From the Dardanelles to Oran
From the Dardanelles to Oran


Marder, Arthur. From the Dardanelles to Oran. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing, 2015.


Arthur Marder undoubtedly ranks among the twentieth-century’s foremost naval historians. He is best known for his numerous works on sea power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – and particularly for his massive, multivolume history of the Royal Navy in the First World War. Marder wrote and published that work, titled From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, in the 1960s. By the end of that decade he was understandably exhausted and unwilling, at least for the time being, to undertake another major project. Instead, encouraged by his publisher, he collected for publication a number of articles, chapters and conference papers that had never before been anthologized together. These, along with a single chapter written especially for this work, dealing with the British attack on French naval forces in Oran in July 1940, form the contents of From the Dardanelles to Oran (1974). As a collection of articles that had originally appeared in other contexts, this work necessarily lacks somewhat in thematic coherence. There are nevertheless several threads that tie all (or most) of the different chapters together. In the first place, of course, each chapter deals with an aspect of the history of the Royal Navy that Marder had not covered in detail, or at least in precisely the same way, in his previously published works. Most of the work is in fact devoted to naval affairs in the interwar period and in the first stages of the Second World War; Marder’s interest here lies particularly on the side of naval policy and strategy and less within the realm of tactics. Additionally, Winston Churchill’s career appears as a major focus in two (arguably three) of the book’s five chapters. Marder’s treatment of Churchill is particularly generous, as he seeks to vindicate not only Churchill’s controversial conception of a purely naval attempt to force the Dardanelles in 1915, but also his second stint as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1939-1940. Each of the essays in this volume has considerable merit and, despite the fact that over forty years have elapsed since the work’s original publication, From the Dardanelles to Oran contains much that will interest students of modern naval history.

The subject of the volume’s first chapter is particularly relevant during the centenary of the First World War. In this, Marder presents a compelling defense of the Royal Navy’s attempt to force the passage of the Dardanelles in March and April 1915 without the assistance of land forces. Among the points that Marder raises in support of his argument is Admiral Carden’s unimaginative use of the contingent of the seaplanes under his command. Drawing on his extensive personal correspondence with (and the unpublished memoirs of) Group-Captain H. A. Williamson – who served on the Ark Royal during the opening phase of the Dardanelles operation – Marder suggests that indirect artillery fire from the Queen Elizabeth, with support from aerial spotters, may have been sufficient to disable the major forts guarding the entrance to the Dardanelles. As it happened, aerial observation was attempted only half-heartedly. It was abandoned entirely after only minor setbacks, as the naval leadership (in Marder’s view) had little patience for the technological challenges inherent in early aviation. The Admiralty’s relentless emphasis on preparation for massive fleet-to-fleet engagements furthermore left the navy’s officer corps with relatively little training in shore bombardment. Marder argues that even this missed opportunity was not fatal to the purely naval effort to force the Dardanelles. Had the naval force at the Dardanelles been led “by a Nelson – or even by a Keyes!” (26), the fleet might have stormed its way through the Turkish defenses in early April while taking manageable casualties. The Turkish defenders, and their German allies, were by then running out of ammunition and increasingly willing to consider retreat. The British, however, cowed by the fleet’s losses on March 18, abandoned the purely naval scheme in favor of a major landing on the Gallipoli peninsula – with ultimately disastrous results. Churchill’s hope that the Ottoman Empire could be knocked out the war by naval power alone, in Marder’s view, was not entirely unfounded.

The second and third chapters both deal with the Royal Navy during the interwar period. In the second, Marder describes that navy’s ineffective and ultimately largely unsuccessful attempt to learn from its experiences in the First World War. Despite a promising start – the Admiralty formed committees to study the lessons of the war beginning in 1919 – a combination of fiscal constraint and a pervasive attitude of complacency ensured that the navy failed to take account of some of the most important developments in naval warfare that emerged during the First World War. The Royal Navy’s failure to learn from the success of the convoy system during the last years of the war was particularly unfortunate, as these lessons had to be relearned in far from ideal conditions in 1939-1943. In the third chapter, Marder describes Britain’s abortive military response to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-1936. Here, again, there was plenty of blame to go around – yet the politicians, in this case, must bear the largest share of responsibility for Britain’s failure to deter Italian aggression. In Marder’s view, there was little that the Royal Navy itself could do, on very short notice, to make itself capable of facing the threat of war simultaneously in the Mediterranean, the Pacific and the North Sea. The Admiralty’s cautiousness was furthermore justified by the severe consequences that even relatively minor losses would have for Britain’s worldwide naval position.

The final two chapters form something resembling a coherent whole, as they cover a nearly-contiguous period in naval history from September 1939 to July 1940. The first of these represents a reappraisal of Churchill’s activities as First Lord of the Admiralty at the outset of the Second World War. Marder defends Churchill from critiques who have alleged that he had, once again, overstepped his bounds as a cabinet minister and meddled directly in naval operations. While Churchill – unlike more conventional ministers – could not resist proposing bold and impractical new technologies and operational schemes (FDR famously commented that Churchill “has a hundred ideas a day, of which four are good ideas”), he nevertheless refrained for the most part from outright interference in the affairs of professional military officers. In this sense, Churchill’s leadership style as First Lord of the Admiralty contrasts considerably with his later activities as Prime Minister. Operation Catapult, the Royal Navy’s preemptive attack on the French in July 1940, which was launched at the instance of the newly installed Prime Minister, constitutes the subject of the book’s final – and largest, weighing in at over a hundred pages – chapter. This is a detailed account of the high-level policy and strategic decisions that led to that incident, as well the particulars of the incident itself. The operation appears to have been justified, although its results were tragic. While, as Marder suggests, the German military had neither the will nor the means to seize and man the sizeable naval force left in the hands of the Vichy French, it was nevertheless reasonable – given the information available at the time – for the operation to go ahead.

Marder’s writing style is very clear, if sometimes dry. His analysis is buttressed by long (perhaps too long) block quotations from primary sources. For the most part, he allows the historical facts, as he presents them, to speak for themselves. Marder’s philosophy, as Barry Gough notes in his introduction – the newly-added introduction is the sole major difference between the new Seaforth edition and the original published in 1974 – was to “[use] details and particulars to sustain a powerful narrative.” While Marder’s arguments are backed for the most part through references to archival sources, some of his more dramatic claims are based on private correspondence, and even personal conversations, between Marder and various high ranking members of the British military. This aspect of Marder’s work is naturally somewhat frustrating for historians, who like, whenever possible, to be able to see the documents for themselves. Many of these letters, at least, should now be publicly accessible in the collection of Marder’s personal papers at the University of California, Irvine. Marder’s choice of sources aside, this work stands as a valuable companion to Marder’s larger body of work on British naval history. As with the rest of Marder’s work, From the Dardanelles to Oran will likely continue to influence and inform numerous new readers for some time to come.


Review by Mason Watson




The Great War at Sea
The Great War at Sea





The Great War at Sea: a naval atlas by Marcus Faulkner with cartography, design and layouts by Peter Wilkinson.

Large Format: 32.8 x 2.4 x 24.6 cm

192 pages

Seaforth Publishing

While trying to keep abreast of the events of 100 years ago, now 18 months into the Great War, it was clear that there was a significant gap in my comprehension of the war as my knowledge of the battles and actions at sea were so poor. The Great War at Sea comprehensively adds to my fuller understand of the entire war with this beautiful new naval atlas from Pen & Sword.

Now, whenever, almost daily, I read of events at sea in the Times Index and Diary of War that I follow and upload to the Western Front Association website, I can refer to charts and text that puts me in the picture. 

To say that The Great War at Sea is thorough is to underestimate the meticulous attention to the finest details, short of animating the annotated charts and maps that fill every page, you are now able to follow, almost by the hour, the movements of vessels in skirmishes and battles. It’s as if a second war was being fought, yet its significance is profound. It rather leaves me with the view that within months of the outbreak of war, with the seas mostly commanded by the British Navy and German communications compromised or destroyed and supplies severely reduced through a blockade, that in time Germany’s capitulation was inevitable. The Allies outnumbered the central power across all vessels by 3:1 while British resources and communications dominated. Germany’s few fleeting naval success during the war were futile.

While defeat on the Western Front would have been catastrophic, command of the seas, especially as the U-boat threat, was gradually contained and managed, feels absolute.




The Great War at Sea Jutland
The Great War at Sea: Jutland




The Great War at Sea keeps the perspective global; we are all guilty of thinking of the war, even of the British war, as 'The Western Front'. It is also a magical book, something that revives one’s belief in the qualities and values of print over content online. It is also a ‘must have’ reference.

Andrew Lambert's taut and authoritative introduction gives one of the clearest views of the causes of war; it's execution, conclusion, and consequences, albeit from a naval perspective, that I have ever read. It provides context and continuity, the war bubbling up out of events of the late 19th century and continuing into the 20th beyond the end of armed conflict on the Western Front, in particular, we are reminded that Britain continued fighting in Russia to defeat the Bolsheviks.

Andrew Lambert explains how Imperialism and control of the sea mattered so much to governments in the later 19th century. With Britain and others established, the US made its stance in an act of imperialism in the Spanish-American War from 1898 and then along comes to a bumptious Germany ruled by the psychotic Kaiser Wilhelm whose navy envy sees Germany drive to build a grand fleet of battleships - the 'totems of imperial might and modernity'.

The naval arms race was over by 1912 - Britain had won it, we learn. War could not commence until the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal had been built; we are told. You sense, more than I have ever read before, that Germany was putting itself on a war footing.

From the sea, the Western Front, especially along the Belgian Coast, is seen with a new perspective and emphasis.

We gain insights into Churchill, Fisher and the strategic thinking, action or lack of action about the Baltic, Atlantic, and Black Seas. With new perspectives too on ‘peripheral campaigns’ in Mesopotamia, sub-Saharan Africa and even the Pacific where German communications were so quickly and decisively cut. We learn too why revolt against Ottoman rule was supported in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea. While supplying Russia through Murmansk and Archangel during the war led to British involvement in this region long after the Armistice against the Bolsheviks in 1919. We are reminded that while the fighting ceased on the Western Front in late 1918, other armed conflicts continued.

The outcome of the battle of Jutland in May 1916 is that the German navy resorts to the U-boat campaign. German use of mines and U-boats was an international war crime. The shifting response to this with counter-mines, convoys and attacking U-boats at source dictated the nature of naval warfare there on in.

While the defeat of Germany was hard won on land and took time, experience and vast losses and turned into a Chimera, the war at sea, with the mutiny of the German Navy and the Grand Fleet being handed over and stationed in Scapa Flow, was a clear sign of Germany’s capitulation.

The Great War at Sea takes us up to the Washington treaty of 1922 when the British accepted parity of their navy with the US. You read this book and get an enormous sense that one era has ended, and another begun.

The Great War at Sea isn't just a good read, it is a great read and a reference anyone with an interest in the entirety of the Great War ought to have on their shelves. While this year, if you've ever wanted to understand the Battle of Jutland, which will be remembered a hundred years on this May, this is one of the books you need. 


The Great War at Sea Jutland
The Great War at Sea: Strategic Communications


Review by Jonathan Vernon

shipyard at warWritten by Ian Johnson
Seaforth Publishing, 2014, Hardcover £30.00, 192pp, 179 ills in black and white, List of Sources, Appendices.
ISBN: 978-1-8483-2216-5

For lovers of warships this book is a 'must have'. It provides a detailed record of the work of John Brown's Clydebank shipyards during the Great War by using examples from an outstanding collection of black and white photographs of ships under construction, together with details of every ship constructed during the period. These are all brought together in a high quality publication that is a pleasure to read and view.

Ian Johnson's excellent introduction sets the scene by describing the setting up, probably uniquely, of a professional photographic unit at the shipyard which resulted in a fine record of high quality photographs. He describes the origins of the shipyard and covers the acquisition by John Brown & Co Ltd, a Sheffield based forge master, of the Clydeside business in 1899 as part of a diversification strategy. He describes the use of photographs to record the progress of construction and of the photographers employed by the yard. So important were this unit that, at the height of the depression in May 1932 and the consequent large scale lay-offs of workers, two photographers who were 'on the books' in April 1904 continued to be employed. In 1972, with the demise of the Shipyard, some 23,000 glass plate negatives and 20,000 celluloid negatives were saved for the nation and are currently held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Johnson explains the impact of the Munitions of War Act of July 1915 which lead to the designation of the shipyard as a Controlled Establishment enabling the Admiralty to prioritise work by switching contracts between shipyards to maximise the available resources. He also describes the scale of the construction work which occupied a site of some 80 acres divided into two Yards. Johnson also describes the makeup of the workforce which averaged 10,000 workers split 70:30 between shipyard and engine works, and how the peacetime system of hiring and firing used to maximise efficiency ceased to work as men left to join up and the labour market effectively ceased to exist. In order to cope a policy of 'dilution' was introduced which aimed to maximise the use of women labour, but by January 1918 out of a total of 5270 workers only 87 were women, a very small proportion compared with some other areas of industrial production.

The book goes on to illustrate the work of the shipyard chronologically. It covers the construction of capital ships, destroyers and, to a lesser extent, standard merchant ships. Some iconic names are evident in the list of ships constructed, including Barham, Repulse and Hood. In all some 47 ships were built in the shipyard during the Great War.

This publication is more than a photo album of ships and a shipyard but includes some interesting visual commentaries on the life of the shipyard together with some well researched background information. In considering the Great War the importance of industrial production cannot be understated, for it was such places as John Brown's shipyard where the war was won, for the success of the battle for efficient war production ensured British forces had the right tools to finish the job. As someone not particularly interested in maritime conflict, I was nonetheless captivated by the photographs and highly recommend this publication to those interested in knowing more about the battle beyond the battlefields.

Reviewed by Valerie Gray


Fishermen against the Kaiser

Fishermen against the Kaiser



Fishermen Against the Kaiser

Volume 1: Shockwaves of War


Douglas d’Enno


(Pen & Sword Maritime, 2010)     £19.99

Kindle edition £4.99


231 pp, including 45 b/w photos, maps and drawings in a central section.

Notes, five appendices, bibliography, general index and index of vessels.





This book is the first of two volumes designed to provide a comprehensive record of the contribution made by the fishermen of Britain to the war effort from 1914 onwards. The author sets out to show how the conflict impacted on the men and their vessels, threatening their livelihoods and even their lives. Encounters with German minelayers and gunboats, submarines and capital ships, brought new dangers to go with bad weather and the challenges of the seas. Whether under naval direction or acting in pursuit of their trade, d’Enno describes the full range of the fishermen’s operations – from minesweeping and detecting submarines, to escort and patrol duties, and even a counter-attack role. The action starts in home waters but moves at times to the Arctic and the Mediterranean’s Aegean and Adriatic Seas.

The author draws heavily on first-hand accounts, drawn from personal memoirs, trade journals and specialist writing; supplemented throughout by reference to various reports (contemporary and afterwards) and secondary works as appropriate. While, as the author points out, there has been a range of books published covering various aspects of fishermen and fishing vessels during the First World War, this book represents the first time that a single comprehensive history has been attempted. As the title indicates this first volume focuses on the period up to the end of 1915 though, of necessity, there are some quotes and references which go beyond this point. Volume two will look at the years 1916-18, including service abroad, the ongoing losses to mines and submarines and how this was addressed, salvage and life-saving.

Douglas d’Enno was employed for twenty years at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (now DEFRA) where he had access to material on British fisheries and also to industry contacts. The book is clearly based upon exhaustive research into the impact of the First World War on the nation’s fishermen and their ships.

Though I know much about the former I confess that I do not read a great deal of maritime history and the attraction of this book was prompted by the novelty – for me – of its subject matter. The picture on the book’s cover shows a small group of fishing vessels confronting (or confronted by) a surfacing U-boat; above this scene is superimposed a large image of Kaiser Wilhelm, who appears to be contemplating the challenge to his war aims from the plucky fishermen of Britain. Whether by design or not, this cover visualises the author’s claim that ‘… the war could not have been won…’ without the efforts of the fishing fleets and the men who sailed them.

The book provides a brief introduction to Britain’s fishing industry at the start of the war and, as a newcomer to this topic, I would have found it interesting to have had some more detail and background. I also feel that some additional maps to support the text would have been of value; for example, to support the description on pages 57-8 of the patrol areas for the Auxiliary Patrol. It may be that regular readers of naval and maritime history would already be familiar with the geography of the featured waters. However d’Enno moves us quickly into chapters covering all aspects of how the war impacted on the fishing industry – and it is here where the book’s strength and quality lies.

His writing brings home in vivid detail the new threats of mines, enemy submarines and surface craft, to add to the regular dangers faced by fishermen. To quote just one example, in the first year of the war, the port of Grimsby lost 73 steam trawlers (not including those on minesweeping duties); 27 of these went down with all crew lost – a further 17 were sunk and their entire crews interned abroad (page 19).

Initially, there appears to have been conflict between the Admiralty and the Navy on the one side, urging wholesale restrictions on fishing vessels, and the Board of Agriculture’s Fisheries Department and the fishing industry on the other. As d’Enno summarises the views of the former (page 6),

The Navy had a job to do, and fishermen might get in the way. They were a nuisance. The Navy was in a hurry while fishermen’s methods were leisurely… the presence of fishing vessels with their nets might obstruct the operations of naval vessels. The Navy was responsible for protecting fishing vessels and British shipping generally, and such protection would be difficult to give to so many independent and vagrant groups and individuals.

Fortunately, this situation did not persist and ‘a new relationship of understanding’ developed fairly quickly between the Admiralty and the Fisheries Department. The contribution of the fishermen and their vessels to the war effort, in terms of feeding the nation, protecting the coastline and supporting naval operations, began to widen and extend.

Navy regulars came into more frequent contact with fishermen, whether through joint operations or the engagement of reservists and volunteers drawn from the fishing fleets. Thus, there arose the potential for clashes between naval routines and discipline, and the more relaxed approach on fishing vessels, of which the book provides various examples. D’Enno also shows how the Navy came to respect the bravery and skills of their seafaring colleagues.

In a succession of chapters d’Enno takes us from minesweeping coastal waters and searching for submarines, to patrolling off Gallipoli. His history is illustrated throughout with the stories of individual fishermen and fishing boats and their experiences; this is where the joy of this book lies. Many of these are drawn from the trade journals and industry publications at the time, all of which are listed within an extensive bibliography; the latter provides a wealth of further reading and sources for research.

As I read each chapter I was increasingly fascinated by the range of activities into which the fishermen were drawn and the contribution and sacrifices they made in support of Britain’s war effort. Even boats not directly engaged in minesweeping were always at risk of encountering these floating bombs. In the excellent chapter on Sea Wolves Roaming, d’Enno shows how fishing vessels were also prime targets of the U-boats and Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. The calling off of the latter in September 1915 brought a welcome relief – although the targeting of fishing vessels would start up again in January 1916.

Of fishing boats plying their normal trade during the war, 672 vessels were lost through enemy action with a total tonnage of over 71,000 tons; 416 fishermen lost their lives as a consequence. With the industry reduced through the impact of war and the demands of the Navy it still managed to maintain wet fish landings at around one-third of the levels pre-war, with some remarkable individual records of catches.

Overall the book succeeds in its aim of providing a summary overview of this important area of Britain’s war effort; for me, it opened the door to a novel world about which I would like to find out more. It should have appeal for both the landlubber (i.e. me) and those already of a maritime persuasion. Its strength lies in its compilation of first-hand accounts by the fishermen themselves, and the surprisingly wide range of theatres and experiences covered (amplified in the excellent appendices). The stories fascinate the reader with their insight into life aboard the fishing vessels and how the challenges of war became part of the routine dangers alongside those of the sea and the weather. After reading this book, one is left full of admiration and respect for the fishermen of Britain and their role in the First World War – achieving the author’s principal aim. Volume two promises to be equally engaging.


Review by Western Front Association member Dennis Williams



german fleetWritten by Admiral Reinhard Scheer (First published in English in 1920 as Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War)
Introduction by Marcus Faulkner and Andrew Lambert
Frontline Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword (30 April 2014)
Includes black and white period photos and illustrations
ISBN 978-1-84832-209-7
375 pages Price 25.00

Frontline Books is to be thanked for reissuing this important out of print account by the German commander in charge during most of the major battles the High Seas Fleet engaged in during World War I, including the famed Battle of Jutland. This account sheds useful light on the motivations behind the actions and methods employed by the High Seas Fleet before being ultimately interned after the war at Scapa Flow. Not only does the book provide an accurate documentary (from the German perspective) about the movements and actions of the German Navy during important engagements like Helgoland and Dogger Bank, it also gives us details about other little known German naval actions.

Even if it were to impart little else of historic value (and that is certainly not the case), this volume reveals the extent of the German military's (and this German high commander's in particular) anger at the way they believed their naval forces were unfairly dealt with by the British, and later the American navies. To the bitter end (and the end was indeed bitter) Scheer and those around and above him, never seemed able to fully grasp that naval warfare had evolved since the great battles of the 18th and 19th centuries, fought as they were then on the high seas between ships of the line!

Scheer never lessens in his outrage at the British Grand Fleet's refusal to fight him by sending out small forces to engage his warships a few at a time, so that his less formidable fleet could attempt to reduce their fleet to a size comparable to his own. He thought this plan would win the naval war for Germany, regardless of the successes of his submarine service, but his plan was repeatedly thwarted by the British tactic of using fleets of overwhelming force instead. Angered by this, he repeatedly implies that the British behaved in a cowardly manner and only avoided the German fleet out of fear they would be outgunned by Scheer's better-trained crews. However, his insistence that when British and German ships were of equal size and numbers his navy would always prevail, did not hold true on most occasions when the opposing sides actually met.

The British refusal to fight on his terms embittered Scheer, and doubtless contributed to his determination that his book about the German naval side of the conflict be published before most other accounts were written after the war ended. It was clearly a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation as a great naval commander despite Germany's humiliating loss.

Reading his account, one also feels his palpable disgust directed at the allies (and some cases the German High Command) as the naval war turned more and more against Germany. It clearly galled Scheer that his vaunted High Seas Fleet became more and more irrelevant, with only his submarine service hindering the British war effort at sea. Ominously Scheer's insistence of having been victimized by unfair tactics used by the allies echoes the all too familiar calls of a later generation of Germans for a future rematch-which we now know does occur 20 years later.

Of course no book by a German naval commander of Scheer's stature would be complete without reveling in the High Seas Fleet's great victory at Jutland (Skagerrak as the Germans called it). Despite having taken the brunt of damage and loss of tonnage in every other engagement with the Grand Fleet prior to Jutland, there is no question that, in strict terms of tonnage sunk and lives lost, the Germans somehow won the Battle of Jutland.

Although we now know there were many factors that allowed the Germans to emerge from Jutland perceived by many as the victors, ranging form weather, pure luck, and previously unknown defects in British battle cruiser designs, Scheer had a simpler take on the battle:

"Success was achieved due to the eagerness in attack, the efficient leadership through subordinates, and the admirable deeds of the crews full of an eminently warlike spirit"!

Jutland was truly the high water mark for the German Navy during the war so Scheer can be forgiven a bit of patriotic hyperbole. Unfortunately for Scheer, the German Naval effort seemed to go downhill after Jutland, a situation that led Germany to the desperate act of beginning unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917. This was the move that ultimately brought the US into the war.

Sensing the limitations of his fleet of surface ships to prevail against the larger British Fleet, ever since the Battle of Jutland, Scheer agitated to all who would listen, up to and including the Kaiser, for beginning unrestricted submarine warfare against British bound shipping, which he became convinced was the only way that Germany could win the war.

While this tactic proved to be the folly that sealed Germany's ultimate doom, he never admitted his advice was incorrect and his analysis of the events leading up to the historic decision to beginning unrestricted submarine warfare was fascinating reading.

There is a great deal more useful information in the book covering many aspects of the German Navy up to and including the mutinies of 1918 that virtually ended the involvement of the German Navy in the war effort. The chapter explaining how Zeppelins were under the control of the German Navy and the ways the Navy found to use them provided a lot of new information about the contributions airships made to the German Navy for this historian.

Although of necessity most of the focus of this book involves very useful backstories about The German Navy during the war, there is much in this volume to interest any historian of the Great War who wishes to learn more about German ambitions, methods, and motivations.

Reviewed by Richard A Orr
US WWI Historian
St Charles Mo USA



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