The Challenges of Command: The Royal Navy's Executive Branch Officers, 1880-1919, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Challenges of Command

The Royal Navy's Executive Branch Officers, 1880-1919, 1st Edition

By Robert L. Davison


304 pages

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In the period leading up to the First World War Britain's naval supremacy was challenged by an arms race with Germany, fuelled not only by military and geo-strategic rivalries, but an onrush of technological developments. As this book demonstrates, steam turbines, bigger guns, mechanical computing devices and ever increasing tonnage meant that the Royal Navy was forced to confront many long-cherished beliefs and sensitive social and political issues. By looking at key continuities over the period of 1880-1919 the study explores how the service and its officers attempted to deal with fundamental changes in professional requirements, and how cultural and social values underwent a transformation in the run up to the First World War. In particular the book looks at how the executive officer corps was presented with a revolution in naval affairs. As the Navy was transformed into an industrialized workplace, officers were challenged by an alteration in the 'culture of command' as arrangements carried over from the days of sail began to breakdown under the practical requirements of a steam and steel fleet. The book charts the ebb and flow of the debate and the various ideas put forward to deal with the structural challenges faced by the Royal Navy. The writings of reformers and commentators such as Fisher, Beresford, Corbett, Laughton and Mahan provide the background to the specific problems faced, and are analysed both in relation to the nature of the reforms implemented, and more crucially, the performance of the 'Senior Service' during the First World War.


'Davison’s account is always intriguing and throws a different light on some of the internal battles fought within the pre-1914 Royal Navy. It is a refreshing look at an old problem and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the organizational development of the Royal Navy.' Mariner’s Mirror 'Davison’s analysis is original in conception, significant in substance, and made readily accessible through clear writing and well-structures exposition of argument… The Challenges of Command is a fine achievement that sets a high standard for future work in this area.' Canadian Journal of History 'We have been told often enough about the varied difficulties facing British society during the forty years or so before the outbreak of the First World war… What we have not had before is a study of how British naval executive officers reacted to the challenges; here Robert Davison enters a new and fertile area.' International Journal of Maritime History

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Social change and the officer corps; The 19th-century officer corps; Threats to professional status; 'Oh, theses magicians and necromancers, they are ruining us' - the clash of sailors and engineers; The reinvention of the officer corps; History as a professional tool; Journals and staffs: organizational change; Auxilium ab alto - the experience of war; Conclusion; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Robert L. Davison, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada.

About the Series

Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies Series

Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies Series
The Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies Series is the publishing platform of the Corbett Centre. Drawing on the expertise and wider networks of the Defence Studies Department of King's College London, and based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College in the UK Defence Academy, the Corbett Centre is already a leading centre for academic expertise and education in maritime and naval studies. It enjoys close links with several other institutions, both academic and governmental, that have an interest in maritime matters, including the Developments, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), the Naval Staff of the Ministry of Defence and the Naval Historical Branch. The centre and its publishing output aims to promote the understanding and analysis of maritime history and policy and to provide a forum for the interaction of academics, policy-makers and practitioners. Books published under the eagis of the Corbett Centre series reflect these aims and provide an opportunity to stimulate research and debate into a broad range of maritime related themes. The core subject matter for the series is maritime strategy and policy, conceived broadly to include theory, history and practice, military and civil, historical and contemporary, British and international aspects. As a result this series offers a unique opportunity to examine key issues such as maritime security, the future of naval power, and the commercial uses of the sea, from an exceptionally broad chronological, geographical and thematic range. Truly interdisciplinary in its approach, the series welcomes books from across the humanities, social sciences and professional worlds, providing an unrivalled opportunity for authors and readers to enhance the national and international visibility of maritime affairs, and provide a forum for policy debate and analysis.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Oceania