This book (as its title suggests) is a history of the crucially important naval campaign in the North Sea during the First World War.
The most well-known event there during the war was of course the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Known in Germany as the Battle of the Skagerrak, it was by far the largest engagement between surface vessels in the history of naval warfare. It is a subject about which I have always wanted to write. I was deterred from doing so by the huge volume of books on the topic (in 1992 American historian Professor Eugene Rasor listed 527 works dealing with the battle. There have been many more published since). Instead, I planned a book about the period that followed… When I came to write it, however, I found that I could not avoid dealing with Jutland, so I broadened the book to cover the whole of the war.
I have looked at the war in the North Sea from the point of view of the decision-makers on both sides – the admirals and the politicians responsible for the conduct of the naval war. The most striking feature about the relationship between these key groups is their mutual dislike and distrust; again, this is true of both sides, as became apparent from an extensive study of both the contemporary documents and the later memoirs of the individuals concerned.
Before the war, British and German naval officers had each expected that there would be a major and conclusive battle early on between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. When it finally came, it did not produce the decisive result that had been anticipated.
Ever since the battle, the reasons for this have been minutely examined; the controversies – not only over who won the battle but also with regard to the actions and decisions of the participants – have continued to rage. In particular, the performance of the commanding admirals, Jellicoe and Scheer, and their immediate subordinates, has come under intensive scrutiny. My own view is that it certainly cannot be regarded as a British victory, though in this respect I am at odds with many British historians.
When the book was launched at an event in Shoreham in November 2016, I had an opportunity to talk about it to many of the audience personally. I was struck by the number who came to tell me of members of their families who had fought at the battle of Jutland and for whom it remained an important event.
This was my first book of naval history; my previous books have been largely concerned with nineteenth century military history. For my next book, however, due to be published in the Spring, I have returned to the war at sea – this time during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1815. Called Far Distant Ships, it is a study of the Royal Navy’s blockade of Brest throughout the war and has been based on a close study of the contemporary correspondence relating to the conduct of the war.
The War in the North Sea. The Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy 1914-1918 can be purchased here.