Book Review: The Hunters and the Hunted: The Elimination of German Surface Warships around the World 1914-15


by Bryan Perrett

Barnsley, S. York.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2012. Pp. viii, 150. Illus., maps, tables. $39.95. ISBN: 184884638X

The Great War at Sea Beyond Europe

In The Hunters and the Hunted British naval historian Perrett gives us an account of one of the most interesting naval campaigns of the twentieth century, the destruction of German naval and maritime power on the high seas.  On the eve of World War I, the German Navy had a number of vessels on foreign stations, notably the battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau in the Mediterranean, the armored cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst with plus several light cruisers at Tsingtao in China, plus other light cruisers and many liners and merchant vessels scattered across the oceans. 

On the outbreak of the war, Britain’s Royal Navy initiated a determined effort to hunt these ships down, with mixed success.  In the opening weeks, Goeben and her consort eluded destruction to escape to Turkey, and played an important role in bringing that country into the war.  The German merchant ships and ocean liners scattered across the oceans were either interned by neutrals, scuttled, or captured.  The armored cruisers and the light cruisers, particularly those based in the Far East, proved both more difficult and more painful to hunt down, as, with some hastily armed merchant cruisers, they began a campaign of commerce raiding while also striving to return to the fatherland.  Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, and their consorts inflicted a stunning defeat on a weaker British cruiser squadron off Coronel on the Chilean coast, but were themselves sunk by superior forces off the Falkland Islands on December 8, 1914.  The other ships were all picked off one a time, though not without some success as raiders. 

The Hunters and the Hunted has profiles of a number of interesting people, notably Vice Adm. von Spee and a very young Wilhelm Canaris and several gripping sea fights.  It is well-written, often stirring, and very informative, and a worthwhile read for anyone interested in navies at war, and particular for those interested in the Great War at Sea.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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