Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea
Robert K. Massie
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In a work of extraordinary narrative power, filled with brilliant personalities and vivid scenes of dramatic action, Robert K. Massie, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Dreadnought, elevates to its proper historical importance the role of sea power in the winning of the Great War.
The predominant image of this first world war is of mud and trenches, barbed wire, machine guns, poison gas, and slaughter. A generation of European manhood was massacred, and a wound was inflicted on European civilization that required the remainder of the twentieth century to heal.
But with all its sacrifice, trench warfare did not win the war for one side or lose it for the other. Over the course of four years, the lines on the Western Front moved scarcely at all; attempts to break through led only to the lengthening of the already unbearably long casualty lists.
For the true story of military upheaval, we must look to the sea. On the eve of the war in August 1914, Great Britain and Germany possessed the two greatest navies the world had ever seen. When war came, these two fleets of dreadnoughts—gigantic floating castles of steel able to hurl massive shells at an enemy miles away—were ready to test their terrible power against each other.
Their struggles took place in the North Sea and the Pacific, at the Falkland Islands and the Dardanelles. They reached their climax when Germany, suffocated by an implacable naval blockade, decided to strike against the British ring of steel. The result was Jutland, a titanic clash of fifty-eight dreadnoughts, each the home of a thousand men.
When the German High Seas Fleet retreated, the kaiser unleashed unrestricted U-boat warfare, which, in its indiscriminate violence, brought a reluctant America into the war. In this way, the German effort to “seize the trident” by defeating the British navy led to the fall of the German empire.
Ultimately, the distinguishing feature of Castles of Steel is the author himself. The knowledge, understanding, and literary power Massie brings to this story are unparalleled. His portrayals of Winston Churchill, the British admirals Fisher, Jellicoe, and Beatty, and the Germans Scheer, Hipper, and Tirpitz are stunning in their veracity and artistry.
Castles of Steel is about war at sea, leadership and command, courage, genius, and folly. All these elements are given magnificent scope by Robert K. Massie’s special and widely hailed literary mastery.
From the Hardcover edition.
gunners fired only one salvo to his three. Otranto played no active part in the battle. Dresden had fired briefly at the armed merchant cruiser and Otranto’s Captain Edwards, seeing that his ship could do nothing useful, signaled Cradock to ask if he should keep out of range. Cradock’s reply was garbled and provided no clear orders. Then Gneisenau put two shells over Edwards’s bridge and a column of water spouted up fifty yards off his starboard bow. Unable to reply with his 4-inch guns, Edwards
Hipper was not coming in this direction, Warrender turned north at 1:24 p.m. He was too late: Hipper had turned north at 12:45, and Hipper’s battle cruisers could outrun Warrender’s battleships. Nevertheless, Warrender’s turn to the north brought him close to contact with Hipper; Kolberg, heavily damaged by the sea and lagging at only 12 knots behind the German battle cruisers, sighted Warrender’s funnel smoke soon after Hipper had turned northeast. But Warrender did not see Kolberg or know that
Council meeting on November 25, 1914, in connection with reports that the Turks were preparing an overland attack on Egypt and the Suez Canal. As a countermove, Churchill suggested a combined land and sea operation against the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli peninsula. Kitchener immediately declared that, although strategically the idea had merit, no troops were available. Churchill said that while a substantial military force—40,000, 50,000, 60,000 men—might be required, the soldiers need not
week; by September 1916, the figure was 350. Sugar and butter could be purchased only in minute quantities. The 1916 potato harvest had failed, and potato ration cards were required in hotels and restaurants. Even in June that year, three Americans had walked down Unter den Linden where every window and balcony was festooned with red, white, and black flags celebrating the “victory” at Jutland and the prospect that the blockade would soon be broken. Entering the Zollernhof restaurant, they picked
the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: Make war together, make peace together, generous financial support, and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the president [of Mexico] of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his