Royal Navy: Steam, Steel & Dreadnoughts

There are many comments I could make about this series, but I think the major point that I will make is that it is average all round. Average, or even below that. Now, I am generally well versed in the 18th and 19th century naval histories, and that led me to think that this program could provide for a general overview of the entire history of the Royal Navy. I was mistaken.

Why was I mistaken would be the question to answer, but I’ll first describe what the series was made up of. The episodes concentrated on the history on a periodical basis. The first episode started by looking at the period from 1500 to 1599, the following ones continued by looking at 1600 to 1805, 1806 to 1918, and lastly 1919 to the ‘Present Day’. So, there exists a continuity in time that tries to demonstrate how and why changes took place in the Royal Navy. But, the way in which this happens is very haphazard.

The Anglo-Dutch wars are covered in good detail as is Trafalgar and Jutland. Sir Francis Drake’s adventures including Gravelines are also quite well documented. But what is entirely missing is the notion that anyone else could have been the source of the triumphs of Nelson, and this is the case generally throughout all the episodes. Neither is his victory in Copenhagen mentioned. Thankfully, Jellicoe’s actions in Jutland are supported by the narration although that wording is still weak. In many ways this series could instead be called “Nelson’s Navy”.

And that is where my misgivings start. Nelson was one of the finer admirals of the Royal Navy, but the show completely ignored that Nelson would possibly not have been in the position he was in had he not served under John Jervis in his earlier days. Nor do they mention the great and innovative victories by the same sir John. Lord Howe is completely ignored though he was the first of the admirals in the Revolutionary War to bring home a resounding victory. Likewise, his negotiations with the sailors were very important. A further event which I felt should have been mentioned was the trial of Admiral Byng. In many ways, that trial had to distinctly alter how officers felt about their duty.

And if I now take into account these inaccuracies (or, rather, omissions) in the period with which I am most familiar, the question becomes naturally what has happened to the periods that I am not as familiar with. The authors could have omitted similarly important or tradition-building events, and I would not have a clue. Which is, in the end, the main reason for me being disappointed by this series.

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