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Fighting the Great War at Sea (Paperback)

Strategy, Tactics and Technology

WWI Seaforth Naval Photographic Books The Great War at Sea WWI Photographic Books

By Norman Friedman
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 416
Illustrations: 300
ISBN: 9781526765499
Published: 11th November 2019


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John Lyman Book Award Winner

Winner of the Naval and Maritime Science and Technology category at the 2015 John Lyman Book Awards...

... AND shortlisted for ‘The Society for Nautical Research Anderson Medal for published works on Martime History’

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The overriding image of the First World War is the bloody stalemate of the Western Front, but although much of the action did occur on land, the overall shape of the war even the inevitability of British participation arose out of its maritime character. It was essentially a struggle about access to worldwide resources, most clearly seen in the desperate German attempts to deal with the American industrial threat, which ultimately levered the United States into the war, and thus a consequence of British sea control. This radical new book concentrates on the way in which each side tried to use or deny the sea to the other, and in so doing it describes rapid wartime changes not only in ship and weapon technology but also in the way naval warfare was envisaged and fought. Combat produced many surprises: some, like the impact of the mine and torpedo, are familiar, but this book also brings to light many previously unexplored subjects, like creative new tactical practices and improved command and control. The contrast between expectation and reality had enormous consequences not only for the course of the war but also for the way navies developed afterwards. This book melds strategic, technical, and tactical aspects to reveal the First World War from a fresh perspective, but also demonstrates how its perceived lessons dominated the way navies prepared for the Second.

This is a beautiful and encyclopaedic book with pretty much everything you would want to know about in it. I left this to read over Christmas and I wasn’t disappointed at all, it covers the 1914-1918 period. The book looks at the various navies involved and how each one tried to rule the waves or deny others from using the seas to their advantage. The book also looks at wartime technologies and changes and how the war was fought out. In a time when warfare and technology changed a lot, the book looks at the various weapons available to the various navies such as torpedoes, guns and mines.

This is a beautiful and very well researched book, it certainly is aimed at the person with a particular interest in naval warfare, but I don’t see the book disappointing any reader. The book is £45, but I see this book as being worth every single penny in interesting value. This is probably only the second time, but I would say this book is worth 5 stars and worth every star, one of the best books that I have read in 2019.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Profound and brilliant account.

Model Boats, January 2020 – reviewed by John Deamer

As featured in

Scuttlebutt Edition 55

Friedman takes a fresh look at the ways each side tried to gain command of the sea in what proved to be a four-year campaign. He describes the rapid wartime changes in ship and weapon technology: mines, torpedoes and aircraft - and in the way naval warfare was fought, the tactical practices and changes to command and control.

As with many of Friedman's books, the extensive and informative captions to the many well-chosen photos are essential reading, along with the main narrative. This book is highly recommended.

Navy Today, June 2016, issue 200 – CDR Richard Jackson RNZN

... By bridging the gap between warhsip design and strategy, Friedman underlines the importance of operational realities to writing military and naval history. This is a valuable contribution in itself.

International Journal of Maritime History, February 2016 - David Morgan – Owen

A testament to Norman Friedman's deep knowledge of the naval side of the First World War.

Scuttlebutt edition 52

Norman Friedman's Fighting the Great War at Sea is a lavishly produced book from Seaforth, getting the entire naval story of the Great War into a single volume and making it read well is not [easy] and Norman Friedman has done a fine job.


Kievin Rowlands, Commander, RN.

This impressively large book provides a detailed and well-illustrated account of the war at sea during 1914 to 1918. This new book concentrates on the way in which each side tried to use or deny the sea to the other, and describes rapid wartime changes, not only in ship and weapon technology, but also in the way naval warfare was envisaged and fought. The impact of new inventions, such as the mine and torpedo, is discussed, but this book also brings to light many previously unexplored subjects, such as creative new tactical practices and improved command control.

Strategic, technical and tactical aspects are all discussed to show World War I from a fresh perspective, while also looking at how the lessons learned dominated the way navies prepared for the next war. Despite its expense, this thoroughly researched and well-produced book is a must for anyone with an interest in World War I warships and the development of naval technology.

Ships Monthly

Dr Friedman brings together technical, and tactical aspects of the First World War and demonstrates how its lessons dominated the way navies prepared for the Second World War. Contains a valuable list of resources, more than 40 pages of chapter notes and a wealth of illustrations.

Flash, Trinity House Journal

Fighting the Great War at Sea is a very well-produced book, lavishly illustrated with a wealth of good photographs and substantial informative captions...

... This reviewer learnt a great deal from the book. Recommended.

The Mariner's Mirror

Friedman's book is fair and balanced and provides an excellent analysis of the entire war at sea... One of Friedman's finest works and a 'must have' for any naval enthusiast. This is probably the most interesting and informative warship book that I have read in the last 12 months and consequently is very highly recommended.

Warship World

Packed with detail...written in such fully-rounded prose and with fleshed-out context that it draws anyone in who is curious to look at the whole board.

Speed Readers

For anyone looking for a serious and in-depth account, lavishly illustrated and copiously referenced, it may well be indispensable.

Warships International Fleet Review

Norman Friedman has the remarkable ability to explain how technology, geography and the lessons thought to have been learned from the Russo-Japanese War influenced Navies in different ways. This thought-provoking book can genuinely be said to give the reader a fresh perspective and greater understanding of the conflict than any previous work... This outstanding book connects and makes sense of all the strands that affected naval warfare a century ago.

Warship World

Coinciding with the centenary of the Great War this sumptuously produced book with a foreword by the First Sea Lord serves as an excellent introduction to any study of the war at sea during the global conflict.
An excellent book, well-illustrated and beautifully produced by Seaforth to their usual high standard, most strongly recommended.


[Norman Friedman] writes in a lucid and eminently readable style as well as communicating his wealth of research and deep knowledge of his subject.
A treasure trove of monochrome archive photographs of the ships, battle formations, actions and the damage the ships sustained in battle also punctuates this definitive work.
A fascinating and very informative large, comprehensive and superbly produced volume on the subject of naval warfare at seat during the Great War, particularly seen from the viewpoint of its major European protagonists.

Ships in Scale

This new book is a typical work of Friedman, based on massive research in original sources and a deep understanding of the relationship between technology to tactics and strategy...Lavishly illustrated with excellent and well produced photographs...Complemented by extensive, excellent, informative and well-informed captions...The author is admirably prolific and an example to us all in hard work and productivity...Required reading for anyone interested in the maritime warfare of the 20th century...A compelling and convincing historical analysis of World War 1.

Navy News

Norman Friedman is a master of the evolution of naval strategy, tactics and technology. He has the ability to lead the reader along the pathways that influenced decision making and national policy during World War I. 'Fighting the Great War at Sea' is a rewarding read that will leave many wanting to return again and again just to see what they might have missed the first time.
Highly recommended.

Australian Naval Institute

A typical product of Seaforth of Barnsley, lavishly illustrated with excellent and well-produced photographs, some well known but others less so. All however are complemented by extensive, excellent, informative and well-informed captions.
The overall quality of the book and its contents make it required reading for anyone interested in the maritime warfare of the 20th Century.

Navy News

Fighting the Great War at Sea will delight anyone who is interested in naval history.

Defense et Securite Internationale

This excellent book is a very well researched and compiled overview of the Great War at sea. It examines the technology, tactics and strategic aspects and rewards with some insights that I had not appreciated. For example, why was Scapa Flow chosen as the base for the Grand Fleet? The photographs are well chosen to highlight the technical aspects that the author presents. It is a large and very rewarding book that deserves to be read slowly to really absorb the mass of information presented.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy
 Norman Friedman

About Norman Friedman

Norman Friedman is a strategist known for his ability to meld historical, technical, and strategic factors in analyses of current problems. He has frequently appeared on television, and he has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on naval topics. His forty books include, for Seaforth, two-volume histories of British cruisers and destroyers, a history of naval gunnery in the battleship era (Naval Firepower), a history of naval anti-aircraft gunnery during the two World Wars (Naval Anti-Aircraft Guns and Gunnery), World War I Naval Weapons, and, most recently, Fighting the Great War at Sea: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology. A history of British battleships is currently in preparation. All of these books are based largely on primary documents created by the Royal Navy and related organizations. As a result, they tend to shed new and sometimes surprising light on what might seem to be well-understood events and developments. All of them reflect Dr. Friedman’s interest in the way in which national strategy and policy and technology intersect. Dr. Friedman has also contributed articles on current naval technology to the annual Seaforth Naval Review. He wrote a series of design histories of U.S. warships, ranging from aircraft carriers to small combatants, based on U.S. Navy internal papers, five editions of a guide to world naval weapon systems, and accounts of trade-offs in warship (including submarine) design and naval radar technology. Other topics range from the role of space systems in naval warfare, the character of modern naval command and control (network-centric warfare), recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to histories of the Cold War, to naval strategy and to naval technology, including the possible role of unmanned (but armed) aircraft in carrier operations.

Dr. Friedman’s Cold War history, The Fifty Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War, won the 2001 Westminster Prize as the best military history book of the previous year, from the British Royal United Services Institute. To date he is the only American to have been so honored. His Seapower as Strategy won the Samuel Eliot Morrison prize awarded by the Naval Order of the United States in November 2001.

After receiving a Ph.D. as a theoretical physicist at Columbia University, Dr. Friedman spent eleven years at a New York think tank, the Hudson Institute, headed by Herman Kahn, who was famous both as a futurologist and as a strategist. Much of his work there involved writing scenarios for possible future conflicts -- many in places which are still of great interest, such as Korea. Scenario-writing demands the ability to focus on the essentials of a situation, and on the forces likely to drive it. Dr. Friedman left Hudson as Deputy Director for National Security Studies. He then spent a decade as in-house consultant to the Secretary of the Navy. Among his projects for that office was a series of studies of likely future developments in various areas, beginning with the fundamentalist Muslim uprising then enveloping Algeria, and including likely developments around the Indian Ocean. Other projects included a contribution to the formulation of post Cold War U.S. naval strategy and participation in a study of the future of U.S. surface warships. Dr. Friedman served as futurologist for the U.S. Marine Corps headquarters in 2002-2004. In 2013 he wrote a history of the MRAP (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected) vehicle program as a study in successful rapid (unconventional) procurement, under contract to the MRAP Joint Program Office. He has also written an official history of U.S. Navy air defense missile systems (including anti-ballistic missile systems).

Topics Dr. Friedman has studied under contract to government agencies and to major government contractors have included the nature of future naval warfare, the defense transformation effort (as reflected in attempts to develop network-centric types of warfare), naval command and control as a model for network-centric warfare, the development of U.S. and British aircraft carriers (for the Naval Sea Systems Command and for the Office of Net Assessment, respectively, the latter as a study in defense transformation and the adoption of foreign innovations), missile defense, the future shape of the U.S.Marine Corps, the contribution of the U.S. Coast Guard to homeland defense, the future of the U.S. aerospace industry, the potential development of precision weapons, the U.S. industrial capacity for industrial mobilization, U.S. strategic targeting strategy and competitive policies, scenarios for conflict in Europe and Asia, the cost of current and future naval aircraft, nuclear proliferation (incentives and deterrents), prospects for torpedo countermeasures, the possible future shape of mine countermeasures, and the tactics of long-range anti-ship missiles, The naval missile study, conducted at the Naval War College, contributed towards the U.S. Navy’s technique for targeting anti-ship Tomahawk and was an early example of network-centric warfare. The paper which resulted from this study was said to have been very influential in the navy’s adoption of what amounted to network-centric concepts.

Dr Friedman served on the 1989 U.S. Navy study of future surface combatant characteristics and later on a navy panel reviewing U.S. Navy R&D on ship hull and machinery topics. He gave the keynote address to a classified ONR meeting on the future of surface combatants, looking out 25 to 50 years and taking Moore’s Law into account in evaluating the likely prospects of stealthy ships. During 2010 Dr. Friedman contributed to a National Academy of Sciences study of the future of shipbuilding in the United States.

Dr Friedman has lectured widely in forums such as the U.S. Naval War College, the Naval Postgraduate School, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, the Air War College, the Australian , British, and Canadian junior and senior national staff colleges, the Royal United Services Institute, the British Ministry of Defence, and at a series of seminars for the Naval Air Systems Command managed by the University of Virginia. In the fall of 2002 Dr. Friedman served as the Royal Australian Navy’s Synott Professor, lecturing on seapower in several Australian cities. He was keynote speaker at Royal Australian Navy historical conferences, in 2009 on the theme of Commonwealth naval cooperation and in 2013 on World War I as a maritime war. In 2014 he was a keynote speaker at the Royal Navy Museum conference on the Anglo-German Naval Arms Race leading up to World War I.

For some years Dr.Friedman was Visiting Professor of Operations Research at University College, London, concerned mainly with the formulation and consequences of ship operational requirements. For about thirty years Dr. Friedman has presented numerous commercial lectures (for defense and and naval professionals) on various defense topics. A hallmark of these lectures is their firm grounding in current international political and social trends, rather than simply in technology or in military considerations.

Dr. Friedman writes a monthly column on world and naval affairs for the Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute. His writing has appeared widely in periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Naval Forces, Military Technology, Jane’s Navy International, Jane’s International Defence Review, Joint Forces Quarterly, Asia Pacific Defence Reporter, and Naval History.

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