(Naval Institute Press)
There is little to compare to the hellish brutality of a sea battle. Men are entrapped in a tight steel box, a warship. They are beyond sight of land, floating in untold fathoms of sea-water. Separated by miles of roiling ocean, combating warships throw tons of high explosives at each other. It seems an unreal fantasy. Eventually, like a thunderbolt, a shell pierces the ship. A deafening explosion sends lethal particles of shrapnel and flying debris ricocheting off the ship's interior panels. Unfortunate men are cut down instantly in death or mutilation. Fire, fumes, and flooding in darkened confined spaces summon terror to the survivors. Exercises never equal the real thing.This quote from writer Joseph Gilbey appears in the early part of the book Battleship. There are also mild anti-war sentiments stuck here and there, quotes from Amy Lowell, Wilfred Owen, H. G. Wells, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Henry Miller.Yet this lavishly laid-out volume --- oversized, complete with pictures in rich, often fiery color --- is a paean to the fire and glory of war, specifically warships in heavy battle.It all begins with the first, an English 1835 "capital" ship, The Duke of Wellington, and ends with the sixteen-inch forward gun turrets of the USS Missouri. Betwixt and between, it's firepower and the Battle of Jutland and the USS Iowa off Korea and landing operations at Palau and postcards and drawings filled with jingoism and all those billows of smoke at Pearl Harbor. Which, as we know, was the symbol par excellence for the United States to embark on a program of Vengeance, three-and-
a-half years of bloody mayhem, ending with the frying of millions of the Japanese --- men, women, children --- in their homes and shops and playgrounds.
We cannot deny that there is a martial beauty in the shots of the USS Boxer plowing the seas near North Korea or the Gneisenau "in a mild swell," along with an ancient picture of the main guns of the USS Mississippi in 1908 and the super dreadnought (lovely name!) HMS Colossus in 1911 and even such gung-ho quotes as Billy Owens who fought the good fight on the USS Wisconsin so many years ago telling us
This is a gunner's mate's ultimate dream --- to be on the biggest guns, where you can climb right up through 'em if you want. For us gunner's mates it doesn't seem noisy when they go off. To hear 'em go off, well, that's part of it. Little guns, you get a bang. This one, you get a boom.
Battleship at $39.95 with over 250 photographs of guns (and gunships) means you only have to pay 6-1/4¢ per bang (or boom).--- Carlos Amantea