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Book Review
Gunboats of World War I
Gunboats of World War I * New Vanguard 221
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
Model Shipwrights

Gunboats of World War I by Osprey Publishing is the 221st title of their New Vanguard series. This short yet very interesting book examines those bantam battlers of gunboat diplomacy when diplomacy finally failed. As Osprey tells us;
    Naval action in World War I conjures up images of enormous dreadnoughts slugging it out in vast oceans. Yet the truth is that more sailors were killed serving on gunboats and monitors operating far from the naval epicentre of the war than were ever killed at Jutland. Gunboat engagements during this war were bloody and hard fought, if small in scale. Austrian gunboats on the Danube fired the first shots of the war, whilst German, British and Belgian gunboats fought one of the strangest, most intriguing naval campaigns in history in far-flung Lake Tanganyika. From the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, from the Balkans to Mesopotamia, gunboats played an influential part in the story of World War I. This detailed technical guide to the gunboats of all the major navies of the war means that, for the first time, the story can be told.

Authored by Angus Konstam with artwork by Paul Wright, this 48-page paperback is also available in PDF and ePUB formats. Its Osprey short code is NVG 221 and the ISBN is 9781472804983.

Gunboats of World War I is 48 pages long yet filled with information about this obscure subject. Mr. Konstam has authored dozens of titles for Osprey and his concise style and scope of writing is engaging and good to read, follow, and understand. The book is divided into five chapters and sections:
    Design & Development
      * Early Development
      * Pre-war Gunboats
      * Monitors and River Gunboats

    Combat Potential
      * Main Armament
      * Smaller Weapons

    Gunboats in Action
      * Europe
      * Africa
      * The Middle east

    Gunboat Specifications
      * Austro-Hungary
      * Germany
      * Great Britain
      * Russia
      * Turkey
      * United States

    Further Reading

As is common with Osprey books, that list is not the same as shown on the Osprey website.

The story begins with the December 1904 decree by First Sea Lord Sir Jack 'Jacky' Fisher that the Royal Navy would scrap most of its huge fleet of gunboats. It briefly discusses that the term 'gunboat' encompassed a very large and diverse group of boats and small warships, including armed schooners and powered launches.

This is an interesting title for me as one of my favorite movies is The Sand Pebbles, about an American gunboat in China, which has a distant personal connection; USS Isabel, the ship upon which my dad escaped Java after his ship, USS Houston, was sunk was a "China boat." While Gunboats of World War I is not about gunboats in China, I am still captivated by these ships which "punched above their weight."

Chapter Design & Development recounts and describes the early development, pre-war gunboats, and the difference between monitors and river gunboats within 13 pages. In America the Navy first classified gunboats as 'dispatch' vessels. Other countries used gunboats that, we learn, were not meant to be gunboats in the first place. The weaponry that defined different classes and purposes of gunboats is explored.

In the seven pages of Combat Potential the author covers the punch of gunboats. The sheer size of some of the guns and howitzers is amazing! Weapons and gun laying systems are examined and compared. It is interesting that the author includes as 'weapons' the sailors themselves, and his explanation thereof.

How those designs and weapons acquitted themselves is discussed in the overview Gunboats in Action. It amazed me just how widespread and constantly many of those vessels were employed. How some got to their destination seems like fiction! With so many gunboats of so many countries shooting, only six pages were allocated for the brief overview. However, the 'war within the war' in Africa is recounted in some detail - and in stories worthy of epic novels!

Gunboat Specifications and the rest of the book are covered in the final 14 pages. These pages are mainly tables and images.

The gunboat fleets and detachments of the first 20 years of the Twentieth Century were a special corps of naval power. They were far more active than I ever imagined and were used in ways that can be the grist for writers. (Especially the one still in use today!) Their story should pique the interest of maritime modelers for a unique subject of warships.

Art, photographs, graphics
Almost every page has at least one photograph. All are black-and-white except for two of the full restored light monitor HMS M33. There is also a colorized postcard of the Austro-Hungarian Danube flotilla. Many are high-quality although, not surprising, most suffer from the setting and equipment of the age. A few that are almost unusable although no doubt used because of a dearth of photos of the subject.

Naugtical illustrator Paul Wright again graces the pages with his beautiful artwork. These are the color profiles;
    1. SMS Koros
    2. SMS Bodrog, which fired the first shots of World War I.
    3. SMS Enns
    4. SMS Graf von Gotzen, flagship of the German flotilla on Lake Tanganyika, Africa.
    5. HMS M33, large monitor.
    6. USS Dolphin, first ship of the 'New Navy', c. 1885.

Further art includes;
    7. Cutaway HMS Moth, Insect-Class River Gunboat: keyed to 30 components.
    8. In-action scene The battle of Lake Tanganyika, 1916 showing armed motor launch HMS Mimi dueling gunboat SMS Hedwig von Wissmann in 1916.
    7. In-action scene HMS Firefly In Action on the Tigris, 1915 showing Firefly coming out on the loosing end against Turkish mountain guns while covering the British retreat from Baghdad.

There are also the following waterline-view vignettes:
    HMS Sedgefly
    HMS Mantis

Several pages of Gunboat Specifications are presented in 24 tables for the navies of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Turkey and the United States. Each table includes:
    Class name
    Vessels in class
    Laid Down

This section is marred by a typo in that two classes are shown in a single table, the only "typo" I recall.

Gunboats of World War I is an interesting title examining those bantam battlewagons borne of gunboat diplomacy. Their story should pique the interest of maritime modelers for a unique subject of warships. The text is interesting and easy to read presenting detailed technical descriptions and interesting historical overviews. Artwork is high-quality, as is much of the photographic selection.

The only complaint I have is the aforementioned mistake in listing data for two classes in a single table.

Like the previous gunboat title, I find this book to be a worthy and enjoyable addition to my library's naval section. I happily recommend it to modelers, enthusiasts, artists and historians of gunboats, The Great War, and small naval vessels.

We thank Osprey Publishing for providing this book for review. Please tell them and retailers that you saw this book here - on Model Shipwrights.
Highs: Detailed technical descriptions and interesting historical overviews. Artwork is high-quality, as is much of the photographic selection.
Lows: Typo of two classes shown in one table.
Verdict: Like the previous gunboat title, I find this book to be a worthy and enjoyable addition to my library's naval section. Their story should pique the interest of maritime modelers for a unique subject of warships.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472804983
  Suggested Retail: $17.95, 9.99GBP
  Related Link: Yangtze River Gunboats 1900-49
  PUBLISHED: Apr 23, 2015

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright 2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


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