Turret versus Broadside

An Anatomy of British Naval Prestige, Revolution and Disaster 1860-1870

Howard J. Fuller

A sweeping, in-depth examination of the legendary naval controversy which shook the Victorian Royal Navy and climaxed in the foundering of HMS Captain in 1870.
Date Published :
January 2021
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Wolverhampton Military Studies
Illustration :
46 color and b/w
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781913336226
Pages : 381
Dimensions : 9.2 X 6.1 inches
Stock Status : Available


On the 150th anniversary of the capsizing of Britain’s low-freeboard yet fully-masted ironclad HMS Captain, this widely researched, intensive analysis of the great ‘turret vs. broadside’ debate sheds new light on how the most well-funded and professional navy in the world at the height of its power could nevertheless build an ‘inherently unstable’ capital ship.

Utilizing an impressive array of government reports, contemporary periodicals, and unpublished personal papers, this definitive study crucially provides for the first time both a long-term and international context. The 1860s was a pivotal decade in the evolution of British national identity as well as warship design, nor were these two elements mutually exclusive. 1860 began gloriously with the launch of Britain’s first ocean-going ironclad, HMS Warrior, but 1870 ended badly with the Captain. Along the way, British public and political faith in the supremacy of the Royal Navy was not reaffirmed as some histories suggest, but wavered. The growing emphasis upon new technologies including ever heavier guns and thicker armor plating for men-of-war was not ‘decisive’ but divisive, as pressure mounted to somehow combine the range of Warrior with the unique protection and hitting power of American monitor-ironclads of the Civil War. As the geopolitical debate over rival ironclad proposals intensified, aggressively-minded Prime Minister Lord Palmerston gradually adopted a non-interventionist foreign policy which surprised his contemporaries. Turret vs. Broadside traces the previously unexplored connection between an increasingly schizophrenic Admiralty for and against the Captain, for example, and saber-rattling mid-Victorians sinking into an era of ‘Splendid Isolation’.

"Dr. Fuller teaches us a crucial lesson: that circumstances could be far more effective in underpinning British naval supremacy, even at its height, than Admiralty planning." C. I. Hamilton, author of The Making of the Modern Admiralty: British Naval Policy-Making, 1805-1927

About The Author

Howard J. Fuller is Reader in War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton (UK), and a former Fellow of US Naval History through the US Naval Historical Center (now Naval History and Heritage Command), Washington, DC, and Caird Research Fellow through the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. He is the author of numerous books and articles including 'Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenge of British Naval Power' (Praeger, 2007, reprinted in 2010 by Naval Institute Press) and 'Empire, Technology and Seapower: Royal Navy Crisis in the Age of Palmerston' (Routledge, 2013).


"An outstanding look at the ironclad revolution, this is essential reading for anyone interested in this period."

- The NYMAS Review

"Lavishly illustrated, Turret Versus Broadside will appeal to those attuned to nineteenth century naval affairs or the integration of new technologies in complex social and political environments."

- Naval Historical Foundation

"...offers a useful perspective for examining events of the late-nineteenth century, and the effects of the rapid technical innovations that were taking place at that time."

- The Northern Mariner

"It is an academic book and an allegory of Victorian Britain of interest to all. Thoroughly recommended."

- Miniature Wargames

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