Peter Padfield

On behalf of his daughter, author Fiona Padfield, Casa Forte Press announces the passing of Peter Padfield, one of Britain’s leading historians. The family will release further details.

It was a great honor to get to work with Mr. Padfield and call this extraordinary man a friend.

Peter Padfield is one of Britain’s leading historians, a scholar-seaman and freelance author who has followed his own path. He has written books of exceptional merit across five decades, the number of his books, and the range of subject matter demonstrate a distinguished zest for challenging comfortable orthodoxies, whether it be about the Titanic disaster, (he was the first person to come to the defense of Captain Lord), or by demonstrating Grand Admiral Karl Donitz’s early and profound attachment to the most extreme aspect of the Nazi ideology, at a time when many were re-imagining the war criminal as some kind of hero.  Works of this quality changed opinions that had become ossified into unthinking dogma.  Padfield is one of the most original maritime historians writing today:  Maritime Supremacy (a trilogy for which Padfield won the Mountbatten Prize and amassed a set of glowing reviews), is groundbreaking by linking the values of free trade, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and democracy to Britain’s trading history and Naval power.   His books, noted for the beauty of the writing and economical expression of ideas, never fail to link the inner humanity of the subject, with the wider context making Padfield’s contribution to the history of the sea, as a seaman, historian and analyst unparalleled in modern times.  

“Padfield’s thesis is revolutionary” – the late Ludovic Kennedy

…this lucid, passionately argued and beautifully written history ranks among the finest of recent times.” Saul David/ Sunday Times

“Coming from one of Britain’s leading historians Maritime Supremacy presents a mighty thesis: that all civil liberties essentially derive from sea power”. N.A.M. Rodgers/The Times Literary Supplement

Maritime Supremacy is listed in the ‘all-time top ten books about the sea’ by Professor James R Holmes, Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College.  He comments:

“Padfield is among the most original maritime historians writing today.  He argues, in brief, that overseas trade empowers a mercantile class that demands transparent, accountable public finances and administration.  Navies thrive under such circumstances.  Padfield thus tries to explain why different European powers fared differently on the high seas…this is history with a purpose.”

Most notable achievements:

At the outset:  The Titanic and the Californian – the first book to seek to clear Captain Lord of the Californian of the censure he received at the British Court of Inquiry into the loss of the Titanic for not going to the rescue of the survivors.

An Agony of Collisions followed, giving examples of collisions at sea assisted by radar, and suggested reform of the international collision regulations in the light of radar.

Then came the biographies of great naval gunnery officers and a history of great gunnery at sea and of great gunned battleships.

Biographies of Nazi leaders followed for which Padfield received death threats: his biography of Grand Admiral Karl Donitz showed that far from being the unpolitical German naval officer he had been portrayed, Dontiz was an early extreme Nazi.

In Hess, Hitler and Churchill: The Real Turning Point of the Second World War Padfield shows Churchill’s moral greatness resisting Hitler’s blandishments for a compromised peace.

His focus on naval campaigns by which the west and primarily Great Britain spread its influence around the world culminated in his trilogy Maritime Supremacy, for the second volume of which Padfield won the Mountbatten Prize, amassing glowing reviews.  Maritime Supremacy is a groundbreaking work linking the values of free trade, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and democracy to Britain’s trading history and Naval power.

He has appeared regularly on both television and radio discussing Donitz and the Titanic, including Ludovic Kennedy on Donitz and BBC Start the Week.

For six years he spearheaded the campaign against turning RAF Bentwaters into a civil airport.  The campaign was a success.  His involvement helped protect an area of outstanding natural beauty in Suffolk from aeroplane noise.

He is one of the last remaining crew from the 1957 transatlantic voyage of the Mayflower II.  He has remained in continuous contact with the Plimoth Plantation ever since the voyage and has been a guest of honour at important anniversaries.  

Peter Padfield came to maritime history not as an academic but as a seaman with a passion for the sea and practical experience of sailing the world’s oceans.  This love and knowledge of ships and the sea marks his writing.  He rose to international renown in his field without formal training or funding but through the force of his own industry, research, insight and writing.  Despite having no credentials beyond his original training as a P&O Officer his literary output enjoys worldwide respect, not least in the USA, and has reached a wide readership.  Perhaps it is the lack of a university education in history that has resulted in his unique voice.


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