Book Review –A Searchlight on the Navy

A Searchlight on the Navy by Hector C. Bywater

A Searchlight on the Navy by Hector C. Bywater is an examination of naval strengths and goals of the world powers in the interwar period. Bywater (1884-1940) was a British journalist, military author, and spy primarily focused on naval affairs. His 1925 work The Great Pacific War correctly predicted many of the actions that the Japanese and Americans took during WWII; indeed, it was later revealed that many military leaders had used it as a resource in their strategic planning.

A Searchlight on the Navy was originally written in 1934 as the world was building up for another conflict. The London Naval Treaty of 1934 set to limit submarine and naval shipbuilding. Previously, the Washington Treaty worked to limit navies sizes and type of ships. This wasn’t just a military decision. Capital ships were expensive and that burden was placed on the country’s’ taxpayers. European countries were already drained economically by WWI and limiting naval build up by all countries would allow money to be put to better use. The United States, although having two large coastlines, did not see a reason for a large navy. No country was close enough to present a threat. However, Japanese expansion in the Pacific did present a hindrance for trade and influence.

It seems many of the pre-war ideas remained in place during the interwar years. Britain with the largest navy wanted to hold its place of power to ensure the free flow of goods throughout the empire. America was criticized by Britain for building a merchant fleet instead of relying on British ships. Japan was looking to spread its influence in the Pacific. Italy and France were locked in their own arms race. France still feared Germany. Germany began expanding its military beyond pocket battleships.

Bywater gives a detailed account of ships, armament, and advancements in the interwar period. Naval limitations were a complex issue with each party wanting their own goals and ships that best served their interests. Technologies were changing from guns sizes to the introduction of aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers provided an interesting discussion as to their role in the navy. Were they part of the naval fleet or mobile airfield that should be covered by another treaty.

Naval limitations seemed to be a subject more complex than nuclear arms reduction talks of the Cold War. Complicated not only by the type and number of ship, but also the number of countries involved. With the Second World War half a decade away, the promise of naval reductions seemed doomed. Although less than two decades previous, Europe experienced a devastating war, it did not seem willing to prevent the next war. Japan still riding high from its victory over Russia and its current expansion into Asia saw little to stop its rise to power. Bywater gives a British look at the moment between two world wars.


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