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
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Overview

Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea by Robert K. Massie

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 SeasFleet 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: 9780679456711
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/2003
Pages: 865
Product dimensions: 6.56(w) x 9.56(h) x 2.13(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.

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4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 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.
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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.
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