Ian Johnston and Rob McAuley published The Battleships in 2000. It was written to accompany the television programmes broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 that year. They interviewed naval experts and also surviving members of battleship and battlecruiser crews. Some of those interviewed have subsequently died.
Johnston and McAuley are widely renowned naval experts and historians with a great deal of combined knowledge of battleships from the Napoleonic Wars through to the end of the Second World War. Battleships had been developing from the 16th century although their performance and firepower were greatly advanced by technological advances.
Battleships had their origins in earlier galleons, and for much of the period before and including the Napoleonic Wars the French navy contested control of the seas with Britain's Royal Navy. Johnston and McAuley evaluate how the Royal Navy managed to maintain command of the oceans, particularly after its stunning victory over the combined French and Spanish navies off Trafalgar in October 1805. That battle would have a strong influence over British naval strategy and tactics for several decades afterwards.
They concisely describe how the advent of steam power, iron (and later steel) armour, and shell firing guns transformed all battleships, not to mention other types of naval vessels. These new ironclads first experienced war in the Crimean War and more notably the American Civil War. The end of the 19th century witnessed new countries challenging British naval supremacy in the shape of Italy, Japan, the US, and most alarmingly for the Admiralty, Germany.
They provide a sound analysis of how the launch of the Dreadnought and later battlecruisers worsened the Anglo-German arms race. The Royal Navy was unable to crush the Germans in the First World War but the naval blockade did much to aid the Allied victory.
The sections on the Second World War explain how the battleship's days became numbered due to air power as demonstrated at Taranto, Pearl Harbor, and Leyte Gulf. At the end of the conflict aircraft carriers and then nuclear powered submarines become the most important ships on or under the sea. Only the American Iowa class battleships have survived to see action as recently as the 1990s.
This is a fascinating book.