Message in a Model: Stories from the Navy Model Room of the Rijksmuseum
Ab Hoving. Florence, OR: Sea Watch Books, LLC. 246 pp. Illus. Glossary. Map. $68.
Reviewed by Andrew C. A. Jampoler
Ab Hoving’s beautiful Message in a Model is a near-perfect book for anyone fascinated by maritime history or looking for a taster’s menu of the subject. Originally published in Dutch as Modellen Vertellen, this fluid, idiomatic translation by Paul Fontenoy opens the doors of the Rijksmuseum’s superb maritime model collection to English speakers. The collection, with roots in the Dutch navy’s Model Room, became the property of the National Museum when it opened in Amsterdam in 1889. Most of it then spent the middle years of the last century in neglected storage.
Fifty-four short and informative essays by Hoving, the National Museum’s long-serving chief of its restoration department and a well-known figure in maritime archaeology and international ship-modeling circles, illuminate the selected treasures—now finally restored and again on display—and place each in its historical and technical context. Hoving begins with the story of what little is left from Willem Barents’ failed 16th-century journey of discovery into his eponymous sea: the bits and pieces from his wintering-over cabin in Amsterdam and a shard from Barents’ clinker-built ship, crushed in the ice in 1597, in St. Petersburg. This leads the author easily into a short discussion of old clinker versus new carvel hull construction at the turn of the century, on to the Dutch defeat of the Spanish at Gibraltar in 1607, to the wrecks of East Indiamen off western Australia’s fatal shore in the 17th century, and on. All are beautifully presented in color photography.
Little escapes depiction and description. The collection includes 17th-century shipyards, the development of specialized warships, the Anglo-Dutch Wars, “camels” to lift ships over shallows, “infernal machines,” the Congreve rocket and Robert Fulton’s torpedo, signaling semaphores, geared capstans and lifesaving gear, screw propulsion, ground tackle, armor, and lighthouses. Hoving’s work includes patent models to develop, test, and illustrate new technologies; votive ship models, which hang in old Protestant churches and also in guildhalls; and an 1837 model of a jet-pump–propelled five-man submarine.
My favorite is Hoving’s longer essay on “the Brief Revival of the Galley” (No. 24) that reminds us vessels propelled by oars fought each other off the Dutch coast in the Battle of Sluis in May 1603, more than 30 years after the Battle of Lepanto. Galleys also appeared in the early 17th century in the shallow waters of the Baltic, where they served as the littoral combat vessels of the day. The photographs of the oldest galley in the museum’s collection, an early 18th century model of a two-masted, 17 oared beauty—manned by 102 oarsmen—decorated in red, black, and gold illustrate the essay handsomely.
A close second would likely be the model of 84-gun Neptunus, which divides in halves to reveal the ship’s interior compartments, dozens of messing, berthing, working, and storage spaces, all beautifully done to Lilliputian scale, complete with brass details (No. 33). Or perhaps it’s the exquisite 1780 model of the Dutch East Indiaman Vergelijking, one of the few extant of the type (No. 35). Or the superb 19th-century model of Hellevoetsluis, the 17th-century home port of Rotterdam’s navy (No. 38). The choice is difficult.
Quite naturally, after all he’s a model-builder, Hoving ends his book with a short epilog (misspelled “epiloog,” one of a few typos in the book; there are no other flaws), a reflection on what little we know about the people who made some of the models he has described with such affection. All that remains for the reader to do is visit the Rijksmuseum, which must be very pleased with its man and his most recent book.
The Burning Shore: How Hitler’s U-Boats Brought World War II to America
Ed Offley. New York: Basic Books, 2013. 296 pp. Illus. Glossary. Notes. Biblio. Index. $27.99.
Reviewed by Carl LaVO
Ed Offley’s latest book focuses on two antagonists against the backdrop of an epic story. The Burning Shore engages readers in a nonfiction account of the U-boat massacre of unguarded ships just off the American coast in the first six months of World War II. Integral to the author’s narrative are biographical sketches of an American pilot and a German sub captain whose lives violently intersect near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in the midst of the carnage.
Offley, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War and author of the well-received Scorpion Down and Turning the Tide, is a former military reporter in Virginia’s Tidewater region. In 1982 he wrote a series for Norfolk’s Ledger-Star newspaper about an unusual incident off the coast of North Carolina involving U.S. Army Air Forces Lieutenant Harry Kane’s A-29 Hudson bomber and German Lieutenant Commander Horst Degen’s U-701. Kane became one of the first Army Air Forces pilots to sink a U-boat (Degen’s). The skipper and a few crewmen survived the attack and drifted at sea for days, barely alive, until they were rescued following a search motivated by Kane’s plea to help them. The pilot and skipper came face-to-face in a Virginia hospital following the rescue but lost contact until their friendship blossomed later in life.
Recently, Offley expanded the series into The Burning Shore. The author traces the roots of the unfolding U-boat drama to late 1941, when Washington-based journalist Chesly Manly got hold of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s top-secret Rainbow Five war plan. It revealed how Roosevelt, despite his public stance of neutrality, intended to draft 10 million men, half of whom would join British troops in an invasion of Europe to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. The Chicago Tribune published the entire Rainbow Five plan. Within 24 hours, the Third Reich was devouring all the details, including the epiphany that Americans would be unable to invade Europe until July 1943 at the earliest. With an 18-month window of opportunity, Germany decided on a bold move. According to Offley, “By shifting its military priority from the Soviet invasion to mounting a knockout punch against Great Britain before the United States became strong enough to intervene, Germany could forestall an Allied invasion of the continent and refocus its efforts on beating the Soviets. The Third Reich would, in effect, become impregnable.”
As part of the new strategy, on 16 December 1941 Hitler ordered U-boats to attack coastal shipping of the United States and Canada to sever lifelines with Great Britain. The British intercepted the directive, decoded it, and warned the U.S. Navy of imminent attack. “Incredibly, the Americans did nothing—inviting a naval catastrophe that would dwarf the losses at Pearl Harbor,” concludes Offley, noting that “desperate Navy officials would resort to outright lies and complete fabrications to cloak the disaster at sea.” It was indeed a slaughter. Within months, Germans would sink or damage hundreds of vulnerable tankers, freighters, and passenger ships sailing alone with a loss of more than 5,000 lives.
The Burning Shore finds fault with the Navy for not using the 19 Atlantic Fleet destroyers anchored at East Coast naval bases from Maine to Norfolk to hunt down the U-boats. The Navy, however, was about to deploy those vessels to escort a large and critical troop convoy from New York to Northern Ireland, and later to participate in major operations from western Africa to the British Isles. The Navy was unwilling to delay the convoy’s departure at that tenuous, early stage of the war, as the author notes.
Offley’s book is a well-researched exposé on the early battles of World War II in the Atlantic and highlights tensions on the West Coast—where Kane initially was stationed—following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Burning Shore digresses into a close look at the weapons and wartime strategies employed by the Germans, Japanese, British, and the United States, and the result is a bit detracting from the human-interest story that lies at the heart of Offley’s thesis. However, this is a small sacrifice given the author’s insight into the maritime disaster facing the country off the Eastern Seaboard in the winter, spring, and summer of 1942—the very beginning of American involvement in World War II—and what it took for the U.S. Navy to finally get the upper hand.
To Crown the Waves: The Great Navies of the First World War
Vincent P. O’Hara, W. David Dickson, and Richard Worth, eds. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013. 349 pp. Illus. Maps. Notes. Biblio. Index. $37.95.
Reviewed by Stanley D. M. Carpenter
With the imminent 100th anniversary of the First World War, several historians fluent in their subject nation’s maritime history provide a much-needed compendium of facts, figures, and data on the great-power navies, including Austria-Hungary, France, Imperial Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Imperial Russia, the United States, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire. First and foremost, this work is technical rather than historical. Politics, civil leadership, diplomacy, etc. are not the focus here. The book, then, is useful to any researcher delving into the nature of the 1914–18 war at sea, and is an invaluable contribution to naval/maritime study.
The greatest value of the work is its systematic comparision of the nature, dynamics, characteristics, and structure of each navy, along with brief battle narratives. Chapters cover several common areas, thus the strength of the comparative analysis, including training, organization, doctrine, personnel, material, operations, maritime strategies, ship characteristics and specifications (using excellent charts and graphs), weapons, propulsion systems, and ship design.
Three examples illustrate the type of information, analysis, and data provided. An overarching theme is that the navies foresaw a coming war based on not only traditional dynastic or territorial rivalries, but more recent colonial, economic, and alliance-based tensions within the wider scope of the growing prewar naval arms race, and, how the war evolved into entirely different and unexpected patterns with the resultant adaptations.
At the war’s outset, the Austro-Hungarian Die Kaiserliche und Königliche Kriegsmarine (k.u.k. or Imperial and Royal Navy), imbued with the Mahanian concept of the clash of great battleships for decisive victory leading to command of the sea, geared naval expansion toward an army offensive thrust into northeastern Italy supported by the navy after gaining command of the Adriatic Sea through offensive engagement. This strategic orientation drove fielding of the Tegetthoff-class dreadnought battleships. The Adriatic theater, however, quickly evolved into blockade and small-unit actions. Indeed, the greatest loss was the sinking of the dreadnaught Szent István by an Italian MAS torpedo boat in June 1918, appropriately presented as the dust-cover art. The greatest weakness of the k.u.k. lay in the dearth of smaller combatants such as destroyers and gunboats, which would have been more applicable to the Adriatic theater.
While the French La Marine Nationale traditionally focused on the British naval rivalry, by 1914 the Entente Cordiale, a loose alliance with Britain and Russia, led to a refocus on the Mediterranean and Italian naval expansion. However, the emphasis of the Jeune École school in the late 19th century on small combatants and maritime commerce interdiction (guerre de course) retarded battleship development. As France rushed to catch up in the dreadnought race, smaller warship development suffered. With responsibilities in the English Channel and Mediterranean, the French navy became a junior partner to the British Royal Navy. Thus, most of its action occurred in the Mediterranean against German and Austro-Hungarian submarines and in maintaining the Otranto Barrage antisubmarine campaign.
The German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) developed from the growing Anglo-German naval rivalry beginning in the 1890s. Focusing on battleship development with the strategic intent of challenging the British Royal Navy in the North Sea, German maritime technology, especially in optics, gunnery, and fire control, made incredible prewar strides; however, by 1914 the British numerical advantage forced Germany into a “fleet in being” posture. Other than the one great battlefleet engagement (Jutland 1916) and minor battlecruiser skirmishes and coastal raids, the German High Sea Fleet rusted at anchorage. Germany adopted commerce raiding through submarines (Unterseeboot or U-boats) and light cruisers based in German colonial areas and the China station, causing some damage to British imperial trade in 1914, but the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy quickly dispatched the raiders. The greater threat came from U-boats operating in the Atlantic Western Approaches. However, the complicated story of the unrestricted submarine-warfare dynamic that resulted in the United States joining the Allies is beyond the scope of this work.
These examples illustrate the comparative-analysis approach between naval forces as supported by superb technical data and details. If there is any weakness, it would be in the all too brief and cursory Summary and Assessments. Granted, the overall focus is technical; however, a more robust analytic assessment of the role and performance of each force would support the contention that the war was won “not in the trenches, but upon the waves.” Otherwise, the work is an invaluable reference source for any study of the First World War and naval/maritime history at large.
USS Enterprise CVA(N)/CVN-65: The World’s First Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier
By Dave McKay. Christchurch, New Zealand: WilsonScott Publishing International, 2013. 696 pp. Illus. Notes. Index. $125.
Reviewed by Hill Goodspeed
Less than two decades after the end of World War II, Commander Edward P. Stafford published The Big E, a narrative history of the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CV-6), the most decorated ship of World War II. A veritable biography of the venerable warship, it brought her to life for countless readers and set a standard for ship’s histories. The same year that Stafford’s book appeared the successor to the wartime flattop put to sea for her first extended voyage, embarking on a storied career that would last more than a half century and one that is the subject of David McKay’s expansive and detailed book USS Enterprise CVA(N)/CVN-65.
McKay, a medical doctor from New Zealand, first became interested in the U.S. Navy when as a boy he visited American warships docked in Auckland. Well qualified to mine the depths of the Big E’s history, the author had embarked in her on three separate occasions to obtain a firsthand look at the operations of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The result is a book that will appeal to a wide variety of audiences.
As the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Enterprise was unlike any ship that had ever put to sea when commissioned in 1961. McKay devotes the first section of his work to her origins and the technical aspects of the ship, each turn of the page revealing details about a various radar or combat system. Yet, the strength of this section is the deck-by-deck tour of the ship, highlighting the various departments and crew functions, including a very interesting sidebar on the origins of the ship’s chapel and how a space meant to be one of serenity came to be positioned in the most unlikely of spots–just below the flight deck and adjacent to the waist catapult wells. The section is richly illustrated with an array of photographs, many shot by the author, providing close-up views of the ship’s spaces, operational equipment, and novelties, the latter including some of the hand-painted artwork that adorned bulkheads on board the ship.
In subsequent chapters the author documents each of the Enterprise’s 25 deployments. Some provide more details than others, with McKay drawing upon the recorded remembrances of former commanding officers and crewmen to recount landmarks events including her first combat operations off Vietnam in 1965–66, the visit of President Lyndon B. Johnson to the ship in 1967, and the tragic fire that engulfed sections of the Enterprise while she operated off Hawaii in 1969. Having embarked in the carrier during her 1998–99 deployment, the author devotes two chapters to coverage of that cruise, which included combat operations over Iraq during Operation Desert Fox, the reminiscences of aviators flying those missions providing interesting insights in the text. If there is a shortcoming, it is that these firsthand accounts do not include insights from some of thousands of enlisted sailors who served in the Enterprise. The addition of their voices to complement the excellent photographs of them in action would have provided a more complete portrait of the ship.
Indeed, USS Enterprise CVA(N)/CVN-65 is not a book that can be fully appreciated or digested in one sitting, but instead one that can be savored over time, whether examining the cruise and departmental patches that appear on the edges of many pages or seeking out the trivia that emerged over the course of more than 50 years of service, including the array of nicknames and mottos for the ship that included “Mobile Chernobyl” and “Ready on arrival.” While it lacks the rich prose of Stafford’s tribute to the first aircraft carrier christened Enterprise, it is a veritable 50-year cruise book that provides a fitting tribute to her successor that made history the minute she was placed in commission, her subsequent cruises taking her around the world and across generations of sailors.