Thursday, November 15, 2012

From Forecastle to Cabin Captain Samuel Samuels

Seafarer's Voices 8: From Forecastle to Cabin

9781848321267 Seaforth Publishing 2012

This is the autobiography of an American who ran away to sea at the age of 11 and charts his rise from the lowliest seaman (berthed under the forecastle) to the command of his own ship and the occupation of the luxurious after cabin. In the course of an action-packed career spanning half a century, he experienced almost all of the vicissitudes of life in the nineteenth-century merchant service: storm and shipwreck, famine and disease, press-gangs and desertion, piracy, violence and mutiny – this last, at different times, as both mutineer and victim. Like many a sailor he was often in more danger ashore than afloat, but many of his adventures make excellent stories – not least his romantic, but foolhardy rescue of a Christian woman from the harem in Constantinople. In this case the story did not quite follow the script, as she married his accomplice in the rescue. Samuels is best known for his later career, as captain of the packet ship Dreadnought, a ship built especially for him and under his direction. Known as ‘The Wild Boat of the Atlantic’ in the 1850s this ship was reckoned the fastest vessel on the New York–Liverpool service, and regularly beat even the steamers on this route. This success was largely down to Samuels’ hard-driving style as master, and much of the latter part of the book is taken up with the resulting crew troubles, culminating in a full-blown mutiny that he put down with characteristic forcefulness.
This work is a revamped and abridged version of a book first published in 1877. The result results in what was apparently a tedious tome in its original guise into something eminently readable. The late 19th century was indeed the ultimate age of the sailing ship as they were rapidly being replaced by steam powered vessels in both mercantile and military service. For fans of sailing ships and life at sea, this book would make a fine addition to their collection.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Naval Warfare 1914-1918: From Coronel To The Atlantic And Zeebrugge

By Tim Benbow Amber Books 9781906626167

At the start of the war, the German Empire had cruisers scattered across the globe, some of which were subsequently used to attack Allied merchant shipping. The British Royal Navy systematically hunted them down, though not without some embarrassment from its inability to protect Allied shipping. However, the bulk of the German East-Asia squadron did not have orders to raid shipping and was instead underway to Germany when it encountered elements of the British fleet. Soon after the outbreak of hostilities, Britain initiated a naval blockade of Germany. The strategy proved effective, cutting off vital military and civilian supplies. The 1916 Battle of Jutland developed into the largest naval battle of the war, the only full-scale clash of battleships during the war. The Kaiserliche Marine's High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, squared off against the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, led by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The engagement was a standoff, as the Germans, outmaneuvered by the larger British fleet, managed to escape and inflicted more damage to the British fleet than they received. Strategically, however, the British asserted their control of the sea, and the bulk of the German surface fleet remained confined to port for the duration of the war. German U-boats attempted to cut the supply lines between North America and Britain. The nature of submarine warfare meant that attacks often came without warning, giving the crews of the merchant ships little hope of survival. The U-boat threat lessened in 1917, when merchant ships entered convoys escorted by destroyers. With the last few men who served in World War I now dying out, and the 90th anniversary of the Armistice coming in November 2008, there is no better time to reevaluate this controversial war and shed fresh light on the conflict. With the aid of numerous black and white and color photographs, many previously unpublished, the World War I series recreates the battles and campaigns that raged across the surface of the globe, on land, at sea and in the air. The text is complemented by full-color maps that guide the reader through specific actions and campaigns.
Profusely illustrated, this book is written in an easy to read format.

Abandon Ship! The Post-War Memoirs of Captain Tony McCrum RN

Abandon Ship!

By Tony McCrum 9781848846661 2012 Pen and Sword Books

Captain Tony McCrum’s naval career started in 1932. He survived the sinking of HMS Skipjack at Dunkirk and went on to serve on minesweepers and at sea during the landings at Salerno. His wartime experiences were recently published as Sunk by Stukas.

This book covers the second part of his naval career between 1945 and 1963. Having arrived back in Plymouth from Trincomlee as a lieutenant aboard the destroyer Tarter in November 1945, his first appointment was as senior instructor at the RN Signals School in Devonport. There then followed two appointments as Flag Lieutenant; first to Admiral Pridham-Wippell, CinC Plymouth Command and then Admiral Sir Rhoderick McGrigor, CinC Home Fleet, where he was also Deputy Fleet Communications Officer. He was based on the admiral’s flagship, the battleship HMS Duke of York which he joined in 1947. The fleet exercised in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and ‘showed the flag’ in various ports in the USA, Caribbean Islands and the Baltic. In May 1948 he was promoted Lt. Commander. In 1950 he instructed at the main Naval Signals School at Leyedene House near Petersfield.

Promoted Commander, now 32 years of age, he was surprised to be appointed to accompany King George VI on a state visit to Australia and New Zealand. This was to be aboard the liner SS Gothic as there was no Royal Yacht at that time. However after months of preparation the voyage was cancelled because of the King’s terminal illness and the coronation of Britain’s new Queen.

In November 1954 he took his first command, HMS Concord, a destroyer in the 8th Destroyer Squadron based in Hong Kong. During his eighteen month captaincy of this ship he saw action off the coast of Malaya and a lengthy visit to Australia to assist in the aftermath of a hurricane. After a spell ashore as Training Commander at HMS Ganges and after promotion to Captain in 1958, he was sent to Norway on the staff of the CinC Northern European Command. In November 1960 he was again given a seagoing command. He was to skipper HMS Meon and responsibility for the Amphibious Warfare Squadron in the Persian Gulf. The squadron composed of Meon, two tank-landing ships, four tank-landing craft and a Rhino (a pontoon-like vessel for the shallow-water landing of tanks). He was ordered to cover an area extending from the East African coast, the Red Sea and to the Persian Gulf. Having worked-up this mixed bunch of vessels and their crews, plus army personnel he was confronted with the defence of Kuwait when it was threatened by the Iraqi dictator General Kassem in 1961. He was charged with landing the twelve tanks in his squadron to defend Kuwait’s main port of Shuwaikh. This was successfully carried out under difficult circumstances and the Iraqi invasion was defeated. After 42 years in the RN, Tony retired to be with his wife and young family.

The book is reasonably well written and covers a period that has not been covered in depth, the early years of the Cold War and Royal Navy amphibious operations in the Middle East.  A few errors were noted in the manuscript, which are probably faulty recollection from the time elapsed, HMS Barham was sunk by the Germans - the Italians and HMS Concord has 4.5 inch guns not 4.7. One other error if the flyleaf spells HMS Tartar TARTER.

The book is well worth reading and kudos to the author and publisher for bringing out this book.

The Aden Effect

9781612511092 Naval Institute Press 2012
Murder, politics, seapower, Middle East instability, and intrigue in the White House are all part of this action thriller. Set against a background of modern piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the story begins as the new Ambassador to Yemen, C.J. Sumner, is assigned to negotiate access to the oil fields off the island of Socotra and enlist help countering pirates who are capturing ships at will off the Horn of Africa. Meeting with resistance to her diplomatic overtures, Sumner recruits Connor Stark, a former naval officer turned mercenary who knows the region, as her defense attaché. When Stark sets up a meeting with the owner of a Yemeni shipping company and the ruling family, the challenges begin.
Against this backdrop, diplomatic security agent Damien Golzari is investigating the death of a State Department official’s son when he stumbles on an illicit khat trade involving Somali refugees in the United States. His probe leads him to Yemen and the shipping company owned by Stark’s contact. As a result of this chance discovery, the two men are forced to become unwitting allies when they discover that their mysterious roads lead to one source.
To earn the favor of the Yemeni government, Sumner sets up a humanitarian-assistance mission to Socotra. But the Navy warship assigned to assist her is attacked by pirates. Stark assumes command and mounts a daring counterattack. Sumner negotiates a treaty to develop the oil fields and provide mutual security from the pirates, who, unknown to her, are working with other powers. In a final confrontation, Stark and Golzari must decide whether to challenge a navy and the most powerful man in the world.
A good effort at a first novel, a genre we normally do not review. But having had the privilege of once having dinner with Tom Clancy's first editor, I know USNI has shown a knack in the past of spotting good novelists. This book flows well with the only complaint being the imaginary USS Bennington, a ship so poorly run it is a bit tough to believe. With a bit more polish, hopefully the next work, from what appears to be a planned series, will not stretch credulity too far.

Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885

By Piotr Olender 978-8361421535 MMP Books Maritime Series 3104

This new book covers the Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885, a little-known part of late 19th century naval history. The background, operations and outcomes are described in detail. All the ships involved, both French and Chinese, are described and illustrated with full technical specifications. Profusely illustrated with scale drawings and photos.
This little known war, intended to open trade routes into the interior of China, profoundly shaped Southeast Asia for the subsequent 70 years. 


THE ROYAL NAVY IN FOCUS 1980-89 Our Own Titles

Maritime Books ISBN 9781904459484

Steve Bush, Editor of Warship World Magazine, has done a credible job since assuming the authorship of this popular pictorial histories from company founder Mike Critchley. 
The 1980s was a period the began with the infamous John Nott cuts which were about to be implemented when the Falklands War broke out in 1982. Most of the remainder of the decade was an upbeat period of the future of the Royal Navy until the end of the Cold War in 1989 when cuts continuing to this day have reduced this proud service to a mere shadow of its former self.
The book contains about 150 full color photographs of ships of the  Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service and Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT).
This book makes a fine addition to the bookshelf of any ship lover.