Reviewed by Ingo Heidbrink, Ph.D.
Russian or to be more precise Soviet maritime history seems to be one of the most overlooked topics in global maritime history. Of course there is an explanation for this, the obvious language barrier many scholars are facing and the accessibility of relevant archives are only two of the reasons why only very little scholarly research has been published up to now on the history of the Soviet merchant marine. Therefore it needs to be highly welcomed that the book under review tries to close at least some aspects of the existing scholarly gap.
Bollinger provides a detailed account of the development of the Soviet merchant fleet in the period from the Russian revolution to the 1950s that most notably includes a good deal of information about transfers of ships between the Soviet Union and western nations. In addition the book includes a register of the complete Soviet merchant fleet above 900 tons that is without any doubt a most valuable resource for any maritime historian interested in what was going on in the Soviet Union just before the Iron Curtain went finally down. But of course even the most praised addition to the maritime history will have some flaws and that is also true in this case. Foremost it should be mentioned that while the register is definitely an important research tool, the usability of the data included would have been much higher if the data set would have been provided as a searchable database on a CD or via the Internet. Second, although it’s definitely clear that the author did his homework while preparing the book the lack of any direct reference or footnote in the text limits up to a certain degree the usability of the book as a secondary source in the context of professional historical research. Anyhow, it needs to be mentioned that the responsibility of these flaws might be more on the side of the publisher than the author, but the publisher needs to get substantial credit for the simple fact of including this topic into his well renowned series.
In the end it might be criticized that the book is more descriptive than analytical in major sections, despite of a good deal of statistical analysis and a good number of easily understandable graphs, but such a criticism would be at least up to a certain degree unfair. Historical research in a field like the Soviet merchant marine has been a desideratum up to now and before analysis can be done, description needs to be done.
In conclusion the book is a highly welcomed addition to the literature on global maritime history and equally highly recommended to any historian, professional or laymen, who is interested in widening his perspective and in particular to have a look into the maritime history of a country that has been up to now way too often been overlooked despite of its colorful and relevant maritime history.
Dr. Ingo Heidbrink is a professor at Old Dominion University