25 books directly related to the British Royal Navy 📚

All 25 British Royal Navy books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail

Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail

By Suzanne J Stark,

Why this book?

This was the first nonfiction book I read that fired up my interest and started my research for my own historical novel. Stark gives a picture of the females to be found aboard ships in the British Royal Navy, most of whom were not posing as men but were wives of warrant officers. One chapter is devoted to women in disguise in naval crews. The last chapter is devoted to the crossdresser Mary Lacy, who passed as William Chandler, and worked as a shipwright. With illustrations and endnotes, Female Tars sheds light on the women who are seldom mentioned…

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The best books about 18th & 19th century crossdressers

Book cover of The Shetland Bus: A WWII Epic Of Courage, Endurance, and Survival

The Shetland Bus: A WWII Epic Of Courage, Endurance, and Survival

By David Howarth,

Why this book?

The Shetland Bus was a great operation fighting against the German occupation of Norway and David Howarth, second in command of the organization, brings a personal and knowledgeable telling of its history in The Shetland Bus. This book inspired me to write my novel. It is an amazing story of courage and skill. Fishermen on the west coast of Norway began to run fishing boats to England at the beginning of the war. Known as the North Sea Traffic, it eventually became formalized under British command. The Bus only worked during the dark of winter, when sea and…

From the list:

The best books about Norway during WWII

Book cover of London and the Georgian Navy

London and the Georgian Navy

By Philip MacDougall,

Why this book?

This book focuses on the myriad ways in which Georgian London and the Royal Navy were intertwined. Thousands of Londoners contributed to work that helped to keep the navy at sea; all understood that the navy protected maritime trade, on which London’s prosperity depended. MacDougall looks at bureaucratic links between the navy and the City, and at the practical business of supplying the fleet; he explores key geographical locations in detail and uncovers colourful personalities.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

Book cover of The Fighting at Jutland

The Fighting at Jutland

By G.W.W. Hooper, H.W. Fawcett,

Why this book?

My grandfather fought in the Battle of Jutland, as a young gunnery lieutenant; the hero of The Redeemed, Leo, would do likewise as a boy seaman. I needed insight into men’s experience and found it above all in this book (put together by two naval officers who’d themselves taken part.) It is composed of sixty personal accounts from men of all ranks and is edited to give a gripping chronology of what remains the largest naval battle in history.

From the list:

The best books about memories of war

Book cover of Jutland: The Unfinished Battle

Jutland: The Unfinished Battle

By Nicholas Jellicoe,

Why this book?

On 31 May 1916, the greatest naval battle in history took place at the Skagerrak, the waters between Denmark and Norway. John Jellicoe commanded 28 battleships and 8 battle cruisers of the British Grand Fleet; opposing him were Reinhard Scheer’s 16 battleships and 5 battle cruisers of the German High Sea Fleet. There were four distinct phases of the battle: first, Franz Hipper attempted to lure David Beatty’s battle cruisers onto the High Sea Fleet; Beatty then turned north and sought to lure the High Sea Fleet onto Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet; next, Jellicoe attempted to cut Scheer’s battleships off from…

From the list:

The best books on the most famous battles of the First World War

Book cover of James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition

James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition

By William Battersby,

Why this book?

Although James Fitzjames left many letters little was known about his early childhood and family background until Battersby researched this biography. Fitzjames was a charismatic personality who won awards for bravely, led an expedition to survey a route through the Middle East and fought in China in the Opium War. He seemed destined for great things in the British Navy, but through it all he hid a dark secret about his parentage. Fitzjames’ letters are filled with humour, lively anecdotes and character sketches of his fellow officers. They inspired the novel, North with Franklin, and this book makes an…

From the list:

The best books on the Lost Franklin Expedition

Book cover of The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy

The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy

By N.A.M. Rodger,

Why this book?

This is by far the best book on the British Navy in the Age of Sail.  Meticulously researched and written in easily accessible non-technical language, N. A. M. Rodger — the foremost authority on this subject — draws the reader into this complex world with vivid, entertaining characters and rich detail on life above and below deck. The Wooden World offers the most complete portrait of naval life in any age.  For readers hooked on Patrick O’Brian’s fabulous 21–volume “Aubrey/Maturin” series, Rodger will be an indispensable guide for understanding the Royal Navy and how it functioned, as well as how…

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The best books on 18th century mariners

Book cover of Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

By Brooks Richards,

Why this book?

A detailed and authoritative account of the vitally important secret naval operations mounted to rescue Allied service personnel and also ferry secret agents to and from occupied France. Recognised as the official historian of the ‘secret flotillas’, as a Royal Navy officer Brooks Richards took part in many of these operations and thus vividly describes the hazardous voyages, often in small fishing vessels under cover of darkness and well before the days of GPS and other modern navigation tools. In addition to his own wartime experiences, Brooks Richards’ account is informed by extensive personal research, including access to what were…

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The best books about escaping from occupied France during WW2

Book cover of Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Battleship Bismarck

Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Battleship Bismarck

By Ludovic Kennedy,

Why this book?

The author, Ludovic Kennedy, was a very junior officer aboard one of the Royal Navy destroyers in the thick of the hunt for Bismarck, which lends a palpable “I was there” immediacy to his account of one of the most dramatic episodes in the naval war on the North Atlantic in World War II.  His presentation is well-balanced, and his writing style makes for an easy but thoroughly engaging read, while the vignettes of shipboard life and the naval service, in general, are by turns fascinating, gripping, and sometimes tragic.

From the list:

The best books about naval battles in the Second World War

Book cover of Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives

Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives

By David Cordingly,

Why this book?

Cordingly is more famous for his other major pirate work—the ubiquitous “Under the Black Flag,” which is required reading for anyone who wants to learn more about pirates. However, I prefer this book about pirate women, as well as other types of women who went to sea. When I started my research for my first book, I knew virtually nothing about the women of the Royal Navy and this book opened my eyes to their fascinating stories. There’s something for everyone in this book.

From the list:

The best books to discover the truth about women pirates

Book cover of Britain and the Mine, 1900-1915: Culture, Strategy and International Law

Britain and the Mine, 1900-1915: Culture, Strategy and International Law

By Richard Dunley,

Why this book?

Underwater weapons of all types have had a major influence on naval warfare in the twentieth century. Despite this, studies of them to date have not been all they might be either in terms of quantity or quality. Richard Dunley rectifies this in respect of the mine with a major evaluation of its place in Royal Navy thinking and planning in the first decade and a half of the twentieth century. As a result, this is an important book and a major contribution to the literature.

From the list:

The best books on Churchill’s First World War Navy

Book cover of Gold Run: The Rescue of Norway's Gold Bullion from the Nazis, April 1940

Gold Run: The Rescue of Norway's Gold Bullion from the Nazis, April 1940

By Robert Pearson,

Why this book?

The German invasion of Norway was sudden and thorough, capturing major ports from Oslo to Bergen and Trondheim on a single day in April. Their only failure was not capturing King Haakon, the cabinet, and Norway’s gold bullion. Robert Pearson’s Gold Run is a thrilling account of the efforts of “a visionary bank chief,” loyal Norwegians, and ships and men of the British Royal Navy. While under bombardment, immense courage was displayed as 50 tons of gold were moved by road, rail, and fishing boats. Pearson provides documents, photos, and personal accounts as well as a great narrative. If you…

From the list:

The best books about Norway during WWII

Book cover of I was a captive in Korea

I was a captive in Korea

By Philip Deane,

Why this book?

A riveting first-hand account of the war from the buccaneering foreign correspondent of The Observer. Greek-born Deane, who served nobly in the Royal Navy in WW2, was captured by the North Koreans in Seoul in July 1950 and spent the next 33 months in captivity. He vividly chronicles those grim days as a prisoner, enduring torture and surviving the infamous ‘Death March’. There is also a great insight into the character of George Blake, his fellow internee and British spy, who was (unbeknown to Deane) actually recruited by the KGB in their period of incarceration.

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The best books if you want to understand the Korean War

Book cover of Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

By Stephen Budiansky,

Why this book?

While the outcome of the naval war was a foregone conclusion, the United States Navy and a swarm of privateers punched well above their weight, humiliating the world’s preeminent navy early in the conflict and boosting American national morale. There are a number of excellent books on the naval history of the conflict, but, carefully researched and accessibly written, Perilous Fight is my favorite telling of this critical aspect of the War of 1812.

From the list:

The best and most recent books on the War of 1812

Book cover of Sailor's Heart

Sailor's Heart

By Martin Campbell,

Why this book?

Not just another book on World War II—Sailor’s Heart by Martin Campbell is a story that has not been told before. It is the fictionalized (but heavily and exhaustively researched) story of three Royal Navy sailors who experienced traumas that rendered them unable to go on. Campbell says the condition “sailor’s heart” is the loss of interest in the battle and then the will to fight or the will to live.” With no end to the war in sight, the men are sentenced to an undefined period of rehabilitation in a Royal Navy hospital that has anything but the…

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The best books of untold stories from World War II

Book cover of The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot

The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot

By Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy, Mary Anne Talbot

Why this book?

Perhaps the most famous of the 18th-century crossdressers is Hannah Snell. Hannah was a British woman who passed as "James Gray" and became a marine in the Royal Navy, following the death of her infant daughter. During her military career of more than four years she was wounded in battle and later was officially recognized and pensioned for her service. Hannah's is only one of at least twenty authentic accounts of females serving aboard Royal Navy ships, according to editor Tom Grundner, who writes the preface to The Lady Tars; the Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne…

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The best books about 18th & 19th century crossdressers

Book cover of Jane Austen: Her Life: The Definitive Portrait of Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Art, Her Family, Her World

Jane Austen: Her Life: The Definitive Portrait of Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Art, Her Family, Her World

By Park Honan,

Why this book?

There are many biographies and other narratives of Jane Austen, with many published since 1997, when Professor Park Honan updated his original book. Even so, his biography is still, in my opinion, the best. It is comprehensive, detailed, and accurate, with copious endnotes. The author also had unparalleled help from descendants of Jane Austen. His writing style is straightforward, and he is excellent at depicting the overall context of her life and how it influenced her writing, from her two brothers in the Royal Navy to productions in the London theatres.

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The best books about Jane Austen

Book cover of The Crowded Hours: The Story Of 'Sos' Cohen

The Crowded Hours: The Story Of 'Sos' Cohen

By Anthony Richardson,

Why this book?

The Crowded Hours tells the story of ‘Sos’ Cohen, whose eclectic military career began as an eighteen-year-old during the Matabele Wars of 1887, and then as a soldier in the Boer War. During the First World War, he first served with the Army and then transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service as a pilot. And in 1939, he joined the RAF at the age of 64, flying with RAF Coastal Command till the end of the Second World War.

Crowded Hours is a really interesting book in its own right, but in a more personal sense, it resonates with…

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The best military books that resonate with me, or inspire me, in some personal way

Book cover of Judy, A Dog In A Million

Judy, A Dog In A Million

By Damien Lewis,

Why this book?

Judy was the only official animal POW, in a Japanese POW camp in the far east, even issued with her own POW number. A brutal tale, yet at the same time a heartwarming story of a truly special animal. Damien Lewis is once again on top form, giving a historically accurate and emotional account of life as a POW both for humans and dogs.
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The best of WWII prisoner of war books

Book cover of Nelson's Navy in 100 Objects

Nelson's Navy in 100 Objects

By Gareth Glover,

Why this book?

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy was the largest employer in the world. It maintained a fleet of close on 1,000 ships, including over 100 line-of-battle ships, and was responsible for the entire organisation of maintaining them at sea. Through his evocative selection of 100 objects Glover takes you back in time to share his admiration for a golden age when Britain ruled the seas.

From the list:

The best books to understand the Age of Sail

Book cover of From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, Volume I: The Road to War, 1904–1914

From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, Volume I: The Road to War, 1904–1914

By Arthur J. Marder,

Why this book?

Anyone interested in the Royal Navy before 1914 has to read this book. It is the only book on the run-up to the First World War written following discussions with figures from the time and based upon original research on unreleased materials in the Admiralty Record Office. Many of the sources it uses have since been destroyed. It, thus, has a unique view of what went on and why. It is beautifully written, too.

From the list:

The best books on Churchill’s First World War Navy

Book cover of The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May-October 1940

The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May-October 1940

By James Holland,

Why this book?

Historian James Holland is also a novelist, and it is that parallel writing talent that makes his history books as compelling to read as a thriller novel. In this history of the Battle of Britain he casts his net back to events in France, marking the beginning of the battle proper as early May 1940, two months before the officially recorded date. This presents the battle as a continuation of the wider events that caused it to be necessary. He widens his narrative beyond the desperate struggles of the fighter pilots to include the experiences of bomber command, the navy,…

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The best books about the Battle of Britain (from someone with a lifelong fascination for it)

Book cover of The Secret Battle

The Secret Battle

By A.P. Herbert,

Why this book?

Herbert served as a junior infantry officer in Gallipoli and captured his experiences in one of the grittiest and most credible accounts of the horrors of that campaign in this early anti-war novel. His hero is a brilliant young Oxford graduate (Herbert was himself an Oxford man and served as MP representing the University of Oxford from 1925 – 1940) named Harry Penrose who suffered fear, doubt, and mental illness on both the Ottoman and Western Fronts – like so many of his contemporaries. Herbert captures the injustice of wartime courts-martial in which gallant officers were condemned for failing to…

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The best books by Western veterans of the Great War in the Middle East

Book cover of Nanjung Ilgi; War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-sin

Nanjung Ilgi; War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-sin

By Pow-key Sohn, Tae-Hung Ha (translator),

Why this book?

If you want to learn about a time or a culture, I think an excellent way to start is to consult a primary source. Since I was setting my novel in the 16th century during the Japanese invasion of Korea, I wanted to learn as much as I could firsthand. This diary, written by Korea’s most famous admiral, is rich with cultural information and personal anecdotes. Admiral Yi Sun-Shin is a legendary war hero—brilliant, brave, and scrappy—whom Koreans compare to Admiral Nelson of the British Royal Navy. As I wrote my novel, I was inspired by the words of…

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The best books to understand traditional Korean culture

Book cover of The Fear of Invasion: Strategy, Politics, and British War Planning, 1880-1914

The Fear of Invasion: Strategy, Politics, and British War Planning, 1880-1914

By David G. Morgan-Owen,

Why this book?

This book genuinely changes our understanding of British defence policy before the First World War. It is often assumed that the German challenge to British naval supremacy before 1914 was a mirage and that fears that Germany might launch an invasion of the British Isles were simple scaremongering. The reality was different. The Royal Navy may have been bigger and stronger than its German counterpart, but its task was harder and its leaders were not confident that they could prevent German soldiers from landing on British soil. Based on first-rate research, this book explains why.

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The best books on Churchill’s First World War Navy