This paperback title was first published in 1994 by John Murray and by Pen & Sword Maritime no fewer than seven times from 2007 to this year, an amazing record for a subject that is still being studied in depth along with the many maritime aspects of both World Wars and where the current publisher keeps this broad topic very much alive.
In the preface, Woodman draws attention to the problems of navigating in the polar seas: ‘A magnetic compass forsakes the familiar, comforting horizontal plane expected of it, and tries to dip down towards the vast mass of iron which forms the earth’s magnetic pole. The normally more precise and less variable gyro compass does the opposite and, in seeking a polar star, tilts upwards. Even the projection of the chart is different from that used elsewhere on the earth’s surface. Atmospheric depressions cause overcast, and mist, fog, and ice brume obscure the horizon, depriving the navigator of the use of his sextant, almanac and chronometer. Often ships ran on dead reckoning, or DR, an amalgam of course, speed and an assumed distance, with estimated values for leeway thrown in for good measure, a mixture of inspiration and guesswork over which no two navigators ever agree. Frequently ships, whether naval or merchantman, simply got lost, particularly those separated from a convoy or proceeding alone’