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Clydebank Battlecruisers: Forgotten Photographs from John Brown's Shipyard

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  • Posted December 28, 2011

    Great for historians of Scotland and for ship modelers - with lessons for today

    In this book a Glasgow shipbuilder creates five enormous ships, all of different designs, during 1906 to 1920 for the Royal Navy and for the Royal Australian Navy. The author's name is Ian Johnston, not Johnson. He acknowledges Professor Ian Buxton, an expert about both ships and about British shipbuilding. Ian Buxton's participation suffices to establish that this book is authoritative.

    Battle cruisers were an early start along the path that led, once aircraft became capable, to aircraft carriers: fast ships to search for the enemy, hit him hard, and escape. Although not directly covered in this book, battle cruisers were intended to use an early type of computer to aim their guns to hit at long ranges.

    The five ships are: HMS Inflexible; HMAS Australia; HMS Tiger; HMS Repulse, sunk by Japanese naval aircraft near Singapore in 1941; and HMS Hood, sunk by the German battleship Bismarck off Iceland in 1941. Hobbyists will find this book essential for accurately modeling these ships.

    The clear photographs show railways, gigantic cranes, buildings, and at a distance the workers who created these ships. The text covers project management of a century ago to create state-of-the-art engineering marvels. This book shows in clear detail ships and methods that were the equivalent of what we today call rocket science. Visitors to Scotland can see some of these monuments today.

    This book, somewhat inadvertantly since it is not Ian Johnstons's focus, spawns broader thoughts in other directions. One thought is, did the consumption of British steel for warships thereby leave commercial shipbuilders with only the low-grade slag-infested steel of the rivets that shattered when RMS Titanic, built during these same years, hit the iceberg and turned a maritime fender-bender event into a human catastrophe? Another thought is, with great income from building these huge weapons, did the British builders influence the British government to continue the bloody First World War despite the obvious stalemate? Two of this reviewer's grandparents lost brothers late in that war. Another thought is that these capable shipyards ultimately collapsed when wealthy Britain chose to tolerate acceptance of ships built instead by underpaid workers elsewhere in the world. The counter-factual denial of global warming today, and the baiting to continue wars in oil-rich lands today, show that such issues are with us now.

    This book reminds us that seemingly intelligent but short-sighted choices made a century ago proved disastrous long-term choices for Britain, despite the elegance and fascination of these battle cruisers from Scotland.

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