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A publishing Dreadnought
on 14 June 2013
The Battleship Builders : Constructing and Arming British Capital Ships
by Ian Johnston & Ian Buxton Published by Seaforth, ISBN 9781848320932
There are a myriad of military history books churned out each year, yet very few are of true national or international importance within their field. This book is one of those exceptional publications, a book for which both authors should receive high praise from amongst their peers, the historical & academic communities and general public alike.
This book charts the British industrial shipbuilding and arms manufacturing conglomerates, that helped forge & construct the 50 odd battleships that gave the Royal Navy a global presence & strength from the early years of the 20th Century, through to the eve of WW2 where it was over-taken by the industrial might of the USA and the ships of the USN. We see how these huge industrial concerns rose to the challenge posed by Germany prior to WW1, the technological advancement of production techniques, the physical expansion of facilities and the merry dance of financial priorities played by both the Admiralty & the various ship builders. After WW1, the passing of various naval treaties and the global financial depression saw many famous names disappear or merge to survive. How the Admiralty tried to keep the yards busy and skilled labour employed, whilst balancing its treaty obligations and its dwindling budget working as best it could. All these facets would have far reaching consequences when new Battleships were needed to provide a defence against a resurgent Germany and the growing menace of both Italy & Japan.
To tell this story of how Britain built more Battleships than any other nation in history, the authors have broken the book into some 13 chapters. The first 3 chapters gives us the broad historical foundations & backdrop from 1860-1945, when these momentous events took place. Chapter 4 The Builders, details out all the main ship builders yards, with detailed schematic maps of there building operations. The information is priceless, especially since many of these companies no longer exist, and their archives destroyed, lost or scattered in the wind. Chapter 5 concentrates on the actual construction & construction techniques. Chapter 6 looks at the facilities such as dry docks, cranes, covered sheds & berths etc. Chapter 7 deals with the powering requirements of Battleships, whilst Chapter 8 gets to grips with the procuring of guns for them. The other essential element of Battleships, Armour, is covered in Chapter 9. How the armour was produced from plants (mainly around Sheffield) and how the requirements changed over time and its onward effects. The vital export market in Capital ships is covered in 10. The key element of money is analysed in Chapter 11 and how the companies tried to win contracts, where they made & lost money on the contracts, which all dovetails in nicely to the subject of manpower in Chapter 12. The conclusion being the final and shortest chapter of the book.
There are 3 appendices of which the third deals with the British Battleship Breaking Industry, where a lot of money was made & lost.
The book is crammed full of fascinating (many unseen & unique) B/W photographs on almost every page, plus numerous maps & line drawings to help describe plant layouts or a pieces of equipment. The book is Indexed with a Bibliography and Notation pages.
If you have any interest in this period of Naval history, Battleships, the Royal Navy or Naval shipbuilding , then you will do well to get hold of this book at your earliest convenience. This book will soon become a out-of-print classic that will demand large payment figures in the future.