Book Review: Churchill and Sea Power


by Christopher M. Bell

New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 430. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0199693579

Churchill as Naval Strategist

Surprisingly, given Churchill’s long identification with the Royal Navy, this is this first ever analysis of the man as a naval strategist.  Prof. Bell (Dalhousie) makes an excellent case that while not perfect Churchill’s record is far better than is generally believed. 

Bell addresses particularly the failed campaigns in the Dardanelles in 1915 and Norway in 1940, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the dispatch of Force Z to the Far East on the eve of the Pacific War.  He argues that Churchill was less responsible for failure in the Dardanelles, Norway, and Far East than is commonly believed.  Fearing Churchill’s “amateurism” and adventurism, the service chiefs, the army, air force, and naval staffs, and even local commanders often deliberately made changes in his proposals.  While at times these yielded excellent results, they also often resulted in disastrous outcomes.

Surprisingly, Bell then argues that Churchill’s management of the Battle of the Atlantic could have been better, prolonging the threat to Britain’s survival, because the Prime Minister decided to reserve long range aircraft for offensive operations against German infrastructure than use them for anti-submarine patrol.  But Bell also credits Churchill for his prescience in seeing, early in the Twentieth Century, that Britain would not be able to maintain maritime supremacy in the face of the rising power of the United States and, to a lesser extent, Japan, and that national security would eventually have to rest on a combination of air and sea power. 

Churchill & Sea Power is a necessary read for anyone interested in naval warfare in the twentieth century.


Note: Churchill & Sea Power is also available in paperback, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-1996-7850-1, and several e-book editions.



Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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