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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War at Sea a Hundred Years Ago, 11 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: My War at Sea 1914-1916: A Captain's Life with the Royal Navy during the First World War (Kindle Edition)
These wartime recollections of the Captain of the battleship HMS Canopus cover her initial commissioning from reserve, the battles of Coronel and Falklands in 1914, and Canopus’ service bombarding the Turks in the Dardanelles in 1915 and then in support of the land campaign, and against Smyrna, and contain much detail not otherwise published.

Mark Tanner has worked the story up from a series of articles by Grant published in the Naval Review 1923-4. The style suggests that the original was worked up from Grant’s Reports of Proceedings but is illuminated by a gentle, dry humour which reflects the level of farce which has a tendency to bubble to the surface beneath all the RN’s operations, which helps to keep its personnel sane.

There are two threads in this narrative that one might single out. One is Grant’s continuing and thoughtful care for his men. The other is a clear awareness of how the entire Dardanelles event was being driven by Churchill (not named directly), bullying his admirals and generals along with no understanding of naval strategy or tactics nor of logistics, and initially as First Lord trying to win the game with the RN without proper accompanying military provision. The result was the doomed fiasco we all know about. One might also add a lingering smell of poor coordination and staff work in the higher reaches. The ambivalent Greeks and less than perfectly competent French, and the Italians who are both, also attract notice (but the French aviators in theatre receive unstinting praise).

Slow and plagued by defects, Canopus’ usefulness down South was limited, but she came into her own at the Dardanelles and the detailed account of her adventures there, including all sorts of recherché vignettes, makes fascinating reading, as do Grant’s sometimes quite acid comments on it all. Often under fire, and under mine and later submarine threat, it was sheer luck that Canopus avoided the fate of the other ships we lost there. Following the overdue but successful evacuation of the Dardanelles, Canopus was diverted to offensive operations against Smyrna, where she had been stationed part of the time already. In both locations Grant was senior naval officer and so in charge of many interesting (but otherwise unsung) adventures away from his ship, large numbers of whose company spent time ashore on various communications and other errands. The beginnings of the use of seaborne air power are noteworthy.

The main narrative is supported by an account by Canopus’ Executive Officer, Commander Stopford, also from the Naval Review, covering the ship’s career from commissioning up to Stopford’s relief in 1915. There is also an appendix relating to mark Tanner’s separately published letters of Philip Malet de Carteret, one of Canopus’ midshipmen, which includes a number of references for further reading.

Grant (1864-1938) ended his 43 years of service as Admiral Sir Heathcoat Grant KCMG, CB.
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