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Battleship / Douglas Reeman / Nautical Fiction / Royal Navy / World War II

Battlecruiser, by Douglas Reeman

The action in Battlecruiser takes place from 1942 onwards. Battlecruisers shared the very large main armament of battleships, usually were of the same size, and had about the same armament. However, they were lighter, had less armor, and were faster than battleships. The perhaps best-known example of a battlecruiser is HMS Hood (see picture below). The ship Reeman features in Battlecruiser is HMS Reliant, presented as a sister ship to HMS Renown, HMS Repulse, and HMS Hood. A huge, powerful ship.

At this time, the seas are haunted by Hitler’s deadly U-boats and cruisers. After the mysterious death of the Reliant’s last captain, Captain Guy Sherbrooke, one of only eight survivors from a ship sunk by a German battlecruiser, the HMS Pyrrhus, is given command of this ship. A symbol of everything the Royal Navy stands for, the battlecruiser boasts the speed of a destroyer and the firepower of a battleship.

Battlecruiser is one of Reeman’s many good navy fiction novels. There is lots of action on land as well as on the sea. The story is very well told, and we follow Captain Sherbrooke in his relationships to his admiral – a somewhat gung ho guy, his fellow officers, and in a romantic affair onshore. The action flows smoothly and is well-paced. There are major gunnery duels with a German heavy cruiser and an Italian battleship. And the ocean battles are also complimented by flying scenes which are every bit as exciting as the naval clashes.

Reeman’s writing is realistic and good. Battlecruisers at this point in time were basically outdated – along with the battleships – and of very limited practical use, and Reeman shows us why this is the case. Also, he shows in a very realistic fashion how the battles in the book were much less are one-sided than they might seem: a single 8-inch shell could pierce the battle cruiser’s flimsy armor, while the battleship’s greater strength may be outweighed by superior gunnery.

From some points of view – technical, in terms of research – this is a more solid book that for instance Alastair Maclean’s more famous HMS Ulysses. However, Battlecruiser is not quite as suspenseful as Maclean’s Ulysses. Still, it is a good, very well written and suspenseful book that I liked a lot.