Who’s Who in Naval History: from 1550 to the Present
By Alastair Wilson and Joseph F. Callo
Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, Oxon, 2004.
Reviewed by LCDR Glen Kerr, RAN
Sea Power Centre, Canberra
This is a neat, roughly B5 size, hard cover book, within whose 256 pages resides a wealth of information on over 600 naval personalities, in the broadest sense, from the mid-16th century to the current date. The task of selecting a range of individuals who have been recognised for their impact on naval warfare and naval events through history is a daunting one, but on the whole the book reflects a sound choice of individuals both well-known and unknown to the reader of naval history.
The book ranges across the naval history of Europe, Australasia, Asia and the Americas, although the emphasis is very strongly on personalities in or affiliated with the Royal Navy and the United States Navy – hardly surprising given their size and influence at respective times since 1550. There is an interesting blend of naval personnel, politicians, writers and naval architects. While naval officers predominate, sailors of various navies are also represented. Writers include not only great strategists such as Mahan, Corbett and Richmond, but also novelists such as Monserrat, Forester and Clancy. As an example to our own Tom Frame on combining a naval and clerical career, one might point to the entry on Henri de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bourdeaux and Admiral under Louis XIII. The reader will be culturally enlightened to learn that it was the son of Luc Casabianca, Captain of Vice Admiral Bruey’s flagship L’Orient at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, who perished with his father when the ship’s magazine exploded, who was the mode for Herman’s poem that begins ‘The boy stood on the burning deck…’
Australia is represented, both by members of the RAN and RN and foreign officers who have made their mark in naval history or government. RAN members are somewhat sparse, being limited to Creswell, Collins, Darling , Goldsworthy, Tayor, Waller and Synnot. King, the first native-born Australian to reach flag rank, albeit in the RN, also rates a mention. Several notable RN officers with Australian connections, such as Dampier, Cook, Flinders, Philip, Crutchley, De Chair, Tryon and Fogarty-Fegen, are included; as are Europeans like La Perouse and von Müller of SMS Emden fame. However, perhaps the most unusual entry is Lieutenant Edward Daniel, RN, VC, court-martialled for drunkenness, deserted after ‘taking indecent liberties with four subordinate officers’, stripped of his VC by Royal Warrant, who, while living in Australia in 1863, volunteered for service as a soldier in New Zealand, and died as a LCPL in 1868 from a drink-related illness.
Of some concern is the fact that, despite having been reviewed by RAN officers, there were substantive errors in several entries. Fogarty-Fegen is described as being the Commanding Officer of RANC in 1926-28, when he was in fact the Executive Officer in 1928-29 – Captain Lane-Poole was the Commanding Officer from 1924-27 and Captain Forster from 1927-29. Synnot is cited as the Head of Defence Force Staff, rather than the correct title of Chief of the Defence Force Staff. Under Creswell, the composition of the RAN at the outbreak of WWI is incorrect – HMAS Pioneer, AE1 and AE2 have been omitted, while six destroyers are listed when only three were in service. This despite the fact that Pioneer fired more shells in anger than any other unit of the RAN in WWI, participating in the destruction of the German light cruiser SMS Königsberg and the bombardment of Dar-es-Salaam. AE1, lost during operations against Rabaul in 1914, was the first British submarine lost in WWI. AE2 was the first Allied submarine to enter the Sea of Marmara during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign.
Omissions from Australia’s naval record are also noticeable. Patey, who commanded the Australian Squadron at the outbreak of WWI, who oversaw the capture of Western Samoa and Rabaul in late 1914, and who was later C-in-C of the North American and West Indies Station, is unmentioned in the plethora of RN admirals. While Nasmith and Boyle, who commanded submarines that ran the Dardanelles in 1915 are listed, Holbrook, whose fame led to Germantown in New South Wales being renamed Holbrook in 1915, receives only passing mention in Nasmith’s entry, and Stoker, who commanded AE2 in the Dardanelles, receives no mention. Nor do Australian X- Boat commanders such as Hudspeth, DSC** and Shean, DSO* appear, although junior RN officers such as Price, DSC** and Piper, DSO, DSC** are included in the volume. While Goldsworthy is mentioned for his explosive ordnance disposal work, his compatriots Syme, Mould and Gosse are overlooked. Fogarty- Fegen of HMS Jervis Bay is noted for sacrificing his ship against superior odds to save a convoy, but not Rankin of HMAS Yarra who made a similar sacrifice. No RAN sailor appears in the work, although there are a number of RN and USN sailors mentioned for bravery or devotion to duty, including one with a connection to Australia that is all but unknown – Seaman First Class Hutchins, who received a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Lae, where, mortally wounded, he steered LST473 out of the path of two oncoming Japanese torpedoes, thereby saving the embarked men of the Australian 9th Division. Alas, Hutchins does not rate a mention in the Australian Official History of the Lae operation. Names such as Sheean of HMAS Armidale and Rogers of HMAS Voyager, however, are conspicuously absent.
Some entries contain wording that puts potentially misleading interpretations in the minds of readers. Admiral Benson, USN, who was the Chief of Naval Operations in WWI, is mentioned as playing a ‘critical and politically complicated role in shaping US-British naval strategies’. This puts a surprisingly positive spin on the Anglophobic Benson who, in 1917, said ‘we would as soon fight the British as the Germans’, and whose inveterate hostility toward America’s ally contributed unnecessarily to those complications.
Likewise, Bligh’s entry states that as Governor of New South Wales he ‘proceeded to stir up discontent’, which puts an undeservedly negative connotation on his attempt to follow his orders from London to end the corrupt practices of the NSW Corps, and of the venal John MacArthur, for which he was illegally removed from office at gunpoint and placed under house arrest for two years.
Some of the conventions are a little perplexing; for instance the deliberate omission from the table of naval ranks of Midshipman, Sub Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander, despite the fact that these ranks are used frequently throughout the entries in the book. Frustratingly, there is no index, making it impossible to find a particular ship or battle unless you know the name of a key figure who was involved and who has been included in the volume. In what appears to be an editorial oversight, the RAN and RCN abbreviations appear after ‘RMS’ in the abbreviations list. Also a little jarring was the somewhat patronising statement about ‘the strings of letters which the British and other Commonwealth nations delight in adding to indicate honours and awards’. In a final minor criticism, the book lacks a single illustration, even within the expurgated table of naval ranks. Arguably, given the retail price, the work would have been enhanced by photographs or prints of key historical figures.
Notwithstanding these deficiencies, Wilson and Callo have done a sterling job in bringing together an interesting compilation of personalities, many of whom have not previously received the limelight of public and professional attention. The book is soundly written, and is an excellent reference that deserves to be in the professional naval bookcase. Unfortunately, given its limitations, the retail price of £50 (around $200 including postage from the UK) will prevent the book finding itself in the collection of many Australian naval officers and historians.