Review: Small Ships in the Great War

Sea Warfare is an unexpected little non-fiction book by Rudyard Kipling, the Nobel Laureate who today is famous for poetry and short-stories dealing with imperialism and the Indian Raj. I recently found an ebook edition free of charge at Amazon.

The book was written in 1916 or 1917 as a piece of propaganda to bolster morale on the Home Front. Nevertheless, Kipling rarely wrote poorly so this remains an interesting volume despite occasional outdated views and phrases. The reader learns of the everyday toils of the Royal Navy’s non-glamorous small craft, e.g. minesweepers, destroyers and submarines. Kipling used after-action reports and interviews with ratings and officers as his sources, though he changed many ship names because of wartime secrecy.

HMS E9. Sea Warfare describes some of her wartime exploits in the Baltic Sea. Click on the picture for a larger version. (Photo: Imperial War Museum, London)

Despite the obvious bias, i.e. chivalrous Britons fighting cruel “Huns”, these stories tell a lot about sailors’ wartime chores, for example, the hardships of mine-sweeping in the North Sea and the harrowing experience of serving aboard a tiny destroyer facing the Kaiser’s battleships in the titanic North Sea clash that is called the Battle of Jutland.

The book also addresses a few matters that I had not heard of before, for example the British submarine operations at the outskirts of Constantinople during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Tiny subs hunted Turkish ships in the constricted waters of the Dardanelles Straits and the Marmara Sea, hampered by mines and shore batteries; an underwater campaign very different from the one that Germany pursued in the North Atlantic at the same time.

I write diesel-era adventures and Sea Warfare provides me with useful setting information for future stories. I have already outlined a riverine tale in the Patchwork World setting. So my verdict is four armed trawlers out for five.

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