on February 19, 2004
I have read many books of military history covering a variety of campaigns, but never have I read one with such breadth and insight as this. The enormity of the drama embodied in the moment the fleets met at Jutland is for the first time matched by an author's ability to depict a context rich enough to help us understand the influences which fed this cataclysmic misfire of naval strength.
Gordon focuses on the tension between doctrine's role as a useful tool for helping a widely flung set of commanders act in concert when distance, smoke, and angst prevent their communication and how a careless search for practical doctrine might invite a stifling dogma in its stead. As Gordon so fluidly writes of the malaise gripping the "fleet that had dozed unchallenged in the long calm lee of Trafalgar", the trust Nelson placed in subordinates had not long survived his death in that battle and its heir was an officious busyness centered on sparkle and conformity.
Particularly delightful in this work and an aspect not to be missed is the benefit to be realized by using two bookmarks when reading it, with the second preserving your spot in the end notes. Its 100+ pages of notes manifest a stringent and complete attribution of his borrowings, but a great many of the notes are not simply citations of others work but illuminating tidbits well worth savoring as you plow along the main text.
A new reader will also find that color has not been sacrificed in the rush to meet the obligations of covering so large a battle. My favorite anecdote was one of an untroubled officer on HMS Lion who, unaware that the Germans had truly been sighted, calmly finished preparing his sandwich as action stations were rung. The mental picture formed of his arriving on the bridge with mouth full and hoagie in hand is not unlike someone doing "the wave" in the audience at Ford's Theatre as Lincoln takes his seat.
I mean the 5 stars. I have given 5 copies of this book to people I know, simply to ensure that they might understand the mania for naval history it has fanned in my heart. If there is any justice in this world, this book will enjoy a massive new print run.
on January 20, 2004
This is indeed terrific book. It does not only focus on
the battle of Jutland itself, but on the whys and wherefores of how things came to be. By looking back in time to the societal and cultural institutions of Victorian Society, how it influenced thought and conduct within the Royal Navy, we come to
understand how the British failed to destroy the German High Seas Fleet. The author skewers the officers for their blind obedience to the "Signals Book" and the lack
of originality in thought and deeds. There is nothing more insidious to military efficacy than a lengthy peace to promote
complacency and martial decay. Without a challenge to its command of the seas for nearly a century, the peacetime Royal Navy lost its Nelsonian touch and became a Corps of bureaucrats and spit and polish types, forever shuffling papers and scrubbing the decks. It became an absolute fetish and was the main criteria for advancement for career minded officers
to the detriment of actual war fighting capabilities. This and many other details are brought to light in this book. There is so much more to say, but best to grab a copy yourself and READ IT!!!
on August 25, 2002
This is a big fat book, and when the box arrived, I rather wondered when I would get to it. Once I started though, I found I couldn't stop, Gordon has an engaging style that takes us through even the technical details of warship design and capabilities with remarkable flair. From the outset it is clear that this is NOT just about Jutland, but rather the book uses Jutland as a way of examining Naval Command structure as a whole. Thus it is no real shock when we suddenly shift from the 5th Battle Squadron's delayed turn away from the High Seas Fleet to a discussion of the development of the Victorian Navy. We don't get back to the battle for 250 pages, but by that time we have a much better sense of who the players are, what sort of background they are bringing to the situation, and what sort of legacy they are likely to leave.
Of great interest is Gordon's application of the lessons (un)learned at Jutland to the present. While at first glance it seems hard to imagine the relevance of a battle fought nearly 90 years ago with Battleships to todya's electronic wars with "robo-cruisers" but Gordon makes some telling points about the need for both command independence and integration. I would STRONGLY recommend this book as a follow on to Massie's excellent DREADNAUGHT, which took us from the end of the 19th century up to the outbreak of the Great War. Gordon takes us further back and further forward, and the result is a remarkable achievement.
on August 4, 2001
I really like and recommend this book to anyone remotely connected to national security decision-making. There are four major points in this book that neither the publicity prose nor the earlier reviewers emphasize, and I focus on these because they are the heart of the book and the core of its value:
1) Peacetime breeds officers, systems, and doctrine that are unlikely to stand the empirical test of war. As the author notes, every incompetent in war has previously been promoted to his or her high rank in peacetime. Systems are adopted without serious battle testing or interoperability (and intelligence) supportability being assured, and doctrine takes a back seat to protocol and keeping up appearances.
2) Technologists are especially pernicious and dangerous to future warfighting capability when they are allowed to promulgate new technology under ideal peacetime conditions, and not forced to stand the test of battle-like degradation and the friction of real-world conditions.
3) Doctrine based on the lessons of history rather than the pomp of peacetime is the ultimate insurance policy.
4) Robust--even intrusive and pervasive--communications (signaling) in peacetime is almost certain to denigrate healthy doctrinal development, has multiple pernicious effects on the initiative and development of individual commanders, and can have catastrophic consequences when it is severely degraded in wartime and the necessary doctrinal foundation and command initiative are lacking.
This is a very long book at 708 pages, and I would hasten to note that the book is worth purchasing even if only to read Chapter 25, pages 562-601, in which the author brilliantly sets forth 28 distinct "propositions". The balance of the book is extraordinary in its detail and a pleasure to scan over, but its primary role is to absolutely guarantee the credibility and industry of the author.
Each of the 28 propositions, one sentence in length with varying explanatory summaries, is compelling, relevant, and most critical to how we train both flag officers and field grade officers of all the services. Were the author so inclined, I would encourage him to develop the final chapter as a stand-alone primer for military leaders seeking to learn from history and avoid the dangerous juxtaposition of too much technology and too little thought. While the author draws his propositions from an excruciatingly detailed study of the Battle of Jutland and the British naval cultures in conflict before and after Jutland, this book is not, at root, about a specific battle, but rather about the constantly forgotten "first principles" of training, equipping, and organizing forces for combat. Hard to do in peacetime with the best of leaders, a tragedy in waiting with the more common peacetime pogues in charge. "Ratcatchers", the author's phrase for those who do well in war, are crushed by the peacetime protocols, and this is perhaps the greatest lesson of all: we must nurture our ratcatchers, even place them on independent duty to travel distant lands, but somehow, someway, keep them in play against the day when we need them.
on March 19, 2001
This is a quite epic narrative history, which reads with the facility and pace of a well-constructed thriller. It is at once a social history of the Royal Navy that spans the Ironclad, Dreadnought and Great War eras, a dissertation on naval signalling and fleet-handling in a period of unprecedented technical innovation, a reflection on the challenges and stresses of leadership and a thrilling account of the Battle of Jutland from a British perspective. The book opens with a quite thrilling account of the opening phase of the battle, in which technical and human complexities are treated with equal aplomb, then breaks off - leaving the reader all but white knuckled - at the moment the German High Seas Fleet appears on the scene and forces Beatty's Battle Cruiser Force and Fifth Battle Squadron to turn northwards. It might seem an anti-climax to be diverted from this drama to the controversies that dominated the Navy in the Late-Victorian and Edwardian periods but this part of the story, with its splendidly delineated cast of larger-than-life characters, is no less gripping, especially in view of its ultimate relevance to command and control decisions at the potentially climactic encounter at Jutland. The third part of the book returns to the battle itself, with the arrival of Jellicoe's Battle Fleet, the main clash and the subsequent night action and German escape. The complexities of naval manoeuvre have seldom been so clearly portrayed in print, with excellent use being made of simple diagrams for illustration, and colour and pace are lent to the narrative by many well-chosen extracts from survivor's accounts, ranging from the light-hearted to the outright ghastly. This was indeed a battle where there was no mid-point between unscathed survival and horrific injury. The story is told almost exclusively from the Royal Navy viewpoint - that indeed of a British participant - and, thought this adds great immediacy, readers will need to look elsewhere for a more detailed account of the German movements. The final part of the book is in many ways the saddest, detailing the recriminations, self-justifications and personal tragedies involving the main participants after the war. A postscript that deals with the problem of intelligence overload as a purely Naval concern will be found by many readers to have singular relevance to large modern organisations employing E-Mail! This is, in summary, a quite magnificent piece of work and a delight for enthusiasts of naval history. The only mild criticism that might be made is that the writer has omitted to discuss how experience from the Spanish-American and Russo-Japanese Wars might have influenced Royal Naval thinking on visual signalling and fleet control under battle conditions. Japanese experience might be assumed to have been of particular relevance in view of the strong Royal Navy influence on Japanese naval development - and of the presence on Togo's flagship at Tsu-Shima of Captain William Packenham, who later commanded the 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadron at Jutland. This minor gripe aside one can but long for more from the pen of Mr.Gordon.
on June 15, 2002
This is a execellent book at describing the stagnation of the British navy during the ninenteenth century. According to the author, the British navy put more of a emphasis on character and less on intellect in the devolopment of it's officer corps. This led to all the most intellectual officers being ignored but the one that obeyed the rules were promoted to the highest ranks. Because of the above metioned factors the British navy faced near disaster at Jutland. One can see the tragic consequences when character dominates intellect in an institution.
on September 26, 2002
The other reviews of "The Rules of the Game" above succinctly summarize this important contribution to naval history. The descriptions of Jutland are worth the price of admission alone, but its real value lies in its disection of the mindset of those Victorian naval officers who shaped the Royal Navy during its period of greatest transition. There are many lessons to be learnt for today's professional officer, and this book should be freely circulating in the Naval Colleges of the world.
on November 29, 2000
This has to be the definitive account!. This brings a new and refreshing perspective on the Jutland controversy, and has caused me to re-revaluate my own idea's on the subject. Be warned though that this is no light account, though it reads very well, the subject matter is for the die-hard naval fanatic, not for the casual reader.