Book Review: Great Liners at War


by Stephen Harding

Stroud, Gloucestershire: History Press/Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2009. Pp. 320. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $29.95 paper. ISBN:0752442317

A history of the military service of ocean liners since the mid-nineteenth century, from the Great Eastern to the QE2. Although each of the nine chapters bears the name of a particular ship, in fact the militry careers of dozens of  vessels are covered or at least touched upon.

Most of the ships, rather naturally, are British, so the book also covers the military adventures of the Great Eastern, the several "Queens", the Aquitania, and other British vessels, but it also looks at some German ships, notably the Kornprinz Wilhelm, lost in action while servince as a merchant cruiser,and Vaterland, which became the American Leviathan, as well the tragic losses of several German ships attempting to evacuate civilians from the Baltic in 1945. But also found are accounts of the short military career of the Normandie, a number of Dutch ships, such as the Niew Amsterdam, several Italian ships, such as the Rex, and more. 

These vessels served in numerous ways, doing duty as transports (the British Queensalone moved hundreds of thousands of troops and prisoners-of-war from 1939 through 1945), hospital ships, and even "auxiliary cruisers."  Harding, author of several books on ocean liners, sets the activities of these ships within the larger framework of the wars, noting their strategic and political impact, and in the process gives the reader a good account of the evolution of the luxury liner and the complexities of the design, construction, operation, and management of these great ships.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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