I came to this book in the hope of finding some further information about the battleship HMS Russell lost off Malta in 1916. The full title does, after all, include the words ‘The Mediterranean Front 1914-1923.’ Whereas Russell gets no mention at all, I did find it curious that HMS Canopus gives rise to a brief inclusion of the loss of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau off the Falklands in 1914. Another curiosity is that the book shows three titles on the front cover in reverse order. This series of books is called ‘Essential Histories’ and, ‘The First World War (4), reveals that this is the fourth book about WW1 in that series. The book’s actual title is, therefore, ‘The Mediterranean Front 1914-1923’ - although, as I am sure others will notice, that particular war ended in 1918! All of which become slightly less confusing once you start to read and thoroughly enjoy the work.
In a war which was eventually won on the Western Front - with the advent of the tank being a crucial factor, one should never lose sight of the fact that the German U Boat campaign was so very nearly an overall deciding factor in favour of Germany in 1917! Nevertheless, the outcome was the outcome and with it came an end to both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires.
What I had not previously considered, however, was the statistic that, including all peripheral smaller seas - Adriatic, Aegean etc, the Mediterranean covers a million square miles of water. That is a huge area for any country to attempt to control and this book provides an entertaining overview of the military and naval operations which took place both at sea and on the shores surrounding this huge expanse of water throughout the years in question. Having said that, I really do fear few serious historians will learn anything of outstanding significance. Nevertheless, I really do recommend the work for two very good reasons. Firstly, it is an excellent view of one theatre of operations (i.e. the Mediterranean) throughout WW1 and in the years following. Secondly, it really is an excellent read.
All the more curious is the author’s selection of outstanding historic photographs which are often set at the periphery of what was going on rather than being central to whatever campaigns or battles were taking place. Yes, there are some quite outstanding pictures relating to the latter - such as the battleship Svent István settling in the water prior to sinking and the final moments of the French battleship Bouvet as she slips beneath the waves. In the former category, however, we see King George V on horseback on the last occasion when a Division of the ‘old army’ was reviewed by their monarch, a fascinating photograph depicting a British military band welcoming Russian troops arriving in Salonika and (my favourite) a Rolls Royce armoured car of the Duke of Westminster’s squadron at Sollum in April 1916. (NB; The reason why I favour this particular photograph is because it answers a long-standing question about another vehicle which, some years ago, I wrongly identified – but I digress!).
Altogether, whilst my description of ‘curiouser and curiouser’ remains apt, once you start to read the work itself all that curiosity unfolds into a rather compelling work which is very well written.