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Clash of Fleets: Naval Battles of the Great War, 1914–18, by Vincent P. O'Hara & Leonard R. Heinz

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. x, 374. Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1682470083.

Naval Surface Combat in the Great War

Veteran naval historian O’Hara, the author of Torch: North Africa and the Allied Path to Victory, The German Fleet at War, 1939-1945, and other books, has teamed up with wargame designer Heinz, to give us the clearest and most comprehensive look at surface naval combat in the First World War. They open with an introduction in which they define some specialized naval terms and explain the theme of the work. They follow with a chapter titled “The Fleets”, in which they discuss contemporary trends in naval technology and warfare, notably the dreadnought capital ship and the introduction of aircraft and submarines, and offer a brief over view of each of the fleets that engaged in surface combat during the war; British, Russian, French, Italian, Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman.

The authors then devote a chapter to the events of each year of the war, divided by theatre, and touching upon land operations as appropriate. Altogether O’Hara and Heinz cover 144 combats, defined as engagements between vessels of 100 tons or more. So the actions covered range from clashes between handfuls of torpedo boats to the great battleship fleets that fought at Jutland, with numerous smaller actions in between. While, some of the fights are well known, such as Coronel, the Falklands, Dogger Bank, and Jutland itself, many actions are much less so, such as the rather major clashes of the Otranto Straits, Moon Sound, or Cape Sarych, but also many smaller, but interesting actions, such as the many fights among coastal forces in the English Channel or the Adriatic. For each action, the authors note the circumstances and forces involved, describe the fight in some detail, and often offer critical analysis of the decisions of the commanders, ending with some comment on the consequences, all the text is supported by over two dozen maps and man tables.

Naturally, most of the engagements are between British and German warships, but the authors pay proper attention to fights by other powers, and the treatment of the actions in the Black and Baltic Seas is more complete than in most other surveys of the war at sea. This makes Clash of Fleets an excellent read for anyone with an interest in naval warfare, and particularly World War I at sea.


Note: Clash of Fleets is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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