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Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (Anglais) Broché – 2 novembre 2004

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July 1914

On an afternoon in early July 1914, a middle-aged man with restless, bright blue eyes and curly, iron-gray hair boarded his yacht in the German Baltic harbor of Kiel, and the following morning departed on his annual summer cruise to the fjords of Norway. Two unusual and striking features marked the vacationing traveler: one of these he was eager to display; the other he was even more anxious to conceal. The first was his famous brushy mustache with its extended, upturned points, the creation of a skillful barber who worked on it every morning with a can of wax. The other, hidden from sight, but all the more noticeable for that, was his left arm, three inches shorter than the right. This misfortune was the result of an extraordinarily difficult breech delivery performed without anesthesia on his eighteen-year-old mother, Princess Victoria of England. He was unable to raise his left arm, and the fingers on his left hand were paralyzed. Every doctor had been consulted, every treatment attempted; nothing worked. Now, the useless hand was gloved and carried in his pocket, or placed at rest on the hilt of a sword or a dagger. At meals, a special one-piece knife-and-fork set was always placed next to his plate. To compensate for the helplessness of his left arm, he had developed the right to an unusual degree. He always wore large jeweled rings on his right hand; sometimes, grasping a welcoming hand so hard that the rings bit and the owner winced, the hand shaker said merrily, “Ha ha! The mailed fist! What!”

There were two sides to the traveler’s behavior. He was a man of wide reading, impressive although shallow knowledge, a remarkable memory for facts, and, when he wished, amiability and charm. He had a strong, clear voice and spoke equally well in German and English although his English had the slightest trace of an accent and when he resorted to English slang, which he liked to do, he frequently got it wrong. He “talks with great energy,” said an Englishwoman who saw him often, “and has a habit of thrusting his face forward and wagging his finger when he wishes to be emphatic.” “If he laughs,” said an English statesman who knew him, “which he is sure to do a good many times, he will laugh with absolute abandonment, throwing back his head, opening his mouth to the fullest extent possible, shaking his whole body and often stamping with one foot to show his excessive enjoyment of any joke.” His moods changed quickly. He could be expansive and cheery one day, irritable and strident the next. His sensitivity to suspected slights was acute, and rejection turned him quickly to arrogance and menace. Remarkably, he could switch between personalities like an actor. He had complete control of his facial expressions. In public, he tightened his features into a glowering mask and presented himself as the lofty, monarchical figure his rank proclaimed. Other times, he allowed his face to relax and a softer, milder expression appeared, one indicating courtesy and affability—sometimes even gentleness.

This complicated, difficult, and afflicted person was Kaiser William II, the German emperor and Supreme War Lord of the most powerful military and industrial state in Europe.

The imperious side of William II’s character was the handiwork of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor and creator of the German empire, who inflamed the young prince in his youth with the glory of monarchy. Astride a white horse, wearing the white cuirassier uniform of the Imperial Guard and a shining brass helmet crested with a golden Hohenzollern eagle, William saw himself as an embodiment of the divine right of kings. “We Hohenzollerns derive our crowns from Heaven alone and we are answerable only to Heaven,” he announced, adding that God was “our old ally who has taken so much trouble over our homeland and dynasty.” Ich und Gott were the two rulers of Germany, he declared, sometimes forgetting who was answerable to whom. “You have sworn loyalty to Me,” he once told a group of new army recruits. “That means, children of My guard, that you . . . have given yourself to Me, body and soul. . . . It may come to pass that I shall command you to shoot your own relatives, brothers, yes, parents—which God forbid—but even then you must follow My command without a murmur.” He drew surprising historical analogies. In 1900, sending a contingent of German troops to China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, he shouted to the departing soldiers, “There will be no quarter, no prisoners will be taken! As a thousand years ago, the Huns under King Attila gained for themselves a name which still stands for terror in tradition and story, so may the name of German be impressed by you for a thousand years on China.”

Englishman and German, yachtsman and medieval warlord, bumptious vulgarian and representative of the Deity: William never quite determined who he was. He changed his mind with bewildering frequency, but, in the opinion of his former chancellor, Bernhard von Bülow, the kaiser was “not false but fickle. He was a weathercock whose direction at any given moment very largely depended on the people with whom he happened to associate.” Albert Ballin, who built the Hamburg-America Line into the largest steamship company in the world, would always say, “Whenever I have to go and see the emperor, I always try and find out whom he’s just been with, because then I know exactly what he’s thinking.”

Despite her gold and white paintwork (“gleaming swan plumage,” one passenger called it), the top-heavy Hohenzollern, with her ram bow and bell-mouthed funnels, was the unloveliest royal yacht in Europe. Her navigation officer, Erich Raeder,* described her as a “lumbering monstrosity . . . [that] rolled in rough weather to a point uncomfortable even for old sailors. Her watertight integrity would not have met the safety requirements of even an ordinary passenger ship.” None of this troubled the kaiser, who used her only in the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean, never in the heavier seas of the North Atlantic. In any case, his cruises to Norway were spent mostly at anchor in a spectacular fjord. There, surrounded by sparkling blue water, granite cliffs and dark green forests, plunging waterfalls wreathed in mist, and patches of sloping meadow dotted with farmhouses, William felt completely at ease. Some rules were always observed—no one ever spoke to the kaiser unless he had spoken first—but now, at fifty-five, he was more mature and composed than the youthful Prince Hal of a quarter century before. When he embarked on the first of his all-male yachting trips to Norway, taking with him a dozen friends whom he referred to as his “brother officers,” the atmosphere resembled that of a rowdy junior officers’ mess. By 1914, the atmosphere had become more correct, but the guest list remained all male. William’s wife, Empress Augusta, whom he called Dona, remained in Berlin. “I don’t care for women,” he said. “Women should stay home and look after their children.”

The kaiser’s day on the yacht was rigidly scheduled: mild exercises before breakfast; in good weather, an hour in his small sailboat; in the afternoons, shore excursions or rowing contests between the crews of the Hohenzollern and the escorting cruiser Rostock. These activities, however, were not allowed to interfere with the kaiser’s afternoon nap. To get the most from this hour and a half of rest, William always removed all of his clothing and got into

*Raeder would become a Grand Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the German navy in World War II. bed. “There’s nothing like getting in between two clean, cold sheets,” he declared. At seven, the company sat down to dinner, where the kaiser drank only orange juice sipped from a silver goblet. Every evening after dinner, the party gathered in the smoking room. This summer, along with songs and card games, William and his guests listened to lectures on the American Civil War.

William’s love of yachting—like his decision to build a powerful navy—had roots in his English heritage. His mother, who had married the Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich, was Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter; William was the queen’s eldest grandchild. He considered the British royal family to be his family; when he was angry at his British relatives, he described them as “the damned family.” He always held his grandmother in awe; Uncle Bertie, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, stirred mixed feelings. William sensed—correctly—that Bertie saw him as bothersome and looked down on him as a parvenu. This duality in William’s life—Prussia versus England, Bismarck versus Queen Victoria—warred within him constantly and affected the face he turned toward the public. Indeed, the split personality of Imperial Germany was almost perfectly mirrored by the personality of the kaiser: one moment, warm, sentimental, and outgoing; the next, blustering, threatening, and vengeful.

William measured culture, sophistication, and fashion by English yardsticks. His highest approbation was reserved for the Royal Navy. In his memoirs, he wrote, “I had a peculiar passion for the navy. It sprang to no small extent from my English blood.” For William, the appeal of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s seaside palace on the Isle of Wight, was that Portsmouth, the premier base of the Royal Navy, was only five miles away across the Solent. “When as a little boy I was allowed to visit Portsmouth and Plymouth hand in hand with kind aunts and friendly admirals, I admired the proud English ships in those two superb harbors. Then there awoke in me the wish to build ships of my own like these someday and when I was grown up to possess as fine a navy as the English....

Revue de presse

Praise for Robert K. Massie’s Dreadnought

“Dreadnought is history in the grand manner, as most people prefer it: how people shaped, or were shaped by, events.” —Time

“A classic [that] covers superbly a whole era . . . engrossing in its glittering gallery of characters.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“[Told] on a grand scale . . . Massie [is] a master of historical portraiture and anecdotage.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Brilliant on everything he writes about ships and the sea. It is Massie’s eye for detail that makes his nautical set pieces so marvelously evocative.” —Los Angeles Times

From the Hardcover edition.

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On an afternoon in early July 1914, a middle-aged man with restless, bright blue eyes and curly, iron-gray hair boarded his yacht in the German Baltic harbor of Kiel, and the following morning departed on his annual summer cruise to the fjords of Norway. Lire la première page
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Rollicking recounting of the chains of events as the Admirals tried & failed to come up to the new conditions of war at sea.
British preparations & equipment usually less than Germany's makes for a gripping & frustrating read. The personal traits
of the key players sensitively explained. The fertile mind of Winston Churchill must have been hard to live with in the early days.
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Le sujet est passionnant et écrit avec clarté (le déroulement tactique des batailles reste quand même parfois un peu difficile à suivre pour le non-"native"). Mais attention, il m'est arrivé de noter ça et là, sur des épisodes - anecdotiques - qu'il se trouvait que je connaissais en détail par ailleurs, des erreurs factuelles avérées (après vérification à plusieurs sources). C'est un travail de journaliste, et non d'historien (l'auteur ne donne pas ses sources). Ce genre de petites erreurs jette un peu le doute sur l'ensemble du travail: ou s'arrête la vérité et où commence le roman ? Par ailleurs, les analyses des décisions, des personnages, sont trop tranchées pour être vraiment convaincantes d'un point de vue historique (le récit en gagne en clarté cependant, c'est sûr). Mais bon, 5 étoiles quand même car on passe un excellent moment !
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Un très "gros" livre mais vraiment complet et bien écrit. Explique clairement et dans le détail tous les évènement maritimes de la Première Guerre Mondiale touchant la marine anglaise et les controverses qui s'y sont attachées.
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Amazon.com: HASH(0x9b34bcfc) étoiles sur 5 174 commentaires
96 internautes sur 103 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9b358984) étoiles sur 5 Thoroughly Magnificent 14 novembre 2003
Par John D. Cofield - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Robert K. Massie has produced another masterpiece of narrative history, comprehensive without being dry and fascinating in every detail. In Castles of Steel he takes up the story he started with his 1991 bestseller Dreadnought: the struggle between Britain and Germany for sea mastery during the Great War.
The book begins with the final days of peace in July 1914, when Europe realized that the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand was about to trigger a major war. Massie describes the calculations of the British and German leadership as they moved toward conflict. One of Massie's greatest skills as a writer is his ability to create short but thorough biographical sketches, seen here most vividly in his treatments of Jellicoe and Beatty, the men who were to lead the British Grand Fleet. Massie also has an eye for odd humorous moments, as in his amusing description of the trick a German ship played on an unsuspecting French colony soon after war was declared.
After the war actually begins Massie focusses on the manuevers of the British and German fleets as they prepare for action. Another narrative track traces the steps of the politicians like Winston Churchill and Prince Louis of Battenberg who are setting war policy. Massie's main focus is on the British, and he thoroughly analyzes successes like the Battle of Dogger Bank and disasters like the Gallipoli landings. The climax of the book is the Battle of Jutland in 1916, which was the only major clash between the two navies. Massie also documents the submarine war and details how it eventually brought the United States into the conflict. The last few pages of the book describes the scuttling of the surrendered German fleet at Scapa Flow, symbolic of the enormous waste caused by the whole conflict.
Castles of Steel is a fitting companion to Dreadnought and will certainly be considered one of the most comprehensive, yet accessible, histories of the Great War.
53 internautes sur 57 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9b358db0) étoiles sur 5 Worth The Wait 17 novembre 2003
Par Bruce Loveitt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
For those of you who have read Mr. Massie's "Dreadnought," which detailed the German/British battleship "arms race" leading up to WWI, and who have been waiting for years for the sequel....here it is. And is it great! Fans of the author know that he is a master of narrative history. His books read like good novels, and he excels at capturing personalities with telling anecdotes. At the beginning of "Castles Of Steel" he explains how Kaiser William compensated for his withered left arm, and basically useless left hand, by building up his right arm. William also wore large rings on the fingers of his right hand. He would shake hands with a steel-like grip and watch with amusement as his victim winced. To quote the author "...the hand shaker said merrily, 'Ha ha! The mailed fist! What!' " This small episode not only tells us a lot about William's personality, but the expression he uses also reminds us of his Anglophilia (he was, after all, Queen Victoria's grandson). In a similar way, Mr. Massie conjures up the characters of other people who are important to this story. On the British side: Beatty, Jellicoe, Churchill, Jacky Fisher, David Lloyd George, etc. On the German side: Hipper, Scheer, Tirpitz, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, etc. The major pre-publication concern about this book would have been: could Mr. Massie satisfy not just the fan of narrative history but also the fan of military history. After all, unlike the author's previous books, this book was to be primarily about battles rather than personalities. It turns out that we needn't have had any worries on that score, either. In particular, the descriptions of The Battle of the Falkland Islands and of Jutland are brilliant. The author explains the events leading up to the battles, the strategy, the tactics, etc. He takes us, in a clear manner, step-by-step through the battles and the aftermath. You feel as though you are on-deck with the various admirals as they make their decisions. Mr. Massie also covers the importance of Naval Intelligence during the war - the British, early on, broke the German code and usually knew ahead of time what was planned.(Despite the fact that, seemingly by magic, the British fleet always seemed to pop up whenever the German fleet ventured out to sea, the Germans refused to believe that their codes had been compromised.) Things might have turned out very differently in the several North Seas battles if it weren't for this. Mr. Massie also covers the British blockade of Germany, the Dardanelles/Gallipoli fiasco, the U-Boat War (and the sinking of the Lusitania), the entry of the United States into the war, etc. Another big plus for this book is that it will probably generate disagreement and discussion amongst academics and serious students of the war. Mr. Massie isn't afraid to tell us about who he admires and who he doesn't much care for. Thus, he clearly thinks Jellicoe superior to Beatty (especially at Jutland)and he thinks Jellicoe was treated in a very shabby manner by the politicians - especially David Lloyd George. Mr. Massie, while admiring Churchill, thinks he made many mistakes during his tenure as First Lord (and not just during the Dardanelles/Gallipoli period), and that these mistakes were caused by Churchill's overconfidence, coupled with his total lack of any background regarding naval affairs. Setting aside Jacky Fisher's histrionics and peevish personality, Mr. Massie generally gives the First Sea Lord high marks for his perspicacity regarding military matters. After all, Fisher made the WWI British navy what it was, and he also realized the importance of submarines. The author makes a strong case that Fisher clearly knew that the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign, if done the way it was ultimately done, would be a huge mistake. Churchill, with his youth, energy, eloquence and misplaced (in this case) self-confidence wore down Fisher and, at least for awhile, got the First Sea Lord to shelve his doubts and get "on-board" regarding the scheme. Mr. Massie takes the sensible view that the German use of unrestricted submarine warfare forced a very reluctant Woodrow Wilson to commit the U.S. to the war. While American forces didn't win the war, the huge numbers of fresh troops streaming into Europe made it clear to Germany that she no longer had any realistic prospect of victory - hence, the German decision to accept an armistice. Mr. Massie wisely steers clear of counterfactuals, but it is interesting to think about what might have happened if Germany had resisted the use of unrestricted submarine warfare and the U.S. had stayed out of the war. At the very least, the one million German soldiers who were freed up for use on the Western front due to the collapse of Russia would not have been counterbalanced by the flood of American troops. A minor criticism of the book is the lack of maps. They are few and far between and some more would have been very helpful in following along during the extended battle sequences. But, hey, when a book is this good...well, you can't have everything!
38 internautes sur 42 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9b358fd8) étoiles sur 5 A compelling history of the Great War at sea 6 novembre 2003
Par Bruce Trinque - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I would think that anyone who read and liked Robert Massie's "Dreadnought" should appreciate his new "Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea". As in the earlier book, although the ships and navies of the two rival nations are always at center stage, it is the people who built those ships and directed their activities and operated them and - in this book - fought them that really make the text vivid. And what personalities! Winston Churchill, the extraordinary Jacky Fisher who was the true father of the Dreadnought-type battleships that defined the era, the glamorous Admiral David Beatty who captivated the British public, Kaiser Wilhelm, Admiral Franz von Hipper ... If anything, the narrative in "Castles of Steel" is even more compelling than that of the first book because it deals with the drama and chaos of World War One itself. Massie's narrative lucidly explains the course of the naval war from the very opening days until the German High Seas Fleet scuttled itself after the conclusion of hostilities to prevent its delivery to its enemies. Along the way, several complex, controversial episodes are examined, including the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign and the Battle of Jutland, the great clash of battle fleets towards which decades of naval technical development had been aimed. Massie does not shy away from exploring the bitter in-fighting that erupted after the guns of battle had fallen silent, and he appears to present the arguments on both sides of controversies fairly. Although his portrait of Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty is as an ambitious politician whose directives sometimes seeded chaos rather than order, Massie by no means holds Churchill solely or perhaps even chiefly responsible for the Gallipoli debacle. The admirals and generals on the spot are shown to have repeatedly erred and provided London with faulty advice. With Jutland, Massie's basic sympathy is clearly with the quiet, somewhat cautious Jellicoe rather than with his flamboyant subordinate, David Beatty, who according to Massie later did much to rob Jellicoe of deserved credit while evading blame for his own errors. Although the great dreadnoughts and battle cruisers - the "castles of steel" of the title - are never far from the main narrative thrust, U-boat warfare and diplomatic maneuvering (and the politics of the British Admiralty) are given their due.
Although a long book at over 800 pages, "Castles of Steel" is nonetheless a powerful, fast-moving history of naval warfare as it emerged into the modern era of steel and radio.
28 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9b35b168) étoiles sur 5 Good read, but a disappointment after Dreadnought 18 décembre 2005
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Dreadnought is a fantastic book. Though I am a naval history buff, I recommended this book to my family and eventually almost everybody read it and enjoyed it. After that, perhaps my expectations were too high, because when "Castles of Steel" finally arrived I was sorely disappointed.

Fundamentally, it may be that Dreadnought just tells a more interesting tale. Dreadnought tells how the kaiser's naval ambitions drove Germany into conflict (seemingly unnecessary) with Great Britain thus virtually determining the origin of WWI and arguably from that much of the history of the 20th century. Along the way it draws in other bits of fundamental 20th century history, such as the start of the hunt for Middle East oil to fuel the most modern elements of the British fleet, and early parts of Winston Churchill's career.

In contrast, once the war started the British had an almost insurmountable advantage and German timidity in light of that meant there was very little actual combat. Thus "Castles of Steel" may be anti-climactic simply because the events were. Massie might have been better served if he had trusted his original instincts and ended his study with the start of World War I.

The best parts of the book are the biographical sketches, most memorably of Beatty, a wildly flamboyant character who would be well worth his own biography...except Massie basically has written one in the confines of this book. But no character comes across as well as Fisher and Churchill in Dreadnought. The Jutland account is well done, though not necessarily better than others (there are many, none particularly better than any other). But Corelli Barnett manages to do Jutland some justice in just four pages in his "The Great War", again illustrating how anti-climactic the story is.

I hate to give this book 3 stars, because there is nothing really wrong with it. Maybe I'll just lower your expectations and you'll enjoy it all the more...
13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9b35b0e4) étoiles sur 5 The Forgotten Side of the Great War 28 juin 2004
Par Thomas M. Sullivan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Even a reasonably serious general reader of World War I histories is likely to be far better acquainted with the war on land than the war at sea. After all, what else is there to know besides the Battle of Jutland, the sinking of the Lusitania, the German U-boat offensive and the reactive convoy system? OK, some may have heard of Dogger Bank and recognize that Gallipoli was originally an entirely naval operation until practical difficulties turned it into the disastrous land offensive which has become synonymous with misadventures of the kind. That's it, right? Actually, no, not by a long shot. And if you want to know the "rest" of the WWI story, and perhaps come to agree with the view shared by Author Massie and many other historians that British sea power was the war's ultimate determinant, then this is the book for you.
Another reviewer points out that the book appears to have been largely derived from secondary sources, and that may well be true. But Massie's masterful amalgamation, if you will, nonetheless produces a stunning panorama that if not entirely original in its sources, is surely an example of the very finest scholarship of the kind and an "original" in both its sweep and its marvelous presentation in terms of language and story-telling.
I made the same "secondary source" comment about Winston Groom's 2002 book on the fighting in the Ypres salient, "A Storm in Flanders," but there is between the two works a distinction with a considerable difference. The Ypres story has been written about with sufficient frequency over the last 90 years that any new telling runs the risk of being downright familiar to serious WWI readers, and so it is with "Storm"; I could have sworn that I had in hand only a slight variation of the several works on the subject I have read. Thus, my conclusion that Groom's book amounted to little more than a nicely turned out rehash. Not at all worthless, just of limited value to the serious WWI reader.
Such is not the case with "Castles". The book undertakes nothing less than a thorough account of the entire war at sea and succeeds like nothing else I have ever encountered. Secondary the sources might have been, but the result is indisputably first-rate. Take our "five-star" word for it: you will not only enjoy the read, but will forever after be comfortable that you understand and appreciate the significance of the "forgotten" side of the war.
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