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Castles of Steel

4.34  ·  Rating Details ·  1,983 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
In August 1914 the two greatest navies in the world confronted each other across the North Sea. At first there were skirmishes, then battles off the coasts of England and Germany and in the far corners of the world, including the Falklands. The British attempted to force the Dardanelles with battleships - which led to the Gallipoli catastrophe. As the stalemate on the grou ...more
Paperback, 880 pages
Published March 3rd 2005 (first published January 1st 2003)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
The thing about World War I that most sparks my imagination is its occurrence at a unique point in history, where the pre-modern technologies of the 19th century entwined with the familiar, modern technologies of the 20th. The result was quaint and disastrous and fascinating to behold. British officers still armed themselves with swagger sticks, important towns were still fortified, and the cavalry remained an important military branch. Meanwhile, poison gas, airplanes, high-powered artillery (a ...more
One of Robert Massie’s books concludes with the line “When the last stroke fell, Great Britain was at war with Germany.”

Another one of his books ends with the sentence “The Great War was over.”

What lies between these two lines is an unparalleled work (more than 800 pages long) of history about the war at sea between Britain and Germany in the Great War. That book is Castles of Steel.

“Castles of Steel” is the sequel to Robert Massie’s 1000 page mammoth Dreadnought which chronicles the national
Jonny Ruddock
Telling the story of the Great War at sea is a massive undertaking, and Mr Massie does it very well. The account is very readable throughout, whether he is dealing with one of the sea battles or the political machinations occurring behind the scenes. One of the difficulties of this topic to my mind is that the climactic event if the sea war occurs roughly halfway through the timeline. Thankfully the narrative doesn't slacked on either side of this event. As with Dreadnought, wonderful pen portra ...more
Robert Massie's approach to understanding World War I through the naval battles is original and thought provoking. It is one of the best he has ever written and the prefect accompaniment to his book Dreadnought. The book tracks how the German and British navies reacted during the war and the strategies employed by both. Whether it is the chasing of cruisers around South America or the battles between the Grand Fleet (Great Britain) and the High Seas Fleet (Germany) the detail and analysis is top ...more
Bas Kreuger
Jun 02, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it really liked it
A slight, but only very, very slight, disappointment in reading Castles of Steel. Massie again writes compulsive and with an eye for detail, but what I miss is the view from both sides as he did in "Dreadnought" where the thoughts and actions of the leading politicians and naval officers was examined. After finishing "Dreadnought" I had a much better understanding how WWI came about and how and why the Germans and Brits clashed over their naval policy.
"CoS" has less policy and diplomacy and much
Jun 16, 2009 Johnny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a hefty volume, but it covers WWI naval history better than any I've read before. Robert K. Massey writes with more color and illuminates more character than Barbara Tuchman (The First Salute and Guns of August) such that the details behind and concerning the build-up to these engagements at sea and the engagements themselves read more like "story" than "history." Frankly, I read Alexander Fullerton's novel about the chase of the Goeben into the Dardanelles and on into the Black Sea, but ...more
Garick Black
Sep 30, 2013 Garick Black rated it it was amazing
Massie has quickly become one of my favorite writers. His blend of technical detail with the human drive really appeals to me. For an American, Massie tells the story the way a European would. There is no quick exposition or future telling of future American glory. Massie understands both the German and British mindset before and during the war. He does not condemn the Germans for being the 'bad guys'. He does point out more flaws in the German thinking than the British, but that can also be att ...more
Jill Hutchinson
This is a "must read" if you are a Massie fan, a student of WWI history or interested in the developing stages of modern sea power. This is a wonderful narrative of the war at sea between the Grand Fleet of Great Britain and the High Seas Fleet of Imperial Germany. Massie weaves a fascinating tale of the tug-of-war between the politicians and the naval commanders on one side, and the power of the Kaiser over the Navy on the other.
Massie gives interesting insights into the personal and profession
Bob H
Dec 04, 2014 Bob H rated it it was amazing
The logical sequel to Robert Massie's Dreadnought, which chronicled the Anglo-German naval arms race, a proximate cause of WWI. Here, the navies built for such an unimaginable conflict now stalk each other, and although the book focuses on the British and German parts of the war it still is valuable for those interested in history or in vivid historical writing. Particularly valuable are the little-known but critical clashes outside Europe, notably the battles off Chile and Argentina that aren't ...more
Dec 20, 2014 Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unlike its predecessor - Dreadnought - this book zips along at a fast pace through the 4 years of war, plus the following few months of internment. The battle chapters, especially those concerning the Falkland Islands and Jutland, are intricately detailed. In between, during the long months of relative inaction, the activities of the various navies are told. Of particular significance is how close the unrestricted U-boat offensive came to winning the war.

Massie attempts to be neutral in judging
Aug 04, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it
Everyone’s recipe for cooking up the First World War is slightly different, but one essential ingredient is that of the arms races between various countries, especially the Anglo-Germanic quest for naval supremacy. England’s island status and naval tradition meant possessing the mightiest navy in Europe, if not the world, was a must, but Kaiser Bill’s fondness for boats meant his empire kept acquiring bigger and faster dreadnaughts. What’s worst, all of them were parked right outside Germany, wi ...more
Allen Stebbins
Aug 28, 2015 Allen Stebbins rated it it was amazing
I well recognize that this book would not be of interest to everyone, but it is to me and I really enjoyed it. It’s a look at the role the war at sea played in the First World War. Both Germany and Britain had built massive modern battleships, dreadnaughts, (named after the first modern battleship, the HMS Dreadnaught) at enormous expense. Both sides realized, especially Britain that one way she could “lose the war in an afternoon” as Churchill wrote was to lose this fleet. Thus each nation was ...more
Apr 07, 2016 Blake rated it really liked it
Audiobook (33 CD's!).
Any audiobook that can keep me listening for ~40 hours is a good book. I had very little knowledge of WWI before listening to this, and while it focused on the war at sea, it gave insight into the overall war with some sprinkling of the politics behind it. The main topic of the book, the sea fleets of Great Britain and Germany, was covered in great depth (no pun intended). The stories of the battles were captivating and detailed. The discussion of the politics of the Admiral
Jul 25, 2015 Ted rated it really liked it
Whereas Massie's superb Dreadnought zeroed in on the political side of the pre-WW1 naval buildup, its sequel Castles of Steel tells of the military results at sea. I normally avoid military histories, but my enjoyment of Massie's rich writing convinced me to make an exception. True, the narrative in Castles of Steel sometimes becomes weighed by down by passages of purely technical description (such as paragraph-length lists of ships, their tonnages, their gunpower, etc.). However, the focus is p ...more
May 14, 2014 Doug rated it really liked it
At it's best when describing the actual ship movements, dispositions and actions during various engagements. As with "Dreadnought" analysis of political developments are somewhat tedious. Very good bibliography and will soon read Gorden's "Jutland" from 1996.
After having the tremendous pleasure of reading "Dreadnought", Massie's book which deals with the decades immediately preceding outbreak of World War I, I had very high expectations for this book. I am absolutely delighted to announce that they have not been disappointed, but actually exceeded.
When it comes to history books, I try to evaluate them from two perspectives - content and narrative. In regard of content, "Castles of steel" - a single volume naval history of World War I - covers admira
Sep 10, 2015 Gavin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One thing about Massie is that while he's focused on the important, he makes sure that you are aware of the context. Dreadnought earned a five star review for not just telling a great story, but also making the motivations of the primary actors clear throughout.
Castles of Steel, while an excellent story, falls down by giving too much context from the British side of the ditch with only fleeting glances into the motivations of the German players. I imagine a book on the Churchill and Fisher bala
Sep 10, 2009 Joe rated it really liked it
I came to this very well written piece of popular history after reading the author’s previous book “Dreadnought” which covered Anglo-German naval rivalry up to the outbreak of the First World War. “Castles of Steel” (a phrase from Churchill) takes a largely strategic view of the conduct of the war at sea and in particular the struggle between Britain and Germany.

There are some exciting stories here and the author tells them well; the chases across miles of ocean, the often terrifying battles and
Feb 23, 2009 Larry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This tome is an in-depth history of the naval war between England and Germany during World War I. England had staked its national security and that or its empire on the Royal Navy. Germany's chronically insecure Kaiser had tried to build a fleet to match that of his cousin, the English King, but had diverted so much of his budget to his Imperial Army that his goal was not achieveable before the War overtook his efforts. The British strategic plan was to take advantage of the Royal Navy's numeric ...more
Paul Foley
Oct 07, 2012 Paul Foley rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The centenary of WWI is near, and Robert Massie's fat book on the naval aspect of the war caught my eye. Honestly I didn't know WWI had a naval aspect. Trenches, biplanes, poison gas, yes... but dreadnoughts? Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea is a comprehensive account of the naval surface actions of that war. It is told mainly from the British (or at least anglophile) perspective: the extensive bibliography lists almost no sources in German. It is also ...more
Oct 13, 2013 Jerome rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unfamiliar with most of the naval aspects of the war except for Jutland, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this. And Massie does provide us with an excellent account of the arms race and buildup to the war as well as an exhaustive study of the war at sea. Please be aware, this is not really a comprehensive look at the entire naval war of 1914-1918. Other than the North Sea actions, the U-boat war, and the Dardanelles, all other aspects are left out. The Russians, Italians, Austrians, Turkish an ...more
Jan 09, 2011 Tneeno rated it really liked it
Robert Massie's sequel to his superb Dreadnought, Castles of Steel depicts the epic naval struggle for command of the seas between Britain and Germany, culminating in the massed naval showdown at Jutland.

Massie's command of his material is superb. He writes clearly, making the most complex situations crystal clear. I particularly enjoyed his description of the running naval battles with the Goeben and other German commerce raiders at the beginning of the war. But Massie's real strength is his de
Nov 27, 2007 Curtis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians Military Naval
Shelves: history
This book is essentially volume two of Massie's work on the development of the dreadnought class warships. This book follows up with their deployment in World War One and consequent strategies that proved unrealistic and how the new and fast developing technology of the submarine affected them. The British Navy had traditionally considered it's role to be that of making a land invasion of the home isles impossible and had planned on a close blockade of the continent in the case of Germany in par ...more
Feb 14, 2010 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military, history
Excellent book, Massie is so good. Sequel to "Dreadnought," tells the story of the naval battles of World War I. World War I was really the first opportunity for a full fledged fleet-level engagement between modern, steel, big-gun battleships, but the German fleet avoided such a confrontation until it accidentally happened at Jutland. Even then, the Germans broke off from the full Armageddon battle sought by the British (and by readers) before it could fully unfold. It never happened again, and ...more
Aug 16, 2016 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Massie is unquestionably a genius with regards to historical narrative. At almost no point throughout the nearly 800 pages of this book did I feel bored or disinterested. Massie has a distinct skill for weaving personal accounts, letters, and impressions into a framework of immense quantities of technical data. The structure of the book, generally focused on individuals and their personalities, allows Massie to construct an epic work of panoramic scale and yet keep the reader intrigued with ...more
Apr 19, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing
Although I'm more of a tank man, there is something majestic and powerful about the battleship - like a Tyrannosaurus Rex of the seas. World War I was simultaneously their peak with the new dreadnought class ships, and the harbinger of their extinction with the rise of submarine and air warfare. Robert Massie does an amazing job of describing the war from the point of view of the British and German navies. Do not think this is just a book about big boats - there are prime ministers and politics, ...more
Leo Slegers
Jan 08, 2016 Leo Slegers rated it it was amazing
Magnificent history of the development of the war at see during first World War. Very well documented, with nice descriptions of the characters and behaviour of the key british and german roleplayers, with analysis of the (small) successes and (huge) missed opportunities, and the key role of the naval power balance on the outcome of the war. And above all, very well written, reads like a detective story. History writing at its best.
Feb 19, 2012 Robert rated it it was amazing
At close to 800 pages long, and with small-size print, ‘Castles of Steel’ is a hefty read, but an enjoyable one. Given that the First World War is better known for the war in the trenches, it is interesting to learn more about how the conflict was fought on the seas. This book covers the battles and skirmishes that took place off the coasts of Britain and Germany, the battle at the Falkland Islands, the British attempt to force the Dardanelles, and the effect that new technologies – such as subm ...more
May 15, 2016 MR J P SMITH rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An essential guide to the men and machines of the German and British navies of World War 1.

I wanted to know more of the First World War's dreadnoughts and this book didn't disappoint. Massie describes both the naval machines of war and the personalities of the people behind their creation and use. This book is to be commended to anyone interested in the subject.
N.N. Light
May 16, 2015 N.N. Light rated it it was amazing
This was a much anticipated re-read for me. Having the pleasure of owning Dreadnought by Massie, I was tingling with anticipation to get my hands on this sequel. Re-reading it gave me the same sense of pleasure. Massie is able to capture, in vivid detail, every aspect of the Royal Navy in it's clash with Germany in World War 1. For a fan of Naval History this is a must own. With the 100th anniversary of World War 1 upon us this is a timely read for everyone. Some take issue with the presentation ...more
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  • The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command
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  • Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy
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  • Empires Of The Sea: The Final Battle For The Mediterranean, 1521-1580
  • Somme
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  • Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
  • The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
  • Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy
  • The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare from Trafalgar to Midway
  • A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front
  • No Man's Land: 1918, the Last Year of the Great War
  • Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
Robert Kinloch Massie (born 1929) is an American historian, writer, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and a Rhodes Scholar.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1929, Massie spent much of his youth in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in Westchester County, New York in the village of Irvington. He studied American history at Yale University and modern European history at Oxford University on his Rhode
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“On August 2, Germany and Turkey had signed a defensive alliance against Russia. The Turks were reluctant, however, to take the actual step into war and the German embassy in Constantinople was recommending application of pressure on the grand vizier and his Cabinet. The sight of Goeben anchored off the Golden Horn was thought likely to offer formidable persuasion.” 0 likes
“This effort notwithstanding, however, certain British institutions were not be trifled with: “Sent hands to tea at 3:30 with Indefatigable to go to tea after us,” Kennedy recorded in his action report. By 3:45 p.m., Goeben and Breslau were pulling away into a misty haze; at 4:00, Goeben was only just in sight against the horizon. Dublin held on, but at 7:37 p.m. the light cruiser signaled, “Goeben out of sight now, can only see smoke; still daylight.” By nine o’clock, the smoke had disappeared, daylight was gone, and Goeben and Breslau had vanished. At 9:52 p.m., on Milne’s instructions, Dublin gave up the chase. At 1:15 a.m., a signal from Malta informed the Mediterranean Fleet that war had begun.” 0 likes
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