Engage the Enemy More Closely

ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY examines the operations of the Royal Navy from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean and thence to the Pacific. The author attempts to cover the whole of the wartime experience at sea—although on occasion he is compelled to present little more than a sketch. Still, the work moves smoothly from fleet actions to expeditionary rescues, as well as convoy battles, submarines, and amphibious assaults.

The RAF finished the war with aircraft and techniques undreamed of or even suspected on the day the panzers rolled into Poland. The British Army extracted with such great difficulty from the beaches and docks of Dunkirk, was significantly different from that which landed on the Normandy beach in June, 1944. The British Navy, on the other hand, save for the multitude of small escort craft created on short notice, fought the war with the vessels of the prewar decades.

Moreover, while the sister services were gifted, for the most part, with valuable respites from the fray to recoup and reorganize, the navy fought its most desperate engagements and incurred the largest percentage of its losses before the war was half over. Therefore, the navy paid in blood for faulty procurement decisions, technological roads not taken, bureaucratic misjudgments, and even criminal misconduct.

Barnett is not averse to laying blame on what he deems the appropriate doorstep—regardless of where that might be. This work is more than a tad controversial in its assessments. The British Air Staff and Winston Churchill receive substantial hard knocks, while the “blue water” strategy pursued in the Mediterranean is labeled and documented as an expensive failure. The organizational structure of this work necessitates a certain amount of repetition, but Barnett’s decision in this regard is not without some merit.