Articles, Maritime History, Vessels

Secret Victory

Secret Victory – Ireland and the war at sea 1914-1918
by Liam Nolan & John E Nolan

Mercier Press, 2009, ISBN 978 1 85635 621 3

This book focuses on the two admirals Bayley and Sims who commanded the naval base at Queenstown during the first world war. Little has been written about the first world war at sea on the south Irish coast since Keeble Chatterton wrote Danger Zone in the 1930s. The Nolans have summarised most of what was written about the first world war from some 50 classical secondary sources. The authors illustrate clearly the effectiveness of the submarine campaign in blockading Britain. American destroyer forces came to Queenstown to support the anti submarine effort and more particularly to provide cover for the American troopships en route to France. The American influence increased until the American Admiral took over Queenstown command. By the end of the war the American forces included seaplanes, battleships based at Berehaven, balloon units as well as the destroyer forces. The build up of forces made it easy for Admiral Bayley to look “efficient” compared with his predecessor Admiral Coke whose forces at the time of the Lusitania sinking were woefully inadequate. No new light is shed on events and the section on the Lusitania is particularly devoid of any of the new interpretation published recently by Ballard and O’Sullivan. The classical data on the Leinster is included. While the book is strong on narrative and gives an overall picture of the First World War at sea there is no analysis of strategic or tactical importance of events mentioned. It is accepted that Jutland effectively bottled up the German fleet. However if this were so, there would have been no threat to convoys necessitating American battleships at Berehaven to screen transatlantic troopships. Newspaper reports of the interference with fishing fleets is reiterated but it is clear that propaganda is involved and the ten boats sunk in Irish waters hardly support the allegation of mass attacks. Even the words, allegedly used by the submariners seems quaintly improbable. The book is well presented though devoid of photos. It is generally free of technical errors though the statement on page 228 “by 5 May 1915 there were 34 American destroyers in Queenstown” made me do a double take. Generally the book builds on the importance of the Queenstown naval base story and gives an account of the activity around Ireland which is slowly coming to light in books such as Roy Stokes’ Death in the Irish sea, and U boat Alley, Philip Lecane’s Torpedoed and Senan Molony’s Lusitania. In this aspect it looks like a book compiled from a library not augmented in twenty years.

reviewed by Ed Bourke