The Lure of Neptune: German-Soviet Naval Collaboration and Ambitions, 1919-1941
Tobias R. Philbin III. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. Bib. Ind.. Maps. Notes. Photos. $34-95 ($33.20)
Reviewed by Dr. Gerhard L. Weinberg
From late August 1939 to June 1941— the period of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact—the most extensive cooperation between the Germans and the Soviets was in the field of naval activities. Forty-one years ago, I wrote the first detailed account of that cooperation based on the then-available documentation— Germany and the Soviet Union, 1939-1941 (Brill, 1954)—although Dr. Philbin has used neither that work nor any of my other relevant publications. Now that more of the German materials are accessible and at least some of the former Soviet Union’s archives are beginning to open, it is a very good time to reexamine these issues.
Tobias Philbin not only has done that, but also has tried to set the cooperation between Germany and the Soviet Union during the first portion of World War 11 into its broader settings: the relationship between the two navies in the interwar years and the effects of the naval plans, hopes, and ambitions of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
During the 1920s, both Germany and the Soviet Union began to rebuild their naval forces, both of which were relatively small and handicapped by the suspicions of their respective civilian masters because of prior disloyalty—i.e., the March 1920 Kapp Putsch in Germany and the 1921 Kronstadt Revolt in the Soviet Union. The minimal cooperation which appears to have existed between the two—and which is sketched out in this book—was apparently more for intelligence purposes than anything else. It is possible but not very likely that information from the archives of either side—and one should not overlook those German records which were either in East German archives or captured and not returned by the Soviets—will add further details to the presently rather murky picture which Dr. Philbin can offer.
After 1933, there were major plans for new naval projects in both countries. Stalin wanted to develop a massive high- seas navy built around superbattleships. Hitler had the very same idea—and, although Dr. Philbin does not point this out, so did the Japanese. The concept of overcoming any quantitative lead of the Anglo- Saxon Powers by the qualitative advantage of battleships of very much greater size and heavier armament was characteristic of all three would-be world conquerors in the 1930s. Nevertheless, they appear to have developed this concept independently and in ignorance of each other’s astonishingly similar ambitions.
It was in the context of his effort to build a blue-water navy that Stalin became interested in the technological expertise of the Germans (but only after his attempts to purchase ships and technology from the United States fell through). It would be in this field that the Soviet Union would derive its greatest benefits from cooperation with Germany during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
In his account of the years 1939-41, Dr. Philbin stresses correctly the personal role that Stalin played in the negotiations, especially those affecting economic agreements between the two countries. Hitler played a similarly direct role on the German side—though by instructions rather than personal participation in the talks.
In substantial separate sections, the author details a number of areas and activities in which the cooperation between the two countries was especially important: the story of “Basis Nord,” the naval base provided by the Soviets to the Germans not far from Murmansk; the German sale of the incomplete heavy cruiser Lützow to the Soviet Union; the essential character of Soviet oil supplies to the Germans during the first part of the naval war; and the Soviet assistance—in the form of icebreakers—to the Germans in transferring the armed merchant raider Komet through the Northern Sea Route into the Pacific Ocean. In each of these cases, there were frictions and troubles along the way, but there also were real accomplishments in the eyes of both partners. Certainly when it came to practical measures of cooperation, Great Britain and the United States would find the Soviet Union no easier to deal with after June 1941 than the Germans had earlier; if anything, the Germans had an easier time of it.
Dr. Philbin shows an appropriate skepticism about the reliability of the memoirs and other self-serving assertions of Grand Admiral Erich Raeder and of the changing versions of various Soviet memoirs. Undoubtedly, more information on the war years will come to light as additional German and Soviet materials become available; here, there is more room for revelations than on the 1920s and the early 1930s. When that occurs, I am hopeful that the author will revise this book. In particular, two aspects of the relationship that may well turn out to be important for any understanding of Soviet naval development after 1941 need to be examined: the extent to which plans and blueprints furnished to the Red Navy by the Germans may have been used in Soviet construction projects, and the extent to which German-provided optical equipment may have assisted the Red Navy in that field as well.
In the meantime, The Lure of Neptune will serve both as a helpful introduction to a generally neglected topic and a place to find detailed accounts of some episodes in German-Soviet naval cooperation during the 1939-41 period.
The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company
John Keay. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1994. Bib. Ulus. Maps. Notes. $25.00 ($22.50)
Reviewed by Dr. Gordon K. Harrington
John Keay’s history of the English East India Company is a vast panorama that tells the often swashbuckling story of an English trading enterprise that, probably more than any other institution, made the United Kingdom the world’s greatest imperial power. Beginning with the first uncertain efforts during the early 17th century, the author brings his graphic work to near completion with his portrayal of the explosive development of the “Honourable Company” under the leadership of Robert Clive and Warren Hastings in the latter half of the 18th century. With shorter strokes of the brush, he outlines the precipitate decline of the Company after the Hastings era.
The panorama has been segmented into four distinct panels. The initial panel portrays the events of the first half of the 17th century. Inspired by the successes of the Spanish and Portuguese in the East Indies and the Pacific, a group of 218 London businessmen prevailed upon Elizabeth I to issue a charter on 1 December 1600 to “The Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies.” In February 1601, James Lancaster sailed with four vessels bound for the East Indies, by way of the Indian Ocean, reaching Sumatra in 16 months. Establishing a factory on Java, he loaded a cargo of pepper and headed home, arriving in September 1603. Successive voyages generally were quite successful. The combined profit of the first two voyages was 95%; the third and fifth was 234%. Only the fourth was unprofitable.
Encouraged by such profits, James I issued a new patent to the Company, extending its charter indefinitely. The King also prevailed upon the Dutch, who had launched their own East India Company, to agree to a treaty delineating the spheres of influence of the two companies. The Dutchmen in Asia, however, were not as accommodating as those in Europe, and a long, bloody rivalry ensued. Conflict with the Portuguese also followed.
The second panel, covering 1640 to 1710, portrays a time of greater endeavor and greater risk for the East India Company. In India, the ports of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras became significant, but difficulties arose. First, Company employees were permitted to trade on their own account, especially in the local or country trade between East Indian ports. Thus, profits that should have gone to the Company flowed into private coffers. Second, rivals in England began to intrude on the Company’s monopoly. These interlopers engaged in reprehensible and sometimes violent actions for which the local rulers and peoples in the Indian Ocean basin held the Company responsible. As a result, the Company had to maintain an army and navy to defend itself against local attacks as well as the attacks of its trading rivals, English and otherwise.
In the third panel (1710-1760), the focus is on India. During this period, the Honourable Company began to rule Indian territory directly and just as directly face the growing influence of France in the region.
The final panel—portraying the period lasting from 1760 to 1820—depicts an era of world war between France and Great Britain. In the end, the battle fought on the Plains of Abraham at Quebec was just as significant as the one at Plassey in the Bengal. The British won the first round: France lost Canada, and its influence in India became relatively insignificant. However, British government’s inattention to the sensibilities of the British colonies south of Canada sparked a rebellion there. Out for revenge, France piled on, and the American colonies were lost.
In India, the military prowess of Robert Clive and the administrative skills of Warren Hastings turned the Mughal Dynasty into a puppet of the Company. “John Company” ruled millions of people and took the revenues of the regions it controlled. Furthermore, it continued trading in an area that stretched from the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic to China, Australia, and the islands of the Pacific.
Fearful of repeating the American disaster, the British government decided to pay more direct attention to the proper administration of the East India Company, especially in India. Consequently, the India Act—which established a Board of Control to supervise the actions of the far-flung business—was passed in 1785. This action made it possible for Great Britain to respond more effectively to a continuing French threat, which grew more serious during the years of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Age.
Initially, the Company still retained its trading monopoly, but it was not long before independent British businessmen gained the right to trade independently in India and elsewhere in the Company’s domains. By the beginning of the 19th century, therefore, the Company’s fortunes were souring, although it took 75 years before its doors closed forever. The author, however, spends little time on this period.
Certainly the colors of John Keay’s panorama are bright and exciting; however, the brush strokes really are not his. He seems to have painted on a canvas marked with numbers for each color. Having spent many months working in Honourable Company’s archives at Orbit House in London, I am somewhat frustrated—there is nothing new here. The author relied on earlier works on the Company and India, quoting liberally from them. One wonders if he has spent any time with the rich supply of primary sources that might have contributed to a more original analysis of the fascinating history of the English East India Company.
Books of Interest
By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Appointment with the Squire
Don Davis. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 368 pp. $24.95 ($19.96).
A nationally known crime reporter, Mr. Davis turns to fiction for the first time in this history-based thriller desribed by Kirkus Reviews as “very plausible, very possible, and very well done.” With action ranging from the front lines in World War 11 Europe to President Franklin Roosevelt’s retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, this is a novel of sinister espionage and high-stakes adventure. Besides a pageturning plot filled with suspense; ground, aerial, and naval combat; and human passions, the story rings true with historical plausibility and technical accuracy. Alongside a cast of believable fictional characters are the legendary personalities of the time who lend additional flavor and authenticity to the fast-paced story.
Brassey’s Encyclopedia of Military History and Biography
Franklin D. Margiotta, Ed. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1994. 1230 pp. Bib. Illus. Ind. Maps. Photos. $44.95 ($40.45).
Culled from Brassey’s six-volume International Military and Defense Encyclopedia, this comprehensive work covers military history topics ranging from ancient times to the recent Persian Gulf War. Famous personalities, important wars and battles, and specific topics are arranged alphabetically for easy reference. John Keegan, in his foreword, describes this book as “a valuable and comprehensive guide to the military history and biography of the Western world.” But he adds that by including “a new and creative balance in the recording of military events” with “emphasis on the importance of Islamic, Ottoman, and Chinese military styles,” this book “does much to ensure that the misconceptions stemming from the traditional Eurocentric methodology will not be repeated.”
The Diplomats, 1939-1979
Gordon A. Craig and Francis L. Lowenheim, Editors. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994 706 pp. Ind. Notes. Photos. $39.50 ($37.98).
Twenty-three interconnected essays by experts in their respective fields discuss the policies of ambassadors, foreign ministers, and heads of state in the critical period 1939-1979. The follow-on to Craig’s earlier work—The Diplomats, 1919-1939—this volume showcases such major diplomatic events as the Polish crisis at the end of World War II, the beginning of the Cold War, the 1956 Suez crisis, the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Encounter at Sea and a Heroic Lifeboat Journey
Ichiro Matsunaga, Gordon J. Van Wylen, and Kan Sagahara. Troy, MI: Momentum Books, 1991. 264 pp. Maps. Photos. $15.95 ($14-35). Paper.
Former antagonists come together a half-century later to recount the story of their wartime encounter. A U.S. submarine—the USS Hardhead (SS-365)— and a Japanese cruiser, HIJMS Natori came together east of the Philippines in 1944, and the story of that meeting provides insights into Japanese thoughts and perspectives during World War II as well as revealing the extent of human courage and perseverance under arduous circumstances. Matsunaga was communications officer in the Natori and Van Wylen served in the Hardhead.
Graf Spee’s Raiders: Challenge to the Royal Navy, 1914-1915
Keith Yates. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995 288 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $32.95 ($26.36).
When World War I began, the Royal Navy had not suffered a major defeat in more than a century. In November 1914, a Imperial German Navy cruiser squadron—commanded by Vice Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee—changed all that. The story of the short,but brilliant campaign waged by Admiral von Spee’s cruisers is recounted in exciting detail in this new book. The exploits of the SMS Emden in the Indian Ocean and the SMS Konigsberg in East Africa are included. The author critiques German and British strategies and makes the telling point that the ultimate defeat of Graf von Spee’s cruisers caused Germany to shift the emphasis of its war against British commerce from surface raiders to U-boats—a decision that was to have great significance in both World Wars.
A History of the Irish Naval Service
Aidan Mclvor. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 1994. 256 pp. Append. Bib. Gloss. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $39.50 ($37.53).
The origins, early history, and current operations and organization of the Irish Naval Service are detailed in this account. Operating modern patrol ships—in conjunction with helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft of the Irish Air Corps—this small but significant force serves as a key element in European fishery protection, transports military supplies to Irish troops serving with the United Nations, and plays an increasingly important role in drug interdiction.
Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific
Lyn Crost. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1994. 368 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $24.95 ($22.45).
John Toland, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Rising Sun, writes that this new book is “an authoritative, moving, and inspiring account of the Japanese- Americans who fought gallantly in World War II despite the despicable treatment given their families at home.” This story is perhaps best summarized by President Truman when he welcomed home the Japanese-American soldiers of the illustrious 442d Regimental Combat Team: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice— and you have won.”
The U-Boat Hunters: The Royal Canadian Navy and the Offensive Against Germany’s Submarines
Marc Milner. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994. 336 pp. Append. Bib. Figs. Gloss. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $29.95 ($23.96).
Dr. Milner’s first book on the Battle of the Atlantic—North Atlantic Run (Naval Institute Press, 1985)—is considered by many to be the best account to date of the Royal Canadian Navy’s defensive battle against German submarines in the early years of World War II. This new work continues the Canadian antisubmarine story and covers the latter years of the war when the RCN went on the offensive, seeking and destroying German submarines throughout the North Atlantic. The author particularly addresses the changing technologies— on both sides—and the consequent changes in tactics that occurred between 1943 and 1945.
Ubi Sumusl The State of Naval and Maritime History
John B. Hattendorf, Editor. Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1994. 430 pp. Bib. Notes. Tables. $12.50 (incl. shipping) order direct from Naval War College Foundation Museum Store; 686 Cushing Rd.; Newport, RI 02841. Paper.
“Navigators need to ask ‘Where are we?’ before they can ask ‘Where are we going?”’ So begins the introduction to this collection of 33 informative and thought-provoking essays that examine the current state of naval history in order to find guidance for the future. The essays were originally written as contributions to the first Yale-Naval War College conference on naval and maritime history held in June 1993. The majority of the essays focus upon individual navies of the world, ranging from the once large and powerful—e.g., Britain’s and Japan’s—to the more diminutive—like Peru’s and Singapore’s. Three of the essays focus on the U.S. Navy and all are written by noted experts in their fields.
Wreck Ashore: The United States Life-Saving Service on the Great Lakes
Frederick Stonehouse. Duluth, MN: Lake Superior Port Cities, 1994- 220 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Notes. Photos. Tables. $24.95 ($22.45). Paper.
From 1870 to 1915—when it became one of the component parts of the U.S. Coast Guard—the U.S. Life-Saving Service was responsible for rescue in coastal waters and other waterways. The exploits of the men of this agency on the Great Lakes are here recounted in detail, revealing exciting tales of daring rescues and harrowing disasters. These adventures are accompanied by a thorough discussion of many aspects of daily life in this vital service’s stations along “the Third Coast.”