The battle of Copenhagen in which everyone's favorite naval officer, Lord Nelson, vanquished the Danish fleet and foiled...


THE GREAT GAMBLE: Nelson at Copenhagen

The battle of Copenhagen in which everyone's favorite naval officer, Lord Nelson, vanquished the Danish fleet and foiled Russia's attempts to break the British Navy's blockade of Napoleonic France is minutely and forcefully relayed by Pope, a longtime student of 18th century naval warfare. Though technical maneuvers and the positioning of guns and ships of the line inevitably occupy much of Pope's narrative, he does manage to impart the wider political significance of this historic engagement which, ironically, ""was completely unnecessary"" (the Russian not the Danish fleet ought to have been the target) and would not have been fought had it not been for the diplomatic ineptness of the British themselves. Pope does an excellent job in describing the character of the 18th century Navy -- the jousting for promotions, the narrow careerism and the rigid formalism of the Fighting Instructions which left very little room for individual initiative or tactical imagination. The fall guy of Pope's story is one Admiral Hyde Parker, who subscribed, more than most, to the prevailing philosophy of si no fa, non falla (if you don't do anything you don't make mistakes). Parker's lassitude was in fact fairly characteristic: before Copenhagen the established rules of naval warfare decreed that the object of battle was to penetrate enemy lines and capture, if you were lucky, one or two ships. Nelson, the maverick, changed all that; he sought nothing less than ""the total destruction of each and every enemy ship."" Thus, unlike most of the old fogeys in the British Navy, Nelson was a ""modern""; he instinctively understood the concept of total war; he wished to annihilate the enemy. Pope champions this dramatic break with the then gentlemanly rules of naval warfare as the epitome of progress (though the old way cost far fewer lives and did far less material damage). Pope also contends that he wants to rescue Nelson from the clutches of ""romantic writers"" who have puffed the legend from that day to this -- but this proves difficult to do since Lady Hamilton is an inescapable part of the Nelson saga and Pope, like Nelson's other biographers, can't resist the heartthrobs of the ""fretful lover."" For those who like the genre, The Great Gamble will be a stimulating addition to the Nelson corpus.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972