Steam, Politics, and Patronage: The Transformation of the Royal Navy 1815-54
Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard. London: Conway’s Maritime Press, 1994. 256 pp. Illus. $39.25 ($35.33).
Reviewed by Michael J. Crawford
In 1984, while writing his book Battle- ships in Transition: The Creation of the Steam Battlefleet 1815-1860 (London and Annapolis, MD), Andrew Lambert observed that “hitherto there has been no adequate discussion of the transitional stage that separated the sailing ship of the line from the ironclad” (p. 11). Several works published subsequently—in particular D. K. Brown’s Before the Ironclad: Development of Ship Design, Propulsion and Armament in the Royal Navy, 1815-60 (London, 1990) and Robert Gardner’s Steam, Steel, and Shellfire: The Steam Warship 1815-1905 (London, 1992)— have begun to fill the void of English-language studies of the era of transition from sail to steam navies.
Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard contribute to this growing body of studies a work of which the paddle frigate is the principal subject. Steam, Politics, and Patronage begins with an account of the grounding and loss to the Russians of the Royal Navy paddle frigate Tiger, commanded by Captain Henry Wells Giffard, in the Black Sea off Odessa in 1854- This episode serves as the catalyst of a number of disparate questions relating to steam- powered vessels in the Royal Navy:
► Why had screw-driven warships not totally replaced paddle-driven warships by the time of the Crimean War?
► How had the Admiralty come to embrace steam as auxiliary propulsion for its battle fleet?
► How had steam changed the navy?
► In what capacities were various types of steam vessels employed?
► How did naval vessels that combined both sail and steam use each?
► “How did naval officers acquire expertise in steam, and what was the road to command of a steam frigate?” (p. 23).
Throughout the book, the careers of the Tiger and of Captain Giffard are used to answer, or at least to illustrate the answers to, many of these questions.
It is easier to say what this work is not than what it is. It is not a definitive study of paddle-driven steamships in the Royal Navy. It is not a history of HMS Tiger. And it is not a biography of Captain Giffard. The authors’ intent seems to have been to limn a portrait of the Royal Navy in transition. The result is not so much a fully realized oil painting, not even a mosaic made up of hundreds of individual parts, but rather of a collage of overlapping images. Like most case studies, the careers of the Tiger and of Captain Giffard can only illustrate what was possible in the context of the times; in the absence of statistical studies of the other naval paddle steamers and the other naval commanders of steam vessels, they do not prove what was typical. Nonetheless, the book is a success, providing the reader a good sense of the rapidly changing navy and the role of the paddle frigate in it.
The authors provide sufficient proof that the Admiralty was not backward in adapting steam power to naval uses. The Admiralty employed steam power for naval vessels to the extent that technological development made feasible and encouraged experimentation when probable results warranted the cost. This conclusion, which Greenhill and P. W. Brock first proposed in 1973 in a book of photographs of steam vessels, Steam and Sail in Britain and North America (Princeton, NJ), has become the new orthodoxy. Nor do conservative naval officers, dragged unwillingly into the world of steam power, populate the pages of this book. By the early 1840s, naval officers recognized that mastery of steam was the avenue of promotion.
The authors explain in terms understandable to non-engineers the technical limitations that paddles placed on the fighting capabilities of a vessel. Paddles were exposed to enemy gunfire, as was the machinery, which lay above the water line. Paddles and machinery prevented guns from being positioned in broadside. Paddlers were inefficient, because as coal was consumed, the vessel sat higher in the water. This, in turn, altered the depth of immersion of the paddles; the ship’s rolling lifted paddles from the water, and paddlers tended to turn up into the wind. To operate efficiently, paddlers needed a flat wave pattern at the paddle wheel, which called for a long and narrow vessel with sharp ends. But a warship needed to be full-bodied to carry men, victuals, ammunition, and coal for long voyages. To have enough buoyancy to support heavy guns at bow and stem, the vessel had to have round ends. Paddlers handled poorly at low speeds and were poor sailors, since the location of the boiler forced the awkward placement of masts. The steam-powered screw resolved all of these problems and by 1847 was well enough developed that thereafter the Admiralty authorized the construction of no more paddlers.
Attempts to design an effective paddle- propelled battleship came to naught, but until made obsolete by the screw steamer, paddle sloops and frigates proved to be some of the most useful vessels of the Royal Navy.
Greenhill and Giffard assert that “steam propulsion accelerated profound developments in the navy which affected the young men first” (p. 76). Among those changes, the authors enumerate bureaucratization; centralization of control over entry, promotion, and retirement; replacement of patronage by impersonal rules; and specialization of officers’ skills. Their book does not go deeply into these subjects, but it does point the way to their further study. This is an idiosyncratic book with many long digressions from the central subject, but I recommend it for its insights into both how new technologies affected the Royal Navy and how that navy came to master those technologies— bending them to its own strategic and tactical ends.
Barrett Tillman. McLean, VA: Brassey’s Inc. 1996. 338 pp. Gloss. Bib. $24.95 ($22.45).
Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Richard M. Seamon, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)
This is an ambitious book. The dust jacket says it is “A Novel of War in the Pacific.” It is more than that; it is a curious combination of fiction and non-fiction, a thoroughly researched tale of men and ships and planes—both U.S. and Japanese—as they fight through the last few years of World War II. Unfortunately, the story is almost shot down by the research. Tom Clancy-type techno-babble clutters too many pages. Time and again readers will be tempted to turn back to the book’s glossary of acronyms and aircraft designations, U.S. Navy fighter lingo, and translations of Japanese terminology. Lest any one doubt the accuracy of it all, author Barrett Tillman has been careful to tack on a bibliography of the books, action reports, and war diaries he has studied. Clearly, he has done his homework.
When his novel is not crammed with mind-boggling details, Tillman does have an interesting story to tell. There are, in fact, two stories, the wartime careers of two naval aviators: American Phil Rogers and Japanese Hiroyoshi Sakaido. Rogers starts out as a dive bomber pilot, Sakaido as a float plane scout. Both men quickly advance to a higher calling: They become fighter aces.
Rogers is a familiar figure from World War II fiction. He wants nothing more than to fly, and he takes his profession seriously. His career progresses from ensign to commander, and he becomes the youngest air group commander in the fleet. He takes good care of his men and his planes, and he does not hesitate to talk back to superior officers when he thinks they are wrong. Needless to say, his love life suffers, but not to worry. There always is the promise of leave and watering holes, such as San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado, where, sooner or later, everyone you ever knew in naval aviation walks through the bar—with a drink in one hand and someone else’s wife on his arm.
Tillman’s ear for dialogue often turns tinny. In ready room and officer’s club, Rogers and his buddies sound oddly prim and proper. “Jumping Joe” Clifton and other real-life aviators who make cameo appearances would never have recognized the juvenile chatter. On the other hand, following Rogers through dog fights and bombing runs and combat air patrols can be fascinating. Too often, though, the adventures bog down in pre-flight check-off lists that are run through in every detail. The Mk. 8 gunsight, the lead-computing K-21, time restraints on the use of supercharger and water injection—all that and more combine to slow the story. Veterans of those long-ago battles may enjoy being reminded of such things, but who else?
Hiroyoshi Sakaido rises through the ranks from flight chief petty officer to warrant officer. Like Rogers, he takes good care of his men and his planes. The strict protocol of the Japanese Navy almost always prevents him from talking back to his superiors when he knows he should, but he has other talents. Most notable among them is a kind of extra-sensory perception. He can study his fellow fliers and spot those who have “The Look” that tells him they will soon die. He also can tell when a commander’s eyes are “burning a crosshair pattern into the nape of his neck.” He may hesitate to quarrel with incompetent flight leaders, but he still can deal with them. In a practice dog fight, he lures one down to a dangerous maneuver that sends the man into a fatal crash.
When V-J Day finally arrives, Lieutenant Commander Rogers is uncertain about his future. Should he stay in the Navy when there seems to be small chance he will ever again enjoy aerial warfare? Warrant Officer Sakaido, now a captive of Chinese guerrillas, may be asked to fly for them against Mao’s communists or Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalists or both. Will he do it? For each man the answer is surely yes.
If and when Mr. Tillman writes about them in his next novel, he will do well to learn from the experience of one of the characters in this one. While giving a lecture to U.S. carrier pilots, a shrewd officer recognizes that he is putting his audience to sleep with an arcane catalogue of radar gear and electronic nomenclature. Quickly, he takes a new tack. He does what a novelist should do: He talks English and cuts to the chase.
Books of Interest
By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)
U.S. Submarines in World War II: An Illustrated History
Larray Kimmett and Margaret Regis. Kingston, WA: Navigator Publishing, 1996. 160 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $39.95 ($37.95) hardcover, $19.95 ($18.95) paper.
Although submarines comprised only 2% of the U.S. Navy in World War II, they sank more than half of Japan’s merchant fleet and one-third of its navy. In a clearly illustrated and carefully written book, Kimmett and Regis recount this extraordinary accomplishment. Detailed diagrams, periscope photos, and easy-to-read maps enhance the presentation.
T Sea Battles in Close-up: The Age of Nelson
David Lyon. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996. 224 pp. Illus. $29.95 ($23.96).
An excellent selection of line-drawings and etchings, accompany a well- researched text, to provide a detailed study of some of the great battles of the age of sail. Included are Quiberon Bay (1759), the Nile (1798), Lissa (1811), and of course, Trafalgar (1805). Coverage of single ship engagements and discussions of naval organization and tactics enhance this informative and handsomely illustrated account.
Gray Thunder: Exploits of the Confederate States Navy
R. Thomas Campbell. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing, 1996. 220 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Notes. $19.95 ($18.95).
Despite its relatively brief existence, the Confederate Navy managed some daring and memorable exploits. Campbell recounts the stories of the fledgling navy’s first ironclad Manassas, the historic submarine Hunley, and the ubiquitous cruiser Alabama while bringing to life the exploits of Buchanan, Semmes, and other Confederate naval heroes.
Pacific Turning Point: The Solomons Campaign, 1942-1943
Charles W. Koburger, Jr. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1995. 192 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. Tables. $47.95 ($45.55).
Contending that the series of battles fought in the Solomons were key to the U.S. victory in the Pacific, Koburger provides a cogent, comprehensive view of this important campaign. “Most readers who are quite familiar with the story of the Solomons,” he writes, “know what happened, but not necessarily why.”