Although strictly speaking not a book about naval history, the group that deciphered the Zimmermann Telegram was the Royal Navy’s Room 40OB, so I think it is only just to include it with the naval titles. This major reexamination by an expert on military intelligence investigates how the infamous telegram was intercepted, deciphered, and exploited. It reaches very different conclusions from earlier studies (including Tuchman’s The Zimmermann Telegram). A thought-provoking and well-written book.
Another innovative way to look at the First World War at sea, this book has separate chapters on the navies of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and the United States. The navies of Japan and the Ottoman Empire receive more limited coverage in a single chapter. Each chapter is written by an expert on the navy it covers. For each of the major navies, there are detailed descriptions under various headings, e.g., “Backstory” (outlining the navy’s pre-1914 history), “Organization” (with subheadings for Command Structure, Fleet Organization and Order of Battle, Communications, and Intelligence), “Infrastructure, Logistics, and Commerce,” “Personnel,” etc. Other sections cover doctrine, ships, aviation and weapons, as well as “War Experience and Evolution.” The result is a unique portrait of each navy that highlights its strengths and weaknesses.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I contributed the chapter on the Russian Imperial Navy.
This innovative book looks at every single surface action involving ships of over 100 tons displacement—that is, it excludes only the smallest of patrol craft. The coverage is comprehensive, and is broken down by year, and then by theater. Each entry includes a listing of the ships involved, the commanding officer on each side, the weather conditions, the missions the two sides were engaged in when the action took place, and a succinct description of the action. Not to be overlooked are the excellent strategic overviews that begin each major section, and the analysis in the final chapter. There are superb charts throughout, specially drawn by O’Hara.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I helped the authors research the actions involving the Russian Navy.
This work is still regarded as the gold standard for overall histories of the First World War at sea. It covers every theater of the war, and the author consulted not only English-language sources but made extensive use of French and German documents and publications as well. Originally published as a hardback, it has been reissued several times in paperback.
A mammoth and well-illustrated work by an expert in naval affairs and a prolific author. This book delves into the details of the war, with chapters on (for example), “Blockade, Trade Warfare and Economic Attack,” “The Chessboard—Naval Geography,” “Fleets in Battle,” “Inshore Operations and an Inshore Fleet,” etc.
Part of a two volume history of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), this covers the innovative but rudimentary sensors and weapons the Allies used to counter German U-boats in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, although the U-boats were never completely defeated in the Great War. In August 1914 Germany had only 30 operational submarines compared to Britain’s 75, France’s 50, and Russia’s 25. Unrestricted U-boat attacks were curtailed in 1915 in response to protests by the USA. Includes short bios on key scientists and naval leaders. Fine overview.
The book’s focus on U-Boat Deutschland makes it easy to understand the experimental vessel and keep track of the groups connected with it. Deutschland was one of two subs designed as underwater freighters to avoid the British blockade. The other, the Bremen, was lost at sea on its initial voyage.
Support of the U-Boat was only one of the activities of the Baltimore sabotage group; it also attempted to spread diseases to horses being sent to the Allies.
Deutschland made only two successful trips before it was re-commissioned as a standard submarine after America entered the war.
The Germans and Americans in the U.S. who acquired the trade goods for shipment to Germany were in peril once the U.S. entered the war; most escaped. While some people, civilian and military, toured and inspected the Deutschland while docked in Baltimore, it was not until after the war that interviews with the cell’s surviving participants revealed how extensive and successful the Baltimore group had been.
A well written and unexpectedly interesting case study of an unusual aspect of the war.
Len's Summary: A selection of the History Book Club. In 1915, U-Boats sank 555 Entente merchant vessels; in 1916, the number climbed to 1.300; and, in 1917 over 3,000 Allied vessels were sent to the bottom by U-Boats. These losses were never replicated, even in the Battle of the Atlantic in World War Two, as is pointed out by the author.
Len's Summary: The long-awaited history of the Marines in WWI by a former Marine Corps Historian. Completed following Simmons’ death by Joe Alexander. Recounts action by the Fourth Marine Brigade of the 2nd Division at Belleau Wood, Soissons, Blanc Mont, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne.
Len's Summary: The second of two volumes, analyses rising tensions with Japan during the Taft Administration, the US Navy in the Pacific during WWI, the decision to build a navy second to none, the 1916 Naval Construction Act, and the post-war Washington Navel Disarmament Conference ending in 1922.
Len's Summary: In the turbulent aftermath of WWI, a US Navy squadron (based in Constantinople) was active in rescuing White Russians from the Crimea, transporting food to famine-stricken Russia and in evacuating Armenian and Greek refugees from Turkey.
Len's Summary: The history, training, organization, doctrine, and materiel of the British Royal, French, Italian, German, Imperial Russian and American navies and how their unique characteristics governed how they fought in WWI.
Ambassador Shurtleff, a retired American Foreign Service officer who served as President of The World War One Historical Association and as a past President of The Western Front Association – U S Branch, passed away on January 22, 2014. This searchable version of Len’s Bookshelf has been created and will be maintained in his honor.