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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the Victorian Navy was made Fit to Fight, 13 Sep 2013
This review is from: From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Volume I: The Road to War 1904-1914 (Paperback)
(publisher's review copy)

Thomas Babington Macaulay: "Moderation in War is Imbecility!"

This seminal analysis of the preparation of the Royal Navy for the war, which the prescient Fisher knew was going to be forced upon us, was first published in 1961. It is now reprinted as a paperback, with an additional introduction, by Pen and Sword in UK and the Naval Institute Press in the US. The main text appears to have been reproduced from the original plates.
An original set of all five volumes is currently on sale at 724; individual volumes of the original OUP publication seldom retail for less that 50; an affordable reprint is extremely welcome.

Marder was the American-born son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His grasp of his subject and of the politics of the time, both internally to the Royal Navy and between the RN and its political masters and the public, and externally between nations was total; but it was the product of exhaustive and encyclopaedic research over very many years. Somehow Marder also wove a vast array of disparate threads into a highly readable narrative and the result was a work absolutely fundamental to understanding the RN in the Kaiser's War.

Fisher, prescient visionary genius and ball of fire, bestrides the period under review like a colossus. Marder relates how Fisher shook up the somnolent Victorian RN from top to bottom, forcing improvements to Lower Deck conditions, officer selection, training and education, gunnery (in which he was so well served by that other genius Percy Scott), manoeuvring practice, ship construction, reserves (both ships and people) and the Board of Admiralty itself, so as to forge a new Navy fit to fight in the war he knew was coming.

The shake-up hugely (and intentionally) disturbed the navy's officer corps. The Luddites among them schemed to slow everything down, peddling misinformation and muddled thinking as criticism. They were led by Beresford who comes across as jealous, vain, opportunistic, populist, insubordinate, dangerously clubbable and actuated by snobbery, his want of intellectual capacity demonstrated by the inconsistency of his arguments as exposed by the report of the eventual official inquiry. The eventual case of this man was tragic considering the brave hero he had been in his youth, but he was caught between Lady B's ambition to be First Sea Lady and devious manipulation by his junior, Custance, playing in-house politics with national security, which Beresford lacked the wit to understand.

In the other corner is the malign, but also highly talented Tirpitz, his dreams not finally shattered until his name ship turned turtle in a Norwegian fjord over half a century after his rise to power. Right from the start it was evident that German battleship building had only one aim, for their construction limited them to a local role and they were completely irrelevant to the defence of Germany's own coastline. Marder tracks the laborious and fruitless political and diplomatic discussions between Britain and Germany, both groaning under the cost of the German-inspired battleship race; it is clear that Germany would make no concession that would limit her plan to achieve total European hegemony and we had no alternative but to keep on building if we were to remain a free country, and that there could only be one outcome - war.

Even out of office Fisher remained a power, close to the First Lord, Churchill. Winston was also a ball of fire, and brilliant with it up to a point. He gave an enormous amount of time to visiting ships and learning about every aspect of the Navy that had been committed to his charge. Unfortunately it takes an entire career to understand the Navy and Winston's mercurial and impetuous interventions on points of detail often lacked balance, including his fixation on a totally impractical Baltic policy, which would have brought on a fight to Germany`s advantage instead of bringing her Fleet to action on terms of our own. It is ironic that a mistaken policy of Close Blockade took until 1912 to die and was thus taken as read by Germany as a basis for its own dispositions, unaware that we had seen the light.

We then turn to technology - submarines, aircraft, torpedoes, director firing, wireless, turbines, oil firing - Fisher was ahead of everyone else on all of this but many of his contemporaries could not keep up. Even in 1904 he predicted that the submarine would be the battleship of the future. Indeed the quality of admirals, trained but not educated, was a major concern. Fisher even got up to the Cabinet with a warning of future unrestricted U-boat warfare but was pooh-poohed by Asquith and everybody else as we judged the Germans by ourselves. German frightfulness on land in 1870 should have told us that a policy of murdering civilian merchant seamen was entirely in their book.

Not everything was got right. Our armour-piercing shell fuzes were to cheat us of greater execution on the day; we had hardly any mines and those we had were only made to work when we had a captured German one to copy; our rangefinders were second rate; and so forth. In the event there were not enough cruisers. The Fleet was not properly prepared for firing at long range at high speed, let alone fighting at night. But we had one huge asset - the moral ascendancy of the RN over a Johnny-come-lately navy, however efficiently it was equipped and drilled.

It is impossible fully to précis so rich a work as this in a short review. Marder has marshalled, and presented with great economy, a vast mass of detail on every point above, and many others, so that we can see not only where we were in August 1914 but precisely how we got there.

It is impertinent to be negative about a single word of this tour de force, but I would pick on Marder's laudatory encomium on Beatty - catapulted up the promotion ladder - to point out Beatty's apparent blind spot for technology, which I think will show in later volumes.

Fisher is the key. He did not suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, and like Scott he let this show (to put it mildly), and this blunted his sword. He had to be pushed aside, or the Admiralty would never have had a proper War Staff; but except for Battenberg his successors were, by comparison, pigmies. Fisher's final gift was ensuring Jellicoe's promotion, when war came, to command of the Grand Fleet. It is possible that without Fisher we might have lost the war.

Marder credits many with help and the list is impressive - people who collectively made sure that this work would stand the test of time. Unlike the Official Historian, Corbett, who had to produce his work soon after the conflict, Marder was able to tap into all manner of official papers, reminiscences and biographies that became available later. He was also able, distanced by time, to be more direct in his judgments. All later writers (such as Halpern in `A Naval History of World War One') necessarily draw on Marder and are in his debt. This volume and its successors are foundation works for anyone studying the Royal Navy before and during the First World War.

The book is illustrated with photographs of First Lords of the period, their First Sea Lords, and other prominent admirals.

There are lessons here for the future (and indeed the present).

Fisher: "Hit first, hit hard, and keep on hitting!"
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you know nothing at all - and even if you do..., 7 Sep 2013
By 
Ned Middleton (British professional underwater photo-journalist & author) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Volume I: The Road to War 1904-1914 (Paperback)
If you know nothing at all about the history of modern Royal Navy from 1904-1919, I can only suggest you commence your appreciation with Volume 1 of this book and continue through to Volume 5. Even if you already believe you know all there is to know about this particular subject - I would still recommend you do likewise - unless you already have.

This is a very thick book (1 inches or 38 mm) containing over 450 tightly packed pages with very few images at all. It is full of historic information and is also an extraordinarily good read. Author and renowned historian Arthur J. Marder (1910-1980) was Emeritus Professor of History, at the University of California. Born in Boston and with a degree from Harvard, he was attracted to English history and the Haldane Mission of 1912 on which he wrote his distinction thesis before concentrating on British naval history. So began one of the most distinguished careers as an historian of the modern British navy where even established British sources expressed astonishment at the calibre and excellence of his work!

Marder had several outstanding qualities from which we are all able to benefit. One of these was his mastery of the complex and often indefinable quagmire into which all those engaged in serious research venture in their quest for answers. That he succeeded - and the extent to which he succeeded, however, became legendary. Added to this was a natural ability to translate those facts, figures and knowledge into the most readable account one might ever have the privilege to read. In short, this author set new standards that others might only hope to emulate.

With such skills, he produced a five-volume work which covers one of the most important eras of British naval history - namely the years 1904-1919, during which the dominant force was Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher - frequently described as the architect of the modern Royal Navy.

This is Volume 1 of that set and covers the years 1904-1914 during which the Dreadnought class battleship was launched in 1906. This revolutionary vessel changed the face of naval warfare forever - resulting in all existing battleships now being described as "pre-Dreadnought." This was a time when the Royal Navy maintained a fleet of ships always equal in size and disposition to the two largest naval fleets in the world so that it would be equal to the task should any two of those fleets join forces in opposition. The impact on that Navy by the introduction of a new and revolutionary battleship - which made every existing capital ship in that fleet (and the world!) obsolete at a stroke, was, therefore, alarming to say the least. Suddenly, it was no longer a question of steadily replacing old and ageing vessels - a few at a time, it was a question of having to replace them all and foreign naval powers were quick to realise this.

Dreadnought, however, is only a small part of this absorbing account of Fisher's time of influence and is mentioned here as single example of a huge and varied content. I was even impressed by the Index. Covering sixteen pages, it contains much more than the usual list of key words with their attendant page numbers - and is almost a good read in its own right.

With such significant developments in naval warfare taking place in the years leading up to WW1, it is only by reading this outstanding record of history that one begins to understand the scope of the entire work - which I would place on a high pedestal for sheer excellence. It really is that good.

Volume II is also now re-published and Vols III and IV are scheduled to appear in early 2014.

NM
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Datum by which other naval writers measure themselves, 8 Mar 2014
By 
Mr. David J. Gregory "freebooter" (todmorden, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Volume I: The Road to War 1904-1914 (Paperback)
Marder's works represent the standard to which all the rest of us naval historians try to aspire. His conclusions and opinions are entirely his own, and some of them are open to argument, but the five volumes of this work represent one of the finest pieces of historical writing that have ever graced the genre.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent first volume of the war at sea 1914-1918, 1 Feb 2014
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This review is from: From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Volume I: The Road to War 1904-1914 (Paperback)
Somehow I missed this book when it first appeared. A freind recommended it to me and it was all five star content and writing.
The articles on the birth of the Dreadnought class was outstanding, I am presently reading volume 2, which is as good as ever!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamental, 9 April 2014
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This review is from: From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Volume I: The Road to War 1904-1914 (Paperback)
Perhaps the best book wrote about maritime conflict in WW1, this first volume covers also the pre-war era and the build-up to the great war - with insight on diplomacy as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reading for the advanced student of history., 26 Mar 2014
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This review is from: From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Volume I: The Road to War 1904-1914 (Paperback)
Top marks for this book. It is probably not for the beginner, but for the advanced student of British/German maritime history, it has all the microscopic detail to fill in the gaps left by hitherto reading only an overhaul account of this war and its causes. Volume one is the first of five books by Marder; and I cannot wait to read the next four volumes. But beware, whether you are British or German, this book is a myth-crusher! Enjoy!
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