Dreadnought

Dreadnought: The Ship that Changed the World, by Roger Parkinson

I.B. Tauris (2014), Hardcover, 304 pages

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The title is actually a misnomer, the book covers far more than just the building of the eponymous battleship that in 1906, changed the face of naval warfare. It is actually an account of the development of capital ship strategy in the world’s major navies btween the 1870s and the 1920s, starting with the first ironclad warships with breech-loading weapons and ending with the 15 inch gunned behemoths that fought in the last pitched battle between battleships at Jutland and were effectively outlawed at the Washington Naval Conference in 1921 because the ruinous cost of building them had nearly bankrupted some nations, including Britain. This is an interesting, well-paced book, taking what can be a dense subject and making it easily accessible to the lay reader without sacrifcing any of the essential detail. In between the description of the various features of each succeeding class of warship, Parkinson manages to inject many of the personalities that were responsible for the developments in naval strategy. Larger than life characters such as Jacky Fisher, Winston Churchill, Alfred von Tirpitz, Kaiser Wilhelm, Admirals Jellicoe, Beatty and Scheer, stride through the pages. Parkinson also manages to look beyond the Britain-Germany arms race that dominates so many books of this kind, to show what was happening in the other major navies of the world. France, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Japan and the USA, and even the South American republics, are all covered, and the book shows just how even the extravagant cost of these monster ships was not enough to deter even relatively poor countries from joining in the race. This is a truly absorbing book, one of the best I have read in this subject area, highly recommended for all this intrigued by naval history, war at sea, or the history of the early 20th century.

9/10

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