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A vivid study in the politics and stress of high command, this book describes the decisive roles of young Winston Churchill as political head of the Admiralty and the ageing Admiral ‘Jacky’ Fisher as professional master and creator of Dreadnought, locked together in perilous destiny. Upon these ‘Titans at the Admiralty’ rested Allied command of the sea at the moment of its supreme test, the challenge presented by the Kaiser’s navy under the dangerous Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz.
Churchill and Fisher exhibited vision, genius, and energy, but the war unfolded in unexpected ways. German cruisers escaped to Constantinople bringing Turkey into the war, and though Coronel’s disaster was redeemed at the Falklands, Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet was forced to seek refuge from U-boats; the torpedo and mine became prominent, to German advantage. There were no Trafalgars, no Nelsons. Press and Parliament became battlegrounds for a public expecting decisive victory at sea. Then the ill-fated Dardanelles adventure, ‘by ships alone’ as Churchill determined, on top of the Zeppelin raids brought about Fisher’s departure from the Admiralty, in turn bringing down Churchill. Wilderness years followed, with Churchill commanding a battalion on the Western Front and Fisher chairing an inventions board seeking an electronic countermeasure to the lethal U-boat.
This dual biography, based on fresh and thorough appraisal of the Churchill and Fisher papers, is a story for the ages. It is about Churchill’s and Fisher’s war – how each fought it, how they waged it together, and how they fought against each other, face to face or behind the scenes. It reveals a strange and unique pairing of sea lords who found themselves facing Armageddon and seeking to maintain the primacy of the Royal Navy, the guardian of trade, the succour of the British peoples, and the shield of Empire.
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