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The Dover Patrol 1914-18

Humphreys, Roy

1998, Sutton Publishing
ISBN 0750919671
Hardcover - 222 pages

Type. General history
Pros. Good selection of photos and press clippings of the time
Cons. Poorly researched, one-sided, superficial

During World War One, a group of British destroyers, backed by monitors, trawlers, drifters, and other vessels, operated in the Straits of Dover and off the Belgian coast. This force, called the Dover Patrol, achieved a level of notoriety disproportionate to its size, in large part because of the St. George's Day raid on Zeebrugge and Ostend in 1918 and its important work in closing the Straits to U-boats.

A good book on the Dover Patrol then has the potential to be of great value in understanding these critical aspects of the Great War at sea. Unfortunately, Roy Humphreys' The Dover Patrol 1914-18 isn't that book. Indeed, by using only outdated British sources and relying heavily on a poorly strung together collection of anecdotes, Humphreys' book is difficult to read, superficial, and of questionable accuracy.

Humphreys' work is organized into nine chronological chapters. In each, the author attempts to address the key happenings of the forces assigned to Dover during some period of time. Unfortunately, given the broad range of vessels (from under 100 ton drifts tending mine nets, to 1,000 ton destroyers escorting vessels across the Channel and engaging German destroyers and submarines, and much larger monitors shelling the Flanders ports) plus aircraft and balloons, such an approach proves inadequate. Without a central thesis to build a story around, the tales Humphreys retells are merely isolated anecdotes, often devoid of any greater significance. The resulting transitions between these largely unrelated events are often jarring.

The Dover Patrol 1914-1918 is, literally, a one-sided work - the author makes use of no German source material or even English-language works such as Robert Grant's U-Boat Intelligence, that draw on German records. Most of the works Humphreys does cite are older British works, and Humphreys does at times adopt the jingoistic tone of these books.

Given his choice of sources, it should hardly come as a surprise that Humphreys omits many key facts and gets other things wrong. Even basic information on the composition of German surface forces raiding into the Dover Patrol's area of responsibility is omitted, largely reducing accounts of such actions to "the Huns came and we fought them." While accurate at some core level, such lack of detail does little to give meaningful insight into these actions. British victories are covered in great detail (from the British perspective) while defeats are barely addressed. The action of April 20, 1917, in which two German destroyers were sunk, rates six pages while the action of March 17, 1917 in which a British destroyer was sunk, rates less than one page. The Zeebrugge raid is also presented as a great victory, when in fact it achieved very little of consequence at a great cost in lives.

The use of questionable sources reaches its extremes in the sinking claims for U-boats. The severe problems in the official sinking claims for the Dover Patrol are well documented in both Admiral Arno Spindler's official history of the German submarine campaign and in Robert Grant's works. These are not recent publications - both appeared in the 1960s, at least 29 years before The Dover Patrol 1914-1918 went to press. In spite of this, Humphreys still lists U-boats sunk off Dover that were not even operating in these waters (UB 113, UB 119). He also has a suicidal Paul Hundius taking his UB 103 out through Dover in September 1918, when in fact, if UB 103 was lost on this date, it was while inbound.

While the history of the Dover Patrol presented by Roy Humpreys' The Dover Patrol 1914-1918 matches that found in many dated tomes, that alone does not mean it is accurate. The book adds nothing to our knowledge - indeed it misleads by using outdated information - and often presents it poorly.

Review written by Michael Lowrey.

Published on 10 Dec 2002.

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