Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway by Jean-Yves Delitte and Giuseppe Baiguera is a graphic novel depicting three naval battles with deeper historical context. Delitte is an official “Painter of the Fleet” and a full member of France’s independent Académie des Arts & Sciences de la Mer (Academy of Arts & Sciences of the Sea). He is an architect and designer by training. Baiguera has been teaching at the Scuola Internazionale du Comics (Academy of Visual Arts and New Media) in Brescia, Italy since 2009. In 2011, he published Ecoguard, a volume distributed in schools to build ecological awareness.
When asked to review a book on great naval battles, I was a bit perplexed. As a Marine, maritime history is part of our history, but the mechanics of naval battle strategy is a bit beyond my learning. As someone who studies history, I was intrigued and familiar with the basics of the three battles in varying degrees. Discovering that this book was a graphic novel, I wondered if enough detail could be written and drawn to make it a useful text.
What I found was unique. Although the naval battles provide the setting, there is also a deeper historical trend running through each battle story. Each story carries a subtle understory or understories. There is much more to Jutland than the two most powerful navies, at the time, facing off. On the surface, it was similar to two men in white dinner jackets getting into a fight, but neither one wanting to finish the fight because he might dirty his jacket. Unlike Tsushima, both navies returned to port reasonably well intact. What was an indecisive naval battle on the surface carried more profound consequences in the war and history. At least two critical points or ideas are placed in the story that shapes the battle’s outcome.
All three stories give more than a battle history. They put the battle in a historical context. The world was changing quickly when Russia and Japan fought the Battle of Tsushima. Woven into the story are internal and external political currents that will shape the future of the world. Battles and wars do not happen in a vacuum, and this collection is an excellent demonstration of the complexities outside the physical battle history.
The stories have a personal view of the events often seen from the elite or officers’ point of view, and the common man in the conscript or volunteer enlisted ranks. Great Naval Battles adds a human as well as a political face to the battles. The graphics in this book add to the writing and complete what the minimal text suggests. For fans of graphic novels, the artwork is very well done and accurate. Overall a very well done history in an easy-to-read and understand format. The complexities are subtle and require the reader’s attention to get the most from the experience. Highly recommended.