This is an account of the sea war between Britain and Germany in World War 1. As with all Massie books it is fast paced and packed with background on events, technology and personalities. The book commences with a brief summary of the events leading up to the start of the war which includes a portrait of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II who was taking his usual all male summer cruise on his yacht the Hohenzollern for most of the month of July 1914 when the unstoppable march to war commenced. What follows is a detailed description of all the major and many minor sea engagements between the British Royal Navy and the Imperial German navy. These are accompanied by lengthy digressions into the personal and professional lives of almost all the major players in these events including assessments of their characters and achievements, and even their love affairs. The book ends with the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow after its surrender to the Royal navy.
As many of the personalities involved in the book were characters like Churchill, Sir John Fisher, the Kaiser, Tirpitz, Lloyd George and Sir David Beatty commander of the British Battle Cruiser squadron at Jutland, the digressions are in many ways the heart of the book. Some of his opinions are questionable, there is perhaps a tendency to see the military men as strong silent heroes and and the politicians as self serving manipulators. This said his descriptions of the sea engagements are well written and clear pieces of narrative. The hunt for the German Admiral Graf Spee's squadron in the South Atlantic, its bringing to action at the Falkland Islands, and ultimate destrucion by the British battle cruisers Inflexible and Invincible were described in detail. Ironically, Invincible was herself to be sunk later in 1916 by the Germans at the Battle of Jutland.
Another theme of the book is the extent to which the naval commanders were dealing with new technologies that had never been used before. It details their successes and their failures, and the limitations of these technologies. For example the extent to which dense smoke could hamper the power of guns capable of hurling high explosive shells for miles. The hero of the book is perhaps Sir John Jellicoe, the modest and cautious commander of the British Grand Fleet. The only man who could lose the war in an afternoon as Churchill described him. His responsibility was awesome and even if he was not another Nelson he did succeed in containing the German High Seas Fleet and thereby gave Britain a notable strategic victory.
This report prepared by John Ellis