BOOK REVIEW – The Navy of the Nuclear Age, 1947-2007

Paul H. Silverstone, The Navy of the Nuclear Age, 1947-2007, The U.S. Navy Warship Series, Routledge, 2009. 321 pp. Illustrations, glossary, appendices.

Review by Sebastian Bruns,
Institute for Security Policy & PhD candidate, University of Kiel, Germany.

Naval vessels are a multifaceted military asset. Some are built as a class and purchased in greater numbers, while others are one of a kind vessel.  Even ships of the same class tend to differ in subtle ways from one another.  Some have endured repeated combat tours, while others have served quietly and diligently in peacetime missions; some have been transferred to partner nations, and others await their end as part of the Reserve Fleet or as towed drones for live-fire target practice. From aircraft carriers to cruisers, from coastal minelayers to submarine tenders, from naval icebreakers to fleet tugs, the selection of vessels employed by the sea services of the United States (the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard) during the post-World War II period is nothing short of overwhelming. The advent of the nuclear age (both in terms of propulsion and armament) and the Cold War were just two of the factors that shaped U.S. warship development after 1945.

The most famous ships such as the Maddox (engaged in the Gulf of Tonkin events in August 1964), Pueblo (seized by North Korean forces in 1968), Stark (damaged by two Exocet missiles fired by Iraqi aircraft and fire in Persian Gulf in May 1987, claiming 37 lives), and Cole (damaged by terrorist attack in Aden harbor, October 2000, killing 17), to name but a few, are well known to the public. The service history of most naval vessels can only be uncovered in command histories, cruise books, deck logs held in archives and libraries, and of course the Naval History & Heritage Command’s monumental series, The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS), which is available online at http://www.history.navy.mil/DANFS.

Paul Silverstone’s book, The Navy of the Nuclear Age is an illustrated compendium of all ships in service for the United States between 1947 and 2007. This is the fifth book of the U.S. Navy Warship Series, with the previous issues covering The Sailing Navy (1775-1854), Civil War Navies (1855-1883), The New Navy (1883-1922), and The Navy of World War II (1922-1947), respectively.

To organize the work, Silverstone has divided the various ships into chapters for aircraft carriers, submarines, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, escorts/frigates, amphibious ships, patrol combatants, mine warfare ships, tenders, transports and supply ships, fleet tugs, sealift ships, U.S. Coast Guard, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ships. Combatant vessels are listed first, with auxiliaries following. Particulars are given for each ship, including name, hull number, builder, construction dates, tonnage, dimensions, machinery, endurance, armament, and armor. One of the more intriguing features is the service record for each vessel. It is a capsule summary of the ship’s DANFS entry, but still serves as a starting point to learn more about the ship’s history. The data is completed by dates of foreign deployments involving possible or actual combat, and the fate of the vessel after it was decommissioned or stricken from service.

A U.S. Navy chronology, a list of type designations, a chapter on naval ordnance, and a list of principal shipbuilders worldwide complete this voluminous book. It serves as a thorough reference for anyone interested in a particular class of ships, or a specific vessel. As such, it does not replace archival research on a topic of interest, because it does not provide extensive information outside of the listed data bits.

It is a valuable addition to any library and for anyone working professionally on American naval history. Unfortunately, the high price tag ($150) will likely dissuade many from purchasing the book. The availability of most of what the book has to offer on the web (especially the most sought-after data such as concise information on a service history or a particular vessel’s details) and the formidable competition by similar works (i.e. Jane’s Fighting Ships) add to the impression that this book has yet to find its way in making a major impact on the work of professional naval historians and the interested public alike.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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