Mapping Naval Warfare; A Visual History of Conflict at Sea

Published: January 2nd, 2018     
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Cover
Author: Jeremy Black
Reviewed by: 
Marc Blackburn, IPMS# 42892
Company: Osprey Publications
ISBN #: 9781472827869
Price: $45.00

For anyone who enjoys scale modeling or is a military history buff, Osprey Publishing is a familiar company. They are a prolific publisher of a wide-range of works related to the entire chronological spectrum of military history - from ancient Greece and Rome to contemporary events and weapon systems. Recently they have expanded their line into what can only be described as coffee table books.

Authored by Jeremy Black, this work supplements a concise and brief text on naval warfare with a wide selection of color plates of maps and charts. Using a chronological approach, Black begins his narrative with the sixteenth century and goes through the present day, examining naval warfare through the prism of maps and charts. The narrative of each chapter is relatively short but is supplemented by maps and charts related to each time period under discussion. Black's argument is relatively straight forward - while we cannot ignore technological developments, one of the keys to understanding the growth and evolution of naval warfare and capabilities is through access to spatial information. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two.

There are six chapters in the book, each devoted to a block of time: Origins to 1700, the eighteenth century, the nineteenth century, 1900-1918, 1919-1945, 1946-2017, followed by a brief bibliography. Black is well known for his international approach to history. While his focus is on the development of western naval strategy and technology, he widens his perspective by including other powers from around the world. European fleets developed their own unique view of naval warfare that served the needs of those powers. He reminds us that naval power is more than an expression of ships, but how that power is applied. This is brought home as he mentions the application of amphibious operations and the growth of naval airpower.

The dominance of the western powers is not only tied to the technological developments of gun-power weapons, it is also dependent upon knowing where you are. Each chapter in the book develops this idea with text and rich selection of charts. The dominance of western naval power came with the development of greater spatial awareness. Beginning with the age of exploration, where the voyages of discovery defined the limits of continents and breadth of oceans, to the refined charts needed in the age of sail - most actions occurred in coastal waters that were not well mapped. Information tied with technology allowed for the growth of western naval power. In the modern era, in particular World War Two, the application of economic power, in particular with the western allies, it allowed them to dominate the seas against their Axis opponents. That being said, there is an implication that with the explosion of information in the 21st century and the rise of precision guided weapons in the hands of many smaller powers, it will influence and change the face of naval warfare as we know it, but the final result is yet to be seen.

This is certainly a unique book that is well produced. The charts and vintage photographs are worth the price of the book. This is not meant to be a comprehensive introduction to naval warfare. You will have to go elsewhere for that. What this does do, is provide a connection between the growth of naval power and the development of maps and charts. While it really is not meant to be a reference for modelers, it provides a narrative of naval history with a unique approach. For anyone with a passing interest in naval history, this will be a welcome addition to their library. My thanks to IPMS and Osprey Publications for giving me the opportunity to review this book.

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