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One command's struggles against the U-boats

Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War - Steve R. Dunn

Over the past few years Steve Dunn has carved out a niche for himself writing books about various aspects of the First World War at sea that have often be overshadowed by its more dramatic personage and battles. His latest book is an account of the Western Approaches (the waters off of the south of Ireland) centered around the effective, no-nonsense figure of Admiral Lewis Bayly. When he assumed position of Senior Officer of the Coast of Ireland station in 1915, he took over a command that was struggling in the war against the U-boats. Like the rest of the Royal Navy its officers and men were working out how to respond to the deployment of this new weapon of war, a task made more difficult by the shortage of appropriate ships and the competing demands made on the available resources by the demands of war. As a result, sailors went to sea aboard inadequate vessels and pursued ineffective tactics such as trawling the Irish Sea in the (usually vain) hope that they might entangle German submersibles or force them to exhaust their batteries.

 

Upon taking command in Queenstown Bayly brought a renewed determination to the station. Focusing on the war, he set the tone for his men by curbing the social activities and customs that had endured from the prewar era. With the aid of new ships and more men he carried out his orders vigorously, protecting merchant shipping and hunted down U-boats by any means possible. In this his command received a boost in the summer of 1917 with the arrival of the first warships of the United States Navy. This proved Bayly’s finest hour as commander of the station, as he established harmonious relations with American officers as they worked to protect the vessels transporting the doughboys to the front. The esteem in which they held him was reflected after the war with their efforts to support and honor Bayly in his retirement.

 

Dunn’s book provides readers with a succinct and effective description of the war off of the Irish coast. Though he concentrates on Bayly, he does not do so to the detriment of his coverage of the many men who fought and sacrificed in their battles with the U-boats. While this comes at the cost of a degree of repetitiveness in his accounts of U-boat attacks and the efforts to sink them, it is a minor issue with what is otherwise a worthy study of a part of the war covered only in passing in larger accounts of the naval history of the First World War.