On Seas Contested: The Seven Great Navies of the Second World War Hardcover – 30 Sep 2010
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A book that breaks new ground; it is an absolute must for anyone with aspirations to be a naval historian, and a good read for those simply interested in the navies of the Second World War. --Warship 2012 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Vincent P. O Hara is the author of three other books published by Naval Institute Press. He lives in Chula Vista, CA. W. David Dickson, an expert on Japanese naval doctrine and carrier design, is an author who lives in Hernando, MS.Richard Worth specialises in warship design. A resident of Bolivar, MO, he is the author of several books.
Top Customer Reviews
This time O'Hara is co-editor, primus inter pares with Dickson and Worth, of an unusual and extremely innovative book. The seven great navies of WWII are thoroughly described in separate chapters written by reputable experts adopting a fixed analytic framework. Moreover, every chapter is provided with a short order of battle and, a definite plus of the book, a map of bases and organization, whose graphical symbols lets immediately appreciate the importance and facilities of the bases of each power (one only regrets the lack of a general map for the bases of the British Empire).Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
An annoying downside of some (even high quality) military - and especially naval - historiography is national partisanship. Not only the story is narrated strictly from the author's national perspective, but to various degrees, the author tends to overpraise his own nation's military force while walking with velvet tread on, or downplaying, or simply passing over, its flaws, faults and setbacks. The scientific approach designed by Vincent O'Hara, successfully applied to other works, and cooperatively followed by the authors of On Seas Contested not only provides the book with a solid framework, preventing it from being a hodgepodge of merely stacked up contributions. But it also nips national partisanship in the bud. Substantially increasing the fairness of the outlook, to the reader's advantage.
Each navy is presented and discussed in a consistent format, the same for all navies explored. Backstory, with a brief summary of the navy's development up to 1939. Organization, including command structure, doctrine, training, intelligence, and so on. Materiel, including ships, aircraft, weaponry, infrastructures, industry. A recapitulation of the navy's development, actions and performance in wartime. And a summary and assessment. The richly informative, plain, easily readable text comes with a fair number of charts, tables and maps, and a small but valuable set of rare b/w photographs. A few pages of notes and a pithy up-to-date bibliography complete the work. Which is praiseworthily free from rhetoric, taking sides along national lines and criticisms and sarcasm poured upon "the others" (usually spared one's own team, whose failures are swept under the rug or turned on paper into victories whenever possible).
The objective views set forth throughout the book beget what seem to me to be as objective conclusions. The French Navy was a powerful combat force, consistently conceived and trained to fight against its arch-foe - the Italian Navy - but sporting a number of severe, though partly hidden, flaws and drawbacks, and unfortunately it could not fight the war it had been created to fight.
The German Navy was an outstanding instrument of war which fought to the bitter end a war it could just lose, as it was simply overwhelmed.
The British/Commonwealth navies performed well, not rarely very well throughout and were up to their long-standing tradition, but the Royal Navy was overstretched and suffered badly from it; in the Pacific it needed American support and learned American lessons.
The Italian Navy proved, in its own sphere, a successful force since it basically achieved the goals it was set during the war, and while it definitely lost a number of engagements, it held its own, also gaining some tactical or operational victories, against an opposition superior to it in many departments. (The Italian chapter is the shortest of all and as an Italian reader, I would have been more pleased had it been slightly longer - but blame that on my national partisanship).
The Japanese Navy was a formidable giant with clay feet and pitted against an enemy even bigger than its size. Had it even redressed its shortcomings and mistakes - some of which huge - it could hardly have won in any case.
The US Navy was, simply put, a steamroller - whatever shortcomings and mistakes it could suffer from, it was sort of doomed to win, considering both the size and the overall quality of its assets.
The Soviet Navy was a secondary issue in a predominantly land-air war, massive enough but plagued with problems of all sorts. It fought well on occasions and it had its successes but it could not be a major player in the war.
A very much recommended - I daresay mandatory - reading for both the naval history buff and the professional researcher.
Such a compilation would have been beyond the qualifications of any individual author. Accordingly, the editors have entrusted each chapter to one (or more) who can bring to his subject a working knowledge of 60 years' research and reflection. It would be a treat to find such a survey for any individual navy; to find it for seven in parallel is a tour de force.
The book's organization invites jumping among chapters even on first reading and helps make it a useful continuing reference. Even knowledgeable readers will likely find much here that is new. Well done.
This time O'Hara is co-editor, primus inter pares with Dickson and Worth, of an unusual and extremely innovative book. The seven great navies of WWII are thoroughly described in separate chapters written by reputable experts adopting a fixed analytic framework. Moreover, every chapter is provided with a short order of battle and, a definite plus of the book, a map of bases and organization, whose graphical symbols lets immediately appreciate the importance and facilities of the bases of each power (one only regrets the lack of a general map for the bases of the British Empire).
The amount of information provided in the book is awesome: of the 38 pages devoted to the often neglected French Navy I particularly appreciated the section dealing with the evolution and evaluation of ships and weapons; the 41 pages concerning the German Kriegsmarine are delightfully crammed with numerical data; except for the section about command structure and personnel, the 43-page chapter by Wragg has little in common with (and is more interesting than) his previous Royal Navy Handbook 1939-1945 (Sutton, 2005), moreover he spends six pages describing the other Royal Navies (Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, and South African); the shortest chapter (34 pages) relates to the Italian Regia Marina and provides particularly new and surprising details about intelligence, surface warfare doctrine, gunnery, and final assessment; by contrast, the subsequent chapter is the most ample (52 pages) and extravagant, but the Imperial Japanese Navy, the only non Western navy, deserves the special treatment of a masterly written 11-page backstory and 4-page final reflections; not surprisingly, the American chapter is the second longest (44 pages) and matches the Japanese one, particularly when analysing the tactical doctrine devised to fight the expected annihilation battle with the Japanese fleet (noteworthy are the tabular "Standard Battle Plans" and the graphical "Armor Penetration Study"); the Soviet chapter (36 pages, the second shortest) sheds light on a somehow obscure matter, and lets the reader discover how much the Communist Navy owed to the Fascist naval technology (the Montecuccoli-like Gorkii cruisers, the Galileo-like fire-control computers, the Italian scartometers and torpedoes, the Balilla-like Series I U-Boats, the Isotta-Fraschini engines for the MTB, the Italian-made turbines, not to mention the Italian-built fast destroyer leader Tashkent etc.).
In such a specialized book for navy buffs, the 29 pictures (not particularly well reproduced) are unnecessary and I would have rather liked 29 additional tables or charts instead. Worth a mention is the bibliography, not only fairly ample (10 pages) but also commented, and the guns and torpedoes comparative tables in the appendix.
Quite paradoxically this remarkable five-star book has one big flaw: as a delicious pie is always too small or a dream holiday too brief, so this succulent work is too short. First, the extraordinary quantity of comprehensive information provided would have required a much deeper apparatus than the scant 78 endnotes (none of which, for instance, gives details about the surprising draw in the cryptologic war between the celebrated British code-brakers and their neglected Italian counterpart: 13.75% vs. 13.3%); anyway, expanded notes and errata can be found at the book's site. More important, the book lacks a sizable introductory (or final) chapter of the kind of that that Harrison put at the beginning of The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison (Studies in Macroeconomic History) (Cambridge U.P., 1998), an international multi-authored work whose structure On Seas Contested recalls. Despite the fixed framework of the latter, the coordination among the chapters remains loose, so that we have rather parallel descriptions than actual comparison. For example, both the British and Italian chapters stress that the rate of fire of the Royal Navy artillery was frantic and particularly the double of that of the Italian Regia Marina (by the way, this explains much about the outcome of the duels between these two navies: ceteris paribus, the more shells you spend the more hits you get), it would have been therefore interesting to know if, say, the cold-blooded Germans used to fire like the phlegmatic and miserly Italians or if the wealthy Americans were as frenetic as their British allies. Another example: the British chapter affirms that trade convoys to and from the United Kingdom comprised 85,775 ships (plus another 175,608 in coastal convoys); the German chapter, on the other hand, says that Allied merchant ships made more than 300,000 successful Atlantic voyages and 100,000 more in British coastal waters; in neither case the sources are quoted and some explanation of these apparently so different statements would have been advisable.
Despite these minor imperfections (which hint how still unexplored the subject is), On Seas Contested is a monumental work, that every naval enthusiast should possess.
The chapters are ordered by the name of the country they cover. This is a bit unfortunate, as it means that the book starts with its chapter on France, which is probably the weakest part of the book due to the relatively limited wartime experience of the French Navy and the author repeating some material in different sections of the chapter. The second chapter on Germany is also a bit disappointing as it places undue emphasis on the German fleet's major surface units at the expense of the submarines and small craft which did most of the fighting. The chapter on Great Britain provides a valuable summary of the Royal Navy and the main dominion navies, and the chapters on Italy and Japan are excellent - for my money the chapter on the Italian Navy was the strongest and most interesting part of the book. The chapter on the United States is solid but feels a bit short given the enormous scope of the topic it covers, and the final chapter on the Soviet Navy is excellent. Each of the chapters focuses on how the navies prepared for war, and in most cases I thought that the coverage of the impact of the war was insufficient (for instance, how each navy was organised at the time their country entered the war is described in detail, but subsequent changes aren't always mentioned). The book would have also benefited from a conclusion which draws together the main points of the different chapters to identify the main lessons from the war and its aftermath.
As a result, I found this to be a valuable and interesting book, but it could have been a lot stronger if it had included a concluding chapter and more detail on the navies during the war.
Each chapter follows a uniform format, covering the history of the service, its designated mission, its command and administration, personnel, training and the intelligence function, combat doctrine, the ships, planes, and weapons systems of the service and the service infrastructure (logistics, bases and supporting industry). These analyses are followed by a "recapitulation" that summarizes and evaluates the wartime performance of each navy.
The book has numerous tables (29) to amplify and supplement the text. There are also ten "charts," seven of which are orders of battle for each navy, reflecting combat vessels on the date that each navy entered WW II, e. g. Dec. 7, 1941 in the case of the US and June 10, 1940 for Italy.
The US Order of Battle thus does not reflect the immense growth of combat power that occurred after Pearl Harbor and by 1944 resulted in a Navy of nearly incontestable might. This historically unprecedented expansion of modern naval power in wartime made the US Navy unique because it ended WW II unrivaled at sea and incomparably more powerful than at the war's outset. An additional USN OB as of late 1943 or early 1944 would help a novice reader better understand the US Navy's ultimate overwhelming dominance in battle and naval power.
Seven maps, each showing the location of the land bases of one of the navies, are included. The map for US bases also depicts organizational information. The book has 29 photographs, mostly of naval vessels.
Three appendices are included, two of them useful but routine (one a table of comparative ranks and the other having a conversion table for weights and measures and a list of the book's abbreviations and acronyms) and the other, Appendix One, fascinating. This has two sets of tables of data for each navy, one for guns and one for torpedoes. Data for guns is from the largest to the smallest shipboard guns and gives each type or class of vessel carrying them, not including fast firing light AA weapons (e. g., in the US Navy 40mm, 20mm and 1.1 inch guns and .50 cal machine guns). For torpedoes, data is by torpedo type, showing each type of vessel carrying it.
This book is a superb addition to the library of any reader interested in WW II naval history. It provides an excellent introductory comparative baseline for reference. The book's bibliography gives extensive annotated source references in various languages for those wishing to pursue the subject.