This is the third book in the author's series charting the design and development of British warships since 1815. It is said that old wines improve with age and it is evidently true of authors as well since, in this reviewers opinion, this rates as David Brown's best book yet. "The Grand Fleet" charts the development of RN design from the Dreadnought of 1905 to the Washington Conference of 1921, and falls neatly into three main parts.
Part 1 sets the scene, with discussions on the resources, what is a good design, design drivers, pre-war development in naval architecture, marine engineering, armour schemes and armament. The extensive series of pre-war trials (armament, armour, shell design, propellant) is well covered - and indicates the gaps in the trials programmes which may have led to serious flaws being missed. Part 2 examines pre-war ship designs in more detail, with chapters on battleships cruisers, destroyers and early aviation vessels, and submarines. Part 3 goes o to covers wartime design and development. Chapters again examine the various of ships, followed by additional chapters which discuss action damage and lessons learnt, the inevitable post mortem on the many magazine explosions suffered by the RN and on to the abortive designs cancelled as a result of the Washington Conference. An interesting aspect not fully appreciated before is the extent to which the RN contributed to the design of US, Japanese and French carrier designs immediately after the war and in the aftermath of the Washington Conference - the influence of FURIOUS is seen in Akagi and Lexington, ARGUS in Hosho whilst EAGLE formed the basis for Bearn. In each case drawings and other technical data for the RN vessels was passed to the nations concerned to asist with their development of their own carriers.
The book is illustrated throughout. Some pictures are familiar, others rarely seen in print, whilst a few come from the author's own collection and have never been seen before. There are also a number of general arrangements and outline plans from the official sets of ships drawings of the period. It is evident that the author has had access to an extensive range of primary sources. The text is accompanied throughout by graphs and tables comparing nearly every aspect of warship design, from weight breakdowns and comparisons of armour schemes to cost analyses, studies on ship motions and incidents of sea sickness. There is a risk that a work of this sort could become a very dry technical piece, but the author has done very well in keeping the technical detail relevant yet easy for the less technically minded reader to understand. At last we have an accessible book which explains the complexities with which the naval architect has to contend and which goes a long way to explaining, particularly to those who think purely in terms of number of guns, thickness of armour and speed, what makes a "good" or "bad" design. For this the author is to be warmly congratulated. "The Grand Fleet" is a grand piece of work!