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Pen & Sword Book Reviews
This is the third review of the best books focusing on WW2 naval history. I hope you find it of value, and many thanks to Pen & Sword.
In 2002 the wreck of a British cruiser was located by divers off the coast of Tunisia. The stunning photographs of the wreck inspired Dr Richard Osborne to delve into the controversy surrounding the loss of one of the Royal Navy's proudest ships - HMS Manchester.
After taking part in the Norway campaign of 1940, Manchester was sent to the Mediterranean, where she was involved in the dangerous Malta convoys. On her first convoy she was struck by a torpedo and badly damaged. In danger of sinking at any minute, her skipper, Captain Harold Drew, managed to save his ship.
Her next operation was to prove her last. In Operation Pedestal, the vital Malta relief convoy, Manchester was again hit by a torpedo. This time, rather than risk the lives of his crew Drew decided to scuttle his ship. For this Drew was court-martialled in what would become the longest such case in the history of the Royal Navy.
Using the testimony of those involved, the highly respected naval historian Dr Osborne pieces together one of the most intriguing stories to emerge from the Second World War. Coupled with photographs of the wreck and a detailed account of its discovery, The Watery Grave: The Life and Death of HMS Manchester, will shed new light on this remarkable tale.
The loss of Manchester is one of the few events in WW2 that for the RN could be interpreted as less than satisfactory. In summary the enquiry concluded that the decision to scuttle was taken when there was still a reasonable possibility she was capable of steaming, steering and fighting. Her armament however was certainly very limited. Tactically her situation was appalling. She was alone, damaged, with limited ability to fight, surrounded by e-boats, close to a minefield and certain to face concentrated air attack at first light. However, Captain Drew took the decision to scuttle very quickly, probably to ensure the safety of his crew, in a situation he probably felt had little chance of any positive benefit in trying to fight her home.
This book provides a detailed analysis of the war career of HMS Manchester, her previous torpedoing during Operation Substance, and the Pedestal Convoy which led to her sinking. The subsequent court proceedings are in considerable and necessary detail.
The book works particularly well when in deals with the investigation. The prosecution and defence case, together with statements from each officer, are given in full, and you gain a good picture of the technical matters involved in fighting a complex ship in great danger. It works less well in the descriptions of the actions leading up to the torpedoing, which are better available elsewhere. There are no errors I could spot, it is just not very interesting.
I do agree with the conclusions of the author. Captain Drew decided very quickly that he should scuttle to save his crew. He ignored or misinterpreted reports that reached him that one engine was still workable, and put in motion a chain of events leading to the scuttling that could not be reversed. His conduct was totally different to the first torpedoing when he fought the ship home with determination in a broadly similar situation. One could guess that the stress of his time in command was affecting his judgement. I remember watching a TV program about her sinking and I recall the crew were united in the view that his decision had saved their lives.
Worth buying if you are interested in the loss of HMS Manchester.
Next Month's Book Review
This book collects hundreds of the best photos of the largest ships of the German Navy in WW2, many from private sources or obscure archives that are not generally available. Just how good is it ?