Battle at Sea by John Keegan

John Keegan is often cited as Britain’s premier military historian, and reading this book one can see why. Battle at Sea: From Man of War to Submarine is a fascinating look at changes in naval warfare from the apex of the age of sail through to World War II. What is particularly interesting about this book is the way that Keegan uses four different naval battles – Trafalgar, Jutland, Midway and the battle for the Atlantic – to illuminate the major themes and developments that he wishes to highlight. Each battle is treated in a great deal of depth (including placing it in the appropriate historical and strategic context), and then the major theme is expounded with reference to the prior discussion of the battle. The major trends that Keegan discusses are the move from the battle winning techniques of Nelson, through the effects of explosive shells and improved technology on the First World War, to the revolutionary innovations of aircraft carriers and submarines. Another aspect of the book that I found of great interest was the impact of the battle on the strategic context of the conflict. The destruction of the French battle fleet at Trafalgar meant that Napoleon could not defeat the British; the tactical victory at Jutland nevertheless left the British with a fully functioning fleet but left the Germans with an unusable one. These explications of the wider implications of these battles at sea raise this book from a good piece of military history to something altogether more profound.

Rating 4/5.

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~ by Doug Newdick on December 22, 2007.

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