Naval Weapons of World War Two
By John Campbell
The dust cover to this new edition reminds us that, sadly, John Campbell died in 1998 and that this particular book, to use the publisher's description, "may be considered his magnum opus". In part, I have to agree, though the author's Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting, Conway 1986, must surely rival Naval Weapons in scholarship and depth of research; both trawl up as much information as still exists and are an absolute God-send to wargamers and naval historians alike. Both are, frankly, the best available on their respective subjects. I refuse to choose one above the other.
Naval Weapons was first published in 1985, and is one of the few books that I regret not buying at the time, but funds were short and so I spent two weeks going through a library copy and faithfully copying out all the data pertinent to submarine warfare to assist me in writing historical articles with scenarios based on Avalon Hill's Submarine board wargame. Later still, when Avalon Hill wanted data on the use of starshells in order to compile rules on shore bombardment (!) for the Advanced Squad Leader tactical land combat system, Campbell's book came to the rescue again.
Naval Weapons is an encyclopaedia arranged by country, covering belligerents as well as neutrals and gives in-depth analysis as well as technical data, photographs and drawings on not just weapons, but also radar, fire control systems and mountings. It covers everything from ordnance to guided missiles and mines, torpedoes and all anti-submarine weapons. There is even data on the number and types of torpedoes available to some of the combatants at certain periods during the conflict, the sort of data that is bread and butter to wargamers, and even expenditure figures on certain types of ordnance munitions. If the book has a fault it is not one of the author's making, for most of the data on the Soviet Union was compiled, in the days before Glasnost, from German intelligence reports. Were John Campbell still with us, I am sure that this would have been remedied by now. Nonetheless, the chapter on the USSR gives more information in a single volume than anything else that this writer has seen to date. Perhaps modern Russian websites can now fill the gaps.
In covering so vast a field, minor omissions do occur, and this is perhaps my one criticism. Campbell gives us the torpedo hitting rates for British aircraft, surface ships and submarines (based on the expenditure of torpedoes against known and probable hits achieved - data that incidentally is also available from the Submarine Museum in Gosport), but he does not set this in context by giving data on known the sinkings of targets attacked. Similarly, the author merely states that US Navy submarines fired 14,748 torpedoes and that another 1287 were fired by US aircraft. We thus need to go to other sources to ascertain that 'officially' Royal Navy submarines and those of allies under British operational control sank 169 warships and 493 merchant ships of over 500 tons in size with just 5121 torpedoes, while US submarines 'officially' sank 201 warships and 1079 merchant ships of over 500 tons in size as a result of firing a great deal more. Campbell also mentions that by the end of January 1945 German U-boats had fired about 10,000 torpedoes, but not that by the war's end a slightly higher expenditure than this had accounted for some 150 warships and 2840 merchant ships. Presumably a lack of similar data on torpedo expenditure prevented the author from giving statistics on other navies.
That said, this information is available in books that specialise in submarine warfare and the deficiencies of US Navy submarine attack training (and, to a lesser extent, torpedo warhead reliability) compared to British and German methods is covered in detail elsewhere, while Campbell's book is primarily about the weapons, their strengths and their weaknesses. It is presented in a form that is very readable and, thanks to an excellent glossary, understandable by the everyday reader. This book can be, deservedly, regarded as a classic and it will be a long time before something else approaches, let alone equals or betters, it for comprehensiveness.
Conway Maritime Press,
London 2002 edition, Charles Markuss, MSc (Econ)
ISBN 0 85177 924 7.
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