This monumental, 400 page, work was originally published in 1912 (and republished in 2003 by Conway Classics in the UK.) Written by Fred T. Jane, the founder of the influential Jane's series of military books and annual digests, this book chronicles the history of the British Battle Fleet, and the Royal Navy itself. From it's earliest days in the early medieval period, through the tumultuous 18th century and the massive technological changes of the 19th centuries and up to the massive scale and power of the British Fleets before WWI.
For anybody interested in the history of ships and the men who commanded and sailed them this is an absolute treasure.
My copy is the 1912 edition and is in very good condition, given it's over a hundred years old!
The book has many illustrations, some in colour, taken from paintings in the early years and photos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
There are lots of technical diagrams of deck and gun layouts after steam propulsion is introduced as well.
The first half of the book is an interesting history, covering much of the politics as well as the military actions of the early days of the Royal Navy. Jane covers many of the social and political issues in some detail, quoting from period sources when available. He covers the Great Mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797 and discusses many of the causes and results of them on the subsequent social changes in ships crews.
He covers the period of the almost continuous warfare with France with lots of detail. That section alone is a treasure for anyone interested in what ships and fleets did what.
The second half of the book covers the period from the first introduction of steam propulsion to the development of the "All Big Gun" Dreadnaught and all her subsequent, handsome and very lethal, kin.
Fred Jane has a good eye for the historical anecdote, as well as the technical detail he displayed in his original monographs covering the state of the world's navies since his first "All the World's Fighting Ships" of 1898 . Jane is also not shy about making some sage predictions as to how the future would look given all the technological changes that had occurred in his own lifetime. Some of them turned out to be spectacularly wrong (entertaining none the less) and others prescient indeed, as the great cataclysm of WWI subsequently showed.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the developments of the Battle Fleet from both a technical and social/political standpoint.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
The British Battle-Fleet
Its inception & growth throughout the centuries.
Fred T. Jane
S.W. Partridge & Co,., LTD. (1912)
Conway Maritime Press (2003)