- Loosli, Geoffrey, Rear Admiral, RAN
- Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2, Book reviews, Naval Technology, Naval Engagements, Operations and Capabilities
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1999 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title: Bombers and Battleships, The struggle between ships and aircraft for the control of the surface of the sea Author: David Hamer Publisher: Allen and Unwin, Sydney
The endless conflict between submarines and surface forces has been faithfully and painstakingly recorded over the years, analysed and even put into intriguing fiction, but the equally enthralling story of the conflict between air and surface forces has not received the same exposure.
David Hamer has set out to correct this in his most interesting book “Bombers and Battleships”. The title belies the deep research involved which the sub title more aptly reflects – ‘The struggle between ships and aircraft for the control of the surface of the sea’.
He is well qualified for the task as he saw war service 1940-45 in HMA Ships Canberra, Napier Nizam, Australia and HMS Revenge and was present at three of the actions he describes. Post war he specialised in gunnery and he was in HMAS Tobruk during the Korea War. He was Director of Naval Intelligence for two years and commanded HMAS Vampire prior to retirement into politics.
First, he follows the early development of aircraft capabilities and employment to the end of the Great World War including early attempts at landing and taking off from ships, and the development of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. Although air power had developed rapidly and figured prominently in actions over land and sea, attacks on shipping from the air had achieved little.
The creation of the Royal Air Force in April 1918 by amalgamation of the RNAS and the RFC was unfortunate for the Royal Navy and the future development of the Fleet Air Arm. At the end of the war the Admiralty believed battleships retained the ascendancy over air power. The dearth of naval officers in higher ranks with flying experience led to this being largely the belief of Admiralty in 1939 although discussion of the ability of aircraft to bomb and sink battleships raged on both sides of the Atlantic, led by General William Mitchell in the United States.
The development in the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan of aircraft carriers and aircraft to fly from them is related and reveals interesting comparisons. In the Royal Navy unwarranted confidence in the ability of surface ships to defend themselves detracted from any perceived need for aircraft to defend the fleet against air attack or for the development of anti aircraft weapons. Control of AA gunfire was minimal, larger calibre guns had limited elevation and a variety of calibres imposed logistic problems.
In the bulk of the book the author takes the reader through the significant naval engagements of World War II where aircraft and surface ship effectiveness comparisons could be made including Taranto, Crete, Bismarck, Prince of Wales and Repulse, Coral Sea, Midway, Leyte, Okinawa amongst others.
This is done chronologically and with sufficient depth of background and detail to describe each action with clarity and ease of reading. The maps and diagrams are generally well positioned within each chapter so that the action can be followed easily with the minimum of fuss. The bibliography is extensive and the footnotes are numerous and informative although it would have been helpful to have the title included against the number of each chapter.
The chronological sequence puts in perspective the progress of the war in the Atlantic and Pacific and reflects the rapid advances achieved in a short time with the development of aircraft carriers, naval aircraft and ship defenses against air attack including weapons, sensors, the control and direction of fighters and fleet dispositions and tactics. As the war progressed, the rapidly diminishing relevance of battleships during air attack becomes very apparent culminating in the sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato after it had left the protection of shore based fighters and steamed south from Japan to do battle against the Allies off Okinawa.
The last chapter concerns aircraft and ship developments and military actions since 1945. The treatment can only be superficial compared to earlier chapters and leaves the reader thirsting for more detail and comment on events such as the Falklands campaign and the advance of technology. That probably needs another book.