Dreadnoughts at War

 

The dreadnought battleship was an iconic technology in the first half of the twentieth century. Nations poured millions into their construction. Despite – or perhaps because of – the money spent building them they were rarely used.

“Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raids to Jutland,” by Eric Dorn Brose, presents one period where dreadnoughts were extensively used: the North Sea during World War I. Britain’s Grand Fleet and Germany’s High Seas Fleet waged a campaign in the North Sea between 1914 and 1916 representing the dreadnought age’s most important use of dreadnoughts.

Jutland, the biggest and most important naval battle of World War I, was not fought in isolation. Brose takes a fresh look at the battle of Jutland and the events leading up to it. He reexamines all source material, British and German, including material released after the centennial anniversary of the Battle in 2016.

The result is a fresh take on the battle. He dispels hoary myths about the battle. The most pernicious was that losses in the British battlecruiser force were due to design flaws in these ships. Rather, Brose shows how they occurred due to the battlecruiser disregarding basic safety precautions to increase gunnery speed. This allowed ammunition in the magazines to be ignited by hits distant from them.

The book is much more than the Battle of Jutland, however. Brose makes a detailed examination of the entire war in the North Sea from August 1914 through the June 1916 clash off the Jutland peninsula. This included extensive looks at the clashes preceding Jutland: the Falkland Islands, the German battlecruiser raids on the British coasts, and the battlecruiser clash at Dogger Bank.

He also looks at the commanders involved.  Not just the big four that commanded at the battle: Jellicoe, Beatty, Scheer, and Hipper. He also examines Ingenohl and Pohl, who preceded Scheer in command of the High Seas Fleet and those in the Admiralties of both nations: Fisher, Churchill, and Oliver in Britain and Tirpitz in Germany.

Brose also presents the role intelligence played, especially how British code-breaking affected the outcome of events during the war. It was a decisive yet fickle advantage. He also looks at the real flaws of the Royal Navy: inadequate gunnery and, worse still, armor-piercing shells that frequently disintegrated when they hit.

“Clash of the Capital Ships” is outstanding history. It is well-written and well-researched, an entertaining and informative book.

“Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raids to Jutland,” by Eric Dorn Brose, Naval Institute Press, 2021, 354 pages, $49.95 (Hardcover) $35.35 (Ebook)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I don’t know if it’s only the high cost of ships that kept fleets from fighting directly.  It was mostly a big mistake for both sides to seek out one large cathartic battle, as many military and naval theorists advised.  It was not the cost of the fleet that mattered as much as the scarcity of the fleet.  That is, no matter the expense, it takes a long time to build ships.  Both the Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet should have not ventured out.  In any battle you are rolling dice.  Sometimes the dice are stacked in your favor, but usually not enough that either side can’t win.  The value in the fleet is in its existence.  Being sunk or diminished can be fatal to the over all war effort.

    The Brits could have ignored the German sortie and just guarded their ports.  Unless the Brits’ fleet was sunk, they would always have the upper hand.  The Germans were in a pickle and wanted to have access to the oceans, but they should have used their fleet to protect their commerce rather than seek a major battle.  Or they could also have just protected their ports.

    The purpose of the fleet was to either safeguard or choke off commerce.  The purpose of the fleet is not to wage battles.  The Germans were lucky at Jutland to be able to revert to the status quo of being blocked in their part of the Baltic, and the British were lucky not to have had a more major disaster.  As should have been predicted, the battle was of little real consequence.

    • #1
  2. Jeff Petraska Member
    Jeff Petraska
    @JeffPetraska

    The most pernicious was that losses in the British battlecruiser force were due to design flaws in these ships. Rather, Brose shows how they occurred due to the battlecruiser disregarding basic safety precautions to increase gunnery speed. This allowed ammunition in the magazines to be ignited by hits distant from them.

    I think that Campbell’s book also states that the British propellant was much more likely to react violently than the propellent used by the German navy.

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  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Jeff Petraska (View Comment):

    The most pernicious was that losses in the British battlecruiser force were due to design flaws in these ships. Rather, Brose shows how they occurred due to the battlecruiser disregarding basic safety precautions to increase gunnery speed. This allowed ammunition in the magazines to be ignited by hits distant from them.

    I think that Campbell’s book also states that the British propellant was much more likely to react violently than the propellent used by the German navy.

    True, but that made the bypassing of safety precautions even more likely to cause problems. Turret design was identical in both battleships and battlecruisers, but there were no catastrophic explosions among the ships normally assigned to Cromarty and Scapa Flow. (The battlecruisers there were there temporarily, rotating out of Beatty’s battlecruiser fleet so they could do live-fire practice, something not possible at Rosyth. 

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  4. Rōnin Coolidge
    Rōnin
    @Ronin

    Mom says I can’t buy another book until I finish the ones I already have.  I have to clean my room now.

    • #4