Thursday, 29 October 2015

Crisis on the Mediterranean: Naval Competition and Great Power Politics, 1904-1914 - Jon K Hendrickson

This review has been published in the Journal of the RCAF.

Title: Crisis on the Mediterranean: Naval Competition and Great Power Politics, 1904-1914
Author: Jon K Hendrickson
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
ISBN: 978-1-61251-475-8
Year: 2014
Pages: 219 

The world of today is so radically different from that of pre-World War 1 that it is difficult to even appreciate the challenges and concerns that nations of that period faced as they struggled with international relations. Central to this, the Mediterranean Sea, represented for many nations a key transport and security concern as well as a common border between many of the (then) worlds leading powers: Italy, France, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Each of these had its own agendas and visions of the region and, in many cases, these were at odds with the desires of their neighbours. Hendrickson's book traces the convoluted lines of international naval diplomacy between the nations of the Mediterranean during the period 1904-1914. It reinforces the fact that the consistent underlying theme in international relations is the fact that nations are never altruistic in their dealings with each other and that these relationships are nothing if not flexible.  

The author takes a chronological approach to the period, each chapter focussing upon a specific component of the interactions. This follows an initial synopsis of the environment and history of the region in order to set the tone for the reader as well as providing a start point from which to move forwards. His contention is that the natural state of affairs for the Med is anarchistic with no clear player holding a dominant position for an extended period of time; thus the British presence, controlling the Med for the last quarter of the 19th century, was a deviation from and not the norm. The start point for the books narrative is 1904 and the recognition by the British that they are no longer able to retain their naval hegemony in the Mediterranean. This has a series of knock-on effects for them including but not limited to: their ability to retain influence over the Ottomon's, the requirement for additional ground forces in order to retain control of their territories in Malta, Egypt and Gibraltar and the necessity to proactively seek allies with whom to share the burden of 'presence'. 

Hendrickson then goes on to trace and analyze the key milestones that delineated the relations between the international players as the Med came into play once again. Thus chapters are assigned for the rise of the Italian and Austro-Hungarian navies during their war scare between 1909 and 1911, their ultimate raproachment and the impact that this had on their strength in the Med. Following this, the decision by the Italians, bolstered by their confidence in their relations with Austro-Hungary and desirous of a greater influence in Med affairs, to invade Libya. The unanticipated impact of this was profound for Italy's relationship with both the Alliance countries and France. He then looks to the reaction of Britain and France to these unfolding events and how the international situation with Germany forced Britain to adopt agreements that were counter to her natural inclinations. The author goes on to shed light on the deepening relationship between Italy and the Alliance as a result of the reaction of the Entente nations to her expansionism. He then closes the main narrative with a discussion on the strategic impact to Frances war plans of the 19th Corps. Composed of the most most hardened and battle experienced soldiers in the French arsenal, it was stationed in Algeria and needed to be transported to France in order to fulfil its role in the Western campaign plan. The importance of this unit to France and the Entente is underscored by Hendrickson dedicating his final chapter to how France and Britain grappled with this problem.
Hendrickson masterfully balances technical analysis of fleet capabilities with a broader study of the operational and strategic implications of the political maneuverings being undertaken by the key players. His narrative style is clear, concise and facilitates an easy understanding of the complex issues facing the different dancers at the 'Med' Ball. He provides a comprehensive bibliography for further research and at the end of each chapter, a synopsis of the events covered. A fascinating and thoroughly researched book. Provides an in-depth look at the role of Italy and Austro-Hungary in the lead up to the First World War, covering areas normally lost in the German/British Naval race and the emphasis on the armies. An outstanding book.

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