This is a timely book, in that Britain’s naval future is in debate – or rather, should be in debate. Commentators speak of a ‘sea blindness’ in politicians and opinion formers – an inability to realise the importance, in terms of threat and potential, that the watery covering of the planet represents to an island nation on the edge of Europe and the Atlantic with worldwide economic, social and political interests. After the astonishing, deeply humiliating and profoundly disturbing incident of HMS Cornwall’s sailor-hostages in the Arabian Gulf in 2007, the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, said of the Royal Navy’s reputation: ‘Because [it] is hard won, it is not easily undermined.’ He was, of course, utterly wrong. Not only did that failure – from the very bottom to the very top of the Navy – have grave strategic repercussions, it revealed serious systemic problems that have still not been confronted (for all HMS Cumberland’s recent despatch of Somali pirates).
Andrew Lambert is widely considered to be the country’s foremost naval historian. Admirals is as much a history of the Royal Navy – how the reputation of which the Defence Secretary spoke was indeed hard won – as it is of the remarkable men whose vision and powers of command