Autumn (or Fall for my American friends) always seems a good time to curl up with an engrossing book. This BookPick has seven items, from a paean to recreational sailing to a chronicle of the 1779 siege of Gibraltar to a celebration of the most-used weapon in history. Whether you’re looking for an addition to your library or just a good read, I hope there’s something for everyone in this special selection.
Swords and Swordsmen by Mike Loades
Many will know author Mike Loades as a TV presenter of various historical weapons programmes. In the 1970s he pioneered the practical interpretation of medieval and renaissance fight manuals and has been a consultant as a historical weapons expert and military historian for numerous media. This work is somewhat of a labour of love and as Mike himself writes in the Introduction: ‘From the great deeds of mythical heroes to the gentlemanly art of duelling and the swash and swagger of the silver screen, the sword remains at the heart of our romantic imagination.‘ Loades links many of the swords he discusses to specific individuals, from Tutankhamun to General Custer, showcasing them in the social and military context of their time. The lavishly illustrated book highlights the major developments in the sword’s design, manufacture and use from Ancient Egypt to the American Civil War. A useful glossary and bibliography are provided. A must-read for any student of the most-used weapon in history.
The Naval War in the Baltic by Poul Grooss
During location research for The Baltic Prize I had the honour of meeting retired Danish Navy captain Poul Grooss, now teacher of naval warfare at the Royal Danish Naval Academy. Following my investigations about the importance of the Baltic during the Napoleonic war period I was fascinated to read about the astonishing events in that region during the Second World War. In this book Grooss chronicles the ferocious fighting at sea that occurred and covers such major events as the siege of Leningrad, the Soviet campaign against Sweden in 1942, the three wars in Finland 1939-44, the Soviet liberation of the Baltic states, the German evacuation of two million people from the East and the Soviet race westwards in 1945. There are fascinating insights into many other aspects of how the naval war in the Baltic shaped World War II. A superbly researched book that is a major contribution to the naval history of this era.
British Destroyers by Norman Friedman
I have a great admiration for the scope and depth of Norman Friedman’s books and this one is no exception. In the late nineteenth century the advent of the modern torpedo woke the Royal Navy to a potent threat to its domination, not seriously challenged since Trafalgar. For the first time a relatively cheap weapon had the potential to sink the largest and costliest exemplars of sea power. Not surprisingly, Britain’s traditional rivals invested heavily in the new technology that promised to overthrow the naval status quo. The Royal Navy was also quick to adopt the new weapon, but the British concentrated on developing counters to the essentially offensive tactics associated with torpedo-carrying small craft. From these efforts came torpedo catchers, torpedo-gunboats and eventually the torpedo-boat destroyer, a type so successful that it eclipsed and usurped the torpedo-boat itself. With its title shortened to destroyer, the type evolved rapidly and was soon in service in many navies, but in none was the evolution as rapid or as radical as in the Royal Navy. This book is the first detailed study of their early days, combining technical history with an appreciation of the changing role of destroyers and the tactics of their deployment. As well as Friedman’s excellent narrative, the ship plans by A D Baker III and drawings by Alan Raven are to be thoroughly commended. A classic.
A New History of Yachting by Mike Bender
There hasn’t been a history of yachting published for many years. This book, by a leading expert in the field, is the first major history of yachting for over a quarter of a century. Setting developments within political, social and economic changes of the whole of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Bender tells the story of yachting from Elizabethan times to the present day. Did you know that the first yacht club in the British Isles, if not the world, was the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork (created in 1720)? Or that the novelist Fanny Burney wrote one of the first accounts by a woman of pleasure sailing in 1773? Or that after his successful solo circumnavigation of the globe in Gypsy Moth Francis Chichester on 7 July 1967 was knighted by the Queen in the courtyard of the Royal Naval College with Drake’s sword? These and many other fascinating facts and anecdotes about how yachtsmen and yachtswomen have used the rivers and seas – along with an extensive bibliography for those wanting to delve deeper – make it a must-read for all sailing enthusiasts!
Gibraltar by Roy and Lesley Adkins
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting authors Roy and Lesley Adkins and having enjoyed their previous books (Jack Tar, Trafalgar and Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England) looked forward to this, their latest offering. For over three and a half years, from 1779 to 1782, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded on land and at sea by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France; it became the longest siege in British history. The book begins with the tragic sinking, within sight of Spithead, of HMS Royal George, part of the much-needed relief convoy bringing supplies to a starving and war-weary Gibraltar. The authors then go on to explain why this had become such a bitterly-contested territory and why the Great Siege had such an impact on the outcome of the American War of Independence. The Adkins bring the siege vividly to life, especially the everyday experiences of all those involved in the struggle for a fortress located on little more than two square miles of rock. Maps and colour illustrations complement the text. An epic page-turner.
Wreck, Rescue & Salvage by Dick Jolly
Fascinated by the world of commercial deep-sea tugs and salvage, Jolly landed a job on RFA Typhoon. Relocating to Singapore and with a Foreign-Going Tugmaster’s qualification under his belt, he went on to travel the oceans of the world, hauling derelict ships, dredgers, floating cranes and all manner of other craft. After a short break ashore working as an opal-miner in the outback of Australia, he returned to the work he loved. Captain Jolly relates many fascinating stories from the hard-bitten world of deep-sea towing and marine salvage: dragging blazing ships off rocky shorelines, rescuing crews from the middle of the ocean and even avoiding hostile natives. On one occasion, he had to drive through the jungle at break-neck speed to avoid being taken hostage. These and many other gripping adventures are recounted with keen observation and humour. An exciting, real-life maritime tale!
Naval Families, War and Duty in Britain, 1740-1810 by Ellen Gill
This book explores the competing demands of family, war and duty in the lives of eighteenth-century and early nineteenth century naval men and their families. It covers not just the men afloat and their wives ashore, but also the rich and complex financial, professional and fraternal networks that were essential to naval lives. By drawing on a substantial body of personal correspondence, the author goes beyond cultural and gendered stereotypes to examine the roles and responsibilities of men, women and children within a naval family and how war shaped and determined those roles. The families include those of several famous naval figures and also the families of seamen. Providing insights into the historical roles and responsibilities of men, women and children within naval families, this is an important contribution to maritime social history.
Still looking for bookish inspiration?