Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

by Robert K. Massie


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, October 23


In a work of extraordinary narrative power, filled with brilliant personalities and vivid scenes of dramatic action, Robert K. Massie, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Dreadnought, elevates to its proper historical importance the role of sea power in the winning of the Great War.

The predominant image of this first world war is of mud and trenches, barbed wire, machine guns, poison gas, and slaughter. A generation of European manhood was massacred, and a wound was inflicted on European civilization that required the remainder of the twentieth century to heal.

But with all its sacrifice, trench warfare did not win the war for one side or lose it for the other. Over the course of four years, the lines on the Western Front moved scarcely at all; attempts to break through led only to the lengthening of the already unbearably long casualty lists.

For the true story of military upheaval, we must look to the sea. On the eve of the war in August 1914, Great Britain and Germany possessed the two greatest navies the world had ever seen. When war came, these two fleets of dreadnoughts—gigantic floating castles of steel able to hurl massive shells at an enemy miles away—were ready to test their terrible power against each other.

Their struggles took place in the North Sea and the Pacific, at the Falkland Islands and the Dardanelles. They reached their climax when Germany, suffocated by an implacable naval blockade, decided to strike against the British ring of steel. The result was Jutland, a titanic clash of fifty-eight dreadnoughts, each the home of a thousand men.

When the German High Seas Fleet retreated, the kaiser unleashed unrestricted U-boat warfare, which, in its indiscriminate violence, brought a reluctant America into the war. In this way, the German effort to “seize the trident” by defeating the British navy led to the fall of the German empire.

Ultimately, the distinguishing feature of Castles of Steel is the author himself. The knowledge, understanding, and literary power Massie brings to this story are unparalleled. His portrayals of Winston Churchill, the British admirals Fisher, Jellicoe, and Beatty, and the Germans Scheer, Hipper, and Tirpitz are stunning in their veracity and artistry.

Castles of Steel is about war at sea, leadership and command, courage, genius, and folly. All these elements are given magnificent scope by Robert K. Massie’s special and widely hailed literary mastery.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345408785
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/02/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 880
Sales rank: 241,559
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Robert K. Massie was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and studied American history at Yale and modern European history at Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He was president of the Authors Guild from 1987 to 1991. His previous books include Nicholas and Alexandra, Peter the Great: His Life and World (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for Biography), The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, and Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War.

Read an Excerpt


July 1914

On an afternoon in early July 1914, a middle-aged man with restless, bright blue eyes and curly, iron-gray hair boarded his yacht in the German Baltic harbor of Kiel, and the following morning departed on his annual summer cruise to the fjords of Norway. Two unusual and striking features marked the vacationing traveler: one of these he was eager to display; the other he was even more anxious to conceal. The first was his famous brushy mustache with its extended, upturned points, the creation of a skillful barber who worked on it every morning with a can of wax. The other, hidden from sight, but all the more noticeable for that, was his left arm, three inches shorter than the right. This misfortune was the result of an extraordinarily difficult breech delivery performed without anesthesia on his eighteen-year-old mother, Princess Victoria of England. He was unable to raise his left arm, and the fingers on his left hand were paralyzed. Every doctor had been consulted, every treatment attempted; nothing worked. Now, the useless hand was gloved and carried in his pocket, or placed at rest on the hilt of a sword or a dagger. At meals, a special one-piece knife-and-fork set was always placed next to his plate. To compensate for the helplessness of his left arm, he had developed the right to an unusual degree. He always wore large jeweled rings on his right hand; sometimes, grasping a welcoming hand so hard that the rings bit and the owner winced, the hand shaker said merrily, “Ha ha! The mailed fist! What!”

There were two sides to the traveler’s behavior. He was a man of wide reading, impressive although shallow knowledge, a remarkable memory for facts, and, when he wished, amiability and charm. He had a strong, clear voice and spoke equally well in German and English although his English had the slightest trace of an accent and when he resorted to English slang, which he liked to do, he frequently got it wrong. He “talks with great energy,” said an Englishwoman who saw him often, “and has a habit of thrusting his face forward and wagging his finger when he wishes to be emphatic.” “If he laughs,” said an English statesman who knew him, “which he is sure to do a good many times, he will laugh with absolute abandonment, throwing back his head, opening his mouth to the fullest extent possible, shaking his whole body and often stamping with one foot to show his excessive enjoyment of any joke.” His moods changed quickly. He could be expansive and cheery one day, irritable and strident the next. His sensitivity to suspected slights was acute, and rejection turned him quickly to arrogance and menace. Remarkably, he could switch between personalities like an actor. He had complete control of his facial expressions. In public, he tightened his features into a glowering mask and presented himself as the lofty, monarchical figure his rank proclaimed. Other times, he allowed his face to relax and a softer, milder expression appeared, one indicating courtesy and affability—sometimes even gentleness.

This complicated, difficult, and afflicted person was Kaiser William II, the German emperor and Supreme War Lord of the most powerful military and industrial state in Europe.

The imperious side of William II’s character was the handiwork of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor and creator of the German empire, who inflamed the young prince in his youth with the glory of monarchy. Astride a white horse, wearing the white cuirassier uniform of the Imperial Guard and a shining brass helmet crested with a golden Hohenzollern eagle, William saw himself as an embodiment of the divine right of kings. “We Hohenzollerns derive our crowns from Heaven alone and we are answerable only to Heaven,” he announced, adding that God was “our old ally who has taken so much trouble over our homeland and dynasty.” Ich und Gott were the two rulers of Germany, he declared, sometimes forgetting who was answerable to whom. “You have sworn loyalty to Me,” he once told a group of new army recruits. “That means, children of My guard, that you . . . have given yourself to Me, body and soul. . . . It may come to pass that I shall command you to shoot your own relatives, brothers, yes, parents—which God forbid—but even then you must follow My command without a murmur.” He drew surprising historical analogies. In 1900, sending a contingent of German troops to China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, he shouted to the departing soldiers, “There will be no quarter, no prisoners will be taken! As a thousand years ago, the Huns under King Attila gained for themselves a name which still stands for terror in tradition and story, so may the name of German be impressed by you for a thousand years on China.”

Englishman and German, yachtsman and medieval warlord, bumptious vulgarian and representative of the Deity: William never quite determined who he was. He changed his mind with bewildering frequency, but, in the opinion of his former chancellor, Bernhard von Bülow, the kaiser was “not false but fickle. He was a weathercock whose direction at any given moment very largely depended on the people with whom he happened to associate.” Albert Ballin, who built the Hamburg-America Line into the largest steamship company in the world, would always say, “Whenever I have to go and see the emperor, I always try and find out whom he’s just been with, because then I know exactly what he’s thinking.”

Despite her gold and white paintwork (“gleaming swan plumage,” one passenger called it), the top-heavy Hohenzollern, with her ram bow and bell-mouthed funnels, was the unloveliest royal yacht in Europe. Her navigation officer, Erich Raeder,* described her as a “lumbering monstrosity . . . [that] rolled in rough weather to a point uncomfortable even for old sailors. Her watertight integrity would not have met the safety requirements of even an ordinary passenger ship.” None of this troubled the kaiser, who used her only in the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean, never in the heavier seas of the North Atlantic. In any case, his cruises to Norway were spent mostly at anchor in a spectacular fjord. There, surrounded by sparkling blue water, granite cliffs and dark green forests, plunging waterfalls wreathed in mist, and patches of sloping meadow dotted with farmhouses, William felt completely at ease. Some rules were always observed—no one ever spoke to the kaiser unless he had spoken first—but now, at fifty-five, he was more mature and composed than the youthful Prince Hal of a quarter century before. When he embarked on the first of his all-male yachting trips to Norway, taking with him a dozen friends whom he referred to as his “brother officers,” the atmosphere resembled that of a rowdy junior officers’ mess. By 1914, the atmosphere had become more correct, but the guest list remained all male. William’s wife, Empress Augusta, whom he called Dona, remained in Berlin. “I don’t care for women,” he said. “Women should stay home and look after their children.”

The kaiser’s day on the yacht was rigidly scheduled: mild exercises before breakfast; in good weather, an hour in his small sailboat; in the afternoons, shore excursions or rowing contests between the crews of the Hohenzollern and the escorting cruiser Rostock. These activities, however, were not allowed to interfere with the kaiser’s afternoon nap. To get the most from this hour and a half of rest, William always removed all of his clothing and got into

*Raeder would become a Grand Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the German navy in World War II. bed. “There’s nothing like getting in between two clean, cold sheets,” he declared. At seven, the company sat down to dinner, where the kaiser drank only orange juice sipped from a silver goblet. Every evening after dinner, the party gathered in the smoking room. This summer, along with songs and card games, William and his guests listened to lectures on the American Civil War.

William’s love of yachting—like his decision to build a powerful navy—had roots in his English heritage. His mother, who had married the Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich, was Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter; William was the queen’s eldest grandchild. He considered the British royal family to be his family; when he was angry at his British relatives, he described them as “the damned family.” He always held his grandmother in awe; Uncle Bertie, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, stirred mixed feelings. William sensed—correctly—that Bertie saw him as bothersome and looked down on him as a parvenu. This duality in William’s life—Prussia versus England, Bismarck versus Queen Victoria—warred within him constantly and affected the face he turned toward the public. Indeed, the split personality of Imperial Germany was almost perfectly mirrored by the personality of the kaiser: one moment, warm, sentimental, and outgoing; the next, blustering, threatening, and vengeful.

William measured culture, sophistication, and fashion by English yardsticks. His highest approbation was reserved for the Royal Navy. In his memoirs, he wrote, “I had a peculiar passion for the navy. It sprang to no small extent from my English blood.” For William, the appeal of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s seaside palace on the Isle of Wight, was that Portsmouth, the premier base of the Royal Navy, was only five miles away across the Solent. “When as a little boy I was allowed to visit Portsmouth and Plymouth hand in hand with kind aunts and friendly admirals, I admired the proud English ships in those two superb harbors. Then there awoke in me the wish to build ships of my own like these someday and when I was grown up to possess as fine a navy as the English.” When he was ten, William boarded the new Prussian armored frigate König Wilhelm.

Heavy on the water lay the ironclad hull of this colossus from whose gun ports a row of massive guns looked menacingly forth. I gazed speechless on this mighty ship towering far above us. Suddenly shrill whistles resounded from her and immediately hundreds of sailors swarmed up the sky-high rigging. Three cheers greeted my father [Crown Prince Friedrich, heir to the Prussian throne]. . . . The tour of the ship . . . revealed to me an entirely new world . . . massive rigging . . . the long tier of guns with their heavy polished muzzles . . . tea and all sorts of rich cakes in the admiral’s cabin.

Once he became kaiser and long before he had a significant navy of his own, William took up yachting. Every August between 1889 and 1895, he appeared at Cowes on the Isle of Wight for Regatta Week, for which hundreds of large sailing yachts gathered from all over the world. Moored before the esplanade of the Royal Yacht Squadron, they stretched into the distance, their varnished masts gleaming in the sunlight. William loved the elegance and excitement he found at Cowes. When his own steam yacht entered the harbor, Royal Navy vessels offered a twenty-one-gun salute, and hundreds of private yachts and other anchored craft dipped their pennants. The queen always gave a banquet at Osborne House; the Prince of Wales entertained at the Royal Yacht Club. William began to race, commissioning one after another huge sailing yachts all named Meteor, the later versions specifically designed to defeat Uncle Bertie’s Britannia. When they succeeded and their owner loudly trumpeted his victories, the Prince of Wales abandoned the sport. “The Regatta used to be a pleasant relaxation for me,” he told a German diplomat in London, “but now, since the kaiser takes command, it is a vexation.” Sadly, whatever William said or did to make himself agreeable in England, Britons from the top down instinctively disliked him. William was aware of the low esteem in which he was held; once, when the South African empire builder Cecil Rhodes was visiting Berlin, William said to him, “Now, Rhodes, tell me why is it that I am not popular in England? What can I do to make myself popular?” Rhodes replied, “Suppose you just try doing nothing.” The kaiser frowned, then burst out laughing and slapped Rhodes on the back.

William had outlived two British monarchs: his grandmother and his uncle. His attitude toward their successor, his younger cousin King George V, was patronizing. “[George] is a very nice boy and a thorough Englishman who hates all foreigners,” he said to Theodore Roosevelt. “But I don’t mind as long as he does not hate Germans worse than other foreigners.” Toward George’s look-alike cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, the kaiser’s patronizing took on a domineering tone. William liked to remind Nicholas that it had been “my good fortune to be able to help you secure that charming angel who is your wife.” (Empress Alexandra of Russia was born in the Rhineland grand duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt.) The kaiser addressed his letters to “Dearest Nicky,” closing them “Your affectionate Willy.” Behind Nicholas’s back, the kaiser was writing that “the tsar is only fit to live in a country house and grow turnips.”

For most of its history, the military kingdom of Prussia had shown no interest in the sea. It possessed no major commercial harbor, and most of its seacoast was a stretch of shallow bays and dunes on the Baltic. This deficiency was partially rectified in 1854, when Prussia persuaded the Grand Duke of Oldenburg to sell a five-square-mile plot on Jade Bay; there, over the next fifteen years, the North Sea naval base of Wilhelmshaven was constructed. In 1869, the Prussian navy acquired the 9,700-ton ironclad König Wilhelm, then one of the largest warships in the world. This ship, built in England at the Thames Iron Works, remained Prussia’s and Germany’s largest warship for twenty-five years. During the Franco-Prussian War, however, the König Wilhelm, along with Germany’s other three ironclads, remained at anchor, forbidden to fight against the overwhelming strength of the French naval squadrons blockading the German coast. Even so, French supremacy at sea did nothing to save France and Napoleon III from swift defeat by the Prussian army. The fact that sea power had made no difference confirmed a traditional belief of the German General Staff; therefore, during the first sixteen years of Bismarck’s newly proclaimed German empire, the German navy was commanded by generals who considered warships useful only for coastal defense.

From the beginning of his reign, William II was determined that this would change and that Germany would have a navy commensurate with its new military and industrial power. Beginning in the 1890s, the German population and industrial base exploded upward. Between 1891 and 1914, the Reich’s population soared from 49 million to 67 million. In 1890, German coal production was half of Britain’s; by 1913, the two were equal. In 1890, German steel production was two-thirds of Britain’s; in 1896, it first exceeded Britain’s; in 1914, Germany produced more than twice as much steel as Great Britain. It was the same in almost every field. Rapid urbanization; the growth of railways; the proliferation of blast furnaces, rolling mills, and factory chimneys; the development of chemical, electrical, and textile industries; the rise of the world’s second largest merchant fleet; and booming foreign trade and overseas investments—these combined to create a state that economically as well as militarily dominated the European continent. William was not content. He was embarrassed by the mediocrity of Germany’s small, scattered colonial empire; he wanted to expand German influence around the globe, to achieve world power, Weltmacht. For this purpose, he needed a navy—not just a few ships to defend Germany’s coast, but a world navy. “Our future is on the seas,” he told his people. “We must seize the trident.” This was William’s obsession, but it took him nine years to find the man who could give him what he wanted.

In time, the massive figure of Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, with his bald, domed head and his famous forked beard, became instantly recognizable in Germany. The creator of the German navy, Tirpitz was its State Secretary (cabinet minister) for twenty years; after Bismarck, he was the most influential government official in Imperial Germany. Like William II, he admired and envied the Royal Navy. During his years as a cadet, Prussia’s small fleet had spent as much time in Britain as at home. “Between 1864 and 1870,” Tirpitz wrote, “our real supply base was Plymouth. Here we felt ourselves almost more at home than in peaceful and idyllic Kiel. In the Navy Hotel at Plymouth we were treated like British midshipmen. We preferred to get our supplies from England and in those days we could not imagine that German guns could be equal to British.” Tirpitz’s admiration extended to English education and the English language. He spoke English, read English newspapers and English novels, and enrolled his two daughters at Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

Tirpitz believed that sea power was a critical factor in national prosperity and greatness. In this, he was a disciple of the American naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan, who, in The Influence of Sea Power upon History, published in 1890, had traced the rise and fall of maritime powers in the past and demonstrated that in every case, the state that controlled the seas controlled its own fate; states deficient in naval power were doomed to decline. Britain now had a world empire because she was the preeminent sea power; the lesson for Tirpitz was that if Germany wished to pursue Weltmacht, only possession of a powerful navy, with a strong force of battleships at its core, could make it possible. When the kaiser appointed Tirpitz state secretary in 1897, “the German navy,” the admiral wrote later, “was a collection of experiments in shipbuilding surpassed in exoticism only by the Russian Navy.” He worked quickly; on March 26, 1898, the Reichstag passed the First Navy Bill, authorizing construction of nineteen battleships and eight armored cruisers. On June 14, 1901, the Second Navy Bill was approved, doubling the projected size of the fleet to thirty-eight battleships and twenty armored cruisers. This achievement so delighted the kaiser that he raised the state secretary into the hereditary Prussian nobility: Alfred Tirpitz became Alfred von Tirpitz. Subsequent amendments to the Navy Laws increased the planned size of the fleet to forty-one battleships.

As the new German battleships slid down the ways, and his fleet became the second largest in the world, William’s pride soared. He had always loved uniforms; now he had a closet filled only with naval uniforms. When his grandmother made him an honorary admiral in the Royal Navy, his delight was transcendent. “Fancy wearing the same uniform as St. Vincent and Nelson,” he burbled to the British ambassador, and to the queen he wrote, “I now am able to feel and take an interest in your fleet as if it were my own and with keenest sympathy shall I watch every phase of its further development.” By 1914, he had become not only a Grand Admiral of the Imperial German Navy, but also an admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy, in the British Royal Navy, and in the royal navies of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Once he received the British ambassador in the uniform of an English Admiral of the Fleet; another time, he attended a performance of The Flying Dutchman in his uniform as an admiral. Frivolous, even ludicrous, as these episodes seem, they provide a key to the purpose of the building of the German navy. It was designed not only to project German power and influence overseas, but also to reinforce William’s confidence and ego in the presence of his English relatives. “It never even occurred to William II to go to war against England,” said Bernhard von Bülow, who was chancellor of Germany for nine years of William’s reign.

What William II most desired and imagined for the future was to see himself, at the head of a glorious German fleet, starting out on a peaceful visit to England. The English sovereign, with his fleet, would meet the German kaiser in Portsmouth. The two fleets would file past each other; the two monarchs, each wearing the naval uniform of the other’s country, would then stand on the bridges of their flagships. Then, after they had embraced in the prescribed manner, a gala dinner with lovely speeches would be held in Cowes.

This was not how the new German navy was seen in Great Britain. To Britons, sea power was life and death. When the world’s strongest military power began building a battle fleet rivaling that of the greatest sea power, the British government and people asked themselves the reason. Arthur Balfour, a former prime minister, writing for German readers, tried to explain: “Without a superior fleet, Britain would no longer count as a power. Without any fleet at all, Germany would remain the greatest power in Europe.” His words made no difference and, with more and more German dreadnoughts accumulating every year and a formidable German fleet now concentrated only a few hours’ steaming time from England’s North Sea coast, the British government began to shift away from a century of “Splendid Isolation.” As the apparent danger across the North Sea mounted, old enmities and rivalries were composed, old frictions smoothed, and new arrangements made. Between 1904 and 1908, Britain became, if not a full-fledged ally, at least a partner of her erstwhile enemies France and Russia. And with the birth of the Entente, the kaiser and Tirpitz discovered that they had achieved the opposite of what they had intended. Instead of expanding German power, the rise of the new navy had pushed Great Britain into the camp of Germany’s antagonists. Germany had a shaky partner in Italy, a member of the creaking Triple Alliance (which also included Austria), but this did not prevent the kaiser from complaining that the fatherland was encircled by enemies. To face this threat, he believed, Germany could count on only a single loyal ally.

Loyal, but on the verge of disintegration. The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, a multiethnic empire ruled by Austrians and Hungarians but whose population was three-fifths Slav, was crumbling. The emperor Franz Josef was too old to arrest this decomposition; a bald little gentleman with bushy muttonchop whiskers, he was eighty-four in 1914 and already had sat on the Hapsburg throne for sixty-eight years. During that time, his wife, Empress Elizabeth, had been assassinated; his brother, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, had been executed by a firing squad; his only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, had committed suicide; and now his nephew, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the new heir to the throne, had also been assassinated. Politically, the most flagrant cause of his current troubles was the small, independent Slav kingdom of Serbia, which acted as a magnet on the restless populations of Austria’s South Slav provinces. Many in the Austrian government and army believed that the polyglot empire could save itself only by crushing the “dangerous little Serbian viper.” But a preventive war against Slav Orthodox Serbia meant confronting Serbia’s protector and ally, Slav Orthodox Russia. And Austria, in 1914, was too weak to confront Russia without German support.

Fortunately for Vienna, by 1914 the German government considered the continued existence of the creaking Hapsburg empire vital to Germany’s position. Not every German was convinced; as late as May 1914, Heinrich von Tschirschky, the kaiser’s ambassador in Vienna, cried out, “I constantly wonder whether it really pays to bind ourselves so tightly to this phantasm of a state which is cracking in every direction.” But then the specter of encirclement rose up: if Austria disintegrated, Germany would face France and Russia alone. This mutual dependence—of Austria on Germany and Germany on Austria—was well understood in Vienna, and the Hapsburg monarchy was thoroughly prepared to exploit the German predicament. In fact, Vienna was not required to beg for German support. For months, the kaiser, at his strutting, bellicose worst, had encouraged Austria to take action against Serbia. “The Slavs were born to serve and not to rule,” William told the Austrian foreign minister during a visit to Vienna in October 1913. “If His Majesty the Emperor Franz Joseph makes a demand, the Serbian government must obey. If not, Belgrade must be bombarded and occupied until his will is fulfilled. And you may rest assured that I stand behind you and am ready to draw the sword.” As he spoke, the kaiser placed his right hand on the hilt of his sword.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Castles of Steel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is without doubt one of the best if not the best books on military history I have ever read.And that is a mouthful from a former Air Force pilot and the owner of several hundred titles of military history and history in general including such authors as Keegan,Corelli Barnett,Tuchman,Glantz and many others. Massey is not only a fine detailed historian but he has that rarest ability (only Tuchman comes close) of being an extraordinarily fine writer. Some of the humorous sidelights such as the British proposing to train seagulls to defecate on German submarine periscopes are precious. The treatment of the Jutland engagement is better than most books written on that subject alone.The explanation of the British battle cruiser signalling failure is the clearest I have ever seen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Main characters are well-developed. Narrative is very readable. Maps are not very legible in the ebook format. Non-geopgraphy experts probably need to consult a decent map or atlas to get a grip on the location and direction of the action. Very thoroughly researched. Highly recommend for military history enthusiasts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anticipating this book's arrival, I re-read the author's Dreadnought. This volume finished the story spectacularly. A wonderful job. His re-telling of the Battle of Jutland literally kept me on the edge of my chair...not bad for an 800-page history book. A minor disappointment: more narrative or notes about the future of some of the participants would have been wonderful. After all, the author makes us care about the people as much as the politics. I thoroughly recommend this book.
ricme More than 1 year ago
If you are a fan of military history you will not be disappointed in Massie's telling of the WWI war at sea. He offers well sculpted biographies of all the cast members on both sides of the channel. Technology, innovation and secrecy all play a part in the race to build the finest war ships of the day. Diplomacy and personality play a large part in how the politics of the day were infused into the playbook of all the navies involved. Decisions regarding the building and use of submarines play into the strategies of the combatants but most of all it came down to sheer numbers; something the English always told their people. They must stay ahead of Germany in production since they are an island and they will live and die by their navy. (If you like this one, read the prequel, Dreadnought.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Castles of Steel by Robert Massie is by far & away one of the best WW I 'or WW II' books I have ever read.Though 900 pages long, when you're done reading it you just want more! Massie has an incredible talent for writing history,capturing the War at Sea during World War I between Great Britain & Germany.Placing the reader in the gun turrents aboard HMS 'Invincible' running along at 25kts,firing on the German 'Derfflinger' & the next moment,a sprark sets off the Magazine & blows it sky high breaking it clean in half. Massie puts the reader on the bridge of the HMS 'Iron Duke',in the rain,with Jellicoe at the crucial moment when split decisions would shape the Battle of Jutland.You can smell the salty air beside the German Admirals' Hipper & Scheer of The High Seas Fleet as they look into the mist for any sign of The Grand Fleet.Feel the heat,smoke & ear-splitting noise inside a 12' gun turrent as it fires at the enemy & the hiss of steam,the rush of seawater as a shell penetrates the deck below,exploding in the engine room.He will leave you seasick & soaking wet aboard a small destroyer of both fleets in the unforgiving/rough seas of The North Sea & the next moment you are breaking the German Naval code in the secret 'Room 40',enabling the British to know the Germans' plans ahead of time.You will sense the adventure as each fleet trys to catch the other off guard from the Indian,Pacific & Atlantic Oceans all the way through to the Mediterranean & the Adriatic Sea,it truely is a global history. Massie details the escape of the 'Goeben' in the Mediterranean,the Battle of Cornel in the Pacific off the west coast of South America,the Battle of the Falkland Islands in the Southern Atlantic,The Yarmouth Raid,The Scarborough Raid,The Cuxhaven Raid,The Battle of Dogger Banks in the North Sea,the British debacle at The Dardanelles & the worlds' last major grand battle of surface fleets,Jutland.Massie details the major players including the British John Jellicoe,David Beatty,Winston Churchill & Jacky Fisher,the German players,William-Kaiser,Tirpitz,Bethmann-Hollweg & Admirals' Reinhard Scheer & Franz Hipper,to name a few,as they match wits with their ever elusive rivals.The reader can feel the tension in the air,the excitement of the chase,the massive devastation as 12-15' guns duel with each other & the incredible explosions as a ship blows sky-high in seconds when flames penetrates their magazines.Including the coming of age of the first submarines from merely a defensive weapon to a full fledged offensive force to be reconded with.The many different veiws as to their use by both sides.How America was brought into the war as a direct result of unresticted submarine warfare as Germany tried & very nearly brought Britian to it's knees.Leading directly to convoys escorted by warships,which in the end brought down the the submarines & Germany itself.All the policy discussions & back-stabbing of all parties' governments behind the scenes is well researched & covered in-depth. Castles of Steel is a must read for any serious student of both World Wars.The reader is left in awe as to the bravery of both sides & to the respect each felt for their opponents.The rich history springs from the pages engrossing the reader.One can only imagine the grand spectacle of the combat on the high seas never to be repeated again in the annuals of naval history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is very little wrong with 'Castles of Steel'. Perhaps a few typos and a lack of diagramming of some of the earlier battles. I also find Massie a bit selective in his dealings with Winston Churchill, at times holding him up as an example of all that is bumbling and mistaken in the British way of war, then alternatively using his vivid commentary as a summation of justification at other times. Which is he? Both? (Perhaps that DOES summarize the young Churchill but it is bad form to pick a protagonist and use him to address both sides of a question, don't you think?) In any case, these are the very MINOR and ONLY faults I can find with the narrative and it is only for this reason that I do not give it five stars. Perhaps I am too old fashioned and picky a critic? (Well, I am both old and picky, if not prickly to boot!) In any event, the descriptive narrative is so strong that the early lack of battle diagramming is almost non-essential, so vivid and exacting is the text. I have read many histories of First World War naval action and Massie's re-telling follows logically along as do the others. Unlike the others, Massie expands on each battle and delves more deeply into underlying events and even, much to my pleasure, the technical differences amongst the combatant forces that contributed to victory or defeat. This too often overlooked essential of the military art is critical when attempting to understand why one side wins and the other loses, which is, oddly enough, something that doesn't happen as often as one might suppose in this history. More often it is a tale of the German forces losing nerve and running away from a British force that, incompetently, cannot communicate with itself, is forever being thwarted by inclimate weather, undermined by (typically) second rate British engineering or by utter stubbornness on the part of it's leadership at the wrong time and place. Massie is Richard Hough ('The Great War at Sea 1914-18')drilled down to three more levels of satisfying detail, and Massie's 'massive' approach is completeness itself. This particular volume is simply all about the naval war. The predecessor volume, 'Dreadnought', one must warn, is more focused on the diplomatic underpinnings and machinations that led stupid, unseeing politicians into the conflict, although naval competitions and battleship building were key factors in the run up to the war. For me, that volume read a great deal slower than this, for this book is all action. I could not put it down. Very often, I could and DID put down Dreadnought and rubbed my eyes. Nelson remarked that, in performance of one's duty, 'no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that on an enemy'. You would not be doing very wrong if you placed yourself beside this volume and 'attacked' every single page of it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is no doubt that Mr. Massie is the greatest non-fiction writer today. This volume and his Peter the Great (which I read last year) are just marvelous examples of a writer at the top of his game. I have not read his book, ¿Dreadnought¿ and although Castles of Steel is a sequel of sorts I found it a great stand-alone history. But with Massie, you get more than history. He does an excellent job of personalizing each of the participants, from the British Winston Churchill, Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty to the German Kaiser William, and Admirals Scheer and Hipper. Each chapter is like a short story well constructed to give the reader an overall perspective of events in both personal and global terms. The German¿s on again; off again use of submarines is presented extremely well. Even the first humorous and ineffective submarine counter offensive by the British finds a home in this history. The British, it appears, assigned teams to small boats who attempted to find German periscopes and then tried to paint the class black, or haplessly tried putting a satchel over the scope, or finally attempted to pound out the scopes glass with a hammer. Churchill we learn had a plan where he spent millions of pounds to create imitation battle ships that were ineffective because they could not keep up with the fleet. Amazing details are presented; such as how just a few knots speed advantage won specific battles. This is truly a fascinating and compelling history with both a global and personal reach. Having just read Diana Preston¿s wonderful ¿Lusitania¿ this volume, Castles of Steel, was a great way to put the Lusitania sinking into even an even wider historic context. I recommend Mr. Massie¿s monumental achievement to you, even if you are not at all interested in military history. This is history as high adventure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
By Bill Marsano. The steel battleship, that most splendid of boy's toys, so beloved of admirals and the public too, had an amazingly short lifetime. From the Royal Navy's Dreadnought of 1906 to their ultimate expression in World War II, battleships lived a mere forty years. World War II brought Germany's splendid Bismarck, Japan's Yamato and Musashi, and several American classes, the best of them being the mighty Iowas. But it also brought naval aviation, so that for most of the war the magnificent giants were dinosaurs, often reduced to shore bombardments. Hood vs. Bismarck, after all, lasted but three salvos; Bismarck vs. Rest of Royal Navy was hardly a match; and Japan's godzillas fell to naval aviation. The only big-gun fleet action of the war was, I think, 1944's Battle of Surigao Strait, a reasonably satisfactory demolition derby between Nishimura of Japan's Force C and our Navy's reincarnated Pearl Harbor survivors. So battleships had only World War I in which to show their stuff. Robert K. Massie's big, rich, Omaha-steak of a book tells us all about it. Much of this war has long since faded to sound bites; at sea we get the Lusitania, submarines and a spoonful of Jutland, and that's about it. Fans of naval rifles, mines and torpedoes get get much more than that from Massie. The author of 'Dreadnought,' he knows tactics and strategy, facts and figures, winners and losers. He also knows--is master of--detail and anecdote. In his telling these distant events have the smell of cordite and remote personages come alive on their quarterdecks (and behind their desks). Garmany's High Seas Fleet was markedly smaller than the Royal Navy, but it had better ships, shells and shooting. Still, the Royal Navy had its great tradition, fighting spirit and confidence in victory while the Germans were often crippled by caution. Massie is superb at showing how the Germans finally lost and the British clumsily won. Minor events and major are all here, coherently presented. There are Coronel and Falklands; Dogger Bank and Battle of the Bight; the Scarborough Raid (Germans shelling beach resorts); the submarine war; and of course that mighty set-piece, Jutland. There the German High Seas Fleet won the silver medal tactically, giving a real smacking to the Brits, who nevertheless took the gold: At the end, the Royal Navy ruled the waves and the Germans had to run for their lives. (Oddly, it was an American newspaper that best summed-up Jutland, saying 'The German fleet has assaulted its jailer but it is still in jail.') Massie is especially good on the allies' attempt to force the Dardanelles with a fleet of battleships that would then steam up to Istanbul and shell Turkey out of the war. Ships usually come out second-best against fortresses, which don't sink, but here the risk was thought worthwhile: Most of the battleships involved were elderly and due for scrapping anyway. In fact the early stages went well for the allied armada, but when things began to go wrong, the allies were suddenly averse to risking their floating antiques, and the Turks managed to make them quit. (Later, embarrassment led to catastrophe: Gallipoli) The principal characters, vividly sketched, are Churchill, blundering toward political oblivion, and two admirals. One was John Jellicoe, 'inventor' of the dreadnought or modern battleship. A cautious but decisive commander, he trained his fleet well and never used it rashly. He understood that so long as the Grand Fleet remained intact, Germany could never break the allies' strangling blockade. And although the Germans escaped at Jutland, Jellicoe did them terrific damage. The other admiral was David Beatty, head of the battlecruiser squadron. He was brave, dashing, good-looking and outgoing--just the sort of hero the media loves. Unfortunately he was also a relentless self-promoter, a jealous back-stabber and a bloody fool to boot. At the opening of Jutland he attacked at top speed, leaving h
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent well-written work about what can aften be a very dry subject. The book was pre-dominately from the British viewpoint. I would like to have seen more from the German side, but that is a minor complaint. If you have any interest at all in WW1 naval history then this is a 'must read'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I selected to read Castles of Steel as my only book dedicated to the World War 1 Era. The premise of the book simply stated is that the Naval conflict between England and Germany and the subsequent use of unrestricted U-Boat warefare by the Germans brought the Americans into WW1 which proved decisive in ending the War. The book is an enjoyable albeit long read connecting the dots of this generally accepted premise. I found the book richly details the British Admiralty with emphasis on Churchill, Jelicoe, and Beaty. In fact, the author deeply respects and sympathizes with Sir John Jelicoe, the conservative commanding Admiral of Jutland who seems to get a bad wrap from many of the British for not being Horatio Nelson. I felt the author's connection with Jelicoe including feeling sadness that the admiral was fired on Christmas eve for political motivations. The battle of Jutland is the climax of the book and the most entertaining pages of an 800+ page read. If you are already interested in the WW1 Era or Naval History, you have to read this book. On the other hand, if you have little interest in this era, this book might be a sleeping pill for you. As for me I enjoyed it and will probably read it again in the future.
oldman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Castles of Steel, by Robert Massie tells the story of the naval participation in WWI. Some battles have familiar sound - The Battle of Jutland is one. The story is follwed for the most part chronologically. Both the British and German sides are described with a wealth of detail. The author leans towards the British and certain leaders, but he is honest and clear about these preferences. Castles of Steel are words used by Chuchill to describe the ships going to battle. Massies' descriptions of the battles makes clear the words in the title. What else is made clear is the vast resources used to build, maintain and fight these ships. Reading about the loss or damage to ships in battles and the loss of thousands of men manning those ships in a single moment made me shake my head at the waste. However, the politics of the day demanded the vilent results. I enjoyed reading this book. The only problem I had was when it fell onto my face when I was lying in bed and couldn't put it down.
cfzmjz041567 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A thorough and detailed examination of the naval policies and actions of the British and German navies during WWII. Battle actions are examined, but the personalities and decisions behind those actions are even more interesting. Anyone interested in naval history of this period will find this certainly a worthwhile read.
DannyMorris on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best histories I've ever read. A compelling and exciting read.
bleacher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A huge subject to encompass in a single volume, easier to read than Dreadnought. Perhaps covers too much and hence lacks some depth on the fighting but still a useful overview of the subject.
glauver More than 1 year ago
I was about halfway (370 pages) through Castles Of Steel when I realized that Robert K Massie had just finished covering the first six months of World War I at sea. He wrapped up the Dardanelles campaign (December 20 1915) on page 502 and by then there were only about 290 pages of text left to cover the last three years of the war. Well over a hundred of those pages are taken up by the June 1916 Battle of Jutland. The result is that the last two years (1917-18) get only cursory coverage and the book ends abruptly without a final summing up of leadership and other factors. Granted, except for the U-boat war, those years were uneventful, but it makes the narrative feel lop-sided. However, I noticed the same proportion of coverage in Richard Hough's much shorter The Great War At Sea, so I am probably being overly critical. Both books center on the English fleet and its leaders Jellicoe and Beatty and the high command personified by Churchill and Fisher. Germany gets much less space. Massie shines when he writes vividly about battles and the lives of men at sea. Even in the nuclear age it is jolting to read about a battleship or cruiser blowing up and a a thousand men gone in a moment. Despite its heft, Castles Of Steel moved along and kept me reading. Anyone interested in WWI should not miss it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you have an interest in naval warfare, this period marks the pinnacle of ship to ship conflict. Honestly, for about a month of my life i felt i was living in a british navy ship in various locales around the globe, eating british food and battling germans. If that sounds appeling to you, then give this a read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago