This is the story of the naval war in northern European waters following the critical if inconclusive battle of Jutland. There is a popular misconception that the battle marked the end of the operational career of the German High Sea Fleet. The reality is much more complex. The German battle fleet may have been quiescent in the North Sea, but it supported an ambitious amphibious campaign in the Baltic while an ever more bitter commerce war was waged by U-boats; and smaller warships of both sides fought a gruelling campaign in the waters of the English Channel and the Belgian Coast. While the book focuses primarily on the Royal Navy as the dominant maritime force, it also analyses the struggles of the beleaguered German Navy as it sought to find ways to break the tightening stranglehold of the Allied blockade. It includes an assessment of the small, but increasingly significant, supporting role played by the French Navy from its bases in northern France, while the continuing conflict in the Baltic is explored as the Germans increased pressure on Russian territory and the Russian fleet, despite the descent into revolution, still managed to strike heavy blows at the Imperial German Navy.
This period was one of great change. The Royal Navy improved the way that ships and their crews were organised for battle, and there were great leaps in communications and in command and control; aviation and undersea operations, including mine warfare, developed at breakneck pace. Both Germany and Russia undertook far more naval innovation and technological development in the final years of the War than is often realised, and by 1918 the protagonists were fighting what was, in every way, a multi-dimensional maritime war – the forerunner of the form of naval conflict of the remainder of the twentieth century.
The author deals with the entry into the conflict of the United States and the increasing commitment of the US Navy to operations in Northern European waters. Many of the foundations of success in the next war were laid by the USN at this time. Not only were doctrine and technology shaped by the events of the First World War, so were the cultures of the various services and the characters of the individuals who would go on to serve in the highest ranks in the next. All of this makes the 1916-18 period so significant in naval history. In addition to his huge historical knowledge, the author brings his own extensive personal experience of naval operations and command at sea to this study, and this fusion of history with practical understanding sheds a unique and fascinating perspective on his analysis of the conflict.