One difficulty every New Vanguard author faces is how to define the scope of their work. I wrestle with the problem every time I submit a book proposal.
Readers are sometimes unaware how rigid Osprey is about size. A New Vanguard manuscript will contain 15,000 words, plus or minus 500. It will contain 40 images. If the scope of a book is too broad, you cannot to justice to the topic. If it is too narrow, its appeal is too limited.
A New Vanguard on Battleships of World War I is too broad. Including pre-dreadnought classes it would cover well over 200 ships of about 40 different types, from up to nine different nations, launched from the 1890s through 1919. Try doing justice to that with 15,000 words and 40 images.
However, Colossus-class Battleships of World War I is way too limited – three ships whose main claim to fame is being the last British dreadnoughts built with a 12-inch main battery.
I face the same issues with this book.
My first thought was a book on aircraft carriers of World War I. If you define aircraft carriers as ships capable of launching and landing aircraft, there were only three World War I aircraft carriers, Furious, Argus, and Vindictive,all Royal Navy vessels. None were aircraft carriers prior to 1918. (Furious originally only had just a flying-off deck.) My inner Goldilocks said, ‘Too small’.
One third of World War I's aircraft carriers - HMS Argus
My proposal added seaplane-carrying vessels. Or rather, vessels carrying both seaplanes and land planes. (Many seaplane carriers had flying-off decks, and they could and did launch land planes.)
What constitutes a seaplane and aircraft carrier, though?
Over 100 ships carried aircraft during World War I. This figure included warships with flying-off ramps atop turrets, merchant vessels transporting aircraft, and a disguised German raider carrying a seaplane. There were also 50-odd lighters, barges barely large enough to carry one airplane, used to launch or transport aircraft. Add 50-odd different vessels carrying balloons. Two hundred ships? My inner Goldilocks said, ‘Too big’.
SMS Wolf carried a seaplane but was not a seaplane tender
I’ve split the difference. For this book, I decided that a vessel was ‘A Seaplane Carrier’ or ‘An Aircraft Carrier’ if:
- Its primary function was carrying heavier-than-air craft. (Eliminating balloon vessels and warships with flying-off decks on gun turrets.)
- Its structure had been modified (or designed) for aviation functions. It had to have hangers and cranes added for handling aircraft, as well as fueling and other maintenance facilities. (Eliminating ships just transporting aircraft.)
- It had to be self-propelled and capable of blue-water operations. (Eliminating the lighters and barges.)
Doing this reduces the number of seaplane and aircraft carriers to 25 to 30, to which my inner Goldilocks says, ‘Just right’. It gives me enough words to provide a capsule overview of each ship. It also concentrates on the most technically interesting ships.
HMS Campania is more like what I had in mind
None of these restrictions eliminate discussing excluded ships briefly in the book, or using illustrations of things like turret-top flying off decks or ships temporarily altered to launch an airplane. That was all part of the development of naval aviation. But deciding on these limits allows me to weave a story around the meat of the subject: the World War I ships intended to carry aircraft and launch aircraft.
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