John Campbell has put together a significant reference work on the weapons of the major navies of the world during WWII.
I doubt most people read reference books cover-to-cover, but in this case, I did. What’s immediately apparent is that the book contains no overarching narrative. It’s largely a catalog of the naval weaponry used by the major navies of the world in WWII. The book is organized by nation and each section begins with information on general topics such as fire control, propellants, etc., and then moves on to entries on guns, torpedoes, depth charges, and mines (along with some information on bombs and rockets, as applicable). You can clearly tell which navies were dominant in the war since the majority of the book covers weapons from the British Royal Navy, the U.S. Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy, the French Navy, and the Italian Regia Marina. Other countries are covered, such as the Soviet Union, but not nearly to the same degree of detail. The reason is most likely due to the lack of information available.
The book works much better as a pure reference in that you’re meant to flip to a specific entry and read about it. The entries on each weapon are mostly composed of technical details and there’s not much in the way of evaluation apart from how a weapon was well-liked or how a weapon had problems (of some sort). Furthermore, very little is written about weapons development, apart from dates, construction methods, and how subsequent variants represented evolutionary improvements to previous versions.
My issue with the book isn’t about the writing itself, but rather about my expectations. I was expecting more about how each country developed these weapons systems and integrated them into their naval doctrine. Instead, the book is mostly just bare facts and I found it rather boring to read. However, I can’t knock the book simply for not living up to my expectations. This is not a bad book. It’s great as a reference, but after a while, you’re basically just reading a bunch of data tables.
Overall, if you’re looking for an authoritative reference to WWII naval weapons of various nationalities, then this is the book for you. The problem is that the information is largely technical in nature and very dry. Since there’s no narrative discussing weapons development, it makes each entry seem as if they existed in a vacuum. This book is certainly better as a “flip to an entry” reference than a narrative.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (Very good/worth your time).