View from the Quarterdeck: July 2014

chadbournHave you ever wondered why it is that some individuals seem to be almost innately curious about the study of history? I vividly recall my mentor at the University of Washington, Professor Wilton B. Fowler, saying at the beginning of his course on U.S. Diplomatic History, “History is both my vocation and my avocation!” For a young graduate student just off three years of sea duty as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy, those words expressed both enthusiasm and inspiration for the intellectual examination of the past, as well as genuine love for the subject.

In essence, Dr. John B. Hattendorf, Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the United States Naval War College, raises a somewhat similar question in his article, “Changing American Perceptions of the Royal Navy Since 1775.” Why do nations decide to expend resources to build navies? Professor Hattendorf observes that a navy is not only “an expression of a nation’s power” but also reflects “the nature, character and spirit of its people and its institutions.” These things did not spring newborn with the birth of the American nation, but rather have developed over almost three centuries. Professor Hattendorf offers an engaging intellectual analysis of how the American Navy has viewed its English counterpart during this period through what he calls a “changing kaleidoscope of viewpoints.” The perspective of the American Navy has grown from that of “being an enemy and infant offspring to peer- competitor and close ally.” The impact of the Royal Navy on their American cousins is not lost to the careful reader.

Likewise, Dr. Hazel Sheeky Bird, an Independent Scholar in Great Britain, in her article, “Naval History and Heroes: The Influence of U.S. and British Navalism on Children’s Writing, 1895-1914,” examines how naval advocates in both Britain and America were instrumental in producing books for children touting the importance of sea power for national greatness in the years prior to the First World War. Dr. Bird demonstrates that clearly by 1910 British naval writers “sought to underplay historic antagonism between the two countries, American writers often emphasized it.” Dr. Bird concludes these authors not only “shaped British and American children’s views of their future allies” but also prepared them for the roles their nations would play in the coming decades. A sense of national identity stems from many sources, not the least of which is the influence of literature which we read to children from an early age.

Analyst William Kyle, a recent graduate of the University of Mary Washington, and Navy LT Brent Powers, examine the significance of the so-called “pivot to China” in American Foreign Policy and its impact on the United States Navy. Mr. Kyle focuses on what his paper calls “The Strategic Logic of the American ’Pivot to the Pacific’” in his work which examines the current strategic environment in that region with particular attention to the challenges posed to American Naval Power in East Asia. He concludes that “the ‘strategic pivot ’is a direct application of smart power instead of a fear and insecurity-driven policy as realists have suggested.” He argues that in an era of “shrinking Navy force structure and modernization budgets, a national security strategy based on ‘smart power’ principles to lessen the need for Cold-War like naval forces in the region may be the only viable option.” In “Learning to Fail: Lessons for the Twenty-First Century from the Pacific War,” LT Powers looks at the potential of future naval conflict in the region through the lens of failures in naval warfare experienced during the momentous naval engagements of World War II in the Pacific. Both articles remind us of the international dimensions of war at sea.

In our inaugural issue I promised to try some new approaches with future editions of IJNH, as well as to mentor our younger colleagues, the next generation of naval historians. In this edition we do both. Our final article is a brief, 10-minute documentary on “Vietnam War Prisoners of War: Taking Responsibility When Deprived of All Rights” which won first place as a group documentary at the recently concluded National History Day Competition at the University of Maryland in College Park. Not only is this a “visual article,” it was produced by junior colleagues who display sophisticated understanding of the issues surrounding American Prisoners of War in Vietnam. I think you will agree it tells a remarkable story of human courage and perseverance in war under the most trying of circumstances. Much of the footage in this documentary is original and never seen before.

As always I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and potential articles. Such historical dialog is productive in the development of historical dialog.

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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Changing American Perceptions of the Royal Navy Since 1775

John B. Hattendorf
Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History, U.S. Naval War College

There are many dimensions to a navy. At its most obvious, a navy is an expression of a nation’s power, but at the same time it is a microcosm of a nation, representing its industrial and technological capacities as well as reflecting the nature, character, and spirit of its people and its institutions. While a navy is a national creation that fully reflects its parentage, a navy also exists within the much broader and very different context of world affairs—the arena of competing powers and national interests that has deadly enemies as well as neutrals, friends, and allies. Outside Britain there is a wide spectrum of viewpoints from which to view the Royal Navy. The view from the United States of America is but one among many, but it presents a changing kaleidoscope of viewpoints. Over two hundred and forty years, the American Navy has viewed the Royal Navy as rebellious colonies, as a minor-power navy fighting a superpower navy, as a role-model, as a peer-competitor, and then as its closest ally as a great power navy. 1

In the beginning. Without an established and well-organized state bureaucracy, the process of creating a navy in America was a slow and hesitant one. 2  As the political crisis between Britain and her American colonies grew into an open rebellion in 1774 and 1775, the Royal Navy was the superior naval power in the world, although at this point the French Navy had potential superiority in its unmanned ships in reserve at Brest, Toulon, and Rochefort, with additional Spanish ships-of-the-line that might come available in a Franco-Spanish alliance. 3  On opposite sides of the Atlantic, both the British and the Americans were initially reluctant to engage in an all-out naval conflict. In 1775, American representatives gathered in the Continental Congress and were beginning the 15-year long process during which they eventually examined and debated nearly every fundamental aspect of representative democracy. While some expressed radical ideas about complete independence others were reluctant to take any steps that would preclude an advantageous political solution for the American colonies within the British Empire. 4 One of those steps that might be a serious disadvantage, some believed, was the creation of an American naval force. 5

At the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, the subject of a navy came up for debate in 1775. One of South Carolina’s representatives, Christopher Gadsden, who had served years before in the Royal Navy as a purser, believed that the Royal Navy was not so formidable as many feared. He suggested that the Americans could easily start a navy by capturing some of the smaller British cutters, sloops, and schooners. In New England, John Adams made a similar argument. 6 June 1775. Christopher Magra, The Fisherman’s Cause: Atlantic Commerce and the Maritime Dimensions of the American Revolution. (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 182-183.]  Other members of Congress slowly came to see that there might be a role for American naval forces. First, they thought about using small armed vessels adapted from merchant service to capture larger warships from the Royal Navy and, thereby, acquire purpose-built warships and trained sailors. Second, they saw an opportunity to force British forces to evacuate Boston by interrupting their supply lines stretching across the Atlantic. Third, American merchants believed that, with armed ships, they could effectively evade the British blockade of American ports. 7

The American patriots faced a number of practical military necessities in fighting British forces ashore that required maritime support. Several American commanders developed ad hoc arrangements to meet these needs. These local initiatives were far from the establishment of a formal American navy to oppose the Royal Navy, but they were precursors that eventually led to the creation a national navy. In his Autobiography, John Adams recalled that opposition to having a navy was “very loud and vehement.” 8 The very idea of intercepting and attacking British forces at sea was “represented as the most wild, visionary, mad project that had ever been imagined.”

It was an infant, taking a mad bull by his horns; and what was even more profound and remote, it was said it would ruin the character, and corrupt the morals of our seamen. It would make them selfish, piratical, mercenary, bent wholly upon plunder &c. &c. 9

An ardent naval advocate, Adams’s life experience on the Massachusetts seacoast and his career as a lawyer in dealing with maritime cases placed him as a leader in this cause. 10 Eventually his arguments and those of others, the Continental Congress moved forward with the first step on 13 October 1775 toward establishing what came to be called the Continental Navy. As a member of the Congressional Naval Committee, John Adams wrote the original draft 11 of the navy’s organizational principles and rules for the newly established Continental Navy, 12 adapting them directly from the Royal Navy’s Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea. 13

One of the greatest challenges for Congress was to find an effective administrative organization to support the fleet. A number of approaches were tried, ostensibly based on British models that included the establishment of a Navy Board and even a Board of Admiralty. The management of naval affairs became increasingly challenging. Seeking to know more about how the Royal Navy managed its affairs, William Ellery, a Rhode Island member of the Marine Committee, wrote to a knowledgeable friend at home, William Vernon:

. . . I should be glad to know what is the Office of Commissioners of the Navy, and that you would point it out particularly; unless you can refer Me to some author who particularly describes. The Conduct of the Affairs of a Navy as well as those of an Army We are yet to learn. We are still unacquainted with the systematical management of them, although We have made considerable Progress in the latter. 14

Others also assumed that the British approach to naval management would be the best to emulate, but no one among the American leaders had any knowledge of naval administration or knew how the Admiralty or the Navy Board managed the Royal Navy. 15

During its ten-year existence, the Continental Navy played a very limited role. Its purpose was to contribute to a civil war between American Englishmen and Englishmen at home in Britain and to a revolution that brought independence to the thirteen United States of America. In this, the Continental Navy’s role was one of several maritime equivalents of the peoples’ and partisan warfare ashore. While the Navy complemented the privateering activities that more precisely fit this characterization, the Navy did serve with some effectiveness during the war in undertaking some vital tasks for the nascent revolutionary government that could not effectively be given to privateers, such as showing the flag in foreign waters, carrying government funds, and delivering official diplomatic representatives. These were vital functions that underscore the Navy’s role in the development of the American State, yet it was no match for the power of the Royal Navy, which largely eliminated it as a threat. The critical maritime role in the war fell to the French in alliance with the new American republic. It was the French Navy that was able to create a local maritime supremacy in the waters in and around Chesapeake Bay in 1781 that contributed directly to the surrender of the British Army at Yorktown.

The Early Republic. With the recognition of American independence in 1783, the young United States saw no immediate need for a navy and had neither the financial capacity nor the effective central administrative to sustain one. The last ship of the Continental Navy was sold in 1785 and the young country was left with no armed force at sea. From the British point of view, this was the best situation. Those in Britain and British North America who were knowledgeable about American affairs saw danger in even allowing Americans the right to fish on the Grand Banks. In 1783 as the peace negotiations were being completed, a British newspaper, The Public Advertiser, reported the views of “a Country Member of Parliament” who felt that allowing Americans to use the Atlantic fisheries would have “at one stroke annihilated our navy” and “put an end to our existence as a commercial nation.” 16 He and others saw the fisheries as the traditional nursery of a navy that would lead Americans, along with the French, to train up to 80,000 seamen. They feared that the United States could create a navy, leaving Britain in a position where, as another writer in The Public Advertiser noted, “it will be in vain for us to defend any of our possessions.” 17

In fact, there was no immediate fear of that happening. It would be seven years before the United States put any armed maritime force to sea and that occurred in 1790 with the U.S. Revenue Marine’s Cutter Service, the earliest predecessor element of the current U.S. Coast Guard. It was only in 1794, after American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean began to suffer from attacks by North African corsairs, that the new republic saw the need to establish a permanent naval service. Before that time, American merchant shipping had benefited from Portugal’s containment of North African corsairs around the entrance to the Mediterranean and in the western Mediterranean. When the war against Revolutionary France led Britain to urge Portugal to make peace and stop her diverting war with the North African states, neutral Americans were left to fend for themselves.

While this was an important impetus that led to the formal establishment of the permanent American navy, Americans were having a serious debate about the purpose and function of navy. There were two factions. On one side, there was the group that has come to be called the “navalists,” who saw the Royal Navy as its model. For them, the new navy should be the most effective expression and symbol of the nation’s power, honor, and prestige as well as a potent and capable and effective fighting force that played a major role in the world balance of power as an instrument of political influence. Their ideal was to use American naval force as an arbiter in world politics. This navy’s potential capabilities could serve as a continual deterrent to aggression as well as show America’s power abroad while her ships protected American commerce and interests abroad. In opposition to this view, another group, who have come to be called the “anti-navalists.” This group saw use for a navy, but argued that the navalists’ vision was impractical and far too costly. Their navy would be a sea-going militia force, smaller in size, with vessels whose capabilities were limited to a very few vessels operating singly on distant stations with the emphasis in home waters on coastal protection and the suppression of piracy. 18  For much of the first century of the new country’s existence, the anti-navalists held sway over American naval policy, but there remained a constant tension between the two viewpoints. By and large, the leaders of the young nation was satisfied to accept the benefits that came indirectly to the United States from the Royal Navy’s exercise of global naval power, while it focused on westward expansion across the North American continent. As Andrew Jackson told the American people in his inaugural address as President in 1829, the United States had “need of no more ships of war than are requisite to the protection of commerce.” 19

It was this type of thinking that led to building the large frigates that eventually made a mark in the Anglo-American War of 1812. Starting from the concept of the typical French and British frigates of the 1790s, American shipbuilders sought to design a small number of frigates for a small navy that would be an overmatch for possible opponents. Thus, they applied the scantlings of a 74-gun ship to a frigate that “in blowing weather would be an overmatch for double-deck ships, and in light winds to evade coming to action.” 20

A basic and recurring theme in the American naval view of the Royal Navy was the American desire to be recognized as a separate and independent nation and naval service. It was this that caused such deep American resentment over the impressment of seamen. In 1805, Captain John Shaw wrote the American consul at Gibraltar, “I wish the British Commanders to observe that our Service is very independent, and I hope our commanders will never let slip any insult which they offer to pass with Impunity.” 21 During the Anglo-American War of 1812-1815. American naval officers did not question British competence as fighters and seamen, but they were offended if they thought their British counterparts were questioning their honour. Secretary of the Navy William Jones lauded Captain John Rodger’s voyage in USS President across the Atlantic to the Norwegian coast and into the Arctic as “another proof of the exaggerated power and fictitious omnipresence of the British Flag.” 22 Yet an American naval rating saw his British counterparts as “hard fellows on salt water.” 23 When James Durand, a Connecticut seaman, was impressed for service in HMS Narcissus, he recalled that “only lately I had quitted the service of the U. States after enduring everything. The thought of serving with the British fleet touched every nerve with distress and almost deprived me of reason.” 24

The Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. The victories of the American frigates over the smaller British frigates during the first part of the War of 1812 soon developed a life of their own and became in the late 19th and early 20th century historical writing an important part of American patriotic culture, helping to develop public pride in American naval heritage as well as providing a new dimension to public support for current naval construction. 25

As the new American steel navy began to take shape from the 1880s onward, a small group of American naval officers began to turn to historical study as a means to find the fundamental principles of naval warfare as technological change revolutionized the physical characteristics of navies. 26 The most famous of these men was Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S. Navy, whose series of four books on the “Influence of Sea Power” in the period between 1660 and 1815, showed in detail the strategic effectiveness of the Royal Navy. He famously declared that “the world has never seen a more impressive demonstration of the influence of sea power upon its history. Those far distant, storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the world.” 27 In his third Sea Power volume, Mahan wrote on the War of 1812. Unlike other American writers, he saw the story of that war as a cautionary tale for the United States and a negative influence in America’s national history. “Not by rambling operations, or naval duels, are wars decided, but by force massed, and handled in skillful combination,” 28 Mahan cautioned. “It matters not that the particular force be small. The art of war is the same throughout; and may be illustrated as readily, though less conspicuously, by a flotilla as by an armada; by a corporal’s guard, or the three units of the Horatii, as by a host of a hundred thousand.” To complete his series, Mahan’s final volume was his Life of Nelson, “a study . . . of the one man who in himself summed up and embodied the greatness of the possibilities which Sea Power comprehends,—the man for whom genius and opportunity worked together, to make him the personification of the navy of Great Britain.” 29 “Thenceforward,” Mahan wrote, “the name of Nelson is enrolled among those few presented to us by History, the simple mention of which suggest, not merely a personality or a career, but a great force or a great era concrete in a single man, who is the standard-bearer before the nations.” 30

Mahan’s historical works earned him great praise in Britain, bringing him honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge as well as an audience with Queen Victoria. They even earned him a proposal that he accept an honorary commission in the Royal Navy, which he politely, but firmly, declined. 31 Mahan clearly expressed the world’s admiration for the Royal Navy. In an interview published in early August 1914, Mahan noted “You people in England do not realize the immense admiration felt all over the world, yes, and in Germany also, for the British Navy. Speaking from my standpoint, as an American, I tell you that there is only one navy in the world, and that the others are mere striplings by comparison.” 32, in Seager and Maguire, eds, Letters and Papers of . . . Mahan, vol. 3, p. 701.]  While not underrating his own or any other navy, he noted “by comparison with the British, every navy still has much to learn.” 33

While praising the Royal Navy as a model for others, Mahan was also interested in practical cooperation. In the first decade of the twentieth century, American naval officers were observing the establishment of the first Dominion naval forces. They could see that how they would be part of the larger capabilities of the Royal Navy, although American naval officers seemed not entirely aware of the debates and issues arising between the Cabinet in London, the Admiralty, the Colonial Office, and the various Dominion governments about these forces. One of the earliest American comments about Dominion naval forces came even at the very opening years of the twentieth century in the context of discussion about what was then turned “imperial federation.”

In July 1904, Mahan was the guest of honor at a luncheon in London hosted by the Imperial Federation (Defence) Committee. The well-known writer on imperial defence issues, Sir John Colomb, was in the chair. In introducing Mahan to the distinguished group that had gathered for the occasion, Colomb declared:

The object of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, in its truest aspect, is not to make wars, but to prevent them. And I take it that the Navy of which Captain Mahan has been a distinguished ornament, has, with ours, that common mission in the future. The great American Commonwealth of which Captain Mahan is a distinguished citizen, and the British Empire, of which we are all ourselves citizens, have a great common interest in the peace of the sea. 34

Colomb went on to draw Mahan’s attention to the words of William B. Dally, who had been attorney general, and briefly colonial secretary, in New South Wales during the 1880s, had suggested “Let there be one Navy, under the rule of a single Admiralty – a Navy in which the colonies shall be as much integrated as the Mother country, which shall be theirs as well as hers, and on which they may all rely in time of danger.” 35

Mahan’s response to all this was revealing. Linking the United States to this issue, Mahan commented, “. . . as the sympathies of the people who speak the same tongues widen, like those of the various communities under the British flag and our own are doing, that as they grow together there will be an approximation of the period which we have heard much¾the federation of the world.” 36

Six years later in 1910, Commander William S. Sims visited London in command of the battleship USS Minnesota and expressed similar sentiments. Sims, who would later become the U.S. Navy’s most famous and successful commander in World War I, had been born in Port Hope, Ontario, in 1858 and was raised there until the age of ten, when his American-born father and Canadian mother moved their family to the United States. During his port visit in 1910, the Lord Mayor of London ended a week of courtesy calls, parties, and festivities by hosting Sims with the officers and men of Minnesota to a luncheon at Guildhall on 3 December 1910. In a closing speech of thanks, Sims declared “If the time ever comes when the British Empire is seriously menaced by an external enemy, it is my opinion that you may count upon every man, every dollar, every drop of blood, of your kindred across the sea.” 37  His remarks were enthusiastically applauded by those present, but earned Sims a public reprimand from President William Howard Taft. Half a dozen years later in 1917 in the midst of the war with Germany, Taft noted “The ways of history are strange. When I was President I reprimanded an officer for saying exactly what he is doing now. That officer was, Commander, now Vice Admiral, Sims in command of the American Navy in Europe.” 38

Simultaneously, there was a separate current in American naval thinking. In the late 19th century, officers in both the U.S. Army and the U.S Navy were influenced by the successes of the German General Staff in Prussia’s wars and began to think about various contingency plan, an idea that was entirely new in American thinking.   The U.S. Navy was vastly outnumbered by the Royal Navy, and it seemed the most dangerous possible enemy, even if not the most likely. 39

Mahan himself drafted the first American naval war plan in 1890 based on a concept for a weak U.S. Navy to operate with a defensive-offensive strategy. This was appropriate to a small power and kept the American main battle fleet in port, waiting for an opportune moment to attack its larger adversary, while minor American squadrons were stationed in Puget Sound on the Pacific coast and on Lake Ontario. 40 “Any attempts against the British islands themselves, in the present relative strength of the two navies, is plainly impracticable. The belligerents will meet in the Western Hemisphere,” 41 Mahan predicted and then went on to say “Canada lies at our mercy, unless the British navy by action on our coasts can stay our hand.” 42  To do this, he forecast that the Royal Navy would need to use 24 ships to maintain a constant blockade of New York, with a reserve held at Halifax bringing the total to 30 warships. 43

In 1911-12,a war game based on the American contingency plan for war between the United States and the United Kingdom, by now named War Plan RED, was the subject that students at the Army War College. In contrast to earlier plans, it now suggested a reason why war might occur between the two countries and looked at the situation with a global perspective. The war game scenario was based on a situation in which RED (Britain) had caused BLUE (i.e., the United States) to declare war, when RED dispatched an Army division and a mounted brigade, totaling 22,000 men in fast transports, escorted by the first cruiser squadron sailing from Southampton to reinforce the army in Canada, and landed at Quebec. 44 In considering the roles of Australian, Canadian, and Indian naval forces in this scenario, the American naval officers saw the greatest use of these forces in partially manning the Royal Navy’s local squadrons on the Australian station, East Indian Squadron, and in reserve positions in Canada, thereby allowing the equivalent number of regularly trained officers and men for active service in the war against the United States. 45

The Great War.The United States remained neutral in the First World War until April 1917, when German attacks on shipping made that stance no longer an acceptable one. In 1917 and 1918, the United States Navy operated successfully in close cooperation with the Royal Navy in European waters with Admiral Sims in command of U.S. Naval Forces in European waters. An American squadron of battleships joined the Grand Fleet, while destroyers, naval aircraft, and transports carried out a wide range of cooperative operations. 46 Not all in the U.S. Navy were as happy as Sims was to be working with the Royal Navy. When the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels initially sent Sims to London in 1917, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William S. Benson, registered another opinion when he cautioned Sims: “Don’t let the British pull the wool over your eyes, we would as soon fight them as the Germans.” 47

The experience of American naval officers in operating with the Royal Navy was both positive and negative. As shown earlier with the American attitudes in the War of 1812 period, American naval officers were proud of their service and their new and improved ships. Henry A. Wiley, who had commanded the battleship USS Wyoming in the sixth battle squadron of the Grand Fleet, recalled:

I think we excelled the British in shooting. Of course, we were not put to the test in battle, and I don’t know how we would have fared under fire. Our ships were not as rugged as the British ships, and our fire-control system probably would not have stood up as well as theirs under heavy, well-directed fire. Our system of turret firing was superior, I think, and we could have delivered a greater weight of metal in any given time under normal conditions. 48

Anglo-American naval cooperation was very effective in this period and led to at least one major change to the United States Navy: a change in naval officer uniform design that endures to this day. On 17 March 1919, the U.S. Navy adopted for the first time a double-breasted, blue uniform jacket that was inspired directly by the Royal Navy’s uniform. While this also reflected current taste in civilian clothing, it was also a tribute to the close connection developed with the Royal Navy. The only major difference was that Americans used two vertical rows of six brass buttons, rather than the eight used by the Royal Navy, and with a star rather than a curl on the sleeve with the gold rank insignia. 49

At the same time that this uniform change took place in 1919, the peace negotiations at Paris raised great tension between the United States and Britain. While both agreed on the basic questions in dealing with the defeat of the Central Powers, major disagreement took place when the United States demanded naval parity with Great Britain with a United States Navy that was “second to none”. The so-called “Naval Battle of Paris” took place in March 1919, in which Americans showed their suspicions about British claims for continued naval supremacy and feared that that Britain’s supremacy and use of naval blockade against Germany might lead to a blockade against American ports in a future conflict. For this reason, American naval officers proposed that Germany retain a small naval fleet as a counterweight to the Royal Navy. For the same reason, they considered, too, the idea of a League of Nations naval force.

In analyzing the post-war situation, American naval planners first saw a number of reasons why a future war between the United States and Great Britain would be unlikely. Among these factors were the economic dependence of Great Britain on the United States, the proximity of Canada to the United States, and the possible lack of colonial support for a war against the United States unless British dominions saw it as a just war. 50 On the other hand, there were a number of reasons why a future war might break out. The main issues here were the disparity between British and American views of freedom of the seas, particularly in regard to belligerent rights. American naval officers were particularly sensitive to Britain’s reluctance to codify maritime international law and to apply the most liberal interpretation of belligerent rights on the High Seas and saw this as one of several reasons for maintaining a navy equal to Britain’s. As an example of the type of crisis that could arise, the U.S. Naval Advisory Staff in Paris used a Canadian contingency as an example:

. . . if Canada should attempt to gain her independence from Great Britain by force, and if the United States remained neutral, it is the British contention that Great Britain could blockade every port of the United States and could so regulate our imports that we could spare none for exportation to Canada. This is not International law, but an application of the law of force to neutrals. The only reply is the presence of a potential [U.S. naval] force that will secure the abandonment of the contention. 51

The Washington Naval Disarmament Treaty of 1921-22 formally established the principles of nominal naval parity with Britain that the United States had been seeking during and immediately after World War One, 52 although the Unites States did not immediately build up to treaty strength, allowing the Royal Navy to remain numerically and qualitatively superior through the 1920s. Nevertheless, American naval officers remained distrustful of Britain. While they acknowledged war was unlikely, they still believed the Royal Navy might be used in its traditional role to protect and to further British trade at the expense of American interests. The underlying cause for such a war would most likely be a British attempt to promote its weakening trade situation by attacking the United States, its principal economic competitor. 53

In 1923, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence Monthly Information Bulletin reported that former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had said that the only country that gave any concern for a future war in the near future was the United States and that the points of friction between them were (1) the Irish question, (2) naval rivalry, and (3) the debt. 54

If such a war took place, British planners saw the eastern Atlantic, Canada, and the Far East as the most likely theaters for it to play out. 55 Yet, American naval planners looked at the same contingency more narrowly in terms of the defense of the western hemisphere. By 1930, the American War Plan RED was still basically a defensive plan in which CRIMSON [Canada] played a central role with the worst case scenario of British forces invading the United States from Canada. At this point, American war planners saw Canada as the most sensitive target and productive target that they could attack in a war with Britain. Even as late as 1930, American officers could not easily imagine Canada remaining neutral. Backed up by extensive analysis through war games at the Naval War College, American naval plans called for an attack on Halifax and other ports to prevent British forces from reaching Canada with the U.S. remaining in a defensive position waiting for an opportunity to engage. 56

World War II. During the interwar period, the separate, technical and professional development of the two navies had created two complementary bodies of professional experience and knowledge. Naval leaders in both countries were well aware that an exchange of information could be profitable, but the grounds upon which such an exchange could took place developed only very slowly. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the United States again remained formally neutral, but also began a range of activities to assist Britain even while remaining neutral. 57

The very first steps were private initiatives, beginning in September 1939 only a few days after World War Two began, when the first of a small group of 22 Americans took up an opportunity to become officers in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the first citizens of the United States to become sea officers in the Royal Navy. The initial volunteer, William E.G. Taylor, received his RNVR commission on 14 September 1939 and the last of the twenty-two, Peter G. Morison, the only son of the famous American naval historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, was commissioned on 10 November 1941, just barely a month before Germany declared war on the United States. Another, Draper Kaufman, retired as a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, famous for having first organized what was the forerunner of the U.S. Navy SEALs. He had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1933, but poor eyesight had initially prevented him from getting his U.S. Navy commission. He recalled that he had received very effective training to become a sub-lieutenant in the RNVR at HMS King Alfred at Hove. He found the ten-week “Y” scheme course “excellent, very well run. . . . They did a superb job, for instance on indoctrination into the Royal Navy. Not stuffy. People might think that it might be, but it wasn’t at all—the history of the Royal Navy, that you should be darned proud to wear the uniform and that sort of thing.” 58

In the formal relations between the two services, a firm working basis was established by the summer of 1940. At first, this liaison developed between the separate technical offices in the Admiralty and the office of the U.S. Naval Attaché in London, but with so many different areas involved, this soon proved to be an unsatisfactory approach. In order to profit more effectively from British knowledge and experience, American naval officers with competence in specific areas were sent to London to examine matters within their own areas of knowledge. The first to do this was Lieutenant Commander J.N. Opie III who arrived in London in June 1940 to look into mine sweeping arrangements and report back to the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Ships. He was followed by a number of others with assignments in specific areas. Most officers stayed for just a few months, while a few stayed longer. Lieutenant Commander Joseph H. Wellings was the first to be sent to study fleet operations and tactics, and he stayed for ten months from September 1940 to June 1941. On his return to America, he had the good fortune to be in HMS Rodney, when she was temporarily diverted from her passage to Boston, Massachusetts, for repairs to participate in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. Wellings’s numerous letters, reports, and diary reveal much about an American’s reaction to the Royal Navy. As he wrote to his wife in October 1940, “I find the English eat more than we do, and in addition more often. I find their habits quite interesting. It is remarkable how they differ from ours when after all we have so much in common.” 59 Later, while in HMS Hood, Wellings participated in a shipboard New Year’s Eve celebration.   As the ships’ bell struck 16, he was amazed to see the wardroom tables cleared away, a bagpiper playing, and observe the admiral, captain, staff, wardroom, gunroom, and warrant officers dancing. “Such a comradeship one would never suspect from the English who are supposed to be so conservative. I was impressed very much. Such spirit is one of the best British assets. This spirit will go far to bring about victory in the end.” 60

The ABC (American-British-Canadian) staff talks that began in January 1941 laid the formal basis for high-level cooperation between the two services in preparation for the time when the United States entered the war. These were not easy negotiations and involved some serious differences of opinion. Some of the leading Americans had memories of their experiences and observations of the Royal Navy as junior officers during the First World War that influenced their outlook in different ways during Anglo-American naval relations between 1941 and 1945.

For example, Admiral Harold Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations from 1939 to early 1942, and Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, in London between 1942 and 1945, had served on the staff of Admiral William S. Sims in London in 1917-1918. After the war, he had attended the Naval War College. Having had that experience, he wanted to avoid the quickly arranged ad hoc arrangements of that period and to replace them with well-planned and organized relationships that were firmly established before entering the war. Thus, as Chief of Naval Operations, he had been the organizer and mentor for the ABC-1 talks in early 1941. 61

Stark’s successor as Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest J. King, had been the flag lieutenant to Admiral Henry T. Mayo, the commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet during World War One. In this assignment, Commander King had travelled with Mayo and had the rare opportunity for an American naval officer to observe many of the senior British naval officers in command, including Beatty, Jellicoe, and Sturdee, as they interacted with Admiral Mayo during his visit to Britain and the Grand Fleet in 1918. King thought Sims, “a show-off” 62 and he did not like the way that Sims had allowed American ships to be taken under British overall command. He wanted the U.S. Navy to operate independently and not to be under any other country’s control. 63 King had a strongly nationalistic viewpoint that has often been misinterpreted as being anti-British in his viewpoint. As a student at the Naval War College in 1933, King had written in his thesis,

Our strengths have virtually reduced Great Britain to second place. . . . Great Britain must be considered a potential enemy not in questions of security, but as to matters involving our foreign trade, financial supremacy, and our dominate position in world affairs. 64

King’s long-held viewpoints along these lines surfaced in a number of ways during World War II. In explaining his priority for the war in the Pacific over that in the Atlantic, King observed:

The British have been managing world affairs for well over three hundred years, ever since the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. I personally felt that the allies would lose the war against the Japanese unless we stopped them in a few weeks or months. . . . It seemed to me that the British ‘egged’ the U.S. on to accept their ideas since they were already fighting the Nazis when the U.S. entered the war and also since the Nazis were close by and the Pacific was far away. . . . I can’t get over the idea that the U.S. people had been sold a ‘pig in a poke’ at that time and were in the well-known situation of having been worked into a concept (even a real obsession) of British origin rather than to look out for the basic interests of the U.S.A. throughout the entire world. 65

In 1951, Admiral Lord Cunningham recalled in his published memoirs that Admiral King had been “at times rude and overbearing”. 66 The day after several American newspapers quoted this, 67  King recorded a memorandum for the record in which he recalled an incident during the summer of 1942 that had prompted Cunningham’s remarks. Cunningham, as head of the British Admiralty Delegation in Washington, had come to his office to ask if more destroyers could be made available for the North Atlantic convoy to Britain. At that time, King was using every available vessel and was, at the same time, busily engaged in setting up “Operation Torch” for North Africa. “I therefore interpreted Cunningham’s query as a ‘needle’ directed at me—and I was indeed very abrupt (rude) with him—and purposely so.” 68

In general, however, the naval relations between the U.S Navy and the Royal Navy were remarkably good and made for a very effective collaboration. American naval men and women clearly respected the professionalism and expertise of their British naval counterparts, although friction arose in a number of areas from differing approaches in training, procedures, and operational planning as well as in ascertaining which of the two navies should play the leading role for a particular function. This was apparent in a number of well-known instances, for example, in naval intelligence collaboration, during the planning for the D-Day operation, and during the operations of the British Fleet in the Pacific.

The Cold War and After. In 1946, it was apparent that the United States would need to take on a number of global responsibilities that the Royal Navy had previously exercises, beginning with Britain’s mantle in the Middle East. The United States Navy was deeply influenced by Royal Navy operational patterns and approaches. 69 In addition, the Second World War command organization, as it eventually evolved during the war, provided the fundamental model for this as it did for postwar naval cooperation through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation after 1949. 70  The gradual development, over the following forty years, of standardized procedures, equipment, supplies, and communications for multilateral naval operations, removed many the inter-service problems that the Royal Navy and the U.S Navy had experienced during World War Two. In this, for example, the Standing Naval Force, Atlantic, overcame what had appeared to be insuperable practical obstacles to become an effective force, and a model for other formal and ad hoc arrangements. 71  Through the NATO arrangement as well as through bi-lateral shared nuclear submarine technology 72 and other initiatives, the two navies grew increasingly more at ease and with less friction in their working relationships. Some clear differences remained. During the Cold War, Americans observed, among other things, the quality in sea training as well as the depth of knowledge that executive and engineer branch officers in the Royal Navy displayed, along with the ways that this compared and contrasted with the more generalist approach to officer knowledge and training in the United States Navy.

To conclude, as the vicar of Kew, the Rev’d Charles Caleb Colton, put it in the early nineteenth century, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” A telling example of this might be found in an echo of the Royal Navy’s long tradition of Trafalgar Night dinners. In the year 2000, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jay L. Johnson, announced that the U.S. Navy would pause to celebrate its heritage by beginning the annual practice of having a “dining in” to mark the anniversary of the battle of Midway,

one of the most decisive sea battles in world history . . . won, not by superior numbers or daunting technology, but by the courage and tenacity of sailors who fought a vicious air and sea battle against overwhelming odds. 73

Thus continues the long relationship and the changing kaleidoscope of viewpoints through which the American Navy has viewed the Royal Navy from being an enemy and infant offspring to peer- competitor and close ally.

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

  1. The views and information in this paper express the independent research and academic judgments of the author and do not in any way reflect any current official policy of the United States of America, the United States Navy, or the U.S. Naval War College. This paper was originally presented at “The Navy is the Nation Conference,” held at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, 18-19 April 2012.
  2. For the first studies of early American naval administration, see Charles Oscar Paullin, “The Administration of the Continental Navy of the American Revolution,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, (September 1905), reprinted in Paullin’s History of Naval Administration (Annapolis: Naval Institute, 1986); Paullin, The Navy of the American Revolution: Its Administration, Its Policy, Its Achievements. (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1906); Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution, 1912, 1940, reprinted (New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962), chapter 2 “Naval Administration and Organization, pp. 20-58.
  3. Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 19.
  4. Raymond G. O’Connor, Origins of the American Navy: Sea Power in the Colonies and the New Nation. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), pp. 16-17.
  5. Richard Buel, Jr., In Irons: Britain’s Naval Supremacy and the American Revolutionary Economy. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 79-80.
  6. Clark, ed., Naval Documents of the American Revolution, vol. I, pp. 628-629: John Adams to Elbridge Gerry, [7
  7. Magra, The Fisherman’s Cause, p. 186.
  8. Clark, ed., NDAR, vol. 2, p. 308, fn 2: Journal of the Continental Congress, October 6, 1775: extract from John Adams’s Autobiography.
  9. Ibid.
  10. As early as 1755, Adams had written “…we have (I may say) all the naval Stores of the Nation in our hands, it will be easy to obtain the mastery of the seas, and then the united force of all Europe, will not be able to subdue us.” Robert J. Taylor, Mary-Jo Kline, and Gregg L. Lint, eds., Papers of John Adams, vol. 1 (1977), available online at Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed. .C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2007. John Adams to Nathan Webb, 12 October 1755, with Comments by the Writer Recorded in 1807.
  11. Clark, ed., NDAR, vol. 2, p. 1189: Autobiography of John Adams, November 28, 1775
  12. Clark, ed., NDAR, vol. 2, p. 1109: Journal of the Continental Congress, November 23, 1775.
  13. First published in 1731, it is not yet been determined which edition Adams used. The most recent edition was the eleventh edition, published in 1772. For a list of the editions published between 1731 and 1790, see Thomas R. Adams and David W. Waters, comps., English Maritime Books Printed Before 1801. (Providence: John Carter Brown Library, and Greenwich: National Maritime Museum, 1995), items 1418-1429.
  14. Morgan, ed., NDAR, vol. 7, p. 79: William Ellery to William Vernon, Providence, November 7, 1776.
  15. For a modern historical study of British practice at the time, see Daniel A. Baugh, British Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965) and “The Eighteenth Century Navy as a National Institution, 1690-1815,” in J.R. Hill, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 120-160. There was at least one available source that did provide an outline of British naval administration, but no evidence has yet been found that it was known or used by American officials at this time. See Josiah Burchett, A Complete History of the Most Remarkable Transactions at Sea (1720), a Facsimile Reproduction with an Introduction by John B. Hattendorf. (Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints for the John Carter Brown Library, 1995). Burchett provided the outline of the Royal Navy’s administrative structure in the preface to this work.
  16. “A Country Member of Parliament” in Public Advertiser, 13 February 1783, quoted in P.J. Marshall, Remaking the British Atlantic: the United States and the British Empire after American Independence. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 51.
  17. “Piscator” in Public Advertiser, 12 February 1783, quoted in P.J. Marshall, Remaking the British Atlantic, p. 51.
  18. Craig l. Symonds, Navalists and Antinavalists: the Naval Policy Debate in the United States, 1785-1827. (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1980), pp. 11-25.
  19. Quoted in Ibid, p. 235.
  20. Joshua Humphries in ca. 1794, quoted in Tyrone G. Martin, A Most Fortunate Ship: A Narrative History of Old Ironsides. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1997), p. 4.
  21. Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1939-1944), vol. 6, p. 126: John Shaw to John Gavino, 19 June 1805. I am grateful to Dr. Kevin McCranie for drawing my attention to this quotation and the two that follow.
  22. National Archives, RG 45; Letters from the Secretary of the Navy to Officers. Microfilm M149, Reel 11, 226: William Jones to John Rodgers, 26 February 1814.
  23. Charles Denison, ed., Old Ironsides and Old Adams: Stray Leaves from the Log-Book of a Man-of-War. (Boston: W.W. Page, 1846). p. 10.
  24. James R. Durand, The Life and Adventures of James R, Durand . . . written by himself. (Originally published 1820, then with commentary New Haven: Yale University Press, 1926, reprinted Sandwich, MA: Chapman Billies Inc, 1995), p. 49.
  25. On this subject, see Mark R. Shulman, Navalism and the Emergence of American Sea Power, 1882-1893. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995).
  26. See Hattendorf, “History and Technological Change: the Study of History in the U.S. Navy, 1873-1890” in John B. Hattendorf, Naval History and technological Change: Collected Essays. (Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing, 2000), pp. 1-16.
  27. A.T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812. (Boston: Little Brown, 1892), vol 2,, p. 118.
  28. A.T. Mahan, Sea Power in its Relation to the War of 1812. (Boston: Little Brown, 1905), vol. 1, p. v.
  29. A.T. Mahan, The Life of Nelson: the Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain. (London: Sampson, Marston, Low, 1897), vol. 1, p. v.
  30. Ibid.
  31. William D. Puleston, Mahan: The life and work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939), p. 180; Robert Seager II and Doris Maguire, eds, Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan. (Annapolis: Naval institute Press, 1975), vol. 2, p. 512: Mahan to J.B. Sterling, May 31, 1897.
  32. A.T. Mahan, “The British Navy: Fragment of a Newspaper Interview”, no place, no date [early August 1914
  33. Ibid.
  34. Captain A.T. Mahan on Imperial Federation. Speech delivered at a dinner of the Imperial Federation (Defence) Committee on July 6th, 1904. The Right Hon. Sir John Colomb, K.C.M.G., M.P. in the chair. (London: Imperial Federation (Defence) Committee, 1904)., pp. 1-2.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Quoted in Elting E. Morison, Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942), p. 281.
  38. Ibid., p. 284.
  39. Steven T. Ross, American War Plans, 1890-1939. (London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2002), p. 7.
  40. Robert Seager II and Doris Maguire, eds., Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1977), vol. III, pp. 559-578: “Contingency Plan in the Case of War with Great Britain, December 1890.”
  41. Ibid., p. 559.
  42. Ibid., p. 561
  43. Ibid., p. 564,
  44. Ibid., p. 7.
  45. For more on this subject, see John B. Hattendorf, “Commonwealth Navies as Seen by the United States Navy, 1910-2010,” in Richard M. Gimblett, ed., The Canadian Navy and the Commonwealth Experience: From Empire to Independence (forthcoming).
  46. See E.E. Morison, Sims; Williams S. Sims, The Victory at Sea (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1920, reprinted Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1984, with an introduction by David F. Trask); William N. Still, Jr., Crisis at Sea: The United States Navy in European Waters in World War I. (Gainesville FL: University Press of Florida, 2006).
  47. United States Congress, Sixty-Six Congress, Second Session, Naval Investigation: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Naval Affairs—Unites States Senate. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1921), vol. II, pp. 1883-93, 1917-19, 1992, 3139. Sims attributed this quote to Benson during the testimony, raising an issue about the authority of the CNO. I am grateful to David Kohnen for drawing my attention to this quotation.
  48. Henry A. Wiley, An Admiral from Texas. (New York: Doubleday Day, Doran, & Co.,1934), p. 209.
  49. James C. Tily, The Uniforms of the United States Navy. (New York: Thomaas Yoseloff, 1964), p. 244.
  50. Michael Simpson, ed. Anglo-American Naval Relations, 1917-1919. Publications of the Navy Records Society, vol. 130. (Aldershot: Scolar Press for the Navy Records Society, 1991), p. 579: Document 435: U.S. Planning Section, early 1919.
  51. Ibid., p. 603: Document 448: Memorandum of the U.S. Naval Advisory Staff, Paris, 7 April 1919.
  52. J. Kenneth McDonald, “The Washington Conference and the Balance of Power, 1921-22,” in John B. Hattendorf and Robert S. Jordan, eds., Maritime Strategy and the Balance of Power: Britain and America in the Twentieth Century. (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 189-210.
  53. Christopher M. Bell, “Thinking the Unthinkable: British and American Naval Strategies for an Anglo-American War, 1918-1931,” The International History Review, vol. XIX, no. 4 (November 1997), pp. 757-1,008.
  54. “British Dominions,” Office of Naval Intelligence. Monthly Information Bulletin. No 7 (1923), pp. 2-23. Lloyd George quoted at p. 22.
  55. Bell, ‘Thinking,” pp. 799-800
  56. Bell, “Thinking,” p. 802; Michael Vlahos, The Blue Sword: The Naval War College and the American Mission, 1919-1941. (Newport: Naval War College Press, 1980), pp. 99-112.
  57. See James R. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977); Malcolm H. Murfett, Fool-Proof Relations: The Search for Anglo-American Naval Cooperation During the Chamberlain Years, 1937-1940. (Singapore University Press, 1984); Patrick Abbazia, Mr.Roosevelt’s Navy: The Private War of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, 1939-1942. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975).
  58. Reminiscences of Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman, U.S. Navy (Retired). Oral History series. (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1982), quoted in Eric Dietrich-Berryman, Charlotte Hammond, and R.E. White, Passport Not Required: U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010), p. 48.
  59. John B. Hattendorf, ed., On His Majesty’s Service: Observations from the British Home Fleet from the Diary, Reports, and Letters of Joseph H. Wellings, Assistant U.S. Naval Attaché, London 1940-41. (Newport: Naval War College, 1983), p. 44: Letter to Mrs. Wellings, 20 October 1940.
  60. Ibid., p. 85: Diary, 31 December 1940.
  61. B. Mitchell Simpson, III, Admiral Harold R. Stark: Architect of Victory, 1939-1945. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989), p. 125, 129,-130, 136-137; Thomas B. Buell, Master of Sea Power: A Biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. (Boston: Little Brown, 1980), p. 135.
  62. Buell, Master of Sea Power, pp. 48-53.
  63. Buell, Master of Sea Power, p. 278.
  64. Naval War College Archives, RG 13: Student theses, 1934: Captain Ernest J. King, “The Influence of the National Policy on the Strategy of a War;” Also quoted in Michael Vlahos, The Blue Sword: The Naval War College and the American Mission, 1919 – 1941. (Newport: Naval War College Press, 1980), p.   I am grateful to David Kohnen for drawing my attention to this and the following two quotations.
  65. Naval War College, Naval Historical Collection. Ms. Coll. 37: Thomas B. Buell and Walter Muir Whitehill Collection on Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. Box 7, folder 7: “Random Notes” by Walter Muir Whitehill, ca. 1945.
  66. Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope,
  67. The U.S. newspapers carried an Associated Press story that was carried in the Washington, D.C. Sunday Evening Star and The Boston Globe, among other papers on 1 April 1951.
  68. Naval War College, Naval Historical Collection. Ms. Coll. 37: Buell and Whitehill Collection on King. Box 7, folder 7: Memorandum for the Record, 2 April 1951.
  69. Richard A. Best, “’Co-Operation with Like Minded Peoples:’ British Influences on American Security Policy, 1945-1949. (Westport, CT: Garland Publishing, 1986), pp. 96 ff.
  70. Sean M. Maloney, Securing Command of the Sea: NATO Naval Planning, 1948-1954. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995), pp. 5-46.
  71. Hattendorf, “NATO’s Policeman on the Beat: The First Twenty Years of the Standing Naval Force, Atlantic, 1968-1988,” in Hattendorf, Naval History and Maritime Strategy, pp. 187-200.
  72. See, Peter Nailor, The Nassau Connection: The Organisation and Management of the British POLARIS project, (London: H.M.S.O, 1988).
  73. CNO NAVADMIN 164/99, R 041653Z JUN 99, subject: Naval Heritage.
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Naval History and Heroes: The Influence of U.S. and British Navalism on Children’s Writing, 1895-1914

By Hazel Sheeky Bird
Independent Scholar, Great Britain

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a great number of navalist books were produced for children in Britain and America. 1  Navalism, namely the belief that sea power is integral to a nation’s greatness and that naval preparedness is a country’s best and cheapest means of defense, found popular expression around the globe, in the years approaching the First World War. At heart, navalist discourses were national discourses and so countries that shared navalist principles, were actually set apart by them, often becoming competitors, if not outright enemies. Recently, the cultural impact of navalism, and naval competition on Britain and Germany has received scholarly attention, as has the structure, politics and organization of navalist organizations, such as the British Navy League and the Navy League of the United States.  2

To date, there has been no attempt to seriously gauge the impact of navalism on children’s early twentieth-century culture. It is now a truism to say that navalist organizations such as the Navy League overtly targeted children with propaganda. Mark Hamilton for example, writes that ‘the awakening and influencing of British youth’ was ‘an area of continual […] effort’ for the British Navy League. 3  Likewise, Armin Rappaport notes that the Navy League of the United States formed a Junior League in 1915. 4  However, current understanding of how these organizations promoted navalism to children is limited to a few references to the Navy League Map of the World, and the giving of lectures and lanternslides. Certainly in Britain, scholars have largely overlooked the impact of navalism on children’s wider culture.

Underpinning this paper is the belief that British and American navalists used writing for children, to foster their enthusiasm for the navy and to view themselves as belonging to great naval nations. Focusing on just one aspect of this significant body of material, it argues that British and American navalists used the figures of Horatio Nelson and John Paul Jones, respectively, to personify the idea of sea power and the principles of navalism. In Britain, Nelson was used to construct a national maritime narrative linked to service and sacrifice, and in the U.S., Jones was made to embody the idea of American sea power, which was aligned with American independence. When read through the lens of early-twentieth century Anglo-American relations, these children’s books demonstrate the way that navalists used writing for children as a vehicle for promoting competing national maritime ideologies. Consequently, children’s writing was instrumental in the development of the ‘special’ and often fractious relationship between the two countries.

In Britain, popular naval interest groups, such as the Navy League (formed in 1898), turned to writing for children to encourage high naval ideology. For the prolific Navy League propagandist Arnold White, children were an important audience for the League’s work, a fact that was acknowledged in Navy League publications. One leaflet stated that ‘if only the rising generation can be made to grasp the supreme fact of Sea Power, they could never, under any circumstances, contemplate any reduction of naval estimates, or countenance any step which would loosen, however slightly, our Command of the Sea. 5  Equally, the Imperial Maritime League (formed in 1909) also identified children as a key audience for navalist propaganda. Consequently, in January of 1909, it established a Junior Branch. This was a subscription-based club that cost members 1s. a year and which was open to anyone under the age of 21. The express purpose of the Junior Branch was to ‘arouse the interest’ of British youth in the Royal Navy and the Empire, to remind them that the English were ‘“sea dogs,” [and] that our Navy and our sailors have made us a great Sea Power, and that without our ships our country would be like a man who is blind and a cripple: he would do nothing and go nowhere’. 6

For both organizations, the life and career of Horatio Nelson, rehabilitated by Alfred Thayer Mahan’s two-volume work, The Life of Nelson (1897) and Sir John Knox Laughton’s Nelson (1985), proved to be a central means of personifying British Sea Power for children. 7  The connection between navalism, Nelson and childhood was certainly not limited to children’s writing. Thomas Davidson’s painting, England’s Pride and Glory (1894), depicts a young naval cadet gazing in admiration upon Lemuel Abbot’s earlier portrait of Nelson, which hung on the walls of the Naval Gallery at Greenwich (Figure 1). The painting captures the symbolic relationship that was forged at this time between young boys and Nelson and links them both to the idea of British Sea Power; the latter being alluded to through the scenes of naval battles that surround Nelson’s portrait.

Figure 1: Thomas Davidson, England's Pride and Glory, 1894, oil on canvas 918 mm x 711 mm, (BHC 1811) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Figure 1: Thomas Davidson, England’s Pride and Glory, 1894, oil on canvas 918 mm x 711 mm, (BHC 1811) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Davidson’s budding Nelson became a popular motif for writers seeking to encourage British boys to pursue a life of naval service. While the life of Nelson remained a popular subject in children’s writing, the fledgling Nelson proved to be a powerful persuasive tool for navalist children’s writers. In books such as The Sea Monarch (1912) and The Fritz Straffers (1918), Percy Westerman used the figure of the budding Nelson to create heroes that British boys could reasonably aspire to emulate. It was, after all, not every man’s destiny to be a great Admiral but every British boy could fulfill his birthright through service in the Royal Navy. 8

For British navalists, the real value of Nelson’s life and heroism did not come from his being a mythical figure but a human one, one whose greatness came from the example that he set of duty, efficiency and foresight. This emphasis on duty permeated not only texts that were specifically about Nelson but virtually all British maritime writing for children. Moreover it proved to be an extremely fluid and effective means of personifying a service ethos to British children, regardless of gender. This idea was particularly strong in the publications produced for children by the Junior Branch of the Imperial Maritime League. The monthly Junior Branch Leaflet featured an essay written on a naval or imperial hero, and over four separate issues, it detailed all aspects of Nelson’s career for its members. Mahan himself wrote Issue 23 (Figure 2) and he used his essay to reiterate the lessons that all children could learn from Nelson’s character, rather than his heroic deeds. Mahan told his readers that Nelson’s famous signal at the Battle of Trafalgar, ‘England Expects that Every Man Shall Do His Duty’, should not be taken as the singular expression of the moment but rather the guiding principle of his life and career. 9  This belief in the principles of duty, service and sacrifice, was at the core of British Edwardian navalism and it shaped British children’s maritime writing for the next 40 years.

Figure 2: ‘Admiral A. T. Mahan’, Junior Branch Leaflet, 23 (January 1911) in Volume of pamphlets and/or newspaper cuttings: Imperial Maritime League - Junior Branch, 1909-12, NMM HSM 16, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Figure 2: ‘Admiral A. T. Mahan’, Junior Branch Leaflet, 23 (January 1911) in Volume of pamphlets and/or newspaper cuttings: Imperial Maritime League – Junior Branch, 1909-12, NMM HSM 16, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

If Nelson was made to embody the ideas of service and sacrifice on an individual level, the Royal Navy did so institutionally. British navalists projected an image of the Royal Navy as the arm of a benevolent maritime imperial power, one that worked tirelessly and selflessly to maintain peace around the world, protecting free trade and oppressed people. This construction was used to create a favorable impression of Britain and its navy, in comparison with competing naval nations; this, of course, applied to Germany, but it also included the United States.

British ambivalence toward the U.S. and its navy surfaced in British children’s naval stories, such as Gordon Stable’s 1902 invasion novel, The Cruise of the “Vengeful”. The novel recounts the planned invasion of Britain by a combined French and Russian force and sees Britain on the brink of defeat. Throughout Britain’s struggles America steadfastly maintains its neutrality, and Stables comments that the U.S. Navy was there only to protect American trade and that America was a ‘many headed hydra’, willing to extort high prices from Britain and take advantage of its vulnerability. 10  Thus British readers were encouraged to view the U.S. Navy as a means of ensuring American economic opportunism, in contrast to the Royal Navy that, so children were told, worked selflessly to maintain the balance of powers.

Other early-twentieth-century British writers were more circumspect in their comments but also intimated that the U.S. Navy was not fulfilling the role that might be expected of a major naval power – certainly, it was not fulfilling the role that Britain wished it would. Cecil Crofts’, Britain on and Beyond the Seas, (into its 6th edn. by 1911) was published by the Navy League and distributed to schoolchildren throughout Britain. The book recounts 400 years of Britain’s successes and failures at sea but it has surprisingly little to say about either the American Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. In fact, Croft’s entries on these conflicts focuses far more on the future possibilities of the U.S. Navy. So, following the briefest outline of the War of 1812, Croft observes of the U.S. that:

Recent events tend to prove that this great sister nation of the West is cementing these ties in a genuine and open-minded friendship with her natural ally, and that she is likely to take up in the future a larger share of the white man’s burden of attempting to raise the down trodden and oppressed even when they are some distance from her own shores. 11

Croft’s writing is an interesting exercise in projection as it reflects the way that some in Britain, sought to persuade the U.S. to use its navy to police the Pacific. This is evident in Croft’s hope that the U.S. will take a ‘larger share of the white man’s burden,’ – understandably such a view was likely to have been met with scepticism by many in the U.S., which had no intention of expanding its own navy in order for Britain to be free to protect its imperial interests. In his survey of Anglo-American naval relations, Arthur Marder points to Britain’s refusal at this time to see the U.S. as a potential enemy, writing that many in Britain thought, or hoped, that there was a natural racial affinity between the two nations, and that they were bound by blood and kinship. 12  Kathleen Burk also reiterates that some have seen something of a rapprochement forming between Britain and America by 1911. 13  Certainly this passage from Croft demonstrates the way that some British writers used writing for children to foster British citizens who would welcome closer Anglo-American naval relations.

The shape of American naval children’s writing at the turn of the century differed somewhat to that produced in Britain. In part, this was due to America’s ‘historic deep-seated revulsion’ toward a large standing navy, which forced American navalists to adopt different lines of argument. 14  The Navy League of the United States, formed in 1902, arguably faced more difficult challenges than the British. According to Armin Rappaport, not only was temper of the American people largely pacifist in the first decade of the twentieth century, but for many, a ‘two-ocean security complex’ rendered a large navy either redundant or irrelevant. 15  Although many British children’s books stressed the pacific role of the Royal Navy, Britain had been engaged in a naval arms race with Germany ever since the laying down of the German Naval Laws in 1898 and 1890. Moreover, for many Edwardian Britons, war was not only expected it was also welcomed. 16  British children’s books were therefore characterized by a combination of belligerence and benevolence. In America, however, navalists faced vehement and organized pacifist opposition, and so their work was shaped by the absolute necessity of avoiding accusations of war mongering and militarism. Thus, from around 1909, the Navy League of the United States began to actively use accounts of America’s past naval glories, to arouse enthusiasm for the navy by linking naval strength to American independence and neutrality.

Willis Boyd Allen’s Navy Blue: a story of cadet life in the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis (1898) indicates the way that writing for American children aligned the U.S. Navy, as an institution, with independence and peace. The book follows the career of two Annapolis cadets and the early portions of the novel depict Norman Holmes’ decision to join the navy, a decision that is inspired by a trip to Washington. Holmes is thrilled by John Trumbull’s painting Declaration of Independence (1817) which makes him feel ‘as never before, a grand pride in being himself an American’. 17  Added to this is the pride he feels on looking at the ‘Peace Monument’ dedicated ‘in memory of the Officers, Seamen and Marines of the United States Navy, who fell in defense of the union and liberation of the country, 1861-1865.’ In a passage that speaks directly to pacifist criticisms of American navalism, Allen has Holmes realize that ‘America was not at war with any nation. Secure within her own borders, firm in the maintenance of honorable dignity’ and that her ‘hands stretched forth to succor the helpless, to feed the hungry, to clothe the destitute, her voice was ever for peace on earth, good-will toward men. […] He would be, not a warrior, unless she should call her children to arms, but a patriot of peace.’

While Allen stressed the peacekeeping nature of the modern U.S. Navy, other writers drew upon the naval past to illustrate the need for a strong, defensive navy. Willis John Abbot’s The Story of Our Navy for Young Americans (1910), is typical of American texts, that used the figure of John Paul Jones to advocate a large standing navy, to argue that naval defence was integral to America’s historic rejection of British tyranny and, ultimately, to personify the principle of independence for children. Abbot begins his book with a detailed and emotive depiction of the practice of impressment, which is used to illustrate both the tyrannical actions of the Royal Navy and the nation that it symbolises. He asks his readers to imagine a crew back from a long weary voyage, almost in sight of loved ones waiting for them on shore, who are kidnapped by a British man-of-war and made ‘subject to the will of a blue-coated tyrant’. 18  Abbot in fact refers directly to impressed sailors as being kidnapped by the Royal Navy and presents their actions and attitude towards Americans as oppressive and arrogant. He stresses a deep sense of American hatred for Britain, and particularly its navy, in the years before both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The Royal Navy is not only depicted as being tyrannical toward Americans but it is also presented as a brutal institution. This was a popular theme in American naval writing for children. William O. Stevens, for example, made this point in his 1914 book, The Story of Our Navy. Like Abbot, he refers to impressed men as living a life of slavery.  19  It is perhaps unsurprising that British texts make no mention of impressments.

In American writing for children, the use of John Paul Jones bears resemblance to that of Nelson in Britain. A book like Abbot’s demonstrates the way that Jones’ life was used to inspire readers, not necessarily to serve in the U.S. Navy but to value the principle of liberty – a principle that Jones was made to represent. This point was conveyed by the connection that was repeatedly emphasized between Jones and the American flag. In his 1907 book, Heroes of the Navy in America (Figure 3), Charles Morris linked Jones to the first American flag, made of ‘yellow silk, bearing the picture of a pine tree with a rattle snake coiled at its root, and [bearing] the motto “Don’t tread on me”. 20

Figure 3: Front cover, Charles Morris, Heroes of the Navy in America (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1907).

Figure 3: Front cover, Charles Morris, Heroes of the Navy in America (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1907).

Similarly, he recounts that it was Jones who was first to hoist the Stars and Stripes onboard a ship of the U.S. Navy. Abbot also stresses this connection and the result is sense of shared symbolism whereby Jones embodies American independence almost as much as the flag. Where Nelson was made to embody duty, efficiency and foresight, Jones was most often associated with boldness, a deep love of America, consummate skill as a sailor and an absolute refusal to be cowed by Britain. This final point is stressed repeatedly in Abbot’s descriptions of Jones’ actions on the coast of Britain during the American Revolution. Abbot writes that ‘Paul Jones showed Great Britain that her boasted power was a bubble. He ravaged the seas within cannon-shot of English headlands. He captured and burned merchantmen, drove the rates of insurance up to panic prices, paralyzed British shipping-trade, and even made small incursions into British territory’.  21  He also refers to Jones having ‘alarmed all England’ and for bringing home the realties of war to ‘the people of the tight little island’. For Abbot, Britain’s unwillingness to acknowledge Jones as an American naval officer, branding him instead as a pirate, revealed its refusal to recognise the legitimacy of American independence (Figure 4).

Figure 4: ‘Paul Jones the Pirate as Seen by England’, Illustrative plate in Willis John Abbot, The Story of Our Navy for Young Americans, from Colonial Days to the Present Time (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1910), facing page 12.

Figure 4: ‘Paul Jones the Pirate as Seen by England’, Illustrative plate in Willis John Abbot, The Story of Our Navy for Young Americans, from Colonial Days to the Present Time (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1910), facing page 12.

It is difficult to say with certainty that the presence of navalist arguments in writing for children was always the result of orchestrated efforts to inculcate this ideology in its readers. Edwardian Britain has been described as a particularly ‘navy-conscious’ nation, so the strong presence of navalist discourses in British children’s writing could reasonably be ascribed to ‘passive ideology’. 22  Clearly, more work is needed to fully explore the connections between children’s writers and navalist organizations, if firmer conclusions are to be drawn. What is clear from this small survey of writing for children is that while British naval writers by 1910 sought to underplay historic antagonism between the two countries, American writers often emphasised it. There is a sense of revelry to Abbot’s writing that suggests a celebration of Jones’ victories over the British in the present moment and not only in the past. Moreover, while America continued to view Britain with hostility and suspicion, Britain, of necessity, viewed the U.S. as a ‘sister’ nation. Children’s naval books played an important role in the construction of this relationship, providing a cultural arena whereby British and American navalists could fight for the command of the seas, in the same way that naval theatres allowed Britain and Germany to compete in the years leading up to the First World War. 23  In children’s books historic naval battles could be fought anew, old rivalries and wounds explored and re-opened, and truces and treaties re-forged. In doing so, they shaped British and American children’s views of their future allies and prepared them for the roles that they and their countries would play in the coming decades.

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)


  1. At present no substantial bibliographical source exists for British or American children’s navalist texts, and it is partly the aim of my ongoing research to form one. The balance of this article, as a result of my current research, perhaps leans towards British texts. Indicative titles about the history of the U.S. Navy, recommended to children would include, Cyrus T. Brady (himself a graduate of Annapolis), The Freedom of the Seas: A Romance of the War of 1812 (1899), James Barnes (born in Annapolis) Naval Actions of the War of 1812 (1896) and Benson J. Lossing, The Story of the United States Navy for Boys (1881); books about the Navy and its ships included F. E. Evans, The Marvel Book of American Ships (1917), Frederic Stanhope Hill, The Romance of the American Navy (1910); fictional series included Frank Gee Patchin’s Battleship Boys novels (1910-1918) and the historical Navy Boys series, including the novel The Navy Boys’ Cruise with John Paul Jones (1899; 1912).
  2. On the cultural and competitive nature of British and German navalism see Jan Rüger, The Great Naval Game. Britain and Germany in the Age of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); on role of British navalism in the development of imperial ideology see Andrew S. Thompson, Imperial Britain: the Empire in British politics, c. 1880- 1932 (Essex: Pearson 2000), 44-50; on the political construction of the British Navy League see Matthew Johnson, “The Liberal Party and the Navy League in Britain before the Great War”, Twentieth Century British History 22 2 (2010): 137-163.
  3. Mark Hamilton, “The New Navalism and the British Navy League 1895-1914”, Mariner’s Mirror 64 (1978): 37-44 (42).
  4. Armin Rappaport, The Navy League of the United States (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962), 49.
  5. ‘What is the Navy League? The Aims and Purposes of the Organisation’, 2. In ‘My History of the Navy League’, NMM/WHI/142, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Quoted with permission from Woburn Abbey.
  6. Junior Branch, First Annual Report, 1st January 1909- 31st December 1909, 1 and Untitled Leaflet, c. 1909, unpaginated, in Volume of pamphlets and/or newspaper cuttings: Imperial Maritime League – Junior Branch, 1909-12, NMM HSM 16, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
  7. On the rehabilitation of Nelson’s reputation see, Andrew Lambert, The Foundation of Naval History. John Knox Laughton, the Royal Navy and the Historical Profession (London: Chatham Publishing, 1998).
  8. The Fritz Staffers was republished in 1931 as The Keepers of the Narrow Seas A Story of the Great War (London: S. W. Partridge & Co, 1931).
  9. Many thanks to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich for allowing me to use my own photograph in this article (Figure 2), which I initially took just for research purposes.
  10. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the “Vengeful” A Story of the Royal Navy (1902; London: Dean & Son, Ltd., 1936), 225.
  11. Cecil, H. Crofts, Britain On and Beyond the Sea; being a handbook to the navy league map of the world, 6th ed. (Edinburgh and London: Johnston Ltd., 1911), 50.
  12. Arthur Marder, Anatomy of British Sea Power. A History of British Naval policy in the Pre-Dreadnought Era, 1880-1905 (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1940), 443.
  13. Kathleen Burk, Old World New World, Great Britain and America from the Beginning (New York: Atlantic, 2008), 299.
  14. Rappaport, The Navy League of the United States, 23. See also William P. Leeman, The Long Road to Annapolis. The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 20.
  15. Rappaport, The Navy League of the United States, 8, 14, 23.
  16. On the Anglo-German naval arms race see Arthur J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904 – 1919, vol. 1, The Road to War, 1904-1914 (London: Oxford University Press, 1961).
  17. Willis Boyd Allen, Navy Blue: a story of cadet life in the United States naval Academy at Annapolis (New York: E. P Dutton & Co., 1898), 12,14.
  18. Willis John Abbot, The Story of Our Navy For Young Americans. From Colonial Days to the Present Time (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1910), 3.
  19. William O. Stevens, The Story of Our Navy (New York and London: Harper, 1914), 54.
  20. Charles Morris, Heroes of the Navy in America (Philadelphia and London: Lippincott, 1907), 22-23.
  21. Abbot, The Story of Our Navy For Young Americans, 13.
  22. Thompson, Imperial Britain, 45; Peter Hollindale classifies two main types of ideology in children’s literature; ‘intended surface ideology’ is defined as the ‘explicit, social, political or moral beliefs of the individual writers and his wish to recommend them to children through the story’ and passive ideology as the writer’s ‘unexamined assumptions’. Peter Hollingdale, Ideology and the Children’s Book (1988; Oxford: The Thimble Press, 1994), 10. 
  23. On the cultural naval competition between Britain and Germany, prior to 1914, see Rüger, The Great Naval Game, 206-242.
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Strategic Logic of the American “Pivot to the Pacific”

William Kyle
University of Mary Washington, Class of 2013

Five years of Obama administration foreign policy are now in the history books as we continue to move beyond the Global War on Terror era. While the jury is still out regarding the ultimate impact of this administration’s re-direction of American foreign policy, its initiatives are clearly designed to steer American foreign policy in a profoundly Pacific direction. This shift has direct consequences for the U. S. Navy as we move further into the so-called “Pacific Century.” 1 This article examines the strategic logic of the American “pivot to the Pacific” through an assessment of the Obama administration’s policy implementation, actions and accompanying rhetoric, and possible implications for the future trajectory of the U.S. Navy. While popularly cast as a security-driven effort to hedge against China’s rise and growing assertiveness, closer examination reveals that the strategic pivot is more accurately described as an attempt to graft ‘smart power’ principles to regional policy as a means to integrate American hard and soft power assets to secure America’s regional interests. 2 The resulting culmination of carrot-and-stick tactics has significant implications for a U.S. Navy that faces increasing challenges in the rapidly militarizing Pacific region while facing declining resources to meet those challenges. The strategic pivot, therefore, seems to leave the U.S. Navy in the unenviable position of being the vanguard of this new American foreign policy direction while facing concomitant reductions in force structure and modernization budgets.   However, it is not at all clear that the Pacific “pivot” strategy as implemented by the Obama administration actually requires a dramatic, Cold War-like increase in American forward naval presence.

More than two years after Secretary of State Clinton outlined a broad policy to “pivot” to the Pacific, there are many indicators that the strategic pivot to Asia is more than just another step in an escalating US-China competition, even though some foreign policy realists simplistically depict this strategy as a classic, emerging hard power rivalry where competing national interests increasingly collide. 3  Instead, the US has stressed involvement in regional multilateralism and economic integration, prominently playing up US involvement and achievements in the region using symbolic rhetoric to convey the message (and the policy’s goal) that the United States is, and will remain, an integral Pacific power. 4 Although security policy already constitutes a key component of the unfolding multifaceted Pacific strategy, the limited security initiatives discussed to date do not appear to be the policy centerpiece. In reality, the pivot to the Pacific is more of an amplification of previous American policy in a symbolic shift in American focus toward the region, incorporating the Obama administration foreign policy imprimatur in the amalgamation of ‘smart power’ principles, rather than a revolutionary policy change that results in significant reallocation of resources.

The current Pacific-first policy approach emerged from a background of internal economic problems and the Obama administration’s desire to move beyond the tarnished and Middle East-centric legacy of the Bush foreign policy era. The expensive and controversial US War on Terror, coupled with the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, questioned the perception of the United States as the pre-eminent international power and challenged the US-led liberal international system constructed in the years following World War II. A shift in the geography of global economic power to the East gave rise to perceptions that an ascendant Asia has begun to eclipse reeling Western nations and copious assessments that America’s “unipolar moment” has ended. 5 This reality faced the Obama administration when it formally announced a profound realignment of its foreign policy direction in 2011. From the beginning, President Obama placed Asia high on the American foreign policy agenda, going so far as to label himself America’s “first Pacific President” as early as 2009. 6 Fighting popular perceptions of previous American neglect in the course of America’s lengthy and distracting ‘War on Terror’ and its related contingencies, President Obama stressed that the United States was turning its principal attention towards Asia for good. 7  In November 2011, this new Asia policy directive got its own catch phrase when then- Secretary of State Hilary Clinton published an article in Foreign Policy magazine entitled “America’s Pacific Century,” emphasizing both the current and future importance of the region and America’s desired role in Asia. In this article, Secretary Clinton stated, “In the last decade, our foreign policy has transitioned from dealing with the post-Cold War peace dividend to demanding commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. As those wars wind down, we will need to accelerate efforts to pivot to new global realities.” 8  Thus was born the American ‘pivot’ to the Pacific.

Since Secretary Clinton’s pivot pronouncement, analysts and journalists typically have applied two very distinct narratives to describe the pivot strategy. The first narrative is heavily steeped in realist international relations thinking, and is clearly reflected in such papers as Robert Ross’s Foreign Affairs article “The Problem with the Pivot.” 9 Focusing disproportionately on the pivot’s security, Ross asserts that the Obama administration has “reversed Washington’s longstanding policy of engagement with Beijing, turning instead to costly initiatives whose force is disproportionate to the threat from China.” 10 Although it is far from a universally held view, concern over the perception of the ‘pivot’ as a new, highly militarized move that came at the expense of American interests elsewhere led the Obama administration to change metaphors for this foreign policy strategy, more recently denoting it as the American ‘rebalancing’ to Asia. 11 This subtle change reflects US policymakers’ attempt to emphasize this strategy as a continuation of US policy by eliminating the controversial ‘pivot’ metaphor, despite the term’s persistence in the debate. 12

This first type of narrative characterizes the pivot as a fulfillment of realist international relations theory expectations, as this school of thought anticipates adversarial interactions between a rising and a falling power. The influence of such works as A.F.K. Organski’s seminal 1958 book World Politics, with its power transition theory and related schools of realist thought (e.g. Robert Gilpin’s hegemonic war theory and John Mearsheimer’s offensive structural realism) furnish the theoretical framework for this narrative. 13  Cold War realism’s legacy clearly persists with such terms as ‘containment’ in the literature denoting America’s grand strategy towards peer competitor China. 14

According to the works of Organski, a rising power dissatisfied with the international system that the leading power administers nearly always results in conflict, as the dissatisfied power will seek to challenge the status quo. 15 Contemporary China is issuing such a challenge to the international order that the United States has overseen since the end of the Cold War. For example, China takes exception to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the South China Sea territorial disputes, including its provisions for exclusive economic zone neutrality. 16  China also appears to be undermining Western economic conventions and institutions, seen in its lackluster enforcement of international trade practices following its 2001 accession to the WTO and aggressive use of cyber-espionage to strengthen its domestic industry. 17 In the security arena, China provide material support and diplomatic cover for pariah regimes in Iran and North Korea, and continues to threaten conflict with stalwart American ally Japan over the issue of sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. 18 Concomitantly, China is overseeing a substantial increase in military spending that has put it on course to overtake America’s defense spending in coming years, enhancing its ability to challenge American preeminence in the West Pacific and perhaps beyond. 19

All of these factors serve to increase mutual strategic distrust over long-term intentions between China and America. 20 A common realist interpretation of an international actor’s threat level as equal to its capabilities and its intention arguably dictates that the United States must react to enhance its security given the military rise of a strategically opaque China. 21 The pivot fulfills the role of a reactive security policy in this type of narrative. It is this filtering lens of realist analysis that crystallizes a distorted, security-centric view of Obama’s Pacific policy. Both hawks, who advocate more robust military deployments, and doves, who recommend more limited means to defuse heightening US-China security tensions, have employed this first type of narrative, despite their vastly different policy prescriptions for American diplomacy in Asia. 22

Despite the prevalence of realist-tinged and security-centric descriptions of American strategy in the Pacific, a second narrative from academic literature has also gained traction in the policy community. This narrative notes that President Obama’s foreign policy in the Pacific has consistently sought to engage in, and strengthen, regional multilateralism. 23  Secretary Clinton’s policy statements describe a multi-dimensional, three-pronged approach for future American statecraft in the Pacific. 24 Rather than simply rebalancing military assets from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration seeks permanently to shift diplomatically, economically and strategically to the Pacific. Even scholars belonging more in the idealist camp of international relations theory have described American policy in the Pacific in this light. 25 Maintaining flexibility, while stressing the importance of public goods such as the maintenance of global commons (e.g. freedom of navigation in the world’s oceans), this foreign policy strategy possesses many hallmarks of a new theory of statecraft: smart power.

The term ‘smart power’ has recently originated from such international affairs scholars as Suzanne Nossel and Joseph Nye, and has also gained traction as an idea inside the Beltway. 26 State Department officials are eager to proclaim smart power to be “at the very heart of President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s foreign policy vision.” 27 The 2007 Center for Strategic and International Studies Commission on Smart Power Report and Joseph Nye’s several publications on the same subject provide a starting point for analyzing the components of smart power. 28

In some respects, smart power is an amalgamation of Nye’s previous concepts of soft power (the intangible capacity of ideas and values to influence and legitimate an actor’s behavior in the international system) and hard power (a state’s ability to wield carrots and sticks in the international system to realize its interests, traditionally including military and economic power). In his words, “smart power is neither hard nor soft – it is the skillful combination of both.” 29 Smart power essentially is the efficacious use of a state’s soft and hard power assets employing ‘contextual intelligence,’ which is “an intuitive diagnostic skill that helps policymakers align tactics with objectives to create smart strategies.” 30 Some analysts contend that ‘smart power’ is a backlash to the allegedly strategically costly and ill-received foreign policy of the second Bush administration, reflecting a desire by foreign policy practitioners to develop a more informed, comprehensive and logically organized process to formulate strategy. 31 Whatever the motive for this integrated theory of power application, it is clear that this concept is rapidly gaining influence in the foreign policy community, undeniably spurred along as a result of declining defense budgets and less robust hard power capabilities in today’s age of sequestration. 32

The first key step in formulating a “smart” US foreign policy includes establishing clear objectives in American grand strategy. 33 According to Nye, American grand strategy should secure national survival and the provision of global goods such as the current international order. 34 He stresses the importance of maintaining old alliances and creating new power networks incorporating rising powers, understanding that current American preponderance does not equate to hegemony so it would be foolish to try to prevent the ‘rise of the rest.’ 35 Nye even specifically addresses what he refers to as the potential challenge of the rise of a hostile hegemon in Asia (i.e. China), recommending a “policy that welcomes China as a responsible stakeholder but hedges against possible hostility by maintaining close relations with Japan, India, and other countries in Asia that welcome an American presence.” 36  This type of policy certainly appears more consistent with the descriptions of the pivot versus the more confrontational, security-centric realist approach to East Asia that others advocate. 37 This approach is illustrated in the approach of the United States with regard to the recent conflagration surrounding Beijing’s establishment of an air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) over disputed territory in the East China Sea. While the U.S. subsequently signaled its displeasure and non-compliance with this unilateral and aggressive step when it flew B-52 bombers through a portion of the ADIZ without prior notification to China, but fell short of direct confrontation and did not demand PRC leadership rescind the ADIZ during Vice President Biden’s recent trip to set the destabilized region aright. 38  It seems that the Obama administration is seeking to hedge and gradually integrate China into the existing rules-based order, rather than directly confront the increasingly capable and potentially belligerent Middle Kingdom.

While scholars and pundits disagree as to the direction that American Pacific strategy should take, a key motivation identified in all interpretations of the American rebalancing is the accelerating rise of China as a regional and perhaps world power. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the removal of the common threat that had served as the raison d’être for the initial cross-Pacific rapprochement, US-China relations have been in a state of uncertainty. 39 China’s consistent economic growth has been a game changer in East Asia, with the economic rise of other regional powers shrinking in importance when compared with the rapid ascent of the one-fifth of humanity who live in modern day China. 40 The question, then, is not whether the pivot is in part a response to China’s rise, but exactly what type of reaction it is. 41

Whether the rise of China results in conflict, such theoretical questions inform and shape American foreign policy in the region. Therefore, it is not surprising that American assessments of China’s capabilities and future intentions loom large in the strategic pivot discussion. In recent years, China has not been shy in using its growing clout to pursue its goals and interests more aggressively than hitherto, threatening neighbors and attracting worldwide attention. 42 This conforms with aforementioned realist ideas of power transition in world politics, with China apparently trying to translate some of its newfound power into reshaping the rules of the international system. 43  While the Obama administration has been at pains to emphasize that the rise of China is not driving the American pivot back to the Pacific, many analysts and scholars see things differently. 44 Copious realist analyses of China’s growing military capabilities regularly catch the attention of American academic and policymaker circles, such as those of scholars Andrew Erickson and Adam Liff, that,

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) increasingly has the resources, capabilities, and confidence to attempt to assert China’s interests on its contested periphery, particularly in the Near Seas (Yellow, East, and South China Seas). This development has the potential to seriously challenge the interests of the U.S., its allies, and other partners in the region, as well as access to and security of a vital portion of the global commons—waters and airspace that all nations rely on for prosperity, yet which none own. That’s why the PLA’s development matters so much to a Washington located halfway around the world. 45

The stronger emphasis on engagement and integration efforts in American rebalancing may indicate that the Obama administration does not currently accept the China threat theory, but the pivot doubtless contains elements that constitute soft balancing efforts.

Diplomatically, the strategic pivot has initiated several concrete steps to ensure the United States’ continued role in the Asia Pacific. Secretary Clinton’s penchant for “forward deployed” multilateral diplomacy has led the administration to emphasize frequent official travel to the region to bolster alliances and strengthen multilateral institutions. 46 As part of the pivot, the US formally joined the East Asia Summit (which President Obama attended in person in both 2011 and 2012), signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, established a permanent mission to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and created a new regional assistance framework, the Asia-Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative, signaling US desires to maintain a more integrated presence in the region. 47 In addition to reaffirming ties and commitments with traditional allies and partners in the region (e.g. the Philippines and Japan), the United States has also sought out new relationships with states like Vietnam and Indonesia. 48 Perhaps most notably, the United States has been very proactive in encouraging the ongoing democratic reforms in authoritarian Myanmar through increased diplomatic engagement, with President Obama even becoming the first incumbent president to visit the country in November of 2012. 49 The pivot has experienced its own share of shortfalls, however, as recurring domestic issues and crises and distracting developments in the Middle East (i.e. the Syrian conflict and the Iranian nuclear deal) are contributing to a commonly held perception across Asia of a gap between rhetoric and action on the part of the United States, indicating an overall lack of seriousness in its allegedly renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific. 50

While China has been critical of America’s new Pacific posturing, the reality is that the Obama administration has also worked to deepen US-China relations. 51 President Obama and Hu Jintao, his former Chinese counterpart, met at least a dozen times since 2009, in addition to Secretary Clinton’s many meetings with regional officials and trips to the region which totaled over 100 days during her tenure. Secretary Kerry has continued this high level of personal engagement while both the US and China have invested substantial resources in over 60 issue-based and regional dialogues. 52 Even the US-China military-to-military relationship, traditionally the weakest component of the bilateral relationship due to China’s treatment of mil-mil contacts as a bellwether tool to signal disapproval of American policies, has improved substantially under Xi Jinping’s leadership. China refers to the new pattern of closer military ties as a “a new type of military to military relationship,” and have thus far encouraged more senior-level exchanges, an expanded range of dialogue topics, and growing joint military activities, signaling the desire of both countries’ leadership to forge closer connections and lessen the chance of any misunderstanding or miscalculations that may result in conflict. 53

Economically, the United States has pivoted in two key ways: promoting a series of business and economic initiatives to assist Pacific and Southeast Asian nations, and pursuing an ambitious regional free trade area agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 54 Besides trade and investment, the United States is seeking to make more comprehensive inroads in the region, reflected in such efforts as increased involvement in often overlooked economies in Oceania, and the creation of a new cooperative framework, the “US-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Partnership for a Sustainable Energy.” 55 Other significant programs and initiatives, such as the Expanded Economic Engagement (E3) Initiative between the United States and ASEAN, have been publicized as important elements of American rebalancing to the Pacific. 56 Most notably, the United States joined, and is now sponsoring, a massive new Free Trade Area (FTA) in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently comprising much of the Asia Pacific with US-determined entry requirements that make imminent Chinese accession unlikely in the near-term. 57

Finally, the security aspect of the strategic pivot also seeks to enhance the United States’ military presence and image in the Asia Pacific in the coming “Asian century.” Perhaps it is because of early high-profile steps such as the stationing of 2,500 US Marines in Darwin, Australia and a squadron of littoral combat ships (LCS) in Singapore that this aspect of the pivot has been the most prominent publicly. 58 It may also be due to clear references in such important guiding documents as the Pentagon’s “Sustaining US Global Leadership – Priorities for 21st Century Defense” and the “Joint Operational Access Concept” to the threat that China’s apparent anti-access/area denial military strategy in the West Pacific poses to American interests. 59 Since their promulgation in 2011 and early 2012, respectively, the Department of Defense has continued rebalancing in many ways, such as gaining access to new bases, developing strategic partnerships via joint exercises and arms sales, and debating new force structure and doctrines. 60

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert provided a useful summary of the main ways that the armed forces are rebalancing to Asia, namely by deploying more forces (e.g. increasing the Pacific theater share of naval ships and aircraft from fifty to sixty percent of the navy’s total), fielding new capabilities focused on Asia-Pacific challenges, and developing partnerships and intellectual capital across the region. 61 Rather than encouraging our allies to challenge China’s rise, the United States has taken measures to assuage the fears of China, even including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to join in 2014s massive Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military exercise and conducting joint naval and disaster relief exercises in Hawaii in November 2013. 62 However, an unfavorable budgetary environment on the home front may ultimately render American military rebalancing in the Pacific a paper tiger, with budget constraints, rather than a Pacific surge, dictating changes in force distribution. 63

At least one expert academic is keen to point out the gap between the forces that the current U.S. maritime strategy would require in the increasingly militarized Pacific of the 21st century, and the likelihood sufficient resources will be readily available. 64 Rather than expend exorbitant resources that may or may not materialize to maintain uncontested global command of the sea, a luxury that the United States enjoyed in the post-Cold War era until recently, the U.S. Navy may be better suited to tailor its strategy to reflect that of contemporary American foreign policy in the Pacific by becoming more multilateral. 65 While previous ideas and initiatives, such as Admiral Mullen’s “thousand-ship navy” and “offshore balancing”, have been proposed as a means to sustaining regional influence, the apparent continued reliance of the contemporary segmented hub-and-spokes American alliance system in the Pacific upon the US Navy as security guarantor indicate a lack of development in implementing this strategic concept. 66 As prospects for the U.S. Navy to meet even the relatively humble 306-ship navy plan fading rapidly, pursuit of a more coordinated and cooperative relationship with regional allies via equitable burden-sharing security arrangements is most likely the best way forward. 67 At the very least, this approach is more consistent with contemporary ideations of a “smart” foreign policy than the Cold War-era network of bilateral relationships the United States currently utilizes in the Asia Pacific. Expert scholars have recognized the risk that the pivot currently runs in potentially antagonizing China while cutting defense budgets and engaging only in limited hedging and soft balancing against its military rise. 68  This risk of making an enemy out of an increasingly capable great power while presenting only a hollow deterrent represents a sure recipe for disaster for American credibility and national interests. 69

The uncertainty accompanying China’s rapid emergence as a dominant regional power and rising global power clearly is not the only consideration behind the Obama Administration’s pivot to the Pacific. Stepping up America’s diplomatic involvement in the region, both in its bilateral relations (including its traditional hubs and spokes alliance system, new and previous partners, and especially with the People’s Republic of China) and in multilateral institutions, the Administration’s priority appears to be focused on maintaining America’s preeminence in strategically vital Asia rather creating a strategic encirclement of China. This is also true economically, where American efforts to foster greater regional economic integration are exclusionary only insofar as they promote current international standards. Finally, at a strategic level, while the United States is enhancing its symbolic role in the region, it is not undergoing a massive military buildup, nor is it overseeing a large regional redeployment of forces in terms of numbers capabilities to maintain regional hegemony in the face of an increasingly powerful PLA. 70

In attempting to uphold a stable rules-based system in East Asia while accommodating China’s rise, the Obama administration appears to be mixing diplomatic, economic and security policies to amplify America’s regional presence and ensure US readiness should China prospectively challenge the normative status quo. The pivot, then, is consistent with Nye’s smart power formulation and American ‘congagement’ of China, seeking to ‘integrate but hedge’ with regards to the PRC. 71 At its core, the ‘strategic pivot ’is a direct application of smart power instead of a fear and insecurity-driven policy as realists have suggested. Given the shrinking Navy force structure and modernization budgets, a national security strategy based on “smart power” principles to lessen the need for Cold-War like naval forces in the region may be the only viable option. Assuming no alleviation in the looming budgetary crisis facing the US defense establishment, the United States Navy must adapt its strategy and force structure with the times, or it risks finding itself increasingly outdated and outmoded in the America’s Pacific Century.

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)


  1. Hillary Clinton. “America’s Pacific Century.” November 2011. (accessed September 28, 2012).
  2. James R. Holmes, “Woody Allen Meets America’s Pivot to Asia,” The Diplomat: The Naval Diplomat Blog (December 10, 2012), (accessed December 10, 2012); Joseph Nye, “Get Smart,” (July/August 2009), (accessed October 20, 2012).
  3. Robert D Kaplan, “America’s Pacific Logic,” Stratfor Forecasting, Inc. (April 4, 2012) (accessed September 28, 2012).
  4. The Economist, “America in the Asia-Pacific: We’re Back,” (November 19, 2011) (accessed September 28, 2012).
  5. G. John Ikenberry, “The Rise of China and the Future of the West,” Foreign Affairs 87 no. 1 (January/February 2008): 25; BBC News, “Asia ‘to Eclipse’ US and Europe by 2030 – US Report” (December 10, 2012), (accessed December 10, 2012).
  6. Mike Allen, “America’s First Pacific President,” November 13, 2009, (accessed January 20, 2013).
  7. Jörn Dosch, “The United States in the Asia Pacific: Still the Hegemon?” In The New Global Politics of the Asia Pacific, 2nd ed., editors Michael K. Connors, Remy Davison and Jörn Dosch (New York: Routledge, 2012): 22.
  8. Hillary Clinton. “America’s Pacific Century.” November 2011. (accessed September 28, 2012).
  9. Robert S, Ross, “The Problem with the Pivot,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 6 (November/December 2012).
  10. Robert S, Ross, “The Problem with the Pivot,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 6 (November/December 2012): 77.
  11. Richard Weitz, “Pivot Out, Rebalance In,” The Diplomat (May 3, 2012), (accessed January 20, 2013); Holmes, James R. “U.S. Navy’s Quantity Problem,” The Diplomat (June 26, 2012) (accessed February 25, 2013).
  12. ibid.
  13. A.F.K Organski,. World Politics (New York: Knopf Inc., 1958), 322-329; Gilpin, Robert. War and Change in International Politics. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1981): 186-210; John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2001): 334-359.
  14. Joseph S Nye, “Work with China, Don’t Contain It,” (January 25, 2013), (accessed February 11, 2013).
  15. A.F.K. Organski, World Politics (New York: Knopf Inc., 1958), 322-329.
  16. Lawrence, Susan V. and David MacDonald, “U.S.-China Relations: Policy Issues,” Congressional Research Service (August 2, 2012) (accessed February 23, 2013), 10-13.
  17. Susan V. Lawrence and David MacDonald, “U.S.-China Relations: Policy Issues,” Congressional Research Service (August 2, 2012) (accessed February 23, 2013); Mark Clayton, “Exposing China’s cyber espionage campaign hasn’t lessened scope, US says,” (November 21, 2013), (accessed December 9, 2013).
  18. Susan V. Lawrence and David MacDonald, “U.S.-China Relations: Policy Issues,” Congressional Research Service (August 2, 2012) (accessed February 23, 2013); The Economist, “China, Japan and America: Face-Off,” (November 30, 2013), (accessed December 1, 2013).
  19. The Economist, “China’s Military Rise: The Dragon’s New Teeth,” (April 7, 2012), (accessed September 22, 2012).
  20. Kenneth Lieberthal and Wang Jisi, “Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust,” Brookings Institute: John L. Thornton China Center Monograph Series no. 4 (March 2012), (accessed December 16, 2012).
  21. Remy Davison, “The Rise of China in the Asia Pacific,” In The New Global Politics of the Asia Pacific, 2nd ed., editors Michael K. Connors, Remy Davison, and Jörn Dosch (New York: Routledge, 2012): 51.
  22. Bruce Klingner and Dean Cheng, “U.S. Asian Policy: America’s Security Commitment to Asia Needs More Forces,” The Heritage Foundation (August 7, 2012), (accessed November 2, 2012); Robert S. Ross, “The Problem with the Pivot,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 6 (November/December 2012): 70-82.
  23. Jörn Dosch, “The United States in the Asia Pacific: Still the Hegemon?” In The New Global Politics of the Asia Pacific, 2nd ed., editors Michael K. Connors, Remy Davison and Jörn Dosch (New York: Routledge, 2012): 33.
  24. Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” (November 2011), (accessed September 28, 2012).
  25. Shawn Brimley and Ely Ratner. “Smart Shift: A Response to ‘The Problem with the Pivot”, Foreign Affairs 92 no. 1 (January/February 2013): 177-181.
  26. Suzanne Nossel. “Smart Power,” (March/April 2004), (accessed September 30, 2012); Joseph Nye, “Get Smart,” (July/August 2009) (accessed October 20, 2012).
  27. Andrew J, Shapiro, “Political-Military Affairs: Smart Power Starts Here,”, September 9, 2009, (accessed February 1, 2013).
  28. Joseph Nye, The Future of Power, (New York: Public Affairs, 2011); Center for Strategic and International Studies, “CSIS Commission Report on Smart Power,” (Washington, D.C.: CSIS Press, 2007), (accessed January 15, 2013); Joseph Nye, “Get Smart.” (July/August 2009), (accessed October 20, 2012); Joseph Nye, The Future of Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2011).
  29. Center for Strategic and International Studies, “CSIS Commission Report on Smart Power,” (Washington, D.C.: CSIS Press, 2007), (accessed January 15, 2013), 6-7.
  30. Joseph Nye. “Get Smart.” (July/August 2009), (accessed October 20, 2012).
  31. Ernest J. Wilson, “Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616 (2008),,%20Soft%20Power,%20Smart%20Power.pdf (accessed February 23, 2013) 111; Nye, Joseph, The Future of Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2011): 227-228.
  32. Cindy Williams, “Accepting Austerity: The Right Way to Cut Defense,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 6 (November/December 2013): 63-64
  33. ibid. 218.
  34. ibid. 218-220.
  35. ibid 231-232, 207-208.
  36. ibid 233.
  37. Aaron L Friedberg, “Bucking Beijing: An Alternative U.S. China Policy,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 5

    (September/October 2012): 48-58.

  38. Soble, Jonathan, Geoff Dyer and Demetri Sevastopulo, “Joe Biden Condemns China over Air Defense Zone,” (December 3, 2013) (accessed December 6, 2013).
  39. Aaron L. Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011): 89.
  40. The IMF reported an average growth rate of 9.6 percent between 1990 and 2010.

    Balbones, Salvatore, “The Middling Kingdom.” Foreign Affairs 90 no. 5 (September/October 2011): 79; The Economist: Pocket World in Figures, (London: Profile Books, 2011): 132.

  41. Ralph Cossa and Brad Glosserman, “Return to Asia: It’s Not (All) About China,” Center for Strategic and International Studies: Pacific Forum PacNet no. 7 (January 30, 2012), (accessed September 22, 2012).
  42. Jeffrey A Bader, Obama and China’s Rise (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2012): 79-82.
  43. G. John. Ikenberry, “The Rise of China and the Future of the West,” Foreign Affairs 87 no. 1 (January/February 2008):26.
  44. Cheryl Pellerin, “Carter: Asian Defense Leaders Will Feel U.S. Rebalance to Region,” (March 22, 2013) (accessed March 25, 2013); Robert D. Kaplan, “America’s Pacific Logic,” Stratfor Forecasting, Inc. (April 4, 2012), (accessed September 28, 2012).
  45. Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff, “China’s Military Development: Beyond the Numbers,” The Diplomat (March 12, 2013), (accessed March 20, 2013).
  46. Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” (November 2011), (accessed September 28, 2012).
  47. Alan Burns, “U.S. Joins East Asia Summit: Implications for Regional Cooperation,” National Bureau of Asian Research (November 17, 2011), (accessed November 20, 2012);   United States Mission to ASEAN, “U.S. Engagement with ASEAN,” (July 2012), (accessed December 1, 2012); Shawn Brimley and Ely Ratner, “Smart Shift: A Response to ‘The Problem with the Pivot,” Foreign Affairs 92 no. 1 (January/February 2013): 180.
  48. Jeffrey A Bader, Obama and China’s Rise (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2012): 97-103.
  49. Vikram Nehru, “Obama in Southeast Asia: Symbolism or Substance?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (November 17, 2012), (accessed November19, 2012).
  50. The Economist, “America and Asia: Not Being There,” (October 12, 2013), (accessed November 1, 2013).
  51. Wu Zhenglong, “U.S. Should Be Constructive,” (October 23, 2012) (accessed December 30, 2012).
  52. Shawn Brimley and Ely Ratner, “Smart Shift: A Response to ‘The Problem with the Pivot.” Foreign Affairs 92 no. 1, (January/February 2013): 178; United States Department of State. “Former Secretary Clinton’s Travel.” (December 7, 2012), (accessed February 27, 2013).
  53. Richard Weitz, “China-U.S. Military Ties on the Upswing,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13, no. 19 (September 27, 2013) (accessed October 30, 2013).
  54. Prashanth Parameswaran, “ ‘The Power of Balance’: Advancing US-ASEAN Relations Under the Second Obama Administration,” The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 37 no. 1 (Winter 2013), (accessed February 9, 2013), 123; The Economist, “The Pacific Islands Forum: More Stars than Cars,” (September 1, 2012), (accessed September 3, 2012); Bernard K. Gordon, “Trading Up in Asia: Why the United States Needs the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” Foreign Affairs 91 no. 4 (July/August 2012): 17.
  55. James Grubel, “Tiny Pacific nations cash in on U.S.-China aid rivalry,” (September 3, 2012) (accessed September 20, 2012);The United States White House. “Fact Sheet on the U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Partnership for A Sustainable Energy,” Office of the Press Secretary. November 20, 2012. (accessed December 1, 2012).
  56. Murray Hiebert, “The E3 Initiative: The United States and ASEAN Take a Step in the Right Direction,”, (December 21, 2012) (accessed December 29, 2012).
  57. Bernard K. Gordon, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Rise of China.”, (November 7, 2011), (accessed December 1, 2012).
  58. John O’Callaghan and Manuel Mogato, “The U.S. Military Pivot to Asia: When Bases are Not Bases,” (November 14, 2012),,0,1426868.story (accessed November 26, 2012).
  59. United States Department of Defense, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” (January 5, 2012), (accessed December 1, 2012); Department of Defense, “Joint Operational Access Concept,” (January 17, 2012), (accessed December 1, 2012).
  60. Luke Hunt, “U.S. Increasing Military Presence in the Philippines,” The Diplomat (December 18, 2012), (accessed December 30, 2012); Brendan Nicholson, “Chinese Invited to Naval Exercise,” (February 4, 2013), (accessed February 11, 2013); Jim Wolf, “Analysis: U.S. Arms Sales to Asia Set to Boom on Pacific ‘Pivot,’” (January 1, 2013) (accessed March 7, 2013); Ward Carroll, “Army Reorganizing with Eye on Pacific Pivot,” (October 24, 2012) (accessed December 30, 2012); Randy J. Forbes, “America’s Pacific Air-Sea Battle Vision,” The Diplomat (March 8, 2012) (accessed August 14, 2012).
  61. Jonathan Greenert, “Sea Change: The Navy Pivots to Asia,”, November 14, 2012, (accessed November 20, 2012).
  62. Richard Jayad Heydarian, “U.S. Pivot Sparks Asian Arms Race.” Asia Times Online (January 17, 2013) (accessed March 6, 2013);

    Brendan Nicholson, “Chinese Invited to Naval Exercise,” (February 4, 2013), (accessed February 11, 2013);, “China’s Navy to Join U.S.-led Pacific Drill in 2014,” (March 24, 2013) (accessed March 25, 2013);, “Chinese Troops Drill in Hawaii as Military Ties Deepen with U.S.,” (November 11, 2013) (accessed November 15, 2013).

  63. J. Randy Forbes, “Rebalancing the Rhetoric,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 138 no. 10 (October 2012), (accessed March 20, 2013); Matthew Pennington, “Cuts Could Endanger U.S. ‘Rebalancing’ to Asia,” (March 1, 2013) (accessed March 5, 2013).
  64. Bernard D. Cole, Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013): 57-60.
  65. ibid.
  66. Ronald E. Ratcliff, “Building Partner’s Capacity: The Thousand-Ship Navy,” Naval War College Review 60, no. 4 (Autumn 2007): 44-46; Robert Farley, “Offshore Engagement: The Right U.S. Strategy for Asia,” The Diplomat, (November 20, 2013) (accessed November 30, 2013).
  67. Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, (November 8, 2013) (accessed November 30, 2013): 1-3, 48-52; Bernard D. Cole, Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013): 57-60.
  68. Andrew S Erickson, “China Channels Billy Mitchell: Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Alters Region’s Military Geography,” 6.
  69. ibid.
  70. Bruce Klingner and Dean Cheng, “U.S. Asian Policy: America’s Security Commitment to Asia Needs More Forces,” The Heritage Foundation (August 7, 2012), (accessed November 2, 2012): 9-11.
  71. Aaron L. Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011): 89-90; Joseph S. Nye, “Work with China, Don’t Contain It,” (January 25, 2013), (accessed February 11, 2013).
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Learning to Fail: Lessons for the Twenty-First Century from the Pacific War

Brent Powers
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy


Figure 1: Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has charged his officers with thinking about how they will show up to the next war and be lethal and dominant. Here he briefs the Pentagon press corps on America's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Marine Corps photo 140123-M-EV637-053)

Figure 1: Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has charged his officers with thinking about how they will show up to the next war and be lethal and dominant. Here he briefs the Pentagon press corps on America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Marine Corps photo 140123-M-EV637-053)

As the U.S. military finds itself several years into its rebalancing to the Pacific, with an unspoken focus on China, today’s naval officers would recognize the conditions that their pre-World War II forebears faced. At that time, “the possibility of a war with Japan dominated U.S. naval planning… The U.S. Navy spent the interwar period trying to solve the operational problems associated with a trans-pacific naval campaign.” 1 A tight fiscal situation meant “research on new technology took second place to maintaining and improving existing equipment,” 2 while its probable enemy “sought to improve the quality of its fighting forces to offset the U.S. Navy’s quantitative superiority.” 3 Substituting China for Japan, conditions today are much the same. In trying to determine what lessons today’s planners can draw from the Pacific War, the guidance of the current Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, provides one starting point. He recently challenged his current generation of surface warfare officers with “thinking in the offensive mode… how are you going to show up, how are you going to be dominant, how are you going to be lethal… to think about all scenarios, not just the ones…where we have enjoyed the basic air superiority, basic sea superiority.” 4 The U.S. submarine campaign and the surface naval battles in support of the Marines at Guadalcanal each inform the most important lesson for today’s planners: that the best plans, doctrine, and training formulated before the conflict will likely fail during execution. Commanders should expect that failure, identify its root causes, and take aggressive action to correct them. The American submarine fleet’s performance over the course of the war shows one way to overcome initial unpreparedness in order to conduct offensive operations, while the Allied surface fleet’s lackluster performance in night action at Guadalcanal demonstrates what happens when forces arrive to the sort of fight they do not expect and fail to adapt to it.

The Submarine Campaign

Figure 2: USS Tarpon (SS-175) recovering a practice torpedo, during exercises off San Diego, California, 22 August 1937. Prewar torpedo exercises failed to the reveal flaws in warshot torpedoes that would become evident early in the war. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 63184)

Figure 2: USS Tarpon (SS-175) recovering a practice torpedo, during exercises off San Diego, California, 22 August 1937. Prewar torpedo exercises failed to the reveal flaws in warshot torpedoes that would become evident early in the war.
(Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 63184)

The war that the U.S. submarine force waged in the Pacific offers a case study on the importance of matching one’s means to strategic ends. Although the world had seen the powerful effect that submarine raiding against commerce could have during the First World War, a number of international treaties during the interwar period forbade this sort of unrestricted submarine warfare. Indeed, just prior to World War II, Benito Mussolini used the Italian Navy’s submarines to support General Franco in the Spanish Civil War by sinking both belligerent and neutral merchant shipping. Enraged, the British, French, and Soviets came together under the Nyon Agreement to patrol the Mediterranean and sink all suspect submarines. Even before the patrols began, the international pressure forced Mussolini to abandon his undersea campaign. 5 Nothing during the interwar period suggested that the international community became more comfortable with use of unrestricted submarine warfare against commerce as World War II broke out.

For decades, the U.S. Navy had envisioned an economic blockade of the home islands in its planning for a war against Japan. Under this framework, the leap to accepting unrestricted submarine warfare matched strategic ends to the U.S. Navy’s available means. War Plan ORANGE called for an economic blockade of Japan, albeit by the surface fleet under the rules of cruiser warfare. 6 After the attack on Pearl Harbor, America found itself in a war against Japan, but without the surface ships or advance bases it needed to conduct a blockade. While it would acquire both over the course of the war, it still had its submarine force from the start. The decision to use unrestricted submarine warfare reflected the pragmatic realities and was “coolly, studiously strategic.” 7 As Holwitt concludes, “unrestricted submarine warfare carried a great deal of moral and legal baggage, but for naval war planners, the strategic necessity for unrestricted submarine warfare dovetailed with over thirty years of U.S. naval war planning.” 8 Although some submarine officers, including Hyman Rickover, “recognized the efficacy and probability of unrestricted submarine warfare…doctrine and training ignored their pragmatic opinion.” 9

Nevertheless, in the interwar period, American naval planners considered the submarine’s “most important employment [to be] in operations against enemy capital ships, and until that type of operation was reduced in its importance to the general employment of naval forces, [they] would not contemplate using submarines against commerce.” 10 In fact, the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s commander in 1936, Rear Admiral Reeves, commenting on likely missions of his submarine force in a war against Japan, opined, “the primary employment of submarines will be in offensive operations against enemy larger combatant vessels…No submarine will be assigned in the early stages of the war to operate against enemy trade routes.” 11 Given the expected primacy of the battleship in naval warfare and the previous history of submarine employment, the American planners made reasonable assumptions about the limited role their submarines would play.

Figure 3: Battle flag used while Barb was commanded by Commander Eugene B. Fluckey, circa 1945. One of the best examples of how successful an aggressive submarine commander could be, Commander Fluckey took the fight to the Japanese, even sending men ashore on the Japanese home islands to blow up a train. (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 63789-KN)

Figure 3: Battle flag used while Barb was commanded by Commander Eugene B. Fluckey, circa 1945. One of the best examples of how successful an aggressive submarine commander could be, Commander Fluckey took the fight to the Japanese, even sending men ashore on the Japanese home islands to blow up a train. (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 63789-KN)

American submariners developed doctrine for the sort of warfare that their strategy prescribed and international law permitted. They practiced penetrating anti-submarine screens and conducting submerged torpedo attacks against enemy capital ships, the sort of training that could have produced aggressive skippers who would have made short work of unarmed, unescorted merchant ships. Nevertheless, overestimation of the anti-submarine capabilities of surface ships and aircraft inculcated an overabundance of caution in submarine commanders that “constituted a significant obstacle to the use of the submarines as a strategically valuable weapon.” 12 Submarines that operated submerged, but with their periscopes just a few feet out of the water, could better evade the anti-submarine forces they feared. However, doing so reduced those submarines’ search radius to just a few miles. Further compounding the situation, the United States’ torpedoes suffered from faulty detonators and miscalibrated depth settings that hindered efforts to sink the targets its submarines did find. Once the Chief of Naval Operations issued his order for unrestricted submarine warfare against the Japanese on December 7, 1941, the American submarine force found itself using “false [tactical] lessons learned in peace” 13 with underperforming weapons to carry out a strategy its commanders had rejected before the war, and one that might be illegal under international law.

The submarine force’s lackluster performance throughout 1942 and 1943 forced its leaders to recognize that its prewar doctrine was failing. Extracting relevant lessons and tactics from the patrol reports of successful skippers, the force’s top leaders urged more aggressive action to little effect. By the end of 1943, the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance had fixed the technical problems with the torpedoes, while detailed intelligence of Japanese merchant ship movements provided by the U.S. Fleet Radio Unit Pacific aided submarines in finding targets. Nevertheless, “even with this intelligence support…submarine commanders using prewar concepts of operations had serious problems finding merchant ships.” 14 In order to get away from those prewar tactics, the submarine force swapped its underperforming commanders by relieving those who failed to sink enough Japanese ships over the course of two war patrols. While senior leadership used tactical bulletins to recommend aggressiveness and best practices, the character of the submarine skipper became the most important factor for success. The force needed commanders who took the initiative, thrived in a decentralized command structure, and possessed “emotional stability and daring.” 15 With “no satisfactory technique… ever found…to identify the right kind of men for submarine commands,” immediately removing those who were not performing became the best option. 15 Ultimately the submarine fleet took almost two years to transform into the lethal force responsible for the destruction of the Japanese merchant fleet, and “by the time the American submarine fleet was finished with their economy, the Japanese no longer had the capability of waging offensive warfare.” 17

Some might argue that the submarine force did a poor job of adapting its performance and that its success stemmed from combining intelligence on merchant ship schedules and tracks, derived from highly classified signals intercepts, with fielding reliable torpedoes, since the submarine force’s attempt to send feedback to its commanders through war report endorsements and Tactical Bulletins were considered ineffective. 18 In this case, having submarines properly positioned and equipped with effective weapons would make success against merchant shipping largely independent of the submarine commander’s mindset. Indeed, once commanders had good intelligence and a reliable weapon by the end of 1943, the rate of sinking Japanese merchants rose dramatically. However, the best intelligence that the submarine force had would not be effective without capable commanders who understood the nature of their submarines (possessed coup d’oeil in Clausewitzian terms). The ability to take risks and decisive action in order to locate Japanese vessels, even on the basis of precise intelligence, proved the decisive factor. Based on submarine technology at the time, intelligence could put submarines in the right area, but their skippers still had to operate properly in order to find, fix, and target the merchant ships.

Lessons for Today

Prewar planners can devise strategies based on the best intelligence they have at hand, but as Clausewitz argues, “the very nature of interaction is bound to make it unpredictable. The effect that any measure will have on the enemy is the most singular factor among all the particulars of action.” 19 Doctrine and strategy formulated during peacetime against a notional enemy may prove ineffectual against actual enemies who have conducted their own planning and have their own capabilities. Senior leaders should expect that parts of their untested strategies or tactics will fail, and they should be ready to shift to new ones, even without any guarantee of success. Although the submarine force could not empirically determine what made some commanders better than others, it could identify successful ones and remove those who were not. Today, Admiral Locklear sets a high bar of expecting his units to show up to a conflict lethal and dominant; but in the event they do not, evolutionary adaptability to whatever works, be it commanders, tactics, or a certain technology, offers a proven path to success.

Night Naval Battles at Guadalcanal

In the interwar period, most thinking about how to fight a Pacific naval war centered on the use of battleships

as the best way to transport firepower across the Pacific Ocean and bring it to bear upon the Japanese fleet. Only the battleship had the endurance to sail across the ocean under attack from Japanese airplanes, submarines, and cruisers and, at the end, be ready to meet the enemy fleet in a second Jutland. A battleship’s long-range heavy cannon could shoot farther than a torpedo, and its shot fell more accurately than a bomb. 20

Although the American fleet modernized throughout the 1930’s as its air, surface, and submarine forces brought new capabilities and weapons on-line, the United States focused on preparing for a decisive surface fleet engagement with the Imperial Navy. Japan, too, had a “supreme faith in the decisive fleet engagement as the ultimate arbiter of naval power.” 21 Since the Washington Naval Agreement limited the number and tonnage of capital ships each nation could construct, Japan was forced to develop asymmetric tactics for its cruisers and destroyers that would attrite the American fleet before the ultimate showdown. Indeed, the Japanese Navy General Staff spent much of the 1930’s studying night combat and developing doctrine and technology, such as optical devices, so that “by the end of the decade, the Japanese navy thus had more powerful, more effective, and more dependable night fighting equipment than did any other navy in the world.” 22 These advances made the Imperial Navy more ready than the U.S. Navy for the night fighting at Guadalcanal.

Figure 4: A U.S. destroyer steams up what later became known as "Iron Bottom Sound", the body of water between Guadalcanal and Tulagi, during landings on both islands, 7 August 1942. Savo Island is in the center distance and Cape Esperance, on Guadalcanal, is at the left. Photographed from USS San Juan (CL-54) from a location approximately due east from the northern tip of Savo Island. (National Archives, 80-G-13539)

Figure 4: A U.S. destroyer steams up what later became known as “Iron Bottom Sound”, the body of water between Guadalcanal and Tulagi, during landings on both islands, 7 August 1942. Savo Island is in the center distance and Cape Esperance, on Guadalcanal, is at the left. Photographed from USS San Juan (CL-54) from a location approximately due east from the northern tip of Savo Island. (National Archives, 80-G-13539)

American tactical development, driven by an expectation of a decisive fleet engagement, failed to anticipate Japan’s likely tactics from its history, even though the U.S. Navy recognized the threat that the Japanese posed at night. Even a cursory study of Japanese naval combat since the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1985 would reveal that the Imperial Navy had favored night attacks in prior wars, as evidenced by the night raids on Weihaiwei harbor in February, 1895 and the attack on Port Arthur nine years later in the Russo-Japanese War. The Office of Naval Intelligence reported on Japanese night combat training, while the U.S. Naval War College’s tabletop war games demonstrated how effective night attacks could be. 23 Still, the Americans’ preparations for night combat suffered from “mistaken assumptions about the nature of the upcoming war…[and] failed to provide for the strategic situation the navy encountered.” 24 Despite the warning signs, the chimera of a decisive surface fleet engagement drove an emphasis on the tactics of major fleet battles at the expense of minor actions, such as the ones fought at Guadalcanal. The U.S. Navy did exercise night search and attack tactics against enemy battleships as a prelude to the decisive engagement 25 and “night battle practice was an extremely important exercise” 26 in the interwar period. However, the Americans conducted this training in the context of a major fleet engagement and never “simulated the ‘Minor Tactics’ that dominated the battles off Guadalcanal.” 27 Thus, the American fleet remained unprepared for the sudden, close-range, and confusing mêlées that characterized these actions.

The results of the first night battle between surface forces of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Battle of Savo Island, revealed the mismatch in night fighting capabilities between the two fleets and should have offered an object lesson for the Americans. During a night attack, the incoming Japanese column evaded the Allied destroyer pickets and attacked two forces in succession, sinking four cruisers and one destroyer, while suffering limited damage in return. With some pickets even ignoring the approaching Japanese warships, the Allies failed to recognize that the Japanese were nearby until after the attack started. Then, poor communications prevented the pickets from warning the rest of the force that an attack was underway. This battle marked Japan’s most lopsided nighttime victory over the Allied surface force during the Guadalcanal campaign. The Japanese owned the night. They used it to ferry troops and supplies to the island, and to attack both the Marines onshore and patrolling naval forces for months.

Later engagements in October and November off of Guadalcanal and Tassafaronga resulted in heavy American tactical losses during night battles, although the American surface fleet did achieve some operational success by preventing some bombardments of Guadalcanal. One bright spot for the Americans occurred on the night of 11-12 October off of Cape Esperance when Rear Admiral Norman Scott’s force of cruisers and destroyers, augmented by one battleship, lost only one destroyer while sinking one Japanese cruiser, damaging two more, and killing a Japanese admiral. Despite this tactical victory, the Americans were unable to gain control of the night. Two nights later, on the night of 13-14 October, two Japanese battleships sailed unopposed off of Henderson Field and conducted the most vicious shore bombardment the Marines on Guadalcanal were to experience. Japanese cruisers continued the bombardment over the next two nights. 28 One month later, on the night of 12-13 November, a powerful Japanese task force, hoping to repeat the bombardment, smashed an American force of cruisers and destroyers and killed both of its admirals. Tactical victory again went to the Japanese in this action, although the Americans did accomplish their operational goal of preventing the planned Japanese bombardment of the island in this later engagement. The Americans also turned a tactical defeat into an operational victory the following night, 13-14 November, when Rear Admiral Lee’s Task Force 64 sank one Japanese battleship and forced the rest of the force to withdraw, at a cost of one battleship and four destroyers sunk or heavily damaged. Although the entirety of this action is widely considered an American victory, American pilots from the carrier Enterprise earned much of the credit by sinking or damaging one battleship, four cruisers, and seven troop transports the following day. 29

Figure 5: A victim of insufficient pre-war preparation, USS Quincy (CA-39), photographed from a Japanese cruiser during the Battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, 9 August 1942. Quincy, seen here burning and illuminated by Japanese searchlights, was sunk in this action. (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 50346)

Figure 5: A victim of insufficient pre-war preparation, USS Quincy (CA-39), photographed from a Japanese cruiser during the Battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, 9 August 1942. Quincy, seen here burning and illuminated by Japanese searchlights, was sunk in this action. (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 50346)

Mahnken claims that at one point the Americans did, in fact, change their tactics and that Rear Admiral Scott won this tactical victory because he “had studied previous engagements…and had carefully trained his force in night-fighting tactics.” 30 Furthermore, the characterization of the American surface fleet’s defeats over the course of the Guadalcanal campaign does not tell the whole story, since, in fact, the U.S. Navy ended up exchanging roughly equal warship damage over the course of the campaign and saved the Marines ashore on 13-15 November. Nevertheless, while the American surface fleet at Guadalcanal did claim a few tactical victories, such as the Battle of Cape Esperance and the night of November 13 that killed Rear Admirals Scott and Callaghan, usually the victory came about as a more intact Japanese force withdrew after taking less losses than the Americans. When meeting Japanese forces at night, the U.S. Navy’s failure to adjust its tactics kept leading to defeat as capped by the night action off of Tassafaronga on November 30. Here, despite enjoying a near-perfect radar picture and situational awareness, the American fleet lost one cruiser sunk and three damaged to an outnumbered force of Japanese destroyers at night. 31

Lessons for Today

While today’s commanders may not be able to predict exactly how their future enemy may fight, they will be expected to learn from mistakes and quickly adapt in order to become, in Admiral Locklear’s words, lethal and dominant. Although the Americans’ poor prewar assumptions about the nature of the coming conflict likely preordained the first defeats in night combat, an inexcusable failure to identify and address the root causes led to further unnecessary losses. Unlike the submarine force in the Pacific War, the admirals in charge of the surface fleet at Guadalcanal made little effort to change anything about how they were fighting over the months of the campaign. Mahnken attributes much of the credit for Japan’s success to continuity of command, by which it was able to “use combat experience to modify and improve upon its prewar doctrine,” and similarly finds its lack on the American side as the prime reason for successive defeats. 32 This explanation, however, misses the greater problem for the Americans, that they had foregone adequate prewar preparations and, after successive defeats, failed to find and correct the root causes of their failure.


Admiral Locklear sets a high bar for his commanders today by expecting them to arrive to his theater and become lethal and dominant. Had he been Pacific Fleet commander at the start of World War II, he would have been sorely disappointed by the inability of his submarine or surface fleets to fulfill this expectation. However, his commanders today can learn from the lessons of these two campaigns by making a realistic appraisal of their likely enemy and developing and exercising their own doctrine to counter his tactics. Most importantly, should a conflict occur, they should actively look for signs of failure, even expect these prewar tactics to fail, and then quickly identify the root causes and make corrections.

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  1. Thomas Mahnken. “Asymmetric Warfare at Sea: The Naval Battles off Guadalcanal, 1942-1943.” Naval War College Review, vol. 64, no. 12 (Winter 2011), page 98.
  2. Ibid., 99.
  3. Ibid., 100.
  4. Samuel Locklear. “Speech at the Surface Navy Association Conference.” 26th National Symposium. Surface Navy Assocation. Arlington, Virginia. 15 Jan 2014. Speech.
  5. Holwitt, 29-30.
  6. Ibid., 86.
  7. Samuel Flagg Bemis, “Submarine Warfare in the Strategy of American Defense and Diplomacy, as quoted in Holwitt, 87.
  8. Joel Ira Holwitt. “Execute Against Japan”: The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2009, page 87.
  9. Ibid., 77.
  10. Ibid., 75.
  11. Ibid., 76.
  12. Stephen Peter Rosen. Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991, page 136.
  13. Ibid., 136.
  14. Ibid., 137.
  15. Ibid., 139.
  16. Ibid., 139.
  17. Eric Larrabee. Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War. First Naval Institute Press paperback edition. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2004, page 397.
  18. Rosen, 139.
  19. Carl Von Clausewitz. On War. Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989, page 139.
  20. Baer, 136.
  21. Mahnken, 99.
  22. David C. Evans, and Mark R. Peattie. Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy 1887-1941. First Naval Institute Press paperback edition. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012, page 275.
  23. Mahnken, 101-102.
  24. Trent Hone. “‘Give Them Hell!’: The US Navy’s Night Combat Doctrine and the Campaign for Guadalcanal.” War in History, vol. 13, no. 2 (2006), page 172.
  25. Ibid., 174.
  26. Ibid., 191.
  27. Ibid., 177.
  28. Mahnken, 103.
  29. Larrabee, 300.
  30. Mahnken, 108.
  31. James Hornfischer. Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal. Bantam Books, 2011,pages 391-392.
  32. Mahnken, 106.
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National History Day 2014 Documentary: “Vietnam POWs Taking Responsibility when Deprived of All Rights”

A National History Day documentary by Jethro Abatayo and Logan Gibert
Pleasant Valley Middle School, Vancouver, WA

Editor’s Note: Established in 1974, National History Day (NHD) is an award winning, non-profit education organization offering year-long academic programs that engage over 600,000 middle and high school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics. These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and affiliate levels in all fifty states where the top student projects have the opportunity to advance to the national competition or finals at the University of Maryland in College Park. Through this program NHD also seeks to improve the quality of history education by providing professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators. Slightly more than 3,000 of these students advanced to the final round of the 2014 competition in College Park, MD in June.

Among the many prizes and awards presented in College Park is the Captain Kenneth Coskey Naval History Prize.   The prize is named for the late Captain Ken Coskey, a Vietnam War combat aviator and Prisoner of War, and former Executive Director of the Naval Historical Foundation. Rosemary Coskey, wife of Captain Coskey, and Captain Charles Chadbourn, USN (Ret.) presented the award on behalf of the Foundation as well as generous $1,000 cash prizes to the junior and senior division winners. This is the first year that the awards were given to both high school and middle school representatives for the best naval history projects. Captain Coskey was an avid, long time supporter of National History Day up until his death last year.

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BOOK REVIEW – Beneath the Waves: The Life and Navy of CAPT. Edward L. Beach Jr.

Edward F. Finch, Beneath the Waves: The Life and Navy of CAPT. Edward L. Beach Jr. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010. 288 pps. Photos, Notes, appendices, bibliography, index

Review by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes
Department of Strategy & Policy, U.S. Naval War College

Edward L. Beach, Jr. had an interesting and varied career in the U.S. Navy. A submarine officer, he received three of the four highest awards for valor of his service. (The only one he did not receive was the Medal of Honor). Beach was the commanding officer of four submarines, and one surface ship. He served as an aide to the Chief of Naval Operations, and then to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then the President of the United States. He also became a novelist and a historian. He is best known for his first novel, Run Silent, Run Deep, which later became a film of the same name. In 1960, as the captain of USS Triton, he and his crew circumnavigated the globe submerged, roughly following the route that Ferdinand Magellan took in 1519-1522.   After he retired from the Navy as a captain, he wrote several more novels and histories, taught at the U.S. Naval War College and served as editor of the Naval War College Review, and did some work in Republican politics.

Most of these events are discussed in adequate detail in Edward F. Finch’s biography of Beach. Finch brings clear enthusiasm to the project. He explains to his readers that his encounters with Beach’s writings in his childhood led to a lifelong love of reading about the U.S. Navy in World War II. He even participated on a conference panel with Beach. “Ned’s dedication to the Navy, his faith in the innate goodness of his fellow human beings, and the role that his father’s novels played in his life form the thesis of this biography” (p. xv). The “Ned” in that sentence is Beach. Finch constantly refers to him by that nickname, suggesting a familiarity with his subject that is unwarranted.

The bigger problem with that thesis is that it is not particularly analytical. This study basically follows in dutiful fashion, the writings of Beach. Both Beach and his father were naval officers/historians/novelists, but Finch never pushes very far in this regard, or in many other areas. There is no literary analysis of either father or son as writers even though he devotes a whole chapter to Run Silent, Run Deep. Beach always believed that United Artists bought the film rights to that book for the title alone, arguing that they already had a submarine story ready to go and wanted a well-recognized title for marketing purposes. Beach would hardly be the first or the last writer to run afoul of Hollywood, but Finch does not provide any assessment of this charge.

Nor, despite the sub-title, does Finch do much either to assess the U.S. Navy during the era of Beach’s career and the role of his subject. Finch uses Beach’s papers and oral histories, and interviews with others, but with little affect. Either the documents did not contain that much useful information, or Finch was unable to mine them effectively. The evidence cuts both ways. Finch does not consult the records of other naval officers or other institutions beyond the war reports and logs of Beach’s ships to assess how his subject’s efforts as a naval publicist were received. Finch needed more information to write this biography than he could get from a narrow investigation of Beach’s papers and, as a result, there are a number of conditional modifiers: “probably” or “could have.”

A good example comes from one of the biggest questions about Beach’s career; why he never made admiral. As he pointed out, he was the only presidential naval aide never to make flag rank. Finch addresses this issue, but never provides a good answer. His account repeats Beach’s own speculation and Finch provides some other possibilities, but never offers an answer that moves beyond informed gossip. There is no doubt that Beach was an accomplished officer with real ability, but Finch avoids an obvious argument. Beach simply might not have been up for the job. After two promotion boards chose not to promote him to flag rank, he resigned his commission before the meeting of a third board. To be blunt, he quit before his third and last chance, because he did not want to be rejected and in the process accepted the decision of the two previous boards that he did not merit promotion.

With these harsh judgments in mind, it would be remiss of this reviewer to fail to mention that Finch has done a good job as a biographer in developing and presenting the personality of his subject. Beach emerges as a professional military officer with real emotions. In an odd decision that was most likely a compromise between publisher and author, there is a lengthy 36 page appendix that is equal to 21 percent of the 171 page text that provides biographical sketches of Beach’s father, siblings, wife and children. This information really should have been presented in the main body of the book. One final note, Finch has a deft touch with the English language that makes this book an enjoyable read.

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BOOK REVIEW – Ships and Shipbuilders: Pioneers of Design and Construction

Fred M. Walker. Ships and Shipbuilders: Pioneers of Design and Construction. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010. 237 pp, index.

Review by Timothy G. Lynch
SUNY Maritime College

Published to coincide with the sesquicentennial of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, Ships and Shipbuilders is a reference book that offers a fresh look at giants in the field of ship design and construction, while introducing new subjects for discussion. The work is arranged chronologically, ranging from Archimedes of Syracuse, continuing through the late-twentieth century, and concluding with the Australian yachtsman Ben Lexcen.  Along the way one encounters such luminaries as James Watt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Nathaniel Hereshoff as well as those who at first blush might seem odd choices, such as Guglielmo Marconi and Hyman Rickover. The brief characterizations are designed to trace developments in ship design and construction, seen in the context of social and economic changes which shaped the experiences of the subjects, but too often take the form of hagiographic mini-biographies. While the entries are crisply written and the subsections nicely introduced, the volume tends to focus overmuch on the last two centuries of ship design, and almost totally excludes any contributions by those not of European stock. Of the more than 130 entries, none deal with persons from Asia, South America, or Africa, scarcely any deal with Oceania, and only one discusses the contributions of a woman (Isabella Elder).

The entries range from several paragraphs to a few pages, and are concise and matter-of-fact. Unfortunately, there is little if any analysis and the source material used in compiling the information is sometimes dated and obscure. While the volume is handsomely produced and suitable for a coffee-table compendium, it lacks the rigor required of an academic tome. While Ships and Shipbuilders might appeal to the armchair avocationist, serious scholars of maritime history will find little here to reward their time.

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

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

Review by Joseph Moretz
British Commission for Military History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BOOK REVIEW – “A” Force: The Origins of British Deception during the Second World War

Whitney T. Bendeck. “A” Force: The Origins of British Deception during the Second World War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013, 272 pp.

Review by Joseph Moretz
British Commission for Military History

The role of deception in Allied military operations has been surveyed in several previous monographs, but the contribution of “A” Force, the primary British organization responsible for this side of military operations in the Mediterranean theatre, has heretofore lacked its own accounting. Enter Whitney Bendeck to fill the void and who ably recounts how “A” Force hoodwinked the Axis during the critical period of 1941-43, when fortunes ebbed to and fro for the British. Anchoring her research in both primary and secondary sources, the story is told with aplomb and is a useful addition to the growing intelligence historiography of the Second World War. As a survey, the monograph will prove most useful to the general reader desiring to know how deception came to assume such a vital part in British military planning, but even the specialist will delight in the characters introduced along the way and no more than Brigadier Dudley Clarke, the “A” Force commanding officer.

Clarke came to the Middle East in late 1940 at the express request of General Sir Archibald Wavell to plant the seeds of misinformation. Standing on the defensive in the wake of a succession of defeats in that critical year, first efforts sought to create the illusion of strength where only difficulties existed. These were not always successful for a variety of reasons including poor Allied security practices as Bendeck allows, but the efforts showed promise and improved with time and experience. By 1942 and at El Alamein, deception was central to British operational planning and the harvest was a victory of the first order. Deception did not ordain that victory, but in the views of Clarke and the author it doubtlessly allowed it to be secured at a lower cost in life. By 1944, the war was moving in other directions and so too deception. “A” Force had come of age and key personnel now transferred to Britain and applied their craft to the greatest challenge of all: Overlord.

Though this reviewer has little hesitation in recommending the work as a history of “A” Force, that Clarke and his sponsor Wavell were the putative fathers of British deception in the Second World War is to claim too much. It is easy to see how the author enters this trap for at no point is British military experience in deception analysed before the fall of France. To the extent that the pre-1940 period is covered, the author relies on standard academic histories to inform her judgments and fails to incorporate primary sources. These works if explaining much of the broader picture do not usefully address deception. Thus, the previous operational context of British wartime deception is overlooked.

For the British Army, deception was anchored in its Field Service Regulations as an enabler for the principles of surprise and security. As both the Naval War Manual and the RAF War Manual were styled and followed the general lines of the FSR, deception was anchored in the doctrine of all three arms before the onset of the Second World War. Recognizing that the breadth of empire could not be defended with the means available, interwar planners looked to deception and propaganda to help fill the void. In this they studied the previous record provided by the World War with subjects diverse as feints, ruses and decoys featuring in the lectures of its staff colleges. With many having experience of the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign where deception was employed to cover the evacuation, it is not surprising that veterans of the battle such as Captain Wilfrid Egerton, RN, handled the subject.

As for the present war, when the British contemplated intervening in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-40, it created the Inter-Service Security Board (ISSB) in February 1940 under Lieutenant Colonel Jo Holland to develop its deception plan. To this end, the cover story fashioned suggested the Allies were gathering their forces to reinforce the Near East while stores, shipping and troops concentrated at British and French ports for Scandinavia. Though France was not a member of the ISSB, it accepted the premise of the deception plan and acted accordingly. Many of the tools applied by “A” Force including selected leaks, false rumours and bogus signal traffic were used by the ISSB at this time to say nothing of the tactical deceptions deployed when forces subsequently entered and operated in Norway. Even the creation of 5 Scots Guards can be seen as an order of battle deception; a practice “A” Force raised to an art.

In truth, deception was but one tool employed to protect the security of British operations while facilitating surprise against the enemy working alongside propaganda, censorship and psychological warfare. “A” Force played a major part in the successes achieved, but seeing the trees for the forest masks the greater picture. At no time is the reader allowed to view the corresponding moves by the Mediterranean Fleet and the Royal Air Force which presumably played some part in events of 1941 and 1942. Thus, “A” Force tells the story of one vital unit, but it tells little more.

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BOOK REVIEW – Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918

Shawn T. Grimes, Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Boydell Press, 2012. 263 pp.

Review by Howard J. Fuller
University of Wolverhampton

First off, this is a very handsomely-produced book from The Boydell Press (or Boydell & Brewer, based in Suffolk, England). Victorian-born maritime painter William Lionel Wyllie’s “Manoeuvres” graces the cover; a lesser known watercolour next to frequent re-prints of the “First Battle Cruiser Squadron of Grand Fleet 1915”-oil painting, for example, or his epic 42-foot panorama of the “Battle of Trafalgar,” a centre-piece of the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth. This is no accident, because while naval history enthusiasts typically prefer battleships and equally over-the-top sea battles to drool over, “Manoeuvres” is very much about cruisers grappling with the complexities of modern blockade. With its churning brown waters and prominent seagulls in the foreground contrasted starkly with the dark grey ships coming in from the horizon, the art, like Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918, likewise suggests the projection of sea power against land. Indeed, Grimes sets out to make a hard-argued case against the “widely accepted” view that the Royal Navy went into the First World War of 1914-1918 with a largely “defensive” strategy and mind-set that crippled its effectiveness against the Central Powers, and especially in directly threatening Germany from the North Sea and Baltic fronts. He is lucky to employ page-footnotes as well, rather than chapter endnotes or worse, index notes stuck at the end of a book, obliging the reader to clumsily zigzag between analytical narrative and dense research. Here, the magic of the diligent “Rule Britannia”-revisionist is hidden in plain sight for all to see.

The second observation to make is that Grimes does succeed in convincing his reader believe that the Royal Navy did not take its mythic status as “Mistress of the Seas” for granted, or blithely drift into the “Great War” hoping the spirit of Nelson would somehow carry the day once more. In many respects, the British went into that conflict as professionally prepared as any other player—perhaps more so given the deadly stakes involved for a maritime empire whose strategic resources might be thrown into disarray by the Jeune École strategy of a formidable enemy, and an island nation wholly dependent upon imports for its survival going into the twentieth century. Technology remained a wild-card, as it had since the mid-nineteenth century when steam power negated the wind, and monster guns and metal-armour shielding changed the character of England’s “wooden walls.”  Mines, torpedoes and fast-attack flotillas further complicated the strategic picture. Despite the recent, much-trumped theory of a “Cherbourg Strategy”—whereby (only) the British navy could directly attack heavily-fortified naval arsenals or port-cities by distant or even close-range bombardment—the fact remains that such glowing possibilities were never certain or one-sided enough for British diplomacy to risk war against France, or further operations against Russia during the Crimean War (Cronstadt’s improved combined defences remained just strong enough to counter Britain’s “Great Armament” going into 1856). The greatest maritime war of the nineteenth-century, the American Civil War, saw aggressive British statesmen like Lord Palmerston rattle their sabres (or naval cutlasses) during the Trent crisis of 1861—then change their tune to worry over a Yankee “war of revenge.”  The Union Navy continued to mobilise beyond all expectation, employing monitor-ironclads to check any sea-going European varieties afloat, re-fortifying Northern ports with the heaviest service guns the world had ever seen, and laying down a separate fleet of super “Alabama”-style commerce-raiders to threaten British commerce all over the Empire. Projecting its own power against the Confederacy, even with a specialised Brown Water coastal assault navy backed by plenty of troops, however, proved very problematic for the United States. New Orleans fell to a naval coup de main; Charleston did not. Mines sank ironclads, and along with armoured “rams,” deterred most naval commanders from attacking enemy harbours. Even Farragut admitted his luck by “damning the torpedoes” at Mobile Bay in 1864. If Michael Partridge could argue in 1989 that the “close” or direct coastal blockade had died between 1885 and 1905, it was because the “Splendid Isolation” of Britain had already recognised, three decades before, its fundamental inability to defeat—much less “deter”—continental powers by naval offensives alone. As Grimes notes, the Royal Navy “had a strategic doctrine, albeit ill-defined and vague, in place at the [First World War’s] outset.”  That is, it suffered from a schizophrenia between what it was capable of doing par excellence—like conducting a vast though distant blockade of Imperial Germany from the strategic anchor point of the British Isles themselves (the English Channel acting as one ‘fluke’ and the Orkney Islands/Scapa Flow main-base as the other)—and what remained exceedingly difficult to do: “peripheral assaults on the Continent” (p. 192).

As this study charts in detail, the Naval Intelligence Department (NID) of the Admiralty, finally established in 1887, devoted much of its time to exploring the possibilities of both close-blockade and major coastal assault by naval units. Interestingly, this included many “Copenhagen” schemes from Admiral “Jackie” Fisher. This was when he was still a captain and conducting experiments from HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy’s traditional HQ for ordnance trials but also a think-tank for big dreamers like Admiral Sir Ducie Chads, who from 1845-1853 (i.e., the outbreak of the Crimean War) was certain the new rifled, shell-firing guns of the day would simply out-range heavily-fortified naval bases like Cherbourg. The ensuing war demonstrated otherwise. Sevastopol beat back both British and French fleets (on 17 October, 1854); Bomarsund had to be taken by troop landings, ultimately; and Sweaborg was an impressive fireworks display of 13-inch mortars which nonetheless failed to actually damage any Russian forts or dismount guns, and which saw nearly every mortar break down from faulty (rushed) construction. No one at the time had a solution for Russian mines (or “torpedoes”) any more than the Americans did ten years or so later—and even by 1914 British operational planning “was dictated by the dominance of the mine and submarine in the North Sea,” states Grimes. As a result, most of these half-baked ideas were summarily and prudently rejected by the NID—as risks not worth their potential pay-offs—the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign being the one great, awful exception.

Despite the admirable current of optimism running through Strategy and War Planning, the author is rather out on a limb by suggesting the 1918 Zeebrugge and Ostend raids, for example, were “the culmination of the trend begun in the NID three decades earlier” (p. 193). These were more desperate commando operations than a decisive “Copenhagen” or “Cherbourg,” and they were marked by war-time haste. The actions themselves were every bit as dramatic as Alistair MacLean’s fictitious novel from 1957, The Guns of Navarone, except the British did not succeed (any more than they did in the Dodecanese Campaign of the autumn of 1943 and the Battle of Leros upon which MacLean based his re-imagining). Ghastly losses were hardly mitigated in the judgment of history by a generous sprinkling of Victoria Crosses and die-hard British propaganda so thoroughly dissatisfied with the long, drawn-out blockade that any offensive action at sea was depicted as a triumph even if it failed. But what clearly marked the lack of proper coastal assault capabilities was the absence of an actual, purpose-built flotilla throughout the so-called “Pax Britannica.”  As Ian Buxton observed in 1978 with his study of Big Gun Monitors: Design, Construction and Operations 1914-1945 (reprinted  in paperback by Seaforth Publishing in 2012), the Royal Navy invested just 1.6% of its annual naval estimates of 1914-15 towards the construction of shallow-draft, heavily-armed and armoured monitors; the “proportion of seagoing personnel serving in the monitors was also under 2 per cent” (p. 241). Significantly, as with Britain’s precipitous “Great Armament” during the Crimean War, they were nearly all built by the private sector—as Brown Water men-of-war were never considered a peace-time priority for Admiralty-controlled dockyards. Jim Crossley has repeated the verdict recently with Monitors of the Royal Navy: How the Fleet Brought the Great Guns to Bear (Pen & Sword, 2013):

Where was the proud, aggressive Royal Navy which people had so patriotically supported in the peacetime years?

It was this sense of inadequacy which led to the madcap schemes for invading northern Germany which the monitors were designed to lead. When these ventures were abandoned they were replaced by the ill-planned Dardanelles campaign in which monitors played no decisive part. The sustained bombardments of the Belgian coast by the massive guns of the later monitors and the preparations for amphibious landings may have done something to assuage the guilty feeling of senior naval officers, frustrated by the supine attitude of the Grand Fleet, but they didn’t worry the enemy much. The Germans had to garrison the Belgian coast using men and guns which would have been useful elsewhere, but in the big scheme of things this was no more than a minor embarrassment. Even the Zeebrugge Raid only resulted in a handful of casualties on the German side, and represented a poor return for all the planning and effort put into the various schemes for coastal raids. If the monitors were supposed to be the aggressive arm of British sea power, that arm was a miniscule one (p. 147).

Making something small into something great is therefore the real trick here. Grimes writes: “Foibles aside, the pre-war offensive projects resurrected during the war still retained a strategic flexibility deigned to best utilize the Navy’s traditional strengths decisively against Germany had the decision been made to supplement the blockade’s gradual pressure with more expedient methods.”  That’s an author laying down smoke, and it only works—just like the Ostend raids themselves—if the wind is blowing just the right way (which of course is up to the climate of the individual reader.)

This book is nicely written and organised, and it is hoped Grimes will continue with first first-rate scholarship. One problem with Boydell & Brewer’s Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918, on the other hand, is the price. At a listed $115 (even $100 via Amazon) it will be well beyond the reach of most naval buffs (and academics will dig deep or get their institutions’ libraries to order copies for them). A paperback re-print ought to help, and given the calibre of this work one cannot doubt it will be sold-out soon if not already.

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Far China Station: The U.S. Navy in Asian Waters, 1800-1898

Robert Erwin Johnson, Far China Station: The U.S. Navy in Asian Waters, 1800-1898. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013. 307 pp. Paperback edition. B & W illustrations and photographs; maps; notes; bibliography; index.

Review by John M. Jennings
United States Air Force Academy

Far China Station: The U.S. Navy in Asian Waters, 1800-1898 is a 2013 paperback reprint edition of the late Robert Erwin Johnson’s 1979 work. Although the US naval presence in Asia dates back to the voyage of the frigate Essex to Java in 1800, Johnson’s narrative commences with the establishment of the East Indian Squadron 1835, which marks the beginning of a permanent naval presence in the region. The book concludes with the Spanish-American War and Commodore George Dewey’s victory at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898.

As Johnson’s narrative reveals, the US Navy played a largely passive and reactive role in Asia during the nineteenth century. With the exception of the occasional minor punitive action against pirates or other recalcitrants, US warships were for the most part confined to observing major conflicts such as the Opium War, the Sino-French War of 1884-1885, and the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, or to merely “showing the flag” at various ports of call throughout the region. The greatest risks faced by the sailors seem to have been posed by the myriad of tropical diseases and, one suspects, the monotony of long and largely uneventful cruises.

Nevertheless, as Johnson rightly points out, the US Navy was also responsible for some significant diplomatic achievements in Asia. In 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry commanded an impressive naval squadron, including some new steam-driven warships, on a voyage to Japan and concluded the Treaty of Kanagawa, which ended the island empire’s centuries-old policy of isolation. Similarly, Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt was the first western representative to conclude a trade and diplomatic agreement with the previously-isolationist Kingdom of Korea in 1882.

While Johnson describes, often in great detail, what the US Navy accomplished in Asia, Far China Station does little to elucidate the reasons for the almost-continual American naval presence in Asia throughout the nineteenth century. Due to the narrow naval focus, the reader is left without a sense of the larger American political and economic aims in Asia, and how the navy supported those aims. For example, the chapter on Perry’s voyage is titled “The Most Important Cruise,” but the chapter itself does not explain why it was the “most important.” Nor is there any attempt to differentiate the foreign policy and naval priorities of the many administrations during the period under examination.

Far China Station is still useful for readers interested in a traditional narrative account of the history of the US Navy in Asia during the nineteenth century. However, its emphasis on the more quotidian aspects of US naval activities at the expense of placing those activities within a broader contextual framework of American political and economic aims in Asia prevents Far China Station from being the definitive work on this subject. That work is yet to be written.

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Billy Mitchell’s War with the Navy: The Interwar Rivalry over Air Power

Thomas Wildenberg, Billy Mitchell’s War with the Navy: The Interwar Rivalry over Air Power. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013, 288 pp.

Review by Charles D. Dusch, Jr.
United States Air Force Academy

Now that the centennial of the First World War is upon us, it is time for an impartial, scholarly work on Billy Mitchell. Thomas Wildenberg’s latest offering argues that Mitchell was neither the founder of the U.S. Air Force, nor the creator of strategic bombing. Rather, Mitchell’s “claim to fame” was sinking the former German battleship Ostfriesland, which he did by disobeying orders. Wildenberg’s objective is to document Mitchell’s contribution to the interservice rivalry over air power after World War One, focusing on the Virginia Capes bombing trials of the early 1920s. Unlike previous examinations of Mitchell, Wildenberg contributes to the literature by writing from the perspective of the U.S. Navy, and specifically by incorporating the papers of Vice Admiral Alfred W. Johnson, who was a captain when he commanded the naval force responsible for the Virginia Capes bombing tests.

The author’s introduction of these papers is quite engaging. One sees just how vulnerable naval aviation was after the post-Great War budget cuts, both organizationally and materially, due to internal Navy issues at the time of the bombing trials. Examining the structure of naval aviation in the context of Mitchell’s push for a unified, independent air force modeled along the lines of Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, drives home the threat Mitchell posed to the Navy and how this may have contributed to the ardor manifested by both services during this struggle for air power control. Mitchell’s well-timed salvoes challenged Navy leadership and grabbed headlines across the nation. In many ways, the climax of this interservice struggle came in the early 1920s off the Virginia Capes when both the Army and Navy conducted aircraft bombing experiments on former German warships.

In his chapter on these bombing trials, the author makes good use of primary sources. There is an excellent discussion on the limits of Army Martin bombers and the impact of doctrine in attacking surface ships, as well as the condition of the target vessels as attested to by the Navy salvage crews that prepared them for the bombing experiments. Also, Johnson’s comments on Mitchell’s Saturday Evening Post articles, listed separately in the second appendix, deliver both insightful contrast to Mitchell’s well-publicized statements and valuable scrutiny of Mitchell’s assessment of the tests from his Navy counterpart. In fact, Johnson’s testimony before the Lampert Committee comes across as the most damaging to Mitchell’s declarations and is one of the most absorbing chapters.

One hungers for more of Johnson’s material. This is by far the book’s strong suit, and a comparative analysis of the two commanders would have been an innovative approach to this controversial topic.

However, much of Billy Mitchell’s War with the Navy crosses well-trodden ground. Indeed, the author makes ample use of previous Mitchell biographers, whom he also discusses in a very nice historiographical synopsis. For instance, Wildenberg extensively references James C. Cooke in the chapter “Laying down the Gauntlet,” though he criticizes Cooke’s accuracy and acceptance of Mitchell’s diary entries at face value, since Mitchell was reputed to twist the truth. Yet, Wildenberg stumbles into the same trap. The author argues that Mitchell’s most important contribution to the U.S. military was his service in the Great War, where his leadership was overlooked and underplayed. However, Wildenberg’s chapter on WWI relies heavily on Mitchell, or published historians who depended on Mitchell’s writings for their scholarship. Here, one would like to have seen more archival sources, such as Mason Patrick’s papers.

One of the most surprising things about this book is the author’s frequent use of pejorative language concerning Mitchell. Wildenberg is not shy about where he stands concerning the controversial airman. Indeed, the book seems to be quite emotional at times about Mitchell’s so-called war with the Navy. At one point, after discussing the successes of the Air Service during the Virginia Capes trials, the author even seems to have embraced the Navy’s 1925 argument for post-WWI battleship design against aircraft to diminish the effect of the experiment, despite the verdict of World War II, as derived from the sinking of ships such as the Prince of Wales and Yamato. Ironically, the author’s passion and advocacy do give one a sense of the fervor and vitriol that resulted from Mitchell’s ill-advised attempts to wrest aviation away from the Navy through the headlines.

Additionally, when attempting to ascertain Mitchell’s motives for his actions, the author sometimes ventures into speculation and innuendo without citing sources. There are factual errors as well. Hunter Liggett was not yet in line to command the U.S. First Army between 20-23 May 1918, when Mason Patrick met with Pershing to discuss the Air Service. That came much later. The author asserts that Air Force historians “never” mention that Mitchell intentionally disobeyed orders to sink the Ostfriesland. As early as 1942, Emile Gauvreau and Lester Cohen clearly bragged about it in their book, Billy Mitchell: Founder of our Air Force and Prophet without Honor (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., pages 60-61). Mitchell’s work, Winged Defense, is hardly a “tome” (The 1988 Dover Publications edition is 223 pages, large print, and Mitchell is not known for his scholarship even by his champions). There are more.

Despite these lapses, Wildenberg does make attempts to be fair. The author owns that Mitchell had many supporters in both services. He also accurately acknowledges that the Navy could be selfish too, when the tables were turned, as it clung to its control of the now-famous Norden bombsight even after it had largely rejected the doctrine of level-bombing against ships. Nor would the Navy release the Norden’s patent to the Army. As a result, the Army Air Forces found itself wanting for accurate bombsights in the Second World War and was forced to send large numbers of bombers against their targets without bombsights of any kind. Dropping their payloads off the Norden-equipped lead bomber, precision and effectiveness suffered. One must wonder how many lives might have been spared, or if the war might have otherwise been shortened had this not been the case.

Billy Mitchell’s War with the Navy adds to the literature on Mitchell by presenting the perspective of the U.S. Navy during a volatile time of interservice rivalry in American history. The contribution of Alfred Johnson’s papers is most illuminating and begs a comparative study of the two commanders of the Virginia Capes bombing trials. Nonetheless, there is still a need for an impartial, scholarly work on Mitchell now that the centennial of the Great War is upon us.

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power

Andrew Nagorski, Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2012. 400 pp. Photos, bibliography, index.

Review by Kaitlin Sadler
University of Mary Washington

Seven decades later, questions surrounding the Second World War still captivate students of history. The question of how Adolf Hitler rose to power is not the least of these. In his book Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, Andrew Nagorski compiles the testimonies of American citizens in Nazi Berlin, in an attempt to convey the atmosphere of the times. Journalists, tourists, diplomats and their families provide the firsthand material for Nagorski’s story, which covers the scope of American observations and sentiments about Germany as it moved toward the outbreak of war in 1939. Hitlerland is intended for a popular, non-scholarly audience, and provides a good sense of the confusion and apprehension that accompanied the political turmoil of the times.

Nagorski’s narrative begins in the immediate aftermath of World War I with the establishment of the Weimar Republic. He briefly describes Berlin of the 1920′s as a lively city which attracted foreigners as a hub of arts, sciences, and free love, set against a backdrop of political and economic turmoil. Then, he begins to introduce the reader to the cast of Americans at the center of the tale. Among the main characters are Putzi Hanfstaengl, the half-American Harvard graduate who became one of Hitler’s propagandists, and journalists Sigrid Schultz, Edgar Mowrer, William Shirer, H. R. Knickerbocker, and Bella Fromm. Nagorski describes visits from famous Americans like aviator Charles Lindbergh and Olympic athlete Jesse Owens. The book also features testimonies from American ambassador William Dodd and his daughter Martha, consul general George Messersmith, attaché Truman Smith, his wife Kay, and his daughter Kätchen.

It soon becomes clear that the Americans’ impressions of Germany were extremely varied. Some did not know what to make of the Nazis, while others were immediately on their guard. Some visitors missed the tension and nuance that characterized German politics altogether. Among the rare few who immediately identified Hitler’s Germany as threatening were George Messersmith, who was praised for his uncompromising opinions on the Nazis long before they were popular, and his efforts to protect American citizens from them as consul general. Another visitor who was alarmed by events in Germany was missionary Sherwood Eddy. In 1933, he addressed an audience of Germans, accusing them of “acting against the principles of justice” (p. 142).

Nagorski emphasizes that strongly negative public opinions such as Eddy’s were in the minority at the time. Even American reporters stated that they were “shocked” by the boldness of his speech (p. 143). The journalists typically adopted a much more cautious approach, whether because they were hesitant to pass harsh judgment on a regime that seemed to improve Germany’s lot in some ways, or later, for fear of their jobs. In the early days, Edgar Mowrer, later a vocal critic of Nazi policy, “sounded alarmed in some moments but uncertain in others” (p. 101). He grew bolder as the dangers posed by the Nazis became more evident, and eventually attracted such ire from the regime that he was rushed out of the country for fear that he would be arrested, or worse. The radio broadcaster Hans V. Kaltenborn noted that many people were unaware of the dangers at first, recalling that “most people who met Adolf Hitler before he came to power in January, 1933 were apt to underestimate him…I was no exception” (p. 88).

This is indeed a theme throughout the testimonies of the Americans who met Hitler, and it had an effect on the assessment of the threat Germany posed. H.R. Knickerbocker’s analysis claimed that Germany was definitely moving toward militarism, but scorned comparisons of Hitler with Mussolini, noting “a strongly feminine element in Hitler’s character” (p. 75). In a book about her own meeting with Hitler, Dorothy Thompson stated, “I was convinced that I was meeting the future dictator of Germany…In something less than fifty seconds I was quite sure I was not. It took just that long to measure the startling insignificance of this man…” (p. 85). Before the Nazi party took power, American ambassador Frederic Sackett wrote Hitler off as a “fanatical crusader” (p. 81). Many foreigners did not understand the impact of Hitler’s ideology and policies on the German people, simply because they found it difficult to take the man seriously.

Conversely, some Americans recognized Hitler’s appeal, some even falling under his spell themselves. Some who approved of Hitler cited the utility of the fascist movement as a counter against Bolshevism. Ambassador Dodd was advised by an American philanthropist to “let Hitler have his way” for such ideological reasons (p. 121). Karl Henry von Wiegand, a reporter for Hearst publications, described Hitler as “a man of the people,” and a “magnetic speaker with exceptional organizing genius” who had “the earmarks of a leader” (p. 22). Upon meeting Hitler, Putzi Hanfstaengl was “impressed beyond measure,” (p. 35). while his wife Helen described the dictator as “a warm person” who “evidently liked children” (p. 37). The reporter S. Miles Bouton criticized the idea of “the menace of Hitlerism” as it developed in the American press (p. 97). By citing these accounts, Nagorski dispels any myth that only Germans bought into Nazi propaganda.

The wide range of interpretations is understandable. As Nagorski puts it, “[w]hen you’re in the center of a whirlwind, daily life can continue with deceptive normality at times, even when the abnormalities, absurdities, and injustices are all too apparent” (p. 8). This partially explains why some Americans were hesitant to pass judgment on Hitler, and why ultimately, no one stopped him before he led the world into war. Nagorski also emphasizes that the opinions of these witnesses were colored by “their predispositions, the different slices of reality that they observed and whether at times they saw only what they wanted to see, whatever the signals to the contrary” (p. 4).

In fact, the Americans in Hitlerland experienced Berlin from a unique perspective. One did not necessarily need press credentials or diplomatic immunity; just being an American afforded one a certain advantage in 1930′s Berlin. They received “an unexpectedly warm welcome” (p. 15) due to an “overall pro-American mood” following the First World War (p. 16). They did not experience many of the same economic hardships as the citizens of Berlin, by virtue of being foreigners. However, the Americans were not untouchable. Associated Press bureau chief Louis Lochner recalled that “reporting from Germany ceased to be a pleasure when the Nazis seized power in 1933” (p. 171). While they only deported a select few American reporters before war broke out between the US and Germany, the Nazis tried other methods of undermining those who wrote negatively about them (p. 171). Some Americans were even physically assaulted, such as editor Edward Dahlberg, who was attacked for being Jewish, and Kaltenborn’s son Rolf, who was beaten for failing to execute the Hitler salute (p. 109). Yet, the Americans had the embassy’s protection behind them, and at least initially, propagandists such as Hanfstaengl were eager to introduce Hitler to American journalists, affording them many firsthand experiences with the dictator.

Nagorski narrates these experiences simply and straightforwardly. Throughout Hitlerland, he covers an expansive and complex period of history without going into too much detail. This makes it a book suitable for a casual reader, or one who might be a novice to the basic politics of interwar Germany. Nagorski cites his sources in an extensive bibliography which includes memoirs, letters, notes, articles, and interviews, as well as many scholarly secondary sources. Finally, a detailed index contributes to the accessibility of the subject matter. He also provides photo inserts, which serve as a useful and interesting aid, so that the reader may visualize the characters featured in the book. As an experienced journalist, political scientist, and author of several books, Andrew Nagorski produced a comprehensive book on the rise of Hitler focused heavily on primary sources.

However, Hitlerland is lacking in the analysis characteristic of many books of this genre. It has a much broader, less in-depth focus than Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, which follows the experiences of William and Martha Dodd, and a less scholarly objective than the works of Sir Ian Kershaw on the same subject. The author states that he “focused on telling [the Americans’] stories—and wherever possible, letting those stories speak for themselves,” (p. 8) and thereby offers no criticism of the people or events recounted in the book, adopting a detached, objective standpoint. While Nagorski is successful in terms of allowing the Americans to speak for themselves, an analysis of the recorded impressions might have proved helpful and interesting. Absent of such analysis, it does not present any new information to those who are already very familiar with the subject matter.

In Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, Nagorski presents an intriguing, easily comprehensible account of Germany on its road to war, as seen firsthand from an American perspective. The focus on primary sources effectively allows the reader to obtain a sense of the turbulence of the era and an interesting perspective on an important period of history.

 (Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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View from the Quarterdeck

chadbournOver the summer during a visit to France I came upon a moving reminder of the importance of a journal dedicated to encouraging academic scholarship in the field of international naval history.  Just several hundred meters inland from the imposing U. S. Navy Monument in Normandy dedicated by the Naval Order of the United States, sits the splendid Utah Beach Museum, recently refurbished through a generous grant from the The David Dewhurst Foundation of Texas.  Flying a B-26 aircraft, LtCol David H. Dewhurst of the 386th Bomb Wing, 9th Air Force, led the final attack against German fortifications along the landing zone at 0725 on 6 June 1944, just five minutes prior to the scheduled assault.  The museum houses one of the few remaining B-26s in the world.  LtCol Dewhurst returned safely to his home in Houston after the war, only to be killed in an accident with a drunk driver.  His son was only three years old and would only “discover” his father years later during a visit to Utah Beach in 2007, leading him to donate over two million dollars to refurbishment of the museum first created by the long-time Mayor of Sainte Marie du Mont, France, Michel de Vallavieille, in an old German bunker in1962.

Tucked away in a side gallery of the museum, off from the B-26, was an exhibit dedicated to a little-known story of the contribution to the Allied cause in World War II by the Danish Merchant Marine.  When the Nazis overran Denmark on 9 April 1940 during Operation Weserubung, 230 Danish vessels amounting to over 1,200,000 tons manned by thousands of Danish Merchant Mariners were quite literally marooned at sea.   Ordered to return to German controlled territory, most of the crews refused and subsequently sailed for British or other Allied ports. These vessels and their crews remained in service supporting the Allies for the duration of the conflict.  Their contribution was not inconsequential to the war effort, particularly at the critical juncture before the United States entered the war while Britain was hanging by a slender thread.  Over 60% of these ships were sunk by the Germans and more than 1,500 Danish seamen died. The story of the Danish Merchant Marine service stands as a stark reminder of the international dimension of war at sea and also epitomizes in a very real sense why there is a need for an outlet such as the International Journal of Naval History (IJNH) to chronicle stories such as this.

The journal has been “in port” for a while, replenishing so to speak, for the coming voyages of intellectual discovery.  As we head back to the sea of historical inquiry, we do so with a great sense of appreciation for the very concept of this journal as established by our Founding Editor, Dr. Gary E. Weir, now Chief Historian at National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  In many ways Gary was a visionary, ahead of his time in appreciating the coming age of digital history and publications.  We shall make every effort to remain true to his original vision for openness and fresh scholarship in the world of naval history.

From time to time in the coming issues, which I trust you will find worth reading and discussing with colleagues, students and friends alike, we shall try some new approaches.  I want especially to encourage and to mentor our younger colleagues, the next generation of naval historians.  In the future we also plan to have some issues of IJNH built around topical questions.  For example, looking ahead, the 100th anniversary of the onset of The Great War is less than a year away.  Sometime during 2014 we would like to devote an entire issue to some of the many important naval aspects of that monumental conflict.  Finally, we want to continue doing those traditional things such as publishing articles and book reviews.  If you want to be one of our book reviewers, or have a manuscript you would like us to consider, please get in touch with either me or our Book Review Editor, Dr. Chuck Steele of the Air Force Academy.

And so, colleagues, we have much to share with one another.  I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and potential articles.  There is much to learn from such dialog.

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

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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