The best books on naval warfare in World War One

Eric Dorn Brose Author Of Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland
By Eric Dorn Brose

Who am I?

I retired from Drexel University in 2015 after thirty-six years as a professor of German and European History of the 19th and 20th Centuries. My sub-specialty in the History of Technology carried over into publications that over the years focused increasingly on the German army and navy.


I wrote...

Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

By Eric Dorn Brose,

Book cover of Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

What is my book about?

World War One witnessed the largest engagement between capital ships (i.e. battleships, battlecruisers, and heavy cruisers) in modern times, seventy-two altogether at 1916’s Battle of Jutland fought by antagonists Great Britain and Imperial Germany. Even more “battle wagons” clashed there than in World War Two showdowns at sea like 1944’s Leyte Gulf. Accordingly, hundreds of books have been written about Jutland, including a spate of new works as the centennial approached in 2016. I thought it was necessary to write yet another book that synthesized this vast literature and rendered judgments where historians still disagreed. I also paid special attention to circumstances on both the British and German sides that affected the outcome of the battle – the analysis had to be comparative, not narrowly nationalist. This costly battle, a very expensive British victory, contributed mightily to the allied defeat of Germany.  

The books I picked & why

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Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

By 0679456716,

Book cover of Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

Why this book?

Massie is a university-trained “popular” historian, that is, he writes especially for the broad, history-loving public audience rather than for professorial specialists. In Castles of Steel, his term for the biggest ships of that day, he succeeds in surveying the entire war at sea in World War One: the Pacific, the South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the U-boat (i.e. submarine) - infested sea lanes to Britain and France, and of course the critical North Sea, where Britain and Germany squared off against one another for the entire war (1914-1918), not just at Jutland. His fine, very well-written work serves as a lengthy introduction for readers wishing later to probe deeper into the various theaters of the war at sea.


The Escape of the Goeben: Prelude to Gallipoli

By Redmond McLaughlin,

Book cover of The Escape of the Goeben: Prelude to Gallipoli

Why this book?

When war erupted in August 1914, Germany stationed two ships, battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau in the Mediterranean to reinforce the fleets of her allies, Italy and Austria-Hungary. Together they planned to overwhelm outmatched British and French vessels and clear the way for an Italian invasion of southern France. In a shocking development, however, Italy remained neutral, Austria-Hungary’s lesser squadrons remained in port, and Goeben and Breslau were forced to flee from British pursuers. In an exciting chase – somewhat of a story twist on the Royal Navy’s hunt and sinking of Hitler’s battleship Bismarck in May 1941 – British ships failed this time and the German escapees fled through the Dardanelles to Istanbul, joined the navy of the Ottoman Empire, and facilitated Turkey’s entry to the war on Germany’s side.     


The Kaiser S Pirates: Hunting Germany S Raiding Cruisers 1914-1915

By Nick Hewitt,

Book cover of The Kaiser S Pirates: Hunting Germany S Raiding Cruisers 1914-1915

Why this book?

Readers will find Hewitt’s book a fascinating read. Along with the stories of five German ocean liners converted into armed merchant cruisers (AMCs) for raiding enemy commerce, especially the most successful of them, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Prinz Eitel Friedrich, which destroyed twenty-six vessels totaling nearly 100,000 tons, he also relates the dramatic raiding campaigns of German warships like light cruisers Karlsruhe and Emden, which bagged thirty-two merchantmen (over 140,000 tons). Other chapters cover the Goeben episode (described above) as well as the victory of Graf Spee’s East Asiatic Squadron at Coronel and its tragic demise at the Falklands – Germany lost two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and later a third light cruiser. 


The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command

By Andrew Gordon,

Book cover of The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command

Why this book?

Gordon brings a wealth of higher education in Britain as well as service in the Royal Navy to this book, published by the prestigious Naval Institute Press (Annapolis MD) and winner of the coveted Westminster Medal for Military Literature. He focuses on the command and control difficulties that nearly turned victory to defeat for the Royal Navy at Jutland, but buttresses his battle arguments with a lengthy analytic digression – two-fifths of the book – on the traditions and practices of the British navy dating back centuries. This is the beauty of the book, in fact, a discussion so pertinent to military organizations hoping not to rest on past laurels that it is widely read by military planners in Washington D.C. today.   


After Jutland: The Naval War in Northern European Waters, June 1916-November 1918

By James Goldrick,

Book cover of After Jutland: The Naval War in Northern European Waters, June 1916-November 1918

Why this book?

Also published by the Naval Institute Press, Goldrick’s work smashes the widely held view that the German navy, allegedly so demoralized by its lesser losses at Jutland – but casualties that included flagship battlecruiser Lützow – that it never ventured to sea again. On the contrary, the German fleet, emboldened by inflicting much greater losses on the British, set to sea again in August 1916 reinforced with two new 15-inch-gun battleships. Even stronger in April 1918, it went out again, this time with Lützow’s replacement, Hindenburg. Jutland-like engagements almost occurred, but interesting circumstances prevented the two fleets from missing one another and another slugfest. Goldrick also details operations in the Baltic Sea as well as many other aspects of North Sea warfare after Jutland (e.g. mining campaigns) left out of other works.  


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