View From the Quarterdeck: April 2016

chadbournHistorians, and those interested in history, are readers.  Thucydides anticipated this fact when he wrote his famous account of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in the 5th Century BC.  He said that his purpose in writing about this great war was to tell the story of events in what he anticipated would be a monumental conflict which, he believed, in one way or another, and in much the same ways, would be repeated in ages to come. In writing about the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides touched upon practically all of the great issues of policy and statecraft, war and strategy, with the possible exception of nuclear weapons.  His account was intended as a “possession for all time” and a guide for future commanders and statesmen alike.  In 1939 Winston Churchill attested to his legacy when he reputedly said that the only two books people needed to read to understand what was happening in that age were Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.  Thucydides is widely read to this day in military academies and service colleges around the world.

In 1941 when the United States went to war, so too did books.  Molly Guptill Manning’s recent monograph (2014) When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II tells the powerful story.  Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops, and 20 million hardcover donations were collected in response to Nazi book burning.  More were needed.  In 1943 the War Department and the publishing industry came up with an extraordinary program to meet the desire for books: 120 million inexpensive, lightweight paperbacks comprising 1,200 different titles covering every conceivable subject and genre were produced as part of the pocket-sized Armed Services Editions.  Collectors’ items today, these books were carried everywhere by American soldiers, sailors and airmen.  Manning argues that the accessibility of mass-market paperbacks, in conjunction with the GI Bill, helped build a new literate middle class in the post-war era.

With these observations in mind on the power of books we begin a new series with this issue of IJNH entitled “What Are They Reading?”  Rather than full book reviews this column provides simply an opportunity to share with colleagues a brief description of any good book you may have encountered recently.  We suspect most titles will be historical in nature, but they do not have to be.  The intent of these articles is simply to offer recommendations on interesting books of potential interest to our readers.  Please forward future contributions directly to the Editor.  We hope to make this a regular feature in future issues of the journal.

This is by far the most robust and diverse issue of IJNH in recent years.  Our lead article by Will Edwards discusses the importance of the concept of the fast carrier task force that proved so essential to the course and outcome of the war in the Pacific from 1941-1945.  Stories by Ken Wenzer and Daniel Roberts provide new insight on the planning for and conduct of the Spanish American War.  Roberts’ piece in particular reminds us of the importance of taking off our blinders and clear thinking in the development of strategy.  The Minister of Marine of Spain in 1898 was quite confident on the eve of the war with the United States that the Spanish Navy would be victorious because American vessels were crewed by “people of all nationalities” where desertion rates were high.  Admiral George Dewey had these reports read aloud to his crew on Olympia, one in twenty of whom where Chinese, as they steamed towards Manila, accompanied by much laughter and jeering.  After the war Dewey recommended fifty of his Chinese sailors be honored with American citizenship for their service, only to be ignored by the Congress.

Dr. Robert Gates reminds us of the important contributions of the Navy Lab system to a modern Navy in a technological age.  Gregory Gilbert shares insights of the Australian armed forces gained from their campaigns in Borneo in 1945.  Ambjorn Adomeit writes about the strategic thinking that undergirded American perceptions on acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands, especially the contribution of Alfred Thayer Mahan.

I call your special attention to the story by distinguished scholar Phillip K. Lundeberg, Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution.  Lundeberg served at sea as an American Naval Officer in World War.  His ship USS Fredrick C. Davis was the last American warship sunk by a German submarine in the Battle of the Atlantic.  After the war . Lundeberg completed his Ph.D. at Harvard with the renowned Samuel Elliot Morrison, in the process becoming the acknowledged expert on the Battle of the Atlantic.  He is the sole surviving member of the team of historians who helped Morrison produce his monumental History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (15 volumes.)

The team of historians responsible for compiling the 15 volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, c. 1952, Main Navy Building. (Left to Right) Ensign Richard Saltonstall Pattee, USNR (wrote for Sub war in Pacific); Roger Pineau (office manager); Don Martin (Yeoman to Morison); Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, USNR; Lt. Phil Lundeberg, USNR

Dr. Lundeberg has long been concerned over the ethics underlying the treatment of German survivors and prisoners of war captured near the end of the war, particularly those imprisoned and interrogated at Fort Hunt in Virginia, just north of Mount Vernon.  The article published here is a professional paper he delivered in absentia at “The Battle of The Atlantic Remembered,” an  Academic Conference coordinated by Robert van Maier, Editor-in-Chief, Global War Studies, at Liverpool, May 23-24, 2013.  Dr. Phil as he is affectionately known today would be the first to say the story is far from complete and represents a unique opportunity for further academic investigation.  As recent political events suggest, the ethical issues surrounding interrogation remain relevant.

Finally, we continue our ongoing examination of various naval archives which may be of interest to naval historians and other researchers.  Our focus in this issue is an extended look at the Naval Historical Collection at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI, by Head Archivist Dara Baker who confirms she would be delighted to work with scholars interested in these specialized collections.  We hope our readers find this series as a whole helpful.  As Editor I would welcome suggestions of other archives for future inclusion in this series.  Please forward ideas to either Dara or myself.

As always, we hope you will share news of the International Journal of Naval History with colleagues and friends.  All they need do is Google IJNH to find us.  Perhaps you have scholarly studies you would like us to consider for publication.  For those supervising graduate work in the academic world we invite you to encourage your students who have made new or interesting discoveries of their own to submit articles for consideration.

Dr. Charles C. Chadbourn, III
Editor, International Journal of Naval History
Professor of Strategy, U.S. Naval War College

(Go to April 2016 Table of Contents)

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Vol. 13, Issue 1: About the Authors

Will Edwards Picture

Will Edwards
From Fleet Exercise to Fast Carrier Task Force

William Edwards is a recent graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies , concentrating in Strategic Studies and International Economics in Strategic Studies and International Economics. His paper “From Fleet Exercise to Fast Carrier Task Force” was the culmination of a lifelong interest in WWII naval history and a capstone research paper under Dr. Thomas Mahnken. Will is currently an international producer at The Cipher Brief, where he covers security issues in the Asia-Pacific pursuing a research analyst career focusing on East Asian Security and US foreign policy in the Korean peninsula, with a particular emphasis on nuclear security, within the foreign policy community of Washington, DC.

Lundeberg Photo

Philip K. Lundeberg
The Treatment of Survivors and Prisoners of War, at Sea and Ashore

Phillip K. Lundeberg is curator emeritus from the Smithsonian Institution. Born in Minnesota in 1923, Lundeberg graduated summa cum laude from Duke University early in 1944, earning his B.A. in history, and would return there after the war to earn his M.A. He completed his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1954 with a dissertation titled American Anti-Submarine Operations in the Atlantic, 1943-45.

It was a subject Lundeberg had first-hand experience with. Commissioned at the USNR Midshipmen’s School at Columbia University, he wound up being the youngest of three officer survivors of USS Frederick C. Davis, last American warship sunk in the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II.

During the 1950s, he taught history at St. Olaf College and the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1959 he came to the Smithsonian as an associate curator in the Department of Armed Forces History. There he developed naval exhibits for the National Museum’s new Hall of Armed Forces History, including that of the Continental Gondola Philadelphia. Working with Howard I. Chapelle, he directed the construction of three-score scaled models of American naval vessels for the chronological armed forces exhibit and special exhibitions. In 1981, Lundeberg organized the Smithsonian exhibition commemorating the Yorktown bicentennial, “By Sea and By Land: Victory with the Help of France.” He also prepared naval elements for exhibits elsewhere in the Institution, including “Centennial 1876;” “The Japan Expedition of Commodore Matthew C. Perry;” and following his retirement, “Magnificent Voyagers: The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842.”

Lundeberg served as vice president and president of the American Military Institute (1968-73) and of the United States Commission on Military History (1974-1981), directing conferences at the Smithsonian of the International Commission of Military History on the themes of “La Technique Militaire” (1975) and “Soldier Statesmen of the Age of the Enlightenment” (1982). He was elected organizing chairman of the International Congress of Maritime Museums at London in 1972, and served as Chairman of the Council of American Maritime Museums (1976-1978). In 1970 he edited the Bibliographie de l’Histoire des Grandes Routes Maritimes: Etats Unis d’Amerique for the International Commission of Maritime History. A founder of NASOH, he received that Society’s K. Jack Bauer Award in 1998 for Distinguished Service.

Robert Gates Picture

Robert V. Gates
History of the Navy Laboratory System

Robert V. Gates, a retired Navy Senior Executive, served as the Technical Director at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Indian Head Division and in many technical and executive positions at NSWC, Dahlgren Division. Dr. Gates is currently an adjunct professor at the U.S. Naval War College. He holds a B.S. in Physics from the Virginia Military Institute, a Master’s in Engineering Science from Penn State, a Master’s and PhD in Public Administration from Virginia Tech and is a graduate of the U.S. War College.

Ken Wenzer Picture

Kenneth C. Wenzer
The First Naval War College Plan against Spain by Lt. Cmdr. Charles H. Stockton

Kenneth C. Wenzer, PhD is a historian who is affiliated with the Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC.

Daniel Roberts Picture

Daniel Roberts
A Navy of Foreigners, Mercenaries, and Amateurs: Naval enlistment in the Spanish-American War

Daniel Roberts received his B.A. (’07) and M.A. (’08) in History from Clark University. He has worked as a Public Historian since 2008. Currently he is a Historian, under contract, working with the United State Naval History and Heritage Command. His most recent works include Co-Editing a documentary edition on the United States Navy and the Spanish-American War.

Ambjorn Adomeit Picture

Ambjörn L. Adomeit
The Value of Hawai’i in the Maritime Strategic Thought of Alfred Thayer Mahan

Gregory Gilbert Picture

Gregory P. Gilbert
The Australian Experience of Joint and Combined Operations: Borneo 1945

Dr. Gregory P. Gilbert started his career with the Australian Department of Defence as a naval engineer, working in the areas of design, logistics and acquisition. He worked as a consultant for Defence industry before re-joining Defence in 2005 where he worked at the Sea Power Centre–Australia and the Air Power Development Centre. He is currently a freelance historian and defence analyst.

Dara Baker Picture

Dara Baker
Inside the Archives: Lessons Learned: Researching the Battle of Jutland 1916 at the Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

Dara A. Baker is Head Archivist of the Naval Historical at the U.S. Naval War College, in Newport, R.I. She previously worked as Senior Archivist, Historian, and Legislative Researcher at the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Dara is a Certified Archivist who earned her Master’s in History from Harvard University and a Master’s of Library Science with a concentration in Archives from the University of Maryland, College Park.

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)

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From Fleet Exercise to Fast Carrier Task Force: The Development of Multicarrier Formations


The Bureau of Aviation and Pre-war Developments
The UK and Japan: Influence on the US and Alternative Approaches to Carrier Formations
Doctrine Applied and Early Wartime Lessons: 1941-1943
PAC 10 and the Fast Carriers
Task Force 58 and the Final Fleet Engagements

Will Edwards
International Producer
The Cipher Brief

At 6:00AM on the morning of December 7th, a signal flag is raised on the deck of the flagship Akagi. Five more identical flags rise simultaneously on the decks of the five other carriers in the strike force. The first airplanes begin to roll off of the six flight decks and in eight minutes, the last of 183 aircraft of the first wave are aloft and bound for Pearl Harbor. 1 As soon as the last aircraft is airborne, elevators began to lift aircraft for the second wave. Deck personnel across all six carriers arrange the airplanes, beginning astern and progressing forward in lines of three until all 171 aircraft are spotted and ready for launch in less than ninety minutes. The signal flags drop once more and the second wave is airborne as the first wave, 274 miles away, drops its payload of torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. The second wave of aircraft traverses the same expanse of ocean and drops its own ordnance. By 10:00AM, the attack is over. 2 Eight American battleships and eleven other vessels have been sunk or damaged by an enemy fleet that at all times remained beyond the horizon and out of radar range.

In many ways the attack verified what many American aviators had postulated for nearly two decades: a large air attack launched from a multicarrier task force and coordinated for simultaneous impact can surprise or overwhelm an enemy’s defenses and deliver a decisive victory. In the months that followed Pearl Harbor, the US faced a shortage of capital ships in the Pacific. Rearmament had only begun in 1939 and the new classes of fast battleships and carriers would not be ready until 1943. Until these new ships entered service the US Navy would have to take on the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) at peak strength. Because the carriers were unscathed at Pearl Harbor, naval aviators gained the opportunity they had been hoping for since the interwar period: the opportunity to put carriers at the center of the naval task force and finally maximize its offensive power. 3

This opportunity for the aviators was a long time in the making. The potential advantage offered by carrier-based naval aviation drove all of the major naval powers to reexamine their naval strategies and develop new ships, aircraft, and doctrine during the interwar period. These advances slowly fulfilled the original promise of naval aviation: whoever controls the air controls the sea below it. Yet the immense cost of carriers and their air wings, and additional logistical requirements, combined with a lack of opportunity to test theory and ideas in peacetime, delayed progress towards turning the carrier into a fully realized operational weapon during the interwar period, something that would not occur until 1943 with the formation of the Fast Carrier Task Forces. Even as wartime experience enforced the carrier’s strengths and weaknesses, the learning process continued to be long and convoluted. This paper seeks to answer why wartime carrier operations took so long to come into alignment with the interwar concepts of the carrier’s potential. It proposes that developing effective carrier operations and doctrine was delayed and obstructed by bureaucratic inertia supporting the battleship, overcoming technological limitations related to defense, and lack of ships in the early war period rather than correcting conceptual flaws or a need to learn from battlefield experience. Technology and ships would come in time, but overcoming the ‘Gun Club’ required more aviator flag officers in navy command. With these barriers removed, the carrier task force became something greater than its original role. The Fast Carrier Task Force relied on the synergy of ships for logistics, intelligence, and defense to make its task force deadly and in so doing became responsible for the fleet’s wellbeing and this required a synergy of leadership. Aviators had to do more than demonstrate the carrier’s superior reach and striking power over the battleship, they had to demonstrate its superior ability to integrate and protect the other portions of the fleet.

The Bureau of Aviation and Pre-war Developments

In 1921, naval aviators succeeded in opening the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) within the Department of the Navy. This institution coordinated issues related to “…design and construction of aircraft, management of air personnel, development of aerial warfare at sea, and even for the provision of funding for naval aviation.” 4 While naval aviation remained in a nascent stage, BuAer’s responsibilities were wide in scope but relatively minor in importance. The most important aspect of BuAer’s formation would prove to be its purpose of delineating naval aviation as a service independent of the Army Air Service (AAF). BuAer guaranteed that US naval aviation would have the organization necessary to defend its interests and develop aircraft and tactics specific to its increasingly unique needs. Early US naval airmen were already aware of the difficulties faced by their British counterparts who had no such organization and had to contend for scarce resources within a single air service. 5 While this difference in administrative structure may seem trivial, it meant that British naval aviators had no organizational influence to draw on when making acquisition requests, and this deficiency severely hampered British carrier aviation, which had begun the interwar period with a wide margin of superiority over both the US and Japanese programs. Conversely, the US Navy experience with BuAer showed how a small office with a string of excellent leaders could expand its role and influence within a military bureaucracy. 6 By 1941, BuAer had successfully petitioned for design and production of several types of carrier aircraft and an expansion of the carrier shipbuilding and naval aviator training programs.

The year 1922 yielded a series of milestones for the development of US naval aviation that ensured the carrier a permanent place in the US Navy. The Langley, the first US carrier was launched, the Washington Naval Conference concluded with a comprehensive agreement limiting the tonnage of all capital ships, and as a result, two cruisers were repurposed as America’s second and third carriers. Christened as the Lexington and Saratoga, the ships would allow the US to remain within its treaty obligations while expanding its carrier program. 7 With carriers finally in service, the ensuing cycle of technological development of carriers and their aircraft and lessons learned from fleet exercises slowly bore proof for the proponents of naval aviation as a strike weapon. The confluence of these factors produced one of the first key insights for carrier doctrine: amassing striking power required organizing and launching planes in the most efficient manner possible. 8 This was the stepping-stone to the aviators’ envisioned role of the carrier: strike the enemy carrier first to achieve decisive advantage over the battle space and thus command of the sea. 9

U.S.S. Lexington, Saratoga, and Langley (from top to bottom) at anchor in Puget Sound, 1929. (wikimedia commons)

U.S.S. Lexington, Saratoga, and Langley (from top to bottom) at anchor in Puget Sound, 1929. (wikimedia commons)

The addition of Lexington and Saratoga to the fleet in 1928 allowed proponents of multicarrier operations to test their concepts in fleet exercises. Fleet Problem IX, conducted in January of 1929 yielded the most important results. It pitted the two new carriers against a strongly defended land-based force at the Panama Canal. An improvised attack by the Saratoga’s aircraft, launched at a distance of 140 miles, caught the defending forces by surprise, however the judges of the test deemed that defending aircraft would have sunk the Saratoga. The aviators claimed that her vulnerabilities were exaggerated and there was no way to settle the dispute. 10 While the shortcomings of wargaming brought disagreement to the value of Problem IX, it was discussed in detail in a formal critique attended by seven hundred officers. 11 With so many young aviators in attendance, it is likely that several among them grasped the future implications of such a surprise attack and the true impact of Problem IX may lie in its accessibility to the men who would be future aviation strategists and practitioners. For the moment, however, the accepted doctrine lagged behind the carrier’s promise. The 1934 edition of the Navy’s War Instructions described carriers as “simply mobile airplane bases and their use depends upon the employment of their aircraft.” 12

In that same year, John Towers, a career aviator who would continue to be a staunch and prescient carrier advocate, already understood the implications that different aircraft and their capabilities would have on the use of carriers. Dive-bombers proved especially hard to defend against once in a dive and torpedo bombers could potentially sink a carrier with one hit. Towers understood the carrier’s weaknesses but also understood they could be remedied by having cruisers and carriers train as a unit. The plentiful anti-air (AA) batteries and speed of the cruiser would allow it to defend the carrier without hindering one of its greatest assets: mobility. This method of training was adopted during WWII, vindicating Towers and carriers would be accompanied by increasing numbers of support ships. 13

Subsequent Fleet Problem exercises, carried out regularly until 1940, revealed both the offensive potential of the carrier and its severe defensive vulnerability. A carrier in the 1930’s now had the ability to quickly launch an air wing capable of delivering dive-bombing, level bombing, and torpedo attacks at range against an enemy carrier. Assuming the two sides launch at the same time, the air wing that found its enemy first and successfully scores hits could destroy an enemy fleet without suffering damage to its own carriers. Carriers at this time lacked adequate AA defenses and relied on their speed and defensive fighters to avoid attack. 14

By 1941, US aircraft carriers had benefitted from important technological advances that would greatly expand both their offensive and defensive capabilities. The installation of a CXAM radar system on the Yorktown, combined with short-wave radio communication among aircraft, greatly increased a carrier’s ability to detect enemy fighters and offer a directed, cohesive defense. This was a boon for the more aggressive minded carrier admirals who believed that a carrier could break up a strike force superior in numbers if it had dedicated defensive fighters directed by radar and effective command and control. 15 In advocating for unique aircraft designs, BuAer’s efforts bore significant results. Advancements in radial engine technology afforded carrier aircraft increased speed and climbing rates with minimal increases to the aircraft’s weight and size. Radial engines allowed carriers to hold more aircraft and therefor more offensive and defensive power per ship. The advantage of BuAer’s insistence on unique aircraft and engine designs over Britain’s universal designs can be illustrated by the ratio of carrier tonnage to attack aircraft in the respective navies. By 1941, the ratio was 537 tons per aircraft in the US carrier forces and 1,430 tons per aircraft in the British carrier forces. 16

Prior to Pearl Harbor, carriers were subordinate to the battleship and the argument over single versus multi-carrier operations remained an unresolved analytical exercise. The potential of the carrier remained hindered by several factors: number of carriers, naval airplane production, a strong majority of battleship proponents, and conversely, a lack of aviators of flag rank. At this time, only two flag officers were career aviators. Despite staunch support, effective leadership, and contributions to naval aviation, even Admirals King and Halsey were not considered career aviators. They were among a group of aviators who came to aviation late in their careers and often did so as a means of furthering their careers. 17 The distinction between career aviators and latecomers was important because carrier tactics required a different mindset than gun-based fleet tactics. Conceptualizing the way carriers and their strike aircraft operated over time and space to deliver attacks at long range was hard to master. As will be shown, this often compelled non-aviators to be cautious when in command. Cautious use meant wasted time and that diminished the carrier’s striking power where timing was crucial. In such an offensively geared weapon, caution would prove to be a liability. In the coming war, the US Navy would learn the hard way that carriers need aviators.

The UK and Japan: Influence on the US and Alternative Approaches to Carrier Formations

The US Navy’s network of attachés to the fleets of other countries allowed it to gain information and insights on carrier aviation. The British Royal Navy was particularly fruitful. Besides influencing the decision to create BuAer, beginning in 1939 the US Navy was able to glean valuable lessons from the Royal Navy’s wartime tactical experience with their carriers. For instance, the placement of radar on carriers was based on the recommendations of US observers embedded in the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet. This prompted the addition of radar to the Yorktown as part of its 1940 overhaul. This enabled Admiral Halsey’s early 1941 experiments that used radar and spotters to direct a carrier’s fighter combat air patrol (CAP). Initial experiments placed control of directing fighters with the senior pilot in the air. British experience highlighted the value of placing responsibility of CAP direction with a shipboard officer. Halsey recorded improved results after implementing the British method and this improved the survivability of US carriers. 18 As radar continued to improve, so would carrier defense. Thanks in part to the Royal Navy, aviators had refuted one of the Gun Clubs primary arguments. 19

Given that the US and Japan entered the interwar period as potential adversaries, and Japan’s relatively late advances in carrier aviation, US carrier development did not benefit from Japan as it did from the UK. Though the US had naval attachés in Japan in the 1920’s and 30’s who learned a great deal about the IJN’s growing fleet capabilities, they were unable to learn much regarding carrier aviation. Although able to visit several Japanese battleships, attachés were never allowed to visit carriers. 20 Later intelligence would shed some light on Japan’s ability to operate carriers. In 1940, a US naval aviator witnessed landing operations on a Japanese carrier and reported that they were much slower than that of the Saratoga. 21 In that same year, the Zero fighter entered service. While there is evidence to suggest that US Naval Intelligence may have had information on the Zero’s capabilities gleaned from one American observer at a Tokyo airshow and from a specimen downed over China in 1941, the findings, if true, did not have much bearing on the assumptions underpinning War Plan Orange. 22 In regards to naval aviation, US planners already assumed that the quality of Japanese pilots, airplanes, and torpedoes would be very capable. 23

Though Japan’s early wartime experience did not directly affect the US’s eventual adoption of multicarrier formations, it validated both the offensive power and defensive weakness of multicarrier formations predicted by US Naval theorists. Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 relied heavily on carrier-based aircraft for support of land-based operations and was a formative experience for its future carrier doctrine and operations. The IJN’s experience fighting in China revealed the necessity of amassing air power at a single point of attack, and of concentrating carriers for mutual defense. 24 The tactical lessons and combat experience would benefit the future attack on Pearl Harbor. The most important development prior to Pearl Harbor was Japan’s creation of the First Air Fleet, the administrative and operational organization for all of Japan’s naval air forces. Unified operational command of the carriers facilitated their use as an offensive weapon that could operate with some autonomy from the main fleet. 25 As will be shown, the US Navy would not achieve this until 1943. Though the invasion of China must have afforded foreign observers an opportunity to witness Japanese naval aviation in action, this author could not find assessments or opinions among contemporary US aviators on IJN carrier tactics at this time, and it cannot be said how the IJN’s adoption of multicarrier operations affected the US Navy’s own considerations on the subject.

Whether or not Japanese tactics influenced US aviators prior to the war may be a moot point because they relied on defensive tactics that were unacceptable to US Navy planners. By the mid 1930’s, Japan and the US had independently reached the same conclusions on the carrier’s offensive strengths and defensive weaknesses. In regards to the latter, the US solution emphasized radar directed CAP tactics, whereas the IJN focused on tactics that favored surprise first strikes and mobility. 26 In this debate, the US approach proved to be superior and the Gun Club proved to be right. Pearl Harbor demonstrated the First Air Fleet’s multicarrier offensive power and the Battle of Midway revealed its defensive shortcomings. 27 Without radar directed CAP, sufficient AA defense, and no element of surprise, the IJN lost four carriers in five minutes. 28 The importance of Midway will be discussed in greater detail below. The essential point here is that US Navy planners who were reluctant to adopt the carrier correctly identified a critical weakness in carrier defense and obstructed the employment of carriers until this weakness was overcome through technology.

While Japanese influence at the tactical level was very limited, casting Japan as a potential adversary influenced the development of carriers at the strategic level. As early as 1923, the Langley was incorporated into versions of War Plan Orange 29 and subsequent versions of the plan reflected the evolving capabilities and increasing range of carriers and their aircraft. 30 Following the success of the Saratoga’s mock attack of the Panama Canal in Fleet Exercise IX, aviators realized the carrier offered a solution to confronting Japan’s interlocking network of island defenses stretched across the Central and South Pacific. 31 Further study on applying carriers to this issue would lead to the development in 1943 of the ‘Island Hopping’ strategy. 32 In tandem with a logistical fleet train that could maximize the area and duration of operations, the envisioned carrier group would allow US forces to isolate and bypass heavily defended islands on their way to mainland Japan, thus avoiding costly land invasions. For the time being, carriers would gradually become more integral to subsequent iterations of War Plan: Orange.

Doctrine Applied and Early Wartime Lessons: 1941-1943

With the onset of war with Japan, the debate over carriers versus battleships was temporarily resolved with the neutralization of the battleships in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The debate over single versus multicarrier operations, however, would have to wait. At the end of 1941, the US Navy had only five carriers in the Pacific and they constituted the only available capital ships. 33 They would remain so until the new Essex-class carriers and Iowa-class battleships came into service in 1943. For the first four months of 1942, the carrier admirals were ordered to avoid engaging the Japanese fleet and were relegated to raiding actions against island bases.

The first fleet engagement would occur at the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8th, 1942. This would be the first battle in history where two fleets would fight one another beyond visible range. The Battle of the Coral Sea had three important outcomes for the future use of US carriers. First, by sinking a Japanese light carrier and damaging two fleet carriers, American aviators demonstrated they could sink an enemy ship while it was underway in the heat of battle. 34 Second, the performance of the air groups in this strategic US victory was overshadowed by loss of ships. It occurred at the expense of the Lexington and an out-of-commission Yorktown. 35

For those within the US Navy who remained unconvinced over the carrier’s use, the message was mixed. The successful surprise achieved by the air wings proved the devastating power of hitting first, but the removal of two carriers from service received more scrutiny. The loss was so great that the circumstances of the battle went largely unnoticed. The carriers were constrained by the narrow sea and thus could not use their speed and maneuverability to any benefit. Third, aviators criticized Admiral Fletcher, a non-aviator, for misusing the carriers’ offensive power and wasting an opportunity to launch a final strike against two IJN carriers prior to the end of the battle. While this would become a common gripe within the aviator camp, both sides had legitimate points. The aviators were correct in pushing for aggressive tactics, but Admiral Fletcher was correct in placing priority on blocking the way to Port Moresby and depriving Japan of their strategic objective. A final air strike could also have jeopardized the defense of the fleet. To pursue the Japanese carriers would have meant risking the loss of Port Moresby. 36 Whether Fletcher was right or wrong, this was the first of many underwhelming carrier battles where a non-aviator’s command was criticized for misusing a carrier’s offensive power.

Despite a mixed reaction among Naval planners, real action against the Japanese afforded the crews of the two carriers experience and insight that led to important changes that would benefit carriers in the future. Several reports from Yorktown airmen highlighted the detrimental evasive tactics of the Japanese fleet. When under attack, individual vessels would scatter, depriving the carriers in the center of essential AA protection. 37 Despite contentions over proper carrier use, the Naval strategists had recognized this issue prior to the war and both aviators and the Gun Club already recognized the advantages of close cooperation for mutual defense among task force vessels. Additionally, the experience provided valuable lessons regarding reformulating carrier air groups and AA defensive doctrine. The fighter contingent was increased to twenty-seven aircraft and precise zones and rules of engagement were assigned for each type of AA weapon. 37 These lessons would serve carrier crews well in the next fleet engagement, one that would have important consequences for the Pacific War.

The Battle of Midway, less than a month after the Battle of the Coral Sea, pitted four Japanese carriers against three US carriers and land-based aircraft. The relative parity of aircraft belied the outcome: all four Japanese carriers would be sunk at the cost of one US carrier. The disparity was due in large part to the advantage supplied to the US by superior intelligence. They knew the Japanese were coming whereas the Japanese were not expecting three carriers at the onset of the battle. The element of surprise afforded by intelligence allowed US carrier aircraft to achieve the great goal of a carrier based attack: the fleet that discovered the enemy first could inflict catastrophic damage at little risk to itself. The Battle of Midway was unquestionably a decisive strategic victory for the US and a display of naval air power, yet the battle’s contribution to the advancement of carriers was once again mixed for the following reasons. First, it did not hasten the adoption of multicarrier doctrine. In fact, the opposite was true. Due to the loss of the Yorktown at Midway, the US carrier fleet was reduced to four fleet carriers in the Pacific. Admiral King commanded that, to avoid the risks associated with concentration, no carrier would operate in a multicarrier formation until more escort vessels were available. 39 Second, unlike the Battle of the Coral Sea where aviators had proof that carriers should be commanded by aviators, there was little to criticize in Admiral Fletcher’s command of what was universally hailed as a decisive victory. The third and final outcome was the most important, but would take time to become significant: the creation of Commander of Air Forces, Pacific Fleet (ComAirPac) in September of that year. The position would go to then head of BuAer, Admiral Jack Towers, the most senior career aviator in the Navy. 40 The primary duty of this position was to advise Admiral Nimitz and develop and standardize aviation tactics and doctrine, but did not offer any command responsibilities. 41

U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5) listing to port following the Battle of Midway

Following Midway, the US Navy had a few months of respite until taking the offensive at Guadalcanal in August 1942. For the carriers, the long Guadalcanal campaign culminated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. The campaign would prove frustrating for the cause of the aviators. Once again, carriers would find themselves in confined waters in range of land based aircraft and commanded by non-aviator flag officers who were repeatedly accused of failing to maximize the carrier’s offensive potential. To make matters worse, the overcautious commanders still suffered losses. By the end of the campaign, the US would lose the Wasp, Hornet and see the Enterprise heavily damaged. The latter two casualties were a result of Admiral Kincaid’s indecision during the battle and indicative of how essential aviator command was. He ordered the carriers to engage too late which caused several problems unique to the necessary timing of carrier strikes. While Kincaid hesitated, the Japanese had already launched their strike. By the time his CAP was in the air, they did not have altitude advantage over the incoming Japanese planes. Successful carrier defense was always uncertain at this stage in the war and putting the CAP at a disadvantage made matters worse. 42 The Japanese planes got through and knocked two more US carriers out of the war, leaving the Saratoga as the only fully operational carrier in the Pacific.

AA bursts above the U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6) at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. (US Navy Photo)

AA bursts above the U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6) at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. (US Navy Photo)

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands did yield two benefits for furthering the cause of multicarrier operations. First, the addition of two new battleships of the South Dakota-class to the carrier task force provided a much more effective AA defense. Though too slow to remain with the carriers at all times, the large vessels could carry more AA batteries than any other type of ship. This addition would pique the imaginations of carrier tacticians and later produce impressive results for AA defense when the Iowa-class battleships arrived. Second, Admiral Kincaid would be the last non-aviator to command a carrier. From the end of 1942 forward, carrier task forces would remain in the hands of aviators. 43

The end of the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands began a six-month hiatus for US carrier action and that time was used wisely for consolidating lessons learned into new doctrine. Unified doctrine is always an important aspect of warfare because from doctrine, officers can apply their initiative. This was especially important for carriers, which derived their advantage from initiative. 44 At the end of 1942, Admiral Fred Sherman developed a paper entitled ‘Principles of Handling Carriers.’ The document, a culmination of his experiences as a career aviator, outlined how a carrier can best use its fighter CAP to defend itself from enemy aircraft. 45 In early 1943, Admirals Sherman and Ramsey, both devoted aviators, attempted to settle a debate over the proper composition of a carrier force. Admiral Sherman advocated the defensive strength of a multicarrier formation whereas Admiral Ramsey advocated the offensive flexibility of a single carrier formation. After a series of exercises where each took turns commanding the two remaining carriers, the debate ended in a draw. 46 Despite having similar levels of aviation experience and equal devotion to the future of aviation, two staunch carrier supporters remained in disagreement, and this was indicative of the aviation community at large. Important for later debate, Admiral Sherman had solved the issue of coordinating simultaneous flight operations and rendezvous procedures of multiple carriers. 47 This combined with the advent of new defensive technologies would win the debate for the advocates of multicarrier formations by year’s end.

The most important influences during this break in carrier operations were related to advancements in radio technology in the form of communications and radar. The very-high-frequency (VHF) radio allowed a ship and its aircraft to communicate on four different short-ranged channels that kept the enemy from listening in. Four simultaneous conversations streamlined the process of relaying updates between different ships and aircraft. The new Mark IV radar increased its range and reliability and tied it to the plan position indicator (PPI), a cathode ray tube that displayed ships and aircraft positions. This was integral for defense as well as coordinating task force formations. The IFF (Identification, friend-or-foe) transponder was installed in all aircraft and, when activated, signaled to friendly ships that the incoming aircraft was not hostile. All of these radio-based devices were coordinated through the combat information center (CIC). The lull in hostilities in the early part of 1943 not only allowed time for these new technologies to come into service; it afforded crewmen the time to practice integrating all of this information within the CIC. Also of note, the new ships arriving in 1943 and the ones under retrofit received increased AA guns for defense. The most important of these was the long-range 5 in. gun with a radio triggered proximity (VT) fuse. Instead of requiring a direct hit, the shell would explode when in the vicinity of a metal object, namely an enemy aircraft. Last but not least, the F4F Wildcat was phased out in favor of the new F6F Hellcat. 48 The sum total of these technologies offered a comprehensive defense that would vastly increase the survivability of the carrier and its task force.

PAC 10 and the Fast Carriers

The arrival of the first Essex-class carriers coincided with a revolutionary statement known as PAC-10. This document, issued on June 10, 1943, sought to formalize US naval doctrine in the Pacific. Most importantly for aviators, it reflected the sum total of their experience and recommendations on the proper use of carriers in battle. PAC-10 emphasized flexibility and stipulated that carriers be concentrated within a supportive defense screen when under attack. In regards to offense, PAC-10 deferred to rules to be formulated by the ComAirPac, Admiral Jack Towers. With Towers and his staff in charge of offensive doctrine, aviators had a tactician and strategist they could rely on to maximize the offensive potential of the carrier. 49 By August of 1943, this stipulation, combined with the growing number of Essex-class carriers in the Pacific, compelled Admiral Nimitz to establish a uniform doctrine for offensive carrier deployment. Towers’ recommendations would solidify the role of the carrier as ‘the principal element of the fleet’ in addition to its increasing role as the defender, not only of its own task force, but of all forces within fleet operations. 50 As more carriers came into service and contributed to the offensive, this latter statement would grow in importance.

The attack on Marcus Island, the first engagement following PAC-10 would be a test of new technologies in addition to new doctrine. The Hellcat would see its first use in battle and the carrier crews would gain battle experience with their new radar and AA systems. 51 The increased number of Essex-class carriers allowed commanders to finally experiment with formations of varying size. Captain Herbert Duckworth, a planner of the operation later said: “virtually all techniques of ship handling for a multicarrier force which were later used successfully had their origins in this operation.” 52 While the operation was a success, it highlighted Admiral Charles Pownall, the new Commander of the Fast Carrier Forces, as a leader who failed to seize aggressive opportunities. 53 Despite new doctrine and technology, the old issue of aggressive leadership continued to limit carrier performance.

In November 1943, the US undertook its first operation in the Central Pacific, codenamed Operation GALVANIC. In preparation for GALVANIC, the employment of carriers still suffered from the influence of senior ranking officers who adhered to battleship centric fleet tactics. The stipulation that followed the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands that aviators command only applied up to the task force level. Admiral Raymond Spruance, Deputy Commander of the Pacific Fleet, assigned each of his four carrier task forces to defensive sectors. The experience from Guadalcanal had shown aviators how this deprived carriers of their mobility and it resulted once again in the unnecessary loss of planes, ships, and lives during GALVANIC. In the after action report from the Essex, Captain Ralph Oftsie explained the flaws in Admiral Spruance’s original plan of assigning fixed defensive zones for each of the four carrier task forces:

It would appear that the basis for assigning areas as above indicated was, (1) to insure the physical presence of the surface [sic] vessels of the Task Group in the immediate vicinity of the objective being covered, and, (2) that the carriers could adequately protect themselves while so operating in support. The first of these assumptions fails to give consideration to the mobility of the modern CV Task Group and the range of its aircraft. The second gives the enemy the immeasurably valuable opportunity to strike at the carriers, while gaining no benefit whatever in return.

The Carrier Task Group should be given the maximum freedom of maneuver in any assigned mission.” 54

With defense of the amphibious landing as his primary objective, Admiral Spruance deployed the carriers as if they were battleships that had to remain close to the objective and could sustain a heavy beating. He was unwilling to place his faith in the carrier’s ability to concentrate its air wing at a point far removed from its own position. Additionally, despite the transfer of tactical command to carriers outlined in PAC-10, Spruance ordered that the commander of the battleships take control in the event of a surface engagement with the Japanese. 55

Operation GALVANIC and subsequent actions subjected the carriers to new, intense night attacks by Japanese attack aircraft. As Japan lost its ability to face the US fleet head on, it focused on tactics where it had a distinct advantage, and night attacks were especially effective against the restrictive defensive zones instituted by Spruance. Existing technology made defense possible, but it would require trial and error to develop proficiency in fending off these deadly attacks. The process of directing fighters with only radar was slow and prone to confusion. 56 Beginning in 1944, each carrier was outfitted with a “Bat” team, a squadron of a radar-equipped Avenger fighter-bomber and two Hellcats. 57 While technology and practice made night operations more effective, they were still the most dangerous of carrier operations.

Task Force 58 and the Final Fleet Engagements

The replacement of Admiral Pownall by Admiral Pete Mitscher in January, 1944 was a significant turning point in tactical carrier command. Admiral Mitscher was a career aviator who understood how to use carriers aggressively. Mitscher was put in command of Task Force 58, the new designation for what would become the most storied task force of the Pacific War. Task Force 58 was more than just the concentration of first-class naval vessels, it was the culmination of cumulated wartime experiences and applied theory under experienced aviator leadership at all levels. 58 While aviators and non-aviators alike could agree that Mitscher was the most capable man for the job, perhaps just as significant was the appointment of his battleship commander, Admiral Ching Lee. Admiral Lee combined aggressive tactical expertise with the humility to cede priority of operations to the carriers and carry out the battleships new primary role as a massive AA battery. 59 Throughout the spring of 1944, TF 58 would rack up a string of successful island raids. As its fame grew, it attracted more experienced aviation talent.  60

The Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 would be TF 58’s first engagement with enemy carriers. Despite qualitative and quantitative superiority, TF 58 scored only minor successes in the battle, managing to sink only one carrier and damage three others. 61 The shortfall came from Admiral Spruance’s overcautious decision to tie TF 58 to covering the amphibious landing and not release the carriers until it was too late to chase down the IJN fleet. Aviators like King, Towers, and Mitscher saw this as one more example of a battleship admiral underutilizing the carrier task force’s offensive power and instead attempting to engage the IJN fleet in a battleship gunnery duel. 62 Impending administrative changes would ensure that this would be the final occurrence of a battleship admiral misusing a carrier task force. Admiral King ordered that any non-aviator admiral in command of a task force must take on an aviator as his chief of staff. 63 This had the effect of breaking apart the remaining clusters or pro-battleship flag officers. The final signal of the battleship’s waning relevancy was the dissolution of Commander of Battleships Pacific Fleet as a position in December 1944. 64

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest fleet engagement in history, occurred in October 1944. The IJN would lose three carriers and six hundred aircraft and the battle would become known as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.’ Though an overwhelming strategic victory for the US Navy, it exposed a flaw in carrier doctrine and from that, the newfound responsibility of the carrier task force. Admiral Halsey, in command of Carrier Task Force 38, broke from the main body of the fleet in an unplanned maneuver in order to find and destroy the IJN carriers. Though this was in keeping with the aggressive tactics favored by naval aviators, it produced a severe drawback. It left Admiral Kincaid’s 7th fleet without sufficient protection to hold its position and cover the amphibious landing. To make matters worse, Halsey’s inexperience with operating a fast carrier group at night and in tandem with fast battleships caused him to waste valuable time reorganizing his fleet, allowing the IJN carriers to escape. In committing to the destruction of enemy carriers, Halsey exposed a new reality for the carrier task force: in gaining its position as the fleet’s center, the carrier was now responsible for the fleet’s defense. 65 While the fleet had always relied on the protection afforded by carrier-based aircraft, the formation of the carrier task force required concentrating AA battery equipped battleships and cruisers around the carriers. By pursuing the IJN carriers, Halsey deprived Kincaid’s 3rd fleet of supporting AA fire and the main guns of the battleships for the surface engagement. At the time when the carrier task force had finally developed a ship composition that afforded it adequate defense without sacrificing mobility, it inherited a greater strategic role that superseded its tactical capabilities.

Aircraft carriers of Task Force 58 at anchor following the Battle of the Philippines Sea, Ulithi Atoll, December 8, 1944. (Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-294131)

Aircraft carriers of Task Force 58 at anchor following the Battle of the Philippines Sea, Ulithi Atoll, December 8, 1944. (Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-294131)

Following Leyte Gulf, the Japanese fleet would retreat to its home waters and stay there for the remainder of the war. The transition in doctrine guiding the use of carriers from the beginning to the end of the Pacific War can be summed up as a transition from maximizing offensive power in order to overcome the carrier’s defensive shortcomings to a doctrine that was more balanced. The technological advances and influx of new carriers meant that the fleet of 1944 could sacrifice offensive striking power for better defense and make up the difference through more carriers and fighter aircraft. 66 This coincided with another change in thinking on how best to target the enemy’s center of gravity. As IJN fleet forces dwindled, the emphasis for the air war switched from targeting the IJN’s carriers to targeting its airplanes. 67 The role of the carrier would change to one the aviators wanted least: operations in confined waters against land based targets. To make matters worse, Japan attempted to offset its dearth of ships and aircraft with Kamikaze tactics. In response, the number of fighters in a carrier’s air wing increased sharply. By war’s end, the proposed plans for carrier operations in Operation OLYMPIC, the invasion of the Japanese home islands, stipulated that an air wing have 80% fighters. 68 The war ended before the operation became necessary. In a post-war era without any other large navies, the Fast Carrier Task Force was no longer needed.


The wartime experience proved that the success of the carrier and the aviators were inextricably linked. This was recognized early on by Admiral Towers, who in a January 1942, successfully advocated to a reluctant House Appropriations Committee to raise the cap from nine aviator admirals to thirty-one by 1943. 69 By the end of 1944, this figure would be closer to forty-seven flag officers. 70 The trend was also supported by the addition of new carriers and the mandate of Admiral King that ensured only aviators could command carriers. As carriers were entering service in greater numbers than cruisers or battleships, the growth of aviator flag officers would outpace any other cohort.  This increasing trend in aviator flag officers precedes the increases in carrier operations that begin in 1943, and most importantly, their use in aggressive, offensive actions.

Beyond the trend of increasing aviator flag officers, appointing aviators to key positions in operational planning and strategic command roles provided the administrative structure that put carriers at the center of the fleet. Perhaps the most influential position was the appointment of Admiral Forrest Sherman to the position of Head of the Plans Division for Admiral Nimitz, which he would hold for the duration of the war. Sherman’s replacement of Admiral Steele, a battleship officer who did not understand carriers, would finally bring a career aviator’s perspective to offensive planning at the highest level of command. 71 Two other key replacements were that of Admiral Pownall by Admiral Marc Mitscher for command of Task Force 58 and the elevation of Admiral Jack Towers to the position of Deputy Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Deputy Commander in Chief, Pacific Area. 72 These men and their staffs turned ideas and technology into victories and revolutionized the Navy while winning the war.

The Fast Carrier Task Force was a remarkable amalgamation of advanced technology and talented people. In becoming the center of the fleet, the carrier lost some of its superior offensive capability. Though the carrier was undoubtedly the most important piece, it remained only a piece, and it relied on the capabilities of the other vessels inside and outside of its task force. While the carrier had finally succeeded in meeting the high expectations of its earliest advocates, it had also become something few had foreseen: the caretaker of the fleet’s safety. The advent of the defensive technologies that enabled multicarrier formations reduced the carrier’s mobility and from that, other vessels began to depend on the carrier as much as it depended on them. The transition to the carrier required that the Gun Club accept the offensive supremacy of the carrier, but soon thereafter it required that aviators accept that offensive operations had become subordinate to the fleet’s wellbeing. The carrier’s replacement of the battleship took so long because the carrier could only do so when it was fully capable and when the aviators were fully prepared to lead.


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Friedman, Norman. British Carrier Aviation: The Evolution of the Ships and their Aircraft. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1988.

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Hone, Thomas, Norman Friedman and Mark Mandeles. American and British Aircraft Carrier Development: 1919-1941. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999.

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Hone, Trent. 2009. “U.S. NAVY SURFACE BATTLE DOCTRINE AND VICTORY IN THE   PACIFIC.” Naval War College Review 62, no. 1: 67-105. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2015).

Hughes, Wayne. Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1986.

Levy, James P. 2014. “WAS THERE SOMETHING UNIQUE TO THE JAPANESE THAT    LOST THEM THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY?.” Naval War College Review 67, no. 1: 119-124. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center,   EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2015).

Lundstrom, John. Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006.

Mahnken, Thomas. “Gazing at the sun: The office of naval intelligence and Japanese naval innovation, 1918–1941.” Intelligence and National Security, 11, no. 3 (1996).

Melhorn, Charles M. Two-Block Fox: The Rise of the Aircraft Carrier, 1911-1929. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1974.

Miller, Edward S. War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1991.

Millett, Alan R., and Williamson Murray. Military Innovation In the Interwar Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Morison, Samuel Eliot, History of United States Naval Operation In World War II. [1st ed.] Boston: Little, Brown, 1947.

Parshall, Jonathan B., and Anthony P. Tully. Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005.

Parshall, Jonathan, and J. Michael Wenger. 2011. “Pearl Harbor’s Overlooked Answer.” Naval History 25, no. 6: 16-21. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2015).

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Archive Sources

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Yorktown (CV-10). Record Group 38, Box 1536, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. Parshall, Jonathan B. and Anthony P. Tully, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005), 126-128. This launch procedure is the same as the one described for the Battle of Midway. The procedure and launch timetable would not have changed much between Pearl Harbor and Midway as it had been well established prior to Pearl Harbor.
  2. Morrison, Samuel E., Rising Sun in the Pacific: 1931- April 1942, vol 3 of The History of United States Naval Operations in WWII, (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1948), 124.
  3. A note on terms: (1) Naval aviators were naval officers qualified to fly carrier-based planes and trained in their tactics. Given aviation’s nature as a new field, the men drawn to it tended to be staunch supporters, and this paper strives to identify persons as aviators to illustrate this affiliation. The aviator’s counterpart was the ‘Gun Club,’ naval officers who supported the primacy of the battleship.  (2) A task force is a specialized group of vessels that operates within the larger fleet. Thus, a carrier task force is specialized for conducting offensive air strikes and consists of one or more carriers and supporting vessels such as battleships, cruisers, and destroyers.
  4. Till, Geoffrey, “Adopting the Aircraft Carrier: The British, American, and Japanese Case Studies,” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 210.
  5. Till, “Adopting the Aircraft Carrier,” 209.
  6. The first head of BuAer, Rear Admiral William Moffett, was replaced in 1933 by then Rear Admiral Ernest King after he was killed in the crash of Navy dirigible USS Akron. King would go on to become COMINCH and CNO of the Navy.
  7. Hone, Thomas, Norman Friedman and Mark Mandeles, American and British Aircraft Carrier Development: 1919-1941 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999), 30-31.
  8. While the idea of amassing aircraft may seem obvious, the early complications that limited the speed by which aircraft could be spotted, launched, and recovered hindered the potential of the aircraft as a striking weapon. Practice and technological innovations increased the Langley’s complement of aircraft from 12 to 48.
  9. Hone, Friedman, and Mandeles, American and British Aircraft Carrier Development: 1919-1941, 47.
  10. Till, “Adopting the Aircraft Carrier,” 221.
  11. Hone, Friedman, and Mandeles, American and British Aircraft Carrier Development: 1919-1941, 49.
  12. Reynolds, Clark J, The Fast Carriers: The Forging of an Air Navy (New York: McGraw Hill, 1968), 18.
  13. Reynolds, Clark J, Admiral John H. Towers, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 258.
  14. Hone, Friedman, and Mandeles, American and British Aircraft Carrier Development: 1919-1941, 54.
  15. Ibid, 67.
  16. Melhorn, Charles, Two-Block Fox: The Rise of the Aircraft Carrier, 1911-1929, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1974), 110, and Hone, Friedman, and Mandeles, American and British Aircraft Carrier Development: 1919-1941, 198. For additional comparison, the six IJN carriers at Pearl Harbor, which also fielded radial engine aircraft, averaged 585.48 tons per attack aircraft (calculated by this author with figures on ship displacement and aircraft from: Peattie, Sunburst, 225-235).
  17. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 20. Despite continued strong support for the battleship, many officers recognized that becoming an aviator increased the likelihood of securing command of a ship, given that more carriers were under construction. The ‘career aviators’ looked down upon these officers, thinking they were not true supporters of carrier aviation.
  18. Hone, Friedman, and Mandeles, American and British Aircraft Carrier Development: 1919-1941, 68. Combat air patrol (CAP) was the practice of using a carrier’s own fighters, directed by radar and spotters, to protect the carrier task force. Mastering CAP was essential to reducing a carrier’s vulnerability to enemy aircraft.
  19. Ibid, 79.
  20. Mahnken, Thomas, “Gazing at the sun: The office of naval intelligence and Japanese naval innovation, 1918–1941,” Intelligence and National Security, 11, no. 3 (1996), 436.
  21. Mahnken, “Gazing at the Sun,” 436-437.
  22. Peattie, Marc, Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Air Power, 1909-1941, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001), 330, n. 51.
  23. Prados, John, Combined Fleet Decoded, 38-39 in regards to the Tokyo Airshow and Miller, War Plan Orange, 355 in regards to the zero downed over China.
  24. Evans, David, and Mark Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy: 1887-1941, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1997), 347.
  25. Evans, David, and Mark Peattie, Kaigun, 349.
  26. The IJN’s approach to defense in one sentence: The best defense is a good offense.
  27. Parshall, Jonathan B. and Anthony P. Tully, Shattered Sword, 188. The only radar equipped IJN ship at Midway was the battleship Yamato.
  28. The Hiryu did not sink until a torpedo attack later that day, but the initial air attack that struck her and the three other IJN carriers completely disabled her.
  29. War plans were color coded by potential adversary, Japan happened to be orange
  30. Miller, Edward S, War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945, (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 127.
  31. Melhorn, Charles, Two-Block Fox, 115.
  32. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 66-67.
  33. Ibid, 23. The five carriers were: Lexington, Saratoga, Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet. The remaining battleships, too slow to keep up with the carriers, withdrew to the California coast.
  34. Reynolds, Admiral John H. Towers, 386.
  35. Morrison, Samuel, The History of United States Naval Operations in WWII, vol. 4, (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1948), 64. The Lexington would have survived if not for an electrical generator that had been left on. This caused the ignition of a gasoline explosion that ultimately sank her. Though this was a testament to the carriers’ resiliency rather than fragility, it was overshadowed by the loss.
  36. Lundstrom, John, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 203. While an aviator may have weighed the odds better and made better sense of the chaos within the CIC at this time, hindsight shows that Fletcher’s decision was not a terrible one.
  37. “Air Operations of Yorktown Air Group Against Japanese Forces, May 7th 1942,” Record Group 38, Box 1535, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  38. “Air Operations of Yorktown Air Group Against Japanese Forces, May 7th 1942,” Record Group 38, Box 1535, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  39. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 29-30. Interestingly, the Japanese took the opposite lesson from their losses at Midway and developed three carrier task forces with better coordination amongst screen vessels for AA defense.
  40. Ibid, 68. While ComAirpac was instituted during the Guadalcanal campaign, its origin was a result of Midway. The victory moved operations back into the South Pacific and the aviators of flag rank with them. Nimitz recognized the need for an aviation advisor and administrator and thus appointed Admiral Towers to the position.
  41. Ibid, 69.
  42. Morrison, Samuel, The History of United States Naval Operations in WWII, vol. 5, (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1948), 211-212.
  43. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 34. Admiral King sent Admiral Kincaid north to the Aleutians for a timeout to think about what he had done.
  44. Hone, Trent. 2009. “U.S. NAVY SURFACE BATTLE DOCTRINE AND VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC.” Naval War College Review 62, no. 1: 31-32.
  45. Hone, Thomas C, “REPLACING BATTLESHIPS WITH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS IN THE PACIFIC IN WORLD WAR II,” Naval War College Review 66, no. 1 (Winter2013 2013): 60, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2015).
  46. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 34-35.
  47. Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, 499.
  48. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 54.
  49. Ibid, 72.
  50. Ibid, 76
  51. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 80.
  52. Ibid, 88.
  53. Ibid, 91.
  54. “GALVANIC Operations: Report of USS Essex for the Period 18-25 November 1943. Record Group 38, Box 974, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  55. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 95-96. A surface engagement is one where the opposing navies are within gun range of one another. The carrier admirals still held command in the event of a carrier vs. carrier battle.
  56. “Action Report, Air Operations Against Truk Atoll, 16-17 February 1944,” Record Group 38, Box 974, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  57. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 131.
  58. Ibid, 133. When TF 58 left Pearl Harbor in January 1944, it had 12 fast carriers and 8 fast battleships in addition to cruisers and destroyers. The US Navy was no longer concerned about a shortage of capital ships.
  59. Ibid, 126.
  60. Ibid, 145.
  61. Ibid, 202.
  62. Reynolds, Admiral John H. Towers, 477.
  63. It was already the case that only aviators could command carrier task forces. This rule applied to task forces of other ship types.
  64. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 234-235.
  65. Or as Uncle Ben would say to a young Peter Parker: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
  66. Hughes, Wayne. Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986), 103.
  67. Hughes, Fleet Tactics, 105.
  68. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 356.
  69. Reynolds, Admiral John H. Towers, 371.
  70. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers, 215. The figure originally quoted by Reynolds highlighted a rise in aviator flag officers to 26% by the end of 1944. I then multiplied this percentage by the total number of flag officers in 1944, which was 184 admirals in order to reach the number of aviator admirals: ~47. While I realize this method is imprecise, I believe the trend is valid and worth making note of.
  71. Reynolds, Admiral John H. Towers, 441. Admiral Steele’s tunnel vision extended beyond his ability as a strategic planner. He was fired from his next command for crashing a battleship into another battleship.
  72. Ibid, 452-453.

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The Treatment of Survivors and Prisoners of War, at Sea and Ashore


Sinking and Capture
USNOB Argentia
“Fiery Furnace” at Fort Hunt

Dr. Philip K Lundeberg
Curator Emeritus of Naval History, Smithsonian Institution


On the eve of POW/MIA remembrance day, we may seek deeper understanding by beginning with a critical directive issued by the VCNO to all ships and stations on 19 May 1942 ” regarding the handling and interrogation of prisoners of war captured by vessels of the United States Navy”. This lengthy instruction, described as based on the wartime experience of the British navy, included citation of familiar provisions of the Geneva Convention and the following directive:

” (h) After being segregated and searched, prisoners shall be cared for physically; ie. given warm clothing, fed, given medical attention, cigarets, etc. Our first interest is in obtaining all information of value to us, and any humanitarian considerations must be subordinated to this interest.” 1

These rules of engagement bore directly on events shortly before V-E day involving the treatment of survivors and prisoners of war during Operation TEARDROP, the last and most far reaching barrier undertaking in the Battle of the Atlantic. Mounted by CINCLANT in late March 1945, on the basis of numerous indicators of impending V-2 missile attacks launched from U-boats against New York, TEARDROP mustered land-based air patrols from the American east coast, Newfoundland, Iceland and indeed the Azores. Those deployments, with additional RCAF patrols, were buttressed by two large surface barrier forces, based on the U.S. Naval Operating Base at Argentia in the Crown Colony of Newfoundland, thereafter positioned athwart the estimated transit route of seven schnorkel U-boats detected heading west from bases in occupied Norway. 2

Sinking and Capture

24 April 1945 - The USS Frederick C. Davis (DE-136) sinkin in the water of the North Atlantic after being hit by torpedo from the German sub U-546. Taken by a photographer of the USS Core (CVE-13) aboard the USS Neunzer (DE-150). (U.S. Navy Photo No. 323039)

24 April 1945 – The USS Frederick C. Davis (DE-136) sinkin in the water of the North Atlantic after being hit by torpedo from the German sub U-546. Taken by a photographer of the USS Core (CVE-13) aboard the USS Neunzer (DE-150). (U.S. Navy Photo No. 323039)

Constituted as “Gruppe Seewolf’ on 12 April by the U-boat Command, these transients made slow but steady progress toward designated search line positions east of the Newfoundland Banks, actually in hopes of intercepting Allied convoys, as a diversion for heavier U-boat concentrations in Britain’s western approaches. In mid-April, three “Seewolf” boats were located and sunk by the First Barrier Force, without survivors or identifying debris. 3 Here, at a juncture that saw American landings on Okinawa and Allied advances across the Rhine into Germany, we enter the realm of microhistory — the experience of participants/survivors of singular events, over a lifetime. On the morning of 24 April 1945, the U-546 was detected by sonarmen on board USS Frederick C. Davis (DE-136) as that boat’s commander, Kaptlt. Paul Just, sought to slip through the Second Barrier at periscope depth and head for a distant escort carrier. Davis, coming about for an urgent attack, had closed to 650 yards, when, at 0840, she was torpedoed amidship, jacknifed and sank, her survivors thereafter sustaining underwater blast concussion as two damaged depth charges detonated. 4 Nearby escorts approached, gamely led by Davis sister ship, USS Flaherty (DE-135) which managed to rescue three Davis crewmen before suddenly gaining contact on nearby U-546, continuing a classic ten-hour hunt that concluded when Flaherty, commanded by Lcdr. Howard C. Duff, delivered a fatal hedgehog attack. 5 Blown to the surface, raked with gunfire, U-546 went down with nearly half of her crew, settling not far from the Davis, near Milne Seamount, roughly midway between Newfoundland and the Azores. 6

Ensuing rescue operations, led by USS Hayter (DE-212), recovered 77 Davis crewmen, most in shock and hypothermia, while the hunt for U-546 continued. Few seamen would have survived had nearby U-805 (Bernardelli) ventured into the swirling ongoing action. 7 The Davis survivors, often helped on board by hardy divers, were provided showers, first aid, warm Red Cross clothing and bed rest. One groggy sailor, who had clung to his life raft for some four hours, was advised by the corpsman that his blood had begun freezing in his veins. For many it was that close. Within hours most Davis crewmen had been highlined in breeches buoys or stretchers over to the escort carrier USS Bogue (CVE-9), whose Medical Officer, Dr. James H. Pennington, led his sick bay staff and volunteers in providing urgent triage and initial repairs, in accordance with the Navy’s Handbook of First Aid Treatment of Survivors of Disasters at Sea, published in 1943. 8 Here one recalls the gallant service of British convoy rescue ships in similar circumstances, notably during the harrowing passage of Convoy ONS-5 in May 1943. 9

 Kapitänleutnant Paul Just (left) (Photo courtesy U-Boat Archive)

Kapitänleutnant Paul Just (left) (Photo courtesy U-Boat Archive)

Meanwhile, Kaptlt. Paul Just and thirty-two crewmen from U-546 had been rescued by nearby escorts, provided showers, nourishment and warm clothing, as evident in photographs taken on board Flaherty as they enjoyed fresh air topside. 10 Within a day all had been highlined to the Bogue, where the submariners were initially berthed in the hold, away from the Davis survivors, while their Commander was briefly entertained in the wardroom. Asked about his mission, Just identified himself as deutsche offizier and declined comment, at which, in his memoire, the atmosphere became frosty. 11 Accordingly, the U-546 survivors were transferred to USS Varian (DE-798) on 25 April for swift transport to Newfoundland for interrogation. 12 En route, Just’s men received considerate treatment, in accordance with the Instructions for Interrogation of Prisoners of War, promulgated in revised edition in May 1942 to all ships and stations by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. 13 Varian’s skipper, Lcdr. Leonard A. Myhre, welcomed Just to his cabin where they discussed mutual family matters. In accordance with the aforementioned Instructions, however, comments among the prisoners were overheard, a diary found and three survivors volunteered information on their boat’s cruise history and torpedo armament. Accordingly, Myhre prepared a detailed report for transmission of this data to Tenth Fleet. 14

USNOB Argentia

On 27 April Varian reached USNOB Argentia, Just’s crew being met by the base security detachment and hustled ashore to a Quonset but mess hall where they were identified, twenty-five being selected for further transit to prisoner-of-war cantonments in the United States. Their commander, with his First Officer, Peter Schoerieich, and six enlisted specialists were, however, taken to the base prison and lodged in solitary for the ensuing two weeks. There, by Just’s detailed account, they were subjected daily to exhausting exercises and, when unable to continue, were beaten with rubber truncheons (gummiknuppel). This treatment, which Just described as Folterung, continued, to the delight of other brig inmates, until the appearance of two interrogators from Washington on 28 April, one clad as a senior naval officer. Expressing surprise at Just’s protest about the treatment of his men, the senior interrogator (later identified as a civilian agent) requested information on the armament, mission and recent operations of U-546, as well as the names of the wolfpack’s commanding officers (already known in Washington through decrypted Enigma traffic). Upon receiving Just’s refusal, the “Captain” warned that “the Russian methods” would follow if he did not receive cooperation. 15 On 30 April, the interrogators reported to Tenth Fleet that the crew of U-546 was exceptionally security conscious, adding, however, considerable detail on the boat’s history equipage and current mission. 16 Later that day, after Just had been shown a copy of Life magazine’s shocking 16 April issue, depicting starving American soldiers found in German POW camps, he was again summoned by the senior interrogator, offered a congenial cigarette and pressed anew for information. Refusing, Just took two deep breaths from the cigarette, whereupon, he later recalled, “the room spins, the chair floats, sways, falls, my head buzzes, my ears ring and everything disappears”. Awakening later on the floor of his cell, Just was briefly visited by a priest who offered a prayer but was unable to provide assistance. The exact nature of Just’s “shock interrogation”, so described by a Tenth Fleet chronicler, remains to be established from institutional memory. 17

Details on the armament and mission of U-546 were included in the interrogators’ subsequent dispatch from Argentia to Washington later on 30 April. 18 During the ensuing week, Just and his men were subjected to daily exercises and beating, the prolonged trauma merging as a blur in his mind. Meanwhile, Varian’s commanding officer, Lcdr. Myhre, had been ashore and shared meals at the officers’ mess with the interrogators and the security force commander, who reported that the prisoners were receiving the minimum daily ration and invited him to witness the German’s exercises. As a witness, Myhre protested when Just was beaten. Surprised, the guard commander countered “You were killing them out there, weren’t you!” Those words survived and would be heard again, forty-five years later, when veterans of Flaherty, Varian and Hayter met in reunion with survivors of Davis and U-546, an occasion of truth and reconciliation long remembered. 19


Back at Argentia, for Just’s men the traumatic regimen had tapered off following the news on 8 May of Germany’s capitulation which thereby terminated their status and traditional protection as prisoners of war. Just would recall, “We are allowed to wash up, brush our teeth and comb the hair”, in evident preparation for further travel. On 10 May, three days after Germany’s capitulation, the U-546 survivors boarded a military transport and were flown under guard to Boston, there being offered a bountiful meal in a public building (“rathaus”) and lodged overnight in POW barracks at the venerable Hotel Buckminster. On 11 May the Argentia eight were featured, with an officially-sanctioned photograph, in a page one article of the Boston Evening Globe, which reported that prisoners “had been held at Argentia, Newfoundland” and that they “were on their way to Washington.” 20

Remarkably, the survivors of Frederick C. Davis had arrived at Boston that same date, somehow missing the headline story as they were processed at the South Boston Naval Annex, given medical examinations, issued new sea bags and uniforms and provided oral statements of their individual experiences before being sent_ home on survivor leave. As barebones oral history, those statements proved invaluable to theirlhiWdfficer survivors in preparing a final action report for the Davis and some 115 letters of condolence to families of fallen shipmates. 21

“Fiery Furnace” at Fort Hunt

Preparations had meanwhile begun in Washington on 4 May, when a meeting was held at Fort Hunt, then a secret Army-Navy interrogation center near Mount Vernon, regarding treatment to be provided the next arrivals. Landing at National Airport on 11 May, the U-546 survivors were driven in a windowless bus to Fort Hunt, there being met by guards with truncheons and lodged in solitary cells in Compound B, as specified in the Fort Hunt log. 22 During the evening all were beaten, Just recalled having been run gantlet-style down the compound corridor between gummiknuppel-wielding guards. The next day Just was again confronted by his same Argentia interrogators. Outraged by the senior officer’s bland attitude, Just demanded “What do you want of us? The war is over, why the barbarity?” In response, his interrogator indicated that a written account of the history of U-546 would suffice. That accomplished, the prolonged ordeal ended and members of the Argentia eight were gradually dispatched to POW work assignments elsewhere. 23 Records of the “Fiery Furnace” at Fort Hunt were shortly to be incinerated en masse but at least one shred of documentation survives. On 19 May a conversation between two crewmen was monitored and recorded, including the riveting statement that “POWs talk about their treatment here at the beginning and that they could not have held out much longer”. 24 Not yet discovered, if extant, would be the statement submitted by Paul Just recording the career of U-546, possibly including the grim microhistory of its survivors. Microhistorical research may thus continue long after the passing of its participants.

Fort Hunt during World War II (Photo courtesy NPR)

Fort Hunt during World War II (Photo courtesy NPR)

For perspective we turn northward to obscure events in New England. Following their brief assignment at Fort Hunt, Just’s interrogators hastened to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where prisoners from several surrendered U-boats were being processed at the storied Portsmouth Naval Prison. Among a variety of irregularities that occurred there, subsequently investigated by the Inspector General of the Navy, was a heated three-hour interrogation of the commanding officer of surrendered U-873, Kaptlt. Friedrich Steinhoff, conducted by Paul Just’s previous interrogators. The confrontation ended abruptly when, on signal, a guard slapped the prisoner twice, sharply, whereupon Steinhoff’s defiance collapsed and he provided information. Nothing, however, was learned regarding a missile attack on New York. Subsequently moved to Boston and lodged in the Charles Street Prison, Steinhoff was reported on 19 May in the Boston Globe to have committed suicide, which thereby prompted the Portsmouth investigation, one that was not publicly disclosed. 25 In marked contrast, no such investigation would be undertaken into the covert proceedings at Argentia and Fort Hunt. Long unappreciated, therefore, remains the cautionary fact that, in contrast to a Boston suicide, hardy survivors at sea would endure prolonged duress, appreciating the veritable gift of new life and ultimately achieving catharsis through a final reckoning with history.


Dr. Philip K Lundeberg poses for a photograph with Kapitänleutnant Paul Just at the Frederick C. Davis survivors' organization held their annual reunion in Janesville, Wisconsin on Memorial Day, 1990.

Dr. Philip K Lundeberg poses for a photograph with Kapitänleutnant Paul Just at the Frederick C. Davis survivors’ organization held their annual reunion in Janesville, Wisconsin on Memorial Day, 1990.

The microhistory of survivors of Frederick C. Davis and U-546 would continue even after the passing of many participants. On Memorial Day weekend, 1990, as previously noted, the Davis  survivors met in reunion with men from the USS Hayter, Flaherty and Varian, together with eleven survivors of U-546. Memorable insights were gained during three evenings of personal presentations as well as private conversations, moving evidence of the utility of microhistory. 26 In retrospect, the enhanced interrogations, begun at distant Argentia, had indeed occurred, ironically in anticipation of a major attack on New York that in reality had not been ordered. Herein lies a fundamental lesson for students of military ethics.

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. VCNO directive to all ships and stations, Instructions for Interrogation of Prisoners of War, dated 19 May 1942, contained in Inspector General of the Navy message to COMINCH/CNO on 19 June 1945 regarding “Irregularities Connected with the Handling of Surrendered German Submarines and Prisoners of War at the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.”
  2. Philip K Lundeberg, “Operation TEARDROP Revisited,” in Timothy Runyan and Jan Copes, eds., To Die Gallantly: The Battle of the Atlantic. Boulder, Oxford, Westview Press, 1994, pp. 210-230.
  3. Gunther Hessler, German Naval History: The U-Boat war in the Atlantic. 1939-1945. London, Ministry of Defence, 1983. section 3, p.97.
  4. Lundeberg, “TEARDROP”, pp. 221-222; Paul Just,  Vom Seeflieger Zum U-Boot-Fahrer. Stuttgart, Motorbuch Verlag, 1979 pp. 162-164.
  5. Ibid.; Lundeberg, “TEARDROP”, pp. 221-222; USS Flaherty (DE-135) Deck Log, 24-25 April 1945.
  6. Ibid.; Philip K Lundeberg, American Anti-Submarine Operations in the Atlantic, May 1943-May 1945. Ann Arbor, University Microfilms, 1997, pp. 430-436.
  7. Ibid.; U-805, Kriegstagebuch, 24 April 1945, in MSS Division, Library of Congress.
  8. Handbook of First Aid Treatment for Survivors of Disasters at Sea, Washington, 1943; Medical Officer, USS Bogue, Extent of Injuries of Surviviors of the USS Frederick C. Davis, 27 April 1945; personal communication from Seaman A. Raymond Adcock. 1999.
  9. Note the service provided by H.M. Rescue Trawlers Northern Gem and Northern Spray in the passage of ONS-5. Lundeberg, American Anti-Submarine Operations, pp. 36-39; Surgeon Lieutenant R.D. Wilkins, RNVR, “Convoy Rescue Ships”, in Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service, April 1944, pp. 65-69.
  10. USS Flaherty, Deck Log, 24-25 April 1945; telephone conversation with Captain Howard C. Duff, 4 August 1993; letter with photographs from Harry J. Briscoe, 15 May 2000.
  11. USS Bogue, Deck Log, 25-26 April 1945; Just, U-Boot-Fahrer, pp. 179-182.
  12. Cinclant message to CTU 22.7.1 of 25 April 1945.
  13. VCNO directive 19 May 1942, contained in Inspector General of the Navy message to COMINCH/CNO on 19 June 1945 regarding ” Irregularities Connected with the Handling of Surrendered German Submarines and Prisoners of War at the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire”.
  14. Commanding Officer, USS Varian, report on ” Information from Prisoners of War from U-546 taken aboard the USS Varian ( DE-798) 24 April 1945″.
  15. Cf. account in Just, U-Boot-Fahrer, pp. 192-204, with statement in letter of 7 July 1945 from Head, Special Activities branch, OK to Captain E.S. Brand, RCN, Director of Naval Intelligence and Trade, Ottawa, as follows: ” Due to the arrival of the Captured U-Boats at Portsmouth it was necessary to send the crew of U-546 to their final camp in order to make room for the incoming prisoners and passengers from the five captured U-Boats. It was impossible, therefore, to carry out a detailed interrogation of U­546.” The letter bears the inscription ” Original delivered by hand, 7 July 1945 ” signed by the junior interrogator involved at Argentia and Fort Hunt.
  16. NOB Argentia message of 300015 April to CNO Tenth Fleet: Wyman H. Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence. Washington, Department of the Navy, 1996. pp.124-129.
  17. Just, U-Boot-Fahrer, pp. 202-203; Ladislas Farago, The Tenth Fleet. New York, Ivan Obolensky, 1962, pp. 20-21; Life magazine, 16 April 1945.
  18. NOB Argentia message of 301217 April to CNO Tenth Fleet.
  19. Interview with Leonard A Myhre, former C.O. Varian, at Davis reunion, Janesville WI, Memorial day weekend, May 1990; Hayter Highlights newsletter June 1990.
  20. Just, U-Boot-Fahrer, pp. 204-210; Boston Evening Globe, 11 May 1945.
  21. Ens. Robert E. Minerd, Senior Surviving Officer, USS Frederick C. Davis, Action Report to COMCINCH, Torpedoing of the USS Frederick C. Davis on the 24th April 1945; condolence letter copies in the Operational Archives, Naval Heritage and History Center, Washington Navy Yard.
  22. Special Activities Branch (Op-16Z) Office of Naval Intelligence, Fort Hunt Log, 4-5 May 1945.
  23. Ibid., 11-12 May 1945; Just, U-Boot-Fahrer, pp. 212-216.
  24. Report on monitored conversation between POWs Georg Mueller and Johannes Benn in room B­13 on 19 May 1945 at Fort Hunt interrogation compound B, found in National Archives RG 165, Ft Hunt German POW 201 files.
  25. Boston Globe, 19 May 1945, quoting Associated Press on the Steinhoff suicide, which led to the aforementioned Portsmouth investigation.
  26. For perspective on opposing sides of the interrogation table, see Lundeberg, “Teardrop”, pp.222- 225; Joseph G. Brennan, Foundations of Moral Obligation: The Stockdale Course. Newport, Naval War College Press, 1992; and National Defence University, Moral Obligation and the Military. NDU Press, Washington, 1998.

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History of the Navy Laboratory System


Development of the Bureaus
Changing the Organization
The Director of Navy Laboratories (DNL)
Changing the Processes
Decline of the DNL

Robert V. Gates, Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College

Abstract: The role of the federal government in science and technology has evolved since the founding of this nation. Likewise, the role of the Navy and, specifically, the organizational structure of the Navy in science has evolved. This paper presents a brief history of this evolution and, in particular, on the development of the Navy laboratory system.

The laboratory system can trace its origins back to the establishment of the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island in 1869.  Certain aspects of the laboratory system can be related back to the earlier engineering activities at the Washington (D.C.) Navy Yard and even to the naval shipyards.  Throughout this early history, the Navy’s Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) establishments were aligned organizationally with three bureaus: Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd), Bureau of Ships (BuShips), and Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer).  The bureaus, which reported to the Secretary of the Navy’s office through a uniformed bureau chief, represented the material procurement side of the Navy’s bilinear structure.  The operational forces – the other side of the organization – reported to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).

U.S. Naval Proving Ground, Indian Head, MD.

U.S. Naval Proving Ground, Indian Head, MD.

The federal government, and the military departments in particular, have a somewhat limited history in science and technology. 1  The emphasis in the Navy has been on weapons development based on testing and engineering or, put another way, on the production or acquisition of the required weapons or ships.  Interest in basic and applied science developed, for the most part, during World War II.  Hence, Navy RDT&E establishments that predate World War II were often of one type and those that developed during the war years were of another.  For example, the BuOrd activities at Dahlgren and Indian Head and the BuShips activity at Carderock all have their origins at the Washington Navy Yard and were primarily testing or production facilities.

In contrast, other activities put a greater emphasis on research, such as the Naval Ordnance Laboratory at White Oak, which had its primary growth during World War II, and the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, which developed from a California Polytechnic Institute laboratory during the war years.  In the end, the bureau laboratories concentrated on the support of system development and acquisition and did very little basic research.  Most of the research was performed by the Naval Research Laboratory under the control (after World War II) of the Office of Naval Research.  Further, BuOrd establishments, since they worked in areas where there was little or no commercial market, differed from those in BuAer and BuShips.  This was manifest in the relationships between the laboratories and the bureaus (and in the assignments the laboratories received) and between the laboratories and non-governmental institutions.

The organization of the military and the nature of government science and technology and research and development came under review after World War II.  By the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a great deal of interest developing around the Navy’s RDT&E organizations.  Much of this interest can be characterized, in retrospect, as concern with the strategic management of the laboratory system.  To one degree or another, this concern has persisted for the last four decades.  Over the years there have been a variety of forces – that changed over time – that shaped the problem of strategic management of the Navy laboratory system.  The solution, however, has taken the same general form – reorganization.

Developments of the Bureaus

At its founding the Navy was very small and equipped mostly for coastal operations.  During the Jefferson administration (in 1806), for example, there were fewer than 250 officers and approximately 900 seamen in the Navy (Cunningham 1978).  The Navy Department was the smallest in Washington, D.C. with a staff that consisted only of the Secretary and Accountant of the Navy and 12 clerks (Cunningham 1978).  The military officers controlled activities at sea and civilians administered the shore establishment. The Navy Department administered six shipyards.  The responsibility for superintending these yards was combined with that of the Naval Agent in all of these yards except Boston.  The Naval Agents were responsible for “the building, fitting, and supplying of a naval force” (Cunningham 1978).  The situation changed after the War of 1812.

A review of the Navy’s performance during the war identified a need for more professional staff and for an organizational change.  Consequently, the Board of Naval Commissioners was established in 1815 and assigned duties relating “to the building, repairing, and equipping of ships and superintending of Navy Yards” (Franke 1959).  This change was justified by the increase in the size and scope of the business not by an increase in its complexity.  In fact, there was very little “invention” evident in the Navy since most shipbuilding was still done by craftsmen and most guns were of European origin or design.  This organizational change marked the first sign of the bilinear organization that characterized the Navy well into the 20th century.

Awful explosion of the "peace-maker" on board the U.S. Steam Frigate Princeton on Wednesday, 1844-02-28. New York: Published by N. Currier. Currier & Ives. A size. Lithograph print, hand-colored. Currier & Ives (LOC PHOTO)

Awful explosion of the “peace-maker” on board the U.S. Steam Frigate Princeton on Wednesday, 1844-02-28. New York: Published by N. Currier. Currier & Ives. A size. Lithograph print, hand-colored. Currier & Ives (LOC PHOTO)

The Commissioner organization proved to be inadequate due to a lack of technical skills to address the more complex and expanding technical problems that were developing.  It was replaced by the Bureau system.  Five bureaus were established in 1842: Yards and Docks; Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Provisions and Clothing; Ordnance and Hydrography; and Medicine and Surgery (Furer 1959).  The number and nature of the bureaus changed on several occasions (e.g., after the Civil War and several times between 1900 and 1959) but the system lasted until 1966.

This same period saw the development of the test and engineering stations and activities that were the forerunners of the current Navy laboratory system.  Among the earliest of these was the Experimental Test Battery established by Lt. John A. Dahlgren at the Washington Navy Yard in 1847.  Dahlgren was also named Head of Ordnance Matters at the Navy Yard.  These particular developments were motivated by the ordnance weaknesses revealed in the War with Mexico and, especially, by a gun explosion on the U.S.S. Princeton that killed the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of State as they attended a shipboard demonstration (Peck 1949).

In the remaining years of the century, other engineering and test stations were established and were usually associated with one of the bureaus.  This included, for example, the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island (1869), the Naval Gun Factory (1886) and the Experimental Model Basin (1898) at the Washington Navy Yard, and the Naval Powder Factory at Indian Head, Maryland (1890).  The trend continued through World War II.  By the time of the establishment of the Director of Navy Laboratories in 1966, there were 15 Navy laboratories associated with the bureaus.

Changing the Organization

1.First firing at Lower Station of the NPG Dahlgren, VA on  16 October 1918 (USMC 7”/45 caliber tractor mounted gun). (U.S. Navy photo)

1. First firing at Lower Station of the NPG Dahlgren, VA on  16 October 1918 (USMC 7”/45 caliber tractor mounted gun). (U.S. Navy photo)

Throughout this period (1842-1966), the Navy was characterized by a bilinear organization – the “users” of the weapons and systems and the “developers and acquirers” of these systems.  The users were the operating forces that after 1915 reported to the Secretary of the Navy through the Chief of Naval Operations.  The developers and acquirers were the bureaus whose Chief, a flag officer, reported to the Secretary.  The science and technology system in the Navy can also be characterized as bilinear in nature.  In this case, the two components are foundational (or basic) research and systems development (including applied research).  In the post-World War II Navy, basic research was the responsibility of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Naval Research Laboratory.  Systems development with the associated applied research was performed by the bureau laboratories.  One point of contention was the relationship between the two components.  ONR (in a position represented by Vannevar Bush) viewed the overall process as linear – development was preceded by applied research and basic research.  This implied that management of the entire process (preferably by ONR) was required.  The bureaus, being more interested in developing and improving systems, were less concerned with basic research than with technology that was available to be applied to the systems under their cognizance.

This led to issues of funding and control of the research agenda.  One result was the establishment of an organization to plan and budget for research in the Department of Defense – the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering) in 1957 and the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) in 1958.  The services followed suit.  In the same year, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research and Development) replaced the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Air) for planning research in the Navy.

These changes set the stage for a series of studies that changed the face of the Navy laboratory system.  The studies addressed elements of the strategic management of Navy research (although that term does not appear to have been used):  control, budget, staffing, and facilities.  Undersecretary of the Navy William Franke released a study of Navy organization (Department of the Navy 1959) that recommended that the bilinear structure of the Navy be retained.  His committee observed that there was confusion concerning the responsibility for the development of certain systems, such as missiles.   They proposed to solve this by combining the Bureau of Ordnance and Bureau of Aeronautics to form the Bureau of Naval Weapons.  They anticipated that this would also eliminate the need for additional independent program offices such as the one set up to develop Polaris.

The Task 97, or Fubini report, (Department of Defense 1961) noted several problems with DOD laboratories: low morale, non-competitive salaries, substandard physical plants, and difficulties with executive management due to dual leadership (civilian and military) and lack of technical qualifications.  The report recommended that the laboratories be placed under the control of the service Assistant Secretaries for Research and Development and that there be a single laboratory director and changes to improve the Military Construction (MILCON) process (under the service Assistant Secretaries).  They also proposed an increase in salaries for laboratory directors and government scientists and engineers.

President John F. Kennedy directed the Bureau of the Budget to review government contracting for research and development (Bureau of the Budget 1962).  The resulting Bell Report noted that some 80 percent of federally funded R&D was done through non-Federal institutions and that it was in the national interest to continue to rely heavily on these institutions.  Nevertheless, there were government roles in R&D that could not be abdicated and there were concerns that needed to be addressed – maintaining the technical competence required to manage non-government R&D and performing R&D directly.  The study recommended that scientist’s salaries be increased as well as opportunities for more interesting work assignments and professional development. It was also proposed that laboratory directors be given more direct responsibility for personnel and facility issues.  This was echoed by the Furnas Report (Office of Director, Defense Research and Engineering 1962).  This Defense Science Board (DSB) report additionally recommended programs that allow government scientists to spend a sabbatical period in industry or university laboratories (and vice versa) while it cautioned against strengthening government laboratories at the expense of not for profit and industry laboratories.

Rear Admiral Rawson Bennett wrote a report (Department of the Navy 1962) that reviewed the management of Navy R&D.  He noted a number of problems: fragmentation of executive responsibility on the developer/acquirer side of the bilinear organization, lack of a long range plan for R&D, difficulty of transitioning from ideas to development, and a shortage of “truly expert personnel, both military and civilian.”  He also observed that it is difficult to maintain an adequate technological base through basic R&D given the greater attraction of development.  He made recommendations concerning organization both outside and within the bureaus: formation of a “supra-bureau” level executive, Chief of Naval Logistics; consolidation of all R&D guidance under the Deputy CNO for Development; and realignment of some bureau responsibilities.  He also offered some proposals for addressing problems that he perceived with personnel, facilities, and funding.

In 1963, the Secretary of the Navy established the Naval Material Support Establishment (NMSE) and assigned overall responsibility for coordination of the material bureaus to the Chief of Naval Material (CNM).  This organization continued the bilinear structure since the CNM reported to the Secretary independently of the CNO (Booz, Allen, and Hamilton 1976).

The Director of Navy Laboratories (DNL)

Chalmers Sherwin, Deputy Director Defense Research & Engineering, made proposals for changing the management and operation of in-house DOD and Navy laboratories (Sherwin 1964a,b).  In the DOD study he proposed that a Weapons System Development Organization (WSDO) be formed to manage most applied research and development programs and test and evaluation centers.  He also proposed a Department Laboratory Organization (DLO), under civilian leadership, to manage all basic research and to perform in-house research and exploratory and advanced development.  The head of each DLO (called the Director of Navy Laboratories in the Department of the Navy) was to report to the service Assistant Secretary for Research and Development.  His proposal would implement many of the recommendations of the Bell Report.

Chalmers Sherwin

Chalmers Sherwin

The Sherwin proposal for the Navy applied the fundamentals of his DOD plan.  He proposed the establishment of the DNL, reporting to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research and Development), and nine principal Navy R&D laboratories subordinate to him.  The Navy concurred with many of Sherwin’s observations but disagreed with his organizational proposal.  The Navy responded with studies by RADM J.K. Leydon (1964) and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (R&D), Robert Morse (1965).  Both studies argued for the traditional bilinear organization and for keeping R&D closely linked to production, procurement, and maintenance (i.e., no organizational barrier between research and system development).  Both advocated a review of policies and processes concerned with personnel, military construction, and financial management.  Morse proposed to keep the principal laboratories linked to the bureaus and to establish a DNL coequal to the Chief of Naval Research (CNR) and Chief of Naval Development (CND).  The DNL, reporting to the Assistant Secretary, would be responsible for long-range planning for personnel and facilities.  He also proposed to change the budget structure and programming procedures to provide block funding to the laboratories.

The Assistant Secretary of the Navy chartered a review of all in-house research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) activities by Dr. William P. Raney.  (Department of the Navy 1965) Raney’s task force identified nine major Navy capabilities and proposed that an RDT&E activity be established for each.  These RDT&E activities were to be formed through an examination of existing activities leading to decisions about consolidation, relocation, or elimination of some of them.  Raney’s report makes a number of such specific recommendations.

These studies culminated in two actions.  First, in August 1965 it was decided that the four material bureaus would be abolished within a year and replaced by Systems Commands.  In 1966, it was further decided to replace the Naval Material Support Establishment with the Naval Material Command (NAVMAT) and to assign the CNM to report to the CNO (Carlisle 1993b).  This marked the end of the bilinear structure in Navy R&D.  The major Navy laboratories were to report to the CNM rather than to the systems commands that succeeded the bureaus.

Second, in December of 1965 Secretary of the Navy Instruction 5430.77 established the Director of Navy Laboratories.  The DNL was to report to the Assistant Secretary and was to also act as the Director of Laboratory Programs in the Office of Naval Material.  He was assigned responsibility for the in-house Independent Research (IR), Independent Exploratory Development (IED) programs, the in-house exploratory development technology programs, and the associated funding.  He was also given authority to control the RDT&E MILCON program and the distribution of civilian personnel, to establish laboratory requirements and policies, and to direct long range planning for RDT&E resources.  It is interesting to note that the first person asked to be the DNL, Dr. Gregory Hartmann (Technical Director of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory), turned it down.  He described the DNL/DLP position as “awkward and perhaps untenable” and was convinced that the DNL had little real responsibility and authority over the laboratories (Smaldone 1977).  (Note that the budget controlled by the DNL was typically 3 to 5 percent of a laboratory’s budget.  The balance came from the systems commands.)

In 1966, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), John Foster, asked Dr. Leonard Sheingold to lead a Defense Science Board study of in-house laboratories.  The DSB proposed that the laboratories be reorganized into weapons centers.  Soon after the DDR&E directed that the Navy initiate planning to establish weapons systems development centers, the CNM approved a plan for their establishment.  Implementation of the plan in July 1967 started a process of reorganization that moved the Navy from 15 principal laboratories to 6 weapons centers over a period of some 7 years.

Changing the Processes

There were other important changes in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  As late as 1967, the laboratory financial systems were as disparate as their management histories.  The Department of Defense initiated Resource Management Systems (RMS) in the late 1960s.  The Navy converted all of the CNM laboratories to Naval Industrial Funding (NIF) in 1969.  NIF had been introduced in the Naval Research Lab and Naval Ordnance Lab as early as 1953 (and earlier in the shipyards).  While this process aided financial management in the laboratories, they never realized its full benefits due to limits on the availability of funding, personnel ceilings, and procedural rules.  (Booz, Allen, and Hamilton 1976)

A second major change was the implementation of Project REFLEX (Resources Flexibility).  In 1967, in response to a Civil Service Commission study of in-house laboratories, Project REFLEX was initiated to test the feasibility of removing controls on staffing levels at the laboratories in favor of fiscal controls.  The 3-year experiment in the CNM laboratories ran from 1970 to 1973.  Despite favorable reviews by the GAO and the DNL, it was allowed to expire.

The laboratories – both Defense and Navy – continued to be studied throughout the 1970s.  The Task Group on Defense In-House Laboratories and the second DNL, Dr. Joel Lawson, identified a number of laboratory problems that needed to be addressed.  They included the lack of clarity in roles and systems for which each lab has responsibility, conflict between the sponsors of established programs and the purveyors of new ideas – the laboratories, insufficient discretionary funds under the direct control of the laboratory directors, and the lack of full utilization of laboratory expertise and resources (Office of Director, Defense Research and Engineering 1971; DNL 1971, a,b).

The Office of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering and the Secretary of the Navy sponsored studies of laboratory missions and operations.  The Hollingsworth study recommended a recasting of the laboratory mission statements and a requirement that sponsors assign work and funding to the laboratories in strict accordance with their missions.  This was intended to reduce the laboratory competition for funds that NIF motivates (as well as the resulting mission overlap) (Hollingsworth 1974).  The Navy-Marine Corps Acquisition Review Committee (NMARC) suggested that the Navy needed to reaffirm the bilinear structure of Navy R&D (Department of the Navy 1975).  They proposed to do this by assigning the CNM more responsibility for the management of development funding under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (R&D).

Most of the studies in the 16 years from 1960 to 1976 that addressed the in-house Navy laboratories supported a policy of coordination of research under the Secretary of the Navy, added levels of review and oversight to the R&D process, and added more complex financial accounting systems.  The most recent studies (e.g., Hollingsworth and NMARC) raised the concern that the changes had created as many problems as they had remedied.  In addition, there was a growing concern about the technology base and the ability of the Navy to integrate the efforts of the systems commands to develop ships and airplanes.  During the Carter and Reagan presidencies the emphasis shifted to a concern with the bureaucratic (and, hence, inefficient) processes of government and privatization.  As part of this, it was appropriate to also consider the specification of required in-house facilities and capabilities (Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering 1980).

Decline of the DNL

By 1985 there was increasing Congressional and press criticism of Navy procurement practices.  There was also a view that there was duplication and excessive management layers in the Defense and Navy R&D system.  When the CNM, Admiral Steven White, resigned in March 1985, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman took the opportunity to disestablish the Naval Material Command and, thereby, reduce a level of management in the procurement system.  The Naval Electronic Systems Command was changed to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command at the same time.  The DNL and Navy laboratories were assigned to the Office of Naval Research.  The Chief of Naval Research reported to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Engineering, and Systems).  The systems commands would report directly to the Office of the CNO.  These moves were intended to reduce the number of management levels, streamline communications, and improve the development of systems.   They were also supposed to preserve the independence of the laboratories.  It was felt that the laboratories might cease to exist and would get caught up in solving short-term problems if they reported directly to the systems commands (Carlisle 1993b).

This organizational change only lasted 10 months.  In February 1986, the DNL and the laboratories were placed under the managerial control of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.  There was concern expressed by the other systems commands at the prospect of “their” laboratories being placed under the management control of another systems command.  There was a feeling in some circles that the purpose of the reorganization was to reduce the involvement of the laboratories in development activities.  As a result of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and Defense Department reorganization studies, a major reorganization of Defense R&D was undertaken.  Two important changes were the increased role of the operating forces in setting requirements and the establishment of the Program Executive Officer (PEO) structure.  The PEOs were to be responsible for system acquisition and reported to the newly constituted Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition) (ASN (RDA)).  The intent was to move control of major acquisition programs from the systems commands to the ASN (RDA).  The laboratories maintained their independence from the systems commands although one thing did not change – most laboratory funding came from activities other than the one that exercised management control.

At about the same time, Coopers and Lybrand (1986) undertook a major study of Navy Industrial Funding.  They concluded that the individual laboratories were well managed but found that the ONR laboratories only controlled about 25 percent of the Navy’s RDT&E appropriation.  Further, the laboratories expended just 7 percent of their funding on technology base (about one-half of that out-of-house) and seemed to be evolving into contracting centers.  The Defense Science Board (1987,1988) and the Office of Technology Assessment (1989) continued to study how effective DOD was in managing and maintaining the defense technology base.  They all raised some concerns and made several recommendations including moving towards consolidation of laboratories under DOD aegis (OTA, 1989) and creating new executive positions in DOD and the services to provide oversight and guidance for science and technology programs.

The Navy Base Structure submitted its report to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 1990.  Its recommendations formed the basis for the commission’s approach to base closure, as required by Public Law 101-510.  The recommendations outlined a significant realignment of the Navy laboratory system – 4 megacenters were to be established and, in the process, 10 activities were recommended for closure and consolidation into other activities.  Additionally, 16 others were marked for realignment (Department of the Navy 1991).

A Federal Advisory Commission (1991) also favored the warfare center concept and recommended that it be implemented in January 1992.  This commission was concerned about the possible loss of laboratory identity and the disruption of the workforce.  Consequently, it also recommended that the warfare centers be part of the DOD Laboratory Demonstration Program.  These proposals were implemented in January 1992 and the major Navy R&D centers were joined to form the megacenters and were attached to the appropriate systems command (e.g., the Naval Surface Warfare Center was established as part of the Naval Sea Systems Command).  At the same time, the Director of Navy Laboratories Office was disestablished.


Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren, Va. (Aug. 19, 2004) – Naval reservists, scientists and engineers work in the Integrated Command Environment (ICE) Human Performance laboratory located at NSWC Dahlgren, Va. The ICE lab focuses on the Navy’s evolving human performance and human systems integration (HSI) testing. The lab demonstrates the ability to fight future battles with HSI- engineered hardware, software and features common consoles, displays, and knowledge management features that Fleet Sailors helped design to enhance human performance and mission accomplishment. ICE is part of the vision of Sea Power 21. NSWC Dahlgren provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering, and fleet support for: Surface Warfare, Surface Ship Combat Systems, Ordnance, Strategic Systems, Mines, Amphibious Warfare Systems, Mine Countermeasures, and Special Warfare Systems. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED)

This paper has addressed the studies performed over a 30-year period that led to the establishment of the DNL, its modification, and its abolishment.  The studies have not stopped however.  Throughout the 1990s the BRAC process continued and there were a collection of studies that addressed efficiency (e.g., the reinvention studies and standardization of business systems and processes), the costs and effectiveness of the Defense laboratory structure, contracting out and privatization, and consolidation and realignment.  Although the systems commands have each taken a different approach to organizing and managing their programs and their associated laboratories, this basic structure has continued to the present.  There have been a variety of organizational and management changes that have modified the relationship between the system commands and their included R&D centers.


Books, Articles, and Reports

Allison, David, Ed.  The R&D Game: Technical Men, Technical Managers, Research Productivity. Cambridge, MIT Press, 1969.

Allison, David K. and Joseph Marchese.  Index of Oral Histories Relating to Naval Research, Development, and Acquisition.  Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, 1992.

Amato, Ivan.  Pushing the Horizon: Seventy-Five Years of High Stakes Science and Technology at the Naval Research Laboratory. Washington:  GPO, 1999.

Anspacher, William B., Betty H. Gay, Donald E. Marlowe, Paul B. Morgan and Samuel J. Raff.  The Legacy of the White Oak Laboratory.  Dahlgren, VA: NSWCDD, 2000.

Arthur D. Little, Inc.  “Basic Research in the Department of Defense.”  10 November 1960.

Baile, Kenneth C.  “Historical Perspective of NAVSWC/Dahlgren’s Organizational Culture (NSWC MP 90-715).” Dahlgren, VA: NSWC, 1991.

Beason, J. Douglas.  DOD Science and Technology: Strategy for the Post-Cold War Era.  Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1997.

Bowen, Harold G.  Ships, Machinery, and Mossbacks.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954.

Bush, Vannevar.  Science: The Endless Frontier.  A Report to the President.  Washington, 1945 (Reprint 1990).

Carlisle, Rodney P.  Management of the U.S. Navy Research and Development Centers During the Cold War. Washington:  GPO, 1993.

________.  Powder and Propellants: Energetic Materials at Indian Head, Maryland, 1890-1990.  Washington:  GPO, 1993.

________.  Navy RDT&E Planning in an Age of Transition. Washington: Department of the Navy, 1997.

________.  The Relationship of Science and Technology: A Bibliographic Guide. Washington: Department of the Navy, 1997.

________.  Where the Fleet Begins: A History of the David Taylor Research Center. Washington: Department of the Navy, 1998.

Christman, Albert B.  Sailors, Scientists, and Rockets: History of the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California, Volume 1. Washington: Department of the Navy, 1971.

________.  Target Hiroshima: Deke Parsons and the Creation of the Atomic Bomb. Annapolis. MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998.

________.  “Evolution of Navy Research and Development.”  Draft Paper, Undated.

________.  “You Can’t Run a Laboratory Like a Ship.”  Undated.

Colvard, James E.  “Roles of In-House R&D Institutions in a Free Enterprise System.”  Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest.  Vol. 5, No. 3, 1984.

________.  “Warriors and Weaponeers: Reflections on the History of their Association Within the Navy.”  Unpublished Paper, 30 May 1995.

________.  “Closing the Science-Sailor Gap.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. June 2002, 74-77.

________.  “Historical Perspective on Naval R&D.”  Presentation to Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), videotape, Undated.

Cunningham, Noble E.  The Process of Government under Jefferson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Conversion of Defense Research and Development Laboratories” (Adolph Report).  30 September 1991.

Gerrard-Gough, J.D. and Albert B. Christman.  The Grand Experiment at Inyokern: History of the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California, Volume 2. Washington: Department of the Navy, 1978.

Hedrick, Captain David I., USN.  “Research and Experimental Activities of the U.S. Naval Proving Ground.”  Journal of Applied Physics, March 1944.

________.  “U.S. Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren, Virginia: History, April 1918 – December 1945 (NPG-H-1).” Dahlgren, VA: NPG, 1945.

Hollingsworth, G.L. “A Review of Laboratory Missions and Functions.” August 1974.

Luttwak, Edward N.  Strategy and Politics.  New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1980.

________.  Strategy and History.  New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1985.

________.  Strategy.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

McCollum, Kenneth G., Ed.  Dahlgren. Dahlgren, VA: NSWC, 1977.

Naval Research Advisory Committee.  “Report on Naval Research and Development.”  Washington: Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition, October 1994.

Ray, Thomas W.  “‘The Bureaus Go On Forever …’.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. January 1968, 50-63.

Sapolsky, Harvey M.  The Polaris System Development: Bureaucratic and Programmatic Success in Government.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.

________.  Science and the Navy: The History of the Office Naval Research.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Smaldone, Joseph P.  “History of the White Oak Laboratory.”  Silver Spring, MD: NSWC, 1977.

Smith, Bernard.  Looking Ahead From Way Back.  Richmond, IN: Prinit Press, 1999.

Westrum, Ron.  Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999.

Wright, Capt. E.A.  “The Bureau of Ships: A Study in Organization (Part 1).”  Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, February 1959, 7-21.

________.  “The Bureau of Ships: A Study in Organization (Part 2).”  Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, May 1959, 315-27.

Primary Source Material

Archival material cited in this manuscript is from the Warfare Center Collection of the Operational Archives, Naval Heritage and History Command at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. unless otherwise noted.  The primary source material listed below was supplemented by official reports from the Technical Library at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, which are listed above.

Unpublished Reports, Memoranda, Letters, and Instructions

Booz, Allen & Hamilton.  “Review of Navy R&D Management, 1946-1973.” 1 June 1976.

Bureau of Ships.  “A Functional Approach to BuShips.”  Bureau of Ships Journal, June 1965, 6-8.

Chief of Naval Material (CNM), “Installation of NIF in CNM Laboratories,” Memorandum dated 12 December 1967.

Comptroller General of the United States.  “Report to the Congress:  Project REFLEX (Resource Flexibility) – A Demonstration of Management through Use of Fiscal Controls without Personnel Ceilings, Report B-165969.”  21 June 1974.

Coopers & Lybrand. “Management Analysis of the Navy Industrial Fund Program: Naval Laboratories Review Report.” June 1986.

Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Development) (DCNO (D)) to Chief of Naval Operations (CNO),  “Distribution of Functions in Navy Department,” Memorandum dated 19 April 1966.

Director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) Study dated 25 October 1966 “Problems of the In-House Laboratories and Possible Solutions.”

Director of Navy Laboratories. “A Plan for Improving the Effectiveness and Utilization of the Navy’s In-House Labs” (Lawson Report). 25 May 1971.

________. “How Can the Labs Best Serve the Navy?” (Second Lawson Report). July 1971.

Galantin, Admiral I.J. (CNM) to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research and Development, “RDT&E Management,” Memorandum dated 28 June 1965.

Hilyer, Robert, “The Future of the Department of Defense In-House Laboratories in the World of Research and Development,” Transcript of speech delivered to the Inter-laboratory Committee on Personnel Administration (ILCPA) – West Coast on 26 January 1977.

Leydon, J.K.  “The Management of Navy In-House Laboratories.” 17 December 1964.

Marchese, Joseph to Howard Law “Summary of Fifty-five Reports that Involve Management of Military R&D,” Letter dated 6 August 1987.

Morse, Robert W.  “On the Management of Navy Laboratories.” 4 January 1965.

Naval Weapons Center (NWC) Operating Principles, 1974

Naval Weapons Laboratory.  “Recommendations for the Development of the Naval Weapons Laboratory (NWL AR-103).”  Dahlgren, VA: NWL, 1968.

NAVMAT INSTRUCTION 5430.26 “Director of Laboratory Programs; establishment of,” 26 April 1966.

NAVMAT INSTRUCTION 5450.8 “Navy R&D Laboratories; command relationships and management policies for,” 27 June 1967.

NAVMAT INSTRUCTION 7000.13 “Laboratory Acceptance of Funds; policy on,” 23 October 1968.

Office of Director, Defense Research and Engineering.  “Report of the Defense Science Board on Government In-House Labs” (Furnas Report). 6 September 1962.

________.  “Report of the Task Group on Defense In-House Labs” (Glass Report). 1 July 1971.

SECNAV INSTRUCTION 5420.158 “Advisory Group to ASN (R&D) on Laboratory Matters; Establishment of,” 2 January 1964.

SECNAV INSTRUCTION 3900.13A “Management of Navy Research and Development Laboratories,” 1 November 1966.

SECNAV INSTRUCTION 3900.13B “Management of Navy Research and Development Resources and Installations” 1 June 1971.

Sherwin, Chalmers.  “A Plan for the Operation and Management of the Principal DOD In-House Laboratories.” 16 November 1964.

________.  “A Proposed Plan for the Organization of the Principal Navy In-House Laboratories.” 16 November 1964.

U.S. Bureau of the Budget.  “Report to the President on Government Contracting for Research and Development” (Bell Report). 30 April 1962.

U.S. Civil Service Commission.  “Problems in the Management of Department of Defense In-House Laboratories.” 27 December 1967.

U.S. Department of Defense.  Task Force 97 Action Group.  “Review of Defense Laboratories: Progress Report and Preliminary Recommendations” (Fubini Report).  September 1961.

U.S. Department of the Navy.  “Report of the Committee on Organization of the Department of the Navy” (Franke Report).  31 January 1959.

________.  “Research and Development Management Study,” Review of Management of the Department of the Navy.  Volume II, Study 3.  19 October 1962.

________.  Task Force on In-House RDT&E Activities.  “Memorandum for Policy Board, In-House RDT&E Field Activities Study” (Raney Report).  April 1965.

________.  “Director of Navy Laboratories, establishment of (SECNAV INST 5430.77).”  20 December 1965.

________.  “Report of the Navy-Marine Corps Acquisition Review Committee.”  January 1975.

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. The U.S Constitution (Article I, Section 8) gives Congress the power to “promote the progress of science” by protecting patents and to regulate standards for weights and measures.  These and agricultural research characterize government science for the first 150 years of the republic.

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The First Naval War College Plan Against Spain by Lt. Cmdr. Charles H. Stockton


The Historical Setting
Stockton’s West Indies’ Strategy and the War Plan
The Legacy of the Stockton War Plan

Kenneth C. Wenzer 1
Naval History and Heritage Command


In a message to Congress on March 8, 1880 President Rutherford B. Hayes proclaimed:

The policy of this country is a canal under American control. The United States cannot consent to the surrender of this control to any European Power. . . . No European Power can intervene . . . without adopting measures on this continent which the United States would deem wholly inadmissible. . . . An interoceanic canal across the American Isthmus will essentially change the geographical relations between . . . the United States and the rest of the world. It will be the great ocean thoroughfare between our Atlantic and our Pacific shores, and virtually a part of the coastline of the United States. 2

To achieve Hayes’ goal, six years later Capt. Alfred T. Mahan immersed himself in Caribbean strategic studies. The resulting lectures, delivered at the Naval War College, according to Dara Baker, the head archivist at the Naval War College, recently “went AWOL.” Mahan in an edited 1911 version did point out that the United States, exposed to a weak position in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea and without territorial presence, could never assert influence on the Central American Isthmus. Since he boasted, as he was apt to believe of his strategic thinking that “the light dawned first on my inner consciousness; [and] I owed it to no other man,”3 we may accept with assurance a prophetic quotation from his original lecture that the cure for these above-mentioned “evils”

is a subject that belongs to the province of our statesmen. Nevertheless, while the applying of any remedy is primarily a political question, the character of the remedy to be applied, being intended to cure military evils, must be determined by military considerations. 4

It was Lt. Cmdr. Charles H. Stockton, however, who not only wrote another strategic study of the Caribbean at the same time as his soon-to-be famous colleague, but was the first man to pen a war plan against the Kingdom of Spain’s most important remaining colony in the Americas, Cuba—the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

The Historical Setting

The Naval War College (NHHC Photo)

The Naval War College (NWC Archives)

The Naval War College founded in 1884 by Commo. Stephen B. Luce had experienced, for the most part, a stormy existence.  Luce undoubtedly must have felt proud, for he laid an enduring intellectual foundation, but it was two of his protégés who built the edifice. Many of us are acquainted with Mahan and we may have heard the name of Charles Herbert Stockton, but only as an expert in international naval law. 5 Further inquiry into Stockton’s strategic, tactical, historical, and war planning studies, both theoretical and practical, compels history to honor him as an outstanding naval thinker.

Stockton, a native Philadelphian, matured in a period punctuated by harsh change, depression, and growth; a country wrenched from agricultural pursuits to an industrial behemoth, one that could no longer proclaim innocence. Localism and regionalism gave way to a national and consumer economy with global connections. Tens of thousands of miles of telegraph wires and railroad tracks aided this growth, as well as other technological marvels. Increased mobility deepened urban culture and redesigned the city landscape. Between 1860 and 1890 extraction of natural resources, industry, manufactured products, and techniques of mass marketing transformed America.

Too much speculation and overproduction, along with overcapitalization of railroads, brought on instability. During the last three decades of the nineteenth century redistribution and withdrawal of money and land speculation created panics and depressions. Banks failed, railroads went under, farm prices sank, and people went hungry. In an economy driven by competition, employers in response to market fluctuations cut wages or fired workers, so labor violence ensued and reform movements flourished, yet American commercial interests also expanded overseas, especially in the robust period of the 1880’s.

In the midst of this change informed men looked to an isthmian canal as a major answer to overproduction and labor problems. A greater trade capacity with the Caribbean and Latin American markets commandeered by Yankee ingenuity and a more flexible exchange capability between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts would be a boon. A canal would also infringe on the limitations set forth in the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) with Great Britain. 6 The French had the gall to start digging in Panama, but Ferdinand de Lessep’s failure to surmount obstacles piqued more interest, and multiple American surveys favored a Nicaraguan route. 7 New U.S. commercial interests would most assuredly need protection, so there had to be a powerful navy. The defeat of the Freylinghusen-Zavala Treaty to obtain concessions in Nicaragua did not dampen the Navy’s ardor. 8

There was, however, a contradiction—in the decades following the Civil War, public policy allowed the Navy to languish, so that by the mid-1880’s the United States rated conspicuously low as a naval power and it suffered from a singular degree of ineffectiveness. Recoil from the horrors of the Civil War and a smug insularity no doubt contributed to this situation. There was also a growing realization among the country’s political leaders and naval officer corps that the world was in the midst of a revolution in industrial and military technology that threatened to leave the United States defenseless on the seas for the failure to keep pace with European countries. It was growing American wealth and a new willpower that eventually launched a large-scale naval building program. And so the “New Navy” with the ABCD steel fleet was born, as well as a concomitant pugnaciousness, best exhibited by Lt. Cmdr. Bowman H. McCalla’s takeover of a town in Panama. 9

Commander Charles H. Stockton USN (NHHC Photo # NH 44396)

Lt. Cmdr. Charles H. Stockton, USN (NHHC, NH 44396)

Such a visionary as Luce knew that in order to address these changes new strategies had to be developed at the Naval War College, including protection of the anticipated windfall from an American-controlled canal and war plans against European powers that maintained an irksome presence in North America and the West Indies. 10 Even though Luce envisioned the College as the vanguard of forward naval thinking, it nevertheless, faced oblivion. So Luce and his fellow advocates Capt. Alfred T. Mahan and Cmdr. William T. Sampson battled with its detractors including Secretary of the Navy William E. Chandler, Commo. Francis M. Ramsay, and Cmdr. Winfield S. Schley. 11 This warfare ripped through the officer corps in the 1880’s, and beyond. No less a challenge, the U.S. Congress insisted on an accounting for its financial largess. The parsimonious funding for the Naval War College, however, made it difficult to think, since there was a dearth of coal to warm the building during the bleak New England winters. In this precarious situation, a presumably well-bundled Lt. Cmdr. Charles H. Stockton completed his first contribution in 1887: “The Present Condition of Commerce and Commercial Routes Between Europe and the Pacific, with an Estimate of the Effect Produced on Them by a Trans-Isthmian Canal Including a View of the Military and Political Conditions of the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea.”12

Stockton’s West Indies’ Strategy and the War Plan

In his lectures, Stockton was keenly aware of the ongoing dialogue in the second half of the nineteenth century in diplomatic, congressional, army, naval, and foreign circles regarding a U.S. or European-controlled Central American canal. To address the anticipated commercially ascendant United States, he took us on a strategic tour of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Stockton pointed out various features, military and naval capabilities, and commercial value of many countries, islands, and the southern U.S. On a secret mission to Central America in 1885 during a war, Stockton evinced first-hand knowledge of his subject matter. 13 Luce, now a rear admiral and commander of the North Atlantic Station, also fed Stockton on an ongoing basis reports about naval facilities and anchorages. 14

Stockton exhibited a deft ecumenicalism in his studies, with an astute grasp of current events, history, harbors and ports of different countries, Panamanian and Nicaraguan canal surveys, economic statistics, political conditions, and of course potential commercial growth with an American-dominated canal. He freely mentioned numerous updated reconnaissance findings about armament, fortifications, naval facilities, and other features. 15

Of paramount importance was the shortening of trade routes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, not only for the U.S. but also for European countries. Stockton predicted that seven to eight million dollars of cargo would be conveyed in just the first year with the opening of an interoceanic canal and a “great epoch in the commercial history of the world will be begun.” 16

The West Indies (LC, Geography and Map Div.)

The West Indies (LC, Geography and Map Div.)

His mandate was to instruct naval officers in the “importance of the waters and passages of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea in a Military and Navy way” and alert them to “the modifications, in trade routes and trade movements which would likely to arise, from the opening of a ship canal, and to examine the predominance of the various Naval powers over these routes and over the bodies of water through which they pass.” 17  Trade routes, in his estimation, were tantamount to war routes. Of especial concern were the Yucatan Channel, the Windward Passage, and the potential growth of the Caribbean in commercial and military importance with the opening of the canal. 18

He wrote in detail on the natural resources of the West Indies’ islands and South American countries, be they vegetable or mineral, cited current export and import statistics, major ports with anchorage depths, water versus land transportation costs, and pointed out the important trade routes. He concluded by positing that what at stake was a major market.

I cannot pass from the West Indies and Caribbean coast however without calling to attention to [sic] the great trade existing between the United States and these countries, more especially in articles exported to the United States . . . for which we are the great and almost only market. Of the countries of the entire world doing trade with us, the countries in and along the Caribbean Sea furnish us with products and exports, exceeded only in value by the articles received from Great Britain and Ireland, amounting to over $11,000,000 in value; and to more than thirteen per cent of our entire import trade . . .  [as a market] of vital importance [it would increase U.S. exports to these countries, which would ensure greater commercial prosperity and expansion]. 19

Central and South American states, for the most part in a less-developed state compared to the U.S., would undoubtedly flourish. The canal would foster economic expansion, land transportation, agricultural pursuits, mineral exploitation, and a host of other improvements that would be made available. 20 And not to be forgotten was how these countries would percolate with activity since the United States was “one of the greatest of [sic] coffee drinking nations of the world.” 21

Stockton displayed an impressive command of contemporary market forces and consumption patterns that was overshadowed by an undoubted U.S. dominance. He claimed that:

In the matter of sugar alone, the West Indies provides us with nearly two-thirds of our entire supply, and as these countries are cut off more and more from the European countries by the enormous production of beet sugar under artificial stimulus of bounties, they turn to us and our increasing demand, as their last hope for future prosperity. In the U.S. 54 lbs. per capita of sugar is used, in G/B. [Great Britain] 74 lbs. is used. Two thirds of the world’s supply of sugar is derived from the beet root. 22

The Lt. Cmdr., was well aware of weakness of the U.S. Navy, and for that matter the strength of the Royal Navy, nevertheless, he looked to the strategic domination of the entire West Indies with the establishment of naval bases and coaling stations on the Gulf Coast and throughout the entire Caribbean. Chiriqui Lagoon on the east coast of Panama Stockton deemed as the ideal coaling station and naval base to protect the canal’s entrance, as did Mahan in his famous global geopolitical report submitted to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long under the auspices of the Naval War Board in August 1898. 23 Samana Bay in Santo Domingo was also considered to be of inestimable value. Pensacola was designated the primary naval base in the region, supported by Key West, the Dry Tortugas, and New Orleans. Tampa was singled-out as a port for supplies to be sent south, advice followed during the Spanish-American War. 24

Of especial importance was the Gulf of Mexico, regarded by the expansion-minded Stockton “as but the basin of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.” So

in order that the real value of the Florida Straits and the Yucatan Channel may be duly appreciated, it then follows that these passages and not the passes of the Mississippi are the real mouths of that river, and by these outlets only, can the products carried on this great water route reach the open sea. It is well also to note that neither of these passages are placed so as to be dominated by the United States to whom they are of so great moment. 25

In his strategic framework a real threat existed to an American-controlled canal from Spain and other potentially hostile European powers given their ability to poise their attacking forces from multiple locations in the West Indies.

The necessary supplies could be furnished [even overland to the Pacific Coast] . . . to an English fleet from Jamaica, St. Lucia and Barbadoes; to a French fleet from Martinique and Guadaloupe and to a Spanish force from Havana and Cuba. A German fleet would probably establish a base in the West Indies. This readiness of supply from the West Indies and the Caribbean emphasizes the urgent necessity for its control by our naval forces in case of war. 26

With the completed canal under the control of the United States vigilance would be a necessity.

To that end, Stockton noted the growth of German economic interests in the Western Hemisphere and feared lest Berlin swallow the Netherlands and take Curaçao and the rest of the Dutch Antilles. 27

The Republic of France was well situated with a presence on Guadeloupe and Martinique, and stressed that her repair and docking facilities at Fort de France were “unequalled . . . in the West Indies, Gulf or Mid-Atlantic.” 28 They would “serve as a base of operations against our trade to the land, and against our southern ports. . . . [and] for the command of the ship canal, whether carried out afloat or ashore.” 29 A blockade with landing operations on Martinique was therefore mentioned.

It was, of course, the dominant presence of the Royal Navy in St. Lucia, British Honduras, and Jamaica especially with the port and naval facilities at Port Royal that could cause serious problems. Port Royal presented “a most favorable military and Naval base for operations against Central America, the Isthmus and the Caribbean coast . . . against the Gulf coast of the United States and the Mississippi” and the Windward Passage. 30 He speculated only on two landing places for an assault on Port Royal after depicting the firepower of the forts, capacity of the port facilities, manpower, and other characteristics. 31

Stockton suggested maneuvers against these foreign possessions in a cursory manner. The initial military and naval thrust that he proposed was not directed towards these European naval powers but Spain, a country weakened by unstable politics and with a virtually nonexistent industrial base. What makes this prescient naval officer’s study so remarkable is that it contains the first strategic war plan against one of Spain’s last echoes of a global empire—Cuba. Spain, in his estimation, posed a constant threat.

Stockton emphasized the strategic location of Havana, the most important city and port in the West Indies, with an ideal location to launch naval operations in the Straits of Florida and the Yucatan Channel. As the key element in his framework, it was the transportation hub, communications and supply center, and focus of trade for the island. The capital was therefore the prime target, subsequently confirmed by all the pre-war plans of the 1890’s. At one time, Cuba supported the “entire Spanish navy from tribute paid.” 32 Havana had to be isolated and blockaded by land and sea to subjugate the entire colony. Stockton took great pains, with his thorough knowledge of this port, to hammer home this point. The harbor could handle deep-draft vessels, had a capacity for over 1,000 ships, and was well protected against inclement weather. It was home to the largest Spanish naval and military presence in the West Indies, but ordnance at the five forts needed updating and “it is remarkable that its naval resources have become unused and obsolete” given its invaluable position. 33 The “Naval Arsenal,” he writes

has machine and other shops/foundries, storehouses and a small marine railway, but no plant for docking or building iron or steel ships or heavy machinery. This establishment was officially declared closed on the 1st of January, 1885, from the inability of the island treasury to support it any longer. This fact is significant both of the waning power of Spain and of the impoverished condition of the Cuban Treasury. 33

To the east of Havana is Matanzas, only ninety miles from the Keys. Stockton indicated that it “would most likely be used in any aggressive warfare against American trade through the Florida Straits.” 35 The war plans by Train and Kimball in the 1890’s stressed his suggestion and opted for Matanzas as a base of operations against Havana. 36 In early 1898 Montgomery was dispatched to the former and Maine to the latter for the possible initial thrust against Cuba. Apparently he knew that Havana Harbor was not mined given the commercial extent of the shipping, nevertheless a “naval force would probably be kept out . . . by torpedoes and heavy obstructions in the entrance in addition to the fire of the fortifications.” 37 Capt.-Gen. Ramón Blanco y Érenas, the governor of Cuba, did “follow his advice” in April 1898.

Stockton in his aptly titled “Coup de Main” section, however, favored Mariel, west of the capital, as the initial landing place and base of operations and so did Capt. Albert S. Barker and Maj. Arthur L. Wagner in their final West Indian war plan composed eleven years later. 38 Stockton also estimated that a force of 60,000 to 100,000 men was needed to besiege the capital, as did McKinley and his military planners.

On the south coast of Cuba Stockton regarded the harbors of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba to be of invaluable strategic importance, especially the latter, after Havana. It would be the natural center of all naval and military operations in southeastern Cuba and could command the Windward Passage. As with Havana the Spanish allowed the military and naval presence there to deteriorate, but given the topography of the harbor entrance it was capable of a strong defense with torpedoes and obstructions, a fear instilled in Commo. Winfield S. Schley and RAdm. William T. Sampson during the Spanish-American War. The surrounding area was blessed with an abundance of agricultural and mineral products, especially the highest quality iron ore for naval applications. Santiago was, however, totally dependent on the U.S. for coal and its stock of fresh provisions limited. RAdm. Cervera was apparently unaware of these circumstances seeking its harbor as a refuge and its inhabitants suffered grievously during the hostilities. Stockton also suggested a landing point east of the city, not far from where Gen. William R. Shafter disembarked in June 1898.

Cuba experienced much turmoil during the nineteenth century and Stockton, a keen student of history and current events, knew that the U.S. should be prepared to launch operations. The final Cuban insurrection did break out in 1895, culminating in the Spanish-American War.

The Legacy of the Stockton War Plan

The Stockton war plan, with its projected aggressive joint-service campaign against Cuba, was radical in character for it broke the accepted barriers of contemporary naval thinking. Before 1890 the predominant strategic thought, characterized by coastal defense, isolated foreign saber rattling by ship commanders, and commerce destroying, stunted the growth of the U.S. and her navy. 39 Stockton was apparently sensitive to American isolation, refused to accept the invulnerability of his country although far from Europe, reveled in an assertive Monroe Doctrine, championed a powerful navy to support commercial expansion with a securely controlled canal, harbored distaste for English command of the seas, and embraced coal and technology. Stockton followed in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams that Cuba would naturally gravitate to the U.S. In short, he was a man with vision who pointed out to his fellow officers, that “the apathy of Spain and its paucity of naval resources . . . [in the West Indies] are only equaled by the indifference and neglect of the United States upon the same matters.” 40

Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce (Stephen B. Luce (NHHC Photo # NH 59609)

RAdm. Stephen B. Luce, USN (NHHC, NH 59609)

Stockton’s work composed at the same time as Mahan’s inquiry into the strategic features of the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean Sea antedated the lost Spanish war plan written by Mahan by three years. 41 Notations on the Naval War College folder containing Stockton’s introduction suggest that his strategic lectures, or at least some of them, were read in 1887, 1888, and 1892. A revision is also indicated on June 9, 1894 and another reading on July 23, 1894. They were deposited in the Office of Naval Intelligence for scrutiny. Lt. Cmdr. Charles J. Train wrote a plan in 1894 and Lt. William W. Kimball’s famous contribution appeared two years later. Additional war plans against Spain were also prepared during the 1890’s. 42 In 1899 the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute published an edited version of Stockton’s lectures with the war plans excised as “The American Interoceanic Canal: A Study of the Commercial, Naval and Political Conditions.” 43 Stockton also contributed numerous studies and was president of the Naval War College in 1893 and from 1898 to 1900, so his ties were ongoing and strong.

Stockton’s contribution not only served as the original inspiration, but also as the continuum for all subsequent war plans against Spain up to the outbreak of hostilities in 1898. Kimball’s detailed plan, however, should be rightfully regarded as the overarching template for the final war preparations. Stockton’s plan within its broader historical context merits further attention (in progress), however, for now let us accept it as a unique contribution worthy of the Naval War College.

One may readily understand that in 1896, the president of the Naval War College Capt. Henry C. Taylor, in a confidential letter to Luce, exclaimed that the Secretary of the Navy Hillary A. Herbert “is now . . . using me and the College as [a] General Staff and me as the Chief of same with considerable powers.” 44

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. Kenneth C. Wenzer, PhD is a historian who is affiliated with the Naval History and Heritage Command (hereafter, NHHC), Spanish-American War and World War I Projects, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC. The opinions and conclusions expressed in this article are solely those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or any other agency of the U.S. Government. Gratitude is extended to Dr. Dennis M. Conrad (Supervisory Historian, Spanish-American War and World War I Documentary History Projects) and Dr. Michael Crawford (Historian of the Navy) at NHHC, Dr. John Kuehn (Gen. William Stofft Chair for Historical Research, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, ret. Cmdr., USN), Mr. Dana Wegner (Curator of Navy Model Ships and Historian on the Rickover team), Dr. Carlos Rivera (Professor, Ohio State University, ret. Lt. Cmdr., USN), and Ms. Barbara Bull, and Mr. Charles T. Creekman (ret. Capt., USN), Dr. David Winkler, and Mr. Matthew Eng of the Naval Historical Foundation. I am also indebted for the archival support and librarianship of Ms. Dara Baker and Mr. Scott Reilly at the Naval War College Archives (hereafter, RNN); Mr. Glenn Helm, Mr. J. Allen Knechtmann, and their staffs at the Navy Library and Archives; Mr. Jeffrey Flannery and his staff at the Manuscript Reading Room of the Library of Congress (hereafter, DLC-MSS); Mr. Christopher Killillay and his colleagues at both locations of the National Archives and Records Administration. Spelling and grammatical discrepancies have, at times, been silently corrected and regularized in the primary quotations
  2. Rutherford B. Hayes, “Message to the House of Representatives, March 8, 1880,” Letters and Messages of Rutherford B. Hays, President of the United States (Washington, DC: no pub., 1881), 291-92.
  3. Alfred T. Mahan, From Sail to Steam: Recollections of Naval Life (New York: Da Capo Press, 1968), 276. This book was originally published in 1906.
  4.   Alfred T. Mahan, Naval Strategy: Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1911), 375. Chapter XI is the “Application to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea” and Chapter XII is “The Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.” Mahan edited these lectures first given in 1887.
  5. Charles H. Stockton, The Laws and Usages of War at Sea: A Naval War Code (Washington, DC; Government Printing Office, 1900) and A Manual of International Law for the Use of Naval Officers (Annapolis: Naval Institute, 1917).
  6. Lindley M. Keasbey, The Nicaragua Canal and the Monroe Doctrine: A Political History of Isthmus Transit, with Special Reference to the Nicaragua Canal Project and the Attitude of the United States Government Thereto (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896), 202-16.
  7. Literature extolling or condemning one or the other of the two isthmian canal locations evolved into a cottage industry in the nineteenth century. See, for instance: Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua, The Inter-Oceanic Canal of Nicaragua: Its History, Physical Condition, Plans and Projects (New York: The Nicaragua Canal Construction Co., 1891) and José C. Rodrigues, The Panama Canal: Its History, Its Political Aspects, and Financial Difficulties (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1885).
  8. Kenneth J. Hagan, American Gunboat Diplomacy and the Old Navy, 1877-1889, Contributions in Military History, No. 4 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973), 158-59.
  9. James C. Rentfrow, Home Squadron: The U.S. Navy on the North Atlantic Station (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 43. The ABCD fleet consisted of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Dolphin.
  10. Hagan, American Gunboat Diplomacy, 148-49 and 180-87.
  11. Ronald Spector, Professors of War: The Naval War College and the Development of the Naval Profession (Newport, RI: The Naval War College, 1977) and Albert J. Gleaves, Life and Letters of Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce, U.S. Navy, Founder of the Naval War College (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1925).
  12. RNN, RG 14, Box 1, “The Present Condition of Commerce and Commercial Routes Between Europe and the Pacific, with an Estimate of the Effect Produced on Them by a Trans-Isthmian Canal Including a View of the Military and Political Conditions of the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea: Military and Commercial Examination of the Port and Countries of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea” (first lecture/introduction). On the bound-volume cover: “Locker U-2-d/Office of NAVAL INTELLIGENCE/Register No. 8310/Defenses/U.S./National/General Studies/Subject or Title. Strategic Studies in the Gulf of Mexico./Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean,/Lectures by Lt. Comdr. Stockton;/ U.S. Navy./1888.” On the left side: “8310 OLD SERIES.” Handwritten in the center: “I agree with Lt. Com. Stockton that these should not be made public in any manner without his consent. R.P.R.” (Lt. Raymond Perry Rodgers, chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence). On a center label below writing: “SECRET./To be kept out of view./Not to be removed from the Secret/Locker or Safe except by authority of the/Chief Intelligence Officer.” On the second page there are declassification stamps and the following: “MILITARY AND COMMERCIAL EXAMINATION/of the/PORTS AND COUNTRIES/of the/ GULF OF MEXICO AND CARRIBBEAN SEA/Part First: Florida Straits to Chiriqui Lagoon/Charts:/Key West, Havana, Pensacola,/Passes of the Mississippi, Chiriqui Lagoon.” and RNN, RG 8, Series 1, Box 27, “General Examination of the Gulf of Mexico, West Indies &c.” (second lecture) and “A continuation of the Examination of the Gulf of Mexico, West Indies, and the Spanish Main” (third lecture). On the coversheet, for the second and third lectures: Lt. Commander C.H. Stockton, U.S.N./The Inter-Oceanic Canal 1.” In the top-left corner: “38;” bottom-left side: “Panama Canal;” top-right corner: “51;” and top center: “(1894).” The first lecture/introduction is typed and the second and third lectures are handwritten.Some inconsistencies in the Stockton documents should be mentioned. The Report of the Secretary of the Navy of 1887 mentions six lectures. Stockton’s introduction, however, which serves as lecture one and as an overview for the entire series, indicates only five. The introduction and lectures two, three, seven, and eight are available. Lectures four through six, however, are missing. Lectures seven and eight were undoubtedly a later date. The introduction is located in a separate folder, so it is highly likely that there were several versions of these lectures. Lecture two contains the operations against the northern coast of Cuba including the Isle of Pines (pages 16-24) and lecture three the southern coast including the Bay of Nipe (pages 28-33). The first paragraph is from page one of the second lecture. The extract containing the northern Cuban section with the “Coup de Main” is from pages sixteen to twenty-four is from the same lecture. It is likely a second rendering, since within it there are documents from 1888 that are quoted. The second extract is from pages twenty-nine to thirty-five of lecture three and the “Recapitulation: Channel Passages” section also appears in the latter lecture on the last three pages.
  13. Stockton, Lecture 1; 14. For details pertaining to the 1885 war in Central America, see: Hubert H. Bancroft, History of Central America: 1801-1887, Vol. III, The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft (San Francisco: The History Co., 1887), 431-52.
  14. Stockton, Lecture 2; 8-9.
  15. There are shortcomings in Stockton’s plan, but since they are so flagrant it would be pedantic to address them.
  16. Stockton, Lecture 1; 11 and 26.
  17. Ibid., 1; 4 and 1.
  18. Ibid., 3; 34-36.
  19. Ibid., 1; 10 and 11. Bracketed words reflect Stockton’s thoughts from his original text.
  20. Ibid., 1; 12-26. The influence of the projected canal on the U.S. West Coast and the Pacific Basin will be discussed in a future article.
  21. Ibid., 1; 15.
  22. Ibid., 1; 11.
  23. Ibid., 2; 33-38. See: “Convoy and Landings at Daiquiri,” Naval History and Heritage Command, Spanish-American War Project (hereafter, NHHC: SAW). For a presentation of primary transcribed documents with annotation and analyses: (hereafter, NHHC: SAW).
  24. Ibid., 2; 6-7. See: “Sicard to Long, 13 August 1898, “Naval War Board,” NHHC: SAW.” Stockton also discussed the north coast of South America and other West Indies’ islands such as Puerto Rico.
  25. Stockton, Lecture 2; 1-2.
  26. Ibid., 7, 8. Bracketed words reflect Stockton’s thoughts from his original text.
  27. Ibid., 1; 14-15 and 16 and Ibid., 3, 6.
  28. Ibid., 3; 10-16.
  29. Ibid., 3; 14 and 16.
  30. Ibid., 3; 26 and 28.
  31. Ibid., 2; 25-27 and Ibid., 3, 7-9, and 25-28.
  32. Stockton, Lecture 2; 19.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid., 16.
  36. See: Train Plan of 1894 and Kimball Plan of 1896, “Pre-War Planning,” NHHC: SAW.
  37. Stockton, Lecture 2; 21.
  38.   See: Barker to Alger, 4 April 1898, “Pre-War Planning,” NHHC: SAW.
  39. Donald W. Mitchell, History of the Modern American Navy: From 1883 through Pearl Harbor (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), 17.
  40. Stockton, Lecture 1; 19-20.
  41. Mahan’s lectures on this subject are first mentioned in the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for the Year 1888 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1888), 83-84 and were subsequently edited and published in Naval Strategy Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land (London: Sampson Low, Marston, & Co., 1911), 302-82. Later lectures were also incorporated in chapters eleven and twelve of this book. Mahan wrote to Luce about his war plan: “Mr. (Benjamin F.) Tracy at one time, in 1890, directed (Cmdr. William M.) Folger and me to draw up outline plans of operations necessary to be undertaken at once in case of war with foreign nations. I drew up two–that I remember–possibly more; in the case of Great Britain & of Spain. . . . This employment was at the time secret.” Alfred T. Mahan to Stephen B. Luce, 3 September 1901, DLC-MSS, Stephen B. Luce Papers, Reel 9. Further scrutiny of the original 1888 lectures in relation to Stockton’s contribution will be discussed in a future article.
  42. For annotated transcriptions of these and other plans, see: “Pre-War Planning,” NHHC: SAW.
  43. Charles H. Stockton, “The American Interoceanic Canal: A Study of the Commercial, Naval and Political Conditions,” Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, Vol. XXV, No. 4 (December 1899), 753-97. This version was published after the Spanish-American War. Stockton points out on page 778: Whatever may be the future political condition of Cuba, care should be taken that is should never be, by the possibility of an entangling alliance with a strong naval power, a menace or a source of danger to the United States. So conservative a state(s)man as John Quincy Adams is quoted as having often said—and we were a weak nation at that time—that we ought to make war upon the greatest naval power of the world rather than allow her to acquire Cuba.
  44. Henry C. Taylor to Luce, 22 January 1896, DLC-MSS, Stephen B. Luce Papers, Reel 9.

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A Navy of Foreigners, Mercenaries, and Amateurs: Naval Enlistment in the Spanish-American War


The State of the Navy
Encouraging Enlistment
Naval Militias

Daniel Roberts
Naval History and Heritage Command

In April of 1898, the former Spanish Minister of Marine José María Beránger y Ruiz de Apodaca was confident that the Spanish Navy would be victorious combat with the United States. He informed the newspaper El Imparcial:

I have already said that we shall conquer on the sea, and I am going to give you my reasons. First of these is the remarkable discipline that prevails on our war ships, and the second, as soon as fire is opened, the crews of the American ships will commence to desert, since we all know that among them there are people of all nationalities. 1

A similar boast appeared in the Manila daily papers in late April. Spanish Governor General, Basilio Agustin y Dávila, declared certain Spanish victory. Augustin claimed Commodore George Dewey and his “squadron manned by foreigners,” would be defeated, as they were pirates, intent only on taking “possession of [Filipino] riches as if they were unacquainted with the rights of property.” 2

The derisory observations of Beránger and Augustin did little to lift the spirits of defeatist Spanish naval officers, 3 but they were not without veracity. Even American naval officers worried that their vessels were crewed by a peculiar mixture of foreigners, pirates, and undisciplined amateurs.

Historiography of the United States Navy in the Spanish-American War (1898) focuses almost exclusively on the Naval Academy-educated officer class. Social histories of enlisted soldiers in the Spanish-American War are prevalent, but enlisted sailors have been neglected and, so too an important aspect of the United States Navy’s evolution between the Civil War and World War I. 4 The exclusion of enlisted history is particularly surprising given that the United States Navy resorted to controversial methods to meet an emergency need for sailors. These methods included enlisting foreign sailors, naval militiamen and employing civilian merchantmen as mercenaries. Enlistment from these groups was done in defiance of the desires of congress, career naval officers, and the laws of the United States. Each of the three groups presented distinct challenges, but, in each case, the vast majority of the men distinguished themselves with diligence, intelligence, and courage. Shortly before World War I, the Navy modernized their enlisted recruitment and formed a Naval Reserve, but, for six months in 1898, the fate of the United States lay in the hands of foreigners, mercenaries, and amateurs.

The State of the Navy

Before and during the war with Spain, the United States Navy suffered from a severe shortage of qualified sailors. As tensions increased the Navy Department became desperate for men to serve on understaffed naval vessels, and, to crew more than two dozen additional vessels commissioned between January and August of 1898. 5 Congress voted to expand the permissible enlisted strength of the Navy from 10,000 men to 20,000 men, 6 but finding suitable men proved difficult. Each vessel was a complicated and, as the battleship Maine demonstrated on February 15, 1898, volatile machine requiring education and experience to operate beyond the traditional understanding of “seamanship.” 7

Supplement to Harper's Weekly, June 25, 1898. Artist: H.A. Ogden. The illustration depicts and labels various forms of Naval and Marine Corps uniforms. (NHHC Photo # NH 86170-KN)

Supplement to Harper’s Weekly, June 25, 1898. Artist: H.A. Ogden. The illustration depicts and labels various forms of Naval and Marine Corps uniforms. (NHHC Photo # NH 86170-KN)

Life aboard naval vessels was grueling, lonely, dangerous and came with few long-term benefits. Repeated attempts before the war to improve enlistment and retention of American seaman largely failed and were made worse by high rates of desertions. Navy-wide, desertion rates consistently remained higher than 10% annually during the 1890s. In 1892 alone, 1,260 enlisted men out of a total force of 8,250 deserted, around 15%. The Navy started an apprentice program to train teenage boys on naval vessels, but it attracted few candidates, and those it did attract deserted in similar numbers. 8

While the United States Army offered a pension after 30 years of service, the Navy provided no retirement, and, even if it had, the prospect offered little comfort. The editor of Our Navy, Lodwyck Hornebeek, wrote that nearly one half of all enlisted men were employed in firerooms, where, “after a man has served twenty-five years… he will be a candidate for a disability pension, if not for funereal honors.” 9

The Navy also competed for American seamen with merchant shipping interests, where skilled American sailors received higher pay and regular career advancement. Enlisted sailors in the Navy had almost no chance of advancement past a warrant rank. Receiving a commission was nearly impossible without attending the United States Naval Academy, an unattainable goal for enlisted sailors. 10 This ceiling on advancement was demoralizing. Boatswain Henry Hudson summed up the feelings of enlisted men when he testified to the Naval Affairs Sub-Committee in 1894, that: “It does not satisfy the ambition of an American citizen of the United States to stand still.” 11

One area where the Navy was successful was enlisting from the international community of merchant sailors. In 1897, the year before the Spanish-American War, the Bureau of Navigation reported that 74% of its personnel were American citizens. The other 26% of enlisted men in the U. S. Navy were citizens of foreign countries. However, 46%, nearly half, of the enlisted men in the United States Navy were foreign born. 12 These high percentages were the result of expediency. Commanding Officers were entrusted with enlistment and they found skilled foreign sailors in urban port cities where international merchantmen made berth. Some American officers even preferred foreign sailors because they tended to re-enlist and deserted in fewer numbers. 13

This longstanding and highly successful source of sailors was challenged in the 1890s by racist and nativist attitudes in both the Navy and Congress. In a United States Naval Institute prize winning essay, Ensign Albert P. Niblack gave voice to officers’ concerns when he railed against the employment of foreign sailors, stating:

… it is the height of folly for a rich and powerful nation to rely on mercenaries and hirelings in the exigencies of war…neglecting in time of peace to train up a picked body of her own citizens to bear arms for national defense. 14

According to Captain Francis J. Higginson, the Navy wanted, “boys who have never seen, and do not know, any other flag than the American, who have good American backgrounds, and who have no old world allegiances.” 15

Congressmen Adolph Meyer of Louisiana asked Gunner Frank C. Messenger about foreign sailors in the Navy during an 1894 Naval Affairs hearing. Messenger recounted that of a 270 man crew on the Atlanta, only 60 were native-born Americans; the rest were foreigners from “Norway, Sweden, Germany,” and the British Isles. According to Messenger, foreign sailors indicated no desire for naturalization and had no sympathy for the United States. They enlisted only for the money. Congressmen Meyer asked Messenger, “Have you ever seen them under conditions which would test the courage and patriotism of a man on board ship?” Messenger responded: “No, sir; but I should keep my eye on them, if ever we were in action. I think it would be advisable, especially if we were in action with their country.” 16

The war with Spain brought trepidations about foreign sailors to the forefront. The Spanish were familiar with the American practice of foreign enlistment and saw it as one of the U. S. Navy’s chief weaknesses. Whether the Spanish thought to capitalize by placing spies and saboteurs in the American Navy is unknown, but there were rumors. Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Commodore Arent S. Crowninshield, forwarded a report from the U. S. Secret Service to Commodore George C. Remey at the Key West Naval Base on May 31st. According to the Secret Service, two Spanish saboteurs, Ramon Maldonado and Don Miguel Lopez, planned to enlist as Assistant Engineers. Both were fluent in English and very “capable of passing themselves off as American.” Maldonado had a “light complexion; very dark Spanish eyes,” and was missing his little finger on the left hand above the second joint. Lopez had a “dark complexion;” and a “small head.” His initials were tattooed on his left wrist and a ship and serpent on his right forearm. 17 Whether these two men actually existed is not known, but fear that they might, and that there might be others like them, was very real. 18

Commodore Winfield S. Schley, commander of the Flying Squadron, transferred the Chief Master at Arms on the armored cruiser Brooklyn, Joseph Cuenca, to the revenue cutter Franklin weeks before the war. Schley explained to Crowninshield:

This transfer, which seemed to me imperative, was ordered owing to the fact that I received information that Cuenca was a Spaniard and, though naturalized, I did not feel that his retention at such a time was desirable. 19

Cuenca was, and remained, a loyal American. He served during the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection, and is mentioned in the July to December 1900, log book of the Concord after receiving a medal for good conduct. 20 His transfer was symptomatic of the paranoia concerning foreign sailors.

Encouraging Enlistment

Frederick S. Harrod’s, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 21 describes the concerted effort made by the Navy after the Spanish-American War to encourage the enlistment of more American sailors, particularly those from the heartland, but during the war foreign enlistment continued out of expediency. In no theater was this more apparent than on the Asiatic Station where Commodore George Dewey enlisted a substantial number of Chinese sailors directly counter to the wishes of the Navy Department. Citizenship and entry into the United States was denied to ethnic Chinese immigrants by the 1882 Chinese Exclusionary Act and their service upon naval vessels was highly discouraged. Dewey, and the other commanders on the Asiatic Station before him, ignored these objections. Chinese sailors served as mess attendants, stewards, coal passers, and firemen. Of Dewey’s squadron at the Battle of Manila Bay, 1 of every 20 men was ethnic Chinese, and 29 served on Dewey’s flag ship, Olympia. 22 One of them, Dewey’s steward, served under both of the previous Asiatic Station commanders. 23 After the war Dewey made a very public case that 50 of his Chinese sailors should be honored with U.S. citizenship. His hopes were unceremoniously dashed when Congress refused to take up the issue. The sole American citizen of Chinese descent with Dewey, Steward Ah Soong, was humiliated when he had to petition Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to land in San Francisco after losing his passport. 24 Whether the Navy Department appreciated them or not, foreign sailors played a substantial role in manning the United States Navy during the Spanish-American War. 25

SS St. Louis seen off New York in 1900. (Public Domain)

SS St. Louis seen off New York in 1900. (Public Domain)

Other ships added to the Navy’s force came equipped with their own crews. 26 Merchant steamers of the American Line were drafted into service shortly before the war by order of President William McKinley. American Line vessels received government subsidies under the Postal Aid Act of 1891. In exchange for a subsidy and the right to carry mail, the United States Navy reserved the right to employ American Line vessels as auxiliary cruisers. On April 15, 1898, the S.S. St. Paul, St. Louis, New York and Paris were commissioned and armed by the Navy. New York and Paris were renamed Harvard and Yale, and a small coterie of Naval officers, marines, and naval guns were placed aboard all four ships. The civilian crews of each vessel signed on as contractors, while the captains of the vessels were commissioned as navigation officers. 27

Using skilled contract sailors was expedient, but created mortal complications. Uniformed sailors were protected by the 1864 Geneva Convention, but American Line sailors risked accusations of piracy. This fact weighed heavily on Captain Charles S. Cotton when Admiral Pascual Cervera’s squadron blockaded Harvard at St. Pierre, Martinique. Cotton wrote Long:

In view of all the encumbrances connected with my situation here; of the presence of a powerful Spanish fleet, including fast destroyers, in our vicinity; of their undoubted intention to capture this ship if possible; of her great value to the U.S.; of her much greater value, sea prize, to Spain; of the fact that it requires nearly one hour after getting underway for this ship to reach a speed of 20 knots; of the peculiar status of the officers and crew, who are serving on board of an armed ship while they do not belong to either branch of the Naval or Military service of the U.S.; the doubt as to their treatment by Spain, under the existing conditions would they be captured, — a long and careful consideration of all those conditions finally led me to the conclusion; that I would be fully justified in not putting to sea at the present time; and I acted accordingly… 28

Cotton decided he would pretend his boilers needed servicing if the French colonial governor ordered him out rather than risk engagement. Fortunately for Cotton and his crew, Cervera, short on coal, ignored Harvard and steamed for Curaçao. 29

If there were any concern that “irregular sailors” lacked discipline, skill, or courage, said concern was laid to rest by their distinguished service in the war. Of note were the crews of the St. Louis and St. Paul. Both vessels were involved in multiple actions with the enemy. St. Louis, commanded by Captain Caspar F. Goodrich – himself a longtime champion of irregular forces in naval service 30 – successfully cut three underwater telegraph cables with a ship wholly inappropriate for the task. While cutting the cable at Santiago de Cuba, his crew was under constant fire for 40 minutes. Goodrich wrote to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson:

You are doubtless aware of the peculiar conditions under which the officers and crew of this vessel are now serving their country. The Officers are not appointed in the Navy, nor are the men enlisted, yet greater bravery in action or more devotion to their flag than theirs could not have been shown. With shells whistling over their heads, the gang of men, who under Chief Officer Seagrave, were employed on the forecastle in the dangerous task of heaving up the telegraph cable, never flinched but stuck to their posts to the end. 31

St. Paul also distinguished itself under command of Captain Charles D. Sigsbee. Sigsbee’s crew singlehandedly blockaded Cervera’s squadron at Santiago de Cuba, irreparably damaged the torpedo-destroyer Terror in an engagement at San Juan, and extricated wounded Americans and Spanish prisoners of war from Siboney. 32 The use of civilian sailors was considered by Goodrich, Sigsbee and their fellow Naval Officers to be an undisputable success. 33

Probably the most controversial group from which the Navy drew emergency personnel during the Spanish-American War, were members of the Naval Militia of the individual states. In total, 4,224 militiamen enlisted and another 267 were commissioned as officers. The militia accounted for one out of every six sailors in service during the war and the vast majority of wartime naval enlistees. 34

The Navy’s attempts to implement a national naval reserve after the Civil War never materialized, mostly due to congressional inaction. There was hope that a sense of patriotic duty would provoke a mass enlistment of American merchant seaman in time of war, but this hope was misplaced. The American merchant marine declined after the Civil War and could not realistically sustain the Navy’s needs, although they were willing as shown by the experience of sailors from the American Line. 35 Instead, the reserve function fell to the enthusiastic amateurs of state naval militias.

The first naval militia was founded by the Massachusetts legislature in 1888 as a coastal defense battalion of the state’s National Guard. By 1898, seventeen other states founded militia battalions along similar lines. 36 Each battalion was organized, sponsored, and commanded, by former Naval Academy graduates and retired Navy officers eager to maintain a relationship with the service. The Navy Department hoped the militias would enlist men from seafaring trades, but instead most of the battalions quickly filled up with “landed” professionals: attorneys, bank clerks, doctors, etc. Naval militias became gentlemen’s clubs for middle and upper class professionals wishing to spend their leisure hours doing patriotic duty. These highly educated, wealthy, powerful, and civically-engaged men had little experience with life at sea, but they used their influence to aid the expansion and funding of their organizations in state legislatures.37

Naval Militias

The Navy Department was discouraged and uncertain about what do with the naval militias. Assistant Secretary of the Navy William McAdoo wrote in 1895 that militias were, “local or State organizations of citizens of aquatic tastes rather than those of the strictly seafaring class.” 38 Questions arose about exactly what role the naval militias might serve in war. Did they constitute local defense or could they be brought together to function as a national organization? Would they serve as a naval reserve or did they owe their service to the governor of their state? No one in the Navy Department, or the naval militias, had clear answers to these questions. 39 As a result, the Navy was hesitant to commit resources to an entity with no clear strategic purpose.

A Photo of the 1st Battalion of the New York Naval Militia Aboard the Monitor Nahant.

A Photo of the 1st Battalion of the New York Naval Militia Aboard the Monitor Nahant.

Naval Militia organizations received only $25,000 per annum from Washington. While this stipend was doubled to $50,000 in 1897, the amount did not even cover the cost of training literature, which had to be paid for by donations from generous militia members and subsidies from state legislatures. 40 Regardless of the Navy’s neglect, the number of men in the militia expanded from little more than 1,000 men in 1891 to 4,157 in 1897.  Militia Capt. John W. Miller referred to the existence of the naval militias as a, “triumph of persevering intelligent citizens over almost insuperable difficulties…” 41

Training of militia members was inconsistent. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “the widest difference obtains between the different organizations.” Some militia accumulated years of intermittent training and demonstrated basic competency. Others did not. According to Roosevelt, at least one organization, “in the Southern States[,]… made its appearance aboard ship with the officers rowing the men, as they were the only ones who knew how to row.” 42

As tensions with Spain increased, so too did debate over how naval militiamen might be used. Naval officers, including the Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Commander Francis W. Dickens, publicly criticized the militia and scoffed at their being used on regular Naval vessels. 43 Dickens and his fellow officer argued that warships and naval tactics were far too complicated and dangerous for amateur seafarers. Captain A. P. Cooke wrote:

A promiscuous collection of landsmen and untrained seafaring men, hastily placed aboard such vessels would be rather more dangerous than useful . . . . It is not easy to realize how completely all the conditions of war have changed within the last generation of men. 44

Officers complained militiamen endowed with “too much brains,” and that a ship crewed with them “would do more thinking than fighting.” Underlying their concern was the idea that educated men were ill-suited for the strict discipline and grueling work on a naval vessel. Because of inconsistency in training and supervision, regular naval officer rejected the ranks and designations of state militia and insisted that no militiamen be enlisted at a rating higher than “landsmen.” 43

Within the Navy Department there was one important militia proponent. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt followed the Naval Militia closely and supported the movement. He wrote to Secretary Long suggesting that the oldest state militias were qualified to, and should, constitute the crews of auxiliary cruisers. He specified that the: New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland and New Jersey militias were “efficient” enough for the task and wrote:

All of this emphasizes the wisdom of the Department of in enlisting the Naval Militia individually, and in preventing the recognition by the Department of all the different Naval Militia organizations as being on the same plane. It is the purpose of the Department to keep the Naval Militia together in their battalion and division organizations, and it will be very unwise to act otherwise… The five chosen to man the deep-sea patrol vessels are those for which we have the best reports from the regular officers during the past year. They are all five thoroughly efficient organizations. 42

Roosevelt wanted to give the most experienced militias a chance to fight as a unit, which should come as no surprise given his own plans to raise a volunteer cavalry regiment. The five state militias Roosevelt named received their own ships, while the Bureau of Navigation required militiamen from the “less efficient” state organizations to enlist as able-bodied seaman and landsmen. 47

On May 4th, Congress gave Secretary Long $8,830,000 to cover the expenses and pay of militiamen who joined the new Auxiliary Naval Force, ordered into existence for the duration of the war. President McKinley used his authority to commission warrant and line officers from militias and requested that state governors relinquish authority over militiamen so they might join the regular navy. McKinley received unanimous consent. 48

An example of Coastal Semaphore Stations.

An example of Coastal Semaphore Stations.

Naval militiamen were utilized in multiples ways. The most advanced battalions were kept together, given regular Navy commanders, executive, and warrant officers, and placed on sea-going vessels as complete units. Naval militia from other states were employed piecemeal and assigned to the Auxiliary Naval Forces on the Pacific and Atlantic coast. These militiamen served on lighthouse tenders, revenue cutters, tug boats, and recommissioned Civil-War-era monitors. A select group were assigned to the Coastal Signal Service, a series of coastal semaphore stations that stretched from Maine to Texas. 49 The final group, which constituted a majority of militiamen, (around 2,600), enlisted in the regular Navy as landsmen and boarded vessels at Key West, New York, and Hampton Roads as reinforcements. 50

Performance by the naval militia on the sea varied. Their success or failure generally resulted from previous training, the leadership of their officers, and the command organization on the ship. Militiamen were all universally unfamiliar with the details and disciplines of Navy life. The 1st Battalion of the New York Naval Militia, which served on U.S.S. Yankee, was arguably the best trained of all the state organizations, but even that amount was inadequate to prepare them for life at sea. Captain Willard H. Brownson of Yankee remarked to Secretary Long that, “any success attended this experiment was in spite of – and not the result of – their previous training.” 51

Men were repeatedly cited for not cleaning the ship properly, putting equipment in the wrong place, and having soiled uniforms. 52 Brownson claimed the problem was a lack of experienced petty officers:

Their deficiencies were entirely the result of want of experience. In caring for their messes, their bags and hammocks, scrubbing their clothes, and in many of the minor details of a man of war, they were almost entirely ignorant; but this would have disappeared at an early day had there been among them a sprinkling of man of war’s men whose examples they could have followed. 51

In the New York Militia, petty officers were elected during the pre-war “social club” era, and not out of any regard for their qualifications. Brownson wrote to Secretary John D. Long:

It is unreasonable to think that a class of people, whatever may be their interest in, and natural aptitude for, things pertaining to the sea, whose occupations are entirely those of landsmen, can by a few days training yearly on a man of war, and considerable time spent in drills on board of a hulk, be fitted to perform the duties of a watch officer at sea. The necessary experience for Division Officers they can, and do, get; but the sea habit; and the knowledge of the sea necessary to take charge of a deck under ordinary conditions, can only be acquired at sea, and this experience they did not have. 51

Regular Navy officers were also concerned with the familiarity between petty officers and the crew. Sailors tended to ignore the more onerous, at times erroneous, instructions from their former peers and demonstrated a distinct lack of military decorum. First Lieutenant John Hubbard of Yankee recounted an instance when a sailor yelled “Good Morning Billy,” to the officer on watch and received a “Good Morning Reggie,” in return. 55

On most of the militia vessels problems ended with minor infractions of Navy etiquette, but some militiamen proved grossly unfit or willfully insubordinate. Lt. Lazarus L. Reamey was ordered to command a crew of New Jersey Naval Militia and deliver the Civil War monitor Montauk to the “Portland Naval Reserve,” in Maine. Reamey early on discovered that the engineer force of the New Jersey Militia were not up to the task. He wrote:

The present engine room force, except officers, is not sufficiently reliable to make it safe to move the ship without the assistance of a tug, which fact was fully demonstrated upon the passage from League Island here – The work was so poorly done that the engines (for lack of steam) stopped several times. 56

His apprehension increased when he met the “commander” of the Portland Naval Reserves, William Henry Clifford, Jr. Maine had no organized militia, and Clifford’s force consisted of, “for officers… a few young men (lawyers, railroad or bank clerks and newspaper reporters) who, [served] under the leadership of Mr. Clifford (a very young man)…” 56 Clifford “did not feel qualified,” to select any petty officers. Instead he requested Reamey leave men from the New Jersey Militia willing to stay. Reamey wrote to Commodore Crowninshield:

Judging from the information at hand, I fear that the prospect for finding men who can be safely entrusted to properly care for the engines and boilers, even in port, is very poor… While anxious to fully comply with my instructions I feel it my duty, before the Changes are made, to submit the above information for the Department’s consideration. 56

It is difficult to argue with Reamey’s findings.

Yosemite, under Commander William H. Emory, and crewed by the Michigan Naval Militia, was able to get up to steam, but faced repeated problems associated with severe breakdowns in discipline. From the outset, one militiaman complained to his congressmen about officer assignments. This invited a severe rebuke from Secretary Long to both the man and Commander Emory. 59 In June, Yosemite was sent to Jamaica to capture the Purisima Concepcion, but completely missed the Spanish steamer when it passed them at 5 a.m. on June 16. Word of the failure incited public scandal. Crewmen, Michigan newspapers, and Emory, claimed the officer of the watch, Lt. Gilbert Wilkes, was drunk. 60 Wilkes, in turn, was defended by Chief Boatswain’s Mate Henry B. Joy, who claimed that Emory repeatedly ignored Wilkes summons when he spotted Purisima Concepcion. 61 The matter was a public blemish on the Michigan Naval Militia’s service. Then, in July, Emory remanded 28 men to the brig after a good portion of the crew was drunk and absent without leave during a stop in St. Thomas. The men were returned by local police for a bounty of $10 a head. One inebriated Coal Passer named Ruscoe assaulted Yosemite’s Master at Arms. 62 Ironically, Michigan’s was the only militia crewed primarily by men who worked in commercial shipping. 63

Montauk and Yosemite were exceptions. Most militiamen accepted the discipline and their enthusiasm was greatly admired by their regular navy officers. Commander Charles J. Train, who commanded a crew of Massachusetts Naval Militia on Prairie, sang his crews praises. Train wrote to Long:

These men belonged to the Mass. Naval Militia, an organization which had nothing Naval about it, save the name; which was not formed for the purpose of providing crews for sea-going Men-of-War, and whose members possessed none of the qualifications for Seamen in the Navy of the United States, other than the patriotism, zeal and intelligence belonging to all New England boys. 64

Train further wrote he was particularly impressed by the men’s patience and industry, even though the Prairie’s wartime cruise, “furnished no chance of an occasional attack of an enemy to break the monotony and furnish the excitement which alone can make such a life endurable.” 64 Even the pessimist Brownson spoke glowingly of his crew’s, “zeal and intelligence, and the interest they exhibited in their work generally, and especially in all that related to the [gun] battery and to preparation for battle.” 51 Militiamen must have been doing something right, because of the ships selected for the Eastern Squadron poised to attack Spain and reinforce Dewey in the Philippines, four: Yankee, Yosemite, Badger and Dixie, were crewed almost entirely by militia. 67

The militia seemed to function best when serving under experienced petty officers and understanding and flexible commanders. After all, many militiamen were skilled engineers, doctors, intellectuals, and businessmen in civilian life. Rear Admiral John Hubbard, former executive officer of the Yankee, remembered:

…that it was a pity to be wasting, as it seemed to him, so much fine material in positions that to his mind could have been quite as well, if not better, served by individuals of more developed brawn and less cultivated brains. 68

The militiamen themselves completely agreed. Seaman Henry C. Rowland of Yankee, wrote of the militia’s wasted talent: “To be logical, it is not, any more than it would be worthwhile to send the same sort of crowd to work digging a Nicaraguan canal with picks and shovels.” 69

The “cultivated brains” Hubbard referred to were some of the most adept and brilliant men of their generation, and they often demonstrated it. Yankee’s Passed Assistant Engineer, Joseph L. Gilbert, at one point declared the ship’s dynamo unfixable. A lieutenant approached Captain Brownson and informed him he knew a man who could fix it. Brownson asked “And what would one of your forecastle scrubs be apt to know about a ship’s dynamo?” A nervous man covered in gray paint and soot was called before Brownson, who asked, “What do you know about this dynamo?” The man responded “I know all there is to know about it, sir… I designed it, sir, at the Edison Works in Schenectady, where it was made.” 70 At Key West, one of the men assigned to rowing Brownson’s whaleboat jumped out to assist another man having an epileptic fit. An outraged Brownson demanded the sailor explain how he felt qualified to render treatment. It turned out the able bodied seaman was a graduate of Yale Medical School. 71

The Crew of the Auxiliary Gunboat Gloucester (NHHC Photo # NH 53751)

The Crew of the Auxiliary Gunboat Gloucester (NHHC Photo # NH 53751)

There was no greater example of the heights of Naval Militia success than that of the armed yacht Gloucester, formerly J. P. Morgan’s personal yacht Corsair. Gloucester’s crew, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Richard Wainwright, were the Navy’s own “Rough Riders.” Wainwright, the former Executive Officer on the battleship Maine, was offered command of Gloucester at the New York Navy Yard shortly before the war. He jumped at the chance and told the Navy Department, “never mind the armor… The boat is fast; give me guns and men–they will be the best protection.” 72

Wainwright did not have to go far to find the men. His officers were friends from the Naval Academy who had since retired from the Navy. He used veteran warrant officers, and filled out the rest of his crew with local volunteers from the New York Naval Militia. His list of officers included: Lt. Thomas C. Wood, President of the Ball and Wood Co. of New York, and En. John Tracy Edson, the Chief Medical Examiner at the Equitable Life Insurance Company. Both graduated the Academy with Wainwright in 1871. They were joined by international renowned polo player and millionaire, Lt. George Norman, whose personal attorney was none other than Secretary Long. Their assistant paymaster, Alexander Brown, was a partner at a Philadelphia bank, and one of the ship’s machinists was the superintendent of a bicycle factory. The all-volunteer crew distinguished itself in many engagements, the most prominent of which was defeating the Spanish torpedo destroyers Plutón and Furor on 3 July 1898, at the Battle of Santiago Bay. After the battle, crewmen, under Edson’s command, rescued the Spanish sailors from the burning and sinking torpedo-destroyers and the cruiser Infanta Maria Teresa. Edson personally received the surrender of Admiral Cervera himself. 73

Henry Barrett Chamberlin of the Chicago Record wrote of Gloucester’s crew: “This is but a glance at a part of the personnel of an American fighting ship hastily recruited when hostilities begun, but it tells the reason Wainwright succeeded. His crew was thoroughbred.” Of course that same “thoroughbred” crew had no intention of remaining in the Navy, and officers and men on the Gloucester suggested that Norman, “instruct his attorney to advocate the sending home of the vessel now that war is at an end and muster out the ships complement desirous of resuming the business of life ashore.” 74


After the war it was clear that a longer and larger conflict with more resolute adversaries would be far less forgiving of these underqualified sailors and the misallocation of skilled men. Seaman Rowland of Yankee reflected on this fact in 1928, writing:

Wartime expediency requires that each individual serve in the capacity for which he is best trained, where he can be of greatest use. There is ample room for all in the various Corps, or at least there would be in a war of any magnitude, and once war is declared no man can say to what size it may grow or when and where it may end. 75

Secretary Long took the lessons of 1898 to heart and once again attempted to pass a Naval Reserve Bill to create a reservist force of militiamen and retired sailors, but Congress rejected it in 1900. It took another 15 years and the immediate needs posed by an entire world at war to break the apathy before Congress approved the formation of a Naval Reserve in 1915. 76

The sailors enlisted, or in the case of merchantmen – employed – to fight the Spanish-American War remain unique outliers in American Naval history. Their experiences, and the controversy surrounding their enlistment, were the product of an American Navy in transition: technologically, administratively, and culturally. Ultimately, the service of these foreigners, pirates and amateurs were symptom of sudden crisis amidst the United States Navy’s rocky evolution from post-Civil War coastal defense malaise to a 20th century global fighting force.

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. Lt. George L. Dyer to Cmdr. Richardson Clover, 16 April 1898, RG 313, Entry 47, National Archives, Washington DC.
  2. Basilio Agustin y Dávila Proclamation, 23 April 1898, Area File of the Naval Records Collection, M625, Roll 363, National Archives Washington, DC.  Dewey, rather proud of his crew of “foreigners,” thought the Governor-General’s words would incite a fighting spirit. He had them read aloud on the way to Manila over the laughs and jeers of Olympia’s crew. Ronald Spector, Admiral of the New Empire, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), 56.
  3. Both Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete and Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón were openly defeatist in their correspondence and neither believed that the United States demonstrated any weakness due to the make-up of its enlisted force.  Montojo to Bermejo, 1 May 1898, RG 45, Entry 464, National Archives, Washington, DC; and “Views of Admiral Cervera Regarding the Spanish Navy in the Late War,” Office of Naval Intelligence Information from Abroad (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898).
  4. For example, David Trask’s The War with Spain in 1898; probably the most thorough book on the war, provides a detailed picture of the multiracial United States Army force that attacked Cuba and Puerto Rico, but makes little mention of the enlisted Naval Force. Instead he focuses exclusively on officers. David Trask, The War with Spain in 1898 (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1981). Frederick S. Harrod’s Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940, comes the closest to tackling the state of the enlisted force, but provides only a generalized description of the decades after the Civil War and begins in earnest the year after the Spanish-American War. Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978). It seems that the historical neglect for enlisted contributions began during the war itself and invited comment even then. The Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Commdore Arent S Crowninshield, wrote to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson on June 23, 1898, to inform him that: “Not reporting the names of men with officers, among the loss in killed and wounded, causes much newspaper comment.” Crowninshield to Sampson, June 23, 1898, RG 80, Entry 194, vol. 1, p. 219, National Archive, Washington, DC.
  5. Chief of the Bureau of Navigation Arent S. Crowninshield to Commodores  Francis M. Bunce, Henry L. Howison, and John A. Howell, 3 March 1898, RG 45, Entry 28, p. 331, National Archives, Washington, DC; and Crowninshield to Captain William T. Sampson, 5 April 1898, RG 45, Entry 29, p. 203, National Archives, Washington, DC. For a list of the vessels commissioned and recommissioned to serve in the Asiatic and North Atlantic Fleets, and on the Pacific Station, see: Appendix to the Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Officer, 1898), 38-43. This list only includes vessels in the blue water Navy and excludes dozens of other vessels from the Auxiliary Fleet under Rear Admiral Henry Erben on the Atlantic Coast of the United States.
  6. Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), 34.
  7. In an address to the Naval War College on 18 June 1897, Charles H. Cramp, Esq stated: “The naval armament of today is a mechanism… For this reason the word seamanship, in the old fashioned or conventional sense, has ceased to cover adequately the requirements of knowledge, skill, and aptness, which the modern conditions of naval warfare impose upon the officer in command of subordinate.” Charles H. Cramp, “The Necessity of Experience to Efficiency, 18 June 1897,” (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1897), 4. After the war, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long noted that retaining qualified sailors was an imperative. His first order to the European and Asiatic Stations Commanders in January 1898, was to, “retain men whose enlistments were about to expire.” Annual Report of the Navy Department, The Year 1898 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Officer, 1899), 325.
  8. Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), 15; and “Testimony taken by the Joint Subcommittee of the Committees on Naval Affairs of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Pursuant to the Following Joint Resolution of January 12, 1894,” (Washington: Government Printing Officer, 1894), 244.
  9. “Testimony taken by the Joint Subcommittee of the Committees on Naval Affairs of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Pursuant to the Following Joint Resolution of January 12, 1894,” (Washington: Government Printing Officer, 1894), 250.
  10. Less than 1 in every 100 officers commissioned between 1845 and 1915 was a promoted enlisted sailor. Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern Navalism (New York: The Free Press, 1972), 13.
  11. Machinist Mate Rufus Steele explained his fellow enlisted men’s dissatisfaction to the Joint Subcommittee on Naval Affairs. He, a machinist mate on a man-of-war, could only earn $1,800 over a year of sea duty at the end of his naval career. Beginning machinists in the merchant marine earned as much as $1,500 per years and changed employers at will. Merchantmen also promoted. A machinist mate could become a ship’s engineer or assistant engineer, the equivalent rank and responsibility of a deck or engineering officer on a naval vessel. “Testimony taken by the Joint Subcommittee of the Committees on Naval Affairs of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Pursuant to the Following Joint Resolution of January 12, 1894,” (Washington: Government Printing Officer, 1894), 226, 240.
  12. Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), 17-18.
  13. Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), 8-9, 18.
  14. “Enlistment, Training, and Organization of Crews for Our New Ships,” United States Naval Institute 1891, Published by Naval Historical Foundation, 1972, 17.
  15. Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), 18.
  16. Messenger at least admits that foreign sailors were far more likely to re-enlist, usually after visiting relatives abroad. “Testimony taken by the Joint Subcommittee of the Committees on Naval Affairs of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Pursuant to the Following Joint Resolution of January 12, 1894,” (Washington: Government Printing Officer, 1894), 214-215.
  17. Crowninshield to Remey, RG313, Entry 72, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  18. The Spanish were not above planting false rumors. Spanish agents in Victoria, British Columbia, spread rumors of a Spanish privateer off the Canadian Pacific Coast. The phantom privateer planned to capture American ships carrying gold from the Yukon. The United States was concerned enough to request that the British government investigate the possibility. P. M. Sherrin, “Spanish Spies in Victoria, 1898,” BC Studies, No. 36, Winter 1976-1977, 23-33.
  19. Schley to Crowninshield, 6 April 1898, RG 313, Entry 68, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  20. Old Weather Forum, “CREW of USS Concord. (PG-3) May 1897 onwards,” accessed on May 1, 2015,
  21. Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978).
  22. The number of Chinese sailors in Dewey’s fleet increased after the purchase of the steamers Nashan and Zafiro. Both ships had British captains and Chinese crews who continued to Manila as contractors under American naval officers. Benjamin R. Beede, The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions 1898-1934: An Encyclopedia (New York: Routledge, 1994), 102.
  23.   Dewey to Dewey, 23 January 1898, Papers of George Goodwin Dewey, Box 1, Jan-Mar 1898, Archives of the United States Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC.
  24. “Dewey’s Chinese Seaman,” New York Times, February 23, 1899.
  25. The Navy eventually got the men they wanted with an expensive national program of targeted enlistment, but this did not come until after the Spanish-American War. This campaign is the topic of Frederick S. Harrod, Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978).
  26. President William McKinley transferred command of the Treasury Department’s Revenue Cutter Service, precursor to the Coast Guard, to the Secretary of the Navy for the duration of the war. This included the ships, officers, and crews. These men served fluidly and with distinction alongside regular naval vessels in the Philippines, on both American Coasts, and in the Caribbean. There are many examples of contributions by Revenue Cutter Service vessels and crews. McCulloch was with Dewey at Manila Bay, Hudson rescued the torpedo boat Winslow while under heavy fire, and Manning, Windom, Morrill, and Guthrie all saw battle in the Caribbean.  The defense of the Pacific Coast was almost entirely reliant on Revenue Cutters. McKinley to Gage, 24 March 1898, Records of the United States Coast Guard; Records Relating to Operations; Revenue Cutter Service; Operations “Spanish American War;” RG26; and Appendix to the Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898), 141-44.
  27. William H. Flayhart III, The American Line (1871-1902) (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), 257-258, 262.
  28. Cotton to Long, 13 May 1898, Area File of the Naval Records Collect, M625, roll 229, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  29. Cotton to Long, 13 May 1898, Area File of the Naval Records Collect, M625, roll 229, National Archives, Washington, DC. Fearing for the Harvard and its crew, Long ordered Cotton to: “Vigorously protest against being forced out of the port in the face of superior blockading force, especially as you were detained previously in the port by the French authorities because Spanish men-of-war had sailed from another port…” Appendix to the Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898), 383.
  30. Goodrich commanded a merchant steamer under a United States Navy flag for a very short time in 1884. The crew was made up entirely of British sailors and Goodrich permitted the ships first officer and officers on watch to use “British merchant steamer ways.” His experiences on that ship confirmed his belief that a merchant ship in time of war could be managed by a single Naval Officer for the movement of the ship while the civilian officers performed, “minuter cares of routine and discipline.” Caspar F. Goodrich, “SCOUTS,” 29 July 1902, RG 15, NWC Lectures, 1894-1903, Box 1, pp. 7-8, Naval War College, Newport RI.

    Goodrich was more than pleased with St. Louis’ crew of contractors, but believed the ship’s merchant officers deserved commissions. He wrote to Long on July 10, 1898: “If it must be give me at most, four six inch guns one forward, one aft and one on each side, with twenty more marines to man them and please send me not another soul. We are all as happy as clams on board and we only ask to be left alone. I have never commanded a more harmonious ship. I hear we are to have a Paymaster. Please countermand his orders; I have no need of him at all. The Officers accounts are taken up at some offices others on shore and those of the marines can be similarly dealt with.  The business of the ship and her crew is done by the American Line purser in a business way. A Paymaster is superfluous; were one sent to replace the Purser dire confusion would result. It is but right to commission the officers (yet unexamined by the way), but it would be a great mistake, in my judgment to enlist the crew. They are content with their present status and compensation. Why alter and arrangement which has served its purpose well?” Goodrich to Long, July 10, 1898, Papers of John D. Long, Box 43, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA.

    Goodrich was also a staunch booster for the inclusion of the Naval Militiamen on regular naval vessels. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941,” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 61.

  31. Goodrich to Sampson, 18 May, 1898, Area File of the Naval records Collection, M625, Roll 230, National Archives, Washington, DC. This was the second time in in a matter of months that the crew of the St. Louis, particularly, Thomas Seagrave, was singled out for praise. On February 6, 1898 the Hollande-American liner Veendam struck a wreck and began to sink. The next morning she was discovered by St. Louis, steaming west out of South Hampton. Seagrave personally lead life boat expeditions to the wounded Veendam in rough seas. He and the other officers of St. Louis rescued all of the ships passengers and crew. On reaching New York, the officers achieved celebrity and were rewarded with silver cups, and the entire crew received monetary rewards. At a March 17, 1898, ceremony Captain William G. Randle stated: “Events are transpiring now in this country which may lead us into war, and we may be called upon to sacrifice life in defense of our country. But the satisfaction will not be as great as the saving of life, which is more gratifying than the taking of it.” William H. Flayhart III, The American Line (1871-1902) (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), 247-256.
  32. For more on this see: Sigsbee to Long, 29 May 1898, Area File of the Naval records Collection, M625, Roll 230, National Archives, Washington, DC. Sigsbee to William T. Sampson 14 July 1898, RG 313, Entry 45, National Archive, Washington, DC; and Sigsbee to Long, 27 June 1898, George G. Cortelyou Papers, Box 68, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
  33. Goodrich presented a lecture at the Naval War College on 29 July 1902. He went into great detail on the success of using skilled merchantmen. He wrote: “I am informed by the port captain of the American Line that of the four big liners, the St. Louis, the only one which did not adopt navy enlistments, and routine, made more miles, did more work and more kinds of work, cost less in operation and returned in better order than any of her sisters. I have no reason for questioning the accuracy of these statements, they agree indeed with my general impression, and I have no hesitation in accounting for them by the soundness of the system adopted exclusively by the St. Louis. I may add that a happier set of officers or a more contented lot of men could hardly be found. The record of the ship is notable. She spent six weeks at sea without taking on board a ton of coal, a gallon of water (or) a pound of provisions, during which period she scouted, captured blockade runners, landed Shafter’s army, housed and fed at one time as many as two hundred sailors detached from the fleet for the landing service, cut cables, and brought seven hundred of Cervera’s men north as prisoners.” Caspar F. Goodrich, “SCOUTS,” 29 July 1902, RG 15, NWC Lectures, 1894-1903, Box 1, p. 8, Naval War College, Newport RI.
  34. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 60. The total number of recognized Naval Militiamen in the United States in January 1898, was 4,501 enlisted men and 427 officers. This makes a wartime participation rate of 91%. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles H. Allen, May 20, 1898, RG 313, Entry 109, vol. 8, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  35. President of the Naval War College Henry C. Taylor wrote to Assistant Secretary of the Navy William McAdoo on 12 December 1896, “Our deep-sea merchant shipping has disappeared and the captains and mates we obtained from it during our Civil War and who rendered such brave and intelligent service are no longer at our disposal.” Taylor suggested the use of the state Naval Militia’s to serve in their stead as coastal defense forces. Taylor to McAdoo, 12 December 1896, “Naval-Reserve Letter,” RG1, Box 3, Folder 6. Naval War College, Newport, RI; and Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 11, 21.
  36. New York in 1888, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in 1889, California in 1891, Maryland, Vermont, and South Carolina in 1892, North Carolina, Michigan and Georgia in 1893, Illinois, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey and Louisiana in 1894 and Florida and Ohio both founded theirs before 1898. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 14, 35-36.
  37. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 28, 30, 37,
  38. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 41
  39. Taylor to McAdoo, 12 December 1896, “Naval-Reserve Letter,” RG1, Box 3, Folder 6, Naval War College, Newport, RI; “The Naval Militia,” Army Navy Journal, April 30, 1898; and Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 44.
  40. The earliest Naval Militia, the battalions from New York and Massachusetts, were invited to cruise during summer fleet maneuvers in the 1890s and the New York Naval Militia was given the Civil War-era New Hampshire to drill. The other state militias received little, if any, training with the regular Navy. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 39-40, 45-46; and William R. Kreh, Citizen Sailors: The U.S. Naval Reserve in War and Peace (New York: David McKay Company, Inc, 1969), 187.
  41. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 31, 51.
  42. Roosevelt to Long, April 15, Papers of John D. Long, Box 40, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA.
  43. “The Naval Militia,” Army Navy Journal, April 30, 1898.
  44. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 25
  45. “The Naval Militia,” Army Navy Journal, April 30, 1898.
  46. Roosevelt to Long, April 15, Papers of John D. Long, Box 40, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA.
  47. The Massachusetts Militia crewed Prairie, New York’s two battalions crewed Yankee and Gloucester, Michigan crewed Yosemite, Maryland crewed Dixie, and New Jersey the Badger and Resolute. “The Naval Militia,” Army Navy Journal, April 30, 1898; and William R. Kreh, Citizen Sailors: The U.S. Naval Reserve in War and Peace (New York: David McKay Company, Inc, 1969), 190.
  48. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 59-60.
  49. William R. Kreh, Citizen Sailors: The U.S. Naval Reserve in War and Peace (New York: David McKay Company, Inc, 1969), 188-89.
  50. Crowninshield to Commodore George C. Remey, June 10, 1898, RG 313, Entry 72, National Archives, Washington, DC.  Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 60.
  51. Brownson to Long, 28 August 1898, RG 45, Entry 464, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  52. The U.S.S. Yankee on the Cuban Blockade (New York: Members of the Yankee’s Crew, 1928), 8.
  53. Brownson to Long, 28 August 1898, RG 45, Entry 464, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  54. Brownson to Long, 28 August 1898, RG 45, Entry 464, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  55. Hubbard changed the names of the sailors in the story so as not to embarrass the men. The U.S.S. Yankee on the Cuban Blockade, (New York: Members of the Yankee’s Crew, 1928), 9.
  56. Reamey to Crowninshield, May 13, 1898, Area File of the Naval Records Collection, M625, roll 130, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  57. Reamey to Crowninshield, May 13, 1898, Area File of the Naval Records Collection, M625, roll 130, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  58. Reamey to Crowninshield, May 13, 1898, Area File of the Naval Records Collection, M625, roll 130, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  59. Long to Emory, May 11, 1898, Papers of William Emory, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
  60. Joseph S. Stringham, The Story of the USS Yosemite (Detroit: Self-published, 1929), 22.
  61. Henry B. Joy, The U.S.S. Yosemite, Purisima Concepcion Incident, June 16, 1898 (Detroit: Self-published, 1937), 6-7.
  62. Emory’s Report of July 18, 1898, Papers of William Emory, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
  63. Harold Thomas Wieand, “History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” Submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 1952, 36.
  64. Charles J. Train to John D. Long, 15 September 1898, RG 45, Entry 46, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  65. Charles J. Train to John D. Long, 15 September 1898, RG 45, Entry 46, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  66. Brownson to Long, 28 August 1898, RG 45, Entry 464, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  67. Long to Sampson, 15 July 1898, RG 80, Entry 194, vol. 1, pp. 281-284, National Archives, Washington, DC.
  68. The U.S.S. Yankee on the Cuban Blockade (New York: Members of the Yankee’s Crew, 1928), 6.
  69. The U.S.S. Yankee on the Cuban Blockade (New York: Members of the Yankee’s Crew, 1928), 28.
  70. The U.S.S. Yankee on the Cuban Blockade (New York: Members of the Yankee’s Crew, 1928), 30-31.
  71. The U.S.S. Yankee on the Cuban Blockade (New York: Members of the Yankee’s Crew, 1928), 33.
  72. Henry Barrett Chamberlin, “Wainwright’s Men,” The Chicago Record’s War Stories (Chicago: Chicago Record, 1898), 146-47. Wainwright’s request was approved by his friend, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt. Damon E. Cummings, Admiral Richard Wainwright and the United States Fleet (Washington, DC: Government Printing Officer, 1962), 93.
  73. Henry Barrett Chamberlin, “Wainwright’s Men,” The Chicago Record’s War Stories (Chicago: Chicago Record, 1898), 146-47;
  74. Henry Barrett Chamberlin, “Wainwright’s Men,” The Chicago Record’s War Stories (Chicago: Chicago Record, 1898), 146-47; and Damon E. Cummings, Admiral Richard Wainwright and the United States Fleet (Washington, DC: Government Printing Officer, 1962), 95.
  75. The U.S.S. Yankee on the Cuban Blockade, (New York: Members of the Yankee’s Crew, 1928), 34.
  76. Annual Report of the Navy Department, The Year 1898 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Officer, 1899), 135-36; and Harold Thomas Wieand, “The History of the Development of the United States Naval Reserve, 1889-1941” (PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1952), 68.

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Alfred and Theodore Go to Hawai’i: The Value of Hawai’i in the Maritime Strategic Thought of Alfred Thayer Mahan


Mahanian Maritime Theory Pertaining to the Value of Hawai’i (1892-1895)
Theodore Roosevelt and Domestic Perceptions of the Annexation of Hawai’i – The Short Story

By Ambjörn L. Adomeit 1
Candidate (Civilian), Master of Arts in War Studies
The Royal Military College of Canada

“… [W]ithout some such governmental care as is implied by an organized institution, it is vain to hope for the development of the art of naval war.”
– Alfred Thayer Mahan, Captain, U.S.N. 2

“It is not too much to say that Captain Mahan was doing for Naval Science what Jomini did for Military Science.”
– Rear Admiral S.B. Luce 3


Whatever the incidental benefits the annexation of Hawai’i brought to the United States, the primary value the Hawaiian archipelago held for the nation was military-strategic.  Hawai’i, as an island, a current state, and as the source of some of the United States’ greatest cultural treasures, brought economic and cultural expansion to the nation; but as valuable as it is in these respects, it was very keenly perceived as a military asset from the outset.  This essay focuses on the Mahanian interpretation of the military value of Hawai’i rather than the political aspects of the annexation process (including the various motivations behind the annexation campaign run by Theodore Roosevelt and his supporters).

I examine the issue of Hawaiian military value assessment in two blocks of time.  The first lies between 1892 and 1895, the period during which Mahan was developing his initial strategic appraisals of Hawai’i.  The second falls between 1898 and 1910, the period immediately following the United States of America’s annexation of Hawai’i; this latter period covers the administrations of Presidents McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt.  While cited sources span this period, the key years for consideration are 1908-1910, the period during which the United States Navy was formalising its doctrines on the use of Hawai’i within American maritime strategic theory. 4

Mahanian Maritime Theory Pertaining to the Value of Hawai’i (1892-1895)

Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the United States’ most renowned naval theoreticians, argued that Hawai’i’s central location between the American mainland and the Asian-Pacific theatre made it desirable both as an operational launching point and as a defensible fall-back position, and Theodore Roosevelt 5 and his advisory clique 6 fought ardently for Hawaiian annexation.  As early as 22 January 1886, Mahan was considering the role “… military ports in various parts of the world …” would have in maritime theory, and in particular the maritime strategies of the United States across the oceans of the world. 7  This would become a preoccupation of his spanning several years.

While the Hawaiian Islands were isolated from any nearby continental landmasses, Mahan illustrated the value the islands held as a stopover point for American vessels seeking to reach the Philippines or San Francisco from either side of the Pacific Ocean in 1893. 8  He pointed out that sea lines of communication (SLOC) and shipping routes naturally focussed upon Honolulu as a staging point for the trans-Pacific voyage, and that Pearl Harbor was a naturally impregnable harbour, perfect for a naval base. 9

In Mahan’s perspective, Hawai’i served as a bulwark against Chinese expansion across the Pacific Ocean.  He drew a comparison between Hawai’i and the Western European States: Germany, France, et cetera created a defensive bulwark between the Chinese and the United States should they attempt to cross the European and Asian continents by land, and that the use of Hawai’i as a naval staging point served a similar purpose, utilizing the open expanses of the Pacific Ocean as a bulwark, instead of land.  In other words, he argued that the states of Continental Europe created a buffer between the “barbarian Chinese” and the United States.  From a practical standpoint, the hundreds of millions of Europeans standing between America and its potential enemies in the east provided the United States with a standing defence force for which it did not have to pay.  Mahan argued that the Hawaiian archipelago existed in a position of natural strategic relevance given sea-and-wind currents in the mid-Pacific and was located centrally to the Pacific theatre, to San Francisco (America’s major naval port on the west coast), and to Australia and New Zealand.

MAP 1: Mean Global Surface Currents. 10

MAP 2: Global SLOC “Choke Points.” 11

The Hawaiian Islands were also superbly situated to make a proposed man-made channel in the Central American Isthmus (which eventually became home to the Panama Canal) highly profitable, and were indeed strategically necessary for the United States’ expanding global vision for its military.  By creating a trans-oceanic channel across the Central American Isthmus, it became easier, cheaper, and swifter for the United States to redeploy its fleet as needed in the event of a conflict in the Pacific theatre, and made maritime commerce more profitable.  This was an argument later supported by Admiral Sperry, who was at the time in command of the Fourth Division, Second Squadron, United States Atlantic Fleet upon the USS Alabama. 12  These three considerations – military/strategic, navigational, and economic – made the acquisition of Hawai’i, extremely desirable from Mahan’s perspective, for they not only provided both military and civilian proponents of annexation with solid arguments, but they also provided the United States Navy a purpose in the Pacific it otherwise would have lacked. 13  By having a solid, fortified naval base in Hawai’i working in synchronicity with British, German, Japanese, and Chinese merchant fleets, the United States Navy had a vested interest in protecting Hawai’i for economic reasons as well as military reasons.  In fact, by 1898, Mahan would write to Admiral Sir Bouverie F. Clark of the British Royal Navy that American ingenuity would permit the nation to achieve a means toward any end, including the creation of colonies and of territorial expansion, and Hawai’i was a case in point. 14  While Mahan was not forthcoming on how, precisely, the United States would and should develop policy to circumvent its own legislative dicta against expansion or treading on the toes of other nations, it appears that he may have been referencing the Monroe Doctrine which was supplemented by the Roosevelt Corollary some years later.  The interventionist language included therein provided the United States with a set system by which any design it may have on territories not within its possession could be absorbed into the United States’ territorial and military framework.

Senator George Clement Perkins wrote a letter addressed to Mahan on 7 January 1911 urging him to give to the United States Senate Committee on Naval Affairs an overview of his views on the transfer of one half of the USN battleship fleet to the west coast.  The letter stated that “… the people of the Pacific Coast …. are nowise apprehensive that there is danger of attack, but that the commercial expansion of Oriental powers … has transferred from the Atlantic to the Pacific the elements of discord …. They believe … the United States should be represented by a fleet commensurate in strength with our interests in that part of the world.” 15  As we will see below, Mahan obliged.

While many viewed Hawai’i to be a key strategic point, others, such as Robert Stein (a failed polar explorer), argued that Alaska was far more valuable to the United States than Hawai’i.  Stein’s communications with Mahan prove to be a most concise and insightful contemporary critique of Mahan’s argument: Hawai’i, Stein argued, had fewer vital mineral resources than Alaska:

Between 1880 and 1908 [Alaska] yielded $147,972,701 worth in minerals alone.  Its known coalfields contain 7 billion tons of coal, 3 billions more than the total output of Pennsylvania to date, and the area that has been prospected for coal is only one-tenth of the total. 16

Furthermore, Stein argued that every point in favour of Hawaiian strategic value needed to be re-emphasised with regard to Alaska, particularly the Aleutian Islands and Alaska’s southern coast.  His argument was that any fleet operating off of the Aleutians (most likely the Japanese, though he refrained from explicitly naming a potential belligerent) would be within easy striking distance of both Seattle and of San Francisco:

… [O]ur naval authorities have selected Kiska Island, one of the most southerly of the Aleutians, and the most centrally located, for a naval reservation, but nothing has yet been done to make it available as such, for the good reason that no money has been appropriated for the purpose.  If the enemy cared to be ironical [sic.], they could convert that very naval reservation into an impregnable naval base for themselves, where their men-of-war could recoal from their colliers in perfect security. 17

He asserted that the lack of military support in Alaska opened the entire area to enemy invasion: Stein stated that by not establishing a naval presence firmly and obviously in Alaskan waters, America was inviting invasion.  The rich coalfields in the region were undefended, and would be of manifest value for an invasion fleet, and of manifold loss to the capacities of the USN should they be lost in such a manner.  He encouraged not only a maritime presence in the region, but also a connecting railroad between the contiguous American states and Alaska to further exploit and defend Alaskan mineral assets. 18  It bears mentioning that while Mahan’s strategic assessments were generally based in the projection of “hard” and “soft” maritime power (combat capacities and political influence, respectively), Stein took a decidedly self-defensive approach in his own assessments. 19

Sadly, for Stein’s argument at any rate, Mahan had indeed acknowledged the value of Alaska in his assessment, but determined that while Alaska was a strategically situated location for an attack across the northern Pacific Ocean, it was of less strategic importance than Hawai’i.  Some of Mahan’s research notes, likely written before Stein sent his essay to the theorist in 1910, state:

It is undoubtedly desirable to have stations in Alaska … where a supply of coal could be obtained by the fleet when colliers might fail, but it is a question whether such stations should be fortified or equipped for repairing and administering to the needs of the fleet.  It is believed that if the fleet itself with its auxiliaries of … [ships] … could not hold outlying stations and thus maintain itself there would be little advantage in fortifying such stations for its protection or in providing an elaborate plant for its maintenance. 20, pp. 2, The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, archived microfilm collection (United States of America Library of Congress), courtesy of the Canadian Forces College IRC, Toronto, Ontario.]

Mahan’s concern was that any naval port fortified in Alaskan territory would result in a mis-placement of strategically needed resources.  Because of its proximity to the contiguous United States, a flotilla could be dispatched to defend Alaskan waters with sufficient speed to mitigate any potential foothold a belligerent could gain in such a short time. The wireless telegraph held extreme importance for Mahanian maritime theory: it permitted far greater flexibility in determining deployments and in operational strategy. 21  Mahan also argued that the vast difference in population sizes between the United States and Canada (cited as sixty-five million to six million, respectively) must be borne heavily in consideration when assessing the annexation of either Hawai’i or Alaska for American interests, and thereby interrupting Great Britain’s commercial interests in the Pacific as well. 22  Further, Mahan illustrated the intrinsic strategic value of the Hawaiian archipelago as a refuelling station beyond that of any Alaskan island:

Shut out from the Sandwich Islands as a coal base, an enemy is thrown back for supplies of fuel to distances of thirty-five hundred or four thousand miles, – or between seven thousand and eight thousand, going and coming, – an impediment to sustained maritime operations well-nigh prohibitive. 23

British trading routes between British Columbia, Australia and New Zealand, and the South China Sea all relied upon Hawai’i as a refuelling station and for maintenance.  Any belligerent fleet possessing Hawai’i would be able to fall back a safe distance from the front lines for refuelling and repairs while not removing itself from the battle.  On the other hand, any vessel following the Alaskan coastline would be in constant danger of being out of reach of its refuelling station(s) and would be at severe risk of being surrounded at any point.

MAP 3: The Hawaiian Islands 24

Hawai’i had in abundance rare geographical features well suited to maritime strategy qua Mahan.  Such locations needed to meet three desiderata: first, such a location had to be near the fleet it was provisioning; second, it would have to be fortified specifically to suit the needs of a naval force; and third, it needed to be stocked at all times with all forms of matériel a navy would need, summarized as “Possession, Strength, and Resources.” 25  By utilising Hawai’i’s natural position at the nexus of Pacific shipping routes, and by employing the natural defences of Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy was fulfilling all three Mahanian dicta.

As well intended as Stein’s arguments were, his grasp of maritime strategy failed to account for forces and considerations outside the control of the United States’ government and interests.  Failing to account for British interests and how British trading history in the Pacific Ocean had developed over time, resulted in a blinkering of Stein’s strategic vision.  Another example is raised by Peter Karsten in his article “The Nature of ‘Influence’: Roosevelt, Mahan and the Concept of Sea Power.” 26  Roosevelt was an independent thinker and strove to understand as much as he could about any given topic: he did not constrain himself to a small grouping of advisors and supporters.  In fact, he occasionally went around his advisory clique and drew upon the expertise of those who could contribute to his own learning.  For instance, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt urged a war with the Spanish in the Caribbean, and sent a plan to Mahan for review.  This plan had been composed by Captain Caspar Goodrich, and had been roundly criticized by Roosevelt before its hand-off to Mahan.  As Karsten comments:

[In late 1897] Roosevelt had sent Goodrich a problem in strategy: “Japan makes demands on Hawaiian Islands.  This country [the United States] intervenes.  What force will be necessary to uphold the intervention, and how shall it be employed?”

Goodrich argued that the Navy should carry an army of occupation to the Islands.  Roosevelt disagreed.  “It seems to me,” he replied, “that the determining factor in any war with Japan would be the control of the sea, and not the presence of troops in Hawai’i.  If we smash the Japanese Navy … then the presence of a Japanese army corps in Hawai’i would merely mean the establishment of Hawai’i as a half-way post for that army corps on its way to our prisons.  If we didn’t get control of the seas then no troops that we would be able to land … could hold Hawai’i against the Japanese ….” 27

Karsten’s observation that Roosevelt’s timing indicates he was testing Mahan’s analytical ability is extremely persuasive.  There is evidence that Roosevelt eventually broke with Mahan as his own influence in the upper political echelons of the United States mounted and his own analytical ability was given greater and greater weight.  Roosevelt’s use of Goodrich to test Mahan is an early indicator of this break, though Roosevelt did agree with Mahan’s assessment. 28  These examples of strategic assessment and critique underscore the value strategists must place in historical analysis of a region when developing operational guidelines and global strategy: the loss of any contextual element risks an entire military enterprise. 29

These assessments are borne out even today.  In an article dated 11 November 2009, Professor James Holmes of the United States Naval War College wrote, “[t]he open sea resembled a featureless plain, with few important geographic assets.  The rarer these features, the more valuable.  If there was only one island or archipelago, it held matchless strategic value.”

MAP 4: The Pacific Theatre Sea Lines of Communication, North Hemisphere 30

He repeated Mahan’s arguments, pointing out that it was President Grover Cleveland’s anti-imperialist administration that postponed Hawai’i’s annexation until 1898. 31  In February 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt began to urge Congress to allocate funds to the fortification of Pearl Harbor; in May 1908, Congress finally did allocate $900,000.00 to this enterprise. 32  It had taken a decade of politicking, but the United States had finally begun the military fortification of what was arguably the most strategically important location in the Pacific Ocean. 33

Theodore Roosevelt and Domestic Perceptions of the Annexation of Hawai’i – The Short Story

Theodore Roosevelt believed strongly that Hawai’i needed to be annexed by the United States and that a canal connecting Atlantic SLOC and Pacific SLOC needed to be built, and agreed with Mahan on this point, as did the American Representative to Hawaii, John L. Stevens. 34

MAP 5: The Pacific Theatre 2 35

In fact, Mahan’s strategic assessment of Hawai’i bolstered arguments of isolationists such as H.N. Clement. 36  Clement argued, “A nation has a right to do everything that can secure it from threatening danger and to keep at a distance whatever is capable of causing its ruin.” 37  For Clement, Hawaiian annexation would provide the United States a large defensive area, for U.S. naval forces could be launched from Hawai’i and defend against and attack enemy forces throughout the Pacific theatre.  Henry Cabot Lodge periodically continued to further the annexation agenda on his own, while referring to Roosevelt for feedback. 38  Roosevelt and Lodge attempted to gain McKinley’s support for the annexation of Hawai’i on several occasions, particularly in the years immediately surrounding the Spanish-American War and Roosevelt’s nomination of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. 39  In 1897, President McKinley’s attitude began to sway in favour of Hawaiian annexation, much to Roosevelt’s delight, for McKinley’s favour coincided with a related increase to the size of the United States Navy. 40  Nevertheless, the ponderous pace at which American bureaucrats approached the issue sorely tested Roosevelt’s patience. 41  Resistance from certain elements within the administration only made matters worse:  for instance, Moorfield Storey, a long-standing opponent of Roosevelt’s agendas whose political leanings were pacifist and distinctly anti-imperialist, denounced any effort to annex Hawai’i, arguing that extant and pervasive domestic administrative issues should be stabilised and deemed successful before undertaking any additional projects. 42  This opposition was countered vigorously:  Thomas B. Reed, Speaker for the United States House of Representatives, stood strongly for the annexation of Hawai’i, pointing out the military benefits of Hawai’i for American “imperial” interests.  Imperial (or at the very least “expansionist”) interests, both military and commercial in nature, were at the forefront of the Rooseveltian agenda and were intrinsically tied to national defence. 43  Wallace Rice, a noted newspaperman from Chicago, critiqued Mahanian strategic analysis in an article entitled “Some Current Fallacies of Captain Mahan,” in The Dial: A Semi-Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information on 16 March, 1900, following the publication of Mahan’s Lessons of the War with Spain, and Other Articles.  Rice pointed out that Mahan’s interest seemed to focus on the Sandwich Islands (as the Hawaiian archipelago was known in the United States) as a staging point for American maritime power in order to defend against the “… comparative barbarism [of] China ….” 44  Rice’s arguments were not far off the mark, for Mahan was wary of Chinese encroachment across the Pacific Ocean toward the United States.  Rice’s denunciation of Mahan as an uncaring brute in the same piece, based upon comments Mahan had made that seemed to dismiss the significance of mass casualties in the face of a potential attack in favour of the strategic value of Hawai’i, was rather misplaced and appears to be an unsubstantiated ad hominem attack.  Mahan was merely underscoring that the value of Hawai’i to the national interests United States was more valuable on the whole than potential casualties incurred in war; phrased another way, Hawai’i was so valuable, in Mahan’s view, that any cost was acceptable in keeping it within the grasp of the United States. 45

After sending a celebratory note to Mahan stating that Secretary of the Navy John D. Long supported Hawaiian annexation, Roosevelt commented in a letter to Henry Cabot Lodge, “[y]ou must get Manila [sic.] and Hawai’i … you must prevent any talk of peace until we get Porto [sic.] Rico and the Philippines as well as secure the independence of Cuba ….” 46  Lodge replied on 15 June, 1898,

I have, I think, done something to force Hawai’i to the front, and the House votes on it tomorrow.  It will carry there by a large majority, and I do not believe the Senate can hold out very long, for the President has been very firm about it and means to annex the Islands in any way.  I consider the Hawaiian business as practically settled.  The whole policy of annexation is growing rapidly …. 47

Mahan’s influence did not extend far into the House of Representatives or into United States politics proper.  Rather, his strategic thought and influence operated on the foundation of personal appeal and charisma, whether his own or that of those who went to him for advice.  Mahan was not a particularly political creature, especially when compared to those whom he mentored, such as Roosevelt and Lodge.  Instead, he preferred to make his views known and let others advocate for them rather than doing that sort of dirty work for himself; Mahan preferred his ivory tower to the political arena.

Prior to 1900, many sources – including the letters and papers compiled by Henry Cabot Lodge on Roosevelt’s behalf – seem to favour the impression that Roosevelt was dedicated to the annexation of Hawai’i without pause.  Yet, in a letter dated 8 June 1911, Roosevelt wrote to Mahan commenting, “I do not believe this nation is prepared to arbitrate such questions as whether it shall fortify the [Panama] canal, as to whether it shall retain Hawai’i, nor yet to arbitrate the Monroe Doctrine, nor the right to exclude immigrants if it thinks it wise to do so.” 48  A known Hawk, Roosevelt’s diplomatic skills are just as renowned as his expansionist policies; as President of the United States, Roosevelt executed his role with wisdom rather than the fanaticism characteristic of his youth.  In this note to Mahan, one of his closest advisors, Roosevelt shows a tempering of character atypical of his earlier life and shows the characteristics of the great statesman one expects when pursuing Rooseveltian studies.  It shows, too, that his understanding of international and domestic sentiments had become very refined during the years of his Presidency.  Early in his political career, Roosevelt had been described by his superior, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, as a man whose impulsiveness shook the validity of his “… good judgement and discretion.” 49  Clearly, by the time Roosevelt had risen to international prominence, this impulsiveness had been tempered by experience.

The treaty under which the annexation took place provided that any revenue raised by the Hawaiian Islands be “… used solely for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands and other public pursuits.” 50  American shipping accounted for some 82.52% of Hawaiian imports in 1896, while Hawaiian-registered ships were responsible for only 5.26% of their import shipping.  These vessels themselves were largely owned and operated by American-owned companies. 51  The United States reportedly consumed 92.26% of Hawaiian exports in 1896. 52  Clearly, this commercial relationship between Hawai’i and the United States, combined with extant educational sponsorship from American sources for Hawaiian schools, for instance, indicates that a formal relationship was beneficial to the United States.  It speaks as well to the relationship between the United States and the Hawaiians, insofar as they would eventually benefit from full statehood and greater security than could have – arguably – been achieved under the continued rule of Queen Lili’uokalani, the deposed Hawaiian Head of State. 51

Arguments levelled against the annexation process were rather sweeping in their precision: for instance, Longfield Gorman authored a piece in The North American Review arguing that Section 1 of Article 14 and Article 15 of the United States Constitution necessitated that all Hawaiian-born American citizens be deported, for those sections prevented efficient naturalisation of annexed territories and their populations. 54  He pointed out that there was no similar impediment to Japanese immigration, and argued that President McKinley’s administration was not prepared to face the strategic nor the political implications of such potential security issues. 55


This essay has examined Alfred Thayer Mahan’s strategic assessments of Hawai’i as a forward maritime base in the mid-Pacific to the exclusion of political – and civilian – concerns in general. The benefit of this approach is that we can see the multi-faceted approach the United States’ most renowned naval theoretician brought to his work, affording us a clearer conception of the goals he promoted and the policies his supporters brought to the broader body of contemporary American politics. Even though this essay has not dealt with the political side of the Hawaiian Annexation in any great degree, we can nevertheless see how Mahan’s thought influenced the rationale underscoring these policies. The weakness in this approach stems from the inherent isolation in which this Mahanian analysis is presented, decontextualizing to an extent the significance of his assessments of the Hawaiian question within the broader American geopolitical and economic discourse of the day.

Hawaiian Annexation was founded upon the desire for military expansion. Two of the Hawaiian Annexation’s greatest advocates, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, fought tooth-and-nail to justify, rationalize, and develop plans for the annexation of the Hawaiian archipelago to support the ideologies of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism. Underscoring these political arguments, however, is an explicitly imperialistic undertone, developed in a military manner specifically intended to defend the United States’ interests in the Pacific Ocean, both in terms of national defence and in terms of economic expansion. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s capacity to make truisms of naval strategy understandable to the layman played strongly into the hands of those who wielded his theories to expand and protect American interests. It was in this manner that Mahan’s identification of the Hawaiian archipelago as the central (and thus the most strategically significant) nexus for passage across the Pacific came to the forefront of American attention. Hawai’i, occupying a place central to natural sea lines of communication (wind patterns, water movements, etc.) and their accompanying maritime trade routes, was littered with coves and harbours easily adapted to the needs of a navy in both attack and defence. Mahan identified in clear terms – for the first time – the precise reasons why Hawai’i was strategically significant, and produced evidence that supported his arguments. Without Mahan’s accurate analysis and the support he gained from eminent statesmen of the day, Hawai’i may have gone unnoticed and unappreciated for decades, or, worse for American interests, it may have fallen into the hands of possible potential enemies.


Primary Documents, Memoirs, Correspondence Collections:

Only entire primary documents and collections are listed here: for detailed information pertaining to specific letters/correspondence, please see the included endnotes.

Gorman, Longman. “The Administration and Hawai’i.” The North American Review (1821-1940). American Periodicals, Vol. 165, No. 490, pp. 379.

Lodge, Henry Cabot (ed.).  Selections from the Correspondence of Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, 1884-1918, Vol. I. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.

_ _ _ _ _. Selections from the Correspondence of Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, 1884-1918, Vol. II. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.

Mahan, Alfred Thayer. The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Limited, 1897 (Kindle E-Book Edition).

Maine Farmer (1844-1900), “Annexation of Hawai’i,” 24 June 1897.  American Periodicals, Vol. 65, No. 34, pp. 4.

Morison, Elting E, John M. Blum and John J. Buckley (eds.). The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt: Volume I – The Years of Preparation, 1868-1898. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951.

Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, The. Archived microfilm collection (United States of American Library of Congress), Courtesy of the Canadian Forces College Information Resource Centre, Toronto, Ontario.

Seager, Robert and Doris D. Magquire (eds.) Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, Vol. 3.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1975.

Times, The (London, England), 24 November 1909 (reprinted Academic OneFile, 24 November 1992, News, pp. 19).  Accessed 2 March 2014. (

Rice, Wallace. “Some Current Fallacies of Captain Mahan.” The Dial: A Semi-Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information (1880-1929), Vol. 330 (16 March 1900).

Secondary Sources: Articles, Essays, Books/Monographs:

Beach, Edward L. The United States Navy: 200 Years. New York: Henry Hold and Company, 1986.

Beale, Howard K. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (The Albert Shaw Lectures on Diplomatic History, 1953). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1956.

Braisted, William R.  “The Philippine Naval Base Problem, 1898-1909.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 41, No. 1 (June 1954), pp. 21-40.

Coletta, Paolo E.  “Untitled Review of Richard W. Turk, The Ambiguous Relationship: Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan.”  American Historical Review, Vol. 93, No. 5 (Dec. 1988), pp. 1413-1414.

Corgan, Michael T. “Review Article: Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt – The Assessment of Influence.” Naval War College Review, Vol. 33, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1980), pp. 89-97.

Dukas, Neil Bernard. A Military History of Sovereign Hawai’i. Honolulu, HI: Mutual Publishing, 2004.

Fry, Joseph A. “Feature Review: The Architects of the ‘Large Policy’ Plus Two.”  Diplomatic History, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 2005), pp. 185-188.

Garrett, Wendell D. “John Davis Long, Secretary of the Navy, 1897-1902: A Study in Changing Political Alignments.” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sept. 1958), pp. 291-311.

Hodge, Carl Cavanagh. “A Whiff of Cordite: Theodore Roosevelt and the Transoceanic Naval Arms Race, 1897-1909.” Diplomacy & Statecraft, Vol. 19 (2008): pp. 712-731.

Holmes, James R. “Why Pearl Harbor is Still Essential.” Retrieved from http://www.dmzHawai’, 2 April 2014;

Holmes, James R. and Yoshi Yoshihara, “Mahan’s Lingering Ghost.” Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, Vol. 135, No. 12 (December 2009), pp. 40-45: pp. 40.  Accessed 6 November 2013:

Karsten, Peter. “The Nature of ‘Influence’: Roosevelt, Mahan and the Concept of Sea Power.” American Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct. 1971), pp. 585-600.

Lafeber, Walter. “The ‘Lion in the Path’: The U.S. Emergence as a World Power.” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 101, No. 5, Reflections on Providing for “The Common Defense”, (1986), pp. 705-718.

Lee, Erika. “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924.” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 21, No. 3 (2002), pp. 36-62.

Livermore, Seward W. “The American Navy as a Factor in World Politics, 1902-1913.” The American Historical Review, Vol. 63, No 4 (July 1958), pp. 863-879.

Maurer, John H. “Fuel and the Battle Fleet: Coal, Oil, and American Naval Strategy, 1898-1925.” Naval War College Review, Vol. 34, No. 6, Seq. 288 (Nov.- Dec. 1981), pp. 60-77.

Morris, Edmund. “’A Matter of Extreme Urgency’: Theodore Roosevelt, Wilhelm II, and the Venezuela Crisis of 1902.” Naval War College Review, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 73-85.

_ _ _ _ _. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.

Ricard, Sergé.  “Theodore Roosevelt: Imperialist or Global Strategist in the New Expansionist Age?” Diplomacy & Statecraft, Vol. 19 (2008), pp. 639-657.

Still, William N., Jr. American Sea Power in the Old World: The United States Navy in European and Near Eastern Waters, 1865-1917 (Contributions in Military History, Number 24). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. The author would like to thank, in no particular order, Richard Goette, PhD (Adjunct Assistant Professor, Canadian Forces College), Chris Madsen, PhD (Professor, CFC), Sergé Richard, PhD (Professor Emeritus, University of Paris III – Sorbonne Neouvelle), Dave Winkler, PhD (Naval Historical Foundation), Cathy Murphy (Chief Librarian, CFC), Joel J. Sokolsky, PhD (The Royal Military College of Canada), Aldona Sendzikas, PhD (Associate Professor, The University of Western Ontario), and Margaret Kellow, PhD (Associate Professor, UWO) for their aid, and encouragement in the creation of this essay.
  2. Alfred Thayer Mahan (President, US Naval War College) to the Secretary of the Naval Institute, 27 November, 1888, pp. 6 (Correspondence), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, archived microfilm collection (United States of America Library of Congress), Courtesy of the Canadian Forces College IRC, Toronto, Ontario.
  3. Extracts of a letter from S.B. Luce to B.F. Tracy (Secretary of the Navy), 14 March 1889, pp. 2 (Correspondence), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
  4. While Roosevelt and his supporters appreciated Hawai’i in manners beyond its military value, the bulk of their rhetoric was couched in terms designed to place a legitimate political “spin” on an otherwise military agenda, a conversation too broad in scope for a paper – and presentation – of this size.  The annexation of Hawai’i was a component of a far greater political concern in United States domestic policy, sprouting out of economic considerations and, sadly, the last vestiges of North American slavery.  These were not concerns for Mahan in his role as a maritime theorist, and so will not be addressed here.  Similarly, modern assessments of Hawaiian strategic value will not be addressed, although I will identify some salient strategic and geo-political concerns relevant to this discussion at the end of the essay and presentation.
  5. Roosevelt would later become Assistant Secretary of the Navy and eventually President of the United States of America.
  6. This advisory clique includes Henry Cabot Lodge, William Sowden Sims, Bradley Fiske, A.T. Mahan, George Dewey, and William H. Moody, among others.  Carl Cavanagh Hodge, “A Whiff of Cordite: Theodore Roosevelt and the Transoceanic Naval Race, 1897-1909,” in Diplomacy and Statecraft, Vol. 19 (2008), pp. 712-731: pp. 720; Edmund Morris, “’A Matter of Extreme Urgency,’” pp. 75-78, 80, 82; John H. Maurer, “Fuel and the Battle Fleet: Coal, Oil, and American Naval Strategy, 1898-1925,” in Naval War College Review, Vol. 34, No. 6, Seq. 288 (Nov.-Dec. 1981), pp. 60-77; Seward W. Livermore, “The American Navy as a Factor in World Politics, 1903-1913,” in The American Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 4 (July 1958), pp. 863-879: pp. 863, 863n, 873, 875; Elting E. Morison, John M. Blum and John J. Buckley (eds.), The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt: Volume I – The Years of Preparation, 1868-1898. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951), Theodore Roosevelt to William Sheffield Cowles, 12 December 1901.  The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Morison, et al.) are indexed according to theme, as indicated in the volume’s subtitle.  Each of these collections will be cited according to their collective index.  They will therefore appear thus: Letters, Vol. I & II, Letters, Vol. III & IV, Letters, Vol. V & VI, Letters, Vol. VIII.  For specific letters from these collections and in Henry Cabot Lodge, Selection from the Correspondence of Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, 1884-1918, Vols. I-II (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925), I will refer to the specific volume (Selections I, or Selections II in the case of the Lodge collections) and will provide a listing including the author’s initials, a hyphen, and the recipient’s name followed by the date the letter was written; Edward L. Beach, The United States Navy: 200 Years. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1986), pp. 335, 415; Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (The Albert Shaw Lectures on Diplomatic History, 1953). (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1953), pp. 20, 22; Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex. (New York: Random House, 2001), pp. 180; William N. Still, Jr., American Sea Power in the Old World: The United States Navy in European and Near Eastern Waters, 1865-1917 (Contributions in Military History, Number 24). (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), pp. 93-96.
  7. Mahan to Rear Admiral S.B. Luce (Naval War College), 22 January, 1886, pp. 1 (Correspondence), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan; Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 41 of 318, location 307 of 2371.  Please note that as this is an ebook resource, the precise physical location of a given citation may vary from version to version and is largely dependent upon the reading software used.
  8. Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 43 of 318, location 322 of 2371; “New American Naval Base at Hawai’i,” The Times (London, England), 24 November 1909 (reprinted Academic OneFile, 24 November 1992, News, pg. 19).  Accessed 2 March 2014. (
  9. “New American Naval Base at Hawai’i,” The Times (London, England), 24 November 1909 (reprinted Academic OneFile, 24 November 1992, News, pg. 19).  Accessed 2 March 2014. (; Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 41 of 318, location 308 of 2371.  This chapter, entitled “Hawai’i and Our Future Sea Power”, originally took form as a letter to the editor of Forum in the New York Times, 31 January, 1893, out of which stemmed the larger essay as referenced here.
  10. This link is still active as of 15 February, 2015. Caption reads: “Map of the mean surface currents. This is the average pattern. The strength and direction of each current varies with the seasons and from year to year.”
  11. This page was accessed March 2014; it has since been removed.
  12. Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 38 of 318, location 235 of 2371, pp. 52 of 318, location 393 of 2371; Wallace Rice, “Some Current Fallacies of Captain Mahan,” in The Dial: A Semi-Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information (1880-1929), Vol. 330 (16 March, 1900), pp. 198; Admiral C.S. Sperry to the Secretary of the Navy, 27 January 1908, pp. 4 (Theodore Roosevelt Correspondence, 1890-1910), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan; Alfred Thayer Mahan to Col. Sterling, 23 December 1898, pp. 1 (Theodore Roosevelt Correspondence), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan; William R. Braisted, “The Philippine Naval Base Problem, 1898-1909,” in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 41, No. 1 (June 1954), pp. 21-40: pp. 22; Michael T. Corgan, “Review Article: Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt – The Assessment of Influence,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 33, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1980), pp. 89-97: pp. 95; Hodge, pp. 720.
  13. Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 45 of 318, location 336 of 2371.
  14. Mahan to Admiral Sir B.F. Clarke, 24 May 1898, pg. 1 (Correspondence, 1908-1910), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan; Walter Lafeber, “The ‘Lion in the Path’: The U.S. Emergence as a World Power,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 101, No. 5, Reflections on Providing for “The Common Defense” (1986), pp. 705-718: pp. 707-708, 717-718.
  15. Senator George Clement Perkins to Rear Admiral A.T. Mahan, 7 January 1911, pp. 1 (Correspondence, 1908-1910), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan.  There is another signature on the letter, but the author could not identify its owner, pp. 2; Mahan to Theodore Roosevelt 27 December 1904, pp. 2 (Theodore Roosevelt Correspondence 1890-1915), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
  16. Robert Stein, “The Defense of Alaska,” pp. 2, in Robert Stein to Alfred Thayer Mahan 25 March 1910, (Correspondence 1908-1910), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan.  Stein’s argument is treated here as the most effective substantive counter to Mahanian analysis with regard to the military-strategic value of the Hawaiian archipelago to the United States.
  17. Ibidem.
  18. Ibid.  Stein’s document addresses not only the strategic value of Alaska contra that of Hawai’i, but also the danger a foreign-occupied (i.e., a non-American) Alaska posed to Canada, as well as a proposed argument in favour of the construction of a complex railroad chain as part and parcel of the Monroe Doctrine.  Curiously, Stein forwards the argument that the construction of a railway connecting the contiguous United States with Alaska would in fact pacify the Canadians and make them more likely to formally accept the Monroe Doctrine as a component of international law; pp. 5-6.  Stein’s argument likely refers to the inhabitants of what is now British Columbia, as Canadian affairs were being directed by London (England), not Ottawa – see commentaries on the Alaskan Boundary Dispute (resolved in 1903) for more information.  He also makes a huge leap in his contention that the Monroe Doctrine was internationally accepted: it was a posture of the United States to defend itself against belligerent European nations in areas claimed by the United States as being vital to its military defence and/or its economic security.  Stein’s argument, therefore, is heavily couched in American exceptionalist rhetoric.
  19. With thanks to Professor Margaret Kellow, PhD (University of Western Ontario) for these observations.
  20. Alfred Thayer Mahan (Research Notes File, Miscellaneous Drafts and Notes 1904 – [ca. 1914, and undated
  21. Ibid.
  22. Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 47 of 318, location 350 of 2371.
  23. Ibid., pp. 49 of 318, location 365 of 2371.
  24. Edward S. Ellis, A. M., Ellis’ History of the United States from the Discovery of America to the Present Time, (Minneapolis, MN: Western Book Syndicate, 1899). Downloaded from Maps ETC on the Web at (map #02949).
  25. Maurer, pp. 63-64, 63n16, 69, 75.  Maurer draws attention to a report by Mahan authored 15-20 August 1898 discussing the deportment of forward bases; Alfred Thayer Mahan to Secretary of the Navy, 21 April 1911, in Robert Seager and Doris D. Maguire (eds.), Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, Vol. 3, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), pp. 399.
  26. Peter Karsten, “The Nature of ‘Influence’: Roosevelt, Mahan and the Concept of Sea Power,” in American Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct. 1971), pp. 585-600.
  27. Ibid., pp. 593n26.
  28. Ibid., pp. 591, 596, 598, 593n26; Paolo E. Coletta, Untitled Review of Richard W. Turk, The Ambiguous Relationship: Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan, in American Historical Review, Vol. 93, No. 5 (Dec. 1988), pp. 1413-1414: pp. 1413; Corgan, 89-97.  Corgan’s entire review addresses this issue, and is just as convincing as Karsten’s argument; Hodge, 713, 715-717.
  29. Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 50 of 318, location 379 of 2371.
  30. Reproduction of Chart Showing Position of UNALASKA. Robert Stein to A.T. Mahan, 25 March 1910, The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, Correspondence 1908-1910, CFC-IRC.
  31. James Holmes, “Why Pearl Harbor is Still Essential,” retrieved from http://www.dmzHawai’, 2 April 2014; See also James R. Holmes and Yoshi Yoshihara, “Mahan’s Lingering Ghost,” in Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, Vol. 135, No. 12 (December 2009), pp. 40-45: pp. 40.  Accessed 6 November 2013:; The author would like to thank Professor Holmes (US Naval War College) for his guidance in researching this aspect of this paper. Personal Correspondence with James R. Holmes (E-Mail), 2 April 2014.
  32. Approximately $23 million in 2014 dollars; .
  33. Braisted, pp. 38.
  34. Selections, Vol. 1, TR–HCL, 27 October 1894, pp. 139; Corgan, pp. 95; Neil Bernard Dukas, A Military History of Sovereign Hawai’i. (Honolulu, HI: Mutual Publishing, 2004), pp. 172-175.
  35. Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook.
  36. Clement was a San Francisco lawyer who had testified in the 1876 hearings, identifying what he determined to be the need to halt Chinese immigration – and the containment of those of Chinese descent living on United States soil – as part of a rising American gatekeeping ideology.
  37. Erika Lee, “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 21, No. 3 (2002), pp. 36-62: pp. 38-39.  The author would like to thank Professor Kellow for bringing this source to his attention.  As pertinent as racism is to the American imperial experience, it is only glancingly relevant to this essay.  Neil Bernard Dukas’ A Military History of Sovereign Hawai’i. (Honolulu, HI: Mutual Publishing, 2004) is an excellent resource for further details.
  38. Selections, Vol. 1, HCL-TR, 2 December 1896, pp. 240; Julius W. Pratt as quoted in Joseph A. Fry, “Feature Review: The Architects of the ‘Large Policy’ Plus Two,” in Diplomatic History, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 2005), pp. 185-188: pp. 185.  Fry’s review is of Warren Zimmerman’s First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002).
  39. Selections, Vol. 1, HCL-TR, 2 December 1896, pp. 240; TR-HCL 4 December 1896, pp. 243; TR-HCL, 6 April 1897, pp. 266; TR-HCL, 8 April 1897, pp. 266; TR-HCL 10 July 1898, pp. 323; Fry, pp. 186-187.
  40. Selections, Vol. 1, TR-HCL, 17 June 1897, pp. 267.
  41. Selections, Vol. 1, TR-HCL, 3 August 1897, pp. 168.
  42. Selections, Vol. 1, HCL-TR, 19 August 1897, pp. 273; HCL-TR, 29 June 1898, pp. 317.
  43. Selections, Vol. 1, HCL-TR, 31 May 1898, pp. 302; TR-HCL & J.S. Morgan & Co., 10 August 1899, pp. 416; Selections, Vol. 2, HCL-TR, 11 January 1916, pp. 470; HCL-TR, 1 February 1916, pp. 474-476; TR-HCL, 4 February 1916, pp. 477; HCL-TR, 9 February 1916, pp. 482-484; Lafeber, 712-713.
  44. Wallace Rice, “Some Current Fallacies of Captain Mahan,” in The Dial: A Semi-Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information (1880-1929), Vol. 330 (16 March, 1900), pp. 198.  Rice accuses Mahan of being more interested in creating reasons for his countrymen to die than in promoting peace; Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Kindle eBook, pp. 38 of 318, location 235 of 2371; Mahan to Theodore Roosevelt 27 December 1904, pp. 2 (Theodore Roosevelt Correspondence 1890-1915), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
  45. Lafeber, 714.  Both Clement and Rice were isolationists, and, as has been illustrated, were quite racist.
  46. Selections, Vol. 1, TR-HCL, 12 June 1898, pp. 309; Wendell D. Garrett, “John Davis Long, Secretary of the Navy, 1897-1902: A Study in Changing Political Alignments,” in The New England Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sept. 1958), pp. 291-311: pp. 300.
  47. Selections, Vol. 1, HCL-TR, 15 June 1898, pp. 311; HCL-TR, 24 June 1898, pp. 313; HCL-TR, 4 July 1898, pp. 318; HCL-TR, 6 July 1898, pp. 321; HCL-TR 23 July 1898, pp. 330.
  48. Theodore Roosevelt to A.T. Mahan, 8 June 1911, pp. 2, (Theodore Roosevelt Correspondence 1890-1915), The Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, archived microfilm collection (United States of America Library of Congress), courtesy of the Canadian Forces College IRC, Toronto, Ontario.  Dukas relates a series of discussions between Queen Lili’uokaliani and President Harrison, and a statement of Grover Cleveland that progress along similar lines of thought.  The gist, however, was to suggest that the queen had demonstrated an inability to resolve her own domestic issues and that United States interests were served by overthrowing the revolutionaries rising against her, even though the United States’ intervention was “… an unauthorized act of war ….  Stevens’ proclamation establishing a United States protectorate over Hawai’i was subsequently ‘disavowed’ by Washington and he was reprimanded for having taken an active part in the de facto government of Hawai’i.” Dukas, 178.
  49. Wendell D. Garrett, “John Davis Long, Secretary of the Navy, 1897-1902: A Study in Changing Political Alignments,” in The New England Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sept. 1958), pp. 291-311: pp. 298; Serge Ricard, “Theodore Roosevelt: Imperialist or Global Strategist in the New Expansionist Age?” Diplomacy & Statecraft, Vol. 19 (2008), pp. 639-657: pp. 641.  The author would like to thank Professor Ricard, Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris, Sorbonne Nouvelle and the Observatory of American Foreign Policy, and a noted Theodore Roosevelt scholar, for his insights into this discussion.  Personal Correspondence, Serge Ricard (E-Mail), 9 April 2014.
  50. “Annexation of Hawai’i”, in Maine Farmer (1844-1900), 24 June 1897, Vol. 65, No. 34, American Periodicals, pp. 4.
  51. “Annexation,” pp. 4.
  52. “Annexation,” pp. 4; See also Erika Lee, “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 21, No. 3 (2002), pp. 36-62.
  53. “Annexation,” pp. 4.
  54. Longman Gorman, “The Administration and Hawaii,” The Northern American Review (1821-1940), Vol. 165, No. 490, American Periodicals, pp. 379.
  55. Gorman, 379.

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The Australian Experience of Joint and Combined Operations: Borneo 1945


Australians and Coalition Warfare during World War II
Preparing for the OBOE Operations
Australian Organization and Structure
OBOE I: Tarakan
OBOE VI: Brunei Bay and Labuan
OBOE II: Balikpapan
Action at Balikpapan
Lessons Learned and Lessons Missed

Gregory P. Gilbert
Defence Analyst

The last months of 1945 saw Australian-led Allied forces liberate Borneo from Japanese occupation in what is now practically a forgotten campaign. 1 Australia had experienced six years of war, however the Borneo invasion was the first and only Australian joint and combined campaign of World War II (WWII). The Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had extensive tactical level experience working under British and/or American commanders, but they had very little experience working jointly at the operational or strategic levels of war.

This paper evaluates the Australian contribution to the Allied war effort in the context of the Australian experience of joint and combined operations in the Borneo 1945 campaign. The Australian approach to coalition warfare is also be discussed.

Australians and Coalition Warfare during World War II

Australian military culture was, and still is, unique, although it is grounded in Western European traditions. As such it has often been misunderstood by members of other nations’ armed forces, particularly by those whose own military forces are built upon strong traditions of independent national will. Modern Australian culture has changed significantly but many features of Australian military culture have not changed since WWII. Although the nation is politically independent, its military culture remains dependent upon great powers. Current Australian military doctrine explains the situation during WWII. 2

During the first half of the twentieth century Australia, as a part of the British Empire, demonstrated a strong affiliation with Anglo-Saxon cultural, diplomatic and military norms. In many ways Australia was historically, culturally and demographically a part of Europe, and yet geographically was part of Asia. During this period, we played a major role in upholding and preserving fundamental western democratic beliefs by our participation in both World Wars.

For the vast majority of Australian serving men and women they served the Queen and the British Empire. Australia was itself a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. As a result, throughout WWII there were four distinct approaches to Australia’s contribution to the Allied war effort. 3

  1. Individuals served as volunteers in the British armed forces
  2. Australian military personnel were integrated into British/American units
  3. Australian military units were allocated to larger British/American formations for operations
  4. Australian forces were formed into national formations for Australian led operations.

In the first approach individuals were employed and paid directly by their parent Service. They were also subject to the military law and regulations of that foreign Service, although it is doubtful whether Australians who served in this manner ever saw themselves as mercenaries. That is, an Australian serving with the Royal Navy, was treated exactly the same as if they were born in the UK. Such people differed from those of the second approach, who were employed and paid by the Commonwealth of Australia and who were subject to Australian military law and Service regulations. The first approach was relatively common during World War I, and it continued in 1939 when, once again, the Australian Government did nothing to prevent a considerable number of Australian-born individuals from joining the British armed forces directly. The Australian Government also agreed with the British policy to accept large numbers of RAAF airmen and considerable numbers of RAN sailors to serve within British units. This decision to integrate dissipated the visibility of the Australian contribution throughout the empire, and worked against the considerable efforts made to establish an Australian military identity in the air and at sea. Even when fully manned Australian ships, divisions and squadrons were generated and sent to Europe, they were inevitably placed under larger British commands under British senior commanders and used in operations in which the Australian Government had little, if any, say. In effect strategic and operational level decision making was exercised by the British.

The situation changed in December 1941 with American’s entry into and the start of the Pacific War. When Singapore was lost and the British withdrew to the western Indian Ocean, Australians looked towards the United States not just for support but also for leadership. They saw a need to replace British strategic leadership with American strategic leadership. When General Douglas MacArthur was appointed as Commander in Chief Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), the Australian Government devolved much of their responsibility directly to him. In the words of the official historian, Gavin Long, the Australian Government ‘had made a notable surrender of sovereignty’. 4 The British also agreed with the decision to place all of the Pacific Commands under the United States (US) Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). That said, MacArthur and the American military were less willing than the British to accept Australian military integration within their units. Very few Australians volunteered for service with US forces, although there are a few notable ones who did. 5 During 1942-43 many RAAF aircrew flew with United States Army Air Force (USAAF) crews in New Guinea, while a shortage of experienced personnel meant many Australians also served under contract with the US Army Small Ships Section in the SWPA. Much of the intelligence organization operating in the SWPA, such as Central Bureau, included Australian, British and US personnel. However such integration was not the norm. Prior to MacArthur’s arrival in Australia the Allied General Headquarters (GHQ) included a mixture of Australian and American personnel. It did not take long before MacArthur made his GHQ a closed American shop with a preference for the ‘Bataan Gang’. 6

During 1944, as US forces surged into the SWPA, it became increasingly clear that if Australia wanted to make a major contribution in the Pacific War it needed to deploy its own joint force. The Borneo 1945 campaign was one of the few instances of Australian military leadership choosing the fourth approach, listed above. Forces from all three Australian services had to work closely together within a national military structure, under national leadership. In Australian military history mention of the Borneo campaign is a rarity. Despite Australians frequently demonstrating remarkable courage and professionalism at the tactical level, and with the majority of Australian fighting units serving under British command in Europe and under American command in the SWPA, Australian commanders had limited opportunities to gain warfighting experience at the operational or strategic levels.


On 3 April 1945 the US JCS issued a directive to General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief SWPA, instructing him to make plans for occupying North Borneo, using Australian combat and service troops. 7 In the same directive, JCS ordered MacArthur to occupy Brunei Bay immediately after Tarakan, and to cancel his plans to liberate Java. Thus GHQ SWPA issued orders for three OBOE operations: 8

OBOE I—Tarakan Island (1 May 1945)
OBOE VI—British Borneo (10 June)
OBOE II—Balikpapan (1 July)

The Borneo Campaign, May-July 1945 Source: Willoughby, C.A. (ed.), Reports of General MacArthur, Vol. I: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Washington DC, 1966, p. 384.

The Borneo Campaign, May-July 1945
Source: Willoughby, C.A. (ed.), Reports of General MacArthur, Vol. I: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Washington DC, 1966, p. 384.

The command of the Borneo campaign was anything but simple. At its top, MacArthur was in charge of all joint coalition forces even though even he too was under the directions of the US Joint Chiefs. Command at the operational level remained a single-service responsibility, with each commander having to closely coordinate their plans and operational orders at the working level with their colleagues from the other services. The land, sea and air headquarters were either co-located or in constant touch with each other. There was no operational level joint headquarters. 9

From its establishment in March 1942 until early 1945 the SWPA was commanded by General MacArthur, with joint planning undertaken by his GHQ SWPA. MacArthur was responsible for joint strategic and operational level command of all campaigns in theatre, although his orders were executed through his subordinate single-service commanders. 10 For the Borneo campaign these were: Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid as Commander US Seventh Fleet 11, Lieutenant General George C. Kenny as Commander Allied Air Forces SWPA, and the Australian General Thomas Blamey as Commander Allied Land Forces SWPA. 12 In fact, MacArthur preferred to command his land forces directly at the Army Corps or equivalent level and thus General Blamey’s role was actually limited to Australian homeland defense. 13 MacArthur issued orders directly for the land force component (I Australian Corps under the Australian Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead) 14, through General Kenny to the air component (RAAF Command under the Australian Air Vice Marshal William ‘Bill’ Bostock), and through Admiral Kincaid to the naval force (Seventh Amphibious Force under Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, USN).

MacArthur never appointed joint task force commanders, preferring to keep the final operational level decision making to himself. Admiral Barbey succinctly explains how ‘jointness’ was achieved in the SWPA:

There was no unity of command of the various services below General MacArthur’s level, which was contrary to the principle of unified command in all operations in other combat areas. Our landings were planned and carried out on the basis of cooperation. It was a bit unorthodox but it worked – perhaps because General MacArthur was always in the background and ready to handle any recalcitrants. 15

Preparing for the OBOE Operations

Although it is often left unstated, the prerequisite for the amphibious operations against the Japanese in Borneo was Allied sea and air control. 16 The US Pacific Fleet had decisively defeated Japanese naval forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 and at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. In the meantime, the Allied air forces in the SWPA had advanced along the northern coast of New Guinea and to the Philippines, destroying all enemy forces in their path. An air offensive from northern Australia had destroyed Japanese air power in the Netherland East Indies (NEI) and had effectively blockaded Japanese shipping in the area. By early 1945, the Allies had sea and air supremacy across Borneo. 17 Australian Special Forces were also sent to work with Borneo resistance fighters against the Japanese occupation forces. 18 The US Navy’s unrestricted submarine campaign complemented the Allied air offensive to impose what was an effective sea blockade on the Japanese occupation forces in the NEI. 19 By early 1945, with US forces in the Philippines, Borneo was effectively isolated.

During 1945, the Allied intelligence on the Japanese garrisoning Borneo was quite reliable. At the start of the campaign the Allies estimated that there were 25,000 to 30,000 troops of the Japanese Thirty-seventh Army and miscellaneous naval units garrisoning Borneo. 20 There were just 53 Japanese combat aircraft on that island, and another 400 aircraft throughout Southeast Asia. The Imperial Japanese Navy was a fragment of what it had been in 1942, but a sizeable fleet was based in Singapore, albeit suffering materiel deficiencies due to their complete isolation from Japan.

Operational planning for the amphibious phases of OBOE commenced in earnest on 21 March 1945. The GHQ plan was selectively reproduced and expanded by each of the Allied Land, Air, and Naval Forces commanders and then in turn by the amphibious assault and landing force commanders. As one might expect, the experience of the previous 34 amphibious invasions conducted in the SWPA by the Seventh Fleet since 1943 contributed significantly to the smooth planning process. This level of planning was already familiar to the RAN elements which had worked within the Seventh Fleet since early 1942, but was much more detailed than that commonly used by the RAAF and the Australian Army. Planning for the OBOE VI and OBOE II operations were even more exacting than the first operation, due mostly to the lessons learnt from Tarakan.

This is not to imply that the planning process always ran smoothly. At Balikpapan, for example, Major General Milford’s Australian Army planners selected a landing beach, Klandasan, but which was considered by the Navy planners to be highly unsuitable. 21 It meant that minesweepers had to operate under enemy guns for 15 days before the actual landings, on ‘F-Day’ 1st July 1945. All surprise was lost, and it was only due to one of the most intensive air and sea bombardments of the Pacific War that the strong defensive positions along the beach were obliterated. The Australian Army planners wished to assault the strongest positions directly and thus avoid a coastal advance from a lesser defended landing beach. The Army opinion prevailed, but after the war Admiral Barbey claimed that in conducting amphibious operations the Australian troops ‘were behind the times … unskilled, and knew little about their equipment’. 22

Australian Organization and Structure

The Australian organization and structure during the Borneo 1945 campaign was exceedingly complex. Its origins went back to early 1942 when General MacArthur made significant changes to the SWPA theatre organization. As was to be expected from American military culture, certainly in-line with his own WWI experience, MacArthur ‘was most reluctant to place US forces under an Australian army commander’. 23 The initial Allied (American-Australian) command structure was replaced with one based upon national headquarters.

In fact these changes had significant repercussions for Australian organization in the latter years of the war. The formation of the Southwest Pacific Command and the allocation of the majority of RAN operational units to the US Seventh Fleet meant that Australian control over their employment diminished over time. 24 However, operational effectiveness, coordination and interoperability between the RAN and the US Navy increased over time. From late 1943, US Navy doctrine, materiel, logistics, training, communications, command and control procedures had been generally implemented (or Australianized) by the RAN in the SWPA. ‘Ship for ship, the RAN cruisers and destroyers felt that they were more than a match in fighting power for the Americans’. 25 Australian Navy units in the SWPA adopted the US approach to amphibious warfare, while their compatriots in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and in Australian home waters, retained the traditional British Admiralty procedures. 26 This meant that the Australian naval contribution to the Borneo campaign formed an integral part of the Allied Naval Forces under the command of the US Seventh Amphibious Fleet. The Australian Navy units were almost indistinguishable from their US Navy counterparts, and many Australian naval officers were integrated within the US Navy command structure at the tactical level. For a small force the Australian Navy’s contribution during the Pacific War was exceptional. 27

The situation was not quite so rosy for the Australian Army and the RAAF. Both of these Services had tried strongly to retain a measure of independence from the Americans at the operational and tactical levels. 28 In mid 1943 the Australian Army’s contribution to the Pacific War was re-examined. 29 To relieve US forces who were needed for the advance through the Philippines, MacArthur desired Australian forces to assume the responsibility for the continued neutralization of the enemy in Australian and British territory in the SWPA (New Guinea, New Britain and Bougainville). In order to meet the Australian Government’s wishes that the Australian military effort should be ‘on a scale to guarantee her an effective voice in the peace settlement’, MacArthur agreed to utilize an Australian expeditionary force (I Australian Corps) of two divisions at the forefront of the Allied forces until the end of the Pacific War. Unfortunately this redeployment of Australian troops, coupled with an almost complete absence of Australian military achievements in the media, 30 helped foster the belief that the nation’s forces were being left behind to ‘mop-up’ after the Americans who were doing the real fighting in the Pacific War. Once the impression that MacArthur was using Australian soldiers as a ‘Second XI’ was entrenched in the Australian psyche, it was almost guaranteed that the Borneo campaign would be interpreted at home as just more ‘mopping-up’. 31

Unlike the Australian Navy, the Australian Army continued to be fundamentally British in outlook. I Australian Corps was organized, administered, equipped and trained along British lines. Army doctrine was British at its core, although it was modified at the tactical level by Australian training in the techniques of jungle warfare and by American influence in amphibious training. 32 The Australian Army also suffered from what could be called an ‘infantry’ mindset. It was an army that fought and moved at a soldier’s walking pace, and with a soldier’s perception of the campaign. In general Australian commanders saw their infantry battalions as their main fighting units, which would undertake the most important military tasks, with or without support from the Australian Army’s other arms (artillery or armor), from the navy or from the air force. As one Borneo battalion commander put it ‘tanks and artillery were always nice to have but the prudent commander did not rely on them’. 33 The Australian Army also believed that there were basic differences between their own and American soldiers.

The Australians and Americans fought entirely different campaigns. When the Aussie infantryman lacked immediate artillery support they would storm the enemy and take the objective by sheer perseverance and bravery. … The Yank style of fighting was to wait for the artillery to come up and let the big guns blast the enemy positions as barren of all life as possible. It saved many American lives and got better results, although it took longer. 34

Disagreements between Major General Milford, the ground force commander, and his naval and air force counterparts prior to the invasion, suggest that he and his staff lacked an understanding of the important roles that the other Service’s supporting units had to play in the amphibious operation. The conduct of Operations OBOE I and VI also involved disputes over coordination, which also seemed to occur because of the Australian Army’s institutional ‘infantry’ mindset coupled with its lack of experience in amphibious operations.

The RAAF attempted to retain a measure of independence from the Americans at the operational and tactical levels during the Borneo campaign, but like their Army colleagues the Australian air force was subject to the political decisions of mid-1943 which determined the nature of their employment within the SWPA for the rest of the war. In early 1944, the isolation of Rabaul was complete, plans for the liberation of the Philippines underway, and with the Allied air forces in the SWPA continuing to expand rapidly – reorganization of the RAAF was in order. 35 In June 1944 General Kenny was appointed to command the Far East Air Forces, including the 5th Air Force, the 13th Air Force, and RAAF Command. Each air force was allocated its own operating area, and despite opposition from his own commanders, Kenny decided to use his most powerful force, the 5th Air Force, as his ‘assault force in most of the operations from June 1944 onwards’. 36 The smaller 13th Air Force was assigned mainly to supporting roles, while RAAF Command was relegated to garrison (or mopping-up) duties in New Guinea as well as air operations mounted from the Australian mainland. 37 After some discussion between Kenny and Air Vice Marshal Bostock, it was agreed that the RAAF was also to provide a ‘tactical air force’ that would represent Australia within the Allied air forces that were to advance against Japan in the SWPA. As a consequence on 25 October 1944, the 1st Tactical Air Force (TAF) RAAF was formed. By late April 1945 the 1st TAF had grown to a total of 16,894 personnel, including 1838 officers and aircrew, 15,056 airmen and over 300 aircraft.

As with the Australian Army, the RAAF adopted the British model for organization, administration, equipment and training. RAAF doctrine remained essentially British at its core, however, the rapid wartime expansion of the RAAF, the incompatibility of Western European air strategy in a Pacific theatre (which had less aircraft and very few high quality airbases), forced the RAAF to develop its own fighting style.  The RAAF’s doctrine was modified at the tactical level by Australian training methods as well as by American USAAF experiences. 38 It was fairly common for Australian aircrew, who returned from service with the British squadrons in the European theatre, to be informed that they would have to learn how things were done in the Pacific. 39

Of the three Australian Services, the Navy fought as Australian military units working within larger American formations during the OBOE operations. Working within this organization the RAN relied upon the US for senior leadership, planning, command and for logistic support. The RAN never had the opportunity to contribute at the higher command levels during the Pacific War. In contrast, by 1945 both the Australian Army and the RAAF were formed into national formations for Australian-led operations. Although this meant that they were best placed to provide the necessary leadership, planning, command, and logistics for their own Services during the Borneo campaign, both the Army and Air Force were unable to represent their nation effectively at the higher command levels.

The Borneo 1945 campaign was very successful overall, and in the end it did achieve all of the objectives that were established by the Joint Chiefs. 40 For the Australians who planned and conducted Operations OBOE I, VI & II, they were the culmination of six years of experience in warfighting. They were the three largest joint operations ever conducted by Australians. The OBOE operations involved personnel from the RAN, the Australian Army and the RAAF working closely together to achieve their joint objectives, hence the OBOE operations provided much needed experience and a large number of lessons in the conduct of joint operations.

OBOE I: Tarakan

The OBOE I operation commenced, on 11 April, with preliminary air strikes against the Japanese airfields in Borneo, Celebes (now Sulawesi) and Java. There followed an intensive pre-invasion program involving air and sea bombardments as well as minesweeping and hydrographic survey activities. The landings at Tarakan occurred as planned on P-Day, 1 May 1945. 41 Initially there was no resistance, however as the Australian and NEI troops moved inland, they encountered determined Japanese defenders in prepared positions. The OBOE I plans allocated three weeks for the capture of Tarakan Island. In the end it was to take two months to capture the island, with the loss of 225 Australians killed and a further 669 wounded. A single US Army Engineer also lost his life.



The airfield was not ready for operations until 30 June, and even then, it could only take attack and fighter type aircraft as ‘one end rose and fell with the tide’. 42 Air Commodore Scherger, the newly appointed as AOC 1st TAF, summarized the situation at Tarakan, ‘it was quite obvious (at least to myself and those of my staff who visited there) that a satisfactory strip could never be constructed, nor indeed could a strip be made, capable of intensive use even for a short period’. 43 The failure to develop such an airfield at Tarakan, has been since used to infer that Operation OBOE I was a flawed operation. On the contrary, it was inaccurate Allied intelligence that led to this failure. 44 With the Tarakan airfield not in a position to support the OBOE VI and II operations, long-range fighters and bombers of the USAAF 5th and 13th Air Forces were called upon to provide air support. 45 In addition, a US Navy escort carrier group, which had been operating off southern Japan just a few weeks before, was ordered to rendezvous with the Seventh Amphibious Fleet in order to provide air cover during the Balikpapan (OBOE II) landings. 46

For the Royal Australian Navy, Tarakan was business as usual. For the Australian Army it identified tactical lessons that needed corrective action, however Tarakan also tended to reinforce their single-Service prejudices. Tarakan was a shock for the RAAF. A series of failures and oversights at the tactical level were amplified by examples of poor leadership at all levels of command. While the vast majority of RAAF officers were professionals who did an outstanding job, they were frequently frustrated by others who should not have been in positions of authority. This situation changed with the appointment of the highly competent, Air Commodore Scherger early in May. 47

For many Australians OBOE I was a tragedy, but Americans have tended to take a broader long-term approach seeing the operation as just one of many stepping stones along the pathway to victory. 48 The Australian Navy had performed well alongside their US Navy colleagues in what was, to them, just another amphibious operation. The official US Naval Historian’s assessment of OBOE I was succinct, ‘this was a very well conducted amphibious operation, which attained its objectives with minimum loss’. 49

OBOE VI: Brunei Bay and Labuan

The decision to bring forward the OBOE VI operation, on the western side of Borneo, was a strategic surprise to the Japanese. The area around Brunei Bay facilitated rapid deployments and operational maneuver from the sea. General MacArthur set Z-Day as 10 June 1945. Naval and landing force command for the Brunei Bay amphibious assault, landing 33,500 personnel and 49,500 tons of supplies and equipment, was delegated to Rear Admiral Royal, and Major General George Wootten, commander of the Australian 9th Division.

The Brunei Bay operation was, according to MacArthur, ‘flawlessly executed’. Between 10 June 1945 and the end of the war, the fighting at Brunei Bay and Labuan led to the loss of 119 Australians killed and a further 221 wounded. At least eight Americans lost their lives and 55 were wounded. The Japanese lost 1,375 and 130 captured during this operation, although guerillas probably killed another 1,800 throughout British Borneo.

OBOE II: Balikpapan

The Balikpapan operation, involving the landing of 33,600 personnel and 53,600 tons of supplies and equipment, was commanded by Rear Admiral Albert G. Noble, USN, and Major General Edward Milford, commander of the Australian 7th Division. Before examining the operation in more detail, it will be useful to consider the Allied forces that were assembled for this invasion, particularly the organization and structure of the national contributions within the Naval, Army, and Air components.

The naval forces during the OBOE II operation were led by Admiral Barbey, Commander of the Seventh Amphibious Fleet. The US Navy provided 95 per cent of the Naval Task Organization. It was mostly American in terms of command and doctrine. The RAN did hold a few command positions, including command of the Cruiser Covering Group (TG 74.2) during the consolidation phase, 50 the Transport and Landing Unit, the Hydrographic Unit, the Beachmaster Unit, and, when the garrison was in place, the naval defenses of Balikpapan. Australia provided two cruisers, a destroyer, three Landing Ships Infantry (LSI), four corvettes, two beach commando units, and a support ship. This was a considerable effort for the relatively small RAN. There was no RAN naval aviation capability, and the RAN’s fleet train was almost non existent. Despite its diminutive size, less than five per cent of the total American contribution, the Australian naval effort provided critical leadership and specialist units that worked well within the US Navy’s system. The RAN’s four years of experience of being integrated into US Navy Task Forces was ably demonstrated during this operation. A single Dutch warship, HMNS Tromp, contributed during OBOE II.

The order of battle for the ground forces for the OBOE II is indicative of the Australian Army’s approach. Australians made up 94 per cent of the invasion force. It was built around the Australian 7th Infantry Division. The major Australian contribution, its nine infantry battalions (in three brigades) were central to the activities of the ground force. The Australian artillery and armored units were allocated an infantry support role, and were not well versed in the application of combined arms teams. The US Army provided the specialist amphibious ship-to-shore units for the Australian division. While the Australian Army was responsible for beach operations, the Navy provided a Beachmaster and the RAN Beach Commandos. 51 The NEI troops did fight but were also employed as interpreters and as security for the Netherland Indies civil affairs organization. The RAAF airfield construction squadrons, which were attached to the ground force commander, were to land early and have an airbase ready for Allied aircraft in just four days.

The RAAF organization for the Borneo campaigns was intended to be self-supporting, and by the end of the war the 1st Tactical Air Force controlled approximately 400 aircraft. It was a force to be reckoned with. The 1st TAF RAAF contributed between 1/4 and 1/3 of the aircraft used in the amphibious phases, and provided the majority of the garrison air forces once the Balikpapan airfields were operational. The Allied Air Forces order of battle suggests that the RAAF was at last able to stand upon its own two feet, as one of the three ‘air forces’ participating, but this hides the important working relationship that continued to exist between the RAAF and the USAAF. Although the 1st TAF RAAF, 13th Air Force USAAF, and 5th Air Force USAAF were administratively independent, they were all flexibly deployed and mutually dependent when it came to command, logistics, and specialist functions.

Action at Balikpapan

The landing at Balikpapan on F-Day, 1 July 1945, was the largest as well as the last Australian amphibious operation of World War II. To this day, Balikpapan also remains the largest amphibious operation ever led by Australians. One would expect that as this was the third operation in the OBOE series, the planning and execution problems of the first two operations would have been ironed-out and that previous lessons would have been taken onboard. Unfortunately this was not the case. Although various tactical level improvements were made before the Balikpapan operation, things did not run as smoothly as they should have.

Last dash to shore, aboard American manned Alligators, during the landing of Australian troops at Balikpapan, Borneo. Smoke from the ruins of enemy positions and burning oil wells is visible in the background. Shore installations were subjected to an intensive naval bombardment before the landing operation. (Australian War Memorial ID #018812)

Last dash to shore, aboard American manned Alligators, during the landing of Australian troops at Balikpapan, Borneo. Smoke from the ruins of enemy positions and burning oil wells is visible in the background. Shore installations were subjected to an intensive naval bombardment before the landing operation. (Australian War Memorial ID #018812)

The air campaign against Balikpapan really commenced in September-October 1944, when the Allied air forces conducted a series of air missions aimed at stopping sea communications and the flow of oil from this important oil producing port. The Balikpapan air attacks destroyed Japanese air power in the area and successfully isolated the Japanese garrison so that it could not interfere during the American campaign in the Philippines. 52

The pre-invasion phase commenced when the first minesweepers and their naval covering force arrived off Balikpapan on 15 June, 16 days before the landings. This was to be the longest pre-invasion phase of any landing conducted during WWII. Surprise was not an element of the plan. The beaches at Klandasan were at the heart of the Japanese defenses. They were heavily defended with anti-aircraft weapons, massive tank traps, and hills overlooking the beaches that contained positions for coastal defense guns, revetments, tunnels and pillboxes. Offshore defenses included logs that were pile-driven into the mud to prevent the beach from being approached by landing craft or other vessels. The adjacent waterways were also heavily mined, with magnetic and acoustic mines laid defensively by the Dutch, and the Japanese, as well as mines laid offensively by the Australians and Americans. In addition, the approaches were so shallow that larger warships would find it difficult provide close-in gunfire support for the minesweeping operations. 53

Although plans for OBOE II had originally included a large number of air attacks from 1st TAF aircraft based at Tarakan, the delays in the completion of that airfield meant that alternative arrangements had to be made. 54 Firstly, 13th Air Force was to fly P-38 Lightnings from Sanga-Sanga airfield to provide fighter cover over the OA. Secondly, the US Navy was concerned that the USAAF Lightnings would not be able to provide a CAP in all weather conditions, and therefore they requested and obtained an escort carrier task group from the 3rd Fleet for the assault phase. 55 The third change to the air plans, resulting from the non-availability of the Tarakan airfield, was the need for RAAF Command to use long-range Liberator bombers operating from Morotai, Samar and Palawan. 56 Liberators attacked the Balikpapan defenses with increasing intensity from 19 June. On 27 June the strong Japanese coastal defenses were attacked by 123 Liberators and 73 Mitchell bombers. These bombing raids helped in providing a diversion for the US Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) to perform their work clearing beach obstacles. Their high-level bombing runs were very accurate, with bombs aimed at targets that were more than 100 yards from the high-water mark in order to avoid the men of the UDTs.

The minesweeping operations commenced on 15 June. They initially worked well offshore, however, when they closed the harbor on 17 June, the minesweepers were fired upon by Japanese defenders. Every day for the next two weeks the minesweepers continued their work among the mines, like sitting ducks they absorbed damage from mines and enemy gunfire. Three American minesweepers were lost, and eight others suffered extensive damage by mines or shell fire, with many crew members killed or suffering horrific wounds -but they got the job done. No other vessel was damaged by mines during the rest of OBOE II. 57 The US Navy’s UDTs 11 and 18 arrived at Balikpapan on 24 June, and made a diversionary reconnaissance of Manggar beach before they started to clear the beaches at Klandasan on 27 June. Frogmen drew fire from the Japanese ashore, but in bright moonlight managed to blow gaps through the beach obstacles that permitted a reasonably safe landing. 58 While these activities were going on the hydrographic survey crews were busy marking the swept channel and the approaches to the beaches.

The naval covering group provided whatever protection they could to the minesweepers, and the daily air strikes by the Allied air forces helped to divert the Japanese attention for a time. On 17 June, the covering group also commenced its preliminary bombardment of targets on Balikpapan. The cruiser fleet was attacked with bombs dropped by Japanese aircraft at dusk on 17 June. Japanese aircraft returned twice, with a total of seven planes, but they did no damage. On the evening of 25 June an estimated five to seven torpedo planes attacked the naval units off Balikpapan, but they missed their targets and lost three aircraft from the naval anti-aircraft fire. The USAAF Lightnings providing CAP had departed the OA before these attacks took place. The escort carrier group, under Admiral Sample, arrived early on 1 July and provided an efficient CAP over the 7th Amphibious Fleet for the next three days. The Carrier Group’s aviators also flew several CAS missions in support of the Australian troops on 1 and 3 June. One escort carrier CAS mission that went ahead against RAAF commander’s protests ended disastrously for the Australians. 59 The amphibious attack group (TG 78.2) conducted a landing rehearsal at Morotai on 24 June, before it departed for Balikpapan two days later. 60

Major General Milford, the Landing Force Commander, led 33,446 troops ashore at Balikpapan. The strengths of the main components were: 61

7th Division units               21,635
I Corps troops                   2,737
7th Base Sub-Area           4,961
RAAF                                  2,052
US and NEI troops             2,061
Total                                 33,446

Overall 25,000 personnel and 26,800 tons landed during the assault phase, and 8,600 personnel and 26,800 tons during the follow-up phase, with follow-up Navy and Air Force units included. Everyone felt this would be one of the toughest shows yet, so VIPs gathered to witness the landing. It was anticipated that the Japanese would use the same tactics that they were planning to use in defense of the Japanese home islands, and many Allied commanders wanted to see such an operation for themselves prior to Operation DOWNFALL. 62

As the Pacific War progressed the US Navy had increased the amount of naval gunfire allocated to each amphibious assault. An intensive two hour naval bombardment and a final flurry of rockets preceded the landing craft. The Balikpapan landings beat all previous records for ammunition delivered in support an amphibious operation. For the forty minutes prior to landing, Australian and American aircraft hammered the landing beaches. The statistics are astounding; more than 3,000 tons of bombs, 38,052 naval shells (between 3-inch and 8-inch), 114,000 rounds from automatic weapons, and 7361 rockets hit their mark. The first wave landed at 8.55, five minutes early, unopposed. Within two hours all of the seventeen organized waves had successfully landed without a casualty. Evidence of the pre-invasion air and sea bombardment was seen everywhere in the vicinity of the beaches. 63  The fortified beach defenses were obliterated and 460 enemy dead were found in the vicinity. The 7th Division troops had cashed in on Allied sea and air power, ‘and how those Aussies loved it!’  64

After the landing, the Japanese manned what remained of their coastal defenses. Seventeen out of twenty eight known 90mm guns had been destroyed but the remainder were difficult to knock out. RAAF Liberators flying above the landing communicated directly with Admiral Noble’s command ship USS Washatch. Unfortunately three of these Liberators with aircrew and Army observers were lost due to anti-aircraft fire while observing the ground operations. 65 As the Australian soldiers advanced away from the beachhead, the members of 2/10th Battalion were confronted by a Japanese defensive system on Parramatta Hill, just 800 yards inland from the beach. In a determined infantry attack, supported by artillery, heavy mortars, and Matilda tanks, the 2/10th Battalion was finally able to take the ridge by 2.15 pm. The promised NGS from USS Cleveland did not eventuate as that ship was retasked and its replacement was not in position to register on the target immediately. 66 By the end of F-Day the Australians had advanced 2,000 yards and secured the beach area. On 2 July, the Australian 21st Brigade captured and secured the Sepinggan airfield, and the following day the 18th Brigade had captured Balikpapan town, the docks, and the Klandasan peninsular.

By 6.00 am on 3 July, 16,950 men, 985 vehicles and 1,932 tons of equipment and stores had been landed, and US Navy Seabees had completed a pontoon jetty. 67 As the Australian troops advanced from Balikpapan they came across civilian victims of Japanese atrocities and mutilations, which generated a certain bitterness towards the Japanese amongst the Australians.  Evidence found later confirmed that large groups of civilians had been slaughtered. 68 Artillery, mortars and tanks were used in support of the infantry as it advanced against the few remaining Japanese positions. On the morning of 4 July many of the Japanese defenses at Nurse, Nobody and Nail, above Balikpapan, were discovered to be empty. Their extensive tunnels and fire positions contained nothing but dead bodies and graves. Japanese guns caused more casualties upon the advancing Australians but they were silenced by NGS from the USS Eaton. Manggar was bombarded from the sea and air from 5 July but the Japanese held firm for several days under accurate bombardment. This town with its airstrip was finally taken by assault on 9 July. It was a high water mark of Australian joint operations. Major William Russell of 2/14th Battalion described the action, demonstrating that tactical proficiency could frequently overcome difficulties in operational planning.

A perfect application of modern military science, using land, sea and air arms with an unhurried, calculated and deadly precision to pave the way for a final infantry assault with minimum loss … It was a practical example of the … theory that individual lives are more precious than all the bombs, shells and bullets a country can provide. 69

Many of the ships in the amphibious assault ships departed late on 1 July. Scheduled naval bombardments and call fire continued on the days after F-Day, although the strength of the group progressively reduced. The Escort Carrier Group and the Cruiser Covering Group departed late on 3 July. The Australian ships in bombardment force had expended most of their 6-inch and 4.7-inch ammunition, and a lack of replenishment ammunition forced them to remain at Tawi-Tawi for resupply. There was plenty of 8-inch shell available, so HMAS Shropshire was able to return to Balikpapan and to undertake further bombardments from 8 July. Unfortunately over the next few days, few targets were identified by the Australian Army and the naval fire support ships were under-utilized. This generated some inter-Service tension after the event. 70 Naval gunfire was decisive, however, in breaking down the last of the Japanese coastal positions at Manggar on 9 July. In the meantime, the three Australian LSIs arrived at Balikpapan with reinforcements and left their last amphibious operation of the Pacific War with little fanfare. They had made a most notable contribution in almost all of the SWPA offensives, but their effort was never adequately recognized in Australia.

Allied aircraft flew almost daily interdiction and CAS missions in support of the ground forces. As a general rule, ground forces needed to allow 100 yards between themselves and an air attack. The only glitches in CAS, one of which resulted in Australian casualties, were caused by decisions to depart from the agreed and understood air support arrangements. Fighter direction worked well, with US Navy Fighter Director Destroyer teams handing over tactical control of CAP aircraft to the RAAF’s Mobile Fighter Control Unit (MFCU), as soon as ashore communications and radar facilities had been established. Australian and American liaison officers were attached to both units to assist with the smooth transition. As with previous OBOE operations, Allied aircraft flew anti-submarine and convoy protection, air sea rescue, photographic, maritime reconnaissance and smoke laying missions throughout. 71

A smaller naval force, which included a number of Australian corvettes, was left behind at Balikpapan to undertake convoy escort, survey work, and to provide NGS to the troops ashore. On 21 July, the RAN took over responsibility for the naval Defence of the port and the last of the US Navy ships left Balikpapan. 72 On 26 July, HMAS Gascoyne fired the last naval bombardment of the campaign, 168 rounds of 4-inch shell, in support of the Australian troops (known as Buckforce) moving up the Balikpapan River. RAAF Auster and Boomerang aircraft were able to direct the fall of shot as part of this NGS task.

The squadrons of No 61 Airfield Construction Wing RAAF were landed on 6 July, two days behind schedule, although they commenced work immediately. They managed to repair the damage at Sepinggang, with its 3,000-foot runway, and it became fully operational on 15 July, eight days later than originally planned. Australian Kittyhawks and Spitfires were soon based at Sepinggang flying CAP and CAS missions. 73 Other aircraft, including US Navy Catalinas, used the airfield to tighten their grip on the war against Japanese shipping and submarines in the NEI. The Japanese Army air force made a few last ditch air attacks on the Allies. On 24 July, the biggest air attack of the Borneo campaign occurred, when a group of Japanese twin-engined bombers dropped 25 bombs over the Australians. 74 The air campaign across the NEI continued to wear down the Japanese and with more airbases developed for use by Allied airmen, the air offensive was capable of hitting targets wherever and whenever they desired.

All Japanese resistance in the coastal area ceased by 9 July 1945, as the Japanese survivors withdrew to their defensive positions around Batuchampar. A battle raged along the Milford Highway from 10 July, with the last Japanese defensive positions taken on 21 July. The remnants of the Japanese forces withdrew further inland into the jungle and hills of central and southern Borneo. Despite their retreat, remaining pockets of Japanese resistance put up a desperate defense whenever they were attacked. The 7th Division advance captured the Sambodja oilfields, which were 28 miles from Balikpapan, by the end of July, although the Dutch oil production specialists were unable to bring it back online for several months.

Overall, the Balikpapan operation ‘succeeded fairly swiftly. The attackers possessed the support of powerful weapons: aircraft using bombs, napalm and guns; naval guns; tanks, including flame-throwers; man-handled flame-throwers’. 75 The Australian losses included 229 killed and a further 634 wounded at Balikpapan. 76 Ten Americans lost their lives with a further 62 wounded. 77 The Japanese lost 1,783, (not including an estimated 249 who were buried in blown-up tunnels), and just 63 prisoners. Balikpapan was a tactical success, which demonstrated that the three Australian Services could perform well in joint and combined operations. At the operational and strategic levels, however, Australia remained dependent upon its senior coalition partner, the US.

Lessons Learned and Lessons Missed

It is clear that numerous lessons were learned at the tactical level, and many important improvements were made throughout the Borneo campaign. Although the Australian forces were not necessarily experts in amphibious warfare, their Borneo experience made them more attune with the American approach to the Pacific War. This meant the Australians would have been a valuable follow-on support force for the upcoming Operation DOWNFALL, the invasion of Japan.

The strategic lessons of the Borneo campaign were largely overlooked. The need for Australian leaders to develop and apply national political and military strategies, which would enable the nation to act independently, was not well understood. In 1945, Australia’s reliance upon the Americans was a fundamental part of its approach to warfighting. It remains so.

The final invasions of the Borneo campaign were the most thoroughly planned and best executed joint and combined military operations ever conducted by Australians, but lingering doubts remained. Question marks over the campaign’s political necessity continue to strike a sour note in what would otherwise be a beautiful OBOE concerto.

(Return to April 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. Overview of the Allied Borneo 1945 campaign may be found in Peter Dennis, et. al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2008, pp. 98-103; and Chris Clark, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2010, pp. 251-255.
  2. Australian Defence Force, ADDP-D, Foundations of Australian Military Doctrine, Department of Defence, Canberra, 2005, paragraph 5.12.
  3. These four approaches have been developed by the author as part of a wider study on the employment of Australian armed forces in coalition expeditionary operations.
  4. David Horner, High Command: Australia and Allied Strategy 1939-1945, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1982; and Gavin Long, The Six Years War: Australia in the 1939-45 War, The Australian War Memorial, Canberra (AWM), 1973, pp. 181 and 258.
  5. For example Ensign Leslie Knox, USN, was lost in combat flying an F4F Wildcat at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.
  6. Samuel Milner, Victory in Papua, United States Army in World War II, Center of Military History, Washington, DC, 1957, pp. 18-23.
  7. C.A. Willoughby, (ed.), Reports of General MacArthur, Volume  I: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Washington, DC, p. 367.
  8. ‘OBOE’ was the codename for these series of operations. Operations OBOE III, IV and V were cancelled by the US JCS in April 1945.
  9. This command structure parallels the modern US approach. For instance the US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander has no fighting units directly subordinate to this Command, rather there are five subordinate service component commands: US Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT), US Air Forces Central (AFCENT), US Army Forces Central Command (ARCENT), US Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), and US Marine Forces Central Command (USMARCENT). The current Australian Defence Force (ADF) command structure is contradictory as it is formally based upon joint operational commands, although actual operations in the Middle East Area of Operations are conducted through US CENTCOM’s service component commands.
  10. In modern parlance, MacArthur commanded at the strategic level of war from Australia’s perspective but at the operational (theatre) level from the US perspective. He did influence strategy by discussing his plans with members of the JCS but the Joint Chiefs really exercised strategic command for the US. See David Horner, ‘The Military Strategy and Command Aspects’, in G. Wahlert, (ed.), Australian Army Amphibious Operations in the South-West Pacific: 1942-45, Army Doctrine Centre, Canberra, 1995, p. 29.
  11. Vice Admirals Herbert F. Leary and Arthur S. Carpender served as Commander Allied Naval Forces SWPA prior to Kincaid’s appointment in November 1943.
  12. General Blamey was also the Commander in Chief Australian Military Forces. In practice, by 1945, he commanded the land forces in Australia only and had no direct authority over the Allied forces deployed during the Borneo campaign.
  13. MacArthur saw Blamey as the person responsible for the overall defence of Australia which included the raise, train and sustain functions for those Australian military forces deployed overseas. As such, when the Allied advance had moved away from Australian territory Blamey did not have responsibility for operational level command in the SWPA. In fact Lieutenant General J. Northcott undertook many of these duties as the Australian Chief of General Staff (CGS). The air force command arrangements were even more problematic. Air Vice Marshal George Jones commanded the RAAF ‘administration’ (including the raise, train and sustain functions) as the Australian Chief of Air Staff (CAS), but his nemesis Air Vice Marshal Bostock commanded all RAAF operations throughout Australia and overseas. The conflict between Jones and Bostock, which the Australian Government created but never resolved, even escalated to the extent that RAAF operations were adversely affected, especially during the Borneo campaign. This situation was perhaps clearer for the Australian naval forces. Admiral Guy Royle, who was Australia’s Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), was responsible for the raise, train and sustain functions for the RAN and also the commander Southwest Pacific Sea Frontier.
  14. The Australian I Corps consisted of two veteran divisions, the 7th Division formed around the 18th, 21st and 25th Brigades Groups, and the 9th Division with the 20th, 24th and 26th Brigade Groups.
  15. Daniel E. Barbey, MacArthur’s Amphibious Navy: Seventh Amphibious Force Operations 1943-1945, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, 1969, p. 59.
  16. The last Australian serviceman to be killed on the ground as a result of enemy air attack was Brigadier Shirley Goodwin, at Finschhafen in New Guinea, on 25 October 1943.
  17. Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, pp. 391-409.
  18. Ooi Keat Gin, ‘Prelude to Invasion: Covert operations before the re-occupation of Northwest Borneo, 1944-45’, Journal of the Australian War Memorial, No. 37, October 2002, < borneo.asp> (14 August 2011).
  19. Samuel E. Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume XIII, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, Little Brown, Boston, 1959, pp. 278-288.
  20. Willoughby, Reports of General MacArthur, Vol. I, p. 372.
  21. The dispute is discussed in G. Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, AWM, Canberra, 1968, pp. 647-648; and Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 504-506.
  22. Quoted in D. Clayton James, The Years of MacArthur, Volume II, 1941-1945, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1975, p. 752; also in Horner, ‘The Military Strategy and Command Aspects’, in Wahlert, Australian Army Amphibious Operations in the South-West Pacific: 1942-45, p. 43 & pp. 45-46, where Barbey’s view is supported by the comments of Tim Vincent, who served in Borneo.
  23. Horner, ‘The Military Strategy and Command Aspects’, in Wahlert, Australian Army Amphibious Operations in the South-West Pacific: 1942-45, p. 29.
  24. For an overview of the RAN involvement in the Pacific War see, James Goldrick, ‘1941-1945, World War II: The War against Japan’, in David Stevens, (ed.), The Royal Australian Navy, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2001, pp. 127-154.
  25. Stevens, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 134.
  26. When Australian Naval units, which had served as part of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF), compared notes with their colleagues, who had served for years as part of the US Seventh Fleet, they discovered numerous interoperability problems between ships nominally of the same Navy. Interoperability problems also occurred between the BPF and the US Fleets when operating off Japan in 1945. One of the most well known is the differences between flag signals given to aircraft landing on British and American aircraft carriers.
  27. Admiral Royle, the Australian Chief of Naval Staff, had tried to expand the RAN contribution, with an aircraft carrier, two additional cruisers and 6 destroyers, but his proposal was turned down by the Australian Government ostensibly due to the shortage of manpower in Australia. See G. Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, AWM, Canberra, 1968, pp. 471-472.
  28. Australia contributed three divisions (6th, 7th and 9th) to the Middle East, serving with British-led operations in North Africa, Greece and Syria. The last, the 9th Division which had been retained in theatre to fight in the Battle of el Alamein, finally returned to Australia in February 1943. The British saw their command structure as ‘a segment of the British Army into which Dominion components under Dominion command were fitted. The idea of a mixed Commonwealth force with commanders freely interchangeable among the high posts on a basis of experience and capability was not conceived’, Barton Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, AWM, Canberra, 1966, pp. 157-158.
  29. The situation is treated in some detail in Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 388-396; and Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, AWM, Canberra, 1970, pp. 565-582.
  30. The failure of the Australian Government and its senior military commanders in the Media and Public Affairs arena during 1944, also had far reaching implications, which in turn did adversely influence the Australian public’s perception of the 1945 Borneo campaign. This is touched upon by Robert Deane, but much more work can be done on this important topic, see Robert Dean, ‘The Balancing Act: The Australian Government and the War in the South-West Pacific, 1944-45’, in Wahlert, Australian Army Amphibious Operations in the South-West Pacific: 1942-45, p. 29
  31. ‘Second XI’ is a term taken from the popular British sport cricket (which has eleven players). It refers to a second order team, selected for to provide experience to upcoming players and to back-up any of the ‘First XI’ players in an emergency. See Mark Johnston, Whispering Death: Australian Airmen in the Pacific War, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2011, pp. 425-426.
  32. For instance British Army’s Field Service Regulations were issued, albeit infrequently, to Australian Army units.
  33. Wahlert, ‘Don’t do it – Some Advice from Veterans’, in Wahlert, Australian Army Amphibious Operations in the South-West Pacific: 1942-45, p. 171.
  34. David Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, AWM, Canberra, 1961, p. 321n.
  35. Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, pp. 295-299.
  36. Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 296.
  37. RAAF Command was responsible for the offensive air campaign over the NEI, Timor and the southern coastal areas of New Guinea which were mounted by the North and the North-Western Area commands from airfields in northern Australia. A number of such air operations were conducted in support of the Borneo campaign. See also Gary Waters, OBOE: Air Operations over Borneo 1945, Air Power Studies Centre, Canberra, 1995, pp. 8-9.
  38. During much of 1942 and 1943 RAAF personnel supplemented USAAF units, to gain experience in operating American aircraft and to help fill some personnel gaps.
  39. Johnston, Whispering Death, pp. 205-206.
  40. There is currently no joint history of the Borneo campaign, although Peter Stanley, Tarakan: An Australian Tragedy, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1997, does cover most of the Australian involvement in OBOE I. The Borneo operations are detailed within the Australian and American official histories. For Navy see Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, pp. 616-624, 636-658; and Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, pp. 255-277. For Army see Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 406-547, and Hugh J. Casey, (ed.), Engineers of the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1945, Volume IV, Amphibian Engineer Operations, US Army, Corps of Engineers, Washington, DC, 1959. For Air Force see Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, pp. 451-490, Waters, OBOE: Air Operations over Borneo 1945, and Wesley F. Craven and James L. Cate, (eds.), The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki, June 1944 to August 1945, Volume V, The Army Air Forces in World War II, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1953, pp. 463-469. These are used as primary sources for the content of this section. The present author also appreciates that these official publications at times do understate or intentionally misinform when it comes to operational errors.
  41. P-Day was used in the OBOE I plan, instead of the more popular D-Day designation, as used at Normandy in 1944.  OBOE VI had its Z-Day and OBOE II its F-Day.
  42. Gary Waters, ‘The Tarakan Operation – Air Power Lessons’, in Alan Stephens, (ed.), The RAAF in the SWPA 1942-1945: RAAF History Conference 1993, Air Power Studies Centre, Canberra, 1993, pp. 119-137, quote by Neville McNamara on p. 136.
  43. Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 461.
  44. Joint intelligence by necessity involves air, naval and military intelligence specialists. In the case of Tarakan a fundamental assessment error in the suitability of one airfield negated the value of what was otherwise a comprehensive and detailed intelligence plan. See Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 461; and Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 451.
  45. Craven & Cate, The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki, June 1944 to August 1945, p. 466.
  46. Rear Admiral W.D. Sample, USN, led three US Navy escort carriers (CVE), Suwannee, Chenango and Gilbert Islands, with six escorts. These ships with their US Navy and US Marine Corps aviation units were detached from the US 3rd Fleet operations in support of Okinawa. See Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, p. 272; and Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, p. 649.
  47. See note 17. Air Commodore Fred Scherger went on to become a well respected leader of the RAAF, a Chief of Air Staff, and the first Australian airman to command the Australian Chiefs of Staff Committee. He retired as an Air Chief Marshal in 1965.
  48. Barbey, MacArthur’s Amphibious Navy, pp. 355 & 358; and Daniel E. Barbey, Command History, Seventh Amphibious Force, 10 January 1943 – 23 December 1945, US Navy, unpublished report, see esp. pp. I-13 & I-14, and for an overall impression, see Annexes A, B & C. (Available at the US Naval Historical Centre, Washington, DC).
  49. Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, p. 263.
  50. The Senior Australian Naval Officer present, Commodore Harold B. Farncomb, RAN, took command of TG 74.2 on 7 July 1945.
  51. See David Stevens, ‘Maritime Aspects of Australian Amphibious Operations’, in Wahlert, Australian Army Amphibious Operations in the South-West Pacific: 1942-45, pp. 119-122 & 124; and Karl James, ‘”Hell was Let Loose”, Making Order from Confusion: The RAN Beach Commandos at Balikpapan, July 1945’, International Journal of Naval History, Vol. 8, No. 2, August 2009.
  52. Craven & Cate, The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki, June 1944 to August 1945, pp. 316-322; and Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 480.
  53. Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, pp. 268-269; and Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, pp. 651-652.
  54. Air support for OBOE II was provided by 1st TAF (RAAF), the 13th AF (USAAF), the 5th AF (USAAF), and elements of the Australian Northern Area and North-Western Area Commands. The US Navy also contributed aircraft from Fleet Air Wing Ten of the US 7th Fleet, as well as the escort carrier aircraft (US Navy Escort Carrier Group 40, and Marine Air Groups 1 and 2) of the US 3rd Fleet.
  55. See note 49 above.
  56. A number of the Liberator missions were flown from remote airfields up to 700 miles (or approximately 1,100 kilometers) away.
  57. Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, p. 270.
  58. Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, pp. 270-271.
  59. Waters, OBOE: Air Operations over Borneo 1945, p. 132; Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 485; Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 519; the Australian casualties are not mentioned, and the date is incorrect in Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, p. 272.
  60. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, pp. 651-652.
  61. Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 506.
  62. Barbey, MacArthur’s Amphibious Navy, p. 316.
  63. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, p. 654.
  64. Morison, The Liberation of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945, pp. 276.
  65. Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, pp. 485-487.
  66. Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 516.
  67. Elements of three naval construction battalions fought at Balikpapan, see Department of Navy, Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Volume II, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1947, p. 396.
  68. Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 522.
  69. Quoted in Peter Stanley, Borneo 1942-1945: Australians in the Pacific War, Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Canberra, 2005, p. 16.
  70. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, p. 655.
  71. Waters, OBOE: Air Operations over Borneo 1945, pp. 137-138. The air sea rescue aircraft proved themselves on 6-7 July when a RAAF Catalina picked up a Kittyhawk pilot whose aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and subsequently lost at sea.
  72. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, p. 657.
  73. Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 488; and David Wilson, Always First: The RAAF Airfield Construction Squadrons 1942-1974, Air Power Development Centre, Canberra, 1998, pp. 89-91.
  74. Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 489.
  75. Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 546.
  76. Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 545; including 48 Australian aircrew, most of whom lost their lives in five separate incidents in which Liberator aircraft were lost. See Odgers, Air War against Japan 1943-1945, p. 489.
  77. These figures include US Navy and US Army Engineers, but do not include USAAF losses over Borneo.

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What Are They Reading? Vol. 1

what are they reading

Charles C. Chadbourn, III
Editor, International Journal of Naval History

Historians are fundamentally readers. The difficult question is how one selects what to read in the limited amount of time available. Book reviews of all kinds help us decide. So, to, do recommendations such as the U.S. Navy’s Professional Reading Program or the Professional Reading List of the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. This column for the International Journal of Naval History plans to take a somewhat different approach. Over time we want to encourage our readers simply to share with one another titles of interesting books they have read recently, along with a brief description. Most selections, of course, will probably come from historical monographs, but other genres are welcome. If you would like to contribute to what I hope will become on-going series for IJNH please send your submission directly to me as Editor. Some of the more interesting books I read every year come from the recommendations of my colleagues. Here is the first edition of titles for your consideration.

Click the down arrow next to each name to read their response.

What Are They Reading? Vol. 1

A Reading Specialist in Children's Literature

Margot Theis Raven. AMERICA’S WHITE TABLE (2005)

This beautifully illustrated piece of children’s literature tells the moving story of little-known tradition to the outside civilian world, “the white table” originated during the time of the Vietnam War as a symbol for and remembrance to service members held prisoner of war or missing in action.  Solitary and solemn, it is the table where no one will ever sit.  Adults will find the story poignant; younger readers will come to appreciate the real sacrifice that war frequently demands.

Charles C. Chadbourn, III; Editor, International Journal of Naval History


New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson provides a riveting account of a story we think we know but don’t.  Larson tells it thrillingly in his usual you-are-there fashion, examining events from the perspective of both the hunted and the hunter.  Larson explains how an array of forces, both grand and small, converged to produce one of the great maritime disasters of history.  Anyone interested in the First World War or great disasters at sea will find this book spellbinding.

Thomas J. Cutler, Director of Professional Publishing, U.S. Naval Institute


Award-winning author Jonathan W. Jordan focuses on President Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, General George Marshall, and Admiral Ernest King in this edifying and entertaining treatment of American leadership in World War II. While his focus is clearly on these four, there is a whole supporting cast that includes the likes of Winston Churchill, George Patton, Harry Hopkins, and many, many more. The result is a behind-the-scenes drama that at times makes one wonder how we ever won and at others (more often) makes one so grateful that such men were at hand at such a critical moment in history.  This is worth the read whether one is an experienced historian or a novice to the subject.

Kevin J. Delamer, Fleet Professor, U.S. Naval War College


Nish offers a balanced, serious consideration of the internal tensions within the Japanese leadership regarding war with Russia, and a far greater reliance on primary source documents as evidence rather than newspapers and memoirs.  The most striking feature is a serious consideration of the internal struggle within the Japanese hierarchy.  Nish points to the genrō as a brake on the ambitions of the army and, especially, the foreign ministry which he sees as the driving force behind the war. This is part of the Origins of Modern War Series.

Jeff W. Johnson, CAPT, USN, Ret., Naval Order of the United States


The Struggle for Sea Power is a well-researched and well-documented book on the Age of Sail during the American Revolutionary War period.  Sam Willis spent five (5) years researching the American, British, French, Spanish and Dutch Navies’ involvement in American, Caribbean and European waters to provide a comprehensive overview of the their navies’ economic, political and logistical requirements for Sea Power.  I came away from reading this book with a great appreciation for the sacrifices made by Revolutionary War Americans and the French in the creation of the United States.

John W. Kramer, Distinguished Professor of Political Science & International Affairs, University of Mary Washington


Anyone who has even been or plans to go to France will enjoy this bestseller that tells the remarkable story of the generations of American artists, writers, and doctors who traveled to Paris, the intellectual, scientific, and artistic capital of the western world, fell in love with the city and its people, and changed America through what they learned, as told by America’s master historian, David McCullough.

Josiah McDonald, University of Mary Washington, Class of 2015


This in-depth book by a distinguished British journalist, biographer and historian analyzes six key battles in the 20th century; validating the expression that (extreme) pride goes before destruction.  Horne addresses the strategies, leadership, preparation and geopolitical goals for each of the battles.  Anyone who enjoyed Horne’s earlier work A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962 will want to read this monograph as well.

Nathan Packard, History of Innovation Fellow, U.S. Naval Academy


In American Reckoning, Christian Appy, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts and the author of two previous books on the Vietnam War, explores how the Vietnam War changed America’s perceptions of itself and challenged the notion that the United States was a force for good in the world. Appy draws on an impressive source base, which includes not only archival research and period music but also films such as The Green Berets, Apocalypse Now, and Rambo to illustrate the profound impact the war has had on the United States. Fifty years have passed since President Lyndon Johnson dispatched the first U.S. ground combat units to Vietnam, I strongly recommend American Reckoning to anyone seeking to better understand the impact of that decision for the U.S. military and the country as a whole.

Buzz Stroud, Associate Athletic Director, University of Portland


Isaac’s Storm IS the story of National Weather Service administrator for Texas, Isaac Cline, and the September 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas. Larson’s story-telling is superb and is enhanced by survivors’ accounts of a hurricane that killed at least 10,000, changed the trajectory of the city, and altered what was then known about hurricanes. … the where, when and magnitude of hurricanes and not the least, how they produce catastrophic effects for the people and places caught in their path.

David F. Winkler, Historian, Naval Historical Foundation


National Defense University Professor Geoffrey Gresh advances a thesis that regimes in the Arabian Peninsula friendly to the United States welcome American boots on the ground when they perceive an external threat, but the welcome mat gets pulled when internal problems loom larger.  Of note to this reader, he explored the U.S. Navy presence in Bahrain, making extensive use of records I collected for my book, Amirs, Admirals, and Desert Sailors, Bahrain, the U.S. Navy, and the Arabian Gulf. Gresh made good use of these papers as well as other primary sources in a book that is recommended reading for those working with the region.

Click on the Gallery Below to purchase the title from Amazon. Your purchase will benefit a small percentage to the Naval Historical Foundation.

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Inside the Archives: Lessons Learned: Researching the Battle of Jutland 1916 at the Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

Dara A. Baker
Head Archivist
U.S. Naval War College
Newport, RI

It all started with the desire to create an exhibition for the Battle of Jutland’s 100th anniversary. Sure, I thought, I’m positive that the Naval Historical Collection includes enough material to create a great exhibit for the Naval War College Museum and an online exhibition for NHC. That was 7 months, three projects, and about 1000 documents ago.

The Battle of Jutland informed education at the Naval War College for over 30 years. From 1916 until the U.S. involvement in WWII in 1941, students who attended the Naval War College heard lectures, wrote papers, and gamed the battle looking at it from the vantage point of strategy, tactics, scouting, fleet maneuvers and distribution, leadership, and technology. Studying the Battle of Jutland materially affected how two generations of U.S. naval and military officers, including future four and five star admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King, William Halsey, and Harold Stark understood naval warfare, strategy, and tactics.

The collections highlighted in this “Inside the Archives” contribute to our understanding of the Battle of Jutland’s impact on interwar and WWII naval leadership, the history of the Naval War College, and U.S. naval history.

Student theses

A discussion of naval tactics used in war with England and the USA and with Japan and the USA. Includes tactiics used in the Battle of Jutland, 1916, and lessons learned.

A discussion of naval tactics used in war with England and the USA and with Japan and the USA. Includes tactiics used in the Battle of Jutland, 1916, and lessons learned.

The Battle of Jutland, on account of the magnitude of the forces and the stakes involved, and because of the conditions under which it was fought, has no equal in history.”

Chester W. Nimitz, Student Thesis, Class of 1923.

The Naval Historical Collection holds over 1500 student theses from 1912, the year the College leadership introduced the thesis as a requirement, through the 1970s. Of these, over 200, written between 1919 and 1939 address the Battle of Jutland. Assigned to write about “Policy,” “Tactics,” and “Command,” and given British intelligence reports and translations of German documents, future Navy leaders Nimitz, Joel R.P. Pringle, and Richard L. Conolly, and their fellow students discussed the importance of offensive action, technology, intelligence, and scouting. The focus of the papers shifts during the twenty year period—at first the students focused on the success of British Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe versus Imperial German Navy Admiral Reinhard Scheer; later, once the students had access to primary sources including messages sent at Jutland and translations of German orders, students began questioning British decision making and preparation and show admiration for the German High Fleet.  Some students, like then Captain Ernest J. King, took the basic assignment and drew nearly predictive conclusions: King, writing fifteen years after the battle, highlighted to role of a new technology, radio, as a means of “increasing the flexibility of strategy, both as to transmission of important information about the enemy and adaptation of orders,” something King would need to do with the new technologies of WWII from radar to computers. Reading these papers provides a snapshot for how the Navy educated it’s best and brightest in the interwar period.

War gaming

Turning Slide Rule for Destroyers, Mark III War Gaming Outfit, 1930, Record Group 35 (War Gaming), Box 15

Turning Slide Rule for Destroyers, Mark III War Gaming Outfit, 1930, Record Group 35 (War Gaming), Box 15

“Only by practice in war games in miniature and at sea will he become that, hence after the studies outlined above must come practice of which the efficient tactician can never get too much.”

Rear Admiral Harris Laning, President of the Naval War College, in “The Naval Battle” (Record Group 12, Box 4, Folder 8)

From the first year of classes at the Naval War College, students participated in war games. Led by William McCarty Little and adapted from the British and German naval education models, NWC worked to perfect the model. In the fall of 1916, only four months after the Battle of Jutland (May 31-June 1, 1916), students at the Naval War College played a war game based on the Battle. Created by H.H. Frost and Dudley W. Knox, the first game used naval attaché reports and newspaper articles to provide ship movement and targeting information. When the Naval War College reopened in 1919 the new president, Admiral William S. Sims, instituted a new curriculum that emphasized a practical education for naval officers—and relied heavily on the lessons that could be learned from war gaming. Not only did students tackle “theoretical” games like Blue (U.S.) versus Red (U.K.) or Orange (Japan), they conducted numerous historic-based games from WWI: Jutland, Falklands and Dogger Bank. In the 1920s, the creation of a Historical Research Department, which fell under the Intelligence Department, added a whole repertoire of historical battles and events to the curriculum from the American Revolution to the Civil War blockades and the Battle of Mobile Bay and a war game pitting Admiral Nelson against Villeneuve in the Battle of Trafalgar on the War College’s gaming floors.  These sources, housed in the Naval Historical Collection’s College Archives are vital sources to understand the development of war gaming and its modern development.

Translations of German World War I records

Jutland Messages from German and British Naval Operations, Compiled by the Naval War College Department of Operations, Record Group 4 (Naval War College Course Publications), Box 96, Folder 18

Jutland Messages from German and British Naval Operations, Compiled by the Naval War College Department of Operations, Record Group 4 (Naval War College Course Publications), Box 96, Folder 18

“Nothing is easier than to criticize after the event. It is dangerous to criticize when we have such imperfect knowledge of the actual facts as we have to day.”

H.H. Frost, Comments on the Tactical Features of the Battle of Jutland, 1916 (Record Group 4, Box 72, Folder 10)

A critical part of the curriculum at the Naval War College depended on the reading lists provided to students. In many ways, it should  be reassuring to modern students that a heavy reading load has always been a marker of the Naval War College education. A key component of the education was the Naval War College’s publications department. They produced nearly all of the materials used in the classroom setting including the source material used by faculty and staff to study WWI and the Battle of Jutland. The value of these sources lies not only in their relationship to the curriculum at the Naval War College, but also in the immediacy and the variety of the material produced. From 1916 through the 1930s, NWC faculty and staff and Office of Naval Intelligence personnel housed at Naval War College collected and translated German documents ranging from Naval attaché reports and messages sent during the Battle of Jutland to first-person German accounts and the writings of German military strategists including General Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke to help the students better understand the art and science of war. The collecting was not limited to German sources: French, British, and American materials can be found across the College’s readings including the one highlighted here from the 1930 Department of Intelligence Curriculum document.

Along with faculty and staff lectures on topics related to the Battle of Jutland and WWI, these sources provide opportunities to investigate how American sailors and soldiers understood the Battle of Jutland as students, and help us understand how the U.S. Navy approached WWII.

All of the materials discussed in this column are available to members of the public. Visit the Naval Historical Collection’s website at and visit our Battle of Jutland online exhibition, or contact the archivist at

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BOOK REVIEW – A History of the Royal Navy: World War I

Mike Farquharson-Roberts, A History of the Royal Navy: World War I. London: I.B. Taurus, 2014.  236 pp.

Review byJohn Abbatiello, PhD
Rocky Mountain Military Affairs Society

This is a delightful overview of the Royal Navy’s wartime experience during the First World War. Academics will likely find little that is new in this brief survey, but general readership will appreciate a thorough and engaging narrative of this important conflict. The book is part of a series examining the larger history of Britain’s Royal Navy, and the author skillfully condenses the most important events and themes of this topic into 207 pages of text.

Mike Farquharson-Roberts brings an interesting personal background to this subject matter. He is a retired Royal Navy Surgeon Rear Admiral who was an orthopedic surgeon and earned a Maritime History doctorate from the University of Exeter in 2013. He is currently an Associate Research Fellow of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Interestingly, his doctoral thesis examined the executive branch of the Royal Navy between the world wars.

The author’s main theme is that readers today should view the war through contemporary perspectives and not impose judgments based on the ultimate experience of both world wars. For example, regarding the decision to enact convoys as an antidote to the German U-boat threat, Farquharson-Roberts states:

[B]efore the war, intelligent and able people (including Winston Churchill) had reasoned that convoying merchant ships was both impractical and unnecessary. The modern perspective is that convoy was the obvious answer to the German campaign of unrestricted warfare, and so it proved; however, it did not appear so at the time (p. 3).

In eight well-organized chapters, the author provides narratives of the Royal Navy’s preparations and initial dispositions, key naval engagements (with an entire chapter on Jutland), technology, blockade, anti-submarine warfare, and even a chapter on the operations of the Royal Marines and Royal Naval Division. Farquharson-Roberts highlights leadership, doctrine, and technology throughout his monograph and is not afraid to criticize leadership shortcomings when necessary. For example, he takes both Churchill and Beatty (Admiral David Beatty) to task a number of times regarding their wartime decisions and makes fair judgments based on what they knew–or should have known–at the time.

The author’s research is impressive.  Though much of the narrative appears to be based on secondary sources and memoirs–with a smattering of Admiralty documents and contemporary publications from the National Archive (PRO) and Admiralty Library at Portsmouth–Farquharson-Roberts references the latest scholarship on most topics.

The author’s bottom line is that without the Royal Navy’s “contribution the war could not have been won.”  Despite a presumed bias, he skillfully makes this case throughout the monograph.  Fairly priced, nicely illustrated, and expertly written, this is a wonderful narrative of the key events and themes of the Royal Navy’s experience in World War I, where “it was largely responsible for Germany’s defeat, and that defeat was due to British seapower” (p. 207).

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BOOK REVIEW – Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History

Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History. New York: Sentinel, 2015. 238 pp.

Review by Caitlin M. Gale, PhD
Trinity College, Oxford

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates is ostensibly about the US-Tripoli War of 1801-1805 that took place during Jefferson’s presidency. Shortly after the American War of Independence, the young United States found itself threatened by the four North African States of Barbary (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli); with Independence, the United States had lost British protection from Barbary. Several ships and their crews were captured by these states during the 1780s and 1790s. By the time Jefferson assumed the presidency, the issue had reached such a head that he sent the nascent United States Navy to confront Tripoli, who had declared war on the United States after a treaty dispute in 1801. The US Navy’s efforts over the next four years and the first use of US Marines abroad left the war immortalized in the USMC hymn.

Brian Kilmead (a Fox News Host) and Don Yaeger (an author and Sports Journalist) had previously collaborated on the book, George Washington’s Secret Six. Though they place Jefferson as the focal point in the title, their Author’s Note instead argues that their focus is on the individuals on the ground, both militarily and diplomatically, in North Africa. The book starts with the newly independent United States encountering the difficulties all small states operating in the Mediterranean faced – risk of trade disruptions and capture by the Barbary States. The first four chapters cover the efforts and struggles the United States faced when dealing with Barbary during the 1780s and 1790s before war actually breaks out in chapter five. Chapters six through sixteen cover the four years of war between the United States and the Ottoman Regency of Tripoli, including US Naval and diplomatic efforts, political negotiations in Washington, and finally the famed ‘shores of Tripoli’ marine effort to overthrow the ruler of Tripoli and replace him with his brother. An epilogue briefly touches on Stephen Decatur’s short efforts off Algiers in 1815.

The succinct chapters and engaging prose make this an incredibly easy book to read. The authors successfully propel their narrative forward, moving between Washington, D.C., North Africa, and the US Naval ships in the Mediterranean with ease and skill. They successfully introduce the myriad cast of characters participating in this drama, and true to their stated goal, the focus is not the ‘great man’ Jefferson but on the ‘normal’ people involved in the war effort. Unfortunately, for all that it is well written, the same cannot be said for its research. Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates is riddled with basic errors and has an uncomfortable undercurrent of Islamophobia running throughout. Citations are only for quotations, not narrative, and incomplete, making it nearly impossible to verify where the authors have gotten any particular idea. The sources they do credit are exclusively American in focus; they reference very little of the extensive modern scholarship that has been done on Barbary in the last fifteen years and none at all on the history of Barbary itself. This latter point explains some of the wilder errors and misconceptions that appear within the book. At one point, the authors discuss the 1803 reaffirmation of the 1786 US treaty with Morocco and demonstrate a worrying lack of understanding or knowledge on US-Barbary relations prior to 1801, despite spending four chapters on the topic. Finally, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates is not even a tale retold, it is the same story presented in the same way as many other histories of the US-Tripoli war and early US Navy, the majority of which have been better researched. Its multiple factual errors and orientalist outlook completely overwhelm the reader, no matter how engaging a read it may be.

In theory, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates may be of value to anyone interested in an introduction to the US-Tripoli War of 1801-1805 or the early American Navy, but in reality there are many better books out there that cover these same topics without the myriad of mistakes.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Last Big Gun: At War and at Sea with HMS Belfast

Brian Lavery, The Last Big Gun: At War and at Sea with HMS Belfast. Oxford: Pool of London Press, 2015. 352 pp.

Review by Joseph Moretz, PhD
British Commission for Military History

Readers of this forum familiar with London doubtless will have at some point visited the cruiser HMS Belfast which forms a key adjunct to the Imperial War Museum’s record of twentieth century conflict. The Last Big Gun offers the backstory to a portion of that memorial. In the process what is related is not so much the account of a single ship as the fortunes of the navy that it served from eve of global war to decommissioning and final preservation during an era of uncertain peace. Lavery is to be congratulated on suffusing several strands of history be it naval, social, or imperial in a coherent narrative. Using a combination of official records, personal reminiscences, and secondary literature, a unique biography emerges of the light cruiser and those who served in her. Remaining true to technical and operational details, Lavery never fails to inform while at the same moment maintaining the reader’s interest.

As history, the story is strongest at the beginning and through the period of the Second World War owing to the wealth of official officer records now accessible and the availability of Admiralty operational records. First commissioned in the waning days of peace under Captain George Scott, Belfast’s part during that war nearly ended so soon as it began: in November 1939 it triggered a magnetic mine whilst steaming in home waters. If casualties were in the circumstances light, the damage proved crippling and would take the cruiser out of service for three years. Exactly why repairs took so long is never adequately addressed by the author in a work that remains rich in so many other details.

Still, the Belfast survived to fight another day. If the cruiser’s general lines remained as before much had changed in the intervening period for this was the moment when electronic warfare came to the fore and most visibly appreciated in the array of radar antennas featuring topside. Gone too were its complement of Walrus embarked aircraft and eventually their catapult. With hangars converted into spaces supporting crew amenities, life, if better, remained difficult in the wartime navy. Belfast rejoined the Home Fleet upon recommissioning in November 1942 and for a cruiser that invariably meant supporting the convoy runs to Russia and back. Even if the enemy did not appear, conditions in Arctic waters were extreme with ship and ship’s company taxed as in no other combat environ with ice and cold making even the simplest tasks daunting.

Of course, one enemy to be reckoned with was the Scharnhorst, the German battle cruiser, which earlier had outsmarted the Royal Navy in its dash through the English Channel. Though doctrine might avow getting Allied convoys through remained the primary object, officers were expected to use their initiative and seek out and destroy the enemy. Vice Admiral Robert Burnett, the Tenth Cruiser Squadron commander and wearing his flag in the Belfast, played a full role in the action that followed. This culminated on Boxing Day 1943 in the last gun action between the Royal Navy and an enemy capital ship. That well-deserved British victory owed much to the ongoing revolution in sensors, superior numbers and heavier firepower, but it also was built on the skill of all concerned be it engineer, seaman, or flag officer in ships such as the Belfast.

Henceforward, the cruiser would see other actions notably off Normandy and in Korea where her 6-inch and 4-inch guns supported operations ashore, but naval warfare was moving in other directions thanks to the submarine and the aircraft carrier. The Belfast arrived in the Pacific in 1945 just as that war was ending. Missing the climatic actions of that spring and summer, the end of Belfast’s war in a sense matched the disappointment of its beginning. The cruiser stayed on, though, as part a reduced British Pacific Fleet alternating between occupation duties in Japanese waters and showing the flag in China and elsewhere. Wartime alterations that saw further additions in AA armament were removed and the crew reduced in numbers. When the Cold War turned hot in Korea, Belfast was however quickly on scene and registering fires on advancing North Korean troops and their lines of communication. Yet, the cruiser was in a poor state and required a refit. Sent home, Belfast missed the desperate actions that followed and the highly successful Inchon landings. The adage ‘always a bridesmaid and never a bride’ is a hard conclusion to avoid save the Belfast survived where others increasingly were going to the breaker’s yard as the Royal Navy rebalanced and reduced itself in equal measure.

Here, fortune intervened and a move to rescue a portion of Britain’s naval heritage representing the hour of its greatest crisis found members of the Imperial War Museum at Portsmouth in 1967. Hoping to secure a turret from the cruiser Gambia, they opted to save the Belfast instead. Posterity is the better for that, but preservation has not been without controversy. Necessarily in casting the Belfast in the livery of its most decisive period, a number of anachronisms dating from its last commission are retained. These though are the vehicles for telling the entire Belfast story throughout its several periods of service.

This reviewer entertains no reservations in recommending The Last Big Gun, though taking exception to portions of the author’s telling of the broader naval story. Lavery offers more than the story of a single ship though, he has managed to capture the evolving story of the Royal Navy with insights offered on its customs, ethos, and manning practices along the way. Handsomely illustrated with maps, photographs and cutaway line drawings, general reader, academic, and professional alike interested in the Royal Navy of the mid-twentieth century will find much of interest in the accounting presented. By all means a visit to the Belfast is endorsed, but failing that The Last Big Gun offers a ready and valued substitute.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Second Pearl Harbor: The West Loch Disaster, May 21, 1944

Gene Salecker, The Second Pearl Harbor: The West Loch Disaster, May 21, 1944. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. 296 pp.

Review by CPT Andrew Ziebell, USAResearch Assistant, National War College

The Second Pearl Harbor is Gene Salecker’s commendable effort to bring to light the disastrous events that attended American preparations for the invasion of the Mariana Islands in 1944. The disaster refers to a series of explosions and subsequent fires, that coupled with a landing rehearsal catastrophe that claimed the lives of an entire platoon of Marines in early May, 1944, were horrific not only for their loss of life, but also for the way in which they were accepted as part of the price of victory. Salecker presents all of this and, yet, the reader is still left unprepared for the magnitude of the disaster at West Loch on May 21st, 1944 in which over one hundred sailors and Marines perished and hundreds more were badly injured.

The first thing that catches the reader’s attention was the sheer scope of the Pacific Theater of Operations.  It was 3700 miles from Hawaii to the Japanese stronghold on Saipan, with an additional 1270 miles remaining for B-29s to fly from Saipan to Tokyo. Planners, based upon previous experience at Tarawa and the Marshall Islands, projected that Operation Forager, the invasion of the Mariana Islands, would require 719 Landing Vehicles, Tank (LVT), just one of the vital pieces of equipment needed by the assaulting Marines, and the one at the center of the West Lock calamity.

The title, The Second Pearl Harbor, evokes images of the Japanese attack on December 7th, 1941, and seems to suggest that Japan may have played a role in the destruction. Rumors abounded that Japanese saboteurs were active in Hawaii and it certainly would have been an aspirational goal to inflict so much damage upon the US Navy. Some believed, even years after the incident, that a torpedo from a Japanese submarine caused the first of the three explosions. But Salecker is quick to point out that the likelihood of Japanese involvement is purely speculative and has no basis in fact.

Rather, Salecker paints a picture of impending doom as he lays out the potential causes: decks loaded with countless oil and gas drums; high explosive ammunition carelessly tossed about; Marines, seamen and stevedores openly disregarding the prohibition on smoking. Compounding the problem was the fact that so many ships were berthed in such a tight space that a fire on one could not help but spread to the others around it. It is no small wonder that accidents like that at West Loch did not occur more frequently.

While skeptical of the cause determined by the official inquiry, Salecker does not definitively answer what led to the initial explosion upon LST #353. The immediate catalyst does not seem to matter. Salecker questions, instead, the shortcuts allowed by Navy leaders in the interest of time. Any delay in the preparations for the invasion of Saipan could have set the campaign back several months, thus prolonging the war. He is also highly critical of the lax enforcement of the regulations concerning where the Marines slept. Many chose the fresh, open air of the main deck over the dark, stifling quarters below decks and paid for it with their lives.

There was plenty of blame to go around. But no one can fault the almost superhuman heroism that so many displayed in the immediate aftermath of the explosions. Salecker fills page after page with well-researched, first-hand accounts of men risking their own lives to save as many others as possible. In doing so, he admirably brings some order out of the chaos that must have existed on that day. The reader is reminded that a conflagration aboard ship was just as deadly and terrifying in 1944 as it would have been in 1800.

Ultimately, the incident had surprisingly little impact upon the overall campaign. There was little time to pause in a war which was far from over. Even the official inquiry recognized that, while some actions were regrettable and the event possibly preventable, in many other ways, they simply had no choice but to put both men and ships at risk for the good of the mission. But the catastrophe at West Loch had a profound impact upon the survivors who, along with their fallen comrades, deserve to be remembered every bit as much as those who perished on that other day at Pearl Harbor. Salecker’s work is a worthy tribute to those men.

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