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Churchill and Fisher: Titans at the Admiralty, by Barry Gough

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. xl, 600. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., indices. $39.95. ISBN: 1526703569.

The Contentious Giants who Prepared the Royal Navy for the Great War

British maritime and naval historian Gough, author of such works as Fighting Sail on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay and Pax Britannica, examines the role Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915) and Admiral of the Fleet John Fisher, who twice served as First Sea Lord (1904-1910, 1914-1915), parsing the complex and often contentious relationship between these two brilliant and eccentric men to help us understand how they influenced the development of the for the Royal Navy from 1910 though its outbreak in 1914 and onward through its end in 1919.

Gough draws on a remarkable command of both menís papers, as well as many other documents. He discusses how each of these energetic innovators worked to modernize and prepare the fleet for war, usually working together, but often at odds. He fits their activities within the broader framework of events, so we how their actions affected and were affected by political and military developments not only in Britain but in Germany and elsewhere, and we also get looks at a lot of the other interesting people of their age.

Gough notes that despite their efforts, which yielded a very powerful, effective fleet, the war developed in unforeseen ways. The anticipated decisive sea fights, a new Trafalgar as it were, never took place, while air attacks on Britain and the U-boot menace threatened the homeland directly, diverting and overstretching resources. An then there was the failure of the Dardanelles initiative, arguably not actually their fault, which not only caused them to fall from power but also to fall out.

Clearly rather fond of both men, Gough is by no means an apologist for their errors, and subjects both to some serious criticism at times, notably in his detailed look at Churchillís improbable escapades at Antwerp in the opening weeks of the war.

Churchill and Fisher is required reading for anyone with an interest in the Royal Navy and the Great War at sea.

 
 

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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