time when the RN and USN produced their first dreadnought designs with greatly reduced secondary armament, the Russians decided to increase their battleships’ anti-torpedo boat armament.
Chapters 25–37 cover the dreadnoughts, modernization of older battleships, the First World War, and the Russian Revolution. Russian pre-dreadnoughts fought German dreadnoughts. Ironies abound. Revolutionary fervor often came from sailors. In 1921 the fleet revolted against Bolshevik oppression. Battleship Sevastopol suffered over 100 killed in a duel against Red Army artillery. The Bolsheviks mustered 45,000 troops to attack across the frozen Gulf of Finland. Victorious, the Bolsheviks renamed the battleships for revolutionary political correctness and executed over 2,000 revolutionary sailors.
Chapters 38–48 cover modernization of Czarist battleships and plans before and after the Second World War. This section necessarily involves mostly conceptual designs that were never started and construction that was never completed. Chapter 49 has Stephen McLaughlin’s conclusions. Russian battleships had flaws but so did all such ships. His evaluation of tumblehome, a weight-saving feature in the 19th century, should interest U.S. Navy readers, since this feature has recently been considered for new USN surface combatants for its stealth qualities.
Illustrations are large, sharp, and detailed, and include several two-page spreads. The book covers foreign influences, gunfire control systems, former foreign ships in Russian service, and former Russian ships in Japanese service. Russian plans often never became reality. A plan to rearm the ex-Italian Novorossiisk with Russian 12-inch guns was abandoned after the ship discovered, evidently via her anchor chain, that plans for minesweeping of Black Sea harbors had not been carried out, either.
What this book does not cover: As primarily a design history from Russian sources instead of a general operational history, this book does not repeat or summarize published accounts of combat. Modelers should know that color schemes are not covered. The book does not cover coastal defense ships, the very large cruisers begun in the 1940s, and the unarmored ships of the nuclear age. Stephen McLaughlin covers the large cruisers separately in Warship 2004.
Russian and Soviet Battleships will fascinate any battleship enthusiast. This book is yet more interesting for its broad view. In describing the difficulties of translating the designs to actual warships the book illuminates the varying industrial state of Russia during the battleship era.

Review by Michael C. Potter, Captain, SC, USNR

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