I have long possessed the original version of this book and here I will mostly concentrate on a comparison between the two. It may seem almost churlish to deny five stars to such a dazzling magnum opus as this, but I have considered what one might reasonably expect of a new edition of a book published such a long time ago which, although excellent, was not without its faults. One reasonably expects to find an effort to correct errors and also to benefit from some additional research.
The text and tables are virtually identical to those in the 1988 edition and there are hardly any corrections. It is not really acceptable to find that the errors of 25 years ago, both typographical and factual, are nearly all still there, these being especially numerous in the introduction. A particularly bad one concerns the Temeraire of 1874, which is described as having two 11 inch guns in each barbette whereas in fact two of the four supplied were actually chasers in the battery. Her engine piston stroke was 46 inches, not 34 feet 10 inches! Thunderers 38 ton guns were non- standard 12 inch (to match her 35 ton ones) not 12.5 inch. More obvious, Inflexible was not designed to transit the Panama Canal, which was not built for another 40 years: of course this should have read 'Suez'. Benbow had 2,880 tons of armour, not 3,999. Design 'C' for Victoria had four 63 ton guns, not two. On trials Victoria made 17.3 knots forced draught, not 16- 16.25- she achieved that on natural draught. Later it is claimed four Canopus Class ships had mark 4 'direct supply' 12 inch gun mountings, but both Parks and Hodges say only Albion and Glory had these and there are reasons to believe that is correct.
Mr Burt covers design concepts, armament, machinery, political history, the Naval Defence Act, the Spencer Program and so on, but the core topic is a description of each ship type, along with the authors own superb scale drawings plus numerous period photographs. Each chapter ends with a brief history of the individual ships in the class. The 'introduction' dealing with the ships of the 1870's and 80's is long and well illustrated, so it may as well have been included in the main text. The late ironclads and early steel battleships built in Britain were indeed fascinating- especially curiosities like Inflexible and the tragic Victoria and her sister Sans Pareil, these two being the infamous 'flat irons' that had very low freeboard and two massive 16.25 inch guns in a single turret.
Unfortunately, as in so many modern books and new editions of old ones, this text takes a decidedly second place to the pictures and is now 'squeezed in' around them. As another reviewer has observed, the print is both noticeably lighter and smaller than before, so given this is also a heavier and more cumbersome book than its predecessor I shall continue to actually read that one.
Really this new edition is all about the revised photographic content. There were plenty of photos in the old edition, and actually not very many more in this one- but most of them are a great deal larger. This would be excellent, except that the book is in the wrong format. The pages are about the same width as before, but considerably deeper, whereas for really large photos of battleships it is width, not depth, that is needed. As a result, many photographs are spread over the binding, which is never satisfactory and was mostly avoided in the old edition. No mistake, though- some of these enlarged views are spectacular, such as 'Nile' on pages 50- 51, and 'Exmouth' on 238- 239, and care has been taken to avoid mis- matched pages, but something is always lost when this is done: for example the bows of 'Prince George', pages 152- 153, have disappeared from view! Not all the new pictures are better than the deleted old ones (I miss the head on view of 'Hood' at sea, for example) but the definition is generally better and there are some really excellent new deck views, such as Magnificent's quarter deck, pages 142- 143..
This indeed very impressive looking book, but I dropped a star here because it sets out to be a standard work and those are meant to be read and not just visually admired. People who have not seen the old edition will probably think I am being over critical of a fantastic book, but actually almost nothing has been done to correct or improve the 1988 text and it is harder to read than the original. So should you buy this edition if you also own the old one? Actually, yes- because so much is new in the photographic department. I still love Admiral Ballards book 'The Black Battlefleet' and of course Oscar Parkes wonderful standard work on British Battleships, but there are few major books covering this period and, my complaints notwithstanding, for £27 this one is almost absurdly good value. However if you do have the 1988 edition, hang on to it.
on 7 December 2013
(publisher's review copy)
My previous understanding of this topic comes from a fifty-year old edition of Cdr Randolph Pears' `British Battleships 1892-1957' (Putnam), in which the pre-dreadnought period only receives four dozen pages and so is necessarily much briefer, if more conversational. The overall master work is `British Battleships' by Oscar Parkes of which a first edition will set you back £250 (although, for both, later reprints are available at more modest cost) and again Parkes covers a longer timeframe (from 1860 to 1950).
Pen and Sword /Maritime Press are now offering a new edition of R A Burt's classic work first published in 1988. I say `edition' rather than `reprint' as, according to other reviewers who already own its predecessor, there is additional material (and particularly additional photographs) compared to the original, which was itself a master work. At £45 r.r.p. it may seem expensive but is not so compared to what 1988 versions have been fetching, and is cheap indeed for such a lavishly-illustrated and encyclopaedic treatment of this specialist topic.
The introduction actually starts the story in 1869 with the inception of what was, in 1871, to become HMS Devastation, and then takes us, year by year, to HMS Agamemnon completed in 1907 - by which time Fisher's Dreadnought had made our entire battle fleet, and everybody else's, obsolete. The main part of the book deals, categorically and in intimate detail, with the thirteen classes of true `pre-Dreadnoughts' ordered under the annual estimates from 1889 to 1904/5.
In 1897, for her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria reviewed twenty five miles of ships, not one of which had had to be withdrawn from overseas to make up this spectacle. At this time, of the 58 battleships owned by the major Powers, 24 were British. But to maintain this total naval supremacy over everyone else on the planet required a rolling building programme.
Throughout the Admiralty was looking over its shoulder at what was building elsewhere, initially in France and Italy but later in Russia and Japan (easier to discover because their ships were being built in Britain) and then the nascent navies of Germany and the United States.
The designers were on a treadmill of innovation and rapid advances in technology. An early problem was whether to get rid of the sailing rig which inhibited the adoption of rotating gun mountings. This involved arguments about tactics and whether line-of-battle was superseded and whether ramming and a capability for all-round fire were more important. Water-tube boilers, wireless (and alternative aerial fits from gaffs to the eventual triatic stay), wire-wound guns (113 miles of wire per barrel), rangefinders, internal electrical communications, Harvey and Krupp (!) armour, stockless anchors, all came in during the period. At the same time legacies lingered on like the ram and torpedo tubes.
Each design (and sometimes many were proffered before the final one was chosen) was a matter of compromise regarding cost, tonnage, dimensions (our ships had to fit existing docks) building costs, dimensions, performance, armour, armament (and its availability), freeboard (crucial in respect of the operability of the guns), watertight subdivision and so forth. The period covers the move from open barbette to rotating turret and hence how the restriction of end-on loading was tackled. Sometimes the compromise, particularly on cost, resulted in a `Second Class' battleship, thought useful as a support for cruiser squadrons until, all too soon, increases in cruiser speed made this a nonsense and left us with ships `too weak to fight and too slow to run away'. At one point the Admiralty had two rather under-armoured battleships (Swiftsure and Triumph) building for Chile dumped on it, which cut out funding for more useful vessels.
Statistics (where these could be recovered a century later) of all these plus machinery, complement, boats carried (an extraordinary and heterogeneous mixture of types), are presented in exhaustive detail.
The chapter on each class closes with a history of each ship, which include a rich litany of collisions and groundings, and where a ship was lost rather than eventually scrapped an account of the circumstances. Of course not all the events of all commissions can be included; for instance HMS Mars' serious accident in April 1902 when one of her forward 12-inch guns was fired before the breech was closed, killing two officers and nine ratings, injuring seven, and wrecking the forward turret, or the Lord Nelsons being so much more manoeuvrable than previous pre-Dreadnoughts (in spite of having, like most of them, in-turning screws) that one of them is reported (by Pears) to have entered harbour stern first. Obsolete they might be, but those pre-Dreadnoughts which had survived the scrapyard were by no means useless in the First World War, doing yeoman service in bombardment at the Dardenelles and performing many other duties elsewhere until for several, either their big guns were needed for monitors or their crews were needed for other duties and the ships continued in service as depot or accommodation ships. Centurion survived a career as a target ship to serve with wooden guns as a decoy in the Mediterranean and eventually died a blockship off Normandy.
The book is researched, compiled and written from the construction and engineering points of view. Not much is said about habitability, particularly on warm foreign stations, although it can be seen that the admiral was always provided with his private sternwalk (indeed the Light Fleet aircraft carrier HMS Triumph still had one in 1955). For this and the life of Jolly Jack during the period John Wells (`The Royal Navy: An Illustrated Social History 1870-1982') and John Winton (`Hurrah for the Life of a Sailor') should be your guide.
The volume measures 10" by 11 5/8". The reproduction process is not entirely glitch-free, e.g. `understanding' for `understating' p.65, `Bayley' p.203, `Dewer' p.350, and photographs flipped left for right at pages 277, 300 & 305; and it's Harvey armour, not Hervey. These are petty cavils; the overall production standards of the book are exemplary, not least for the lavish illustration, including many beautiful double-page photographs, and exquisite line drawings (by Burt himself).
I commend this work to every serious student of the Victorian and Edwardian Royal Navy.
on 1 April 2014
I find the transitional period covered in this book particularly fascinating, so there was some risk of me being extra-favourable to this book, but that said, I echo what other reviewers have said: this is indeed a superb book. Great photo's, readable text, which to me at least seems authoritative and well researched. I guess the main competitors are "Steam Steel & Shellfire" covering the world's ships not just British, and not just the battleships - and also Warrior to Dreadnought - again covering all ship types, British only. Both are superlative books, and Burt's volume is really good even in that company. I'm very glad to have all 3 but if you have to choose, eg budget, or space limits imposed by the domestic authorities, then you can simply go for the one whose coverage match your primary interest. Price is perfectly reasonable at between £25 and £30. When my copy arrived, after a couple of minutes just flicking through, I placed an order for Burt's other two volumes covering WW1 and WW2 respectively - which says it all . At the risk of my review being all comparisons with others' works, I'd even go as far to say that Burt's 3 volumes taken together are as good as Oscar Parkes' definitive work - perhaps better if anything.
on 14 October 2013
I have a copy of the original edition of this book. Which being somewhat specialist has been out-of-print and very expensive to obtain for years.
Seeing a revised edition of this classic book, I immediately decided to buy it, mainly for the increased number of photos.
Am I pleased with the new edition ?
This is the definitive book on British Pre-Dreadnought Battleships. And it has been improved !
Coverage includes numerous photos, magnificent plans, diagrams and profiles of each class. Often at several different times of the ships appearance. Full technical history and careers. Incisive comment.
The overall size of the book has increased from 320 pages to 352. Page size from 245mm by 240mm to a far more impressive 290mm by 240mm.
The book is now on glossy paper.
Consequently the photos are very much improved in quality and size. And there are far more of them.
And just as importantly, the plans are larger and much clearer.
The colour plan end papers which grace the new edition are also well worth while, as a new colour section on appearance which has been added to the introduction.
The only major retrograde step is the typesetting.The new typeface is very slightly smaller and considerably lighter. This makes it a little more of a strain to read.
The cover, by David Gibbons on the original, has been replaced by one, which to my mind, is very inferior.
If you do not already have a copy of this, do not delay. Buy one now before it goes out of print.
If you have a copy of the old edition, upgrade now !
I recently described two more books in this series by R. A. Burt as works you would want to own and this is no different. The extent of the detail given to every aspect of technical information really is most impressive.
By the mid 1880s the Royal Navy's ability to conduct a modern war at sea was being openly questioned. The resultant Naval Defence Act of 1889 led to a programme of an astonishing 52 battleships being constructed over the next 22 years. With such a vast empire to police and protect, the Royal Navy always maintained a fleet of ships equal in size and disposition to the next 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. This programme of complete reconstruction, however, was only spoiled by the introduction of the new Dreadnought design which was as revolutionary to the future development of warships as the jet engine would become to aircraft many years later.
This book, however, deals with the pre-Dreadnought British battleships 1889-1904 and is such an exceptional work it stands mast and funnel above all other books in my own library. By repeating the chapter headings, one gets an idea of the scope of the vessels covered; Royal Sovereign class, Hood, Centurion and Barfleur, Renown, Majestic class, Canopus class, Formidable class, Bulwark class, Duncan class, Queen class, King Edward VII class, Swiftsure and Triumph, Lord Nelson class, Appearance and changes, Battleship Forts and Battleship Exterminators, Conclusion, Bibliography and finally, Index.
Personally, I came to the work through my own ongoing research into the loss of two Duncan class battleships and, in order to give the reader an idea of the immense value of the work, the following detail is explained just for this single class of battleship. Altogether 21 pages are devoted to the Duncan class. Commencing with Design, we find technical details (as intended) for HMS' Duncan and Albermarle with a rare photo of the former in Victorian colours. Line drawings of profile and deck plan accompany another photo of HMS Russell with the text continuing to describe every element of these vessels. Armament is followed by a sequence of photographs showing HMS' Cornwallis completing in 1904, Duncan and a closer view of the latter's guns being replaced in Malta in 1909.
With the remainder of the section also accompanied by even more excellent historic photographs, we find; technical details (as completed); brief details of all 6 ships of the class by name, displacement, dimensions, armament, armour, machinery, ship's boats, searchlights, anchors, wireless, complement and the cost of each vessel and guns. Various cutaway sections (profile and a number of cross sections) with each internal compartment numbered and explained. The vessels' stability is followed by an in-depth appreciation of the Cornwallis' steam trials of 1903 and the class collective steam trials. Appearance changes is followed by a potted history of each of the 6 individual ships of the class.
Commencing with HMS Duncan, we find a bullet list of events by date from `laid down' to `towed to Dover for scrapping.' HMS Montagu follows in similar format but with a particularly descriptive narrative relating to her grounding and eventual loss. HMS' Cornwallis, Russell, Albermarle and Exmouth are then given their own similar treatment.
If this extensively detailed information relating to a single class of pre-Dreadnought battleship were then to be multiplied by the remaining classes found within this outstanding work, I would suggest most readers will find the answers to all the questions they may have.
on 28 March 2014
This is a meticulously researched book giving a great deal of the usual details about the ships covered. Missing completely is any technical details. I had hoped to see pictures of the ships internal details, the engines, mess decks, galleys, boiler rooms etc.
For anybody looking for brief details of any of the ships including commissions and careers this is an excellent source of information. Anybody seeking the more human aspects of life on a Victorian battleship during the long peace of Empire will have to seek elsewhere.
on 20 January 2014
Because i have two first book this serie.
And i say in some my frends this serie is in best this chose:british battleships over time.
Is very important in ship modelism;
on 8 November 2013
This book is a superb reference work on one of the most interesting periods of warship construction. It complements Oscar Parkes British Battleships in that there are numerous photographs and detail drawings.
It is one of the best books I have seen for printing quality, which really brings out the detail in the photographs.
If you have any interest in this period it is a must buy.
on 3 November 2013
An excellent introduction to the experimental world of Victorian RN battleships. Contains details of all major classes and varients, armour, weaponry and machinery.
on 17 November 2014
This book contains a wealth of information about these ships. The information is out there but this book brings it all together in a highly readable form. Read it cover to cover and browse the picture all the time. I so enjoyed it I bought the WW1 dreadnoughts book. A minor point, it would have been good to have included one ship(class) from each of the major sea powers.