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Foreword by Admiral Sir John Woodward. When published in hardcover in 1997, this book was praised for providing an engrossing education not only in naval strategy and tactics but in Victorian social attitudes and the influence of character on history. In juxtaposing an operational with a cultural theme, the author comes closer than any historian yet to explaining what was behind the often described operations of this famous 1916 battle at Jutland. Although the British fleet was victorious over the Germans, the cost in ships and men was high, and debates have raged within British naval circles ever since about why the Royal Navy was unable to take advantage of the situation. In this book Andrew Gordon focuses on what he calls a fault-line between two incompatible styles of tactical leadership within the Royal Navy and different understandings of the rules of the games.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful.
Without question one of the most useful, engaging, thought provoking books I've ever read.
By James Robert Angove
I ended up toning down my headline; adding every superlative I could to the above came off borderline insane, and still failed to adequately convey the magnitude of the accomplishment, if that is the word.
On the surface, the book is an examination a few specific tactical decisions at Jutland and the differences between what we would now call the "command climate" in and between the two major commands in the Grand Fleet: the Battle Fleet under Jellicoe and the Battle Cruiser Fleet under Beatty. Even if that were all it were, it would still be an excellent and important work. Gordon's description of the action, breakdown of the timeline, and discussion of and conclusions regarding the various conflicting timelines and narratives that have been put fourth in the intervening (now) ninety-eight years is convincing and engaging as well as being by far the most lucid I have ever read. I a have been fascinated by Jutland since I was sixteen years old and read easily ten-thousand pages on the battle in the intervening decades. I'm not so much an expert on the battle as on the writing about the battle.
But what moves the book from "excellent" to "extraordinary" is Gordon's deep and thoughtful examination of the way the organizational culture and norms of leadership in the Royal Navy shifted in the century of unchallenged supremacy it enjoyed after the Napoleonic wars. It is trite to say something about how modern leaders would do well to take these lessons to heart and it would miss the point besides: what any organization needs to do is think about these issues and how to draw the right line between "rat-catchers" and "regulators". I'm always hesitant to recommend that "business leaders" try and take lessons from military history -- anyone who has read any the "On War/ The Art of War" for business knows how facile those can be. But were such a person of a mind to engage with and learn from history, this would be where to start.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful.
By Ken Brown
Note the subtitle. If this book limited itself to the Battle of Jutland, it would easily rate 4 stars. It is more ambitious than that, and earns the extra star for delivering on that ambition.
It uses the Battle of Jutland as the chief exhibit and demonstration of the evolution of British naval command and what could probably best be characterized as the cult of Signals. After placing the 5th Battle Squadron isolated in harm's way, with the entire German fleet gunning for them, Gordon goes back and explains how they got into that situation. Starting with Trafalgar and proceeding through the intervening eleven decades, he tracks the increasing centralization of British naval command at sea. He analyzes the trends and illustrates them with colorful, well chosen anecdotes. Along the way he introduces a variety of characters and follows them through their efforts either to tie the ships in a given fleet together with their signals, or to cut the halyards and restore independent thinking to the repertoire of the naval commander.
Gordon gives a very good explanation of Admiral Tryon's campaign to impose a measure of initiative and drastically simplified operations on his subordinates. He explains what we understand of why it failed (some speculation is inevitable, under the circumstances), and the consequences.
The book details the rise of the three main characters of his account; Jellicoe, Beatty, and Hugh Evan-Thomas, following their careers and personal development as they ascended the ranks of naval command, each man in his own way.
In addition to giving a very good account of Jutland, and tracking the development of the Grand Fleet's command system, the book gives insights to the larger matter of the corporate culture of the Royal Navy over the long century following Trafalgar. He also follows Beatty's command of the Battle Cruiser Fleet at Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank, and shows the thinking that played a major part in the loss of three British battlecruisers at Jutland.
Despite covering a huge amount of ground, Gordon's book is so well organized and thought out that it is easy to follow (unlike this review), and so well written that it is easy to read as well. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
In my mind, this makes an excellent bookend with Roland Huntford's book, The Last Place on Earth, an account of the competition to reach the South Pole. Many men are found in both books, as well as the Royal Geographical Society and the Masons. Huntford's book is as much a study in leadership as it is of the polar expeditions.
If you find yourself wanting to know more of Tryon and the end of TA, then you may want to pick up Riichard Hough's Admirals in Collision.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful.
Wonderful military history which explains much about a much-misunderstood battle
By Mr. David Sibley
The ifs, maybes and should have beens of this battle have dominated much naval history writing since 1916. Andrew Gordon's extensive research into the cuture, history and procedures of the Royal Navy is excellent. He is a wonderful writer with many memorable phrases and insights into the personalities which are integral to the course of the battle from the British side.
Nether Jellicoe or Beatty come out of Gordon's analysis unscathed although I detect that Beatty's personal shortcomings in both character and command are revealed in starker detail simply because of he was and what he did, especially afterwards as First Sea Lord.
Evan-Thomas is also dissected the same way and while some might find Gordon has been sympathetic to him, I find that Gordon has been simply honest in the way he researched the background and the personality of a brave sailor who found himself in a confusing and perplexing fog of war and yet brought his squadron back to port without losing a ship.
I thoroughly recommend this book to any keen student of a battle in which has perplexed the Royal Navy since the first moment Admiral von Hipper's battlecruisers appeared on the horizon.
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