“The Face of Naval Battle” by John Reeve and David Stevens


I selected this book thinking it would be like the similar-sounding title from Keegan, but I was sorely disappointed.  This is really a collection of essays, all from different authors.  The first essay – by the lead editor, I presume – does acknowledge the link to Keegan and states that they are trying to produce a similar picture from the naval point of view, but I don’t think many of the other authors got the message.  Only about 5 out of 17 seemingly randomly selected essays in the book are even remotely close to the desired theme — a look at what naval battle is/was like for the common sailor.

Even these 5 essays are mostly memoirs of some captain or another – interesting and informative, but perhaps one-sided and definitely not from the common sailor’s perspective.  Anyway, some of the essays were interesting and there were assuredly some recurring themes.  Mainly, life in the Navy at war is one of long periods of boredom and anticipation, followed by intense, relatively brief periods of extreme action, danger, and consequence.

Perhaps more so than in the land army, sailors can develop very close bonds with each other in times of war.  (And they typically empathize more with the enemy navy that they do with their own landed counterparts!)  Perhaps this is illustrated best by the crew members of the SMS Emden, detached from von Spee‘s squadron for a remarkable career of independent raiding in the Indian Ocean at the outset of WWI.  This is a cool story in and of itself, but the thing that blew me away was that the majority of the survivors after the war changed their name to include the suffix “Emden” — they were a family.


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