The Frigate may have been around in the days of Nelson but not the Destroyer. Towards the end of the 19th century, Britain’s mastery of the seas remained uncontested. Not since the days of Trafalgar (1805) had any navy or combined navies dared to threaten that supremacy. These, however, were years of great change with the arrival of the Dreadnought battleship making the entire British Fleet obsolete at a stroke. Other nations could now build their own ships at the same rate as Great Britain and, therefore, finally challenge the one country they all wished to see reduced in power.
Then came the motorised torpedo. This device could be fired from a very small vessel and carry sufficient explosive to sink the largest warships afloat. By comparison to the money, time, resources and technology required to produce a single Battleship, the torpedo and, most important of all, the means of delivering that weapon to its intended target, was relatively inexpensive. Consequently, small craft capable of the high speeds required to get close enough to deliver the torpedo were born. Torpedo-catchers, Torpedo Gunboats and even the Torpedo-boat Destroyer were some of the names used until the latter was finally reduced to “Destroyer” and a whole new type of craft entered the Navies of the world. As a type of ship (not to be confused with “Class.” There are different classes of Destroyer, just as there are different classes of Aircraft Carrier), the development and continual improvement of all aspects of the Destroyer was far more rampant within the Royal Navy as she sought to defend and protect her role as “Ruler of the waves.” This is the story of that development and of the vessels which were introduced along the way.
Author Norman Friedman tells this story from the earliest concept through to the beginning of WW2. I have deducted one star for two reasons. Firstly, he concludes his account just as WW2 was beginning. I would have preferred the work to have ended either in 1938 - just as Europe was approaching those war years, or in 1945, allowing the reader to evaluate the results of all those improvements and developments against how each class of Destroyer fared in action. For me, this “premature” ending creates its own confusion. For example, a very popular wreck dive in Malta comprises the remains of HMS Maori - a Tribal class Destroyer built by Fairfield in 1937. When I came across a reference to an HMS Maori undertaking trials in 1912 (page 84), therefore, I took an immediate interest and consulted the index to access all entries for this ship. “This” HMS Maori is also described as a Tribal class Destroyer built by Denny and launched in 1909. Towards the end of the book are details of other ships from 1942 and further references to as late as 1944. Whilst I was previously unaware of the existence of two “Tribal” classes of destroyer - albeit many years apart (most unusual for any Navy), I now find the subject is adequately covered in other works. My 1937 Maori, however, is not mentioned in this book at all when other topics from 7 years after her launch are included. Whilst I may have personally learned a very valuable lesson, I cannot help but feel something is missing in this work.
Amongst the excellent selection of photographs, I particularly enjoyed the images of the earlier boats. Sadly, and “yet” again, none of these, as far as I am aware, were ever preserved for posterity! This is especially so with those which look like they were nothing more than a large torpedo (with funnel) themselves.
In summary, this is still an excellent product. Friedman’s meticulous research and detailed analysis coupled with an excellent selection of illustrations, line drawings and photographs, combine to create the complete history of the evolution of the British Destroyer from original concept to the beginning of WW2. It is, therefore, highly recommended for those with an interest and is one of those books to which I shall continually return in the years to come.