The naval flank of the Western Front

by Mark D Karau
published in 2014 by Seaforth Publishing, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books
illustrated paperback 227 pages plus appendices, bibliography, notes, index.
cover price £16.99
ISBN 978 1 84832 231 8
reviewed by Chris Baker on 9 April 2015

This book, “The naval flank of the Western Front: the German MarineKorps Flandern 1914-1918” was previously published in 2003 by Greenwood Press and Praeger under the title “Wielding the dagger: the MarineKorps Flandern and the German war effort 1914-1918“. It is rather scarce and consequently highly priced in the used book market.

The “naval flank of the Western Front” refers to the Belgian North Sea coast, a hotly contested stretch of water that was vital to Great Britain and Germany alike. German possession of the coast meant that in the ground war there was no flank that could be turned by any attack made by the allies, and the Germans set about making it impregnable to attack from sea or land. It also offered the opportunity for taking seaborne warfare to Britain, for the Belgian coast was within short sailing time of the English Channel ports and the way to the Irish Sea and the Atlantic. In the developing war, it also meant that Germany could establish air bases as close as was feasibly possible to that same seaway. The British understood this all too well. It is often forgotten that a strategic aim of the Third Battle of Ypres launched in 1917 was to remove Germany from the Belgian coast: and few people will have heard of the British Operation “Hush”, a planned D-Day-like amphibious landing with tanks that was planned for 1917 but which in the event never took place. Given the importance of operations in this area it is rather surprising that there have been relatively few works examining what happened, and even fewer delving into a force created specially for it: the MarineKorps Flandern.

The author explains the creation of the force, an unusual all-arms combination of naval, air and ground troops – the latter including garrisons of a string of gun batteries that the Germans built along the coast as well as more mobile battalions. The narrative takes us from early days in 1915; the construction of the batteries and actions against the Royal Navy; to offensive operations by torpedo motor boats and other small craft; and on to the MKF role in supporting U-Boat warfare. It covers the British attempts against the coast including Op “Hush” and the famous Zeebrugge and Ostend raids of 1918, but only fleetingly mentions the German Operation “Strandfest” which effectively killed two British battalions in a matter of minutes and made the success of “Hush” doubtful. It is well written and certainly well referenced in terms of its sources; somewhat academic in style, perhaps. There is a small selection of reasonably good maps and photographs, many from private collections.

An important work and very welcome in reprint.

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