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Churchill and Fisher (Hardback)

Titans at the Admiralty

Maritime > Naval > Royal Navy Maritime > Seaforth Publishing Military > Biographies WWI WWII > Churchill

By Barry Gough
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 600
ISBN: 9781526703569
Published: 25th September 2017



Awards & Publicity

  • Churchill and Fisher was awarded the Certificate of Merit at the annual Maritime Media Awards, 2018.


  • Winner of the 2018 Keith Matthews Award for Best Book


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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.

"I felt this book might give me some valuable insights into this ill-fated operation and Churchill’s relationship with his admirals. It certainly did that, but also so much more."

Intelligence and National Security Journal - Reviewed by the director of the Churchill Archives, Cambridge

The book brings in the wider story of Naval history at this time, such as how, with the close of the nineteenth century, the realisation became apparent that Britain's strategic and diplomatic position was changing, and that changes would be necessary. The story is built up further via the alarm bells that were ringing in the Admiralty with regard to Germany’s quick rise as a naval power.

Detail is built up on the process of Fisher’s reforms which included an innovation allowing more ships to be in a state o reverse readiness for any emergency

The photographs as quite special, such as Winston Churchill and Lord Fisher in 1913, and HMS Dreadnaught, often viewed as being Fisher’s response to the increasing threat of Germany.  Amongst many special images, surely has to be a youthful looking Churchill shaking hands with Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1909 during German military manoeuvres.

Jon Sandison, Freelance

reviewed by John Brooks for

Warship Annual, May 2019

This work, monumental in both size and scope, covers the influence of two powerful protagonists holding strong and decisive views on the meaning of 'Admiralty' while sharing an unequivocal belief in the primacy of the Royal Navy. The book covers the politics of peace and the testing severity of war, from the bitter infighting to secure the building of the new Dreadnought class battleships to the threats arising from U-boat operations and the abortive Dardanelles campaign. This superb study makes compelling reading and provides the context from which readers can form their own judgement about the wisdom of decisions taken at the time.

Maritime Foundation

Love them or loathe them – and many fell into one or other of these camps – neither Churchill nor Fisher can be ignored by anyone writing seriously about the Admiralty in the early years of the twentieth century. Barry Gough has devoted several years of his scholarly life to a study of both men in this era and the result is this fascinating book subtitled Titans at the Admiralty.

International Journal of Maritime History, August 2018 - reviewed by Malcolm H. Murfett, King’s College London, London, UK

This learned sojourn is an excellent book, one that is destined to become a classic in the literature of maritime history.

The Northern Mariner, Winter 2018 – reviewed by Louis Arthur Norton West Simsbury, Connecticut

Should appeal to anyone interested in military history.

Toy Soldier & Model Figure magazine issue 234 – reviewed by Leo Winston

Gough, who has written widely on British naval history, examines the complex relationship between First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill and Admiral of the Fleet John Fisher and its consequences for the Royal Navy and the conduct of World War I from 1910 though its outbreak in 1914 and onward through its end in 1919.

Clearly rather fond of both men, Gough is by no means an apologist for their errors, and subjects both to some serious criticism at times. This is required reading for anyone with an interest in the Royal Navy and the Great War at sea.

New York Military Affairs Symposium

Barry Gough is an accomplished naval historian and author, winner of the prestigious Mountbatten Literary Award by the British Maritime Foundation. This account of the two Titans at the Admiralty is a splendid work of scholarship describing the explosive and controversial relationship between them. He cleverly entwines the two biographies to focus on the time together in the Admiralty of these two totally different characters, the ambitious young bull and the tired, old, cantankerous and ferocious lion, with
an amazing thirty-three year age gap between them.


The book is worth reading and good value physically.

Navy News, March 2018 – reviewed by Eric Grove

This is an extraordinary story brilliantly told of two equally extraordinary men and the epic parts they played, parts that have and indeed still divide opinion.

The Gallipolian

This enthralling book by an eminent Canadian naval historian is a work of profound scholarship and interpretation concerning two very remarkable figures of twentieth-century British history. The careers of the statesman Winston Spencer Churchill and the admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher variously converged and clashed during the First World War, and in reviewing a book about them I must first declare an interest: I have no ties with Churchill, but I long ago let it be known that in the afterlife I propose to have an affair with Jack Fisher, if he will have me, and I have written a book more or less to that effect.

You may think this a frivolous disqualification, but perhaps an emotional, even a fanciful reviewer is right for the task, because Churchill and Fisher turns out to be above all a seething record of human passions and frailties – rivalries, resentments, regrets and reconciliations, all exemplified by the relationship between two towering champions of the human condition. Barry Gough has himself heightened the book’s sense of personal drama by surrounding his central characters with powerful expositions of the state of the world around them – the decades of international rivalries, jealousies, fears and menaces that exploded into the First World War. Churchill and Fisher played their own parts in that overture, but it was far, far wider in its dramas than Whitehall, SW1, their own particular stage.

Click here to read the full review.

Times Literary Supplement, January 24th 2018 – reviewed by Jan Morris

This is a most enthralling story, well told by Barry Gough. He has distilled and weighed the rancour, political intrigue, strategic and operational challenges and the (mostly) dismal record of the war at sea up to Jutland. The well-known politicians and admirals return to life with all their proclivities – admirable and less so. Gough gives us a fresh interpretation of these portentous times which build on the writings of previous generations of historians and naval commentators. It is a book to be valued as a standard treatise of the times for students of the period – whether they are in the ‘fishpond’ or not.

Read the complete review here.

Australian Naval Institute, Tim Coyle

At 600 pages this book is by far the lengthiest of my Christmas picks but will reward the reader’s investment in time with a dramatic narrative of two titans of the Admiralty locked in perilous destiny at the start of World War I. The author is a prize-winning historian and biographer, well fitted to undertake such a monumental saga, a story for the ages. For those wishing to delve deeper extensive references and an 18-page bibliography are provided.

Julian Stockwin action-adventure historical fiction

As featured in competition

Pathfinders International, October 2017

With most historians writing about the Western Front as the centennial recollections continue, this foray into the lives of Churchill and Fisher as they battled for naval supremacy over Tirpitz's triumphs comes at just the right time. Barry Gough's examination of the disputes and agreements that saw these two giants of the British government present their respective cases, is an essential piece of first world war history.

Books Monthly

The author has produced a portfolio of well-received and prize-winning naval histories. This work is an impressive re-evaluation of the Churchill and Fisher papers that includes two very helpful photo-plate sections – Very Highly Recommended.

Read the complete review here.


As featured in.

The bookseller 16/6/17

About Barry Gough

BARRY GOUGH was professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario until retirement in 2004. An expert on the maritime history of the Pacific Ocean, he has published widely on Anglo-Canadian naval subjects. His dual biography, Historical Dreadnoughts Marder and Roskill, was published by Seaforth in 2010.

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