Allan Mallinson

Ruling the Waves

Admirals: The Naval Commanders Who Made Britain Great

By

Faber & Faber 492pp £20 order from our bookshop

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).

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