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Battleships and British Society, 1920-1960

Connelly, Mark L. (2004) Battleships and British Society, 1920-1960. International Journal of Naval History, 3 (2/3). ISSN 1932-6556. (KAR id:7748)


This article will explore the image of the Royal Navy’s battleships in British society between 1920 and 1960. Although much of what follows might be said to apply to Royal Navy as a whole, particularly ‘glamorous’ vessels such as aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers, it is the contention of this piece that the Royal Navy’s battleships by virtue of their sheer size and power captured the public imagination more than any other type of warship. The study of the image of the battleship in popular culture provides a significant insight into the atmosphere of Britain helping to reveal and highlight attitudes not just towards the Royal Navy, but also towards politics, the empire and Britain’s role in the world. Christopher M. Bell’s recent work has revealed that the Admiralty had an ambiguous attitude towards propaganda and publicity in the inter-war years. Disdainful of what it regarded as cheap appeals to the popular imagination, at the same time the Admiralty realised that it had to maintain the profile of the Navy. As foreign navies expanded abroad and the RAF tirelessly highlighted its benefits at home, the Admiralty rather reluctantly became involved in publicity activities.[2] Ralph Harrington’s has recently the great importance of HMS Hood to the British people showing that it was far more than a utilitarian and functional piece of equipment.[3] This article seeks to expand Harrington’s thesis by looking at British battleships in general, and place them within the wider framework of British society between 1920 and 1960, the year in which the last British battleship, Vanguard, was scrapped.[4] The article will examine the political and military arguments behind British naval policy in general, and the attitude towards battleships in particular. From this point, it will go on to the main theme of the piece: an exploration of the image of battleships in British culture, and how they were regarded as symbols of local, national and imperial pride and security. Although many inter-war criticisms of battleships were proven by events during the Second World War, it will be shown that they continued to exert an important grip on the national imagination. Finally, the piece will turn to the case of Britain’s last battleship, HMS Vanguard, and show how it came to symbolise the passing of an era.

Item Type: Article
Additional information: Full text freely available via Official URL below.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Mark Connelly
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2008 13:41 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 09:45 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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