Review – To Crown the Waves – The Great Navies of the First World War


I was at the meeting of The United States World War One Centennial Commission and Carl Bobrow won a book raffle and offered me the copy of To Crown the Waves – The Great Navies of the First World War.  Having authored a WWI naval book, Cruise of the Sea Eagle, I thought I’d dive into it.

Edited by Vincent O’Hara, W. David Dickson and Richard Worth, the book takes a look at each of the major combatant’s navies in the Great War.  This is not a book of naval battles.  Instead it is a well written and researched book that provides the history of these navies, their personnel, their doctrines, communications, intelligence, etc. Gunnery and construction philosophies are detailed in the book as is their perspectives on naval aviation, submarines, amphibious warfare, naval mines, and other areas of interest.  I was fascinated how the various navies tried to adopt the emerging technologies of torpedoes, submarines, and aircraft – some more successfully than others.

I was concerned at first that this was going to be a dry topic with the lack of battles.  I was pleasantly surprised at how downright readable the book was.  In fact, it was engaging.  Where most naval history books on the Great War focus on the fighting, this book delves into the why and how the navies fought.  You get chapters on some naval powers, like Austro-Hungary, which rarely get exposure. The historical context provided in the book really helped explain the roles that the navies played.

I found this book to be a welcome addition to my bookshelf (Thanks Carl!).  The tables and background are useful for a few research and writing projects I have in my queue.  The Naval Institute Press did a great job assembling the team of historians and authors on this project and the product is well worth reading.  The photos were not necessary and far too few in the book – but I know from my own experience as a writer, it can be hard to get the right images in the right number to support the text.  In this case, the broad perspective of the text made images challenging to obtain.

I give this book four out of five stars – a very good Great War read.  It’s a great entry-level book for historians unfamiliar with the topic.

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