Paul G. Halpern - The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 267-268

The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean, Volume I,September 1939- October 1940. London: Whitehall History Publishing with Frank Cass, 2002. ISBN 0-7146-5179-6. Maps. Photographs. Charts. Tables. Appendixes. Notes. Index. Pp. xxi, 178. £59.50.
The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean, Volume II, November 1940- December 1941. London: Whitehall History Publishing with Frank Cass, 2002. ISBN 0-7146-5205-9. Maps. Photographs. Charts. Tables. Appendixes. Notes. Index. Pp. xxii, 318. £59.50.

These two volumes are reproductions of the Naval Staff History originally written by Commander Titterton, RN, for other naval officers or governmental personnel. They were classified as "Confidential" and were designed to give the background to the detailed "Battle Summaries" prepared soon after an action. As they were written after the war, Commander Titterton was also able to include some material from German and Italian sources. The author also commented on certain remarks made in the then recently published memoirs of Winston Churchill, for example concerning the passage of Vichy French naval reinforcements to Dakar in 1940. According to the original Preface, there were to have been four volumes. The first volume was published in 1952, the second in 1957. The remaining volumes never appeared, supposedly on grounds of economy, although a first draft for the third volume was supposed to have been prepared. The volumes contain a wealth of detail and this can make for difficult reading, but these volumes were not intended for the general public and the maneuvers to pass convoys through the Mediterranean and to and from Malta are complex. The great detail is also useful in demonstrating the multitude of problems facing the navy and the scale and intensity of the fighting involved. The volumes do not contain much tactical detail of the actions themselves. These are usually summarized and the reader is referred to the appropriate Battle Summary or other volumes in the Naval Staff History series for further detail. This [End Page 267] account is a product of the 1950s and the author, like the author of the official history prepared for the public, S. W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 3 vols. in 4 (1954-61), cannot reveal much information concerning intelligence. For this subject the reader will have to consult more recent works by Frank H. Hinsley or Ralph Bennett's Ultra and Mediterranean Strategy (1989). The amount of German and Italian material that could be incorporated was also still relatively limited, for example excerpts from statements by Admirals Dönitz and Weichold, the latter liaison officer with the Italian command and later German C.-in-C. in the Mediterranean. Here the late David Brown, former head of the Naval Historical Branch, has been able to use recent publications such as R. Mallet, The Italian Navy and Fascist Expansionism, 1935-1940 (1998) to supplement the admirable introductions he wrote for each of the two volumes.

In addition to the great amount of detail on operations, the major justifications for reprinting these volumes are the appendixes. These actually take up more space than the text itself in volume one and contain plans, appreciations, signals, orders, memoranda, logistics, and a summary of operations by the Greek Navy. There are specific references to them in the text so the reader can see them in their proper context. There is far less space (thirty pages) in relation to the text devoted to the appendixes in the second volume. This may be due to the fact there was really only a half year of intense operations in 1940 compared to a full year in 1941. Appendixes on the scale of the first volume would have produced a book of unmanageable proportions.

The maps and charts are useful although the general Mediterranean map in volume one is too ambitious. That is, even with a strong magnifying glass many legends are still too small to be read. This is a considerable inconvenience for the text contains many geographical coordinates or names of relatively obscure places. On the whole, however, these are volumes naval historians will relish. Let us also hope that the sales are sufficient to encourage publication of other Naval Staff histories cited in the text or David Brown's introductions.


Paul G. Halpern
Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida

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Archived 2010
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