Archive for April, 2015

The Writings of Julian Corbett, British Naval Strategist

April 30, 2015

The United States had Alfred Mahan who was universally known at the time; Great Britain had Julian Corbett, an equal to Mahan but sadly not as well known on this side of the Atlantic. Both are/were considered formidable thinkers, but their writings, separated by years and philosophies, offered at times contrary views of the role of the navy in world affairs and in conflicts.Their differing viewpoints on the use of the navy are discussed in: Naval Classical Thinkers and Operational Art; Classical Theories of Sea Power and World Economic Systems; and Command of the Sea: An Old Concept Resurfaces in a New Form.

Among Corbett’s works, his major work on strategy is Some principles of maritime strategy (new ed., 1918); other works informed by his strategic concepts are: Drake and the Tudor Navy (2 vols. 1898); Successors of Drake (1900); England in the seven years’ war: A study in combined strategy (2 vols., 1907); and England in the Mediterranean (2 vols., 2d ed,1917). Many of his other writings, more historical in outlook and reflecting his extensive research and editing skills, are here.

An examination of him and his work is Corbett: A Man Before His Time; biographical information is here;  The Sir Julian Corbett Prize in Modern Naval History is named after him.


19th Century Histories of the Royal Navy

April 24, 2015

There are two multi-volumes histories of the Royal Navy that are still cited today. The seven-volume The Royal Navy; a history from the earliest times to the present by William Laird Clowes was published between 1897 and 1903. It is the only attempt to write a complete history of the Royal Navy by a single author. However, Clowes in the later volumes did employ additional authors, among them Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Mahan. Each volume has its own index; volume 1 takes the history through 1603, so you can imagine the detail in the succeeding volumes. All volumes are also supplemented with numerous charts, portraits, and statistical compilations. A brief biography of Clowes is found in the 1905 edition of Who’s Who; his obituary is online as well. Other writings are here.

The six-volume The naval history of Great Britain, from the declaration of war by France, in 1793, to the accession of George IV (new ed, 1878) was authored by William James whose biography is here (228). It is a very detailed recounting of virtually every encounter during the involved time frame; it also carries various appendices of value. The remarkable aspect of this undertaking was that James not only read many of the published chronicles, but he also perused ships’ log books and when and where he could, he interviewed the actual participants. A vast index to this work should be consulted as well. For more information, read Andrew Lambert’s introduction to a modern reprinting of this work.

World War II American Submarine War Reports

April 20, 2015

Over 1500 reports in excess of 63,000 pages are available online. (The scope and typical content of these reports are explained here.)The reports range from the mundane task of painting the ship to the more nerve-wracking experience of being the subject of depth-charge attacks.

BBC’s “Empire of the Seas” Video Series

April 15, 2015

This four-part, well-produced documentary traces the development of the Royal Navy and its impact on the rise of English power. This is worth the four hours of watching.

The Surrender of the CSS Shenandoah

April 9, 2015

Today marks the end of the American Civil War; however, lags in communication and the attendant breakdown of communications infrastructure greatly delayed the relaying of this event. While Confederate land forces surrendered by the end of the summer of 1865, the Shenandoah did so toward the end of the year. The CSS Shenandoah surrendered in Liverpool, England on November 6, 1865 ((“The Cruise of the Shenandoah,” Southern Historical Society Papers, 35(1900): 235-258; Hunt’s The Shenandoah; or, The last Confederate cruiser (1910); articles from The Liverpool Mercury, November 1865)). This was the last Confederate surrender.

Other relevant reads include: The Diplomats Who Sank a Fleet: The Confederacy’s Undelivered European Fleet and the Union Consular Service; Civil War at Sea; Confederate Ships Afloat (from DANFS); Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, 30 vols.; Officers in the Confederate States navy, 1861-65 [A register]; History of the Confederate States navy from its organization to the surrender of its last vessel (1887); The secret service of the Confederate States in Europe, or, How the Confederate cruisers were equipped 2 vols., (1884, by James Bulloch, the Confederacy’s chief foreign agent in Great Britain); and Recollections of a Rebel Reefer (1917).


Winston Churchill’s Speeches as First Lord of the Admiralty

April 7, 2015

Two of his speeches when he held the above position are found in Conduct of the War at Sea, published in 1915. He was removed as First Lord with a re-organization of the government in mid-1915; here is his speech on this subject. His numerous “contributions” to Parliament are seen here where they can be limited by his years as First Lord (1910-1915).