Book Review: All Hands: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy Since 1939


by Brian Lavery

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012. Pp. 352. Illus., diagr., notes, biblio., index. $41.95. ISBN: 1591140358

The ordinary seamen of the Royal Navy from the Second World War to the Present

With his earlier Royal Tars: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy, 875-1850 and Able Seamen: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy, 1850-1939, All Hands completes Lavery’s study of the lives and service of the enlisted personnel of the Royal Navy across nearly twelve centuries. 

Lavery naturally devotes about a third of the volume book to the Second World War, which was not only the largest and perhaps most desperate conflict in the history of the Royal Navy, but also had a most profound influence on deep-rooted service traditions. In three chapters he explores the recruiting, training, and impact of “hostilities only” personnel, the changes brought about by new technologies, personnel shortages, and the stress of war, and the wartime evolution of the “Navies within the Navy,” that is, the various branches of the service. 

The six chapters that follow cover events chronologically from the end of World War II in 1945, roughly a decade at a time down to the present.  Each of the chater more or less conforms to the pattern set in the initial three, focusing on the common sailors and petty officers, while looking at how the service adjusted to almost continuous reductions in budget, technological progress, social developments, and, of course, strategic and operational demands, an dhow these affected the “other ranks.” While actual operations are not the primary purpose of the book, they are adequately covered, particularly as they often illustrate the changes in the service. 

All Hands and Lavery’s earlier works on the “lower deck” are worthwhile reading for anyone with an interest in naval history.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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