- Book reviewer
- History - general, Book reviews
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title:The Fragile Forts: The Fixed Defences of Sydney Harbour 1788-1963 Author: Peter Oppenheim, Publisher: Australian Military History Publications, Loftus NSW.
The Fragile Forts is a joint venture between the Australian Army History Unit and Australian Military History Publications and makes a valuable contribution to the rich history of the Sydney Harbour fixed defences. Peter Oppenheim traces this history from the arrival of the First Fleet and the early days of this fledgling outpost of the British Empire. He tracks their development through the colony’s fears of foreign invasion to the point at which Australia became responsible for her own defences, describing the impact of the Great War and the threat of Japanese invasion during the War in the Pacific. Oppenheim concludes with the dismantling of the great guns which protected the harbour.
The book is meticulously researched, abundantly illustrated with drawings, photographs and maps, and features a comprehensive index. Oppenheim’s descriptions are generous in their detail of ordnance and fort design. The author provides more than a technical description of the forts and guns of Sydney Harbour – he unfolds the complex military, political, social and economic factors which shaped the establishment of the defences, retelling the story behind the countless schemes, reports, inquiries, appreciations and commissions relating to the defences of Port Jackson. It is an intriguing account of colonial fear and isolation, technology and independence, with hints of intrigue and early colonial jealousy told fluently and stylishly, making the book compelling reading.
The Fragile Forts caters for a broad readership, including military historians; those inspired by the architecture of the fixed defences, such as the Martello tower on Fort Denison; those gunners fascinated by the vast array of ordnance; and others who simply have an abiding interest in the spectacular heritage of Sydney Harbour.
An architect by profession, Peter Oppenheim taught at the University of NSW School of Architecture and spent ten years researching and writing his book, working closely with a number of key heritage organisations, including the National Artillery Museum at North Head and the Royal Australian Artillery Historical Company. His book is a major contribution to the literature which describes the rich heritage of the Sydney harbour defences, making a significant contribution to the history of Australian artillery in particular and Australia’s military history in general.
It is a book that is long overdue, is readable, and comes thoroughly recommended.
Reviewed by Colonel Terry McCullagh, CSC, President Royal Australian Artillery Association (ACT)