It was back in the late 70s, maybe more likely 80s I think, that I read this book.

The story began in Germany as I recall on the northern coast, set in the late 1900s or early 2000s. It was after a nuclear war. The main character was a sailor on a destroyer. The boilers were fired with wood because oil was not available. The ship sailed to the Atlantic to join a fleet consisting of old WW2 and Cold War ships. One was a carrier operating a motley collection of piston planes. Another was an Iowa-class battleship taken out of mothballs or memorial display.

The fleet sailed for reasons I cannot remember to Asia where it engaged another fleet, maybe off Thailand. During the battle, the battleship fired a nuclear shell into the midst of the melee, sinking vessels on both sides (very unrealistic in that those shells were dismantled in the early 60s). The main character is washed up on shore and the story ends.

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    Sounds like the author was unaware of Operation Crossroads. In short, nuclear weapons have little effect on a fleet in combat formation.
    – Mark
    Jun 14, 2021 at 20:57
  • My First thought was it sounds like "The 7th Carrier" series by Peter Albano. Plot: China deploys a space super laser weapon. It targets high temp engines in the atmosphere, instantly destroying all rockets/jet engine aircraft the moment they are launched. The world instantly scrambles to reactivate old piston engine planes for carriers and gun ships (Battleships, Destroyers, Cruisers) The title ship is a WWII era Japanese 7th carrier that was supposed to be at Pearl Harbor, but became trapped in a glacier cave for 30+ years. But I don't recall if there were Nukes ever used in the books.
    – NJohnny
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


This sounds very much like "The Heirs of Babylon" by Glen Cook, an extremely bleak novel from 1972.

Set in 2193, it deals with a post-nuclear war world. The protagonist, Kurt, lives in a quasi-medieval society in Germany. Every generation a call goes out for "The Meeting", where the surviving city states pool their resources to cobble together a fleet to fight the final battle against the enemy. Kurt's city prepares the Jäger, a refitted WW2 American battleship. Coal is by now so scarce that the ship's boilers are adpted to be wood-burning.

The fleet gathers at Gibraltar, and then makes its way to the Pacific, where as the OP recalls, an atomic shell ("The ultimate horror, the bleak black wicked thing of such hated history") is fired. A nice review is available here.

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    "Every generation a call goes out ... to fight the final battle against the enemy." I'm sure that was purposeful irony by the author.
    – RonJohn
    Jun 14, 2021 at 15:40
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    @RonJohn Absolutely, there is a lot of (very) black irony in the book. Jun 14, 2021 at 17:03
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    I'd never heard of it but this book is now downloaded to my device .....one day I'll get around to reading it!
    – Danny Mc G
    Jun 15, 2021 at 15:25

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