I can recall first reading an Angus Konstam Osprey book at University, studying eighteenth century piracy. Then, some years later, I was researching an officer who served onboard a Motor Torpedo Boat on D-Day, and searching for an Osprey book on Fairmile D class MTB’s. You’ve guessed it, Angus Konstam wrote it. So to see this new book written by Konstam shows how broad his expertise runs. Versatility is a much under-rated quality for a Historian to have.
Britain began the second world war as the worlds primary Naval power. In 1939, as in 1815, Britannia could legitimately claim to rule the waves. But, as Konstam argues, the cracks were already beginning to appear. Although she possessed 12 Battleships, 10 of them were over 20 years old and had served in the first world war. Britain had paid a heavy financial burden between 1914 and 1918, and Naval expansion was one area that looked likely to suffer. And after being out-maneouvred in several Naval treaties in the 20’s and 30’s, the Royal Navy and her ship designers were at a severe disadvantage when 1939 beckoned. An example, if every any is needed, of the dangers of politicians hampering their own armed forces.
This book looks at the story behind the construction of two classes of ships which illustrate the situation the Royal Navy found itself in. Restricted by the Washington treaty to not exceed 35,000 tons, the Nelson class was planned as a compromise. The two ships, Nelson and Rodney, had a bizarre shape, with all of their main guns forward, and the superstucture sited aft. Although they looked odd, they proved to be very capable seaboats, stable gun platforms and gave sterling service – HMS Rodney proved pivotal in finally sinking the Bimarck in 1941. A valuable insight for those who think the new Daring class Destroyers ugly – if it works, it works. Wellington’s redcoats might not have looked as smart as the Imperial Guard at Waterloo, but they beat them off all the same.
By the late 1930’s it was clear that Germany, Italy and Japan were not going to abide by their treaty obligations. Britain had stuck to her obligations for much longer, and as a result found herself severely behind with augmenting her Battleship fleet. The solution was a new class of Battleships, the King George V class. Designed on the eve of war, they were built and entered service in the early years of the war. So urgent was the need to get them into service that HMS Prince of Wales sailed to take on the Bismarck with civilian workmen still onboard. As much as the class provided a valuable boost the Royal Navy, they still had their weaknesses. Their anti-aircraft defences were woefully undergunned, as shown by the loss of the Prince of Wales off Singapore in 1941. The days of the Battleship were increasingly numbered.
This book charts the story of the second world war British battleship beautifully. Konstam has to be one of the most foremost British naval historians. With an array of action photos, and Osprey’s ubiquitous illustrations and diagrams, this is an essential read for Naval enthusiasts. I can imagine this book being of real use if I was looking to build myself a nice scale model of Nelson or Prince of Wales. Now, theres a thought…