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The Ship That Changed the World: the Escape of the Goeben to the Dardanelles in 1914 Hardcover – 1986
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First place must go to Rear-Admiral Wilhelm Souchon for sheer savvy, guts and resourcefulness - he outwits both the French and British navies. Then there is Vice-Admiral Augustin Lapeyrere, the technical creator of the French navy who avoids direct confrontation with the the German man-o-war - probably smart enough not to risk his reputation and his life's work in a 'once-off' (to his credit van der Vat does not draw these conclusions for the reader). Not least, we have Rear-Admiral Troubridge, who trying to please all (to put it as charitably as possible) - the Admiralty in London, his C-in-C Milne and the exigencies of the situation - commits the classic faux pax of indecision, ending a career which is unsalvageable. Add to this all van der Vat's obvious knowledge of ships and naval technicalities, and one has a very salutary read.
The events surrounding the Goeben's amazing impact on the course of WWI (and history) are quite complicated, involving big-power geopolitical intrigues, petty political machinations, puffy little personalities vs astonishingly competent individuals, the mechanical limits of the technology of the time, and the never to be forgotten power of unintended consequences. Van der Vat has the measure of all this and the account never flags.
There can be little doubt that the Germans produced in WWI naval commanders of quite extraordinary enterprise and capability, and to van der Vat's credit, through his books, he has preserved for posterity adventures and achievements which almost test credibility.
This is an excellent book that will not disappoint.
PS. If the book does have failings, two minor quibbles come to mind: In the book's context, Admiral Jackie Fisher should have been given credit for converting the Royal Navy from coal to oil - a critical advantage - and following on this, the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway was not conceived as some vainglorious exercise in German Imperialism (as implied), but as a deliberate measure to circumvent British attempts to deny German access to Middle East oil (and markets). (This review is of the 1st unrevised edition.)
A good read. The politics and chutzpah is unbelievable. Extremely poor handling of the Turks' pride and sensibilities got the British just what they asked for. Gotta luv Fisher's comments.