At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century

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9780140246018: At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century

Beginning with a gripping account of one of the most decisive naval battles in history-the 1905 battle of Tsushima between the Japanese and Russians-and ending with the sophisticated missile engagements of the Falklands and in the Persian Gulf, naval historian Ronald Spector explores every facet of the past one hundred years of naval warfare. Drawing from more than one hundred diaries, memoirs, letters, and interviews, this is, above all, a masterful narrative of the human side of combat at sea-real stories told from the point of view of the sailors who experienced it. Exhaustively researched and fascinating in detail, At War at Sea is a monumental history of the men, the ships, and the battles fought on the high seas.

"Superb . . . Spector's account provides evocative and fresh perspectives on cultures, technologies and innovations that influenced sailors' lives and shaped naval warfare." (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

"Monumental . . . Many books have recorded the history of the United States Navy, but few have meshed that history with that of all other major navies-an unusual comparative technique that brings into often startling relief the virtues and flaws of our own navy." (The Washington Post)"

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Ronald H. Spector's At War at Sea is both a greatest-hits treatment of 20th-century naval battles and a comprehensive history of how sea-fighting tactics and technology have developed over the last century. Spector begins with what he calls "probably the most decisive naval battle of the last two-hundred years," and it's one that many American readers may not know well: the Battle of Tsushima, in May 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War. In a sense, it sets the tone for much of the book--or at least the portion running through the Second World War--for this is the battle that established Japan as an important military power in the Pacific, and one that could humiliate a Western opponent.

Spector next covers Jutland ("the greatest clash of battleships in history") in some detail, and makes a claim that informs much of his book: "Even in the matter of big guns, projectiles, and armor, the decisive considerations concerned human judgment, organization, and training." In other words, Jutland wasn't won by technology (despite the voluminous writings on this point by argumentative scholars), but by individual sailors. To emphasize the point, Spector shares the observations of ordinary participants from diaries, letters, and memoirs. Some of them are incredibly lucid. Here is a merchant seaman describing what it's like after a torpedo strikes a ship: "As a rule once you got hit, that's it, you're down like a stone wallop. They've got no chance. Down in about a minute. Gone." Spector then notes that about seven of every 10 merchant ships hit by torpedoes stayed afloat for less than 15 minutes.

Spector does not write with much verve, but he treats his subject with the thoroughgoing seriousness it deserves. At War at Sea is a strong account that will appeal to naval buffs. --John J. Miller

From the Back Cover:

"Without question, At War At Sea is the most riveting history of Sea Power in the Twentieth Century yet written. Blessed with an impeccable instinct for the illuminating detail, Ronald H. Spector masterfully analyzes Great Power conflicts from Tsushima in 1905 to the Gulf War in 1991. Brimming with fresh anecdotes and sterling judgement, this engaging study is destined to become a naval history classic. When it comes to understanding modern armadas and fighting sailors, Spector is in a league of his own." (Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center and Professor of History at the University of New)

Ronald Spector's At War At Sea s a fine picture of the major sea battles of the 20th century. But it is much more. It is also an excellent history of the navies involved, of their weapons and their training methods, of their personnel and tactics. Naval warfare experts will revel in the details, but so will more general readers for Spector has provided through his pictures of ships at war remarkable insights into how the great nations developed and used the technology and the politics of the last century. (Alvin Kernan, author of Crossing the Line)

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