Book Review: How the Navy Won the War: The Real Instrument of Victory, 1914-1918


by Jim Ring

Barnsley, Eng.: Seaforth Publishing / Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018. Pp. xxiv, 232+. Illus., biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1473897181

The Most Critical Campaign of the Great War?

Ring, author of books about Erskine Childers, Britain’s submarine service, and other subjects, makes the case that while histories of the Great War tend to concentrate on the bloodlettings on land at the Marne, Ypres, Verdun, the Somme, et al., the war ultimately was decided at sea.

Ring argues that the two most important campaigns of the war were the Royal Navy's crippling blockade on the Central Powers, an undertaking that went largely unnoticed at the time, and is usually dismissed in a few lines by most histories, and the fleet’s defeat – barely – of the German U-Boot campaign to starve Britain, which would have brought a quick end to the war. This case has been made before, but Ring’s treatment is very readable, weaving naval developments more fully into the overall framework of the war, and touching on the many personalities who had roles in the events.

There are, however, two primary criticisms of Ring’s argument. First, had Germany defeated France in 1914, it seems unlikely the war would have lasted long enough for British sea power to secure victory; Britain’s naval supremacy could only be decisive if the war were a long one, a matter that Ring only lightly touches upon. Secondly, Ring fails to discuss German mismanagement of available resources that might have averted the worst effects of the protracted blockade; despite having overrun Poland in 1915 and western Ukraine in 1916, both major grain exporting regions, the General Staff, in effective control of the government, failed to manage the agricultural resources available, which would have greatly improved German’s food supply, averting massive hunger back home while keeping the troops at the front well fed.

The absence of maps and of notes are also weaknesses in this work. How the Navy Won the War is a useful read for serious students of the war, but not an essential one.


Note: How the Navy Won the War is also available in several e-editions

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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