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This review is from: Castles Of Steel: Britain, Germany and the Winning of The Great War at Sea (Paperback)
This is an exhaustive study - it is also an exhausting one. But bear with the near 800 pages, because you will be richly rewarded and put down the book afterwards with the feeling that you yourself were involved in this chapter of the First World War. In itself, this is a true measure of a first rate writer's skill; Robert Massie again shows he is unquestionably that. He provides some astonishing revelations regarding the workings of the British and German Admiralties and very interesting explanations about the U-boat threat; how the `moving square' for convoys defrayed that threat; the real reason Americans joined the war (very late) and why the German naval forces came so close to mutiny in the closing months of 1918. Key dramatis personae such a Fisher, Beatty, Jellicoe, Hipper, Scheer and Ludendorff are less fully drawn than those Massie so comprehensively describes in his Dreadnought, which is perhaps a shame. However, one does get a workable indication of the personalities - Lloyd-George comes out as a petulant, unpleasant, `Welsh Windbag' of a man and Beatty seems a duplicitous fair weather friend. But Jellicoe is undoubtedly the true and modest hero whose grasp and retention, against all arguments, of the Grand Strategy is the true measure of the man who won the war at sea. That he was so shabbily treated at the closing stages does some of his colleagues plus British government generally, and Lloyd-George in particular, no credit whatsoever. The battles are describe in immense detail, almost as blow-by-blow accounts - they would become boring without Massie's skill in setting the stage and progress of the engagements, coupled with his insights and descriptive power regarding, for example, the comparative advantages of ballistics and armour, the horrifying injuries and the huge dedication of all involved at the face of battle. All in all, Castles of Steel serves to underline how shockingly awful this war was, and why, with the entrenched prejudices of the time, it couldn't possibly have been avoided by Britain if Europe, and she herself, were not to be smothered by Germany's autocracy.