Leo Marriott, Naval Battles of the Second World War (Pen & Sword, 2022)
In his introduction, Leo Marriott highlights the importance of naval operations to a war fought across the globe. In this first of a two volume set, Marriott surveys the naval battles in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The result is a slim but informative and action-packed book.
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After a brief overall survey, Marriott sails into the South Atlantic and the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939, which ended in the demise of the Admiral Graf Spee. He sets the scene with the Royal Navy hunting down the German raider, then narrates the action, a close-run but successful affair for the RN. That account follows Marriott’s somewhat formulaic structure for his collection of battles. Our next stop is Narvik in April 1940 and a violent affair between destroyers for the first inconclusive battle, then the follow-up where the RN destroyed the rest of the German destroyers in the port. That was balanced somewhat by the loss of HMS Glorious with 1,500 hands, bounced by German battlecruisers off Norway in June 1940. In May 1941, it was the RN’s turn to hunt down a big dog, this time the famous Bismarck, though not without losing the HMS Hood in a cataclysmic explosion. In February 1942, the RN successfully intercepted an attempted German ‘Channel dash’. Marriott also includes chapters on the Arctic convoys, including the sinking of the Scharnhorst in December 1943. While all that was going on, the Battle of the Atlantic raged as the Allies slowly solved the U-Boat problem.
Part Two takes us into the Mediterranean Sea. As with the Atlantic battles, Marriott provides a brief overview before embarking on more detailed descriptions. The first of those is the destruction of the French fleet in July 1940. The Italian surface fleet provided better opposition than British propaganda gave them credit for, but in July 1940, the Allies took out the Bartolomeo Colleoni and followed that up in November with a major attack on the Italian base at Taranto, using the obsolete but surprisingly effective Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber. The biggest RN battle, and victory, of the war took place at Matapan in March 1941. Convoy actions also invoked some serious naval battles, particularly with the Allies interdicting supplies to the Axis forces in North Africa, and the Axis failing to do the same to prevent Malta’s role as a major hub of Allied operations. Marriott also covers the naval operations assisting Operation Torch with American ships taking centre stage for that.
Naval Battles of the Second World War is a useful gateway survey of two theatres of naval operations. Marriott does not get bogged down in details, but he provides enough information to whet the appetite for further reading. The book is also well-stocked with photos of many of the ships involved and his small but clear maps for each engagement are helpful too. Marriott also includes a helpful appendix listing the ships involved in all these operations, though his bibliography could have been significantly beefed up. But quibbles aside, I enjoyed my evening reading about World War II naval battles, and I look forward to reading Marriott’s volume on the Pacific theatre.