I’ve got to be honest and say I rarely turn down Seaforth naval books when they are offered to me. At first glance I had it in mind that this book by the Australian artist Malcolm Wright didn’t do much for me, but it wasn’t so much a case of perseverance as just giving myself a slap that made me bin my original thoughts.

There is a massive amount of information here both in text and in the intricate and immensely varied array of artwork. This book represents a huge project and there are more volumes to come. The author has used years of skill to discern accurate colour schemes from a wide source of photographs. Now, this is where I really took notice of what was happening here, because he rightly points out that the variation in film processes and quality, especially during wartime was vast. I know this from handling film and prints going back over a century doing my nine to five (etc).

Obviously this book can be charged with having a limited appeal, but it offers a colourful look at a black and white world and tells us much more about the skill of the camouflage art used at the time along with a nod to the stunning world of Dazzle ships from an earlier war and how those ideas were refined and applied in the Second World War.

Each chapter enjoys a frontispiece of one of the author’s warship paintings and I have to say I really like them. I hope he won’t be offended when I say they remind me a lot of warship model box art from a lifetime ago and there is a hint of some of the huge maritime canvasses the great cartoonist Carl Giles was wont to produce. All this makes for one very happy bunny in the east wing of WHO Towers.

I suppose I would have been even happier had the book included some of the disparate ships taken up from trade that my grandfather served and eventually died on but there is only so much to be fitted in and the very number of classes and types included here is genuinely impressive.

I’ve never been a fan of seeing original monochrome images getting the colourisation treatment to make them more acceptable to a modern audience. There is none of that witchcraft here – just straightforward artwork backed up by a ton of diligent research. These renditions of that otherwise predominantly black and white conflict really achieve something worthwhile. This is a reference book but I had a pleasant time leafing through it and there is actually an awful lot to learn from it. So if the Royal Navy floats your boat you might just need a copy.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.

Destroyers, Frigates, Escorts, Minesweepers, Coastal Warfare Craft, Submarines and Auxiliaries.
By Malcolm Wright
Seaforth Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-84832-205-9

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.