BOOK REVIEW – Blue versus Orange: The U.S. Naval War College, Japan, and the Old Enemy in the Pacific, 1945-1946

Hal M. Friedman, Blue versus Orange: The U.S. Naval War College, Japan, and the Old Enemy in the Pacific, 1945-1946. Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2013, 364 pp.

Review by Joseph Moretz
British Commission for Military History

The role of the United States Naval War College and the planning pursued prior to 1941 in anticipation of having to fight Japan have been surveyed previously. Hal Friedman takes our understanding, though, a step further and examines the style of Naval War College education in the immediate aftermath of the just concluded war. Along the way, Friedman demonstrates the anchor prewar doctrine continued to exert at Newport and the prominence surface action still enjoyed in American naval education, if not thinking, as late as 1946. The focus of Friedman’s attention is upon the abbreviated Command and Staff Course which replaced both the Command Course and the Preparatory Staff Course before the attack on Pearl Harbor and its employment of the war game as a means of instruction and as a method of imparting doctrine.

Necessarily, much of Blue versus Orange is based upon the archival holdings of the Naval War College amplified by appropriate notes citing the best of contemporary naval literature. Friedman has done excellent work capturing the style, manner, and rigor of Newport war gaming and places the college and its coursework in the context of the times. This was a state of flux for the Naval War College, no less than for the greater country. Inevitably, capturing the lessons of the last war remained for the future as, too, an appreciation of what followed Orange as an adversary for the Navy. This and inertia explains why the scenarios presented to qualifiers in 1945-46 remained centered on Japan. This would change, but not for the period covered by Blue versus Orange as Friedman explains.

The work is amply illustrated with photographs, tables and maps drawn from contemporary service publications to support points made by the author. Here, a complaint must be registered. Recognizing that cost and reproduction are real factors in publication, little purpose is served if the scale adopted precludes easy reading.

Friedman begins his survey with an overview of the Naval War College and the changes war had wrought to its proceedings. From this he examines the rule set employed in contemporary games and, if taken to a length perhaps not all will appreciate, it does allow one to acquire a sense of the thoroughness problems were investigated. This groundwork, though, pays dividends when the specific problems qualifiers faced are examined in detail. These range from conducting a search for an enemy force, protecting or attacking trade, covering an amphibious assault and, of course, fighting a fleet action. How these played out is less important than the measures taken beforehand as each protagonist weighed the object, the forces available, considered likely enemy responses and then made their plans. Yet, for all the rigor seemingly implied in the scenarios and their supporting rules, the Director and the umpires possessed wide latitude in setting the initial problems and determining outcomes. Thus, forces lost at times reappear as if by magic. The instructors also corrected student play when an order drafted was confusing or wrong. Whether they should have allowed the error to proceed to reinforce another lesson was probably determined by the greater point at risk in the process.

Blue versus Orange, though, is narrative and not analytic history with Friedman largely avoiding a discussion why such was done. Likewise, the author neither places the problems presented within the greater curriculum taught, nor addresses whether other scenarios centered on the Atlantic and Mediterranean theatres appeared at Newport at this time. Though the latter would have removed focus away from the book’s theme, it would have said something more about the Command and Staff Course.

In truth, the purpose the games served for the Command and Staff Course was not simply to make better strategists or tacticians, but to fashion a better staff officer. This was why logistics and communications featured so prominently in the problems posed, the ever-present, consuming pressure of time and why it was less important that the attributes of Japanese ships and aircraft posited were frequently akin to their American counterparts. It also answers why the problems set routinely had Japanese and American forces of roughly equal value. This is not to avow that the teaching of tactics was absent, but the question remains: Was this the sum total? If, yes, then the U.S. Navy was twenty-five years behind the Royal Navy at this moment in the concentration of ships’ fires and fighting a night action. This reviewer is also struck by the number of Army and Army Air Force officers who were present as students at the Naval War College at this moment. As these officers would never command a fleet, the assignment and roles they played suggests that a corollary objective of the Command and Staff Course and its board maneuvers was to impart an understanding of naval procedure and practice to others. It may have been Blue versus Orange, but it was still Blue playing Orange and the greater need was to understand the methods of Blue.

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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