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John Hatcher
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Martin Brecht
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New warships for a new era

American Battleships, 1886-1923: Predreadnought Design and Construction - John C. Reilly Jr.

In the 1880s the United States Navy embarked upon a new course, as decades of strategy were abandoned in favor of a new approach. Increasingly the traditional strategy of a navy based on commerce raiding and defense was abandoned in favor of one that followed the European focus on a battle fleet designed to win and maintain control of the seas. At the heart of this strategy was the battleship, which was undergoing a radical transformation of its own as new technologies outdated existing designs at an almost dizzying pace.

 

John Reilly and Robert Scheina's book charts the interaction and impact of these twin changes on the designs of battleships in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Staring with the stand-alone classes of the Maine (which was classified as an armored cruiser) and Texas (the first true battleship), they describe the development of the various battleships built prior to the introduction of the revolutionary Dreadnought design that effectively rendered these ships obsolete -- in some cases even prior to their commissioning. In the process, they explain the evolution of design orthodoxy, the adaptations made with each successive class, and the elements in the ships that proved successful or were regarded as failures.

 

Carefully detailed and generously supplemented with a wealth of blueprints, schematics, and photographs, Reilly and Scheina's book is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the subject. It is a book that is rewarding reading not just for naval history buffs but for anyone interested in an important aspect of the evolution of America's role in the world, as the authors address not just the technical elements but the changing missions for the ships and the adaptations that those demands made upon their designs. For those who want to learn about how America began embracing its potential as a world power, this is a book that cannot be overlooked.