Steel Fleet   The Great War Annotated bibliography
bulletCorbett, Julian, Naval Operations Vol 1
bulletStaff, Gary, Battle on the Seven Seas


Designer's notes


  Corbett, Sir Julian S, History of the Great War based on official documents by direction of the Historical section of the Committee of Imperial Defence Naval Operations Vol 1 To the Battle of the Falklands, Longman, Greens and Co, 1920
This essential volume is referred to as the 'Official history of the war' on the spine though it bears the following declaration within:

The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have given the Author access to official documents in the preparation of this work, but they are in no way responsible for his reading or presentation of the facts as stated.

Not merely the author's opinion, but his presentation of the 'facts as stated' itself is disclaimed. It has been averred that the Lords were unwilling to vouchsafe an opinion on Jutland, though the ongoing controversies of Coronel, if not Falkland Islands, probably warranted similar prudence in the absence of any resolution.

Nevertheless this first volume of a vast, roving, substantial work offers the enthusiast refreshing variety beyond the usual operations which history typically has catalogued for this period. The author sustains a sober and authoritative narrative that reaches broadly about the Empire with relative equanimity toward the various commands and theatres of the Royal Navy; though later volumes cover the North Sea and the Jutland battle in understandably obsessive detail. Typically the choices and constraints facing the Admiralty are presented to the patient reader as events unfold globally in this first portion of the war.

This first volume is accompanied by a slipcase of eighteen numbered loose-leaved charts which provide considerable detail on theatres, operations or specific battles described herein; we will make an effort to reproduce some of these where helpful to an understanding of battles or campaigns we're covering in pages here.

These volumes are generally comprehensive, as befits an 'official' naval history, and are probably more notable for what is omitted than otherwise; it seems resolution of some public controversies, not least those arising from the Coronel and Falkland Islands battles, may have been purposefully avoided.

Staff, Gary, Battle on the Seven Seas, Pen and Sword, 2011
This marvellous, essential book stakes claim to an overlooked niche with a very credible formal history of German cruiser engagements of the Great War. It might be pointed out that this includes most cruiser battles between 1905 and 1940 so the book covers a much broader swath of naval history than the subtitle suggests at first glance.

At Steel Fleet we are pretty excited about this book. It seems a guided tour for the naval wargamer of the surface gunnery warfare of the period. And with almost sufficient detail to start pulling out notepad and scribbling up scenarios just  based on this source alone. Here's the setting for Coronel:

The moon had risen towards 18.00hrs, but was frequently hidden as the clouds raced across the heavens. Both lines laboured against the wind and heavy swell and the German ships pitched strongly and rolled 5 and 10 to either side. Seas were hurled over the forecastle and conning tower, and swirled through every opening, making observation of the enemy, range finding and fire direction extremely difficult. As the range reduced to [10400 metres] at 18.34hrs the signal 'Jot-Dora' was hoisted aboard the flagship, the signal to open fire.

As a companion to H W Wilson's revered Battleships in Action for the  First World War period one could do worse than this little volume and that is saying quite a bit. The author provides terse yet instructive context for the encounters and gives a detailed account of each engagement with the careful attention to surface gunnery which an official naval history of the big gun era might have provided; histories in which, one notes, cruisers have typically gotten short shrift. That this is now remedied, needless to say, is very satisfying to the aficionado of the period.

There is enough material here to keep a game designer busy for a year; the even handed treatment of battles which did not merit much attention at the time is welcome and brings the battles of Ostergarn and Cape Sarych into the mainstream. We have already been discussing these as potential Steel Fleet games. Not to mention thorough chapters on Dogger Bank, Jutland itself and both Heligolands.

The generous maps are new and detailed and compliment the narrative quite well; there is also a substantial number of new photographs of the vessels involved and the damage sustained in the engagements described, many from the author's own collection. This fairly small volume merits attention and could easily become the first reference reached for on this subject matter.

Shaun Appleby 07 August 2014

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