Book Review – ‘Shaping the Royal Navy: Technology, authority and naval architecture, c. 1830–1906’ by Alastair Wilson

By Alastair Wilson, published October 2020


This comprehensively researched book might be described as a morality tale, of good (the scientific Institute of Naval Architects) versus the bad (the intuitional seaman – every hair a rope yarn, every finger a marline spike) fighting for the soul of the Royal Navy – the ships in which it fought, and fights.

The struggle saw the Royal Navy through a momentous period of change, from a wooden sailing fleet to a steel, turbine-powered one; from muzzle-loading smoothbores, using black gunpowder as their propellant to throw a solid projectile no more than 400 yards if a hit on the enemy was to be assured, to rifled breech loaders using cordite, capable of hitting the enemy at 15,000 yards. Great as these changes were, of much more importance was the acceptance of science as a basis for the design of warships. Previously there had been centuries of development based more on intuition than on empirical study or systematic advances.

Don Leggett examines the background to these changes from the 1830s to the first decade of the twentieth century in seven episodes, each one the subject of a chapter …

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Filed under: English Channel
Subjects include: Navies | Science & Exploration | Ship Handling & Seamanship | Shipbuilding & Design | Weapons

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