- Letter Writer
- Ship design and development, WWII operations, Book reviews, Letter to the Editor
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Enclosed is a response I have written to the review of my book, “Corvettes – Little ships for Big Men“, which appeared in your September issue. Since the review is critical of the book, I assume you will grant me the courtesy of the right to reply.
Frank B. Walker.
As a seasoned journalist and author I don’t usually worry much about criticism, but I feel I have to reply to the comments by W.F.C. in his review of my book “Corvettes – Little Ships for Big Men” in your September edition.
Firstly, in comparing the AMS, generally known as a corvette, with Nelson’s Victory, the point I was making was that Victory’s fire-power was greater than a corvette’s and that Victory’s 12 inch hardwood hull was stronger than a corvette’s 5/16″ steel hull. In saying “in a hove-to battle, Victory would have overpowered any corvette with ease”, I credited my readers with sufficient intelligence to understand that in such a theoretical action the ships would have to be within range of each other, otherwise it would be no contest. Your reviewer, in ridiculing my claim by pointing out that the corvette could have easily sunk Victory by standing off outside Victory’s range, seems to be the only reader who did not realise this.
Secondly, your reviewer claims I regarded HMS Repulse as somewhat of a retread. What I said was: “HMS Repulse had spent so much time in dockyards before the war having her defence against bombs and torpedoes strengthened that she was nicknamed HMS Repair”, and I listed the formidable weapons and armour which Repulse acquired during those spells in dockyards.
Thirdly, your reviewer challenges my claim that Admiral Phillips had every confidence Prince of Wales and Repulse could withstand attacks by Japanese planes. Two British authors, Richard Hough in “The Hunting of Force Z” and David Thomas in “The Battle of the Java Sea“, tell how a close and intimate friendship between Churchill and Phillips was shattered by a disagreement over whether aircraft could sink warships. “Phillips”, says Thomas, was a big-gun man “who held firm opinions on the power and efficiency of the guns of modern capital ships and made no attempt to hide his contempt of the bomber aircraft…. Phillips courageously contended that a modern capital ship, well-armed with anti-aircraft guns, with efficiently worked up and properly trained gun crews, could repel an air strike, even by modern shore-based aircraft. It was a bold contention. It was also a bad one”. Phillips’s views on bombing were contrary to Churchill’s and his persistent opposition led to Churchill no longer seeking his views. Weekend invitations to Chequers stopped and the opportunity to get rid of Phillips came from the formation of the Far Eastern Fleet. Phillips was appointed Commander-in-Chief, even though he had never commanded a battle fleet or even a battleship – his last ship had been a destroyer, many years before. Hough says Phillips knew there was a strong chance of enemy bombing attacks on Prince of Wales and Repulse, “…but he did not doubt that his big ships would survive these, as capital ships at sea had always survived even the most intensive air attacks since the beginning of the war”.
Fourthly, your reviewer comments that my book is not a serious work of history. I know it isn’t. Having majored in history at University I have a bit of an idea of what is required for a serious work of history and that is not what I set out to do. What I tried to do was to give the relatives and descendants of corvette sailors a rough idea of the arduous conditions of life in corvettes and to tell them of the feats of these chunky Australian-designed, Australian-built and Australian-manned ships. If book sales and letters of appreciation are any indication, I can, in all modesty, claim to have had a bit of success.
Replying to Frank Walker:
I think it is a reviewer’s right, if not his duty, to be critical provided his criticism is genuine, i.e. he believes in what he says and it is not intentionally malicious or waspish. The term “criticism” does not necessarily imply destructive criticism, and constructive criticism can be either complimentary or uncomplimentary. Which he chooses to use is the reviewer’s prerogative.
I answer Frank Walker’s comments:
1. “Victory” versus an A.M.S. It was a strange and ambiguous example (and quite misleading to this sole unintelligent reader) which he used in his endeavour to illustrate his point concerning the vulnerability of the hull of an A.M.S. He mentioned nothing of the restrictions which he imposed on the corvette in his hypothetical battle and I, presumably mistakenly, understood him to mean a real battle.
2. H.M.S. “Repulse”. My words were “…which left the impression that the author etc. etc…” I certainly did not “claim”. I thought then, and still do, that it was a derogatory nickname probably used by sailors from another ship.
3. Admiral Phillips. Having had the benefit of some further information from Barney Ogle (“The History of H.M.A.S. Maryborough“) and relevant excerpts from Captain Roskill’s book “Churchill and the Admirals“, I concede that my comments were not as deeply researched as those of Frank Walker. However, I still stick to my point that the hopeless position Phillips found himself in when the Japanese attack on Malaya commenced was not of his making but was the fault of those in London. Thereafter there was no course open to him other than the desperate sortie he made.
4. “A serious work of history.” I don’t understand this comment. I said it was not meant to be a serious work of history, and Walker says “I know it isn’t”. He then outlines what he “tried to do”. My entire last paragraph is in praise of the way he has achieved that aim! I congratulate him on his success. Also, I am delighted to receive some feed back about our “Review”, which in itself rewards in part the hours spent in editing this journal and agonising over book reviews.
W.F.C. (aka Bill Cook)