on 24 February 2014
Having thoroughly enjoyed the previous works by Geirr Haarr I had no hesitation in purchasing this and have not been disappointed. There is ample detail in the work, covering all aspects of the war at sea in the first few months of the war - surface engagements, the early attempts to make effective use of airpower, submarines, mines, raiders etc. It is lucidly presented and concentrates on operational/tactical aspects without wandering off into political or grand strategy. There are a healthy supply of very clear maps, and a good selection of photographs. What is very pleasing in these days of "rush to publish" is that the layout has been well-thought out with the photos and maps appropriately positioned with the text.
The chapters progress chronologically apart from ones devoted to a particular topic (eg air power), but this doesn't make the overall thread loses track of the broader picture. Quotes bring the actions to life, and there is also analysis about whether particular decisions were the right choices. I have no concerns about the quality of the research that has gone into the book, and even where I thought I had spotted an error, on re-reading it was I who was wrong.
There are a series of appendices, some of which are convenient to include but obtainable elsewhere (ships sunk, ships in a particular force) but also including a list of German ships intercepted by the Royal Navy (which I'd never really given much thought to).
For those with an interest in naval matters in the war, it provides a very readable volume with in-depth handling of a dynamic period.
on 12 November 2015
More than 75 years after the events detailed in this work, there may be some people who will question whether there is much new to say (or even worth saying) about naval operations during the so-called phoney war. Mr Haarr's latest book, however, more than proves such critics wrong.
Beginning with some excellent scene setting chapters, the book then takes us through to the verge of the invasion of Norway in April 1940, focussing on various aspects of the naval war in turn. One of the particular strengths of this book is that it sets the events in their strategic and operational context, but at the same time provides some nice anecdotal touches that give the reader some idea of what it was actually like to be involved in the actions described.
The chapter dealing with the Altmark is a good example of the strength of Mr Haarr's work. Looking beyond the dated and propagandistic "the Navy's here" view of the incident, he provides the reader with a cool and balanced account of the boarding itself and the events that led up to it, as well as pointing out some of the legal issues involved. At the same time, he also puts some flesh on the principal characters involved, like the austere Captain Dau and his antagonist, Captain Vian.
The book also reminds us of the darker side of this naval conflict, as when the German minesweeper M1 cruelly rammed several Danish fishing craft on night in February 1940 on the speculative basis that their crews might have been gathering intelligence for the British. The officer responsible did not even get a reprimand.
Mr Haarr rounds things off with a interesting analysis of the naval war up until April 1940, which will no doubt provide a starting point for some lively debate and discussion. I won't spoil things by saying any more here - see what you think.
Along the way are some useful maps, that provide just the right amount of detail to support the text and a variety of interesting photos, many of which will be unfamiliar even to the keener amateur naval historian. As one would expect in a serious work of this type, there are some useful appendices, the main one giving rather a depressing list of merchant vessel losses; in addition there is a good index and an equally useful bibliography.
This is a certainly a book to buy rather borrow than thanks to its general interest, readability and reference value. It's also a book that is almost certain to contain some new information of interest for the majority of readers. And yet...and yet there are one or two minor quibbles.
One the one hand, there are various minor errors, for example implying that Germany's K-class cruisers were purely-diesel ships and describing the action between Renown and Gneisenu / Scharnhorst as the first Anglo-German battlecruiser action since Dogger Bank. Additionally, to say that Ark Royal's flight deck was unarmoured "for some reason" is hardly very satisfcatory in a work of this nature.
On the other hand, the occasional use of German words like Zerstörer and Kapitän in what is after all an English language book seems somewhat inconsistent and does not really add any meaning to the story.
Much to his credit, Mr Haarr invites comments and corrections, so perhaps these issues can be addressed in a future revised edition - which richly deserves to be published as this book is far too good to be a one-shot effort.
September 1939 to April 1940 was the 'phony war' on land, but certainly not on the sea - and this deals with the war in the waters between Britain, Germany and Scandinavia, and the northern Atlantic. There was plenty of action here from day one: U-boats sinkings ships from the Athenia to HMS Royal Oak; commerce raiders such as the Deutschland (later the Lutzow), mine warfare, the Northern Patrol, the Altmark, and the preparations for the invasion of Norway. Actually, this invasion could have been by Great Britain and France, just as well: troops had already been embarked! Haarr describes all this in detail, with many photographs of both ships and actions, and with a good supply of maps as well. It ends with the actual invasion, described by this same author in his earlier books (The German invasion of Norway; the battle for Norway).
My opinion: this is how military history should be. Detailed and based on plenty of research, but still with a solid overview; covering politics and war, ships and personalities, but remaining lucid and very well-written. Very well illustrated (with many photos from the authors' own collection) and with plenty of clear maps - for me, this is as good as it gets. I will buy anything from this author, from now on, sight unseen!