by Eric Wertheim
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013. Pp. 1152.
Illus., plans, index. $295.00. ISBN: 1591149541
All of the world’s navies, their ships, aircraft, and systems are meticulously documented in this indispensable reference. “Navies” are broadly defined to include marines, coast guards, fishery protection services, nautical police of various stripes, and even government oceanographic research vessels. Everyone’s ships are all here, from the awesome 100,000-ton Nimitz-class carriers of the US Navy to São Tome and Principe’s modest 8.2 meter Boston Whaler, as well as Uganda’s four armed motorboats on Lake Victoria and the Swiss Army’s eleven lake patrol boats. Of course, most readers will be interested in the major allies and the big threats, and the coverage of the fleets of China, Japan, the two Koreas and other Pacific players is extensive.
Every ship class is described according to its displacement, dimensions, speed, armament, major electronic systems, propulsion machinery, range, fuel capacity, endurance, and crewing, with occasional comments on history or operations. Most major classes have extensive remarks on design history, hull systems, and combat systems. Along with the photographs, there are numerous plan and elevation line drawings, some with additional bow and stern views.
For each national navy there is data on personnel, bases, and organization. Data is provided for all current missiles, guns, mines, and torpedoes. Technical specs for radars, sonars, electronic countermeasures, and other systems are documented where open-source data is available, but for fuller treatment Norman Friedman’s Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems (5th edition) should be consulted. Aircraft type data includes dimensions, engines, ceiling, range, armament, and avionics. For major naval air forces, active aircraft numbers and squadron organization is provided.
There are weird and wonderful vessels to be found in these pages: the Greek Navy’s wooden trireme rowing galley, Olympias; the Egyptian presidential steam yacht, El Horria, built in 1865 in Britain and still in service; Russia’s unique catamaran salvage lift ship, Kommuna, built in 1912 to raise sunken submarines; and, a long-time favorite, Flip, the US Navy-owned San Diego-based “semisubmersible oceanographic research barge” that can stand on one end in the water.
Combat Fleets began sixteen editions ago, as an English translation of the French Flottes de Combat, a superb book that has evolved in a different and more heavily illustrated direction. For many years, the editor of Combat Fleets was the brilliant and tireless naval analyst, A.D. Baker, III. In 2002, that torch passed to Eric Wertheim, a young defense consultant and author who has maintained Baker’s fierce commitment to accuracy, conciseness and clarity.
While not inexpensive, Combat Fleets costs only a fraction of the list price for the much-overrated Jane’s Fighting Ships, a reference that has lived for many years on its past glories and color photos. It belongs on the bridge of every serious warship, and in the library of every naval planner, engineer, modeler, intelligence analyst, war gamer and enthusiast.
Mike Markowitz is a D.C. based defense analyst, who writes for several defense related journals and Defense Media Network, including, The Year in Special Operations. He is the co-designer, with John Gresham, of Supermarina 1 and Supermarina 2, both from Clash of Arms. Some of his previous reviews for StrategyPage are To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennios, and The Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora