- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (31 Jan. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141036109
- ISBN-13: 978-0141036106
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 150,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Blue-Water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean since 1800 Paperback – 31 Jan 2013
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It will remain the definitive account of Anglo-Mediterranean history for years to come (Amanda Foreman New Statesman)
Robert Holland's masterly history of the Mediterranean is a pleasure to read. Blue-Water Empire shows how Britain's mastery of the Middle Sea shaped the modern world, whilst reminding us how profoundly the Mediterranean has influenced the British (Simon Ball (author of The Bitter Sea: The Struggle for Mastery in the Mediterranean, 1935-1949))
[A] rich and readable account of the British in the Middle Sea ... As Holland's learned, lucid and enjoyable work makes clear, many British politicians saw the Mediterranean as the pre-eminent global strategic arena, representing the key to victory in Europe and Asia (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)
Lively and absorbing ... original (Philip Mansel Spectator)
This is an important subject, and it has never before been drawn together into a single coherent narrative ... Blue-Water Empire puts the land, not the sea, at the heart of the story (Literary Review)
About the Author
Robert Holland is one of the world's leading historians of the Mediterranean and the author of Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-59, and (with Diana Markides) The British and the Hellenes: struggles for mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1850-1960. He holds professorial positions at the Centre for Hellenic Studies in King's College London and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in the same University.
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If the Mediterranean was a trough, Britain had its nose firmly in the affairs of all the territories for at least 200 years, since 1800, the year Malta was conquered from France, with Maltese help. Even before Mussolini's proclamation of "Mare Nostrum", the British Government could claim its "British Lake" spanning from Gibraltar to the Dardanelles to include Cyprus, Palestine, and Iraq; bringing liberal dreams of a better future to the "oppressed" Greek, Italian and Arab peoples, with features of domestic social life: military bands, tennis, the races, Gilbert & Sullivan operas being imported, and churches, barracks, schools, and cemeteries being constructed primarily to serve the needs of its armies of troops and civil servants. Its presence became most effective when it was "subtle and least imposing", and was noticeable to normally unaware observers when its traditional foes, first France and Russia, later Germany (after 1866), and more recently, the USA (after 1918), despite the continuous Churchillian self-deception of the "special relationship", started making strong angry noises and unpleasant excitable gestures. Wilhelmite Germany did everything possible to put Britain and France against one another, simply to divide the main rivals.
Events affecting these Blue-Water Empire territories often thus evolved behind closed doors in the wake of London's changing interests: the unification of Italy was interrupted after 1848 for long for fear of French expansion (Italians believing the wives' tale of Britain favouring both unification of different sorts and disunity consecutively with eminent national heroes, such as Garibaldi, " wrapped in English banknotes"); the plan for a Suez canal being blocked until Britain's benefits outweighed its losses (meaning French gains), whereas in 1878 the British fleet helped protect Ottoman Constantinople from attack by the Tsarist Russian army, camped outside its walls. Malta, situated in the middle of the lake, saw its fleet of gunboats and "grey diplomatists" heading out to shores around the Med to solve crises.
The importance of this sea continued throughout the Twentieth century with the author treating a higher proportion of the book, as it has greater significance and understanding in this age. For long little Gibraltar became the lighthouse of freedom in a cruel sea of snapping fascist nations. On the eve of War in 1939 the idea was advanced that should Britain ever lose the Med, the defeat in war would follow. A myth emerged of the stubborn bravery of the happy Maltese standing up against the pounding might of the German Luftwaffe over two years from 1940 -crowned in the film the Malta Story (1953)Malta Story [DVD], as they had done in the Sixteenth century in the siege against the Ottomans. Briton and Maltese readers would therefore be surprised, shocked and hurt to learn that both Governor Sir William Dobbie and his successor General Gort, in 1942, had entertained schemes to surrender the island, GC or not. Everything that has since happened would have entered virtual reality.
The immediate post war has not even been very glorious or memorable in hindsight, with the greatest freedom loving Briton Churchill ordering Gen Scobie to treat Athens as a "conquered city", supporting the much despised monarchy, and when the friendly Tommies finally marched away years later, in 1950, after defeating the communists of ELAS, Britain's influence still remained in the background.
Elsewhere the author demonstrated Britain's role as "invasion in reverse" covered with blood. Already just before the Second World War, one younger, but equally fanatical "blood mad" Gen Bernard Montgomery, had been sent to calm the Arabs and Jews in Palestine with counter-insurgent tactics designed in India. But as soon as the going became impossible the operation turned to strategic withdrawal, with one commentator stating that the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict may have been foreseen back in the 1940s as a "second Ireland", with the blowing up of the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem, in 1946, seat of the colonial mandate, being an early explosive prelude. This was followed by Cyprus in the fight against EOKA and Grivas, and independence in 1960.
For Britain, the abyss presented as Suez, in 1956, but from Arab sources that episode was very much in the making since the end of the Great War and in particular 1936, when the last twenty year treaty would be concluded. There needed, however, two missing ingredients, Premier Eden and Col Nasser, to detonate the time bomb with grave familiar consequences.
That, in reality, for Holland was not the lowest point. Britain whether under Labour or the Tories did not show any complete openness or honesty towards the faithful wartime Maltese. The Oxford Rhodes scholar Dom Mintoff may have been presented in the press during the 1970s as a wily second-hand car salesman, but he was simply behaving as any negotiator would when trying to obtain the best deal for his proud island people even against mother Britain.
The most original feature of Holland's work is to show that Britons abroad never felt a contradiction in working for "two flags", or some higher single ideal: Nelson and Lady Hamilton serving both the Bourbon King of Naples, Ferdinand IV, and George III, Byron plotting for Italy and then fighting and dying for Greece, (and so though the author does not go on there is nothing historically unusual or culturally so unBritish of T.E. Lawrence and Harry Philby showing deep positive feelings for the Arabs or indeed his infamous son, Kim Philby; together with Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt siding with the Soviets from the 1930s).
In 2012 though Britain still has Gibraltar and the "sovereign base areas in Cyprus, the author feels that over the two centuries Britain and her people are not seen totally in so black terms as the new world power, the US, regularly sailing back and forth in its hegemonic policeman role with no interest in the people's of the territories. Certain anecdotes and past comments would make today the political correct brigade cringe with embarrassment. But apart for nostalgia Britain in the Med has gone the same way as earlier imperial giants, Venice City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire, the Ottomans, and to a lesser extent our now friendly enemy France.
Informative, irritatingly succinct of Britain's great imperial past, it portrays the double-dealing or flexibility of its statesmen, soldiers and sailors. Looking at Europe from the Mediterranean at the centre, and not from an isolated northern area, Britain's Blue-Water Empire permits all to observe and appreciate in full the reason why France always described its enemy as the "Perfidious Albion". Robert Holland has produced a brilliant truthful and skilled job in showing the political strategies of the Perfidious Albion in action. As before in history there were good and bad things, only this time they were shown by both the giver and receiver, and the good may have appeared less good than previously presented.
The three main naval bases in the Med had originally been set up as coaling bases for ships but with the the newer longer ranged oil fired ships, these bases had declined in importance. The Italian naval contribution to any war was likely to be small and could be contained by fairly modest warships operating from these bases.
The Admiralty, following experience of WW1, therefore wanted to keep any likely Med contribution fairly low key and concentrate its forces in the Atlantic to fight another inevitable Uboat campaign.
This sensible strategy was completely over ruled by Winston Churchill, the arch imperialist, who considered that a life line to India, via the Suez Canal, was essential. The result of this decision and the ensuing course of the naval war in the Med would see the loss of the greatest number of British warships than any other campaign.
Even the land battle at El Alamein involving 200,000 British and 100,000 German troops, compared to the 900,000 Germans and 1.3 million Russians at Stalingrad was described by the Russians in Tehran as "a skirmish".
Compared to the ferocity of the Battle of the Atlantic and Stalingrad, the Med campaign was a secondary theatre. Overall and following the invention of the ocean going submarine, by 1900 the Med was becoming a naval backwater.
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