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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2000
This is the third book in the author's series charting the design and development of British warships since 1815. It is said that old wines improve with age and it is evidently true of authors as well since, in this reviewers opinion, this rates as David Brown's best book yet. "The Grand Fleet" charts the development of RN design from the Dreadnought of 1905 to the Washington Conference of 1921, and falls neatly into three main parts.
Part 1 sets the scene, with discussions on the resources, what is a good design, design drivers, pre-war development in naval architecture, marine engineering, armour schemes and armament. The extensive series of pre-war trials (armament, armour, shell design, propellant) is well covered - and indicates the gaps in the trials programmes which may have led to serious flaws being missed. Part 2 examines pre-war ship designs in more detail, with chapters on battleships cruisers, destroyers and early aviation vessels, and submarines. Part 3 goes o to covers wartime design and development. Chapters again examine the various of ships, followed by additional chapters which discuss action damage and lessons learnt, the inevitable post mortem on the many magazine explosions suffered by the RN and on to the abortive designs cancelled as a result of the Washington Conference. An interesting aspect not fully appreciated before is the extent to which the RN contributed to the design of US, Japanese and French carrier designs immediately after the war and in the aftermath of the Washington Conference - the influence of FURIOUS is seen in Akagi and Lexington, ARGUS in Hosho whilst EAGLE formed the basis for Bearn. In each case drawings and other technical data for the RN vessels was passed to the nations concerned to asist with their development of their own carriers.
The book is illustrated throughout. Some pictures are familiar, others rarely seen in print, whilst a few come from the author's own collection and have never been seen before. There are also a number of general arrangements and outline plans from the official sets of ships drawings of the period. It is evident that the author has had access to an extensive range of primary sources. The text is accompanied throughout by graphs and tables comparing nearly every aspect of warship design, from weight breakdowns and comparisons of armour schemes to cost analyses, studies on ship motions and incidents of sea sickness. There is a risk that a work of this sort could become a very dry technical piece, but the author has done very well in keeping the technical detail relevant yet easy for the less technically minded reader to understand. At last we have an accessible book which explains the complexities with which the naval architect has to contend and which goes a long way to explaining, particularly to those who think purely in terms of number of guns, thickness of armour and speed, what makes a "good" or "bad" design. For this the author is to be warmly congratulated. "The Grand Fleet" is a grand piece of work!
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on 4 April 2011
Maybe naval history isnt your thing, but there I was reading it while eating as a novel rather than a reference book. To put it into context, it is a design history of warships built by the Royal Navy in the period from about 1905 with the launch of HMS Dreadnought up to the end of WW1. Designs evolve, so here and there it refers to the companion volume covering the period up to dreadnought and I guess I shall have to get one of those now. David Brown is now deceased, but this is the work of a professional naval shipbuilder who in his later years decided to write up what he had learnt, I imagine with a nice splash of inside knowledge. The one bad thing about this is that 100 years after events, knowledge still turns up and some of the most interesting writers are no longer about to update their works, but I didnt notice it was outdated yet. Nice selection of pictures, large pages and a quite acceptable stiffened card paperback cover, which is not to imply the text is lacking. I found it to have a very interesting discussion of the design considerations which went into warships and which were finally put to the test of war at Jutland. Debate still rages over the failings of british ships in that battle and the information here goes some way to help explaining why they were as they were. For the politics which went into ship design and handling look elsewhere, this book is about efficiency of shells, boilers and engines, technical innovations and the best way to arrange the armour.
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on 19 February 2012
The book deals with British naval design in the period 1906-1922, where the technological development was faster than ever, before or after. Ships laid down in 1906 were already becoming obsolete 10 years later.
When we think of battleships, we instinctively think of bigger guns and thicker armour as the road to better ships. Of course the book amply demonstrates how much more complex the situation was. Naval design is always a compromise, between hitting power, protection, speed and cost. And never forget seaworthiness, the warship is basically a platform for long-range weapons (guns or torpedoes), and if the weapons are to hit anything, the platform must stay reasonably stable and dry.
What is common sense to us - with the benefit of hindsight - was not always so clear to the people responsible in the early 20th century. The original design of HMS Lion had the foretop behind the forward funnel, effectively smoking out everyone up there. Why? The designers were more focused on being able to use the foremast as support for the boat crane, and the value of having people in the top platforms was not really appreciated. Similarly, the main gun turrets on the capital ships had sighting hoods, where the gun crews could do their own aiming at the enemy. A relic from the days of Nelson, but in practice all meaningful firing had to be directed from high above the guns. The sighting hoods severely restricted the freedom of superfiring guns, since blast from the upper guns would destroy the hoods on the turret below. And yet the hoods persisted in ship after ship.
The book covers all classes and sizes of warships, and fascinating chapters deal with design of destroyers (small, wet and uncomfortable) and submarines (a totally different world).
The author was a life-long naval architect and thus the reader is in real capable hands. The tremendous surplus of know-how and understanding behind the text is apparent everywhere and only heightens the pleasure of reading.
The book has a pleasing layout with lots of interesting and relevant illustrations. Copious foot-notes are put in the margins, this is a nice touch, eliminating the need to find the notes at the end of the book, and yet not being very obtrusive on the pages.
A few technical terms came up with little explanation (e.g. "sag" and "hog"). Only recently did I realise that these and other terms are described in much more detail in the author's preceding book, "Warrior to Dreadnought", and obviously the two books should be read together.
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on 30 September 2010
I have all three books in this series and I consider them essential to anyone interested in the development of Royal Navy warships. All three books are well illustrated and the text is consise. However, the real joy for me was reading the sidenotes to the text. I thoroughly recommend this book and its companion volumes.
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In this work, David Brown provides a fascinating and compelling explanation of the British side of an arms race in which he includes the developments in - and lessons learned from, a wide variety of ships and submarines - not just battleships.

The pace of change in warship design which gripped the world's major navies in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries remains the greatest arms race of all time. As an example of the changes which came into force, in 1903 the British Duncan class battleship came into service. These ships sported four 12 in. Guns and were powered by 2 x four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines. Only three years later, however, HMS Dreadnought was commissioned. This ship was so revolutionary in terms of battleship design she immediately made all ships in all navies obsolete. The Dreadnought class carried ten 12 in. guns and her steam turbines drove four propellers at a much improved speed. From this point forward, all battleships throughout the world became classed as either `Dreadnought' or `pre-Dreadnought.'

The introduction of HMS Dreadnought now created a renewed arms race in which the world's navies sought to replace all their major warships - or risk being blown out of the water. As each new class of ship was then launched - so new innovations were introduced - all of which served to perpetuate the extraordinary competition which then existed.

Author David K. Brown had a distinguished career as a naval architect and rose to become the Deputy Chief Naval Architect of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors prior to his retirement. For the next 30 years he wrote widely on warship design and became known as a trusted authority on the subject. In this work, he traces the history of warship design and development - as it applied to the British Grand Fleet, from 1906-1922.

Divided into three parts in relation to WW1; Part One of this compelling work is headed Pre-War Developments with chapters on; Preparations for War and Attack and Defence (Pre-War Trials). Part Two is Pre-War Designs and covers; Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers & Early Naval Aviation and Submarines. Part Three is Wartime Experience and Design and includes; Major Developments, Wartime Destroyers & Aviation Vessels, Wartime Submarines, Smaller Vessels & Shipbuilding, Action Damage & Experience of War, Warship Design from the Armistice to Washington and finally (Chapter 13) the Achievement.

Well supported with a plenty of quality images and drawings spaced throughout the book, this is an historical work which explains much to those with an interest in the period and does so with supreme clarity on subjects as diverse as warship displacement and submarine hull designs.

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VINE VOICEon 26 August 2013
This is an all-encompassing book that deals with naval construction in the vital period just before and between the wars and the efforts made by the Royal Navy and the vast array of technical expertise that was brought to bear; to predict, design, build and then of course test and test again, to destruction if need be - all ships from the mightiest battleship to the more humble minesweeper.

Be in no doubt that at all times for those with more than a passing interest in the technical aspects of naval vessels this is an excellent, far-reaching, passionately researched and presented work. The large format lends itself very nicely together with the array of photographs and charts, which are presented with the enthusiasm that only detailed application of knowledge honed over a lifetime could give life to. Though it's a paperback book, the glazed cover has a nice weight to it and the folded front and rear set the whole thing off to perfection.

The thing that amazed even more as I worked through was that, of course, this was the age before the advent of the computer, of computer-aided-design and of advanced materials testing. The fact that the author is one who had first-hand knowledge of this area of design and calculations; that must have been made by slide-rule, pen and paper and endless drawings and model testing must surely be nearly as interesting. I should imagine that even in those days of a thorough education in mathematics, a lengthy apprenticeship would still be needed.

Ultimately the thing that excited me the most was also at the heart of my most bitter disappointment: for this was the time of the engineer. The author is quite happy to throw his calculations and his testing and his product against those of all-comers: simply because he knows that war itself will test them to destruction and beyond: and also most vitally he and his colleagues had the confidence with which to do so. I wonder sometimes as my little car pootles along the inside lane of a motorway and wave upon wave of much more high-profile marques pass me - all from a certain country - I can't help but wonder if we have lost much of this confidence: and though we do have one or two world-beating companies, they are thin on the ground and we are never, ever encouraged to see them in the sprit that is interwoven through this fine book. Perhaps we simply no longer have the skills, the enthusiasm and the confidence with which to do so. Enjoy: for this bygone era surely was one of our finest hours.
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on 28 December 2012
See my review of David Brown's companion volume 'Warrior to Dreadnought' Same remarks apply. Authoritative and well organised survey of the materiel aspects of the Royal Navy in the First World War

David Gregory
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on 20 April 2015
If you only want one book about the myriad of ships that made up the Grand Fleet and how they came to be designed, what compromises that were included and why these compromises were there then this is the volume that you need. Written by an actual Naval Engineer this knowledge all but leaps off the page (or screen on the Kindle Edition) illuminating the how and why of construction and how the Royal Navy obtained the fleet that helped win the First World War.
It also goes into detail about some of the trials carried out and reveals the navy to have been a generally forward looking organization and one that had indeed considered the damage done by high explosive shells on superstructure and the effects of armour penetration and long range gunnery, although not always in sufficient depth. But that is to argue with the wisdom of hindsight.
I cannot recommend this book enough to any enthusiast of the period.
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on 18 January 2013
As in his earlier volumes, Mr. Brown shows he is an expert in his , and puts it over in plain English. Virtually all aspects of pre war and wartime naval development is covered in the book, and some aspects of the post war analysis of the fighting. A first class work.
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on 4 January 2013
extremely Informative and well written, beautifully illustrated with a wealth of technical detail. A must read for anyone seriously interested in the subject.
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