View from the Quarterdeck: December 2015

chadbournChief of Naval Operations (CNO) of the U.S. Navy Admiral John Richardson attended the Tenth Regional Seapower Symposium for the Navies of the Mediterranean and Black Sea Countries in Venice, Italy, in October of 2015.  Participating in a panel discussion focused on the theme of the symposium on enhancing maritime security in the Mediterranean, Admiral Richardson addressed what he sees as an increasing awareness of the growing importance of the world’s oceans as a shared commons.  “What becomes clear,” he said, “is a growing sense of the importance of the maritime domain as a global system that seamlessly and effectively connects global nations. . . . Our economies, our access to resources, our markets all flow on the superhighway that we call part of the global commons.” The American CNO went on to say that there are three purposes of naval forces in today’s maritime domain: to promote and protect freedom of the seas, to advocate for and demonstrate the benefits of international laws and standards, and to deter conflict and coercion.  And it is this final observation which brings us to the lead article for the December 2015 issue of IJNH, “Water Scarcity, Conflict and the U.S. Navy.”

In a paper prepared for the 55th Annual U.S. Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, Christian Perkins of the University of Mary Washington observed that the U.S. Navy has a long history of using naval power to protect American interests worldwide.  Such operations included not only engaging the Barbary pirates in the early 19th century but also extended to patrolling the Yangtze River in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  The larger goal was promotion of world stability.  Perkins argues that today the world faces a potential new threat in the form of increasing freshwater scarcity which “has the potential to complicate and exacerbate existing instabilities” around the globe.  This timely article reminds us that the U.S. Navy has historical experience operating in the littoral zones of the world.  As then Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work observed in January of 2013, naval strategists are beginning to recognize that American security concerns may increasingly be called upon to focus on brown-water operations.  Perkins explores this theme in detail, providing in the process a timely analysis of how global climate change may impact future naval operations.

Our second article is from a retired Naval Surface Warfare Officer, Scott Mobley, who recently completed his Ph.D. in History at the University of Wisconsin.  His paper offers intriguing and well-documented insight on the founding and evolution of the Office of Naval Intelligence, especially so with regard to strategic thinking in the United States.  Mobley makes a strong case for the early development of strategic thought at ONI in the 1880’s, long before the nation or the U.S. Navy had other institutions which might perform that function.  He also points out the importance of an early and continuing need for technical information about what other nations are doing with their navies.  Such knowledge is ever more vital in an age such as ours where technology is increasingly expensive yet vital.  Mobley’s study also reminds us of the importance of early professional development of institutions designed to gather intelligence and develop strategic direction which would come to fruition in the 20th century.

Timothy Walton’s article takes us to the Atlantic theater of World War II.  His study provides a fascinating reminder of the use of operational research in the Second World War.  Walton examines British operational research by Britain’s RAF Coastal Command and assesses its effectiveness in countering German U-boat operations.  Along the way he points out the enormous role of signals intelligence (specifically, “Ultra”) in shaping operational search patterns.  Walton concludes that lessons learned from his historical study suggest the importance of increased incorporation of operational research expertise into senior defense decision-making warrants attention.

Finally, we continue our ongoing examination of various naval archives which may be of interest to naval historians and other researchers.  Previously we looked at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Dudley Knox Library.  Our focus in this issue is the Naval Historical Collection at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI.  Former assistant archivist Scott Reilly originally wrote this piece, but current Head Archivist Dara Baker confirms she would be delighted to work with scholars interested in these specialized collections.  We hope our readers find this series as a whole helpful.  As Editor I would welcome suggestions of other archives for future inclusion in this series.

In retrospect 2015 has been a banner year for the International Journal of Naval History.  The sea buoy has passed astern.  For the first time since 2009 we met our objective of three issues per year with publications in January, July and December.  Perhaps of even greater importance, with support from CAPT Todd Creekman and the Naval Historical Foundation we established an award for distinguished writing.  At the 2015 McMullen Naval History Symposium Dinner at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis we presented the inaugural IJNH Best Article of the Year Award to  Michael J. Crawford, Senior Historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, for his well-crafted article, “Taking the Moral High Ground: The United States, Privateering, and Immunity of Private Property at Sea.”  Mike’s article appeared in the January, 2015, publication of IJNH, Volume 12, Issue 1.   We plan to continue this award annually in the future.  Also, we continued our initiative to encourage younger scholars such as Abigail Wiest of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, whose documentary “USS Kirk: Leadership Amidst Chaos, A Legacy of Survival” appeared in our July edition.  And finally, two new volunteers joined the staff: Matt Eng of the Naval Historical Foundation as Digital Editor and Liz Williams of the Naval War College as Executive Assistant to the Editor.  Howard Fuller, Associate Editor, and Chuck Steele, Book Review Editor, join me in thanking Matt and Liz for their enormous contributions to the journal.

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

For all our readers we wish the traditional “Fair winds and following seas” in this holiday season and a Happy New Year for 2016.

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

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)

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Water Scarcity, Conflict, and the U.S. Navy


Historical Precedent
Scope of the Problem
Yemen: A Case Study
A Role for the Navy
Appendix A: Maps

Christian Perkins
55th Annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference
Domestic Category Prize Winner

Historical Precedent

Since its inception, the United States has made protection of its international interests a priority through transoceanic power projection. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the U.S. projected its military power primarily to maintain its commercial interests. Today, the U.S. continues to use its substantial power projection capabilities to stabilize regions in the name of maintaining global security; it has done so primarily through its substantial navy. 1  Navies have long been essential tools for nations engaging in power projection because they allow an extension of military power across long distances. 2  One of the first operations to this end in which the U.S. Navy engaged sought to protect American trade. Beginning in the late 18th century, pirates from the Barbary States of Africa began to harass U.S. merchant ships. The Confederation Government of the United States found itself unable to raise the funds or naval power to combat these pirates, and resorted to diplomacy to resolve the situation. However, the governments of Tripoli and Algiers refused diplomatic advances and sporadically continued their attacks. By 1801, the U.S. government built up sufficient military force to deploy ships and marines to engage the Barbary States, which they defeated handily. 3  Such military actions taken by the U.S. to protect trade assets set a precedent for using naval power to maintain its interests in remote regions.

USS Panay (Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

USS Panay (Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Navy put forth more extensive efforts to quell instability with the Asiatic fleet in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Internal strife then abounded in China, threatening American lives, trade interests, and property within the region. Well-armed pirates along the Yangtze River often perpetrated this conflict. Due to China’s fragile and preoccupied central government, these pirates controlled territories along the Yangtze River and robbed with impunity. Once the pirates were recognized as a threat, U.S. ships successfully began patrolling the Yangtze River and Chinese ports to maintain order. They drove pirates out of previously lawless regions, and U.S. ships often came to the aid of Chinese cities experiencing civil unrest or instability. The Asiatic fleet carried on the U.S. naval tradition of protecting economic interests and preserving order through show (though not necessarily use) of force. Often, U.S. ships simply had to arrive in an area of instability for conflict to diminish. 4

These examples embody the U.S. Navy’s responses to a myriad of inter- and intra-state conflicts, using its significant power projection capabilities to protect American interests abroad and promote world stability. Displays of U.S. naval power have mitigated the relatively apparent causes of these past conflicts. However, in future decades, increasing freshwater scarcity will complicate intra-state conflicts of interest to U.S. foreign policymakers. Water scarcity has the potential to complicate and exacerbate existing instabilities within states. These heightened conflicts have the potential to destabilize entire regions and topple governments, all from both direct and indirect consequences of water scarcity. Yemen demonstrates a key case study because it is both an example of the effects water scarcity can have on conflict and an area of prime concern to U.S. strategists. If U.S. policymakers remain committed to the goal of world stability, the U.S. Navy will probably involve itself more frequently in conflicts complicated by water scarcity.

The UN defines water scarcity as the point at which the aggregate impact of all users impinges upon the quality or supply of water under prevailing institutional arrangements to the extent that the demand of all sectors, including the environment, cannot be satisfied fully. 5  Policy makers and analysts acknowledge that water scarcity is becoming an international security concern. 6  Water scarcity has already engendered significant instability in the Middle-East, North Africa, and Central Asia. 7  The U.S. State Department has recognized water scarcity as a threat multiplier, meaning that it interacts with other underlying tensions to complicate existing feuds or class struggles. 8 Water scarcity has the potential to exacerbate both inter- and intra-state conflict, although most scholars consider the latter more likely. 9  The National Intelligence Council predicts that this scarcity will only worsen in the next 15 years and must be addressed now to prevent future instability. 10 The countries experiencing water scarcity typically do not have the resources, infrastructure, or proper governance to deal with the problem effectively. 11  It is in the U.S.’s best interest to aid in addressing water scarcity. The National Intelligence Council also argues that the U.S. can increase the likelihood of a future favorable global environment if it remains engaged in the international community and attempts to encourage stability. 12 This paper will first analyze the scope and causes of water scarcity and how it can exacerbate problems within a region. It will next demonstrate the role water scarcity plays in increasing instability by focusing on Yemen as a case study. The paper will conclude with a prescription for actions the U.S. and multilateral institutions should take to address the global problem of water scarcity as well as the possible roles the U.S. navy could play in preserving stability in scarcity stricken regions.

Scope of the Problem

The consensus among analysts is that there is no one cause of water scarcity. 13  Instead, they cite many different trends and problems that interact with each other to cause scarcity. Diverse factors can have differing levels of significance in various regions or countries. 14  Analysts identify the major trends contributing to water scarcity as unprecedented population growth, poorly designed policies, ineffectual government regulation, and increasing climate change. 14 Chronic water mismanagement and pollution interact with these trends as well. 16  Poor governance aggravates these problems so that water scarcity is now pervades in many Middle-Eastern countries like Yemen and Pakistan. 14 Although most of the Middle-East suffers from water scarcity to some degree, it is a global phenomenon. (See Appendix A, Figure 1.) For example, countries as diverse as Somalia, Nigeria, and Uzbekistan, also currently experience water scarcity. Many of these problems are solvable, but have persisted for so long that overcoming them seems impossible. 18  States lacking strong government and resources are the most susceptible to developing serious water scarcity. 14

Scholars have identified inter-state conflict, internal political strife, and ethnic clashes due to migration as categories of conflict that water scarcity worsens. 20 Inter-state conflict occurs most often over water disputes between riparian states. 21  In the past, these inter-state conflicts rarely resulted in extended conflict. 22  Many analysts agree that inter-state conflicts are unlikely since they require a particularistic set of circumstances. The downstream country must be highly dependent on the river’s flow for its national wellbeing, and the upstream nation must threaten to affect the river’s flow substantially. A history of antagonism must exist between the two states and, most importantly, the downstream state must believe it has sufficient military power to rectify the situation. 21 However unlikely, it is important not to discount inter-state conflict completely when discussing water scarcity. Michael T. Klare makes a compelling argument in his book Resource Wars for the potential of future inter-state conflict over water. He posits that if trends of worsening scarcity continue, the likelihood of inter-state water conflict will increase commensurately. 24  Countries have already come close to starting armed conflicts over water disputes. 24  As the resource becomes increasingly scarce, nations could become more aggressive towards the neighbors with whom they share water.

In contrast, analysts predict that intra-state conflicts involving water scarcity are much more likely. 26  Already, many states experience widespread internal instability due in part to water scarcity. 27  Water scarcity is most likely to exacerbate instability in poor or underdeveloped countries that lack the resources to address the issue properly. Parts of California currently suffer extreme water shortages, but the U.S. government possesses the infrastructure and resources to mitigate the drought’s effects. 28 Many countries plagued with water scarcity, however, do not have sufficiently strong governments to address the problem effectively. 29  Countries that do possess the financial resources to address water scarcities are usually dealing with more pressing problems like widespread insurgency or poverty. 30 Water shortages indirectly worsen these seemingly more pressing issues, intensifying instability. 31.

Resource capturing is a common response to water scarcity. Thomas Homer-Dixon defines resource capturing as aggressively acquiring and stockpiling a scarce resource to ensure one’s security. Scarcity encourages empowered groups to obtain as much water as possible to secure their own interests. This leads to the ecological marginalization of less socioeconomically privileged groups. Israel is a prime example of this. In the early 1990s, a water shortage on the West Bank of the Jordan River encouraged financially sound farmers to drill aggressively for more water. These wealthier farmers secured their own economic interests at the expense of other farmers who could not afford to drill for more water. This encouraged many to abandon agriculture and move into cities, hoping to find a better livelihood. Mass migrations have become common in countries plagued with water scarcity and cause a myriad of problems that further contribute to instability. 32

As Israel demonstrates, migrations induced by water scarcity often involve displaced farmers migrating either to an area where water is not scarce or to a city in search of other employment. 33  Sometimes these migrations are transnational. All such scenarios have the potential to cause widespread instability in a country or region. The migration of farmers to regions without scarcity strains populations already settled there. A higher concentration of farmers means more competition for water, land, and business. This can cause strife between migrants and settled populations as well as economic and environmental degradation. 34  A similar effect results when environmental refugees migrate to cities in search of economic and social stability. The overcrowding in cities of nations with widespread water scarcity has raised crime and poverty rates and increased political unrest. 34 Trans-national environmental refugees can strain neighboring countries, potentially heightening regional instability. These migrations have resulted in violent conflict between refugees and native populations of a country and have also damaged relations between states. 34

If a population perceives the government as either exacerbating, or not addressing, water scarcity, political frustration likely will increase. A government unable to mitigate water scarcity cannot address other national problems effectively. Unaddressed water scarcity adds to peoples’ perception that their government cannot maintain security or provide effectively for them. It further complicates problems already causing political frustration in a society. This makes insurgency or revolutionary action more likely. While it will not likely cause an insurgency directly, water scarcity’s indirect effects highlight the shortcomings and mistakes of an ineffective regime and increase a populations’ perceived deprivation. This can promote widespread instability in states struggling with water scarcity. Many of these regimes are vulnerable to, and even existentially threatened by, insurgency. Through its indirect socioeconomic effects, water scarcity increases both the likelihood and the intensity of an uprising. 21

Yemen: A Case Study

Yemen constitutes an example of how water scarcity can increase both internal and regional instability. 30 Yemen has the highest rate of water scarcity in the Middle-East, and analysts project that it will exhaust its water within the next decade. 39  Yemen’s population growth, misguided agricultural policies, significant qat industry, lack of regulation, and high vulnerability to climate change are the key causes of its water crisis. 30  Scarcity has historically been a source of conflict within Yemen. Sana’a University recently conducted a study that found that much of the country’s rising militancy is over resources, including water. 41  Armed insurgencies in North and South Yemen contest for precious water reserves. Militant groups will often use captured water supplies as leverage over both the government and rival groups. 42  Water scarcity intensifies this pervasive security threat and hinders the Yemeni government from addressing the root problem. The water crisis in Yemen has the potential to contribute significantly to its current trajectory toward collapse.

Yemen experienced significant agricultural development beginning in the 1970s. 43  This led to its rapid adoption of advanced farming technologies, steering Yemeni farmers away from traditional water management and agricultural systems. Although these new technologies stimulated the agricultural sector, they also encouraged unsustainable water consumption. The Yemeni government refrained from heavily regulating water usage, fearing it would slow this new growth. It also implemented poorly conceived policies to stimulate agricultural development. Low-interest loans and public investment in surface irrigation kept water extremely cheap, consequently encouraging waste. The failure to regulate water acquisition techniques, such as ground drilling and well sinking, allowed farmers to deplete ground water reserves quickly. This lack of regulation also engendered poorly built wells and pipelines, further increasing waste. 44

Once it realized the country’s water supplies were dwindling, the Yemeni government sought to regulate agriculture and water usage. It promulgated laws prohibiting unauthorized drilling or well digging and limiting water usage for farmers. It also mandated restrictions on the growth of qat, a narcotic plant consumed by most Yemeni people. Qat requires heavy irrigation and accounts for nearly 30 percent of Yemen’s annual water usage. 45 However, most farmers have ignored these new regulations. 46 Agriculture, especially qat cultivation, serves as their sole source of income, and these regulations disrupt their ability to sustain themselves. The central Yemeni government is so weak that it cannot enforce its regulations, and Yemeni farmers have no incentive to follow them, since many of them must cultivate qat to survive. 47

Yemen’s dire security situation prevents it from effectively addressing its water scarcity problem. A Shia group led by Hussein al-Houthi has been waging a war against the national government since 2004. 48  The Yemeni government has not neutralized these rebels, and in January 2015, the group overran the capital city of Sanaa. 49  The Houthi insurgents have taken over regions of Yemen crucial to the country’s water security. Aquifers in the south have become inaccessible because they are completely under insurgent control. Rebel activity has made the region unsafe for government surveyors and hydrologists, further threatening the water security of local populations. These populations think the government cannot solve their water issues, impelling them to support the insurgency. 45

The growing presence and strength of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has worsened Yemen’s impending implosion. Security analysts consider AQAP to be one of the most powerful and dangerous factions of Al Qaeda. 51 AQAP is currently taking aggressive action against both the Houthi insurgents and the collapsing central government. 52 These actions further disrupt the government and prevent it from reaching a peace agreement with insurgents. 52  The water crisis exacerbates all internal conflicts in Yemen. Before the rise of the Houthi insurgency and AQAP, the Yemeni government enjoyed little popular support partially because of its inability to solve the water crisis. 54 Thus, insurgent movements gained support among the population. The Houthi insurgency has explicitly promised fair and regular utilities to the Yemeni people if it attains power. 52 Unsurprisingly, the region in which the Houthi insurgents are strongest is the northeast, where water scarcity is pervasive.(See Appendix A, Figure 2.)Clearly, water scarcity has worsened instability. The inability of the Yemeni government to provide basic necessities for its people demonstrates its weakness and increases both the likelihood and intensity of insurgency. 52

Yemen is currently the most extreme example of how water scarcity can increase instability in a country and exacerbate other internal issues. It effectively displays how water scarcity can heighten existing political discontent and empower insurgent groups by giving them leverage over the government. The government’s reluctance to regulate water usage due to its fears of hindering economic development may have been a reasonable calculus in the short, but not long, term. In addition, Yemen’s instability has both regional and global ramifications. As the fighting within Yemen has worsened, Saudi Arabia and Iran have turned the struggle between various groups into a proxy war. 57  Iran has begun supplying weapons to Houthi rebels in an attempt to vie for regional influence. 58  The Saudi government has targeted both Houthi rebels and AQAP insurgents in airstrikes while supplying weapons to the Yemeni government. 59  The escalation of a proxy war in Yemen between two of the more powerful countries in the middle-east would have disastrous consequences for the stability of the region. Furthermore, AQAP’s significant presence in Yemen has allowed it to execute terrorist attacks against other countries in the region and against the United States. 52  It would be hyperbolic to claim that water scarcity caused AQAP’s rise to power in Yemen, but it has provided favorable conditions for an insurgent movement to accrue significant influence. 61


Yemen is a worst-case scenario of how water scarcity can exacerbate, extend, and complicate existing problems within a country. Analysts agree that Yemen is essentially a failed state and beyond saving. 62  If the Yemeni government had addressed its water problems when first identified, its current situation might not be as dire. Despite the belief that Yemen is a lost cause, the U.S. and UN send significant amounts of money and resources to the state annually. 63 Other water-scarce countries experience many of the same problems to a lesser degree. With timely corrective actions and external aid, these countries can potentially avoid Yemen’s fate. Water scarcity is a multifaceted problem exacerbating diverse sets of problems in different countries. Despite unique factors in each country, most water scarcity cases share a set of common variables.

Although there is no one solution, countries can pursue a set of common solutions that will significantly mitigate water scarcity. Though technical, some of these potential fixes are critical for many countries’ water problems. Addressing water pollution through increased industrial and agricultural regulation is a crucial step many water-scarce countries can take. Rampant industrial pollution has significantly compromised the groundwater reserves of China, Brazil, and Yemen, among others. 64  This is common among developing countries whose industrial sectors are growing rapidly and do not have strong governmental regulations. 65 Another critical step many water-scarce countries can take is to update their irrigation systems. Developing nations with large agricultural sectors, notably those in the Middle-East, waste significant amounts of water through inefficient or dilapidated irrigation systems. 66 For example, analysts estimate that irrigation systems in Yemen waste up to 60 percent of the water they transport due to leakage. 67 Updating irrigation systems would improve water efficiency and raise the government’s legitimacy among its people.

These steps are general; most water-scarce countries can take them to good effect. However, a broader focus on good governance and better regulation should be pursued as well. At present, the aforementioned steps cannot be effectively taken given the current state of many water-scarce governments. The majority of them have a history of poor policy design and implementation, corruption, and non-existent or ineffectual regulation. 31  These factors promote both instability and water scarcity. As with Yemen, weak regimes cannot meet their peoples’ needs, leading to political discontent and social disorder. 61  The U.S. needs to support weak governments through the financing of water scarcity relief projects and the promotion of good governance. Analysts and policymakers have determined the stabilization of the Middle-East to be crucial to U.S. interests, which is why addressing water scarcity in the region should be a priority. 70

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has placed increased attention and funding toward initiatives in the Middle-East aiming to improve governance in the past fifteen years. 71  These initiatives aim to produce long-term improvement in countries with imbedded governance problems such as Egypt, Morocco, and Yemen. 72  USAID has worked on increasing the freedom and efficacy of the press in these countries to increase government responsiveness to their populations. 72  It has also worked with the International Monetary Fund to enhance the skills of government officials in countries with widespread corruption and financial mismanagement. 72  Though these projects are ambitious and well-intentioned, one must remember that the U.S. cannot right every wrong. Policymakers must decide in which countries aid will do the most good and concentrate U.S. resources there.

Water scarcity is such a pervasive global problem that multilateral action must accompany bilateral action by the U.S. In recent years, various international organizations such as the World Bank and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have made fighting water scarcity a priority. 75 Although awareness of global water scarcity has risen in the past decade, the U.S. must keep pressing for more international attention devoted to this matter. 76  As noted, the U.S. cannot single handedly ameliorate this pervasive problem. More prominent discussion of water scarcity within the UN would help other leading nations realize that relieving global water scarcity is in their best interest. A 2013 Global Water Institute report predicts that despite increased investment in developing countries’ water security, 2.8 billion people will be dealing with water scarcity in 2025. 77  While financial commitments towards water relief projects from the World Bank have increased steadily over the last fifteen years, to make a meaningful impact on this worsening problem, more international effort and money needs to be allocated toward alleviating global water scarcity. 78  The international community must recognize that access to water is a basic human right. As people are increasingly deprived of this right, instability and conflict will continue to abound. If world leaders want to ensure a stable future global environment, they must make ameliorating this pervasive problem an international priority.

A Role for the Navy

150421-N-ZF498-155 ARABIAN SEA (April 21, 2015) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) operate in the Arabian Sea conducting maritime security operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski/Released)

ARABIAN SEA (April 21, 2015) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) operate in the Arabian Sea conducting maritime security operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski/Released)

Through recent actions, the U.S. Navy has shown that it is interested in becoming more involved in the littoral zones of the world. Naval analysts have expressed the need for smaller, more versatile ships to address smaller-scale security concerns in coastal waters and on land. 79  This has resulted in the aggressive development of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which is expected to be deployed in 2016. 80  The LCS is designed to conduct small-scale operations and eliminate mines, shore-based missile batteries, and small surface craft that can threaten larger vessels. 81  These new ships are well suited for addressing insurgency and civil unrest in coastal states, two types of instability that water scarcity can fuel. The development of the LCS symbolizes a strategic pivot of the U.S. Navy from large-scale blue-water conflicts to smaller-scale security preservation operations. Naval strategists are beginning to recognize that U.S. security interests lie increasingly in these smaller brown-water operations. 82  As U.S. Naval priorities continue to shift in this direction, it is likely that it will increasingly deploy ships in coastal security-promoting operations.

In late-April 2015, U.S. Navy to this end deployed ships to the Gulf of Aden. 83  Officials stated that the purpose of this operation was to block potential Iranian shipments of arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. 84 These actions show that the conflict in Yemen has reached a point of direct concern to U.S. naval strategists. The possibility of a proxy war in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have potentially disastrous effects on the regional security of the middle-east. If regional conflict continues to escalate, the U.S. will undoubtedly further utilize its navy in an attempt to preserve stability. The U.S. Navy must acknowledge that it will most likely play a significant role in mitigating conflicts that water scarcity has exacerbated so it can plan accordingly. The multifaceted nature of these water-scarcity affected conflicts requires coherent strategy developed on a case-by-case basis with clearly defined objectives. In each conflict, the naval strategists and U.S. policymakers must determine its priorities and limitations and then decide how involved it will allow itself to become.

Appendix A: Maps

Figure 1: Global Water Scarcity (Source: World Resources Institute)

Figure 1: Global Water Scarcity (Source: World Resources Institute)

Figure 2: Insurgency in Yemen (Source: Stratfor Global Intelligence)

Figure 2: Insurgency in Yemen (Source: Stratfor Global Intelligence)


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U.S. Department of the State, Office of the Historian. “Milestones: Barbary Wars: 1801-1805 and 1815-1816.” accessed May 30th, 2015.

U.S. State Department. “Global Water Security: The Intelligence Community Assesment.”  last modified May 2012.

Vego, Milan. “On Littoral Warfare.” Naval War College Review 68 (2015): 30-68.

Wolf, Aaron T. “Conflict and Cooperation along International Waterways.” Water Policy. 1 (1998.)

Wolf, Aaron T.  Kramer, Annika  Carius, Alexander, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko. “Navigating Peace.” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 1 (2006.)

Work, O. Robert. “The Littoral Combat Ship: How We Got Here, and Why.” January 2013. Newport Paper. U.S. Naval War College.

World Bank. Mapping the Resilience of International River Basins to Future Climate Change-Induced Variability. By Lucia De Stefano, James Duncan, Shlomi Dinar, Kerstin Stahl, Kenneth Strzepek, and Aaron T. Wolf. Water Sector Board Discussion Paper Series. Paper No. 15. March 2010.

World Bank. Water and Climate Change: Understanding the Risks and Making Climate-Smart Investment Decisions. By Vahid Alavian, Halla Maher Qaddumi, Eric Dickson, Sylvia Michele Diez, Alexander V. Danilenko, Rafik Fatehali Hirji, Gabrielle Puz, Carolina Pizarro, Michael Jacobson, Brian Blankespoor. November 2009.

“World Bank Projects.” Last Modified in 2015. :United Nations World Water Assessment Program. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015. Paris. UNESCO.

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)


  1. “Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations” accessed May 30th, 2015,
  2. Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, “Naval Diplomacy and Maritime Power Projection: Proceedings of the Royal Australian Navy Sea Power Conference 2013,” Edited by Andrew Forbes, 1-8.
  3. “Milestones: Barbary Wars: 1801-1805 and 1815-1816,” accessed May 30th, 2015,
  4. “Yangtze River Patrol and other US Naval Asiatic Fleet Activities in China, 1920-1942 as Described in the Annual Reports of the Navy Department,” Accessed May 30th, 2015,
  5. “UN on Water Scarcity,” last modified March 2012,
  6. Thomas Homer-Dixon, Environmental Scarcity and Global Security (New York: Foreign Policy Association Inc.,1993), 3-12.
  7. Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001), 138-190.
  8. “Global Water Security: The Intelligence Community Assesment,” last modified May 2012,
  9. Thomas homer Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999), 133-166.
  10. National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds (Washington D.C. 2012), 30-36.
  11. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity and Violence, 47-52.
  12. National Intelligence Council, Alternative Worlds, 98-106.
  13. Aaron T. Wolf, “Conflict and Cooperation along International Waterways,” Water Policy 1 (1998)
  14. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 12-25.
  15. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 12-25.
  16. Michael Renner, Introduction to the Concepts of Environmental Security and Environmental Conflict, Institute for Environmental Security, (2006): 1-5.
  17. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 12-25.
  18. Aaron T. Wolf, Annika Kramer, Alexander Carius, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko, “Navigating Peace,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1 (2006): 1-3.
  19. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 12-25.
  20. Niloy R. Biswas, “Is Environment a Security Threat? Environmental Security Beyond Securitization,” International Affairs Review 20 (2011): 5-10.
  21. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 133-166.
  22. Wolf, “Conflict and Cooperation”
  23. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 133-166.
  24. Klare, Resource Wars, 138-190.
  25. Klare, Resource Wars, 138-190.
  26. For a detailed explanation see the following sources: Daanish Mustafa, “Social Construction of Hydropolitics: The Geographical Scales of Water and Security in the Indus Basin,” Geographical Review 97 (2007): 484-501, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Environmental Scarcity and Global Security (New York: Foreign Policy Association Inc.,1993), Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001.
  27. Michael Renner, “Environmental and Social Stress Factors, Governance and Small Arms Availability: The Potential Conflict in Urban Areas,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1998): 2-5.
  28. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 47-72.
  29. Nicole Glass, “The Water Crisis in Yemen: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions,” Global Majority Journal, 1 (2010): 17-20.
  30. Glass, “Water Crisis in Yemen,” 17-20.
  31. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 73-106.
  32. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 136-166.
  33. Richard Black, “Environmental Refugees: Myth or Reality?” University of Sussex, (2001): 1-3.
  34. Renner, “Environmental and Social Stress Factors,” 8-15.
  35. Renner, “Environmental and Social Stress Factors,” 8-15.
  36. Renner, “Environmental and Social Stress Factors,” 8-15.
  37. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 133-166.
  38. Glass, “Water Crisis in Yemen,” 17-20.
  39. Stratfor Global Intelligence, “Yemen’s Looming Water Crisis,” December 1, 2014, 1-2.
  40. Glass, “Water Crisis in Yemen,” 17-20.
  41. Giesecke, Craig, USAID Knowledge Services Center, “Yemen’s Water Crisis: Review of Background and Potential Solutions,” June 15, 2012.
  42. Stratfor, “Yemen’s Looming Water Crisis,” 1-4.
  43. Glass, “Water Crisis in Yemen,” 20.
  44. Glass, Water Crisis in Yemen,” 20-22.
  45. Stratfor, “Yemen’s Looming Water Crisis,” 3-6.
  46. Glass, “Water Crisis in Yemen,” 22.
  47. Glass, “Water Crisis in Yemen,” 20-22.
  48. “Yemen Profile,” last updated February 27th, 2015,
  49. “Yemen Profile,”
  50. Stratfor, “Yemen’s Looming Water Crisis,” 3-6.
  51. “Threats to Yemen,” Accessed 3/10/2015,
  52. “Threats to Yemen,”
  53. “Threats to Yemen,”
  54. “Crisis in Yemen: Food, Water and the Slow Motion Coup,” accessed 3/18/2015,
  55. “Threats to Yemen,”
  56. “Threats to Yemen,”
  57. Martin Reardon, “Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Great Game in Yemen,” March 26th, 2015,  Al Jazeera,
  58. Jeremy Bender, “Iran’s Proxy War in Yemen Just Got Exposed,” May 1st, 2015, Business Insider,
  59. Bender, “Iran’s Proxy War,”
  60. “Threats to Yemen,”
  61. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 142-147.
  62. Stratfor, “Yemen’s Looming Water Crisis,” 4-5.
  63. “Democracy and Governance Initiatives in the Middle-East,” last updated March 24th, 2014,
  64. Emilio Custodio, “Trends in Groundwater Pollution: Loss of Groundwater Quality and Related Services,” Groundwater Governance: A Global Framework for Country Action, 2011.
  65. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 49-51.
  66. “Coping with Water Scarcity: An Action Framework for Agriculture and Food Security,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, (2012): 13-14.
  67. Glass, “Water Crisis in Yemen,” 27.
  68. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 73-106.
  69. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, 142-147.
  70. National Intelligence Council, Alternative Worlds, 98-106: “Near Eastern Affairs: Regional Topics,” last updated, 2015,
  71. “USAID/DFID/World Bank Governance Roundtable Meeting Summary,” Toward Better Strategies and Results: Collaborative Approaches Towards Strengthening Governance, June-9th-11th, 2011, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C.
  72. “Democracy and Governance Initiatives in the Middle-East,”
  73. “Democracy and Governance Initiatives in the Middle-East,”
  74. “Democracy and Governance Initiatives in the Middle-East,”
  75. “Findings of the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group,” last updated 2011,,,contentMDK:22508543~menuPK:6817435~pagePK:64829573~piPK:64829550~theSitePK:6817404,00.html: “Coping with Water Scarcity: An Action Framework for Agriculture and Food Security,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, (2012): 1-3.
  76. Elizabeth Hameeteman, “Future Water Insecurity: Facts, Figures, and Predictions,” Global Water Institute, (2013): 3.
  77. Hameeteman, “Future Water Insecurity: Facts, Figures, and Predictions,” 3-5.
  78. “World Bank Projects,” last updated in 2015, Nations World Water Assessment Program, The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, Paris, UNESCO.
  79. James Holmes, “Thinking About the Littoral Combat Ship,” The National Interest, May 22nd, 2013, accessed June20th, 2015,
  80. Robert O. Work, “The Littoral Combat Ship: How We Got Here, and Why,” January 2013, Newport Paper, U.S. Naval War College. 2-7.
  81. Milan Vego, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College Review 68 (2015): 31-41.
  82. Work, “The Littoral Combat Ship,” 2-7.
  83. Jim Sciutto and Jamie Crawford, “U.S. Warships near Yemen Create Options for Dealing with Iranian Vessels,” CNN, April 22nd, 2015,
  84. Sciutto and Crawford, “U.S. Warships near Yemen,”

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The Essence of Intelligence Work is Preparation for War: How “Strategy” Infiltrated the Office of Naval Intelligence, 1882-1889


“Little More than an Armored Target”
The Strategical Awakening
Early Developments in U.S. Naval Intelligence
The Establishment of ONI
ONI’s Strategical Mission

Scott Mobley
University of Wisconsin—Madison

“Little More than an Armored Target”

Standing on a bridge wing of the guided missile destroyer USS Richard E. Byrd, a peculiar sight caught my eye.  As the ship glided quietly into harbor of Talcahuano, Chile one overcast spring morning in 1989, I noticed the sailing masts, tubular smokestack, and squat gun turret of an antique warship.  The diminutive vessel’s jet black hull and gleaming white superstructure contrasted sharply with the modern haze-gray hulls towering nearby.  Curious, I queried our Chilean liaison officer about this odd relic.  “It’s the Huáscar,” he replied, “we captured it long ago in a war with Peru. Now it’s a museum.”  Sure enough; visitors today can tour Huáscar at Talcahuano, where the Chilean Navy faithfully preserves it as a memorial to the brave seamen of both Chile and Peru. 1

My inquiry was not the first interest in Huáscar expressed by a U.S. naval officerLieutenant Theodorus B.M. Mason preceded me by more than a century.  In October, 1879, Mason and a contingent of American officers eagerly clambered over the badly mauled, 196-foot vessel in search of valuable technical intelligence.  Having captured Huáscar off Cape Angamos just days before, the Chileans jubilantly displayed their prize and freely shared information about the battle.  As the first-ever clash involving modern ironclads on the high seas, the Angamos action held tremendous historical, professional, and technical significance—qualities fully appreciated by Mason and his comrades.  Indeed, Mason assessed the battle as “one of the most important in modern naval warfare.”  2   No doubt he marveled at the wonderful opportunity to gather substantial information on such a seminal event first-hand, and within a mere fortnight of its occurrence.

Rear Admiral Christopher R.P. Rodgers, commander of the U.S. Pacific Squadron, appointed the Huáscar inspection team on October 14, 1879.  Placing Captain Kidder R. Breese in charge, Rodgers instructed the inspectors to report on the ironclad’s technical details and the nature of damage received in the recent fight. 3   Carefully following the admiral’s instructions, Breese’s team combed the shattered Huáscar, examining, measuring, sketching, and recording the details of its design and condition.  They discovered twenty-four hits in the warship’s hull, battery, and superstructure—mostly nine-inch armor-piercing shells fired at close range from Chilean armored cruisers.  The Americans found Huáscar’s armored pilothouse punctured by three shells, a deadly barrage that killed all within, including Huáscar’s commanding officer.  Other shots struck the ship’s primary battery, a pair of ten-inch rifled guns mounted together in a single armored turret.  After initially jamming the turret’s rotation mechanism, Chilean shells penetrated the turret’s 5.5-inch armor, wiping out both gun crews.  Two other shots disabled the ship’s steering mechanism.  In short, Huáscar was a wreck.  “The Chilians’ [sic] fire must have been extremely accurate,” Mason later reported, “as the ‘Huascar’ was reduced during the latter part of the fight to little more than an armored target.” 4  Yet the Americans marveled how the former Peruvian ironclad remained afloat after the battle and even made port under her own power, a testimony to the virtues of modern British warship construction. 5

Breese submitted a formal report to Rodgers on October 20, who dutifully forwarded it to Navy Secretary Robert W. Thompson.  In his endorsement, the admiral noted that the report offered a “a careful and technical description.” 6   He emphasized to Thompson that “the Navy Department and all naval officers would take much interest,” suggesting that the information on Huáscar should be circulated promptly and widely throughout the service.

*     *     *     *     *

The Navy Department had no established protocol for disseminating intelligence, neither within its headquarters at Washington, D.C. nor to naval units dispersed worldwide.  For that matter, the navy’s practices for gathering intelligence lacked focus and coherence.  Much depended on individual commanders, acting under a general mandate to report any useful information they might encounter.  Some enterprising officers like Rodgers demonstrated extra initiative, organizing intelligence cells within their commands.  Indeed, the Huáscar team represented one component of a larger project launched by Rodgers to monitor and report systematically on the War of the Pacific.  From time to time navy bureau chiefs or the secretary requested overseas commanders to collect intelligence on a particular subject or question.  Occasionally the department dispatched intelligence missions abroad to accomplish focused studies.  However, bureaucratic compartmentalization and ad hoc, uncoordinated efforts typified U.S. Navy intelligence endeavors through the early 1880s.  Similarly, the analysis of pertinent information to answer specific strategic or technical questions often depended on individual initiative from officers like Mason.

The disorganized nature of naval intelligence fairly assured that useful information on the South American war would not reach its intended audience through official channels as quickly as Rodgers desired.  Secretary Thompson simply appended the Huáscar report to his annual report in December 1879, which the Government Printing Office published a few months later.  Meanwhile, information gathered by Rodgers’s intelligence cell trickled onto the pages of various unofficial publications, including the Naval Institute Proceedings, the Army and Navy Journal, and the United Service magazine. 7   A thorough analysis by Mason of Huáscar and the Angamos fight finally appeared in the United Service fully one year after he visited the battered vessel.

Thompson’s successor William H. Hunt established the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in 1882.  Hunt believed the navy’s disordered intelligence practices lacked a capacity to manage the vast amounts of technical specifications, empirical data, and qualitative information needed to design and build a new fleet of modern steel warships.  Thus he conceived ONI as a clearinghouse for technical intelligence.  The new agency set up an attaché network to gather information on the technology, facilities, personnel, and practices of foreign navies and other maritime institutions.  ONI made previously-compartmentalized information accessible across the Navy Department (and beyond) by setting up an archive and catalog system.  To reach a wide audience of intelligence consumers, the office compiled and published much of the information it collected in a series of official technical publications.

The Office of Naval Intelligence quickly became the navy’s central agency for collecting, recording, and disseminating intelligence.  The first such institution in the United States, ONI soon established its reputation as a wellspring of technical information.  Less well known is the agency’s vibrant role as a center of strategic analysis and planning.  During the 1880s, ONI became a site where navy specialists translated into action a new strategical awareness awakened during the previous decade.  Under ONI’s aegis, a cadre of bright young officers began to study strategic questions earnestly and systematically as part of their official duties.  They also initiated the nation’s first, tentative attempts at peacetime strategic planning.  The abundance of strategic studies, war college lectures, and contingency plans produced by ONI staff officers during this period suggest a pioneering strategic role largely unrecognized by previous scholarship.

Much of the existing historical scholarship offers little insight into ONI’s early strategic role.  Two institutional histories examine the agency’s first decade, yet both leave unexamined  its connection to early strategic developments within the U.S. Navy.  While providing an excellent overall treatment of the fledgling ONI, Jeffery M. Dowart’s The Office of Naval Intelligence relates few of its strategic contributions. 8   Instead Dorwart emphasizes ONI’s technical and public affairs roles, concluding that “direct help from the intelligence office figured in every one of the first steel warships.” 9   The second work, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence by Wyman H. Packard, acknowledges how ONI assumed a strategic planning mission in 1885.  However, Packard limits his analysis to a single statement that ONI’s new strategy-making role made sense, given that the office already “had the responsibility for gathering the information needed for such planning.” 10   In their history of the Naval War College, Hattendorf, Wadleigh, and Simpson report how early ONI staffers, “distracted by broader war problems, higher strategy, and naval history,” drew the ire of navy department technocrats, but the authors do not expand upon this observation. 11

Most historical monographs on the Gilded Age navy regard the Naval War College (established in 1884) as the essential launching point for earnest strategic development in the United States.  At the same time, these narratives rarely, if ever, highlight ONI as a strategical institution. Harold and Margaret Sprout exemplify this interpretation.  In their view, only glimmers of strategical consciousness existed prior to the Naval War College program and Alfred Thayer Mahan’s scholarship. 12  Similarly, Walter Herrick describes the 1870s and 1880s as decades of strategic “drift.”  Herrick argues that the navy found its strategic compass only after 1889, as Mahan’s ideas gained currency. 13   John A.S. Grenville and George B. Young offer a similar interpretation, while giving principal credit to Stephen B. Luce rather than Mahan for the intellectual and institutional development of strategy. 14   Significantly, neither the Sprouts nor Grenville and Young mention ONI in their works. Herrick describes the office simply as a conduit for “the gathering and evaluation of strategic information from all quarters of the globe,” ignoring its role as a site for producing new strategic knowledge and plans. 15

Other scholars chart the intellectual development of strategy from the 1870s, some fifteen years before Mahan produced his seminal works on the subject. Yet ONI receives scant mention in these interpretations, despite the proliferation of strategic activity at the agency before 1890.  In an influential article on the strategy debates of the 1880s, distinguished naval historian Robert Seager II interprets the currents of strategic thought percolating among navy professionals, legislators, and concerned citizens.  While Seager discusses the nascent Naval War College’s significance in these debates, he neglects to address the impact of ONI’s strategical activity during the same period. 16   In another important article centered on the U.S. debates over maritime strategy before 1884, Benjamin L. Apt credits ONI simply with “diligently gathering information on the latest technological developments abroad.” 17

Technological developments inform other studies—Kenneth Hagan and Robert M. Angevine link ONI’s birth and functioning to technological transformations, rather than the navy’s changing attitudes regarding strategy. 18   Other scholars provide comprehensive syntheses of strategy, technology, and naval transformation during the 1880s, but they do not address the corresponding synergies of strategy and intelligence work.  Lawrence Allin provides useful insight into the transformational forces that shaped U.S. naval strategy and intelligence, but his research centers on the role of the U.S. Naval Institute, not ONI. 19   Mark Shulman considers the evolution of both strategy and intelligence, but argues narrowly that the navy reduced ONI to a public relations tool after 1890. 20   Finally, Peter Karsten makes only passing reference to ONI’s early strategic activities in his seminal work on naval culture, The Naval Aristocracy.  “The O.N.I.’s many publications,” Karsten summarizes, “served as media through which activist naval strategy found expression.” 21

Karsten’s observation warrants further investigation.  His suggestion of a strategic role for ONI seems to challenge scholars who overlook or underestimate ONI’s early contributions as a strategical institution.  A desire to address more deeply this historiographical question thus drove the research for this chapter.

The evolution of U.S. naval intelligence and strategy emerge from the historical record as distinct but interconnected lines of development.  As naval intellectuals awakened to new strategic possibilities during the 1870s, the tempo of U.S. naval intelligence activities also quickened.  These dual paths converged in 1882, with the establishment of the Office of Naval Intelligence.  Although ONI began life as an institution devoted to Mechanism—the gathering and processing of technical information—it quickly became a center for Strategic study and planning.  The interests and abilities of the office’s early leaders, staff, and field officers help explain this development.  Several were prominent in the navy’s strategical awakening, most notably Washington I. Chambers and T.B.M. Mason.  In addition, John G. Walker, Raymond P. Rodgers, John B. Bernadou, Charles C. Rodgers, and Carlos G. Calkins and others demonstrated notable strategical acumen after they affiliated with ONI.  In addition, a trio of capable and progressive navy secretaries encouraged ONI’s strategical mission: William H. Hunt, William E. Chandler, and William C. Whitney.

ear Admiral John Grimes Walker (The Progressive Manager). Walker learning progressive management practices while working in the railroad industry during leaves of absence from the navy. He earned a reputation for innovation as chief of the Bureau of Navigation (1881-1889), shepherding the nascent Office of Naval Intelligence. (Image courtesy USNI Blog)

Rear Admiral John Grimes Walker (The Progressive Manager). Walker learning progressive management practices while working in the railroad industry during leaves of absence from the navy. He earned a reputation for innovation as chief of the Bureau of Navigation (1881-1889), shepherding the nascent Office of Naval Intelligence. (Photo courtesy USNI Blog)

This paper also explores how progressive managerial practices guided the actions of Mason, Walker, Rodgers, and other key actors.  These men applied concepts such as the use of experts, efficient process and procedures, function-based organization, rational inquiry, and scientific method to address both strategic and intelligence-related problems.  Their activities align with the pattern of progressive bureaucratic development outlined by Robert H. Wiebe in his seminal The Search for Order, and amplified in later works by Alfred R. Chandler and Samuel P. Hays. 22

In their general approach, ONI’s incipient strategists anticipated social historian Camilla Stivers’s “Bureau Men,” who rose to prominence as municipal reformers after 1900.  Both naval strategists and municipal researchers shared a commitment to objective fact-finding as a basis for progressive problem-solving.  However, where strategists collected information through intelligence activities, the bureau men utilized public surveys.  Yet each group faced a distinctive problem set.  Armed with accurate and reliable information, both tailored approaches to meet their particular objectives: the bureau men sought to affect social change by improving city governance, while the strategists applied military means to accomplish the international political goals specified by civil command authority. 23

The separate evolution and ultimate convergence of Gilded Age naval strategy and naval intelligence structures this chapter.  The first section, entitled “Early Developments in U.S. Naval Intelligence,” parallels the Strategical Awakening narrative of Chapter Three.  A section follows on “The Establishment of ONI,” weaving the historical threads that delineated the agency’s founding as a clearinghouse for technical information.  The final section of the chapter, “ONI’s Strategic Mission,” argues that ONI played a vital yet overlooked role in pioneering the U.S. Navy’s strategical development.

The Strategical Awakening

For the first century of its existence, the U.S. Navy approached strategy as a wartime improvisation—an activity practiced on the fly during times of actual conflict.  When the guns fell silent, naval leaders typically reverted to what Mahan described as a “strategic apathy.” 24   Confident that America’s size, wealth, distance, and nonaligned foreign policy assured its security, navy professionals eschewed strategic studies and contingency planning during peacetime.  Instead, they focused on missions that promoted and protected the nation’s overseas trade networks.  Seamanship, diplomacy, and basic gunnery framed their professional identity far more than strategy and other advanced warfare skills.

The navy’s Civil War experience illustrates the traditional approach, when an ad hoc “Blockade Board” provided a modicum of strategic planning.  Hastily constituted in June 1861, the board hammered out a viable joint strategy for the U.S. Navy’s coastal campaign within a matter of weeks.  Apparently seeing no further imperative for an organization to guide war strategy, Secretary Welles disbanded the board after only three months of activity.  Thereafter, Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus Fox (a retired naval officer) coordinated with squadron commanders to orchestrate naval operations.  However, after Appomattox the navy quickly resumed its routine commercial and constabulary duties abroad; operations chief Fox returned to private life in 1866. 25

Although the navy dissolved its strategy-making apparatus soon after the Civil War, memories of wartime experiences helped to foster a strategical awakening among navy intellectuals during the 1870s.  Departing from the tradition of peacetime strategic apathy, these officers discovered value in the study, discussion, and application of naval strategy and related warfare topics.  Commodore Foxhall A. Parker, Jr. and Captain Stephen B. Luce led the strategic initiative, which attracted a coterie of enthusiastic young officers, including: Frederick Collins, Charles Belknap, Robert M.G. Brown, Edward W. Very, Washington Irving Chambers, Charles C. Rogers, William Bainbridge-Hoff, and Theodorus B.M. Mason, among others.

The emerging strategic cadre questioned the U.S. Navy’s capacity to defend the nation as modernization and globalization transformed the international security environment.  New capabilities springing from an ongoing revolution in naval technology—reliable steam propulsion, iron and steel hulls, fast armored warships, and powerful new weaponry—seemed poised to eclipse a navy that still relied on wood, sail, and smoothbore muzzle-loading cannon.  Perceptions of the U.S. Navy’s material decline—allegedly the result of postwar retrenchment policies and Navy Department mismanagement—added urgency to their concerns.  “Our cruising ships, with one or two exceptions, are chiefly noticeable for their uniformity in the matter of obsoleteness,” warned one naval critic, “in a battle with any other ships they would be like crippled stags pitted against tigers in an arena.” 26, “Uniformity in the Navy,” United Service 5, no. 2 (August 1881): 144.]   Furthermore, political developments at home and abroad suggested to these officers that the nation would soon face a greater risk of war than in the past.  They postulated that America’s increasingly active role in the world—especially in the Western Hemisphere and Pacific Basin—might collide with the imperial ambitions of other powers.  The French project to build a Panama Canal, British and German activities in Samoa, and Japanese interest in Hawaii simmered as potential points of contention.

Awakened to the assessments of mounting international risk, the naval intellectuals admonished their fellow officers to develop strategical expertise.  New professional forums such as the Naval Institute Proceedings (founded in 1873) and United Service, (first published in 1879) helped to disseminate their message to a wider audience.  Calls to establish institutions devoted to strategic activities, develop a body of coherent strategic theory, study strategic problems facing the United States, and devise viable contingency plans accentuated their agenda.  Luce approached the Secretary of the Navy with a proposal for a naval war college in 1877.  Three years later, Charles Belknap advocated establishing a strategic advisory board to develop “plans for naval campaigns, both offensive and defensive.” 27   Belknap also recommended that the navy organize a new system to gather and manage “early and trustworthy information in regard to all matters going on of interest to the naval service,” specifying strategic and technical intelligence as top priorities. 28

Luce and Belknap achieved little headway during the early 1880s.  Within a professional service culture biased against strategic theory and practice their proposals attracted scant interest.  However, they continued to foster professional dialogue, press for change, and remain vigilant for future opportunities to realize their vision.

Early Developments in U.S. Naval Intelligence

Along with Belknap, Theodorus Mason was an early advocate for systematizing and consolidating naval intelligence work.  During his tenure as secretary of the U.S. Naval Institute, the progressive-minded young officer advanced a quasi-official role for the association as the navy’s intelligence center.  “Make the Naval Institute the bureau of information for the navy,” Mason proposed in 1879. 29

ieutenant Theodorus B.M. Mason (The Intelligence Expert). An early advocate for streamlining naval intelligence, Mason was instrumental in establishing ONI. He served as the navy's first Chief Intelligence Officer. (Wikimedia Commons)

Lieutenant Theodorus B.M. Mason (The Intelligence Expert). An early advocate for streamlining naval intelligence, Mason was instrumental in establishing ONI. He served as the navy’s first Chief Intelligence Officer. (Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Mason’s advocacy of an intelligence mission for the Naval Institute probably came as no surprise to his closest colleagues.  By the time he aired his proposal in 1879, Mason’s involvement with naval intelligence had spanned a decade.  He first experienced intelligence work while assigned to USS FranklinFranklin was the flagship of the U.S. European Squadron when Ensign Mason reported on board in October 1869, little more than a year after his Naval Academy graduation.  At the time, then-Captain Christopher R.P. Rodgers commanded Franklin—a fortuitous circumstance for the bright young ensign.

Rodgers—the future Pacific Squadron commander—was already an influential officer in 1869, highly regarded by contemporaries for his probing intellect and commanding yet personable leadership style.  A man of vision, Rodgers would play a leading role in founding the Naval Institute, which he directed for much of its first decade with “great skill and devotion.” 30   Rodgers anticipated a future navy composed of complex, modern warships, “with their new engines of destruction, their complicated machinery, and their novelties of structure,” and led by highly-educated professionals. 31   Moreover, he demonstrated an uncommon ability to advance this vision.  Rodgers seemed able to sense the possibilities inherent in most situations, no matter the circumstances.  Seeking out avenues within the scope of his authority through which he could effect change, Rodgers quietly instituted appropriate reforms and innovations.  With an eye to continuous improvement, Rodgers also actively mentored junior officers whom he believed showed promise as leaders for his future navy. 32

On the European Station in 1870, Rodgers found another opportunity to exercise his formula for change.  During the closing months of that year he organized a select handful of Franklin’s junior officers into an informal intelligence cell.  Theodorus Mason numbered among this group, as did Captain Rodgers’s son, Raymond Perry Rodgers.  Mason and Raymond Rodgers were close friends and naval academy classmates; both ranked as masters in June, 1870 (equivalent to today’s lieutenant, junior grade), and both would later command the Office of Naval Intelligence.

A directive from Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson prompted Captain Rodgers’s action.  In November the secretary tasked Franklin’s commanding officer to gather information on fast-moving naval developments in Europe, where war raged between France and Prussia.  The secretary’s list of topics was wide-ranging. “Take every opportunity to procure information,” Robeson directed, “in the relations of the enlistment of seamen; equipment of vessels and their methods of discipline, the management and system of conducting Navy yards…the newest plans of iron clad vessels and other professional subjects.” 33   No doubt excited to garner information which might foster his navy of the future, Rodgers embraced the secretary’s tasking with enthusiasm.  He soon set Mason and his fellow junior officers to work.

Curious, energetic, and multi-lingual, Mason found himself a natural fit for the business of intelligence.  Even after completing his tour of duty in Franklin, Mason volunteered to continue gathering naval information in Europe on his own time and at his own expense.  The Navy Department granted Mason leave upon his detachment from the ship in June 1871, whereupon he set out on a personal mission to visit European naval facilities. 34

Mason returned home from Europe five months later troubled by his overseas experience.  The sojourn abroad had “opened his eyes to our deplorable backwardness in naval construction and armaments and our almost total lack of information about them,” an acquaintance later attested. 35   However, Mason also sensed an opportunity to address both the navy’s material decline and the dearth of information on recent naval developments.   In the arena of naval competition, “we cannot even put up an anty [sic],” Mason suggested, but “by not playing we may save money in the end and at the same time learn the game.” 36   U.S. naval officers could learn much, Mason believed, by collecting pertinent intelligence and discussing their findings at the recently-established Naval Institute and other professional forums.

Mason made his recommendations just as the tempo of naval progress abroad sharpened the navy’s appetite for technical knowledge.  The brief war scare with Spain in 1873 and a series of conflicts in Europe, South America, and the Middle East piqued American interest in the efficacy of modern naval hardware and other maritime matters. 37   Some civilian administrators shared this enthusiasm, as demonstrated by Secretary George M. Robeson’s 1870 intelligence-gathering assignment to C.R.P. Rodgers in Franklin.  Furthermore, Rodger’s Franklin cell was not alone in its efforts to keep up with world naval developments.  Between 1866 and 1882, a continuous stream of discrete U.S. Navy intelligence missions fanned out across Europe and other continents.  These missions employed some of the navy’s most progressive officers: Stephen B. Luce, Edward Simpson, Caspar Goodrich, French E. Chadwick, Francis M. Ramsay, and James R. Soley, among others. 38

In 1867 the navy sent Chief Engineer J.W. King to Europe to gather information on shipyards in France and England.  King returned to Europe in 1869 to study steam engines, then twice again during the 1870s to learn about naval equipment and ship design.  King published a comprehensive report of his findings in 1877; the first edition (nearly three thousand copies) quickly sold out. 39   In the meantime, Theodore Mason obtained leave to travel in Europe again in 1878-79 for yet another personal intelligence-gathering mission. 40   Mason’s reports back to the Navy Department advanced his growing reputation as an intelligence expert.  “He was a qualified naval observer,” writes ONI historian Packard, who “knew what information was available, and knew how to get it.” 41

Unfortunately, bureaucratic jealousies often curtailed the usefulness of information submitted to Washington from agents in the field.  By the 1870s, a wealth of valuable intelligence already resided within the Navy Department’s technical bureaus: Ordnance, Steam Engineering, Construction and Repair, and Navigation.  Each organization actively gathered and archived relevant technical information from sources at home and abroad—individual agents received direction from the cognizant bureau chief, whether acting directly or through the secretary of the navy.  “The chiefs of the different bureaus had been in the habit of obtaining information abroad for particular bureaus,” a former bureau chief later recalled, “where it was held as confidential, and no one knew what information there was…scattered about in the various offices.” 42   Thus a self-serving reluctance to share information with other agencies—even those within the navy—led to project delays and wasteful duplication of effort.  Such widespread bureaucratic compartmentalization frustrated many officers.  One discouraged commentator aired his dissatisfaction in the New York Times, declaring: “officers gather information, conceive ideas…devise improved plans…and make valuable suggestions.”  Yet once received by the responsible bureau, too often this earnest correspondence disappeared “among the papers that are to be considered in a future that never arrives.” 43, “A Naval Suggestion,” The New York Times, December 19, 1881, 3.]   Such complaints helped to catalyze major changes in how the navy managed and used intelligence.

Other developments also helped to foster change.  In 1879, the War of the Pacific erupted between Chile and an opposing alliance formed by Bolivia and Peru.  Geography assured an important maritime dimension to the conflict, with ocean communications providing the best means for moving forces across the region’s arid, broken terrain and long, exposed coastlines.  The strategic and technological implications of the war sparked a demand in the United States and elsewhere for military information gleaned first-hand from the theater of operations.  Such prospects no doubt pleased Theodore Mason when he reported for duty with the U.S. Pacific Squadron, patrolling the west coast of South America.  Mason’s arrival coincided with outbreak of hostilities between Chile and the Alliance.

Mason’s old mentor C.R.P. Rodgers commanded the Pacific Squadron.  Mindful of the need for timely information on war developments, Rodgers stationed his ships along South America’s southwest littoral to monitor belligerent activities closely.  Interest in the conflict was keen among U.S. Navy professionals and technical experts riveted by the prospect of modern, armored warships battling each other on the high seas—a first in world history.  Chile and Peru each had procured such vessels from European shipyards during the previous decade.  Although the South American ironclads were slightly older in design, they were nonetheless more advanced than any vessel in the U.S. fleet.  The opposing ironclads clashed in several sharp actions, most notably the Punta Angamos battle of October 1879, which ended so ignobly for the Peruvian monitor Huáscar.

Charles C. Rogers (The Strategic Planner). As a young officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) Rogers developed contingency plans in 1887 for a potential conflict with British Canada. An Anglo-American squabble over access to Atlantic fishing grounds prompted Rogers's planning effort. (Photo courtesy NavSource)

Charles C. Rogers (The Strategic Planner). As a young officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) Rogers developed contingency plans in 1887 for a potential conflict with British Canada. An Anglo-American squabble over access to Atlantic fishing grounds prompted Rogers’s planning effort. (Photo courtesy NavSource)

In a reprise of his initiative in European waters a decade earlier, Rodgers formed an intelligence cell composed of officers from his squadron.  As in 1870, the admiral assigned  Mason to the new organization.  Among Mason’s experiences during his Pacific Squadron tour of 1879-1881, the inspection of Huáscar was probably the most profound.  The resilience of the battered ironclad impressed Mason and his fellow officers, who no doubt recognized the scant hope for their own wooden warships should they ever encounter such a foe.  Rodgers shared this understanding, emphasizing in his reports to Secretary Thompson the strategic impact of wooden vessels menaced by sea-going ironclad cruisers. 44   The admiral knew that a handful of South American ironclads posed no direct menace to the United States, but the implications of powerful European armored cruisers in Western Hemisphere waters concerned him. 45   When Rodgers departed the Pacific station in September 1880, Mason remained behind for another year to continue chronicling South American developments. 46   In time, his reports landed on the desk of Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt.

The Establishment of ONI

Early in 1881, President-elect James A. Garfield welcomed William H. Hunt to his new cabinet as secretary of the navy.  A native of Louisiana, Hunt was the sole cabinet officer to hail from a former Confederate state. 47   Described by naval policy historian Robert G. Albion as “clear-headed, honest, tireless, and persuasive,” Hunt soon proved his mettle at the Navy Department as a capable administrator. 48   Although he had neither nautical experience nor any meaningful military background, Hunt proved a quick study on all matters naval.  He also had personal ties to the service: Hunt’s late wife belonged to a prominent naval family, and his eldest son was a U.S. Navy ensign. 49

Hunt benefited during his tenure as navy secretary from consultations with a team of talented and forward-thinking advisors, including most notably C.R.P. Rodgers, Commodore Montgomery Sicard, and Commodore John G. Walker. 50   The new secretary quickly concluded that the navy’s present size and condition were woefully deficient: hardly measuring up to its peacetime commercial and diplomatic missions, much less as an effective fighting force.  “The condition of the Navy imperatively demands the prompt and earnest attention of Congress,” he exclaimed in his first annual report. 51   Chester Arthur (who acceded to the presidency following Garfield’s assassination) affirmed Hunt’s argument, declaring in December, 1881 that “surely nothing is more essential to the defense of the United States and of all our people than the efficiency of our Navy.” 52

Congress seemed to agree with Hunt and Arthur, as legislators from both major parties signaled willingness to launch a program of naval reconstruction. 53   Interest in naval affairs had been stimulated by the congressional investigations of the preceding decade, leading to demands for naval reform. 54   Recovery from the economic downturn of the 1870s and a corresponding revival in foreign trade added further encouragement. 55

At the Navy Department, Secretary Hunt provided energetic, visionary leadership that helped channel the new naval enthusiasms of Congress and the public.  Just four months into his tenure Hunt took the first concrete step: he appointed a board of advisors to examine options for the navy’s technological revival.  Fifteen officers composed the board, including a mix of line and staff representatives.  John Rodgers, a seasoned flag officer with over five decades of service and a first cousin to C.R.P. Rodgers, chaired the group.  Hunt directed the Rodgers Board to define the navy’s material requirements and advise him how best to the “pressing need of appropriate vessels.” 56   After several months of study, the Rodgers board proposed an ambitious program to construct new steel cruisers and a variety of other ships.

With an ambitious new program for naval reconstruction in the offing, the demand for up-to-date technical information from abroad became critical.  The full range of experience and knowledge required to design, build, and operate a modern fleet hardly existed within the United States during early 1880s. 57   While the navy could tap domestic sources for useful information on recent advances in technology, organizational management, and education, the cutting edge of naval progress abided overseas, principally in Europe.  Besides accurate intelligence on “the strength and resources of foreign navies,” American naval experts needed to study all aspects of naval progress abroad, including ship and armament specifications, war materiel, operations, personnel, administration, logistics, coast defense systems, and other subjects of interest. 58

With these challenges in mind, Hunt recognized an urgent need to streamline the Navy Department’s intelligence-gathering effort. “The necessity was apparent,” one eyewitness later noted, as the navy “had no system for gathering information nor any idea of how to preserve it.” 59   Hunt’s naval advisors, including C.R.P. Rodgers, Stephen Luce, and the new Navigation Bureau chief John G. Walker helped to develop a suitable solution.  Theodorus Mason also played a role.  While some sources attribute the genesis of ONI principally to Mason’s vision, uncertainty persists regarding how much counsel Mason provided directly to Secretary Hunt prior to the office’s founding. 60   Neither meeting notes nor correspondence between Hunt and Mason on the subject of establishing ONI have been discovered.

Hunt was certainly familiar with Mason’s intelligence expertise, having read the latter’s recent reports from South America.  In addition, the secretary was probably aware of the proposal for an intelligence bureau which Mason had advocated in 1879.  Finally, Mason was stationed at the Naval Academy during the months leading up to ONI’s establishment, conveniently close to Washington, D.C. should Hunt have desired to consult him personally.  Regardless of Mason’s direct influence in bringing ONI to life, he certainly played a major role in establishing it as a vibrant institution. 61

Walker most likely played the central role in advancing the idea of a naval intelligence bureau.  As Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, he had ready access to Secretary Hunt.  In a 1902 letter to the navy’s chief of intelligence, Walker claimed that he pressed Hunt to establish the intelligence office. “The Secretary of the Navy went over the matter with me personally,” Walker recollected, “approved the idea, and directed me to draw the necessary order, which I did and was promptly signed.” 62   Walker’s subsequent enthusiasm as ONI’s chief patron and protector attests to his sense of ownership for the new agency.

*          *          *          *          *

By the winter of 1882 Hunt decided the time had come to consolidate the navy’s intelligence activities within a single agency.  His plans for naval reconstruction demanded a more sophisticated approach for managing information.  Hunt, along with Walker and Mason, evidently envisioned the new agency as an information clearinghouse, staffed by technical experts, and accessible to all branches of the navy.  “At the very time when the first cruisers were being designed,” one official later remarked of the secretary’s actions, “the Department took steps to supply its want of experience by the systematic acquisition of information as to naval progress abroad.” 63   On March 23 Hunt officially established the Office of Naval Intelligence.  “An ‘Office of Intelligence’ is hereby established in the Bureau of Navigation,” read his general order creating ONI, “for the purpose of collecting and recording such naval information as may be useful to the Department in time of war, as well as in peace.” 64

As events transpired, Hunt would make no more contributions to naval intelligence.  Three weeks after Hunt issued the order to establish ONI, the newly-inaugurated Chester Arthur replaced him with William E. Chandler. 65   Like Hunt, the new secretary was a lawyer by trade; unlike his predecessor, Chandler was well-acquainted with the backroom machinations of party politics.  Chandler cut his political teeth as a state legislator in his native New Hampshire before moving on to the national scene.  Aside from brief stints as naval solicitor and assistant treasury secretary, Chandler spent most of the previous two decades as a party strategist and campaign manager.  Despite his background as a political operator (or perhaps because of it), Chandler proved to be as capable an administrator as Hunt, although rumors of an overly-cozy relationship with Philadelphia shipbuilder John Roach would taint his term. 66

Soon after taking office in April 1882, Chandler appointed Mason to organize and run ONI as the navy’s first chief intelligence officer.  Within weeks of his arrival at navy headquarters two months later, Mason cobbled together a small staff of a half dozen officers pried from other departmental offices.  Administratively, ONI formed part of the Bureau of Navigation, where its powerful chief Walker nurtured the fledgling agency through its earliest years.

The scion of a prominent family with roots in New England and the Midwest, Walker was a no-nonsense professional.  Well-connected politically, he wielded tremendous influence within the Navy Department.  “Unquestionably the ablest and most forceful man of his time in the navy,” recalled a prominent government contractor. 67   Fellow officers and civilian officials anxiously avoided crossing Walker; they knew him as “a man of very strong character,” and “a bad one to oppose.” 59   Yet Walker also displayed an openness of mind and passion for innovation that earned him contemporary acclaim as a “splendidly able and progressive man.” 69

Walker’s progressive credentials were stronger than many of his naval contemporaries.  While on leaves of absence from the navy during 1872-73 and 1879-80, Walker worked as a senior executive first for the Burlington and Missouri Railroad and later for the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railway. 70   At the time, railroad management ranked among the most advanced professions in the nation, with robust national associations, specialized journals, educational prerequisites, and distinct career patterns.  “By the 1880s American railroad managers had taken on the standard appurtenances of a profession,” notes distinguished business historian Alfred D. Chandler, “they saw themselves and were recognized by others as a new and distinct business class—the first professional business managers in America.” 71   The professionalized nature of American railroading proved irresistible to Walker.  Having “nothing to do in the Navy” during the nadir years of its postwar doldrums, he admitted to entering the industry “from a desire to acquaint myself with the methods of handling great railroad corporations.” 72

Walker spent more than three years working as a railroad executive, learning from within its complex organizational and bureaucratic culture. 73   He applied managerial expertise gleaned from the railroads at the Bureau of Navigation, which Walker headed from 1881 to 1889.  Walker obtained impressive results.  Albion credits him with building up the bureau as an important center of influence within the Navy Department: “the real power of the Chief of Navigation seems to have begun with Rear Admiral John G. Walker…. Nephew of the influential James G. Grimes of the Senate naval Committee, he had good understanding of shore tactics.” 74   A junior officer from the 1880s remembered Walker as “politically the most powerful man in the Service…one of the ablest administrators the Department ever had.” 75   Walker’s rationale for establishing the Office of Naval Intelligence certainly bore the hallmarks of his railroad experience.  Efficiency and centralized control framed his vision for the new office, rendering it a model of progressive management.  “My recommendation to establish a single office to have charge of this work and cover the whole field was in the interest of good administration and economy,” he later recalled. 62

Under Walker’s astute mentorship, Mason began organizing the operations of the new intelligence office.  He instituted a permanent naval attaché network, superseding the Navy Department’s exclusive reliance on irregular intelligence missions.  At the same time, the ONI staff began the task of gathering and organizing the reams of information that already resided in various navy bureaus and agencies.  With assistance from Secretary Chandler, Mason cleared away bureaucratic obstacles to obtain files scattered around the Navy Department. “The Bureau of Steam Engineering had some ordnance notes but refused to give them up, and it required an order from the Secretary to compel that bureau to turn them over,” an early ONI staffer recollected. 59   A team of energetic junior officers dissected open-source publications and reports that might contain timely and relevant information.  One project that devoured hundreds of man-hours literally ripped apart recent volumes by naval authors to parse and catalog their contents.  The ONI staff subjected Chief Engineer King’s 1877 book on European navies to this meticulous process, along with a larger work on world navies by Lieutenant Edward W. Very. 78   Working with the new Navy Department Library, Mason soon acquired a steady flow of foreign maritime publications from which the ONI staff extracted, translated, and cataloged pertinent information.  Mason adapted an information management system from the State Department, creating a comprehensive index which facilitated ready access to ONI’s ever-growing accumulation of information. 79

As Mason and Walker busily organized the Office of Naval Intelligence, Congress debated appropriations proposals intended to arrest the nation’s naval decline.  Diminishing opportunities for new settlement on the American frontier and the end of Southern Reconstruction helped lay the political foundations for naval reconstruction.  These developments helped to revive public interest in foreign affairs, a shift reinforced by a growing sense of America’s potential in the wider world.  Furthermore, by the early 1880s the federal revenue account burgeoned from a consistent post-war policy of high tariffs. 80   The dynamics of party politics produced pressures to spend down the surplus funds, and naval reconstruction appealed to many lawmakers as a suitable solution.  As a result, Congress finally approved construction of a small squadron of modern warships in 1883, followed by additional shipbuilding authorizations each year from 1885.  With the launching of new warship-construction projects, the demand for relevant information intensified—the institutional longevity of Mason’s new organization seemed assured.

Mason amplified ONI’s value to the navy’s technical bureaus by satisfying their growing appetite for information on developments in science, technology, and engineering.  For specialists within the organizations responsible for designing and building the new navy, ONI provided myriad details on foreign ships, systems, and practices.  By keeping navy constructors well-apprised “of the progress of naval science in Europe,” ONI enabled them “to study the practical application of the problem as they had never studied it before.” 81   For the enrichment of all naval professionals, the office produced a general information series which contained reports on myriad topics intended “to assist officers in their studies.” 82   One such study on new unarmored cruiser designs employed information provided by ONI to bolster an argument for armoring U.S. warships. 83   ONI also published reports from various scientific and exploratory expeditions (which the navy continued to sponsor throughout the nineteenth century and indeed down to the present day).  Numerous reports and articles from ONI staff members appeared in official ONI publications as well as within the pages of the Naval Institute Proceedings and other journals.  These products also served to inform and educate a broader audience of citizens interested in naval affairs.  Speaking to an audience at the American Geographical Society in 1884, the noted editor and political commentator Albert G. Browne, Jr. referenced Mason’s “excellent, but strictly official monograph” on the recent War of the Pacific (ONI War Series No. 2) to help portray Chile as a rising challenge to U.S. hemispheric aspirations. 84   Three years later, the officer in charge of the navy’s Branch Hydrographic Office at the New York Maritime Exchange reported a strong local demand for ONI publications: “the reports of the Office of Naval Intelligence are eagerly sought.” 85

Walker soon reported with confidence that ONI was thriving as a center for technical intelligence.  Its valuable work “compiling and arranging information collected from all sources, and supplying this information…to the several bureaus of the Navy Department, and to the naval committees of Congress,” he proudly informed the new navy secretary, Benjamin F. Tracy, in 1889, “is now fully recognized.” 86   Evidently impressed, Tracy told the president and Congress that ONI’s efforts “have been of incalculable assistance in the work of reconstruction.” 87   Mason, who moved on to other duties in 1885, was no doubt pleased by the accolades his cherished agency had garnered as the navy’s primary provider of timely and useful technological information.  Yet all along Mason had envisioned ONI as more than a clearinghouse for intelligence relating to mechanism and technology.  From the outset he also quietly shaped the office as a center for synthesizing, analyzing, and disseminating information with strategy in mind.

ONI’s Strategical Mission

ONI’s founders replaced the navy’s traditional, jumbled approach to intelligence work with a progressive framework.  Systemization, specialized expertise, heightened efficiency, function-based organization, centralized institutions, and scientific method permeated the new agency.  Hunt’s original 1882 order to establish the office reflected a rational attempt to recast previously inchoate intelligence functions under the aegis of a central authority.  Blending his own vision with the ideas of Hunt and Walker, Mason designed internal processes and procedures with efficiency in mind.  ONI’s information cataloging system exemplified this approach.  Mason’s methods at ONI resembled the progressive bureaus of research that would emerge in the United States after 1900. 88   Just as the municipal research bureaus “provided endless data…and the skill for drafting some of the more complex ordinance,” ONI collected, synthesized, and published large amounts of information. 89   In time, officers at ONI would also draft complex strategic plans.

Mason staffed the new office with a select cadre of intelligence experts.  Secretary Chandler encapsulated the intelligence chief’s ideas in a directive issued on July 25, 1882, just weeks after Mason reported for duty.  The secretary mandated “only such officers as have shown an aptitude for intelligence staff work or who by their intelligence and knowledge of foreign languages and drawing give promise of such aptitude,” should be assigned to ONI. 90   Many of the young ONI staffers Mason and his successor recruited were adept in both technical and strategic endeavors: Washington I. Chambers, John B. Bernadou, Charles C. Rodgers, and Carlos G. Calkins numbered among the most notable in this regard.

Mason’s vision thus exceeded the explicit instructions of his superiors that ONI merely “collect and record” pertinent naval intelligence.  He believed that ONI should fulfill a strategical mission in addition to its technical responsibilities.  Mason had participated too fully in the strategical awakening of the 1870s not to realize the potential that his new command offered for the practice of strategy.  Civilian leaders apparently embraced Mason’s wider views.  The scope of information assigned to ONI’s purview by Secretary Chandler went beyond simply meeting technological requirements.  In the July 25 directive (likely ghost-written by Mason), Chandler opened the door to strategy-related activities by instructing the office to gather and synthesize a wide scope of information: “the cruising fleets of foreign powers,” distribution networks for “coal and supplies,” capabilities for “transporting troops and material,” “armament of foreign ports,” “facilities on foreign coasts…for landing men and supplies,” as well as “actual capabilities of foreign merchant steamers and the true routes followed by regular steamship lines.” 91

A prolific output of studies and articles penned by ONI staff officers affords ample evidence of a strategical agenda.  It clearly demonstrates that other officers shared Mason’s strategic interest and vision.  In 1883 the first thematic treatments appeared on topics of strategic interest.  These took the form of three campaign case studies covering recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, and South America.  Together the trio comprised the War Series. 92   At the same time, ONI published a General Information Series.  In addition to technical subjects, editions of the General Information Series that appeared between 1883 and 1889 featured articles covering strategy and grand strategy.  These included treatments on naval logistics, forward fleet operations, power projection, recent naval campaigns, the uses of merchant auxiliary forces, the management and use of naval reserves, and foreign mobilization plans and philosophies. 93   By 1890, strategic insight reached an advanced state at ONI.  In 1888, one ONI staffer exhorted navy professionals to embrace “grand strategic principles of national attack and defense.” 94

In addition to the official publications, ONI staff officers published articles of strategic interest in the Proceedings and other journals. 95   An especially significant essay appeared in 1883, under the title “Naval Intelligence.”  Ensign Charles C. Rogers (assigned to ONI 1882-1883 and 1889-1892) authored the piece, which amounted to a strategic manifesto for naval reconstruction.  Deep strategic insight framed Rogers’s discussion, which touched upon matters of force design; strategic movement; schemes of national defense and offense; campaign and war studies; strategic communications; global topography and hydrography (from perspectives of both defense and attack); naval logistics; the relationship between war and commerce; and the mobilization (and interdiction) of strategic resources, including fuel, food, and manpower. 96   Contemporary readers no doubt wondered how ONI might keep track of such an exhaustive body of information!

Following his tour at ONI, Rogers taught in Newport, Rhode Island, at the newly-established Naval War College.  His syllabus for the 1888 session signals a growing appreciation for the close relationship between strategy and intelligence.  Rogers interweaved both themes in the classroom, where he stressed to his students that “the essence of intelligence work is preparation for war.” 97   His lectures covered a variety of relevant topics, including naval logistics for fleets “acting at a distance”; establishment of supply depot networks; the importance of strategic intelligence; “the strategic value of trade routes, to include their defense and attack in war”; and reconnaissance. 98   Rogers also presented to his students a strategic study of the Great Lakes frontier.

*     *     *     *     *

Theodorus Mason’s tour as the head of naval intelligence ended in April 1885, when he detached for new duties in Central America.  His replacement was Lieutenant Raymond P. Rodgers, Mason’s good friend and fellow veteran of the Franklin intelligence cell fifteen years earlier.  Rodgers’s arrival as chief of intelligence coincided with a singular but little noted moment in U.S. naval history.

Just two days before Rodgers reported for duty, on March 31, new Navy Secretary William C. Whitney issued instructions that notably expanded the strategic dimension of ONI’s mission.  In his directive, Whitney ordered the intelligence office to “collect and classify information upon all subjects connected with war, or which can have a bearing upon naval action, and to prepare detailed plans of campaigns covering all contingencies of active naval operations.” 99   Whitney’s order marks the formal advent of peacetime contingency planning by the U.S. Navy.

ONI’s strategic planning efforts between 1885 and 1889 seemed tentative and amateurish by later standards.  At the outset, the navy possessed neither experienced planners nor models from which to design appropriate procedures.  Nevertheless, Rodgers and his staff made an honest effort, often personally overseen by the ubiquitous Walker.  As a start, the chief intelligence officer established a desk to address “Offensive and Defensive” matters—a title that suggests strategic synthesis and planning.  The ONI register lists Lieutenant William H. Beehler as the first officer to fill this position.  Beehler’s responsibilities included “Depots and Bases, Dockyards, Fortifications, and Operations”—important activities for developing strategic plans. 100   Rodgers also charged Beehler with keeping tabs on developments within the U.S. Army—an early acknowledgment of the need for joint coordination.

Preparation of “War Maps” represented another important ONI function.  The ONI staff compiled these large charts anticipating future operations.  Intended to show planners and commanders “all the information necessary to use…the localities they embrace for offensive and defensive operations,” the war maps possibly represent ONI’s earliest attempts at strategic planning, predating the first known campaign plans by several years. 101   Washington I. Chambers apparently established the war mapping function during 1883-84, with Beehler taking over in 1884-1885. 102

It appears that Whitney’s first planning assignment for ONI involved potential operations in Panama, where French entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps was attempting to construct a canal.  A rebellion exploded on the isthmus in March 1885—just days after the Cleveland administration entered office.  When rebels interdicted the trans-isthmian railroad (which the United States was bound by treaty to protect), burned a U.S. consular office, and otherwise menaced American lives and property, the new president ordered a naval expeditionary force ashore in early April to restore transit and prevent further depredations. 103   A simultaneous intervention by Chilean forces aggravated the situation. 104   Whitney quickly withdrew the U.S. sailors and marines after Columbian troops arrived to restore order.

Events in Panama quickly overtook whatever contingency planning ONI initiated—the Columbian forces assumed control by the end of April, and the last U.S. troops departed on May 25. 105   Whether or not planning advanced beyond a preliminary stage, ONI sponsored several strategic reconnaissance missions to Panama during 1885.  Walker directed one on-scene commander to perform a confidential survey of islands off Panama’s Pacific coast for the purpose of ascertaining “how completely they would control the Bay of Panama if we were to occupy them with a permanent force.” 106   On other missions, field intelligence officers in Panama performed thorough inspections of the French canal project under construction, and prepared detailed reports. 107   Back at ONI headquarters, Ensign George H. Stafford began compiling a war map of the Isthmus. 108

Excerpt from Rogers's 1887 strategic design. Rogers envisioned a joint sea-land campaign to seize Canada's strategic heartland. Lieutenant Seaton Schroeder, ONI's desk officer for campaigns and strategy, scribbled a margin note on this page (upper right corner). Schroeder's comment reads: "Very difficult no lines of Com. by water or rail. SS" (Photo Courtesy RG8, Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College; photographed by the author)

Excerpt from Rogers’s 1887 strategic design. Rogers envisioned a joint sea-land campaign to seize Canada’s strategic heartland. Lieutenant Seaton Schroeder, ONI’s desk officer for campaigns and strategy, scribbled a margin note on this page (upper right corner). Schroeder’s comment reads: “Very difficult no lines of Com. by water or rail. SS” (Photo Courtesy RG8, Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College; photographed by the author)

A dispute with Britain over fishing rights in Canadian waters prompted another strategic planning initiative in 1886. 109   Walker and Rodgers sought first-hand information on Canadian defenses to support the planning effort.  They and ONI staffer Seaton Schroeder traveled to Canada during the summer of 1887, evidently on a self-appointed mission to gather intelligence “that would be needed both for the protection of our own interests and to injure the enemy in case of war with England.” 110  The ONI mission coincided with another reconnaissance by Charles C. Rogers, then serving as intelligence officer in USS Galena.  On July 1, 1887, Rear Admiral Stephen Luce, commander of the navy’s North Atlantic Squadron, directed Rogers to survey ports in eastern Canada “as you may find to be of marked strategic or commercial importance.” 111   Rogers likely carried out his assignment with Walker’s concurrence, visiting Halifax, Toronto, Kingston, and other locations.  After completing his survey, Rogers spent several months at ONI assembling a series of voluminous classified reports from the materials he gathered in Canada. 112   One of his compilations, “Intelligence Report on War Resources in Canada,” subsequently provided reference material for Naval War College lectures. 113

A new fisheries treaty in 1889 eased tensions between the United States and Britain.  Nevertheless, the episodes involving Panama and Canada helped to spark an unprecedented burst of strategic development at the Office of Naval Intelligence.  Gathering and reporting intelligence characterized only the most basic aspects of ONI’s activities.  More significant was the degree of strategic synthesis performed at the office, largely in the form of contingency plans, war maps, and strategic studies.

Most notable was the appearance of actual strategic plans.  The full extent of these early planning efforts is not easy to assess.  “Nor was it clear how far war planning went against Canada or its protector Great Britain,” notes ONI historian Jeffrey M. Dorwart. 114   Dorwart and other scholars found only scant evidence of ONI’s early strategic planning.  However, nestled within the thick volume of Canadian war resource information prepared by Rogers in 1887 are sections entitled “Analysis of Defenses” and “Plan of Operations.”  We do not know whether Rogers prepared these plans by direction of senior authority or on his own volition, or whether top officials approved the final products.  However, it is clear that Rogers’s materials were not unknown to senior navy leaders.  The ONI staff officer responsible for campaigns and strategy annotated and initialed Rogers’s plans.  Naval War College president Mahan was also familiar with the documents, and other officers—including ONI chief R.P. Rodgers—almost certainly reviewed them. 115   Elements of a contingency plan for war with Great Britain drafted in 1890 by Mahan resemble those found in Roger’s 1887 original. 116

The war plans produced by Rogers were rudimentary drafts—each a handwritten outline of strategic designs—rather than detailed campaign plans.  Nevertheless they represent an important first step for a navy without significant experience planning strategic operations well in advance of actual need.  Most interesting among Rogers’s proposals was a comprehensive campaign plan for the conquest of Canada.

Rogers proposed a scheme of “divide and conquer” as the best path to military success in Canada.  He suggested cutting the nation in two by quickly securing control of its strategic locus: a geographic triangle demarcated by Montreal, Ottawa, and Kingston, Ontario.  Montreal, he predicted, would pose the toughest challenge.  To effect its capture, Rogers advised gathering a large army at Albany, “the critical depot of the war,” then driving north along the classic Hudson River-Lake Champlain-Richelieu River axis. 117   American forces would leverage the extensive railroad and waterway networks of the U.S. Northeast to achieve speedy movement, concentration, and resupply.

Rogers recommended securing the strategic flanks as a precursor to the crucial drive on Montreal.  To accomplish this preliminary goal, he believed that the U.S. Army with limited naval support must quickly isolate Halifax and seize the key Lake Ontario ports of Kingston, Toronto, and Hamilton.  With these early operations the Americans would win the strategic initiative.  At the same time, the bulk of the U.S. fleet would deploy to defend the American coastline against the enemy’s maritime incursions.

When ready, the Albany force would attack Montreal.  Bolstered by gunboats and torpedo craft from the navy, the army would chop through Canada’s strategic heart like a cleaver.  By moving perpendicular to the vital Saint Lawrence lifeline, Rogers argued the Americans could avoid the strategic blunder of rolling up the British-Canadian defense “along the lines of communication toward the point of support and base of supply.” 118   Rather than allowing enemy resistance to stiffen in retreat, Rogers’s bifurcation strategy would instead enfeeble it—at least in theory.  With Canada neatly divided, the American conquerors could muster a strong defense against counterattack from the east, while extending U.S. control over the rich Great Lakes basin to the west.

While Rogers devised his campaign plans, other officers produced materials to support planning efforts.  Following Beehler and Chambers, Seaton Schroeder and Charles C. Rogers supervised war maps between 1886-1889. 119   Schroeder, Rogers, and Beehler also researched “Strategic Positions” during this period. 120   Lieutenant Wainwright Kellogg charted the location of inter-oceanic telegraph cables—an essential resource should necessity arise to interrupt Britain’s communications with Canada. 121   Between 1887-1891, Ensign John B. Bernadou prepared a series of classified maps displaying in graphical form important strategic information on Britain’s seaborne food supply and maritime shipping patterns. One map series produced by Bernadou displayed a month-by-month analysis of British food import flows.  Another analyzed seasonal variations in Britain’s global shipping patterns, while a third series presented the same information for American shipping. 122   U.S. strategic planners would find such information useful in designing an interdiction campaign against Britain’s vital maritime lifelines—and for making plans to defend America’s own sea lines of communication.

An abundance of strategic research and analysis emanated from ONI’s early planning efforts.  In addition to the reports on Panama and Canada, two other studies produced by ONI staff members stand out as substantial resources for strategic preparation.  The first, entitled, A Study of Exposed Points on our Frontier, was originally drafted for the 1885 Fortification Board chaired by Secretary of War William C. Endicott.  However, the study also constituted a detailed reference guide for strategic planners.  William H. Beehler, ONI’s desk officer for offensive and defensive operations, authored the report.  Beehler cataloged hundreds of strategic sites along the coasts and borders of the United States, analyzing each for military strengths and vulnerabilities.  He also assessed the railroad infrastructure of Canada and the United States.  He highlighted areas where the former posed particular strategic danger and offered suggestions on how to address American vulnerabilities. 123   Beehler’s contributions helped to shape upgrades to the nation’s strategic fortification system. 124   In addition, Rogers possibly consulted Beehler’s work while preparing his 1887 plan of operations for Canada. 125

A second, unpublished study was perhaps more influential than Beehler’s work.  ONI staff member Lieutenant Carlos G. Calkins researched and composed “The Coast-Line of the United States Considered with Reference to Maritime Attack and Defense,” and delivered it as a Naval War College lecture series.  Despite the title’s insinuations, Calkins devoted only one short section of his study to naval campaigning specifically along the U.S. coastline; the rest of his topics applied strategic concepts and principles to various dimensions of naval warfare in general, ranging from the “Objects of Aggressive Maritime Warfare” to “Strategical Geography Affecting Maritime Attack” to “Distribution of Forces for a Naval Campaign” and “Functional Employment of the Navy In Coast Defense.” 126

The newly-constructed State, War, and Navy Building (now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) housed ONI during the 1880s.

The newly-constructed State, War, and Navy Building (now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) housed ONI during the 1880s. (Photo Courtesy LOC)

In effect, Calkins’s treatise was a primer for strategic planning.  Calkins first taught the coast defense topic at the war college in 1887, at the end of his ONI tour. 127   Calkins and others continued to present his lecture material into the 1890s, when it almost certainly influenced the tentative planning efforts for a potential war with Spain.  Naval War College President Henry C. Taylor, an instrumental figure in the planning for war with Spain, was intimately familiar with Calkins’s ideas. 128   Taylor singled out Calkins’s work for special mention in 1894, praising the younger officer for his “very rare abilities” as a strategist, and recommending him “as an officer of great use to the Navy Department in time of war.” 98


That naval intelligence staff officers produced no finished designs for wartime operations during this period is less important than the paradigm shift their efforts represent.  In a sharp departure from past practice (influenced by international frictions in Panama and Canadian waters), civil authorities directed navy strategists to prepare contingency plans during peacetime.  No longer was strategy merely an activity of wartime improvisation, nor did it remain an endeavor to which naval officers devoted little serious thought and energy when the nation was at peace.  Having fashioned itself into a locus for strategic studies, ONI became the navy’s first center for regular, systematic strategic planning.  Its early strategy-making accomplishments set the stage for more productive efforts in the decade that followed, when ONI staffers, working with the newly-established Naval War College, would play a leading role in developing the strategic blueprint for potential naval operations against Spain.  Perhaps more significantly, officers exposed to early contingency planning at ONI began to value strategic skills and encourage their comrades to develop strategic expertise.  In other words, they began to identify themselves as “strategists.”

The institutional development of strategy and intelligence advanced significantly within the U.S. Navy between 1869 and 1889.  Both began the period as sporadic, inchoate functions, improvised by amateurish practitioners acting largely without method, structure, or theory.  Two decades later both intelligence and strategy had become systematized processes, practiced regularly by an increasingly capable cadre of experts, during peacetime as well as in war.  After 1882, both intelligence and strategy found an institutional home in the Office of Naval Intelligence.

The institutional development of strategy and intelligence advanced significantly within the U.S. Navy between 1869 and 1889.  Both began the period as sporadic, inchoate functions, improvised by amateurish practitioners acting largely without method, structure, or theory.  Two decades later both intelligence and strategy had become systematized processes, practiced regularly by an increasingly capable cadre of experts, during peacetime as well as in war.  After 1882, both intelligence and strategy found an institutional home in the Office of Naval Intelligence.

The practices of naval intelligence and naval strategy arrived at the same place via separate, albeit often intertwining, paths.  At the outset, naval officers and civilian policy-makers seemed not to recognize the close relationship between strategy and intelligence; their actions treated the two disciplines as discrete functions.  Traditionally, American naval intelligence work responded to demands for technical, scientific, commercial, and professional information, with no apparent connection to strategic purpose.  At the same time, the navy’s approach to strategy followed a tradition of improvisation during war and disregard during peacetime.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, several developments acted to transform naval attitudes toward strategy and intelligence.  First, Civil War experience opened the eyes (and minds) of some naval officers to new possibilities regarding the theory and practice of both disciplines.  Second, naval intellectuals grasped that traditional approaches to strategy and intelligence would soon become overwhelmed as the ongoing revolution in industrial technology heaped complexity and complication upon a world already convulsed by modernization.  Third, apprehensions over shifting international geopolitics added urgency to calls for change. Finally, the associations and journals associated with the navy’s own professionalizing project encouraged new dialogue and ideas within the naval officer corps.

Propelled by these transformational forces, the U.S. Navy experienced a strategical awakening during the 1870s and 1880s.  The navy’s new strategic consciousness marked a sharp departure from past habits that neglected strategic education, discourse, and practice.  At the same time, the need to accumulate and organize a fast-growing body of essential information prompted navy officials to establish the Office of Naval Intelligence.  By incorporating progressive managerial concepts such as the use of experts, functional organization, and scientific methodology, ONI created a new paradigm for the navy’s practice of intelligence.  These same concepts opened the door for a flowering of strategic studies and planning.

Once established, ONI became the institutional home for practicing naval strategy, along with conducting intelligence activities.  The responsiveness of both disciplines to progressive practices help explain this synthesis, but two other factors also contributed.  First, the leading figures behind the founding and early orchestration of ONI were already strategically-minded; many, like Theodorus Mason and Washington Chambers extended their pioneering work from the strategical awakening.  These men readily grasped the relationship between strategy and intelligence, a relationship conveyed concisely by the remark from Charles Rogers’s war college syllabus that “the essence of intelligence work is preparation for war.” 130   Second, ONI housed under a single roof a staff of young officers who eagerly absorbed the ideas of mentors like Mason, Walker, and Raymond Rodgers.  Their daily work soon reflected the natural synergy of strategy with intelligence, which they spread to a broader naval and public audience through official publications and journal articles.

By 1889, a new paradigm for the practice of strategy emerged within the U.S. Navy, as reflected by the proliferation of strategic studies and strategic planning at ONI.  Strategy-making, like the navy’s practice of intelligence, became increasingly coherent, methodical, pro-active, and expert-driven.  It was also becoming a permanent endeavor, with navy planners continuously at work preparing for war contingencies during peacetime.  Strategic practice would continue to mature into the following decade, when it would merge with a fresh set of ideas about strategy ideas emanating from the Naval War College—a confluence that would transform American naval policy and professional identity.

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)


  1. “Huascar, Reliquia Historica, Museo Flotante Ubicado En La Ciudad De Talcahuano, Chile, Armada De Chile,” El Sitio Web Oficial Del Monitor Huascar. La Armada de Chile, accessed December 1, 2014, The author, serving as Operations Officer in Richard E. Byrd, visited Huascar’s homeport of Talcahuano, Chile during September-October, 1989.
  2. Theodore B. M. Mason and R.R. Ingersoll, “The Capture of the Peruvian Monitor Ram ‘Huascar’ by the Chilian Squadron, October 8, 1879,” United Service 3, no. 4 (October 1880): 396.
  3. Breese commanded the squadron flagship, USS Pensacola. Four line officers and an engineer comprised the full Huáscar inspection team, or “board,” as designated by Rodgers. Besides Breese and Mason, the board included Chief Engineer E.D. Robie, Lieutenant Royal R. Ingersoll, and Lieutenant Duncan Kennedy. Rodgers specifically instructed the board to report on the details of Huáscar’s “ordnance, armor, construction, and engines.” Furthermore, in light of the Angamos battle, the admiral directed Breese’s team to “make a careful examination of damage she has sustained and the effect produced upon her armor and hull” by enemy fires. Rodgers to Inspection Board, October 14, 1879, M89, Reel 67, Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy from Commanding Officers of Squadrons, 1841-1886, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. 
  4. Mason and Ingersoll, “Capture of Huascar,” 405.
  5. The English shipbuilding firm Laird, Son and Company constructed Huáscar at their Birkenhead yard, launching the ship in 1865. British yards also produced Huáscar’s primary opponents at Cape Angamos: the Chilean armored cruisers Almirante Cochrane (launched 1874) and Blanco Encalada (launched 1875). See Robert Gardiner, Roger Chesneau, and Eugene M. Kolesnik, eds., Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1860-1905, Naval Institute Press Edition (New York: Mayflower, 1979), 410, 419.
  6. R.W. Thompson, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1879,” 46th Cong., 2nd Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1879, 372.
  7. C.R. Perry Rodgers, “Official Report of the Naval Engagement Between the Chilian Fleet and the Peruvian Ram Husacar,” trans. John F. Meigs, Record of the United States Naval Institute 5, no. 10 (1879): 563–67; “Rear-Admiral C.R.P. Rodgers Reports to the Secretary of the Navy,” Army and Navy Journal 17, no. 17 (November 29, 1879): 327; “Injuries to the Huascar,” Army and Navy Journal 17, no. 21 (December 27, 1879): 410–11; Theodore B. M. Mason, “The War Between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia,” United Service 2, no. 5 (May 1880): 553–74; Mason and Ingersoll, “Capture of Huascar.”
  8. Dorwart analyzes an important 1883 article by ONI staffer Charles C. Rogers entitled “Naval Intelligence,” assessing it as supplying a “strategic underpinning” for the new agency’s functions. Dorwart also describes certain intelligence-gathering activities undertaken to support incipient war planning activities at ONI in 1885 and 1887, yet he offers no insight into the actual planning effort. I address these same developments later in this chapter.  Jeffery M. Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence: The Birth of America’s First Intelligence Agency, 1865-1918 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979), 16–17, 28–29.
  9. Ibid., 20.
  10. Wyman H. Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence (Washington, D.C.: Office of Naval Intelligence: Naval Historical Center, 1996), 5.
  11. John B. Hattendorf, B. Mitchell Simpson, and John R. Wadleigh, Sailors and Scholars: The Centennial History of the U.S. Naval War College (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1984), 7.
  12. Harold Sprout and Margaret Sprout, The Rise of American Naval Power, 1776-1918 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980), 198–222.
  13. Walter R. Herrick, The American Naval Revolution (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1966), 13–46.
  14. J.A.S. Grenville and George Berkeley Young, Politics, Strategy, and American Diplomacy; Studies in Foreign Policy, 1873-1917 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 34–37.
  15. Herrick, The American Naval Revolution, 161.
  16. Robert Seager II, “Ten Years Before Mahan: The Unofficial Case for the New Navy, 1880-1890,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 40, no. 3 (December 1953): 507.
  17. Benjamin L. Apt, “Mahan’s Forebears: The Debate Over Maritime Strategy, 1868-1883,” Naval War College Review 50, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 93.
  18. Kenneth J. Hagan, This People’s Navy: The Making of American Sea Power (New York: Free Press, 1991); Robert G. Angevine, “The Rise and Fall of the Office of Naval Intelligence, 1882-1892: A Technological Perspective,” The Journal of Military History 62, no. 2 (April 1998): 291–312.
  19. Lawrence Carroll Allin, The United States Naval Institute, Intellectual Forum of the New Navy, 1873-1889 (Manhattan, Kan: Military Affairs/Aerospace Historian Publishing, 1978).
  20. Mark Russell Shulman, “The Rise and Fall of American Naval Intelligence, 1882–1917,” Intelligence and National Security 8, no. 2 (1993): 219–223.
  21. Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008), 300. See also page 166.
  22. The nascent U.S. Navy strategists personified Wiebe’s description of a new scientific-bureaucratic outlook that facilitated fresh, sophisticated approaches to problem-solving. In this regard, younger navy progressive like Chambers, Mason, and Rodgers understood science as a set of methods for guiding investigation, rather than the eternal laws or principles derived from such investigation. Wiebe’s commentary is apt: “bureaucratic thought…made ‘science’ practically synonymous with ‘scientific method.’ Science had become a procedure, or an orientation, rather than a body of results.” See Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920, 1st ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 147; also: Samuel P. Hays, “The New Organizational Society,” in Building the Organizational Society: Essays on Associational Activities in Modern America, ed. Jerry Israel (New York: Free Press, 1972), 1–15; Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 1977).
  23. Stivers’s scholarship and the work supporting this chapter both present some interesting methodological parallels. Both frame progressive reform as the product of cultural contrasts and convergences. Stivers describes progressive-era urban reform as a balancing act between two gendered middle-class cultures: the rational-procedure bureau men bent on improving city governance, verses compassionate “settlement women” focused on improving quality of life.  Within the Gilded Age navy, cultures of Mechanism and Strategy demonstrated a comparable duality: the two cultures generally working in unison to accomplish reform, but often clashing over institutional authority and resource issues. See Camilla Stivers, “Settlement Women and Bureau Men: Constructing a Usable Past for Public Administration,” Public Administration Review 55, no. 6 (November 1995): 525–526.
  24. A. T. Mahan, From Sail to Steam; Recollections of Naval Life (New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1907), 271.
  25. See Gideon Welles, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1865” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1865), 11.
  26. A.P. Mantus  [pseud.
  27. Charles Belknap, “The Naval Policy of the United States,” Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 6, no. 14 (1880): 387.
  28. Ibid., 389.
  29. Theodore B. M. Mason, “The United States Naval Institute,” The United Service 1, no. 2 (April 1879): 295.
  30. Roy C. Smith, III, “The First Hundred Years Are…,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings 99, no. 10 (October 1973): 56. Rodgers was the Naval Institute’s second official member and a founding regent.  He served as the society’s vice president in 1874 , then president from 1875-1878 and again 1882-1883.
  31. R.W. Thompson, Annual Report of Secretary of Navy, 1877 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1877), 49.
  32. Stephen D. Brown provides a cogent analysis of Rodger’s role as a naval reformer and mentor. See Stephen D. Brown, “Christopher Raymond Perry Rodgers: Mentor of the New Navy,” in Naval History: The Sixth Symposium of the U.S. Naval Academy, ed. Daniel Masterson (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1987), 291–301.
  33. Robeson to Rodgers, November 8, 1870, in Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 6.
  34. Mason’s personal intelligence mission may have a coincided with a similar endeavor by his mentor C.R.P. Rodgers.  Official navy documents show Rodgers on special duty in Europe from late August 1870 through September 1871. Packard reports that during this period Rodgers gathered information on naval administration and logistics on matters in France, England, and Russia.  The timing suggests a possibility of cooperation between Mason and Rodgers, but no evidence exists to substantiate such a claim. See Lewis R. Hamersly, The Records of Living Officers of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, 4th ed. (Philadelphia: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1890), 28–29, 185; Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence, 12–13; U.S. Department of the Navy, Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and Reserve Officers on Active Duty (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1872), 12–13, 34–35.
  35. J.M. Ellicott, “Theodorus Bailey Meyers Mason: Founder of the Office of Naval Intelligence,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings 78, no. 3 (March 1952): 265.
  36. Theodore B. M. Mason, “The 100 Ton Gun,” The Record of the United States Naval Institute 2, no. 7 (1877): 110.
  37. Prussia vs. Austria-Hungary (1866); Prussia vs. France (1870); Russia vs. Ottoman Empire (1877-1878), Chile vs. Peru and Bolivia (1879-1883), Britain vs. Egypt (1882), France in Tunisia (1881). See Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 5.
  38. See ibid., 6, 8; Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence, 1; Paolo Enrico Coletta, A Survey of U.S. Naval Affairs, 1865-1917 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987), 26. Altogether these authors cataloged sixteen overseas intelligence missions from 1866-1881, an average of about one per year.
  39. See James W. King, Report of Chief Engineer J. W. King, United States Navy, on European Ships of War and Their Armament, Naval Administration and Economy, Marine Constructions and Appliances, Dockyards, Etc., Etc. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1877), passim; Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 7; Herrick, The American Naval Revolution, 22.
  40. Hamersly, Records of Living Officers, 1890, 186; U.S. Department of the Navy, Register of the Commissioned, Warrant, and Volunteer Officers of the Navy of the United States Including Officers of the Marine Corps and Others, to January 1, 1876 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876), 26.
  41. Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence, 2.
  42. Walker to Sigsbee, June 19, 1902, 1, Private Letterbooks, Vol. 3, Box 2, The Papers of John G. Walker, Naval Historical Foundation Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  43. A.P. Mantus [pseud.
  44. Rodgers to Thompson, May 26, 1879; Rodgers to Thompson, June 5, 1879; Rodgers to Thompson, October 13, 1879, M89, Reel 67, Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy from Commanding Officers of Squadrons, 1841-1886, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
  45. Rodgers to Thompson, November 4, 1879; Rodgers to Thompson, November 17, 1879, M89, Reel 67, Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy from Commanding Officers of Squadrons, 1841-1886, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 10.
  46. Mason, “The War Between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia”; Mason and Ingersoll, “Capture of Huascar”; Theodore B. M. Mason, “The War on the Pacific Coast of South America Between Chile and the Allied Republics of Peru and Bolivia, 1879-’81,” Office of Naval Intelligence War Series (Washington, D.C.: Office of Naval Intelligence, 1883).
  47. Hunt launched a successful law practice in 1844 by earning admission the Louisiana bar at age twenty. Despite deep Southern roots, Hunt had been a dedicated Union man during the Civil War. Drafted into the Confederate Army in 1861, he avoided active service and welcomed Union commanders into his New Orleans home when the U.S. Navy seized the city in the spring of 1862. After the war Hunt embraced Republicanism, an affiliation that aroused hostility among many Louisianans. He became a tireless crusader against election fraud—no small challenge in a state known for its political corruption. “Campaigning in Louisiana was a dangerous undertaking for a Republican,” Hunt’s son later recalled, “it was doubly dangerous for my father because he was the most prominent Southerner in the Republican party and it enraged the Democrats to know that here was one white Republican whom they could not call a carpetbagger.” Thomas Hunt, The Life of William H. Hunt (Brattleboro, VT: E.L. Hildreth, 1922), 180. Republican leaders soon took notice of Hunt’s qualities. A succession of political appointments propelled him upward within the party ranks, eventually opening the door for a cabinet appointment. See also Walter R. Herrick, “William H. Hunt,” in American Secretaries of the Navy, ed. Paolo E. Coletta, vol. 1 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980), 390–391.
  48. Robert Greenhalgh Albion, Makers of Naval Policy, 1798-1947, ed. Rowena Reed (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980), 206.
  49. W.H. Hunt’s son Ridgely graduated from Annapolis in 1875. Ridgley Hunt served at ONI during 1890-1892. He retired as a lieutenant in 1897.  The younger Hunt served in ONI 1890-92. He retired as a lieutenant in 1897.  Hunt’s mother Elizabeth Augusta Ridgely died in 1864 at age thirty-nine. She gave birth to all seven of Hunt’s children; her father was Commodore Charles Goodwin Ridgley, USN 1784-1848. See Hunt, The Life of William H. Hunt, 122; Elizabeth Clarkson Jay, “The Descendants of James Alexander,” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 12, no. 4 (October 1881): 157; Edward W. Callahan, ed., List of the Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900 (New York: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1901), 284.
  50. Albion, Makers of Naval Policy, 1798-1947, 206; Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 14; Hamersly, Records of Living Officers, 1890, 28–29; Lewis R. Hamersly, The Records of Living Officers of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, 6th ed. (New York: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1898), 32. Rodgers served as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy during 1881, retiring later the same year. Sicard was chief of the navy’s ordnance bureau during 1881-1890; Walker headed the Navigation Bureau 1882-1889
  51. William H. Hunt, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1881,” 47th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1881, 3.
  52. James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, vol. 8 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1898), 51.
  53. Naval History and Heritage Command, “Budget of the US Navy: 1794 to 2004,” Naval Historical Center-Navy Department Library, 2004, 650, /budget.htm; Naval History and Heritage Command, “Budget of the US Navy: 1794 to 2004”; Douglas A. Irwin, “Exports, by Country of Destination: 1790–20011. Table Ee533-550,” Cambridge University Press, Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition Online, (2006), /ISBN-9780511132971.Ee362-611. Earle traces the notable consistency of naval revival between 1880-1920, with each succeeding administration expanding upon its predecessor, regardless of party affiliation. Similarly, a review of navy budget authorizations from 1882-1897 reveals a general rise in appropriations of about 1.5% per year (during a time of overall economic deflation in the United States), regardless of whether the Congress was split or a single party controlled both houses.
  54. Sprout and Sprout, Rise of American Naval Power, 185.
  55. The volume of U.S. imports and exports dropped by nearly fifteen percent following the Panic of 1873, and remained low for the next several years. However, by 1880 trade volume climbed to 113 percent of the 1873 peak. See Louis P. Cain, “Value of Waterborne Imports and Exports of Merchandise, by Flag of Carrier: 1790-1994. Table Df606-611,” Cambridge University Press, Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition Online, (2006),
  56. Hunt, “Report of Navy Secretary, 1881,” 27.
  57. For a concise yet authoritative summary of technical atrophy in the postwar U.S. Navy, see Michael E. Vlahos, “The Making of an American Style,” in Naval Engineering and American Seapower, ed. Randolph W. King and Prescott Palmer (Baltimore, MD: Nautical & Aviation Pub. Co. of America, 1989), 17–25.
  58. J.G. Walker, “Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, November 15, 1882,” in Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1882 (47th Cong., 2nd Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1882), 108; Charles C. Rogers, “Naval Intelligence,” Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 9, no. 5 (1883): 680–689.
  59. Berry, “The Beginning of ONI,” 102.
  60. Two early ONI staffers would later testify to Mason’s pivotal influence. Seaton Schroeder (who served at ONI during 1886-1888) praised Mason’s “persevering initiative” in giving the office “official existence and a start.” Likewise, John M. Ellicot (assigned to ONI 1888-1891) claimed that Mason personally proposed to the secretary of the navy “that a section be established” to manage naval intelligence. See Seaton Schroeder, A Half Century of Naval Service (New York: D. Appleton, 1922), 171; Hamersly, Records of Living Officers, 1898, 134; “Register of Personnel of the Office of Naval Intelligence, 1882-1918,” n.d., 51, RG 38, Records of the Office of Naval Intelligence, Box 1, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
  61. The precise influence of Hunt’s naval advisors upon his decision to establish ONI is difficult to establish.  Dowart mentions only that Hunt received intelligence reports from Mason off South America in 1881. According to Packard, Mason launched a campaign in late 1881 to set up an intelligence office at the navy department. Packard claims that Mason gained access to Hunt, who “apparently agreed with Mason’s idea for setting up and intelligence office.” Packard cites the 1952 journal article by J.M. Ellicott as his source. Ellicott knew Mason personally, but it is unclear whether his information on Mason’s role in ONI’s establishment came from Mason himself or other sources. Significant chronological discrepancies appear in Ellicott’s account, and the author seems to confuse Hunt with his successor William E. Chandler, who assumed office in April 1882. However, it seems possible that Mason did discuss an intelligence matters with Hunt, given his strong views on intelligence processes, and his proximity to the nation’s capital (Mason was stationed in Annapolis during late 1881-early 1882). Mason also enjoyed sponsorship from influential, high-ranking officers such as Luce, C.R.P. Rodgers, and John G. Walker—men were in positions to advance Mason and his ideas. See Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 11; Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence, 2; Ellicott, “Mason: Founder of ONI,” 266.
  62. Walker to Sigsbee, June 19, 1902, 1.
  63. Benjamin F. Tracy, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1889,” 51st Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1889, 7.
  64. Hunt, William H. General Order, No. 292, Washington, D.C., March 23, 1882, in M.S. Thompson, ed., General Orders and Circulars Issued by the Navy Department from 1863 to 1887 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1887), 208.
  65. Hunt’s appointment as secretary of the navy ended as it began, as a political expedient.  Garfield succumbed to an assassin’s bullet in September 1881, elevating Vice President Arthur to the presidency.  Six months later, Arthur replaced Hunt with Republican party functionary William E. Chandler.  As consolation, Arthur named Hunt as the new ambassador to Russia, an appointment the Louisianan considered tantamount to political exile. Hunt dutifully departed for Moscow in May 1882, leaving to his successor the details of organizing the new intelligence office. See Hunt, The Life of William H. Hunt, 257.
  66. Chandler’s opponents could not substantiate charges against him, but historians still debate his corruptibility. See Walter R. Herrick, “William E. Chandler,” in American Secretaries of the Navy, ed. Paolo E. Coletta, vol. 1 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980), 399–400.
  67. Charles H. Cramp, quoted in Berry, “The Beginning of ONI,” 102.

    Augustus C. Buell, The Memoirs of Charles H. Cramp (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1906), 181.

  68. Berry, “The Beginning of ONI,” 102.
  69. Bradley A. Fiske, From Midshipman to Rear-Admiral (New York: The Century Co, 1919), 72.
  70. No doubt Walker’s experience as a railroad executive exposed him to a number of innovative managerial practices. Noted historian Richard White describes the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy as one of the most aggressive and organizationally influential rail system in the western United States during the early 1880s. White also notes that railroad organization charts seldom depicted ground truth with accuracy. In practice, corporate authority had limited reach, allowing local managers and supervisors to exercise considerable autonomy (and frequent malfeasance) in running day-to-day operations.  As a naval officer accustomed to independent command, Walker would not have found the complex reality of intra-corporate relations unfamiliar. See Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2011), 213, 235–236.
  71. Chandler, The Visible Hand, 132.
  72. Walker to Miner, March 21, 1902, Private Letterbooks, Vol. 3, Box 2, The Papers of John G. Walker, Naval Historical Foundation Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. In 1902 Walker shared recollections of his railroad experience in correspondence with New York Herald editor George R. Miner.
  73. Walker biographer Francis P. Thomas provides additional details of Walker’s railroad career. See Frances P. Thomas, Career of John Grimes Walker, U.S.N., 1835-1907 (Boston: s.n., 1959), 50, 53–54.
  74. Albion, Makers of Naval Policy, 1798-1947, 72.
  75. Gleaves, Life and Letters of Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce, 72.
  76. Walker to Sigsbee, June 19, 1902, 1.
  77. Berry, “The Beginning of ONI,” 102.
  78. See King, Engineer King Report; Edward W. Very, Navies of the World; Giving Concise Descriptions of the Plans, Armament and Armor of the Naval Vessels of Twenty of the Principal Nations. Together with the Latest Developments in Ordnance, Torpedoes, and Naval Architecture, and a Concise Summary of the Principal Naval Battles of the Last Twenty Years, 1860-1880 (New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1880).
  79. Berry, an ONI staff member during 1882-1883, later described these details these early activities in a 1937 Naval Institute Proceedings article. See Berry, “The Beginning of ONI,” 102.
  80. Between 1881-1891, the federal revenues exceeded expenditures by some $100 million per year, on average.  High tariffs sustained the surplus, as protectionist spirit remained strong in Washington. Civil War pensions and local pork barrel projects absorbed much of the excess revenue, but the navy also benefited. See Edward Mead Earle, “The Navy’s Influence on Our Foreign Relations,” Current History 23, no. 5 (February 1926): 651; Herrick, The American Naval Revolution, 24; Sprout and Sprout, Rise of American Naval Power, 183.
  81. Benjamin F. Tracy, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1889,” 51st Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1889, 8.
  82. Chandler to Mason, July 25, 1882, RG 45, Correspondence, 1798-1918, Letters and Telegrams Sent to Naval Officers on Special Duty, Vol. 12, 56-57, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
  83. F.T. Bowles, “Our New Cruisers,” Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 9, no. 4 (September 1883): 622.
  84. Albert G. Browne, Jr., “The Growing Power of the Republic of Chile,” Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York 16 (January 1, 1884): 42, doi:10.2307/196360; Mason, “The War on the Pacific Coast of South America Between Chile and the Allied Republics of Peru and Bolivia, 1879-’81,” 77.
  85. V.L. Cottman, “Report of the United States Branch Hydrographic Office, Maritime Exchange, New York, July 1, 1887,” in Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1887 (50th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1887), 197.
  86. J.G. Walker, “Bureau of Navigation, October 15, 1889,” in Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1889 (51st Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1889), 299.
  87. Tracy, “Report of Navy Secretary, 1889,” 7.
  88. George B. Hopkins, “The New York Bureau of Municipal Research,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 41 (May 1, 1912): 235–44; Jesse D. Burks, “The Outlook for Municipal Efficiency in Philadelphia,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 41 (May 1, 1912): 245–61; Rufus E. Miles, “The Cincinnati Bureau of Municipal Research,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 41 (May 1, 1912): 262–69; J. E. Treleven, “The Milwaukee Bureau of Economy and Efficiency,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 41 (May 1, 1912): 270–78; Bruce D. McDonald, “The Bureau of Municipal Research and the Development of a Professional Public Service,” Administration & Society 42, no. 7 (November 1, 2010): 194, doi:10.1177/0095399710386309.
  89. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 168.
  90. Chandler to Mason, July 25, 1882.
  91. Ibid.; Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 15; Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence, 3. Both Dorwart and Packard speculate that Mason most likely wrote the July 25 directive for Chandler’s signature.
  92. See M. Fisher Wright, trans., “Operations of The French Navy during the Recent War with Tunis,” Office of Naval Intelligence War Series (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1885); Mason, “The War on the Pacific Coast of South America Between Chile and the Allied Republics of Peru and Bolivia, 1879-’81”; Caspar F. Goodrich, “Report of the British Naval and Military Operations in Egypt, 1882,” Office of Naval Intelligence War Series (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1885).
  93. For example, General Information Series Volume Three contained essays that addressed logistics, fleet operations, and power projection. Volume Five covered recent naval campaigns, Volume Six: merchant auxiliary forces, Volume Seven: naval reserves, and Volume Eight: foreign mobilization plans and philosophies. See Office of Naval Intelligence, General Information Series, vols. 3, 5-8 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1884-1889)
  94. Sidney A. Staunton, “Naval Training and the Changes Induced by Recent Progress in the Implements of Naval Warfare,” in Naval Reserves, Training, and Materiel, Office of Naval Intelligence General Information Series 7 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1888), 66. Staunton served on the ONI staff during 1887-1889.
  95. A survey of Naval Institute Proceedings and United Service editions from 1883 through 1889 reveals a number of strategically-relevant articles authored by serving or former ONI staff officers, including: W.H. Beehler (one article), J.B. Bernadou (one article), W.I. Chambers (three articles), C.C. Rogers (three articles)
  96. Rogers, “Naval Intelligence,” 680–689.
  97. A. T. Mahan, “Report of President of Naval War College, October 13, 1888,” in Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1888 (50th Cong., 2nd Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1888), 101.
  98. Ibid.
  99. W.C. Whitney, order, March 31, 1885, quoted in Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence, 5. Italics added for emphasis. Packard reports the original order as lost. He discovered this segment repeated in a Navy Department document dating 1892.
  100. “ONI Register,” 32.
  101. “Explanation of Work of the Summer Session of 1896,” 1896, RG 8 Box 53 Folder 5, Naval History Collection, Naval War College; Herbert to Taylor, March 21, 1895, Naval War College (U.S.) Records, 1884-1914, Naval Historical Foundation Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Comments from Secretary of the Navy Hillary A. Herbert in 1895 suggest a close linkage between war maps and war plans.
  102. “ONI Register,” 22, 32.
  103. Daniel H. Wicks, “Dress Rehearsal: United States Intervention on The Isthmus of Panama, 1885,” Pacific Historical Review 49, no. 4 (November 1980): 581–605; Walter Lafeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898 (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1998), 15; Ellicott, “Mason: Founder of ONI,” 266.
  104. William F. Sater, Chile and the United States: Empires in Conflict, The United States and the Americas (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 52.
  105. William C. Whitney, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1885,” 49th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1885, 16–17. Coincidentally, Mason commanded an artillery battery during April-May 1885 as part of the U.S. expeditionary force in Panama.
  106. Walker to MaCalla, April 6, 1885, Personal Letterbooks, Box 1, The Papers of John G. Walker, Naval Historical Foundation Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  107. See W.W. Kimball and W.L. Capps, “Special Intelligence Report of the Progress of the Work on the Panama Canal During the Year 1885,” 49th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Misc. Doc. 395, 1886; Charles C. Rogers, “Intelligence Report of the Panama Canal,” 50th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Misc. Doc. 599, 1889.
  108. “ONI Register,” 37.
  109. Grenville and Young, Politics, Strategy, and Diplomacy, 28–29.
  110. Walker to Gridley, July 25, 1887; Walker to Shelley, September 13, 1887, Personal Letterbooks, Box 1, The Papers of John G. Walker, Naval Historical Foundation Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  111. Luce to Rogers, July 1, 1887, Luce Papers, MSC 10, Folder 8, Naval History Collection, Naval War College. Walker later endorsed Luce’s orders to Rogers.
  112. Luce to Rogers, September 1, 1887; Harmony to Rogers, October 27, 1887, Luce Papers, MSC 10, Folder 8, Naval History Collection, Naval War College.
  113. Rogers taught at the Naval War College in 1887, 1888, and 1889 as a visiting instructor.  In an August, 1888 letter the naval intelligence chief, Mahan indicates that Rogers desired to utilize unclassified information from the Canadian War Resources report in his own lectures.  Apparently the report was on loan from ONI, as Mahan requested to retain it for the upcoming War College session.  However, it seems the report never made it back to ONI; it remains archived in the Naval War College’s Naval History Collection. See Mahan to Rodgers, August 13 1888, in Robert Seager II and Doris D. Maguire, eds., Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. 1 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 656. 
  114. Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence, 29.
  115. As previously noted, Mahan referenced Roger’s “Intelligence Report on War Resources in Canada,” in his August 13, 1888, letter to the chief of ONI.  This report included an eleven-page campaign plan for the conquest of Canada. Commander Colby M. Chester, commanding USS Galena, signed and annotated this same plan “Approved and Forward.” Lieutenant Seaton Schroeder was the campaigns and strategy desk officer at ONI during 1886-1888. Schroeder’s margin notes are clearly discernible in the original document. Intelligence chief R.P. Rodgers and Bureau of Navigation chief Walker reviewed other reports prepared by Rogers at the same time—most likely they reviewed the Canada campaign plan as well. See Mahan to Rodgers, August 13 1888; Charles C. Rogers, “Intelligence Report of the General War Resources of the Dominion of Canada” (USS Galena, 1887), 374, Record Group 8, Box 5, Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College; Charles C. Rogers, “Intelligence Report of Kingston, Canada,” 1887, 12, Record Group 8, Box 5, Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College.
  116. Navy Secretary Benjamin F. Tracy assigned Mahan to a secret strategy board during 1890-91. The board also included: William M. Folger (Chief of Ordnance), Charles H. Davis, Jr. (Chief of Intelligence), and Assistant Secretary of the Navy John R. Soley. See Chapter Seven for a discussion of the similarities between the 1890 plan and Charles C. Roger’s campaign design of 1887.
  117. Rogers, “Report of War Resources of Canada,” 368.
  118. Ibid., 367.
  119. “ONI Register,” 22.
  120. Ibid., 32, 39, 47.
  121. Ibid., 35.
  122. Ibid., 46.
  123. See W.H. Beehler, A Study of the Exposed Points on Our Frontier, Lines of Communication and Possible Bases of Hostile Operation (Washington, D.C.: Office of Naval Intelligence, 1885).
  124. ONI contributed several other reports to the Endicott Board, including assessments of naval weapons technology and platforms, information on foreign navies, and other topics. Acting upon the recommendations of board, Congress authorized $60 million dollars to renovate and upgrade U.S. coastal fortification infrastructure, a project that encompassed fifteen years. See William C. Endicott, “Report of the Board on Fortifications or Other Defenses Appointed by the President of the United States Under the Provisions of the Act of Congress” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1886); Walter Millis, Arms and Men; a Study in American Military History (New York: New American Library, 1956), 135.
  125. Rogers make no reference to A Study of Exposed Points on our Frontier in his strategic plan. However, the 1885 publication would have been readily available to Rogers as he finished compiling his reports on Canada at ONI during August-September, 1887.
  126. Carlos G. Calkins, “The Coast-Line of the United States Considered with Reference to Maritime Attack and Defense” (Lecture Series, 1888), 1, Papers of Washington I. Chambers, Subject File, Box 29, Library of Congress, Naval Historical Society Collection.
  127. Hamersly, Records of Living Officers, 1898, 170; William C. Whitney, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1887,” 50th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1887, 164.
  128. Taylor was a key figure in contingency planning for a Spanish War between 1894-1897, along with ONI staffers William W. Kimball and Richard Wainwright (ONI Director from April 1896 to November 1897).  Taylor personally utilized Calkins’s lecture material to teach at  the Naval War College during the summer of 1894—a moment when the college first began to seriously consider the strategic contingencies of a war with Spain. See Hilary A. Herbert, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1894,” 53rd Cong., 3rd Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1894, 209.
  129. Ibid.
  130. William C. Whitney, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1888,” 50th Cong., 2nd Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 1, Part 3, 1888, 101.

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Eyes of the Ospreys: An Analysis of RAF Coastal Command’s Operational Research Section in Counter-U-Boat Operations


Background on the Situation
Courses of Action Taken
Analysis of Results and Consequences

Timothy A. Walton
Independent Scholar

In his declaration of war, President Woodrow Wilson protested: “German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.” 1 Following the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I, the international community adopted the 1930 and 1936 London Naval Treaties, which declared “cruiser rules” applied to submarines as well as merchant vessels. 2 Nonetheless, during the Spanish Civil War and to a much greater extent World War II, the scourge of the submarine would strike again. German submarine effectiveness in targeting merchant shipping led to major Allied innovations in technology, tactics, and methods. These in turn were met by reciprocal German responses.

This paper will analyze the use of operational research methods in World War II by Britain’s Coastal Command in aerial counter-U-Boat operations. 3 It contends that operational research methods significantly improved Coastal Command’s operational effectiveness and led to changes in Allied policies and procedures at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. The paper will proceed in three sections: background, courses of action taken, and analysis of results and consequences.

In order to frame the scope of effort, the paper focuses on Coastal Command’s efforts in the Atlantic, while noting significant initiatives in the Mediterranean and Indo-Pacific theaters. Additionally, in focusing on British operational research, it seeks to complement scholarship on American counter-U-boat operational research activities, as documented by scholars such as Max Schoenfeld and General Montgomery Meigs. 4 Lastly, in assessing the effectiveness of operational research methods in improving counter-U-boat performance, the paper will limit its discussion of the enormous role of signals intelligence (namely, intelligence gained from “Ultra”, the decryption of the German Enigma code machine) in shaping operational search patterns. While not comprehensive, this piece aims to analyze this crucial analytical method in order to understand the historical lessons more perfectly, and where appropriate draw other historical and contemporary implications. 5

Background on the Situation

During World War I, naval actions were concentrated in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. After the declaration of war, Allied Forces, led by Great Britain, began a distant naval blockade of Central Power ports. Over time the blockade had a major impact on the ability of the Central Powers to import food and supplies. 6 In response, in 1914 Germany designated the waters around the British Isles a “war zone” in which all belligerent ships (including merchants) were subject to destruction without warning. 7 Apart from select, high-profile successes early in the war, German U-boats were primarily employed against merchants. 7

In addition to the development of technological countermeasures such as anti-submarine warfare hydrophones, depth charges, mines, and aircraft, Great Britain in September 1917 began full-scale convoying. 9 These tactics and technologies accelerated the German culmination point that was likely reached in July of 1917. Additionally, while a reciprocal dynamic developed, the German navy (in part limited by the technological capabilities of the submarines) did not develop effective tactics to counter the convoying, such as wolf packs. By 1918, Allied losses had reached non-critical levels while major German submarine losses slashed force structure and morale, relegating the force to coastal defense.
At the end of the Great War, German leaders concluded the failure of unrestricted submarine warfare principally lay not in faulty assessments of enemy economic output or performance, but in a small force structure. With only twenty to thirty 500 to 700 ton U-boats on station around the British Isles, one of German Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff’s experts, Dr. Richard Fuss, conceded: “The U-war was never unrestricted.” 10

During the Interwar Period, Germany secretly reconstituted its submarine force. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War Germany’s 2nd U-Flotilla, named “Saltzwedel”, began an active, though covert, role complementing the efforts of their Italian comrades against the Republican forces. In the Spanish Civil War, active sonar (then referred to by the British as ASDIC) was first used by British warships to pursue German and Italian submarines. 11 By the terms of the Nyon Arrangement, British warships were empowered to depth charge submarine contacts which displayed hostile intent. 12

The first official meeting of the National Defense Research Committee Source: Vannevar Bush, "National Defense Research Committee," The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 51, No. 3. (Sep., 1940), pp. 284-285, on 284. (Wikimedia Commons)

The first official meeting of the National Defense Research Committee. Source: Vannevar Bush, “National Defense Research Committee,” The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 51, No. 3. (Sep., 1940), pp. 284-285, on 284.

Despite the great advances that took place in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) between 1914-1918 and the operational experimentation of the Spanish Civil War, many of the tactical and operational lessons of World War I were forgotten during the Interwar Period. 13 Additionally, British and American military leaders displayed overconfidence in their ASW capabilities. In June 1935, after the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (that codified the end of Germany’s abiding by the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles) Admiral Chatfield, the First Sea Lord wrote “our methods [of ASW] are now so efficient that we will need fewer destroyers in the North Sea and the Mediterranean.” 14

In response to these attitudes and the growing possibility of war, concerned scientists in the U.S. and Great Britain offered their technical skills to prepare for the potential war to come. In the United States, Vannevar Bush, President of the Carnegie Institute, formed the National Defense Research Committee in June 1940. 15 Securing funds from President Roosevelt’s budget, Bush and his colleagues arranged for a committee sponsored by the National Academy of Science to study subsurface warfare. The Colpitts Report, named after the committee’s chairman, incisively criticized the scientific background of the U.S. Navy’s antisubmarine warfare effort, noting: “We feel an altogether inadequate research effort on fundamentals has been put forth since the last war.” Colpitts noted as well that the scientific contribution to antisubmarine warfare was, “also a question of tactics and tactical doctrine, of personnel and training and of operational records.” 15 Similar observations were made by concerned scientists in Great Britain.

Establishment and Aims of the ORS Office

The Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Coastal Command was one of three branches of the Service, the other two being RAF Fighter Command and RAF Bomber Command. Its primary task was to protect British shipping from enemy naval threats, with strike of enemy naval forces as a secondary duty. However, Great Britain entered World War II unprepared for ASW. Coastal Command “began the war with unsuitable aircraft for hunting U-boats, no airborne depth charges, and aircrews untrained in anti-U-boat operations.” 17 The German navy also entered into the war with an inadequate submarine force structure. At the outbreak of war, it only had 26 ocean-going U-boats. 18 German Befehshaber der Unteresebooten (BdU) (Commander in Chief, submarines) Admiral Karl Dönitz estimated he “needed 300 U-boats to defeat the Allied convoys and force Britain into submission.” Nonetheless, the German Navy initially achieved great success.

In response to the German threat, the British military sought improved means to counter the serious U-boat threat. After some lag and resistance, in late 1941 an Operational Research Centre was formally established at the Air Ministry in order to improve operational analysis. 19 Simply defined, operations research is “a scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control.” 20 A subsidiary Operational Research Section (ORS) was established in RAF Coastal Command, and equivalent organizations were established in Canada and the U.S.

Conrad Hal Waddington, one of the leaders of Coastal Command’s ORS (thereafter referred to as ORS) and its post-war historian, recounted that ORS sought to define problems (using data to inquire what the problem is), attack the problem using various methods, and produce reports with actionable recommendations. 21 Initially ORS allocated individuals to projects on an as-available basis; in mid-1943, however, ORS was divided into four groups (with approximately four individuals in each group): Anti-U-Boat operations, Anti-Shipping operations, Planned Flying and Maintenance, and Weather and Navigation.

Courses of Action Taken

This section will analyze the courses of action taken by Coastal Command ORS to counter the U-boat threat. It will proceed by examining principles of aircraft-submarine warfare, the progress of the campaign, and specific initiatives that highlight ORS’ contribution to improving Coastal Command combat effectiveness.

Principles of Aircraft-Submarine Warfare

Throughout most of the war, standard German U-boats were compelled to spend a large portion of their time surfaced in order to recharge their batteries and navigate at greater speeds. “The 500 ton U-boat had an overall endurance on the surface ranging from 14,000 miles at 6 knots to 2,800 at 17 knots; but the underwater endurance on one charge of the batteries was only about 14 miles at 8 knots, 28 miles at 6 knots, 65 miles at 4 knots.” 22

Additionally, U-boats also found it necessary to spend a considerable amount of time on the surface in their attacks on convoys. Usual convoy speeds across the Atlantic were 7 or 9 knots. Therefore, U-boats generally required surface navigation in order to shadow or gain a bearing on convoys. The introduction of the snorkel to a select number of U-boats in late 1944 provided U-boat’s the ability to run diesel engines and recharge batteries while still submerged.

U-boat operations chiefly consisted of two tactics: solitary stalking in littoral waters or wolf-pack tactics in the open ocean. The former relied on submerging by day and surface recharging of batteries at night. This tactic initially worked as Coastal Command lacked effective night capabilities. In contrast wolf-packs essentially used submarines as surfaced torpedo boats at night. Patrol lines of submarines, guided by BdU, would seek to find convoy targets. The coordination of a large pack attack usually took 20 or more hours to develop.

Progress of the Campaign

The U-boat/counter-U-boat campaign in the Atlantic proceeded throughout the entirety of the war. It shifted in character and geographic location as German forces made operational and tactical adjustments, and Allied forces followed suit. Early in the war, German U-boats conducted independent actions in coastal waters. Improvements in British ship-borne active sonar and the harassing presence of aircraft led Admiral Dönitz to command wolf-pack tactics in the mid-Atlantic. During this period, the average number of U-boats at sea was about 25. 23 In 1941 1,976,000 tons were sunk for a loss of about 36 U-boats. These results were better than those of 1939 and 1940. Nonetheless, aircraft was beginning to influence German U-boat morale and patrol tactics. In response to the air threat, Admiral Dönitz placed his patrol lines as far as possible in the mid-Atlantic outside the reach of air cover. 24

Shipping Losses During the Battle of the Atlantic Source: John Stillion and Bryan Clark. “What it Takes to Win: Succeeding in 21st Century Battle Network Competitions”, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2015, 28.

Shipping Losses During the Battle of the Atlantic
Source: John Stillion and Bryan Clark. “What it Takes to Win: Succeeding in 21st Century Battle Network Competitions”, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2015, 28.

Dividing the effort of U-boat forces, in the fall of 1941, Adolf Hitler insisted that the U-boat arm devote most of its efforts to the Mediterranean in order to assist in efforts to secure the sea. 25 At least ten submarines had to be maintained in the Mediterranean at all times and fifteen more outside the Gibraltar approached. 26 Operations within the Mediterranean achieved minor successes targeting naval and merchant targets, while those outside of the Gibraltar Strait were more successful targeting merchants. These commands effectively halved the number of submarines available for operations in the Atlantic.

With the entry of the United States into the war, Admiral Dönitz directed his forces to conduct inshore operations off the U.S. coast (Operation Paukenschlag, “Drumroll”), taking full advantage of the lack of U.S. preparation. 27 German submarines had great success in U.S. coastal waters until June 1942, when the U.S. fully adopted convoy tactics and fully organized an effective anti-submarine air force. The introduction of new 1,600-ton supply submarines, to complement surface tankers, combined with the increasing monthly production of Mark VII and Mark IX U-boats promised to give BdU greater numbers of submarines in the patrolling areas. 28

Additionally, in early 1942, Germany broke British Naval Cipher Number 3, the Allied convoy code. By July 1942, the Germans read 80 percent of all messages sent in this cipher. 29 This reinforced the highly centralized command and control of the U-boat force, which was successful initially but provided weaknesses that could be exploited by the Allies. With exception to most of 1942 and brief periods in 1943, Allied intelligence was able to decipher most German Enigma radio transmissions. 30

In August 1942, German forces again conducted wolf-pack tactics against convoys in the mid-Atlantic. During this time, German forces reached a culmination point in March 1943 (sinking 108 Allied ships at a cost of only 14 U-boats lost). However, due to mounting losses caused by the increasing effects of land-based and escort carrier air power and the increase in naval escorts (formed in hunter-killer groups), German forces withdrew from the Atlantic offensive in May 1943. 31

Subsequently, they focused on various, distant vulnerable points, principally in the Caribbean targeting the transport of petroleum and other raw materials. As Admiral Dönitz’s War Diary states on 15 April 1942: “The enemy powers’ shipping is one large whole. It is therefore immaterial where a ship is sunk…. Tonnage must be taken where it can be destroyed most reasonably as afar as making full use of the boats is concerned.” 32 This geographic shifting of areas of operation in order to achieve tonnage goals and minimize danger is logical; however, it retarded fundamental assessments of tactics and technological countermeasures. Admiral Dönitz “did not look to scientists and engineers for ways to improve capabilities of submarines until the summer of 1943, when the slide toward defeat had become obvious.” 33

In October 1943, a second, disastrous attempt was made to return to the North Atlantic. This offensive sought to make improved use of German Ju. 290 aircraft for reconnaissance purposes. However, cooperation between aircraft and the submarines was difficult due to problems with navigation coordination, communications, and the low mobility of submarines. The invasion of Europe in June 1944 prompted an unsuccessful U-boat counter attack. By this time, increasing numbers of snorkel-fitted boats were fielded. These performed much better in coastal waters and were significantly less vulnerable to aircraft; however, they could still be tracked with active sonar and attacked by surface ships with new, forward-launched weapons such as Mousetrap and Hedgehog.

ORS Initiatives

ORS initiatives significantly improved the combat effectiveness of Coastal Command operations against U-boats. Their efforts can be grouped into five categories: organization of effort, improvement of radar performance, addressing visual problems, tactical strike, and operational-level analysis.

The Organization of Effort

ORS took a comprehensive, system-level approach to improving Coastal Command effectiveness. This began with addressing basic questions and problems with the organization of effort within the force. One of the main contributions of ORS in this regard was to thoroughly systematize and improve Coastal Command readiness rates and operational availability. It did so through a process of “Planned Flying and Planned Maintenance”, which systematically analyzed the inputs required to generate combat power. 34
ORS also examined questions of navigation. While seemingly trivial, aircraft search patterns for convoys had resulted in them not meeting convoys nearly 80% of the time for distant convoys in 1941. ORS analysis introduced more effective search patterns and promoted the introduction and proper use of different, neglected navigational aids. 35
As a related issue, ORS analyzed the impact of weather on operations and the optimization of flying time. This led to changes in maintenance patterns as well as an analysis of the adequacy of bases. For instance, toward the end of 1944, after the Germans had lost their Biscay Bay U-boat bases, it was recognized that considerable U-boat traffic would be sent northwards round the Iceland-Faroes Channel. Recognizing the limiting weather conditions, ORS concluded that while the expansion of certain bases in Scotland and Iceland was appropriate, others in the area were paradoxically not, even though they were closer to the operating area. This was because poor weather conditions would provide an even lower sortie rate than aircraft flying from further away. 36 These analyses improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the force.

Radar (ASV)

In its anti-U-boat form, radar was known as Anti-Surface Vessel (ASV). 37 The war in the Atlantic exhibited a reciprocal dynamic as Allied forces adopted L, S, and X band radars, and German forces introduced appropriate countermeasures. ORS strongly contributed to analyses of the effectiveness of different radars, development of search patterns and tracks, and the lessening of incident radar energy needed to detect and approach submarines. 38 ORS also influenced radar operator training. By comparing the quality of radar operators, it introduced a process for eliminating inferior operators via tests during the training process. This was recommended after discovering that the bottom 15% of classes of radar operators never detected a U-boat. 37
Furthermore, ORS strongly shaped analysis of operational performance in order to determine reciprocal responses by German forces and recommend actions on appropriate countermeasures. For example, as early as 1941, questions were being asked as to the cause of disappearing contacts with Mk. II ASV. Through ORS analysis, coupled with intelligence information, it was deduced by autumn of 1942 that U-boats had been fitted with a receiver to counter ASV Mk. II. 40 As Figure 1 shows, the use of daytime ASV Mk II was paradoxically to the disadvantage of Allied forces, because of German receivers. 41 With the introduction of ASV Mk III, Allied radar advantage was once more regained, to be countered again by the Germans. Winter 1943-1944, the Germans launched radar balloon decoys termed Aphrodite; however, they were designed for 1.5 meter wavelengths, instead of the centimeter ASV Mk. IIIs. 42

Figure 1: Reciprocal Reponses in the Radar War 43

Visual Problems

In May 1941, ORS conducted an analysis of visual problems related to aircraft spotting the U-boat and remaining unseen until near enough to deliver an attack. 44 Analyzing available data, it found that “in nearly 40% of the cases, the U-boat was already diving when first seen, which meant that it had seen the aircraft first. In a further 20%, the U-boat had already submerged (having only its periscope visible).” Therefore, around 60% of U-boats had spotted aircraft first—not counting U-boats that had completely submerged and were never spotted. 45 At the time, aircraft in use were painted with the standard Bomber Command black, which was intended to defeat searchlights. ORS recommended painting the bottom and sides of Coastal Command aircraft with white camouflage. The recommendation improved unsubmerged detection rates by 20%. 46 A commensurate factor noted in ORS analysis is that the deterioration in the standard of training of U-boat crews may have also contributed to the increased success.

Figure 2: Analysis of Day Sightings 47

Tactical Strike

The culmination of 55,000 man-hours or more of pilots, maintenance staff, and other ground personnel and all the aforementioned factors was the opportunity to conduct a brief attack on a U-boat. Frustratingly, though, aircraft lethality against visible U-boats was quite low at the start of the war. With the help of ORS, the lethality per attack on a visible U-boat rose from 2 or 3% in 1941 to about 40% in 1944, and to as high as 60% on the few surfaced U-boats seen in the last months of the war. 48 ORS’ main contributions were to the selection and arming of weapons and their aiming. Throughout the war, the main weapon employed by aircraft against the U-boat was the depth-charge, usually fused with a hydrostatic or time delay fuse so as to explode without the necessity of contact with the U-boat. 49 Depth charges are normally dropped in sticks, each stick consisting of a number of depth charges which fall in a more or less straight line along the direction of flight of the aircraft.

Through their analysis, ORS found that depth charges were fused for hydrostatic initiation at 100 feet or 150 feet. This was done with the expectation that submarines would already be at depth when the attack took place; instead, “as many as about 40% of all attacks the U-boat was either visible at the instant of attack or had been out of sight for less than a quarter of a minute.” 50 With only a lethal radius of 15-20 feet in the 250 lb depth charge, depth settings of 100 or 150 feet were way too deep for surfaced or near-surface U-boats. ORS recommended improved fillings for depth charges to increase their lethal radius and recommended depth settings at 25 feet. In a long, evidentiary process convinced the Air Staff to gradually increase the depth settings. 51 These changes were accompanied by increases in the lethality of attack.

Figure 3: Progress of Lethality of Depth Charge Attacks 52

Another area of strike improvement was addressing aiming errors. Air Staff supported pilot views that they had little aiming errors. ORS found that their stated aiming lines were better than achieved in exercise conditions. After studying the problem, including the introduction of rearward facing cameras into aircraft to as to track depth charge spreads, ORS recommended some solutions. First, it recommended a countermanding of the “aim-off forward” order, which sought to account for the forward travel of the U-boat while the depth charges fell and sought to avoid breaking up the depth charges in case they struck the U-boat. A 50% increase in kills took place after the elimination of that order. Another area for improvement was the introduction of the Low Level Bomb Sight Mk. II, which was initially met with considerable skepticism by the Air Staff as aircraft flew quite low in altitude when bombing. 53

ORS also provided the data to shape tactics. For example, in April 1943, U-boats adopted the practice of staying on the surface and fighting back with their anti-aircraft armament. In June and July of 1943, U-boats transiting the Bay of Biscay proceeded in daylight in groups of 3 to 5 to have supporting fire. Approximately 50% of the aircraft attacking through flak were hit, and in July and August when the fire was heaviest from U-boat packs, about 11% of attacking aircraft were shot down. 54 ORS provided Air Staff with the analysis to show that thanks to the valor of the aircrews, German forces were losing submarines at a disproportionate ratio that greatly favored the Allies. Coastal Command thus continued with its low-altitude attacks, instead of adopting medium-altitude bombing. The loss of 45 U-boats and serious damage of more during this period broke the force of the standard U-boat during the summer of 1943 and led to a policy of maximum submergence at the expense of much longer transit time. 42

Operational-Level Analysis

ORS analysis assisted officers in developing operations. Against U-boats, Coastal Command primarily conducted two types of operations: the protection of a given convoy and the general protection of shipping by cutting down the U-boats’ mobility, by harassing them, or by sinking them at sea. ORS found that a more economical and effective use of Coastal Command aircraft was instead of providing every convoy with air escort sufficient to prevent a U-boat attack, to focus on threatened convoys. The use of signals intelligence made this possible with a reliability of about 90%. 56 Therefore, wolf-packs could be countered in a cheaper way (than total coverage) by interfering with the shadowing of the convoy and accumulation of the pack.

ORS played a vital role in providing the analysis necessary to support “Transit Offensives” in the Bay of Biscay and elsewhere. Until the capture of the French coastal ports by the Allies in 1944, German U-boats primarily operated from the Bay of Biscay. The northern route from Germany or Norway round the north of Scotland was primarily used by new submarines. The Strait of Gibraltar was also used by submarines entering into the Mediterranean theater and small, pre-fabricated Type XXIII boats that were assembled in Toulon. The limited number of submarines operating in that area and the poor flying conditions and visibility at far northern latitudes made focus on the Bay of Biscay a top priority. By dedicating aircraft to this mission, instead of convoy protection, Coastal Command followed through with the axiom that “offense is the best defense.”

Before the Bay Offensive, though, Sir Archibald Sinclaire, the secretary of state for air, demurred allocating the requested 55 bombers. 57 He noted this could be done only by sacrificing the bombing of Germany, which had been promised to Stalin. Additionally, he expected German fighter cover for their submarines to effectively counter Coastal Command aircraft. This resistance was overcome by ORS analysis, which demonstrated that although the Bay Offensive would not produce an “unclimbable fence”, 58 it would destroy 20-25% of all U-boats that left Biscay ports. 59 In this manner, ORS managed to shift the strategic allocation of resources. Sinclaire’s fears did not come to fruition as Dönitz was unable to obtain sufficient Luftwaffe support to contest the airspace over the Bay of Biscay.


Figure 4: U518 under attack by an RAF Sunderland while outbound north of the Spanish coast, 27 June 1943. 60

A final area in which ORS provided support to the Air Staff was in analysis of the effects of bombing operations against U-boat shore-based infrastructure. Submarine pens, often made of thick, reinforced concrete, were impervious to most bombs. However, systems analysis did provide ancillary support locations (such as construction yards, submarine assembly factories, ground transportation infrastructure, and maintenance and refitting locations) ports to bomb.


Figure 5: The Consolidated B-24 (Liberator) bomber rated as a true Very Long Range aircraft, which was successfully employed by Coastal Command in 1943 to close the Atlantic Air Gap. 61

For example, on 5 July 1943, naval engineer Otto Merker proposed to Admiral Dönitz a new construction system in which submarines were to be built in pre-fabricated section in inland factories, transported to coastal yards, and quickly assembled in bomb-proof dry docks. “Merker’s system promised to reduce building time of the 1,600-ton Type XXI to 260-300,000 man-hours per boat, compared with 460,000 man-hours for a boat of similar size by existing methods.” 62 In addition to providing new, safe locations for the construction of submarines, this would address the major lag maintenance lag of the U-boat force. The Air Staff responded by bombing the canals used to transport pre-fabricated submarine sections, which were 27 feet long and 25 feet high, weighing 150 tons. With them destroyed, the construction effort had to rely on problematic rail infrastructure, which was also under attack.

Analysis of Results and Consequences

In a public speech, Admiral Dönitz once remarked that “the U-boat has no more to fear from aircraft than a mole from a crow.” 63 While the boast was largely true against submerged submarines, it certainly did not apply to U-boats on the surface. During World War II, 289 German U-Boats (of the 1,150 commissioned) were sunk by aircraft. 64 This amounted to approximately 36% of German losses. 65 ORS played a pivotal role in improving the effectiveness of Coastal Command aircraft by shaping technologies, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), and operational concepts. While other factors also played an important, if not decisive, role in the defeat of the German U-boat force, ORS sharped Coastal Command’s effort and contributed significantly.

Although this analysis focuses on understanding the historical campaign, there are contemporary lessons to draw from ORS. Chief among them is the value of incorporating operational research expertise into senior levels of decision-making. By ensuring operational research expertise at high levels of the executive decision-making process, one can ensure that operational research skills can actually inform and shape choices, rather than simply providing justification for the established course of action. Executives sometimes say scientists “should be on tap, but not on top.” 66 As stated by Conrad Hal Waddington: “This is a poor way to see the situation as scientists should be in neither of those positions, they should be members of a team, entitled to that degree of respect which they can earn with the practical effectiveness of their advice.” 66

The recruitment of highly skilled talent within such organization is another laudable goal. Although the existential crisis of World War II and the commensurate pull of talent is generally not replicable, standards should be set high. ORS remained fairly small throughout the war, with an average strength of about 16 officer-grade staff and two or three assistants. 68 As an indication of the intellectual caliber of the staff, two of them later received the Nobel Prize and six were Fellows of the Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences. 69

Another lesson to draw from ORS is the value of assigning adequate staff to do the work involved. Senior scientists must have enough time to cogitate creative approaches and experiment with different methodologies. ORS also did not commit itself to any special expertise, such as Queuing Theory, Games Theory, or Decision Theory; instead they were “ready to stick our noses into what everyone told them did not concern them, and to follow wherever that led.” 69 This approach facilitated a comprehensive, or systems-level, approach to analyzing the problem. ORS staff “refused to confine themselves narrowly to what they disdained as ‘gadgetry.’ They insisted on applying scientific method to the whole problem of the detection and destruction of submarines and to the environment in which the submarine operated.” 71 In order to preserve the time of the skilled scientists, routine statistical work was delegated to a Statistical Bureau. 72 Overall, ORS highlights the effectiveness of small, skilled, and empowered groups within staffs.

Operational level expertise should be closely integrated with the senior levels of the command, not only in systems analysis of acquisition programs and the like but actual operations. As stated by Conrad Hal Waddington: “There is a strong general case for moving many of the best scientists from the technical establishments to the operational Commands, at any rate for a time. If, and when, they return to technical work, they will be often much more useful by reason of their new knowledge of real operational needs.” 73

Moreover, their expertise will assist in shaping the operational level of war at sea. During World War II, ORS analysis assisted in defining the specific value of potential operational and campaign-level actions. The U.S. Navy has historically neglected operational-level planning, only adopting the operational-level of war at sea when Admiral Kelso, as Chief of Naval Operations, and General Mundy, Commandant of the Marine Corps, signed the first “naval doctrine publication,” entitled Naval Warfare, in the spring of 1994. 74 The three elements of war, in the Navy’s eyes, had previously been strategy, tactics, and logistics. The work of ORS reinforces the value in shifting the paradigm of ASW strategy, and naval strategy more broadly, from one based on the positional employment of forces to one that focuses on both the systemic analysis of inputs required to affect the enemy (a WW II predecessor to effects/kill chain analysis) as well as the operational level definition of goals and aims. 75

The experience of ORS also provides lessons on the iterative and reciprocal nature of war. Enemy activity is dynamic, constantly changing in its technology, tactics, and geographic areas. For every counter developed, planners must expect a reciprocal response and develop institutions capable of rapidly innovating. Thus, they must not fall prey to what is referred to as the fallacy of the last move, “in which a proposed innovation is touted as capable of providing a permanent advantage.” 76 Moreover, the identification of the fallacy of the last move must not foster a “fallacy of the second-to-last-move”, in which actors see only one move deeper and decline taking action thinking that it will only be countered. 76 The Bay of Biscay offensive establishes how “a sequence of temporary advantages can be as useful as a permanent advantage.” 76

Undersea warfare and ASW are important components of contemporary thinking on Joint Operational Access. For instance, U.S. undersea warfare capabilities vis-à-vis China are highlighted in discussions of potential Joint Force campaigns. 79 The experience of ORS provides striking parallels to a potential future conflict. One can compare the bomb-proof submarine pens La Pallice to those of Hainan and Qingdao in China. Alternatively, China’s challenge in sallying submarines past the First Island Chain resembles the problems BdU faced exiting the Bay of Biscay, or Gibraltar, or the Northern Passage. On the other hand, U.S. submarines—even if they spend little time on the surface—are still vulnerable to aircraft, with submarine air defenses only in incipient stages of development. Additionally, U.S. forces face major challenges in conducting open-ocean ASW and guarding against structured attacks on the high seas, much like German U-boats threatened convoys with wolf packs.

More broadly, the lessons of ORS demonstrate how today’s Kill Chains and operational concepts are unlikely to be those of the future and would likely evolve during a war. Therefore, a healthy regard for the possibility of tactical or technological surprise undercutting U.S. advantages in submarine warfare or ASW should be exhibited by U.S. forces. Additionally, the experience of ORS demonstrates how narrowly analyzing weapon effectiveness or even entire Kill Chains does not address other crucial factors, such as inventory or force structure; capacity (rate at which kill chains can be executed); or training and proficiency. In these times of rapid technological and tactical change and near-peer competitors, the incorporation of operational research expertise into senior Department of Defense decision-making merits increased attention.


Kenneth Beyer. Q-Ships Versus U-Boats. Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press, 1999.

Donald C. Daniel. 1944-Anti-submarine warfare and superpower strategic stability, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Robert M. Grant. U-Boat Hunters: Code Breakers, Divers and the Defeat of the U-Boats, 1914-1918, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2003.

Holger H. Herwig. “Total Rhetoric, Limited War: Germany’s U-Boat Campaign 1917-1918,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Vol 1, No 1, 1998.

J.R. Hill. Anti-Submarine Warfare. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1985.

Joel Ira Holwitt, “Execute Against Japan: Freedom of the Seas, the U.S. Navy, Fleet Submarines, and the Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1919-1941”, The Ohio State University, Thesis, 2005.

Edwin P. Hoyt. The U-Boat Wars. New York: Arbor House, 1984.

Edwin P. Hoyt. The Death of the U-Boats. New York: McGraw Hill, 1988.

Wayne P. Hughes. “Naval Operations: A Close Look at the Operational Level of War at Sea”,
Naval War College Review 65.3 (Summer 2012): 22-46.

Brian McCue. U-boats in the Bay of Biscay: an essay in operations analysis. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1990.

Montgomery C. Meigs. Slide Rules and Submarines: American Scientists and Subsurface Warfare in World War II. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1990.

Philip Morse and George Kimball. Methods of Operations Research. 1st rev. ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1951.

Axel Niestle. German U-Boat Losses During World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998.

Lawrence Paterson. Second U-Boat Flotilla. Yorkshire: Leo Cooper, 2003.

Max Schoenfeld. Stalking the U-boat: USAAF Offensive Antisubmarine Operations in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

David Syrett. The Defeat of the German U-Boats. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

John Terraine. Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars, 1916-1945. London: Leo Cooper, 1989.

Gordon Valeth. Blimps and U-Boats. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992.

Conrad Hall Waddington. O.R. in World War 2: operational research against the U-boat. London: Elek, 1973.

D.J. White. Operational Research. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1985.

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)


  1. Holwitt, Joel Ira. “Execute Against Japan: Freedom of the Seas, the U.S. Navy, Fleet Submarines, and the Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1919-1941”, The Ohio State University, Thesis, 2005, p. 31.
  2. Under these rules of international law, merchants could not be sunk without the crew and passengers being first provided an opportunity to disembark.
  3. Operations research is “a scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control.” Philip Morse and George Kimball. Methods of Operations Research. 1st rev. ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1951, 3.
  4. Max Schoenfeld. Stalking the U-boat: USAAF Offensive Antisubmarine Operations in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995; Montgomery C. Meigs. Slide Rules and Submarines: American Scientists and Subsurface Warfare in World War II. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1990.
  5. U-boats were more submersibles, or submersible torpedo boats, than true submarines. For ease of reading, however, the author will use the terms U-boat and submarine—instead of submersible.
  6. Holger H. Herwig, “Total Rhetoric, Limited War: Germany’s U-Boat Campaign 1917-1918,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Vol 1, No 1, 1998, p.1.
  7. Holwitt, p. 30.
  8. Holwitt, p. 30.
  9. J.R. Hill. Anti-Submarine Warfare, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1985, 10.
  10. Herwig, p. 9.
  11. Hill, 10.
  12. Hill, 11.
  13. John Terraine. Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars, 1916-1945, London: Leo Cooper, 1989, xv.
  14. John Terraine, 175.
  15. Meigs, 26.
  16. Meigs, 26.
  17. Syrett, 8.
  18. “U-Boat Force Combat Strength”, U-Boat,
  19. Conrad Hall Waddington, O.R. in World War 2: Operational Research Against the U-boat, London: Elek, 1973, 9.
  20. Philip Morse and George Kimball. Methods of Operations Research. 1st rev. ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1951, 3.
  21. Waddington, 21.
  22. Waddington, 31-32.
  23. It is worth noting that Italy provided an Atlantic Flotilla. They were highly ineffective outside of the Mediterranean and will not be analyzed in this piece, as they did not significantly affect submarine-aircraft dynamics.
  24. Waddington, 35.
  25. Hoyt, 119.
  26. Hoyt, 120.
  27. Lawrence Paterson. Second U-Boat Flotilla, Yorkshire: Leo Cooper, 2003, vii.
  28. Meigs, 40.
  29. Meigs, 41.
  30. McCue, 7.
  31. David Syrett. The Defeat of the German U-Boats. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994, 266.
  32. Brian McCue. U-boats in the Bay of Biscay: an essay in operations analysis, Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1990, 18.
  33. Meigs, 24.
  34. Waddington, 56.
  35. Waddington, 100.
  36. Waddington, 115.
  37. Waddington, 122.
  38. McCue, 8.
  39. Waddington, 122.
  40. Waddington, 141.
  41. Waddington, 142.
  42. McCue, 27.
  43. Information Based on: Brian McCue. U-boats in the Bay of Biscay: an essay in operations analysis, Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1990, 31.
  44. Waddington., 151.
  45. Waddington, 151.
  46. Waddington, 165.
  47. Chart based on information from Waddington, 142.
  48. Waddington, 168.
  49. Waddington, 169.
  50. Waddington, 174.
  51. Waddington, 177.
  52. Chart based on information from Waddington, 156.
  53. Waddington, 194.
  54. Waddington, 198.
  55. McCue, 27.
  56. Waddington, 38-39.
  57. Hoyt, 191.
  58. McCue, 22.
  59. Waddington, 242.
  60. Paterson, 115.
  61. Terraine, 494.
  62. Terraine, 653.
  63. Waddington, 32.
  64. Syrett, 18.
  65. Hoyt, 222.
  66. Waddington, 247.
  67. Waddington, 247.
  68. Waddington, 18.
  69. Waddington, xiii.
  70. Waddington, xiii.
  71. Meigs, 28.
  72. Waddington, 24.
  73. Waddington, 9.
  74. Wayne P. Hughes. “Naval Operations: A Close Look at the Operational Level of War at Sea”, Naval War College Review 65.3 (Summer 2012): 22-46.
  75. Meigs, 1990.
  76. McCue, 172.
  77. McCue, 172.
  78. McCue, 172.
  79. Sean Mirski, “Stranglehold: The Context, Conduct and Consequences of an American Naval Blockade of China”, Journal of Strategic Studies, 36:3, 2013, pp. 385-421.

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Inside the Archives: Hector Bywater and William Honan in the Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

Scott Reilly
Former Assistant Archivist
U.S. Naval War College
Newport, RI

Hector Bywater in Dresden, 1909 (Naval War College Archives)

Original Caption: “Bywater’s mentor St. John Gaffney (center, in profile) with his wife at his left and Hector Bywater seated at his right, entertaining visirors in Dresden, 1909. Gaffney, whose pro-German sympathies led the Gov’t to suspect him of being a German agent, would be flabbergasted to learn Bywater worked for the British Secret Service.” (Naval War College Archives)

Hector Bywater’s life and work – as journalist, naval analyst, spy, and prophet of the Pacific War – largely escaped popular notice until 1970.  In that year, American Heritage published William Honan’s article concerning Bywater’s visionary 1925 book The Great Pacific War and its potential influence on Japanese war planningAfter twenty years of additional research, Honan, a New York Times editor, eventually expanded the article into Visions of Infamy, the first, full-length biography on Bywater.  Numerous critics credited Honan’s work with ensuring Bywater’s place in the history of the Second World War.

Honan carefully collected and catalogued his research including notes, original documents, interviews, and correspondence and donated his collection to the Naval War College, Naval Historical Collection (NHC) after the publication of Visions of Infamy for the benefit of future researchers. The Naval Historical Collection’s mission is to document the history of the Naval War College and significant events, people, and research on naval and maritime history. NHC has become a depository for naval and maritime historians, collectors, and biographers:  Thomas Buell’s research collection for the biographies for Admirals Raymond Spruance and Ernest King, B. Mitchell Simpson’s research collection for the biography of Harold Stark, and Edward Miller’s research collection for his book on War Plan Orange are a few of the unique collections held at NHC.  The Honan papers are representative of this type of collection at NHC highlighting a lesser known, but no less significant, figure in Naval War College (NWC) and naval history.


Hector Bywater

While there is no substitute for researching in the original records, collections like Honan’s can be a tremendous boon for other researchers.  Not only do they offer a substantial body of documentation on a specific subject in one place, but they can provide helpful pointers to other collections and resources that may warrant further exploration.

Researcher collections however offer much more than copies of documents from other archives.  As Honan’s papers demonstrate, such collections often include original material and copies of records held by private individuals.  In conducting his research, Honan recorded numerous interviews (including with Bywater’s children); received copies of photographs and other documents from Bywater’s family and associates; and corresponded with Japanese naval officers to gather their recollections of Bywater and his work.  In addition to Honan’s extensive notes, these materials contribute to make his papers a unique and invaluable trove.

Akin to other researcher collections, Honan’s papers also are important to historiography.  By researching his research process, other historians can retrace Honan’s work to better evaluate its scope and depth and to expose new avenues of inquiry.  Moreover, the Honan papers include book reviews and correspondence that illuminate how his work was received.  Honan’s correspondence with Mark Peattie and David C. Evans, who both were highly critical of his work, offer further insight into the history of the history.

Honan hoped that by donating his collection to the  Naval Historical Collection he was offering other researchers a jumping-off point to further scholarly inquiry into matters of naval history.

Bywater Encryption Key (Naval War College Archives)

Bywater Encryption Key (Naval War College Archives)

The hybrid nature of these collections means that one collection can have multiple copyright owners, not necessarily the Naval Historical Collection, where the collection is housed. Researchers using these types of collections are responsible for determining and obtaining copyright permissions for the use of photocopied materials.

For more information about the Honan collection and other holdings at the Naval Historical Collection, visit our website: or contact Dara A. Baker, Head Archivist, Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College at or by phone at 401 841 2435.

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Fabled Fifteen: The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, Fabled Fifteen: The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15. Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. 240 pp.

Review by LCDR Ethan Williams, USN
United States Air Force Academy

The 1944 combat performance of the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Air Group 15 (CVG-15) is impressive. Flying off of USS Essex (CV-9) during the battles of the Philippine Sea (the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”) and Leyte Gulf, CVG-15’s fighter squadron, VF-15 (“Fighting 15”), shot down 312 Japanese planes and destroyed an additional 348 planes on the ground. The air group’s bomber squadron, VB-15 (“Bombing 15”), and torpedo bomber squadron, VT-15 (“Torpedo 15”), sank over 174,000 tons of Japanese cargo shipping and helped sink both the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) battleship Musashi (sister ship of the famed Yamato) and carrier Zuikaku (the sole survivor of the six carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor), along with numerous other Japanese warships. Every pilot from VT-15 earned the Navy Cross and twenty-six VF-15 pilots became aces. The air group commander (CAG), Commander David McCampbell, was the navy’s leading ace in World War II with thirty-four kills and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Marianas and at Leyte.

The author’s interest in CVG-15 began as a teenager and grew when he served with some former CVG-15 and Essex officers during his own time in the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s. In the years since, he has interviewed many other CVG-15 and Essex veterans and published several books and articles on World War II air combat. In writing Fabled Fifteen, the author approaches the battles not from the strategic or operational level that so many other books do. Instead he places the reader in the cockpit with the pilots and aircrew of CVG-15 as they dogfight Zeros or dodge flak during their bomb runs on Japanese targets over the western Pacific.

One of the more interesting story lines in the book is the leadership development of McCampbell. Before his promotion to CAG, McCampbell served as VF-15’s first commanding officer. Once CAG, he continued to serve as the de facto leader of VF-15, undermining the authority of the squadron’s appointed commanding and executive officers (p. 69). During CVG-15’s early 1944 transit from Norfolk to Pearl Harbor on USS Hornet (CV-12), VB-15 lost over a dozen aircraft through mishaps, several of which were attributed to operating procedures established by the Hornet’s Captain. No evidence is presented that McCampbell challenged the Captain’s unsafe procedures. Upon arrival in Hawaii, CVG-15’s readiness was so low that CVG-2 was ordered to replace CVG-15 as Hornet’s air group (p. 69-70). Amazingly, McCampbell, the man who became the navy’s “Ace of Aces,” was not relieved. Once CVG-15 entered combat in the Marianas, McCampbell’s talent as fighter pilot truly emerged. His capability as combat air group commander, however, was lacking and in late August Task Group commander Rear Admiral Frederick Sherman counseled McCampbell on his performance as CAG. Sherman emphasized that the CAG’s duty was to lead and coordinate strikes, not to hunt for Zeros. McCampbell responded and effectively led strikes throughout the Leyte campaign, although he did continue to rack up aerial kills, including nine in a single day (p. 127-128).

The author’s writing is at its best when describing CVG-15’s combat actions. When describing the strategic and operational events surrounding CVG-15’s tactical actions, however, the author’s explanations and conclusions sometimes fall short. For example, the author attributes the Japanese Navy’s mindset for a single-stroke, decisive victory at Leyte Gulf to the Japanese sports of kendo and botaoshi practiced at the Japanese naval academy (p. 163). Perhaps a better explanation for the IJN’s decisive victory mindset is the IJN’s decades of study of the sea power theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan prior to the battle. The author also makes some other minor errors that may not be apparent to the general public, but stand out to the naval aviation enthusiast. The launching and recovering of aircraft every hour to an hour and a half is known today as “cyclic operations” or “cyclic ops,” not the “operation cycle” (p. 28).  Today’s air wing commanders do not fly fighters (or strike-fighters as “fighters” are no longer in the fleet) out of a “de rigueur” tradition that began in 1944, but instead fly fighters because most come from a fighter background and are thoroughly experienced in strike warfare (p. 26). Finally, LT (later Rear Admiral) V.G. Lambert is not “the only non-Annapolis graduate to ever command a super carrier” (p. 210).

The most significant issue with this book is its lack of documentation. Despite the author’s substantial use of first person accounts and quotations throughout the book, there are no footnotes or endnotes to reveal the sources of those accounts. The bibliography is a scant two and a half pages and composed mainly of secondary sources, despite the fact that the Foreword, written by the son of McCampbell, touts the author’s “exhaustive research of official records…personal interviews and diaries written during the conflict” (p.7). No official records, personal interviews, or diaries appear in the bibliography, such as the diary of Petty Officer Alfred Graham that is referenced throughout the book.

Fabled Fifteen is a fast paced book that is told primarily through the first-hand accounts of the participants. Through his research and interviews, the author has preserved an important part of naval aviation history. It is unfortunate that he did not thoroughly document his sources.  The general reader looking for an action packed story of World War II aerial combat will enjoy Fabled Fifteen. The scholar looking to do further research on CVG-15, the Marianas, or Leyte will be frustrated by the lack of documentation. There is a gap in the historical record with regards to CVG-15 that has only partially been filled. Perhaps in a second edition or follow-on work the author can further contribute to the historical record by better documenting what appears to be valuable research. For now, the reader is left wondering how much of the book is original scholarship and how much is synthesis of existing literature.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Royal Navy: A History Since 1900

Duncan Redford and Philip D. Grove, The Royal Navy: A History Since 1900. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014. 363 pp.

Review by Joseph Moretz, PhD
British Commission for Military History

Writing a single-volume history of the navy which can claim to possess the greatest and most varied operational experience from the twentieth century forward represents a singularly difficult task. Compression is essential and accepting that much of necessity will fall by the wayside, ensuring that which remains is faithful to the greater story while retaining both interest and value to the reader becomes an almost insurmountable challenge. When the effort is guided by the hands of two authors, consistency in approach poses a further barrier. Duncan Redford and Philip D. Grove have in the main negotiated these pitfalls in a lavishly illustrated work for the generalist reader though rather less so for those more attuned to the subject. In fairness to the last observation, The Royal Navy: A History Since 1900 is but one work of many in a greater series covering Britain’s Navy from the eighteenth century jointly produced by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the publisher. Thus, taken together the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

As for their efforts, if the work is solidly anchored upon official primary sources and the best of the secondary literature, then the authors fail to offer a fresh interpretation of the Royal Navy. The accounting rendered is one that incorporates the previous views of traditionalists and revisionists with equal vigor and while a balanced assessment might have resulted, too often the conclusions reached fall between the opposing stools for the contrarian view is never engaged. The history that unfolds depicts a service almost always successful operationally, but invariably trapped by forces greater than itself be they strategic, political or financial. Ironically, winning victories in war if the ultimate expression of naval effectiveness at one level did little to guarantee institutional success for the service at another. Truly, the greatest period of peril for the Navy, if not for the nation and the empire that it defended, was when peace prevailed. Why this irony proved so is a missed opportunity to set the story of the Royal Navy within a broader context. At a minimum, a final chapter drawing appropriate conclusions could have been provided.

The difficulty of writing a survey is that judgment when rendered often appears sweeping and not nuanced and requires the reader to take a lot on faith. Exceptions to any rule can always be found, but when present multiple times calls into question the whole edifice of what is offered. Hence, this reviewer cannot accept the verdict that Jutland remained a tactical victory for the Royal Navy. The defeat of a superior British force at the hands of a lesser adversary was without precedent. Such was the loss inflicted on Beatty’s Battle Cruiser Fleet that the late intervention of Jellicoe’s Battle Squadrons did little to redress. This was understood within the Navy and explains why the battle assumed the proportions that it did at the moment of crisis and in the years that followed. Likewise, the conclusion that Admiral Sir John Fisher’s strategic thought had migrated from dreadnoughts to embrace flotilla defence and sea denial must be treated with caution. Certainly, ample evidence exists that Fisher saw the potential of the submarine and questioned whether the surface fleet could continue to operate in their presence. Yet, the World War found the Royal Navy singularly lacking in a mining capability and Fisher deprecated the deployment of heavy ships on subsidiary operations such as to the Dardanelles. Submarines and flotilla craft had their place and they remained more preferable to the Admiralty than maintaining large numbers of troops to meet an invasion not likely to occur in any event, but the strategy was not as settled as indicated.

Nor is it correct to avow that the Army and the Navy had ‘vile relations’ before the World War which poisoned cooperation in combined operation leading the service to pursue economic warfare as a strategy once command of the sea had been secured. Strategically, a Committee on Combined Operations under the auspices of the Committee of Imperial Defence was formed in 1905 to define set-piece serials that could be executed promptly upon the outbreak of war. The fruits of their labor were seen in 1914 when multiple expeditions to the Pacific and Africa were quickly initiated. Intellectually, cooperation was close with strong ties developed between the naval War Course and the Army Staff College. Indeed, the utility of combined operations was a feature even at the Indian Staff College when that school formed in 1905 with all drawing upon the lessons of the Seven Years War, the Napoleonic Era and what had recently occurred in Manchuria. Meanwhile, operations in China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion and in Somalia in 1903 demonstrated that both services could work effectively side-by-side in amphibious operations.

Still other questionable assertions exist. The Navy before Jutland deprecated night action not because it failed to train for such encounters, but more importantly because it viewed itself as the superior force. Chance was thought to play too great a role and negated the advantage conferred by force of numbers. This view was not wrong, but it assumed contact could be retained with an adversary determined to escape until it was day once more. More troubling is the summary provided on the interwar naval arms control agreements which treats the limits imposed as absolute and static. In truth, variations to the rules existed to account for the dissimilar nature of the several fleets and to allow agreement to be reached at all.

These pitfalls must be expected in a work seeking to cover a topic offering endless variation in fortunes and endless possibilities for analysis. As such, the military professional and the academic historian will find The Royal Navy Since 1900 a disappointing read because brevity no longer suits their needs. For the non-specialist though and with the money to spare, what remains is a worthy introduction and can be recommended with these qualifications.

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – The Sea and Civilization. A Maritime History of the World

Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization.  A Maritime History of the World.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. 784 pp.

Review by Kenneth J. Blume, PhD
Dept. of Humanities and Communication Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Lincoln Paine has given us a volume that any maritime historian and any world historian will savor.  For years, maritime historians have emphasized that “the sea connects all things,” and this book demonstrates those connections.  This is global history seen through a maritime lens, demonstrating that global history is maritime history.  Only a few historians have been able to single-author a world history—for example, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, John M. Roberts, or Peter N. Stearns.  Paine is a rare example of an author willing to attempt a global maritime history.

In twenty chapters and about 600 pages of text, Paine has a daunting task to accomplish.  He lays out his fundamental premise early on—that “mankind’s technological and social adaptation to life on the water—whether for commerce, warfare, exploration, or migration—has been a driving force in human history” (p. 8). A book that begins with an exploration of the very first human encounters with the waters also reminds us, in the Introduction, that even in the twenty-first century “ships and shipping lines are the warp and woof of globalization” (p. 9). We are also warned not to expect a book “about ships per se” (p. 10). If you want minute details about ancient Egyptian ships, or about the first class dining rooms of the great Atlantic liners of the 20th century, you’ll find titles in Payne’s exhaustive bibliography.  Rather, The Sea and Civilization is about the things that ships carried:  “people and their culture, their material creations, their crops and flocks, their conflicts and prejudices, their expectations for the future, and their memories of the past” (p. 10).

Readers looking for specialized details (although there are plenty of details) might say that the book has too much context and not enough ships, or too much civilization and not enough sea.  Such criticism misses the point of the book.  Paine achieves what he sets out to accomplish, with a comprehensive overview that is filled with juicy details.  He begins as far back as we have any human records: 6,000-year-old Norwegian rock carvings of reindeer hunters in boats—“the oldest known pictorial representations of watercraft” (p. 11).  From there, the narrative surveys the world by era and geographical region: the ancient islands of Oceania; the Americas in ancient times; ancient Egypt; the Bronze Age; Mesopotamia.  When Paine gets to the Epic of Gilgamesh, he emphasizes the water-related aspects of that familiar story.  When we reach the Phoenicians, Greeks, and ancient Mediterranean, we are reminded that these are the first civilizations to create “sea-based colonial empires” and the first to “build ships specifically for war and develop strategies for their use; to erect port complexes dedicated to facilitating commerce; and to systematically explore the waters beyond the Mediterranean” (p. 79). The implications of these “firsts” are among Paine’s important insights.

Then, there are chapters on Carthage, Rome, and The Mediterranean; Chasing the Monsoons (with a gem of a glimpse at the elephant trade!); Continent and Archipelagoes in the East; The Christian and Muslim Mediterranean; Northern Europe through the Viking Age; The Silk Road of the Seas; China Looks Seaward; The Medieval Mediterranean and Europe; The Golden Age of Maritime Asia; The World Encompassed; The Birth of Global Trade; State and Sea in the Age of European Expansion; Northern Europe Ascendant.  When we reach the 18th century, we see the full potential of the sailing ship being unleashed—for both good and evil.  Paine provides a remarkable and vivid snapshot of conditions on slave ships, and also the horrifying conditions for “free” travelers to North America.  At the same time, Paine’s narrative provides a good analysis of the 18th century “balance of power” and how it was especially dependent on naval power.

The final three chapters—18, 19, and 20—provide a concise analysis of the remarkable changes of the past 200 years.  Above all, of course, was the advent of steam.  In 1838, when Sirius arrived in New York harbor, just seventeen days after leaving Cork, the New York Herald proclaimed that the event signaled the “Annihilation of Space and Time.”  Paine has zeroed in on the defining (and still changing) characteristic of the Modern World. Curiously, Paine does not mention the role of SS Savannah in this revolutionary annihilation. Then, of course, world navies entered the machine age.  Paine takes us from the American Civil War to World War I, to World War II, and then the Korean War, sketching the changing tactics, technologies, and policies that have shaped global affairs and global life.  Finally, the book’s last chapter surveys major developments since the 1950s, particularly containerization and flags of convenience.

Paine’s The Sea and Civilization takes us on a tour around the world, throughout time, on ships.  It is a remarkable voyage, with excellent illustrations and maps, based on a vast list of sources.  For the maritime historian, the juiciest sections will perhaps be those that discuss the actual ships of the various civilizations.  But for any reader, this book, in the end, is a world history survey that reinforces the centrality of maritime affairs.

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Into the Dark Water: The Story of Three Officers and PT-109

John Domagalski, Into the Dark Water: The Story of Three Officers and PT-109. Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. 280 pp.

Review by CPT Andrew Ziebell, USA

Into the Dark Water is purportedly about PT-109 and the three officers, including John F. Kennedy, who commanded her during her roughly thirteen months in service. The book explores some of the technical and logistical considerations, as well as the administrative actions, which saw PT-109 eventually arrive in the Pacific Theater with Lieutenant Rollin Westholm at the helm. Once in theater, it is evident that the 109 and her crew are just one very small part of a much larger effort and that, in singling out one boat, the author sets himself a difficult task. The subtitle of the book may have more rightly been: “PT boat actions off Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands, 1942-43.”

It is in the descriptions of these actions, even ones in which the 109 does not participate, where the author truly excels. Drawing upon a wealth of research, Domagalski brings to life the daring, primarily night-time missions of the PT boats. One gains an appreciation for just how dangerous these actions were by hearing directly from those involved. It is particularly interesting to discover how the after action reports submitted by the US officers differed significantly from those in the Japanese records. The fog of war often led to wildly inaccurate battle damage assessments, but this in no way diminishes the importance of the PT boats, nor takes away from the heroism of their crews.

Domagalski leaves no doubt that these were, indeed, brave men led by exceptional officers. One of the more moving accounts in the book is when one officer describes abandoning his boat and diving into the dark water, not only because staying aboard meant certain death but because he knew that his comrades would eventually come to find him. That speaks to not only the incredible courage of these men, but also to the trust that must have existed between them. The three successive commanding officers of the 109, along with captains of sister boats, instilled this sense of trust by continuously adapting in the face of the enemy, constantly looking to the welfare of their men and always placing themselves at the most dangerous point.

The author’s efforts to place PT-109 properly within the context of the Pacific war does detract, at times, from the narrative without adding anything of particular value. The reader would have been better served with more personalized accounts of day to day life at war. Perhaps the most glaring shortcoming is in the chapter that seeks to trace the use of small, torpedo-armed boats against larger, destroyer-type ships. While mentioning the first submarine, Bushnell’s Turtle, to be used in action against a British ship before giving ample space to the development of steam and ironclad ships by both the United States and the Confederacy during the Civil War, it is curious that the author makes no mention of the jeune ecole which emerged in France during the 1870s and 1880s. Certainly the innovative theories advocated by Vice Admiral Aube and others in searching for ways to combat a superior naval force are eminently more relevant to the situation that the PT boats faced at the end of 1942.

PT-109 made her final contribution to the war in August, 1943. With Lieutenant junior grade Kennedy at the helm, she was sliced in half by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. By the author’s own admission, the final mission of PT-109 would likely have been just one more incident in a long bloody war, if not for the post-war fame of her final skipper. Even this, despite Domagalski’s assertion that it is an event still taught in high schools around the country, is fading from memory. But maybe that is the point here. Countless stories remain that must continue to be told and re-told before they are lost to time.

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Vol 12, Issue 3: About the Authors

Christian Perkins Picture

Christian Perkins
Water Scarcity, Conflict, and the U.S. Navy

Christian Perkins is a recent Cum Laude graduate of the University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA, in Political Science .  His paper on “Water Scarcity, Conflict, and the U.S. Navy” was the Domestic Category prize winning essay at the 55th Annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference at Annapolis in 2015 with 150 delegates from 40 different nations.  He is completing an assignment as Field Organizer for the Democratic Party in Virginia for the 2015 State Senate Campaign.

Mobley _photo

Scott Mobley
The Essence of Intelligence Work is Preparation for War: How “Strategy” Infiltrated the Office of Naval Intelligence, 1882-1889

Scott Mobley studies the political, economic, technological, and cultural influences that shaped naval history.  He recently earned a Ph.D. in U.S. History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His dissertation, “Progressives in Navy Blue: Maritime Strategy, American Empire, and the Transformation of U.S. Naval Identity, 1873-1898” examines how progressive values shaped intellectual and institutional developments within the U.S. Navy during the Gilded Age.  Mobley is a retired navy Captain.  He served thirty years as a surface warfare officer, commanding USS Boone (FFG-28) and USS Camden (AOE-2).

Timothy Walton

Timothy Walton
Eyes of the Ospreys:An Analysis of RAF Coastal Command’s Operational Research Section in Counter-U-Boat Operations

Timothy A. Walton is an independent scholar currently associated with the Alios Consulting Group, a defense and business strategy firm focusing on the Asia-Pacific and Latin America by providing expert assistance for strategic planning, defense studies, capture shaping, and market entry.  His article was developed while researching the papers of Russell J. Bowen at Georgetown University’s Booth Family Center for Special Collections..


Scott Reilly
Hector Bywater and William Honan:A Biographer’s Papers in the Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

Scott Reilly, previously Archivist of the Naval Historical Collection, the archives and special collections of the U.S. Naval War College, is currently an archivist with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Newport, RI.  Prior to joining the Naval War College in 2014, Mr. Reilly served as Senior Archivist at the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Notre Dame and earned his Master’s in Information Studies, with a concentration in Archives and Records Management, from the University of Texas at Austin.

(Return to December 2015 Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic

David Head, Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2015. 201 pp.

Review by Benjamin Armstrong
King’s College, London

The wars of the early American republic, and the forces that fought those wars, have come to dominate the naval history of the early 19th century. From the founding of the U.S. Navy in response to Barbary and French attacks on American shipping to the frigate duels of the War of 1812, naval historians have frequently been guided by a kind of caricatured Mahanian view of naval affairs that focuses on fleet composition and sea battles, decisive or otherwise. Likewise, maritime historians of the Atlantic world regularly cast their view as far from broadsides and the gold braid as they can, focusing on the multitude of socio-cultural and economic elements of studying merchant sailors. Into the divide between these interests sails the small group of scholars who specialize in privateers and privateering. David Head’s Privateers of the Americas makes a well crafted and solidly researched contribution to this sometimes overlooked part of the field.

Napoleon’s capture of Fernando VII of Spain in 1808 sent the Caribbean world into a crisis of identity that brought danger and insecurity to the southern borders of the United States. As the Spanish American colonies went through alternating experiences of rebellion, reconquest, and civil war, naval affairs played an often understudied role. During this revolutionary era each of the new nations created fleets of privateers, matching the example set by their northern neighbor during the United States’ own war for independence. Many of the men, who took up these Spanish American commissions, and the ships they sailed, were actually from the United States. Privateers of the Americas lays an important foundation for the study of these mariners and their roles as combatants and actors on the cutlass edge of legality and warfare in the Atlantic world.

The structure of Head’s effort is straightforward. He begins with a thorough and quite readable explanation of the diplomatic events of the era. After summarizing the history that brought Spanish America into a state of rebellion, the book pulls focus on the Monroe administration and the work of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to lay the background for the following chapters. The general discussion of revolt, counter-revolution, and diplomatic maneuvering gives way to three chapters which are each focused on a different physical area of operations.

The first discusses the men of New Orleans and Barataria. Historians of the period, and even some readers of popular history, will be well familiar with the Lafitte brothers and their band. While discussing that relatively well mined history the author’s contribution is placing these men in the context of the larger geo-political and economic factors that played out during the period. The second chapter introduces the privateers who fitted out and sailed their ships from Baltimore for the revolutionary cause. Though clearly a violation of United States neutrality laws, Head shows how the city which had become the center of American privateering in the War of 1812 continued in its preferred industry while developing ways to circumvent U.S. law. The final of the theater focused chapters explains the development of Spanish American privateering bases on the edge of U.S. territory at Amelia Island, Florida and Galveston, Texas. In this chapter Head’s history brings together a fascinating array of interests from the privateers, to filibusterers intent on the capture of territory, to the government officials of the U.S. Navy and Treasury attempting to enforce confusing and sometimes contradictory national policy.

In the final chapter of the book the author uses representative samples of the Americans and foreigners involved in Spanish American privateering to discuss the differing motives and intent of a colorful cast of historical figures. He illustrates how these non-state, pseudo-state, and national actors operated among their peers in the name of everything from patriotic zeal to clear profit motive. The research for the book has an excellent grounding in the previous scholarship of the period and the Spanish American revolutions, then builds on that using relatively unstudied court records from U.S. Admiralty cases that provide excellent detail of the privateers who worked from American shores.

There is however, one missing element of the author’s analysis that this reviewer found rather glaring. Head never satisfactorily addresses the question of whether these men were privateers or pirates. As early as page 2 of the book the author defines what it takes to be a privateer: a ship with a commission, a captured enemy vessel, and a ruling from an Admiralty Court that it is a legitimate prize. However, in an enormous number of the examples that the author so deftly describes, there is no ruling of the legitimacy of the prize. Instead, the “privateers” simply sell off their captured merchandise and ships or smuggle the goods into the United States. This was the Lafitte brothers’ great skill, which is so well described and documented in the book. It is also the definition of a pirate. While the author seems to dismiss President Monroe’s characterization of these men as “privateer pirates” as something like political grandstanding, this reviewer is left wondering if the President was right.

The question of piracy aside, Privateers of the Americas is a well crafted and researched addition to the study of American privateering and maritime history. The privateers that sailed the Caribbean, whether from the Spanish American revolutionary governments, the United States, or European powers, made for a conflicted and dangerous sea. David Head’s history of Spanish American privateers and the United States in the early 19th century makes an important contribution to defining and understanding the maritime interests of that era.

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View from the Quarterdeck: July 2015

chadbournIn the summer of 2015, l’Hermione, a beautifully reconstructed replica of an 18th century, three-masted, 32-gun, Concorde class French frigate visited ports on the east coast of North America from Yorktown, Virginia, to Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. Her namesake vessel gained fame in 1780 by ferrying the Marquis de Lafayette to America with secret news that King Louis XVI of France was sending much-needed military support in the form of a half-dozen naval ships and 5,500 troops under the command of Comte de Rochembeau to assist the American colonies in their revolt against Britain. This military assistance would prove critical to the eventual Franco-American victory at Yorktown the following year. The original l’Hermione was wrecked in heavy seas in 1793 after running aground on the rugged coast off Le Croisic in the Loire-Atlantique department of western France. Two centuries later, reconstruction of l’Hermione at Rochefort, France, would be possible only because the British Admiralty, recognizing the superior design of the vessel, had preserved blueprints in their archives of her sister ship captured during the wars between France and England.

Archives are indispensable for providing the lifeblood of primary source materials and other documents which are so essential to serious historical inquiry and study.  In this edition of IJNH we introduce a new series of articles called “Inside the Archives” as the first of what we hope will become a regular feature in the future.  The intent of these articles is to focus a spotlight on and to share information about archival holdings of interest to Naval Historians.  We begin by examining the Special Collections of the Dudley Knox Library at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.  The Head of Special Collections Section, John Sanders, offers a brief glimpse of the fascinating Yangtze River Patrol Collection in the Knox Library which provides insight into American Naval activity in China at the turn of the 20th Century.  We invite Archivists, Librarians, and Scholars to submit their own candidates for inclusion in this series.

Also in this issue, Corbin Williamson of Ohio State University analyses conflict and cooperation in Anglo-American naval relations in the spring of 1941.  His article examines “debates over warship deployments and repair work that occurred as part of the ABC-1 military staff talks in Washington.”  Williamson contends that historians have not given adequate attention to the role of industrial facilities, including shipyards and dry docks, “in shaping the development of Anglo-American relations during the Second World War.”  He attempts to address that oversight in this article. Williamson concludes that the ABC-1 agreement was one of the first instances in Anglo-American military relations in which growing American naval strength “played a significant role in shaping the outcome.”

Just over 70 years ago heavy American involvement in the Vietnam conflict was initiated under President Lyndon Johnson.  Appropriately enough we have included two articles on the Vietnam War in this issue.  In the first article Dr. Nathan Packard examines the U.S. Marine Corps’ search for relevancy and modernization during the years of the Carter Administration, an era that proved to be critical for the Corps.  A more extensive examination of this topic will be forthcoming in a monograph to be published by the University of North Carolina Press under sponsorship of the Society of Military History.  In the second article we continue our commitment to encouraging scholarship by junior members of the profession.  Again we are publishing an article drawn from entries to the annual National History Day competition in College Park, Maryland, a documentary entitled “USS KIRK: Leadership Amidst Chaos, a Legacy of Survival.”  Author Abigail Wiest tells the story of a U.S. Navy destroyer escort that played a central role in the rescue of many South Vietnamese military members and their families fleeing Communist forces at the end of the Vietnam War.  This article makes an original contribution to knowledge of the tragic ending of the war in Vietnam through capturing the voices of former Vietnamese officers who played key roles in the drama that was the fall of Saigon.  We decided to include the extensive annotated bibliography prepared for this documentary, not only because of the quality of the scholarship, but because of what it adds to our knowledge of the subject matter as well.

L'Hermione fires her cannons as she arrived in Lunenburg. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

L’Hermione fires her cannons as she arrived in Lunenburg. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Much of the scholarly debate on the Royal Navy mutinies of 1797 has revolved around actions at Spithead, the Nore, and Yarmouth, with a cursory nod to the later mutinies that occurred in the Mediterranean, the West Indies, and Simon’s Bay and Table Bay at the fledgling British Cape Colony.  Allison Funk rectifies this shortcoming in her article through analysis of the events at the Cape.  In the process she offers us valuable insights not only into the epidemic potential of mutiny, but the British sailor as well.

We have two important personnel announcements.  First, Dave Colamaria is stepping down as Digital Editor of IJNH due to the increasing demands of his position with the photo archives of Naval Heritage and History Command.  Dave has been instrumental to the revitalization of this journal over the last two years.  Quite frankly, without him it would not have happened.  Matthew (Matt) Eng, Digital Content Developer at the Naval Historical Foundation will be our new Digital Editor.  Also, Elizabeth Williams is joining our staff as Executive Assistant to the Editor.

Comments, suggestions, ideas, and potential articles for these pages are always welcome.  Such dialog is productive in the development of historical knowledge on the important roles played by maritime forces.

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

(Return to the July 2015 Table of Contents)

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Repair Work and Naval Musical Chairs: Conflict and Cooperation in Anglo-American Naval Relations in 1941


Background: Infrastructure Changes
Early Discussions on Anglo-American Pacific Policy
Pacific Policy Differences
ABC-1 Talks
The Repair Requests
The Rest of the Story

Corbin Williamson
Ohio State University

David Reynolds has described the years 1940 and 1941 as the “fulcrum” of the twentieth century for their long-lasting impact and influence. 1  The period from Germany’s conquest of France in June 1940 to the start of the Japanese offensive in the Pacific in early December 1941 witnessed some of the most iconic events in modern history: the Battle of Britain, the Lend-Lease Act, and Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia. Decisions taken in these 18 months established the broad framework within which the Second World would be fought.

For Winston Churchill this period also represented the start of the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the United Kingdom, a relationship embodied by his budding friendship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Churchill’s perspective was challenged by historians such as David Reynolds and Christopher Thorne in the 1970s and 1980s who emphasized the disagreements between the two wartime allies due to diverging national interests. 2  Later scholars such as Waldo Heinrichs and Mark Stoler incorporated this revisionist critique while concluding that the relationship was unique in comparison to other wartime alliances. 3  More recently historians such as Phyllis Soybel, Steve Weiss, and Alan Bath have examined the day to day interaction between the two nations on a variety of levels. 4  Theodore Wilson characterizes their work as the “fourth wave” of scholarship on Anglo-American relations. 5

This paper seeks to highlight an intersection of cooperation and suspicion in Anglo-American naval relations in the spring of 1941 by examining debates over warship deployments and repair work that occurred as part of the ABC-1 military staff talks in Washington. Historians have not given sufficient attention to the role of industrial facilities such as shipyards and dry docks in shaping the development of Anglo-American relations during the Second World War, an oversight this paper attempts to address.

At the ABC-1 talks that began on January 29th, 1941, negotiations over British and American defense policy in the Pacific intersected with preparations being made to repair British warships in the United States under the Lend-Lease Act. The interaction between the two navies during these talks illustrates spheres of shared interest, such as the security of Atlantic shipping lanes, as well as spheres of conflict, such as the role of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. As a result of these dichotomous elements, the ABC-1 staff talks produced an agreement designed to reinforce the British naval position in the Far East through rather roundabout methods. The U.S. Navy would send ships from Pearl Harbor to the Atlantic to take over duties from British warships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. This movement would free up British warships in the Atlantic to be sent as reinforcements to the naval base at Singapore. The combination of cooperation and competition between the two navies resulted in a program similar to a game of naval “musical chairs”, played out on a global scale. The debates that prosduced this agreement are best understood in the context of the industrial infrastructure available to the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The status of fleet maintenance facilities at various bases throughout the world would repeatedly shape the development of Anglo-American naval relations in 1940 and 1941.

Background: Infrastructure Challenges

After achieving prodigious feats of production in the First World War, shipbuilding facilities in the United States and Britain found naval contracts for new construction scarce after the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. At the same time, the growth in warship size since the turn of the 20th century left many overseas naval bases incapable of docking or servicing the largest warships. The switch from coal to oil as fuel as well as the increase in warship length and displacement meant that by 1920 Singapore was the only British naval base in the Far East with a capital ship dock. In the United States in 1919 the only docking facilities for capital ships were at Norfolk and New York. 6  Throughout the interwar period, both navies sought to develop bases capable of servicing large fleets in the Pacific, but financial constraints combined with the Washington Naval Treaty’s ban on fortifications prevented either from accomplishing this goal. 7  Expansion of Singapore’s facilities was also delayed by the Ten Year Rule, the assumption in British defense policy that no major conflict would occur for the next ten years which was adopted in 1919. 8  These limitations of American and British bases in the Pacific would shape debates over deterrence policy in 1940 and 1941.

Beginning in 1936, British naval rearmament began to restore vitality to an industry that had been in stark decline during the 1920s and early 1930s. Rearmament emphasized warships construction and did not significantly expand Britain’s capacity for fleet maintenance, either at home or overseas. The Royal Navy filled private shipyards with warship construction, leaving little capacity for ship repair and forcing repair and maintenance work into the Royal Dockyards, concentrated in southern England. The industry also suffered from structural weaknesses such as labor difficulties, managerial resistance to adopting new techniques such as arc welding, physical and geographic constraints, and low levels of government financial support compared to the United States. As a result, by the fall of 1940 the British shipbuilding industry proved incapable of meeting wartime demands for repair and refit work. German air attacks on the critically important southern Royal Dockyards exacerbated the problem by reducing the Royal Navy’s repair capacity just as demand was increasing. The result of all these factors was a growing backlog of damaged warships awaiting repair and refit work, creating a repair crisis in the winter of 1940-1941. In search of additional repair capacity, Britain would turn to the United States in the spring of 1941.

American naval rearmament began slowly in 1933 when the National Industrial Recovery Act authorized limited warship construction. Incremental increases followed throughout the 1930s, especially the Vinson-Trammel Act of 1934. After the fall of France in June 1940, the Two Ocean Navy Act authorized a 70% increase in the size of the U.S. fleet. By 1941 the U.S. Navy’s naval rearmament program had reached its peak. Investments made in the shore establishment throughout the 1930s had expanded the industrial facilities in U.S Navy Yards on both coasts, increasing their repair capacity. Although these upgrades and expansions in public shipyards were intended to meet the maintenance needs of the U.S. Navy, the additional repair capacity would be put to use in 1941 to return damaged British warships to service.

Early Discussions on Anglo-American Pacific Policy

As international tensions grew in Europe in the late 1930s, British planners were forced to reevaluate their plans for defending the Far East. The ever expanding war between Japan and China combined with German rearmament presented serious challenges to Britain.  The Admiralty clearly understood that the Royal Navy lacked the strength to operate simultaneously against Germany, Italy, and Japan. From their perspective the obvious solution was to persuade the United States to make a naval contribution to the defense of the Far East. British efforts to obtain such an American guarantee date back to the naval staff talks held in Washington in January 1938 when the two nations considered and ultimately rejected a plan to blockade Japan after the Panay incident. 9  The British hoped that the Americans could be persuaded to send a squadron of heavy warships from the Pacific Fleet, but recognized that the commitment of the smaller Asiatic Fleet to the defense of Singapore would also provide meaningful cooperation. As part of these efforts in April and May 1940, the British repeatedly promised the Americans that the repair facilities at Singapore would be open to any U.S. Navy squadron assigned to the base. 10  For their part, the Americans already had access to docks and repair facilities in the Philippines, so the Singapore offer held little attraction from a maintenance perspective.

Admiralty IX Floating Dry Dock at Singapore, March 1941 (Image #6159, Courtesy Australian War Memorial)

Admiralty IX Floating Dry Dock at Singapore, March 1941 (Image #6159, Courtesy Australian War Memorial)

The subject of American ships operating from Singapore rose again in the late summer of 1940 when Rear Admiral Robert Ghormley’s mission arrived in London for a series of talks with British commanders and planners. The combination of France’s surrender, Italian belligerence, and the ongoing German threat to the Atlantic shipping lines occupied the bulk of the Royal Navy’s resources, leaving only a small force of cruisers and destroyers for the Far East. As a result, the Admiralty entered the Ghormley talks with the goal of obtaining assurances form the Americans that the U.S. fleet in the Pacific could be counted on to protect British interests. 11  The American Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark, was open to the idea of basing light forces from the U.S. Asiatic Fleet at Singapore as part of a delaying strategy against Japan. However, Ghormley lacked the authority to make political commitments and the ensuing talks focused on technical matters such as standardizing fleet to fleet communication. 12  Ghormley did ask if the Royal Navy would be able to reinforce Singapore if American battleships were transferred from Pearl Harbor to the Atlantic. The First Sea Lord, Admiral Dudley Pound, explained that any British reinforcements for Singapore would have to come from forces stationed at Gibraltar and that if American battleships operated from Gibraltar, then reinforcements could be sent to Singapore. 13  While no commitments on such movements emerged from this meeting, the ABC-1 agreement would later incorporate Ghormley’s proposal for indirectly reinforcing Singapore. Ghormley’s proposal reflected both American domestic politics (Washington did not want to be seen guarding the British Empire) and the pressures of the war in Europe (the Royal Navy would only release ships for the Pacific after the American reinforcements arrived in the Atlantic). What it did not reflect was any sense of urgency about reinforcing Singapore.

As the United States slowly expanded its aid to Britain with the Destroyers for Bases Deal in September 1940 and the announcement of Lend-Lease in December 1940 by President Roosevelt, the Royal Navy worked diligently to get the U.S. Navy to Singapore. When the Admiralty proposed staff talks to Ghormley in October 1940, the British assumed that the U.S. Navy would reinforce Singapore in the event of a war with Japan. 14  On January 7th, 1941, Ghormley sent Stark a proposal from Pound calling for nine American battleships to operate from Singapore until Germany was defeated. 15  British efforts during the ABC-1 talks to get the Americans to commit to Singapore represented a continuation of these propositions.

Pacific Policy Differences

In the winter of 1940-1941, President Roosevelt agreed to hold secret staff talks in Washington between British and American military delegations. As British and American representatives prepared for these staff talks in Washington, stark differences in their Pacific defense policies hung over their preparations. The two sides disagreed in their assessment of threat from Japan, the regions to be defended, and the concept of operations to be employed. The U.S. Navy viewed Hawaii, Alaska, and West Coast as sufficiently vulnerable to require the protection of the bulk of the fleet, while the British felt the threat to Hawaii and the West Coast was minimal. As a result, the Royal Navy concluded that the concentration of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor was unnecessary while elements in Washington, especially the State Department, viewed the fleet’s presence as an indispensable deterrent to Japanese aggression. In the face of a potential Japanese advance south towards the Dutch East Indies, British plans called for reinforcing and holding existing bases and territorial possessions. In contrast, American planners took a longer view, concluding that preparations should focus on recapturing bases in the Pacific, such as the Philippines and Singapore, after they fell to the Japanese. 16  Finally, the British concept of deterrence involved basing elements of the U.S. fleet at Singapore and the active defense of key installations while the American concept centered on the threat of interdiction posed by the fleet at Pearl Harbor to any Japanese advance to the south. This American position was laid out by Admiral Stark in his November 1940 ‘Plan Dog’ memo. The memo also specifically stated: “it is out of the question to consider sending our entire Fleet at once to Singapore” in the event of war with Japan in part because of the limited repair and maintenance facilities available. 17

Furthermore, the British and Americans held divergent opinions about what could be expected from the other side. The U.S. Navy entered the staff talks determined to avoid American interests being subordinated to British ones, as was thought to have occurred during the First World War. Furthermore the U.S. delegates were suspicious that the British intended to achieve precisely this outcome. Admiral Stark and other American commanders were convinced that since the U.S. Navy would provide the bulk of Allied forces for the Pacific, the American conception of Pacific strategy must prevail. 18  A comment on the impact of superior American naval strength on NATO’s maritime strategy seems applicable to Pacific policy in 1941:“The little boy who owns the baseball usually gets to pitch.” 19  The American position was complicated by the fact that U.S. planners viewed assistance to Britain and assistance to the British Empire as entirely separate propositions. 20  On the British side, divisions regarding the position to be taken over Pacific strategy with the Americans were stark. Pound and the Royal Navy demanded for reinforcements from Singapore, from the Americans if necessary, while Churchill preferred to retain the status quo in the Pacific if asking the Americans to defend Singapore would delay American entry into the war.

ABC-1 Talks

The ABC-1 talks began on January 29th and continued until March 29th under great secrecy. British and American officers discussed joint strategy against Germany while just down Pennsylvania Avenue, administration officials promised Congress in hearings that the Lend-Lease Act would not bring the United States into the war. The most significant outcome of the talks was the American commitment to a Germany First strategy in the event that the United States became involved in the war. However, the talks also dealt extensively with naval dispositions in the Pacific and efforts to deter Japan.

As the talks opened, the Americans pressed the British to reinforce their position in the Far East as a deterrent to Japan. The British responded that their current naval requirements left them little or no strategic reserve and again urged the U.S. Navy to assist in the defense of British possessions, particularly Singapore. 21  The British either wanted large portions of the Pacific Fleet to move from Pearl Harbor to the Philippines or Singapore or for the Asiatic Fleet to receive strong reinforcements. American naval commanders proved unwilling to, as they saw the situation, do the Royal Navy’s job of defending British interests. The Americans rejected the British proposal, arguing that it would create two understrength American fleets in the Pacific. At most, the Americans were willing to allow that the Asiatic Fleet might withdraw to Singapore since the Philippines might not hold out against a Japanese assault, a view shared by President Roosevelt. 22

In reply to the British call for American ships to defend Singapore, the Americans resurrected Admiral Ghormley’s proposal during his mission to London in August 1940, namely that the U.S. Navy would reinforce British forces in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, freeing up sufficient Royal Navy warships to allow the British to reinforce the Far East. 23  This compromise approach, suggested by the U.S. Army, called for American battleships, carriers, and cruisers to protect convoys in the Atlantic from attacks by German raiders, particularly troops convoys. 24  The Americans supported their proposal by noting that British lines of communication to Singapore were much more secure than would be American connections from the West Coast to Singapore. While this was certainly true, the American proposal also served two long-standing American goals and reflected American attitudes about British strength. The U.S. avoided being saddled with the unilateral defense of British colonies and the British would be forced to make a significant contribution to deterring Japan. 25  Furthermore, American willingness to reinforce the Atlantic was at least in part based on a less optimistic view of Britain’s chances for survival than was held in London. 26  The British themselves had helped to create this perception by repeatedly highlighting their need for American aid.

The British delegation worked to counter the resurrected Ghormley proposal in early February on several fronts. They noted that any American reinforcement of the Atlantic might embolden Japan, an attitude shared by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The British also repeated their calls for the Americans to reinforce the Asiatic Fleet, preferably with heavy warships such as battleships or an aircraft carrier. 27  Rear Admiral Kelly Turner responded for the Americans. Turner argued that the U.S. fleet’s concentration at Pearl Harbor made reinforcing the Atlantic, not the Asiatic Fleet, easier. He also repeated the American concern about extending long supply lines across the Pacific to Singapore were any U.S. ships to be based there. Finally, Turner noted that American facilities in the Philippines could not service heavy warships, implicitly casting doubt on the ability of the British base at Singapore to support the heavy ships the British wanted the Americans to commit. 28  Turner benefited from intelligence the British lacked about naval facilities in the Western Pacific. In November 1940 and again in January 1941, U.S. naval officers visiting Singapore sent detailed reports to Washington analyzing the incomplete naval base. 29  Their reports noted that the repair and docking facilities were incapable of meeting the maintenance needs of a large fleet and highlighted the base’s vulnerability to attack from the landward side. 30  In contrast, the Admiralty remained in the dark about the material deficiencies that plagued the American bases at both Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Turner’s arguments proved unanswerable to the British delegation. 31

By mid-February, reports of the ongoing argument over Pacific strategy had reached London. Prime Minister Churchill forcefully entered the fray on the 17th, furious over the Royal Navy’s efforts to persuade the U.S. Navy to defend Singapore. Churchill wrote to Pound:

“Anyone could have seen that the United States would not base a battle-fleet at Singapore and divide their naval forces….They said so weeks ago, and I particularly deprecated the raising of this controversy. Our object is to get the Americans into the war, and the proper strategic dispositions will soon emerge when they are up against reality.” 32

Churchill privileged political considerations, namely enhancing Anglo-American cooperation, over the Royal Navy’s commitment to obtain American support for the British concept of Far Eastern deterrence. Churchill’s insistence on not unnecessarily antagonizing the other side was not reciprocated by the American delegation, which chose to use a British request for help as an opportunity to further disparage British deterrence policy in the Pacific.

The Repair Requests

In mid-February, the Admiralty asked the U.S. Navy for help in repairing HMS Illustrious, an aircraft carrier recently damaged in operations in the Mediterranean by German air attacks. 33  Although the Admiralty had begun preparations for a large program of warship repairs in the United States as early as January 1941, the British thought it preferable to only ask for help with a single repair job instead of presenting the U.S. Navy with a whole slew of damaged ships. If the Royal Navy sought help repairing large numbers of damaged warships, this could reinforce the American perception that Britain’s military outlook was poor, a perception of which the British were keenly aware. 34

The request to repair the Illustrious in the United States gave the U.S. Navy delegates at ABC-1 an opportunity to strengthen their arguments against the Royal Navy’s call for American warships to defend Singapore. 35  The Navy Department did not respond directly to the repair request, but asked why the Illustrious could not be repaired at Singapore. 36  When told that Singapore lacked the parts or facilities to perform the work, Admiral Royal Ingersoll concluded that the British request demonstrated that “Singapore is not considered as a suitable place by the British for the repair and upkeep of aircraft carriers or large cruisers and shows the difficulty that we might have if we sent aircraft carriers or large cruisers to base in Singapore.” 37  The Americans left the Illustrious request unanswered for the time being, but the request for repair work in the U.S. and the subsequent admission of Singapore’s deficiencies as a repair facility ended whatever fleeting possibility remained of a large U.S. fleet operating from Singapore.

The political response by the U.S. Navy to the Illustrious request created an air of uncertainty between American and British naval leaders in February and March 1941 on the subject of repairs. The American response caused the Admiralty doubt the U.S. Navy’s willingness to aid the Royal Navy. In particular, the British questioned whether the United States would actually perform the repair work on British warships authorized by the Lend-Lease bill under consideration in Congress. 38  While the Lend-Lease Act is best known for providing equipment and supplies to Britain without requiring payment in cash, in the spring of 1941 the Royal Navy was more interested in the access to American repair facilities granted by the Act.

The Admiralty decided to test the waters in Washington regarding repair work in American shipyards with the highest authority in the United States. 39  After the unexpected American reaction to the Illustrious request, the British sought to obtain assurances from President Roosevelt that he would authorize the repair work under Lend-Lease. On February 26th the Admiralty asked the ambassador in Washington, Viscount Halifax, to determine if Roosevelt in fact planned on authorizing British repairs after the passage of the Lend-Lease Act. 40  Halifax was told to ask for repairs to three specific ships, the carriers Illustrious and Furious and the cruiser Liverpool. In all likelihood the Admiralty once again limited its repair requests to avoid giving ammunition to those elements of the U.S. military who viewed Britain as near defeat. After conversations with Harry Hopkins, the President’s special advisor, and the President himself, Halifax confirmed to the Admiralty in early March that the Americans would take these three ships. 41  The list of ships Halifax took to Roosevelt diverged significantly from the planning underway with the U.S. Navy, which presumed a larger program of continual repair and refit work. The Admiralty did not know of the growing awareness in the Navy Department about the repair challenges facing the Royal Navy and the conviction that the U.S. Navy should provide repair assistance. 42

The British concern about verifying their access American shipyards extended into late March. When the Admiralty decided to ask the Americans to repair HMS Malaya in mid-March, the request was not sent through naval channels like the Illustrious request. Instead, Churchill directly asked Roosevelt on March 23rd if the Malaya could be repaired in the United States. 43  The British officer responsible for coordinating the repair work in Washington, Admiral Wilfred French, also exercised caution. Before sending a formal repair request for the Malaya, French met informally with Stark on March 24th to gauge the U.S. Navy’s willingness to respond favorably. 44

These lingering British concerns proved to be unfounded as attitudes in the Navy Department had shifted since February, in part due to greater involvement of civilian leaders, namely Roosevelt and pro-British Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. The President responded in the affirmative to Churchill’s request on March 25th, saying that he would be “delighted” and promising to “expedite the work”. 45  Secretary Knox had informed the President the previous day that he had already told the Admiralty that U.S. shipyards would be used to repair British warships. 46  In fact, as early as March 14th Knox had directed Admiral Stark to cooperate with the British in performing repair work on damaged British warships. 47  Stark met with his subordinates on the 18th to prepare for repairing British warships. 48  Knox also had one of his special assistants, Joseph Powell, investigate the repair capacity available in American shipyards for British warship repair. 49  Despite Roosevelt’s approval, the Admiralty understood that the Navy Department’s buy-in would be critical if the British were to receive maximum use of American shipyards.

These two episode illustrates the state of Anglo-American naval relations in 1941. The British became uncertain about the U.S. Navy’s commitment to provide aid due to the American response to the Illustrious request and sought reassurance from the President, whose attitudes toward Britain were better known. Within the U.S. Navy, Secretary Knox took the lead on the repair program and aid to Britain, using his position as Secretary to get the bureaucratic wheels turning.

The Rest of the Story

By the end of March 1941, the U.S. and Royal Navies had reached agreement on their naval dispositions and access to repair facilities. The British accepted the American’s proposal at the ABC-1 talks for an American reinforcement of the Atlantic followed by a British reinforcement of the Far East, a naval version of the game “musical chairs” played out on a global scale. 50  Furthermore, the repair program for British warships in the United States expanded rapidly. By the end of March the U.S. Navy had arranged for repairs or refits to eight British warships and had allocated almost all of the $200 million provided by Congress for repair work under Lend-Lease. 51

While the repair program expanded rapidly to meet the Royal Navy’s requirements, the ABC-1 agreement proved to take longer to implement. In accordance with the ABC-1 agreement, President Roosevelt agreed on April 3rd to transfer three battleships, an aircraft carrier, and escorting vessels from the Pacific Fleet to the Atlantic Fleet for the purpose of freeing up British warships for service in the Indian Ocean. However, growing tensions with Japan led the President to limit the transfer to a single carrier and escorts on April 18th. The ensuing Cabinet discussions perfectly illustrate the political, strategic, and diplomatic forces governing American naval deployments in 1941. Secretary of State Cordell Hull argued against any transfer of strength away from the Pacific, concerned that this would send the wrong signal to Japan. Knox and Secretary of War Henry Stimson viewed aid to Britain as a higher priority and pressed Roosevelt to implement the original transfer agreement. 52  The two went so far as to enlist Prime Minister Churchill’s aid, arranging for messages of support from the British Defense Committee and the British Chiefs of Staff. 53  Eventually, on May 13th, Roosevelt relented and authorized the full transfer, paving the way for British reinforcement of the Eastern Fleet. However, this reinforcement could not take place until American shipyards repaired sufficient numbers of British warships for service in the Far East.

The British began to slowly but steadily reinforce their position in the Far East throughout 1941 as a part of the ABC-1 agreement. For the Royal Navy, the actual reinforcement did not begin until December 1941 and the Eastern Fleet did not reach full strength until March 1942. The delay between the policy decision and the operational change highlights the critical role played by American shipyards in allowing the British to recreate the Eastern Fleet. Scholars have previously attributed the British ability to reinforce the Eastern Fleet to the relief provided by the U.S. Navy when Roosevelt authorized the ABC-1 transfer of American warships from the Pacific to the Atlantic. 54  However, this focus does not explain the timing of British naval reinforcements arriving in the Indian Ocean. While U.S. naval assistance did provide some relief in the Atlantic, the British ability to reinforce the Eastern Fleet in spring 1942 depended heavily on U.S. Navy Yards returning British warships to service. The repair program in America provided the Royal Navy with the additional warship capacity to implement the ABC-1 transfer agreement and reinforce the Far East, albeit nine months late.

The Royal Navy’s inability to reinforce the Eastern Fleet immediately after the ABC-1 agreement stemmed from the damage suffered by the British capital ship force throughout 1941. This hard fact shaped British policy throughout the summer and fall of 1941 and played a central role in the ill-advised decision to dispatch the Prince of Wales and the Repulse to Singapore without adequate air cover. In August 1941, eight of fifteen British capital ships were non-operational due to repair or refit needs, severely constraining British options. 55  Accordingly, the Admiralty determined that the plan to reinforce the Eastern Fleet in the fall of 1941 must be postponed to the spring of 1942. 56  A War Cabinet paper in September 1941 listed the naval forces needed to defend the Far East as seven battleships, two aircraft carriers, and fifteen cruisers, forces simply unavailable to the Royal Navy until the spring of 1942, and even then only due to the American repair program. 57  In response to Australian complaints about this delay, Churchill proposed sending a smaller force of capital ships to threaten Japanese convoys. 58  Operationally, the Prime Minister’s reasoning made little sense. 59  The objective of any naval reinforcements sent to the Far East would be to defend British possessions and British convoys in the Indian Ocean, not threaten Japanese convoys in the Pacific, a view expressed by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Pound. However, from a diplomatic perspective this small force, Prince of Wales and Repulse, would help assuage Australian dissatisfaction with British naval deployments through the long-standing practice of using warships to illustrate Foreign Office policy. 60  In addition, Churchill hoped that these ships would serve as a deterrent against Japanese aggression, strengthening Anglo-American cooperation in a theater previously marked by differences between Washington and London. 61


Soon after arriving at Singapore, the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk by Japanese aircraft not at all deterred by the presence of these warships in the Far East. The Japanese offensive into the Pacific caught the Anglo-Americans in the midst of their global naval reinforcement plan. While the Americans had supplemented their forces in the Atlantic, the British were still in the process of reinforcing their forces in the Far East. The British concept of actively defending British possessions in the Pacific proved ineffective with the forces allocated to the theater. Ultimately the American plan to recapture bases taken by the Japanese would shape the course of the Pacific War.

The debates and discussions between the U.S. and Royal Navies in early 1941 over naval deployments and fleet maintenance illustrate a transition period in Anglo-Americans relations. The two sides’ views of one another were colored by suspicions and doubts left over from the First World War. Washington saw British schemes to get the U.S. military to defend the Empire at every turn while London did not share the overriding American concern with securing the Western Hemisphere. These suspicions were balanced by cooperation in arenas of interest to both the U.S. and the U.K., namely the security of the United Kingdom and the North Atlantic shipping lanes. Disparities in national strength also shaped each side’s willingness to cooperate and compromise. The Royal Navy benefited from the ongoing growth in American industrial capacity, the same capacity that would propel the U.S. Navy into position as the world’s premier naval power by 1945. The ABC-1 agreement represented one of the first instances in Anglo-American military relations where American strength (naval strength in this case) played a significant role in shaping the outcome. However in 1941, the U.S. Navy still viewed the Royal Navy as the fleet to be emulated and was keenly aware of its junior partner status. With respect to roles and relationships, the spring of 1941 truly was a “fulcrum” in Anglo-American naval relations.

(Return to July 2015 Table of Contents)

Me in Suit

Corbin Williamson is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Ohio State University. His dissertation examines relations between the American, Australian, British, and Canadian navies from 1945-1953. He holds an M.A. from Texas Tech University and has published an article on warship repair under Lend-Lease in Diplomatic History. He currently works as a contract historian in the Historical Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and will be joining the faculty of the College of Distance Education at the Naval War College as a Fleet Professor this fall.

  1. David Reynolds, From Munich to Pearl Harbor: Roosevelt’s America and the Origins of the Second World War, The American Way Series (Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, 2002), 10.
  2. David Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941: A Study in Competitive Co-Operation (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982); Christopher G. Thorne, Allies of a Kind: The United States, Britain, and the War Against Japan, 1941-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). See also James Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977).
  3. Waldo Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); Mark Stoler, Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and U.S. Strategy in World War II (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Mark Stoler, Allies in War: Britain and America against the Axis Powers, 1940-1945 (London: Hodder Arnold, 2005).
  4. Phyllis L. Soybel, A Necessary Relationship: The Development of Anglo-American Cooperation in Naval Intelligence (Westport, CN: Praeger, 2005); Alan Harris Bath, Tracking the Axis Enemy: The Triumph of Anglo-American Intelligence (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998); Steve Weiss, Allies in Conflict: Anglo-American Strategic Negotiations, 1938-1944 (London: Macmillan Press, 1996).
  5. Theodore Wilson, “Review of ‘Allies in Conflict: Anglo-American Strategic Negotiations, 1938-1944 by Steve Weiss,’” Journal of Military History 62, no. 4 (October 1998): 943–44.
  6. Ian Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941 (Oxford, UK: Berg, 1996), 61–63.
  7. Ibid., 96.
  8. Duncan Redford and Philip D. Grove, The Royal Navy: A History Since 1900 (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014), 104–106.
  9. Lawrence Pratt, “The Anglo-American Naval Conversations on the Far East of January 1938,” International Affairs 44, no. 4 (October 1971): 752, 756–757.
  10. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941, 129–130.
  11. Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 170–171.
  12. Ibid., 179.
  13. Mark Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, United States Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1950), 113–115; J.R.M. Butler, Grand Strategy, Volume II: September 1939 – June 1941, History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Military Series (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1957), 341–345.
  14. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941, 173.
  15. Ibid., 212–213.
  16. Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 97–98.
  17. Admiral Harold Stark to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, November 12, 1940, 16, Box 4, President’s Secretary’s File, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, New York,
  18. Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 190.
  19. Peter Swartz, “The U.S. Navy and Europe in the First Postwar Decade or ‘The Little Boy Who Owns the Baseball Usually Gets to Pitch,’” in Inter-Allied Naval Relations and the Birth of NATO (Naval Historical Center Colloquium on Contemporary History No. 8, Washington, D.C.: Naval History & Heritage Command, 1993),
  20. Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 196.
  21. Maurice Matloff and Edwin M. Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, United States Army in World War II: The War Department (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1999), 34–36.
  22. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941, 226; Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, 124–125.
  23. Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 194; Arthur Marder, Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, Volume I: Strategic Illusions, 1936-1941 (New York: Clarendon Press, 1981), 191.
  24. Rear Admiral Robert Ghormley to Fleet Admiral Dudley Pound, “Serial 00264,” August 23, 1941, ADM 205/9, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office; “Exhibit No. 106, Admiral H.R. Stark’s Letters to Admiral H.E. Kimmell, Ocean Escort in the Western Atlantic”, Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, vol. 19, Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), 2162; Stephen Roskill, The War at Sea, 1939-1945, Volume I: The Defensive, History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Military Series (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1954), 551; Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941: A Study in Competitive Co-Operation, 226.
  25. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941, 194.
  26. Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941: A Study in Competitive Co-Operation, 226–228.
  27. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941, 228; Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 194–195.
  28. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941, 231.
  29. Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 190, 204.
  30. The Reminiscences of Rear Admiral Denys W. Knoll, 110, U.S. Naval Institute Library, Annapolis, MD.
  31. Arthur Marder, Mark Jacobsen, and John Horsfield, Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, Volume II: The Pacific War, 1942-1945 (New York: Clarendon Press, 1990), 191.
  32. Minute, Churchill to First Sea Lord, 17 February 1941, ADM 116/4877, The National Archives of the United Kingdom.
  33. Admiral Royal Ingersoll, Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations to Captain Callaghan, February 21, 1941, Folder Navy: Callaghan, Daniel J.; Box 61; Departmental File; PSF, FDRL.
  34. John Slessor, The Central Blue: The Autobiography of Sir John Slessor, Marshal of the RAF (London: Frederick Praeger, 1957), 348. Slessor recalls that “We fully recognize (though it was an odd feeling) that they had to take into account the possibility of a British defeat and hence the requirements of their own unaided defence…But we felt they were overdoing it a bit and perhaps even making our defeat less improbable by allocating too much effort to long-term measures at the expense of those necessary to defeat Germany soon.” Ibid.
  35. Heinrichs says that the Illustrious request was simply “shelved” during the Lend-Lease debate. However, according to Admiralty records it appears the Americans did respond to the British request and that their response caused the Admiralty to become concerned about future repair work in the U.S. See Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II, 48.
  36. Admiral Royal Ingersoll, Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations to Captain Callaghan, February 21, 1941.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Head of Military Branch, “Memorandum, ‘Repair of H.M. Ships in US Dockyards under Lend-Lease Bill’” February 14, 1941, ADM 199/1234, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office; C.H.M. Waldock, Military Branch, Admiralty to J.V. Perowne, Foreign Office, “M.02388/41,” February 23, 1941, ADM 199/1234, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office.
  39. F.A. Munn, Civil Secretary, BARM, “Memorandum, ‘Refits’, History of the British Admiralty Delegation, March 1941 to September 1945” July 1946, 95, ADM 199/1236, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office.
  40. Admiralty to Viscount Halifax (Washington), “No. 1080,” February 26, 1941, ADM 199/1234, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office.
  41. Viscount Halifax (Washington) to Prime Minister, “No. 962,” March 3, 1941, ADM 199/1234, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office; Viscount Halifax (Washington) to Admiralty, “No. 1017,” March 5, 1941, ADM 199/1234, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office; Viscount Halifax (Washington) to Admiralty, “No. 1048,” March 7, 1941, ADM 199/1234, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office.
  42. Naval Attaché to CNO, Alusna 251650 January 1941, Folder 6 of 9, “Section IV: Preparation of American – British War Plans, Part B (Chapter 15): United States-British Naval Cooperation, January – May 1941”, Tracy B. Kittredge, “Historical Monograph U.S. – British Naval Cooperation, 1940-1945,” n.d., 403–404, Papers of Tracy B. Kittredge, World War II Command File, Operational Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC; John J. McCloy to Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, February 12, 1941, Folder Navy: Knox, Frank: 1939-1941; Box 62; Departmental File; President’s Secretary File, 1933-1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, New York.
  43. “C-70x, Mar. 23, 1941”, Warren Kimball, ed., Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, Volume 1: Alliance Emerging, October 1933-November 1942 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 150–151.
  44. Admiral Wilfred French, British Advisory Repair Mission to Chief of Naval Operations, “‘H.M.S. Malaya,’” March 25, 1941, Folder L9-3/QS15 (March to April 1941); Box 257; 1940-1941 Subseries, Secret; Formerly Security-Classified General Correspondence of the CNO/Secretary of the Navy,1940-1947; General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1940-1947; Record Group 80, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD; Admiral Harold Stark, “Diary Entry, Monday” March 24, 1941, Fiscal Year 1941, Box 4, Diary – Chief of Naval Operations, 1939-1942, Series II: Diaries & Journals, Papers of Admiral Harold Stark, 1916-1970, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC.
  45. “R-28x, 25 Mar. 1941”, Kimball, Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, Volume 1: Alliance Emerging, October 1933-November 1942, 151.
  46. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy to President Franklin Roosevelt, “Serial 0910,” March 24, 1941, Folder L9-3/QS15 (March to April 1941); Box 257; 1940-1941 Subseries, Secret; Formerly Security-Classified General Correspondence of the CNO/Secretary of the Navy,1940-1947; General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1940-1947; Record Group 80, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
  47. “Administrative History No. 20: ‘Chief of Naval Operations: The Logistics of Fleet Readiness – The Fleet Maintenance Division in World War II’” n.d., U.S. Naval Administrative History of World War II, Navy Department Library, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC.
  48. Admiral Harold Stark, “Diary Entry, Tuesday” March 18, 1941, Fiscal Year 1941, Box 4, Diary – Chief of Naval Operations, 1939-1942, Series II: Diaries & Journals, Papers of Admiral Harold Stark, 1916-1970, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC; Stark, “Diary Entry, Monday.”
  49. Viscount Halifax (Washington) to Arthur Purvis, “No. 216,” March 26, 1941, FO 371/28960, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office.
  50. “Exhibit No. 49: United States – British Staff Conversations Report, 27 March 1941”, Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, vol. 15, Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), 1492. The text of the agreement stated: “The United States intends so to augment its forces in the Atlantic and Mediterranean areas that the British Commonwealth will be in a position to release the necessary forces for the Far East.”
  51. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy to President Franklin Roosevelt, “Serial 0910”; Arthur Salter to Director of Merchant Shipbuilding and Repairs, “No. 251,” April 5, 1941, FO 371/28960, National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office.
  52. Stetson Conn, The Framework of Hemisphere Defense, The US Army in World War II: The Western Hemisphere (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960), 109. Joint Secretariat, “Movement of Units of the U.S. Pacific Fleet”, June 11, 1941, ‘Pacific-Far East-British Joint Staff Correspondence’, Strategic Planning in the U.S. Navy: Its Evolution and Execution, 1891-1945 (microfilm), Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1977. Reel 6.
  53. Robert J. Quinlan, “The United States Fleet: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the Allocation of Ships (1940-1941),” in American Civil-Military Decisions, ed. Harold Stein (Birmingham, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1963), 182–183.
  54. Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941: A Study in Competitive Co-Operation, 185; Quinlan, “The United States Fleet: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the Allocation of Ships (1940-1941),” 191; Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 207, 233; Christopher Bell, “The ‘Singapore Strategy’ and the Deterrence of Japan: Winston Churchill, the Admiralty, and the Dispatch of Force Z,” English Historical Review 116, no. 467 (June 2001): 614; Christopher Bell, The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy Between the Wars (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 90–91; Butler, Grand Strategy, Volume II: September 1939 – June 1941, 503.
  55. Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Naval Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941, 235; “War Cabinet minutes, 21 July 1941”, Martin Gilbert, ed., The Churchill War Papers, Volume III: The Ever-Widening War, 1941 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 967.
  56. Quinlan, “The United States Fleet: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the Allocation of Ships (1940-1941),” 191; J.M.A. Gwyer, Grand Strategy, Volume III: June 1941 – August 1942, Part I, History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Military Series (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1964), 317. An official British history notes “the need of the older British ships to refit…made the maintenance of adequate naval strength at the vital points a matter of delicate timing.” It would be more accurate to replace “delicate timing” with “musical chairs.” See J.R.M. Butler, Grand Strategy, Volume III: June 1941 – August 1942, Part II, History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Military Series (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1964), 503.
  57. War Cabinet, “Memorandum, ‘Conference on British-United States Production’” September 17, 1941, Folder L11-7/EF61 to L11-7/EF73; Box 259; 1940-1941 Subseries, Secret; Formerly Security-Classified General Correspondence of the CNO/Secretary of the Navy,1940-1947; General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1940-1947; Record Group 80, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
  58. Marder, Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, Volume I: Strategic Illusions, 1936-1941, 220.
  59. To be fair, the British Chiefs of Staff were also complicit in this decision. One historian concludes, “Like Churchill, the Chiefs of Staff were content with token forces for the Far East. Unlike him, they wanted the tokens in place.” See Raymond Callahan, The Worst Disaster: The Fall of Singapore (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1977), 80.
  60. Marder, Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, Volume I: Strategic Illusions, 1936-1941, 215–216; Bell, The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy Between the Wars, 145.
  61. “Document 80: Churchill to Roosevelt, 2 November 1941”, Kimball, Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, Volume 1: Alliance Emerging, October 1933-November 1942, 163; Bell, “The ‘Singapore Strategy’ and the Deterrence of Japan: Winston Churchill, the Admiralty, and the Dispatch of Force Z,” 627; Douglas Ford, “Planning for an Unpredictable War: British Intelligence Assessments and the War Against Japan, 1937-1945,” Journal of Strategic Studies 27, no. 1 (March 2004): 142.

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“Every ship in the Fleet must be Eused like men”: The Royal Navy Mutinies in Simon’s and Table Bay, 1797


A Breeze at Simon’s Bay
The Little Nore
The Forecastle culture and the Tripartite Sailor
The Sailor in His Own Words

Allison Funk
Independent Researcher

Introduction 1

In the wake of the vast multi-ship mutinies of England’s fleets at home in the spring of 1797, the isolated squadron at the Cape of Good Hope weathered two separate multi-ship mutinies, one at Simon’s Bay in October, and another at Table Bay in early November.  Writing after the close of these mutinies the colony governor Earl Macartney mused,

I have just communicated to you the account of the second mutiny that had broke out in the fleet here… From the most minute investigation of it I cannot discover that there was the shadow of a grievance to be pleaded in its alleviation.  It appears solely to have proceeded from mere wantonness in the sailors and a vanity of aping their fraternity in England… This spirit of sea mutiny seems like the sweating-sickness in Edward the Fourth’s reign, a national malady which, as we are assured by the historians of the day, not content with its devastations in England, visited at the same time every Englishman in foreign countries at the most distant parts of the globe: ‘The general Air / From Pole to Pole /from Atlas to the East. / Was then at the enmity with English blood’. 2

The governor was correct about the “epidemic potential” 3  of mutiny in 1797.  As the mutinies spread throughout the Royal Navy, touching such distant locales as the Mediterranean, West Indies, and Cape of Good Hope, they threatened the very social and economic fabric of the Empire. Until recently, historians covering the British naval mutinies of 1797 have focused almost exclusively on what occurred at Spithead, an anchorage on the English channel adjacent to Portsmouth, and directly after at the Nore, located to the northeast at the mouth of the Thames. 4  The disturbances at Simon’s and Table Bay, though lesser in scale and scope than Spithead and the Nore, 5  deserve attention not only for their similarities to these parent mutinies in terms of organization, demands made, and resolution, but also because these similarities offer concrete evidence of the physical and intellectual networks which underpin the maritime world.

The Delegates in Council, or beggars on horseback, A contemporary cartoon of the delegation of sailors who devised the terms of settlement of the Mutiny of Spithead, 1797 (Vaisseau de Ligne, Time Life, 1979)

The Delegates in Council, or beggars on horseback, A contemporary cartoon of the delegation of sailors who devised the terms of settlement of the Mutiny of Spithead, 1797 (Vaisseau de Ligne, Time Life, 1979)

The character and causal factors of the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore continue to be debated by historians.  Motivated in part by the desire for increased wages in the face of the rising cost of living, 6  and exacerbated by an atmosphere of war exhaustion, what began as unanswered petitioning transformed into a concerted refusal to obey and a formal faceoff with authorities.  What is certain is that the sailors involved in the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore acted in concert.  They were organized, revealing forethought and intent; fleet parliaments, made from a complement of delegates elected by each participating ship’s company voiced the sailors’ demands, made decisions, and kept order aboard the ships throughout the course of the mutinies. 7   Oaths were sworn to signify solidarity to the cause, red flags were flown at the masthead, 8  and from the yards tarred ropes were dangled provocatively. 9   Throughout, the mutineers attested their loyalty to the King and country.  These mutinies were not to see the same resolution, however.  At Spithead, the sailors were granted limited yet significant concessions; at the Nore, the authorities responded with increasingly repressive measures, which culminated in the court martial and sentencing to death of a number of mutineers. 10

Historians have continuously sought to forge sustainable links between the mutinous men at Spithead and the Nore and revolutionary agents, echoing the English government’s own suspicions during and after the mutinies that this kind of outside interference had to have been necessary for the mutinies to occur.  For the British government, this may have been an essential step in justifying repressive actions and legislation, and downplaying the real extent of popular discontent and the changing political and social climate.  Prime Minister William Pitt, in a speech to Parliament on June 2, 1797, called the Nore mutineers “deluded persons,” and went on to state, “I trust too, that as these late proceedings are utterly repugnant to the real spirit of the British sailor… it will appear that it was not in the hearts of British seamen that such mutinous principles originated.” 11

But what was the “real spirit” of seamen of the Royal Navy of 1797?  English historian E.P. Thompson wrote of the mutinies in his seminal work, The Making of the English Working Class,

It is foolish to argue that, because the majority of the sailors had few clear political notions, this was a parochial affair of ship’s biscuits and arrears of pay, and not a revolutionary movement. This is to mistake the nature of popular revolutionary crises, which arise when from exactly this kind of conjunction between the grievances of the majority and the aspirations articulated by the politically conscious minority. 12

While Thompson adeptly puts his finger on the focal point of the dissenting views amongst historians, i.e. whether the mutinies of 1797 were labor strikes over working conditions without political aims or a genuine revolutionary movement, his analysis hinges on the majority of sailors having “few clear political notions.”  Just as elites of that era operated on the assumption that sailors are merely “necessary instruments… most needful for others supportance,” 13  so have generations of historians; the impact of landsmen brought in by naval recruitment policies such as impressment and the Quota Acts, as well as the intervention by radical known quantities such as London Corresponding Society members, members of the United Irishmen, or French spies has too often taken center stage in the historical debate. 14  It is not until recently that the historiography has refocused on the influence of ideas over outside individuals, recognizing or restoring the sailor’s agency in these events. 15   The popular view of sailors as incapable of or disinclined towards radical action is highly problematic, a conspicuous misperception, coexisting uneasily with long-standing traditions of lower deck organization and the sailor’s diverse and potentially politically conscious nature.

The behavioral contagion that occurred in 1797 offers something more than insight into the nature of ocean travel and communication, where ships in exchanging mail, supplies, and crew members, exchanged official and unofficial news.  It also offers a wedge by which to pry open the door to an alternate maritime world, the elusive terra incognita of ideas, customs, and values.  Situated within this forecastle culture 16  Jack Tar may be rediscovered; in the language of the mutineers’ petitions and letters is evidence of a sailor who is a confluence of local, translocal, and specifically nautical influences, a complex persona, to whom the action of making mutiny could seem at once appropriate and even necessary. 17

A Breeze at Simon’s Bay

The British Empire at the end of the 18th century was more than just a nation spread out over the waves, it was also an established commercial force, an “empire of goods,” 18  with systems, policies, and priorities that extended beyond traditional political or military authority and strategy.  The linchpin of commercial Britain was its presence in Asia, via the East India Company.  Ships traveling from the home islands to the Far East made the trip in approximately six months, 19  with the Cape Colony as an important waypoint on the route.

With the war against Revolutionary France as context, the seizure of the Dutch Cape Colony by British forces in 1795 seems to be a strategic strike to deprive the French of a toehold in Africa. The British action quickly followed the capitulation of the Dutch Republic to France that same year.  However, a well-positioned port locale, in attracting commerce, also serves as a nexus for people, ideas, and ultimately, power.  Human geographer Alan Lester, who envisioned the British Empire as an imperial network in which the metropole and the colonies were linked by routes that circulated goods as well as manpower and information, describes the Cape Colony as a key “nodal point” in this network. 20   The British aim was not necessarily to make or take a colony per se, but rather to protect a vital nodal point, their “stepping-stone to Asia.” 21

Rear Admiral Thomas Pringle (Gilbert Stuart, The National Maritime Museum)

Rear Admiral Thomas Pringle (Gilbert Stuart, The National Maritime Museum)

Earl Macartney, the first official governor of the British Cape Colony, had clear instructions as he assumed his post in the spring of 1797: pacify any dissent on the part of the Dutch inhabitants, and remain vigilant against a potential French attack. 22   Vigilance in defending the Cape translated first and foremost into protection of the trade routes it watched over and the ships that plied those routes.  By the summer of 1797, a total of 19 warships were stationed at the Cape under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas Pringle. 23

At the same time as Macartney was settling in to his governorship, the Arniston, a British East Indiaman, was steadily approaching the Cape as part of a convoy of merchant ships bound from England to China.  Departing in early June, the Arniston arrived at the Cape in late August, delivering news of the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore formally to the colony, as well as informally to the crews of the ships stationed along its coast. 24   In a letter to Governor Macartney, Admiral Pringle reflected,

The information brought by the Arniston is truly of an alarming nature, it is much beyond anything I would possibly have expected though I have been long convinced We have more danger to apprehend from Our own Folly and Villainy than from any exertion of national Enemys, and I am by no means clear that the Path that we adopted of increasing the Seamen’s Wages will have the desired effect… 25

The news of the successes in collective action at Spithead and the ongoing struggle at the Nore made a profound impression on the seamen stationed at the Cape as well.  In a show of solidarity, eight warships, Tremendous, Trusty, Imperieuse, Braave, Rattlesnake, Chichester, Star, and Euphrosyne, and one tender, the Suffolk, declared a state of coordinated mutiny on October 7th, electing delegates to represent each ship, putting officers ashore, and issuing petitions and lists of demands to the authorities. 26   27

Just like their predecessors in England, the mutineers of Simon’s Bay signed their names to their petitions and attempted throughout to underscore their loyalty to the crown. 28   The demands made were strikingly similar to those of their brethren, focusing primarily on provisioning. 29  They requested not only a general improvement in their victuals, but also a review of existing stores to combat ever-worsening quality. 30   There was an additional emphasis on rectifying discrepancies in the weights and measures used in the allocation of provisions, as well as countering any corruption on the part of the pursers. 31

The mutineers confirmed their knowledge of the events at Spithead and Nore, and expressed an expectation of having the same reforms granted at Spithead applied to them.  In a general statement they highlighted their willingness to be patient on this matter:

The People of this Squadron has heard something of the Conduct of His Majesty’s Fleet in England, and the regulations that has taken place in Consequence with regard to the Extra Allowance of Pay and Provisions; but as we do not expect that you have received any Official Intelligence how to act on the occasion, We do not expect those Regulations to take place until that time may arrive, and we are determined to patiently Wait the Event. 32

As opposed to Spithead, where grievances against officers were withheld from the official petitions and instead were aired in a more unofficial capacity, the request for the removal of officers took center stage in the demand letters at Simon’s Bay.  Almost every ship, excepting the Suffolk, expressed a desire for the expulsion of certain officers, the barring of their return to duty, and their prosecution by court martial.  Additionally, the shared knowledge of other ships’ issues with officers was a reoccurring theme throughout the petitions. 33   For example, a letter from the Tremendous began by stating, “We have Received a Letter from the RattlSnake concerning Bad usage wich We are sorry to hear for we should wish to hear of Nothing but Pease and Trankeltety.” 34

From the outset, the attitude of those in power was one of grim uncertainty.  Upon learning of the mutiny, Governor Macartney wrote to Major-General Francis Dundas, commander of the colony’s armed forces,

The news convey’d to me in your letter dated this day is the most unpleasant of any I have received from you as it seems to imply a despair of accommodation.  As however it is impossible considering the situation of the fleet & the state of affairs in this part of the World, that mutineers in their circumstances can have any place whatever, that must not end in their own destruction, I can not avoid still cherishing a ray of hope that they will be the first to yield.  In all events we must make up our minds to the worst that can happen & take the best care of ourselves that we can if we should be abandoned by the fleet. 35

Admiral Pringle was dispatched to the Tremendous to negotiate, while relaying the status of negotiations to Dundas and Macartney by way of his subordinates.  By the next day, it was clear that the Admiral was to remain on the Tremendous in the presence of the delegates until some kind of agreement could be reached.  In a message to Macartney, Dundas wrote of this development, “I have had a message this instant from the Admiral on the Tremendous informing me that the seamen hold out and will not suffer him to come a shore unless he complies with their demands.” 36

Despite the mounting tensions, and despite Admiral Pringle’s own willingness to hear the crews’ grievances and attempt to acknowledge and address them, there was still a certain level of dismissiveness on the part of those in power, most particularly Major-General Dundas.  Lady Anne Barnard, Cape resident and wife of colonial secretary Andrew Barnard, writes of his attitude towards the mutineers,

I must introduce in jest a little anecdote of Genl Dundas, he left this place for Simmons Bay as quickly as the occasion demanded of him, but no one coud get him convinced that the crews could be so head strong & intemperate as he was told they were, particularly in the Tremenduous, which he was determined to go on board of – “it is only talking them round calmly he said, not minding their nonsense but arguing the matter coolly & reasonably with them” – some of his military friends smiled at the idea of his supposing himself more particularly qualified than some others, to talk the mutiny over coolly, and they fortunately persuaded him against going onboard, else both admiral & commander in chief would have been prisoners… 37

After being thus dissuaded, Dundas prepared to assist in the defense of the shore from the ships, whose cannon could easily reach the town.  He wrote,

I fancy therefore that they are not to be brought to reason by fair means and it will necessary for us onshore to take such steps as are proper for preventing any attempt from the madmen of the fleet upon this town and Batteries.  As soon as it is dark the (illegible) regiment will be ordered from Muizenberg to Simonstown to take possession of the heights & reinforce the garrison. 38

In a similar vein to Spithead, the major sticking point for negotiations was the fate of the officers.  Dundas wrote again to the governor on October 9,

… I learn matters are not yet settled, the seamen insisting that Cap’n Stephens and few other officers they have named should not be received again into the ship and upon that point they have not been able to prevail upon Pringle to agree…. threat of the seamen being allowed to reject their officers in any case would be an example so dangerous as renders it in the present an indulgence not to be accorded.  It seems the men of the Tremendous do not suffer any paper to be delivered into the Admiral’s hand which they do not read… 39

From Dundas’ updates to Macartney, a clear picture of the sailors’ behavior can be gleaned.  Firstly, they carried out their actions in a poised, well-organized fashion, swapping the officers’ command with their own without any real rupture in discipline.  Secondly, they controlled not only the Admiral’s physical movements, but also those of the other officers and captains, calling all but Captain Stephens to the Tremendous on October 9th. 40   The summoning of the officers to the Tremendous to meet with the assembled delegates became a regular occurrence, preceded by signals given from the flagship to the shore and the surrounding ships. 41

While the threat of an attack by the ships still loomed, the town being situated “so completely under the guns of the ships in the Bay,” 42  the fate of the rejected officers still proved to be the last remaining point of contention.  Dundas wrote on the 10th,

It seems the crews of the ships and the Admiral have agreed upon every other question but that of a few officers returning to the ships…  Pringle informs me by the servant that it is not his intention to signify to his men any wish for coming on shore though he has not yet been able to see through their plans which have however the appearance of an intention of going to sea. 43

Dundas’ letters to Macartney reveal the tenuous position of the authorities during the course of the mutiny, and the resulting shift in power. The sailors dictated the actions of the officers, curtailing their movements; by contrast the sailors’ own movements were incredibly free.  One can imagine a dynamic atmosphere of industry, purpose, and perhaps even uncertainty and anxiety, as boats plied back and forth from ship to ship and ship to shore.  As a compromise neared, the intercourse between ships and ships’ companies intensified.  Dundas remarked on the final day of negotiations, “…the boats have been constantly crossing from ship to ship and in the opinion of Captain Stephens of the Tremendous who has not held the most favourable sentiment hitherto affairs wear a better face…” 44

By the evening of October 11th an agreement was reached between Pringle and the mutineers that included a moderate increase in provisions, improved oversight over provision quality and measurement, and the issuance of a full pardon for the sailors involved in the Simon’s Bay action, including the crew of the Vindictive. 45   Captain Stephens of the Tremendous and Captain Steven of the Rattlesnake were to await court martial as a part of the final terms. 46   Admiral Pringle declared a general amnesty that went into effect on October 12th, greeted by the cheers of the crews and the re-hoisting of the Royal Standard. 47   It stated,

By Thomas Pringle Esquire, Rear Admiral of the Red and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessel employed and to be employed at the Cape of Good Hope and the Seas adjacent.

A Proclamation for pardoning such Seamen and Marines of the Squadron under my command at Simons and Table Bay as have been concerned in any act of Mutiny, disobedience of orders or any breech or neglect of duty, and who have now returned to good order and their regular discharge of their duty.

Whereas it has this day been officially represented to me that the Seamen and Marines on board His Majesty’s Squadron in Simons and Table Bay under my command have returned to their regular and ordinary discharge of their duty according to the rules and practice of the Navy, I have thought fit to issue this my proclamation, And I do hereby promise my pardon and general Amnesty to all such Seamen and Marines now serving on board the Squadron who have so returned to their regular and ordinary discharge of their duty.

Given under my hand on board His Majesty’s Ship the Tremendous in Simons Bay the 11th of October 1797. 48

The Little Nore

Though Admiral Pringle felt confident enough in the resolution of the Simon’s Bay mutiny to send an official dispatch on October 13th to the Admiralty Board, the sailors at the Cape were not to stay pacified for long.  On October 29th, a smaller complement of ships stationed in the nearby anchorage of Table Bay rebelled against their officers and another state of mutiny was declared; the mutiny subsided temporarily, then reignited on the 7th of November and continued for two additional days.

Two specific factors contributed to this second wave of action. Firstly, an influx of new ships reenergized the seamen’s cause. The Records of the Cape Colony, Volume V, states that the Sceptre, Raisonable, and Jupiter returned from convoy duty on October 24th, and that mutiny broke out aboard these ships shortly thereafter. 49  However, Lady Anne also writes about mutinous occurrences on the SphinxIn a letter dated October 30th, she links the continued unrest to the conciliatory resolution of the first mutiny,

[T]he consequences of their escaping punishment has been seen since, as the Blew Jacket, (the sign of mutiny) has been hung up in two vessels from St. Helena, the Raisonable & the Sphnyx – but are now taken down tho a strong disposition appeared in the fleet to set off anew; Subordination is by no means established – the ferment is working secretly still… the sailors come ashore in Numbers, partys of 12 at a time, they pillage the markets, get drunk – riot – & endeavor by every means to corrupt the army, – their Influence begun to be felt, and Genl Dundas wisely ordered the army to be encamped… near Rondebosh…”” 50

Additionally, the promised court martial of Captain Stephens of the Tremendous began onboard HMS Sceptre on November 6th and soon devolved into a charged faceoff between the authorities and the sailors.  In a letter to the Admiralty, Pringle links the outbreak of mutiny aboard the ships of Table Bay directly to the uproar at Stephens’ court martial,

I have now to acquaint you for Their Lordships’ information that in ultimo a mutiny broke out on board the Ships of the Squadron returned from St. Helena, which was conducted by the Ringleaders in nearly the same manner as that in Simon’s Bay, and although on reading to the different Ships’ Crews the Proclamation the mutiny subsided for a time, yet it appeared on the trial of Captain Stephens… that the inclination to Riot of some of the Crews of the Squadron was not abated, for the Court was insulted in its exercise of its functions on the second day of the trial, and on its committing to prison the offender, the Mutiny again broke out with the utmost violence onboard the Sceptre, and being communicated to the Tremendous and the Rattlesnake, these ships continued in a state of tumult all the next day. 51

In addition to the Sceptre, Tremendous, and Rattlesnake, the Crescent was also involved in this second wave of mutiny.  Paralleling Spithead and the Nore, the authorities’ response to the mutiny at Table Bay was markedly different than that at Simon’s Bay.  Lady Anne Barnard recounts the escalating tensions in her journal,

…the troops were brought in from Camp… the Artillery drawn forwards, the Garrison had the hurry and melancholy appearance of preparation for a foe… the turbulence onboard the fleet increased every hour, the great number of Ships in the harbour doubled the danger, the mad crews might have seized them.  A decisive stroke to quell this became indispensably necessary…” 52

As opposed to amnesty, the Admiral issued two proclamations on successive days that threatened the mutineers with violent reprisal.  On November 8th, Pringle addressed the crews of the Sceptre, Tremendous, and Rattlesnake, offering them a period of two hours to give up “the Promoters of the Riots…” 53  The following day, he issued an even more aggressive warning to the Crescent, which though originally anchored off Robben Island, had been brought by her captain into Table Bay.  “I do hereby declare that if the Crew of H.M. Ship Crescent do not in the space of One Hour after the reading of this Proclamation deliver up the Promoters of the Present disturbance… I will declare the said Ship Crescent to be in a state of Rebellion, and Act on her accordingly.” 54

18th century illustration of Richard Parker (British sailor) about to be hanged for mutiny (Newgate Calendar)

18th century illustration of Richard Parker (British sailor) about to be hanged for mutiny (Newgate Calendar)

Pringle’s proclamations were quickly obeyed.  The sailors’ readiness in compliance was certainly due to the threat of bombardment from the shore, the ships at Table Bay “lying at anchor off the Amsterdam battery, within point blank shot.” 55  Just as at the Nore, the theater of court martial and execution was employed to regain order and control.  Though twenty-two men were “delivered up [as] the Ringleaders,” after standing trial for mutiny only four sailors, Daniel Chapman of the Sceptre, and Philip James, Richard Foot, and James Reese of the Tremendous, were put to death; three others received terms of imprisonment. 56  Interestingly, though Captain Stephens was ultimately acquitted in his court martial, he was not to serve in the Cape Squadron again. Instead of returning to duty, he was dispatched back to England to bear news of the events.  This reassignment shows a deft hand on the part of Pringle, where without overtly capitulating to the sailors, he managed to relieve the greatest point of tension. 57

There are definite spatial factors at play in determining why the Cape Colony authorities chose to appease one mutiny and assault the other.  The strategic positioning of the parties in Simon’s Bay rendered the town and its inhabitants more susceptible to attack from the ships than vice versa.  At Table Bay, artillery manned by Dundas’ troops had a clear shot out over the waters, whereas a month before at Simon’s Bay, troops and artillery had yet to be effectively deployed against the ships.  Also, Simon’s Bay was the location of the British forces’ initial incursion when attacking the Dutch in 1795, and possibly remained in the minds of those in charge as a point of strategic importance.

Furthermore, at Simon’s Bay, the Admiral became an unwilling guest of the delegates, incapable of leaving the Tremendous without risking physical escalation of the mutiny.  He was even impotent in the face of the ships putting to sea, as alluded to in Dundas’ letter to Governor Macartney on October 10th. 58   In the words of Lady Anne Barnard, “These terms I fancy woud not have been granted to the mutinists Had not the admiral been prisoner on board his own ship & with him most of the other officers… it was generally regretted that the ad: was obliged to give a general pardon as even the milder people here wishd the delegates had been made an Example of…” 59  In contrast, during the course of the Table Bay mutiny the Admiral was safe ashore, able to dictate his wishes to the sailors without fear of bodily harm.

There was also the additional threat of the sailors’ discontent spreading to the army, as alluded to by Lady Anne and confirmed by Dundas’ encampment of the army at Rondebosch during the interim between the two mutinies.  Moreover, the naval mutiny had the potential to impact the local inhabitants as well.  Lady Anne writes in her journal of Earl Macartney’s decision to dispatch Andrew Barnard to Stellenbosch, “to enforce an oath of allegiance on the boors, a dozen of them refuse to take it, their obstinancy increases with the spirit of mutiny in our Navy…” 60

Regardless of factors like strategic positioning, or the potential for the spread of dissatisfaction from the navy to those on land, key players like Major-General Dundas and Earl Macartney still possessed a somewhat patronizing view of the sailors, their motives and their demands.  Macartney’s dismissal of the sailors as acting out of “mere wantonness” and “vanity” underplays the significance and the real peril of the events, as does Dundas’ purported belief that “talking them round calmly” andnot minding their nonsense” would be enough to resolve the situation.  Writing on the last day of the Simon’s Bay mutiny, Dundas exclaimed, “I really think the seamen begin to be sensible of their delusion…” 61  echoing the words and sentiment of Pitt’s speech to Parliament concerning the mutineers at the Nore.  This is even more disturbing considering that all parties had knowledge of the mutinies occurring in England in advance of the unrest at the Cape.  Even Admiral Pringle, who seemed most open to accepting some of the sailors’ grievances as valid, missed the opportunity to end the trouble before it began.  Lady Anne writes of Pringle’s hesitance, stating,

I see Mutiny is a plague which spreads rapidly when once it breaks forth, we supposed here that our Sailors would make the requisitions which have been conceded to at home, and some wise persons who had the good of the Navy and of the Admiral at heart suggested to him whether it might not be well to grant them similar indulgences unasked;… but Admiral Pringle growled sadly at this, he would do nothing without a positive instruction from the Admiralty, its silence was only taking grounds to find fault with him62

Throughout the course of the mutinies those in a position of authority aimed to maintain or reestablish the balance of power that was lost.  This was even more necessary considering the remoteness and tactical significance of the location.  Acting as agents of the King and government, but without their immediate support or direction, Macartney, Pringle, and Dundas would want to give an impression of dominance, accord, and even a controlled benevolence, when dealing with the sailors and when communicating news of the events back to the Admiralty and Home Office.  They would want to report of an affair summarily concluded.

This need to maintain prestige, not only locally, but also in the eyes of their superiors in England, was perhaps one of the greatest contributing factors to their seeming aloofness or lack of empathy towards the sailors.  Moreover, recognition of the sailors’ complaints as valid, and honoring their rights to make those complaints, would in turn cast criticism back on those in charge.  Far easier to dismiss the sailors’ issues as “nonsense,” or to dismiss the sailors themselves as “poor, infatuated… unprepared wretches!… Young, Spirited!… mistaken… misled…” 63

The Forecastle Culture and the Tripartite Sailor: Local, Translocal, and Nautical

Lady Anne attested that when the Arniston arrived in late August, it brought something more than just news.  In a letter to War Secretary Henry Dundas, a close personal friend, she wrote, “‘there is plainly a fashion in everything in this world – the English mutiny of course has sett the fashion here and we have had a swinging mutiny of our own at Simmons viz False Bay – delegates from the malcontents at home came out, it appears in the Arniston…” 64  In another letter, she goes even further, describing the men involved in the Simon’s and Table Bay mutinies as “blind agents of Blind agents of french miscreants.” 65

Simplistic though it may be, her verdict not only reflects that of the British authorities, it is strikingly similar to the efforts of later historians to deflect authorship of the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore onto outside parties.  As counterpoint, there is the description of professional sailors by N.A.M. Rodger, as “predominately literate, often surprisingly well educated, especially in languages, which they picked up on their travels, and in mathematics…” 66  This depiction is corroborated somewhat by the sailors’ ability aboard each mutinous ship to find at least one person who could clearly and effectively articulate their demands to those in power, sometimes with great eloquence.

The seamen possessed an alternate form of knowledge or an alternate culture that was less understood or appreciated than the sheer power of their labor.  Even the writer Richard Braithwaite, used as a foil by Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh in The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, conceded that despite the sailor being a “necessary instrument,” “the sea hath taught him other rhetoric.” 67   According to Rediker and Linebaugh, Braithwaite “knew that sailors were essential to English expansion, commerce, and the mercantilist state.  He knew, moreover, that they had ways of their own—their own language, storytelling, and solidarity.” 68

These ways of their own, the forecastle culture of the sailor,  is the legacy of a coming together of various peoples and ethnicities, social and historical influences, and a vigorous cross-pollination between merchant and navy.  The British sailor was, to borrow a term from David Featherstone, a “translocal character,” 69  exposed to different cultures and modes of thought from ship to ship, crew to crew, and port to port contact.  This is a basic reality of participation in the vast and complex maritime commercial networks that drove the era and the Empire, networks in which both Royal Navy and British merchant sailors played a part.

In contrast to Featherstone’s primacy of the translocal, 70  the sailor was actually a translocal and a local character, also shaped by homegrown trends of thinking about his self and his rights.  N.A.M. Rodger locates much of the symbolism and technique employed in the 1797 mutinies as being rooted in English tradition, writing,

All the seamen’s methods of organization – red flags, oaths, delegates, committees – can be traced to merchant seamen’s disputes of the eighteenth century or earlier. Many assertions about their rights come, not only from Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, but also from their seventeenth-century democratic inheritance: the Commonwealth republican navy, collectivism of the Diggers and Levellers in the New Model Army, and the 1688 bloodless revolution. 71

Sailors were also thalassological 72  or nautical beings, exposed to a seafaring ethos that transcended any particular locale or origin point, but instead derived from the unique physical landscape of life on or near the sea.  Fundamentally, the sailing ship was an exceedingly collaborative environment.  Designed to master or at least meet the physical challenges of movement over water, it was a complex machine driven by manpower, dependent on coordination and cooperation to function.  The ability to organize and act in concert was literally built into almost every facet of life and labor,  “something inherent in the nature of seafaring, and common to ships and seamen everywhere.  It owed almost nothing to the authority of officers, and almost everything to the collective understanding of the seamen.  A ship at sea under sail depended utterly on disciplined teamwork…” 73

From the mid-18th century onwards, the divisional system was employed aboard the ships of the Royal Navy as a means of fostering “greater efficiency and closer control.” 74   However, there were more informal systems of grouping that far predated this; from the gun crew to the sailor’s mess, to division by labor or task, the men were broken into confederacies from which a sense of solidarity was formed.  Younger, less experienced crew members were known to instinctively respect and follow the lead of older, more seasoned sailors.

Furthermore, the well-documented history of sailors striking or rioting to resist wage reduction and impressment should not be downplayed. 75   Rediker and Linebaugh saw sailors as “prime movers in the cycle of rebellion” due to their agitations on land, participating in labor strikes and public riots, as well as on board the ship through collective protest over working and living conditions. 76   While the political nature of the average sailor most likely falls between the two extremes of naïf and “prime mover,” with some members of the shipboard community more radical, and others more conservative, here is an image of the sailor that is the inverse of the verdicts rendered by the authorities and early historians.  With the potential to be overtly political, an instigator and actor in his own right, this sailor has ties not only to his country of origin or employment, but also ties to a greater maritime culture which operates outside the spatial bounds of country and locale.

Most importantly, there is ample evidence that the act of bringing grievances to their superiors and taking action when those grievances went unmet was nothing new to the sailors of the Royal Navy.  N.A.M. Rodger, in his coverage of the navy during the mid-18th century, describes a world in which petitions were common, redress was frequent, and mutiny was understood, by the sailors and by those in a position of command, as a necessary “safety-valve,” and thusly “a means of safeguarding the essential stability of the shipboard society, not of destroying it.” 77

However, the world of ship petitions and safety valves of the mid 18th century was fundamentally different from the reality of the Royal Navy in 1797.  England in the late 18th century was witness to a growing consciousness of class and class differences, heightened by the palpable repercussions of the American and French Revolutions.  The war with Revolutionary France not only meant a war against an enemy and her allies abroad, but an increasingly politicized, and repressive climate at home, one that had a definite impact on the world at sea. 78  For Royal Navy officers, this translated into a fear that once acceptable means of dissent on the part of their sailors could now lead to something far more serious, and this fear played out in their reactions.  Petitions and other forms of airing grievances became less and less acceptable; as time honored forms of permissible protest were quashed, the “safety valve” was slowly wrenched shut. 79   Historian Jonathan Neale writes that during this time of flux, “On one level, neither officers nor men knew what would happen next in any confrontation.  On another level, after the French Revolution neither side knew what the ultimate consequences of any mutiny would be.” 80

It can be argued that the French Revolution instilled in sailors “a feeling of their rights as men, and just as importantly it broadened their horizons.” 81  Military historian Leonard Smith takes this idea one step further, introducing a novel concept of the French citizen-soldier that implies from the moment of the French Revolution onwards, the soldiers and sailors of France were living embodiments of the philosophy and principles of the revolution. 82  By the process of cultural exchange that comes with the fluid, interconnected nature of a life at sea, and the influx and outflow of prisoners that accompanies war, there is no doubt that British sailors not only fought against, but also intermingled with the citizen-sailors of France, and in the process were influenced by their ideas.  A similar argument can be made for the impact of the American Revolution and the ideas of the United Irishmen, who would go on to organize a rebellion against the English a year later.

However, the focus here is on potential ideas, how they shaped sailors’ worldviews and moved them to action, and not so much on specific individuals. The best research done so far into individual sailor’s memberships in radical political organizations is in Philip MacDougall’s chapter on mutiny in the North Sea Squadron.  MacDougall confirms the existence of certain sailors’ memberships in Corresponding Societies, but also some individual’s links to the United Irishman. 83   While there is no doubt there were many Irish, and some United Irishman in the Royal Navy during this time period, it is not until the Irish Rebellion of 1798 that we see definitive evidence of Irish sailors revolting aboard ship for this particular end. 84

The Sailor in His Own Words

As evidenced, the inspiration for the actions taken during the mass mutinies of 1797 can potentially be located within a dynamic mixture of influences.  The sailor is an active assemblage, and not something fixed or inert, operating in a space that defies the traditional conception of country or empire, a space of shared behaviors, shared living conditions, and shared needs and values.  Mining the missives of the Cape squadron might allow for a better understanding of what was necessary and important to the average sailor of the Royal Navy, revealing more clearly systems of belief and motivations for action.

Chief amongst the Cape sailors’ demands were their complaints against officers.  For the crew of the Rattlesnake, inconsistency in punishment was a concern.  They wrote, “We are likewise Resolved Not to Bear under the Affliction any longer their have Been so Mutch Whiping and Starting at the Will of Arbitrary command Whitch is not good Disciplined…” 85  For the Imperieuse, one officer “rendered himself disliked by a most Haughty and Contemptuous manner in carrying on his Duty, often using harsh and abusive language when not deserved, and we had every reason to think that had he been on Good Terms with a Superior Officer he would be a Terror to a Ship’s Company.” 86   On the Star, a reputation for bad behavior alone was enough to warrant expulsion, “The Master Robert M’Carty which has lately been made Out of the Trusty, and we had but little Trial of at present, but he bore such an Infamous Character In that Ship, that we thought proper to turn him on shore.” 87

On the Rattlesnake, additional examples of ill conduct were given against specific individuals.  Lieutenant Syms was faulted for being “full of Pride, Arbitrary Command, and degrading Speeches,” while the Boatswain’s Mate, Mr. Stewart, was accused of devising punishments of a particularly cruel and bizarre nature:

We have had One Man by the Command of an Officer, to ride the Spanker Boom at Sea, with a Hand Swab for a Whip, others by the same Officer have had a Boatswain’s Handspike lashed across their shoulders and their arms extended at full length with a Twelve Pound Shot hung at each end.  This was nothing to another mode of Punishment that took place by the Command of the same Officer, that is to sling a Hoop horizontally, and hang it perpendicularly to the Mizzen Stay, called Two Men that done their Duty as Cooks in the Ship, seized their Left Arms to the Hoop and presented each with a piece of Rope Inch and Half, or Two Inch, Directly ordered to frap, or Damn you I will… 88

The expressions used by the seamen at the Simon’s Bay mutiny to condemn their delinquent officers are extremely evocative.  Phrases such as “tyranny,” “oppression” and “oppressive,” “fraudulent,” and perhaps most intriguingly, “usage” a word synonymous with “treatment,” were all frequently employed.  Several of the ships decried bad or ill usage, or aspired to good or better usage.  The rumor of ill usage was additional motivation for one ship to stand behind another in action.  Crewmembers of the Tremendous wrote, “Throu out the fleet good Euzage must be… as other Ships as Mad application to us we must see them Righted Every ship in the Fleet must be Eused like men…” 89

An emphasis on proper usage is one way that the Cape sailors’ understanding of their deserved rights was made manifest in their letters to the authorities.  This notion of rights and fair treatment was not unique to the Cape sailors, but rather echoes language used by mutineers back in England.  As part of his analysis of the ships of the North Sea squadron, historian Philip MacDougall analyzed letters sent out by sailors to their families during the course of the Nore mutiny; in one a sailor writes of “a vast quantity of ships there sticking out for their rights and wages.” 90   In another, a sailor insists, “Dear friends, we poor solders and sellers want nothing more than to be used well.” 91

Moreover, the concerns over issues that fall under the category of “ship’s biscuits and arrears of pay,” as well as the inappropriate conduct of officers, also reveal a distinct commonsense conception of fairness.  The Cape sailors craved fairness in victualling, fairness in the distribution, weighing, and accounting of provisions, fairness in payment when healthy or sick, fairness in the disbursement of prize money, as well as fairness in punishment, mandate, and equipment provided.  For example, the men of the Star declared, “We think it is requisite that the People that goes a Wooding should be allowed Shoes by the Purser and not have them charged to their Wages.” 92

Almost all of the ships involved in the Simon’s Bay mutiny complained of short measures in addition to poor quality or a lack of ingredients; though there seemed to be a general understanding and therefore a forgiveness of the poor provisioning due to the remoteness of the locale, on the other, there was a distinct lack of empathy for short weights and measures and dishonest pursers.  While the crew of the Imperieuse says of their need for more rice and better quality meat and bread, “but we are inclined to think the Commander in Chief cannot at all times remedy the defects of these last two articles,” they go on to state plainly, “The Gallon was found a half pint short, and the smaller measures lacked in proportion…It is the unanimous opinion of the Ship’s Company that the Purser’s conduct towards them have hitherto been fraudulent, that the same regard the Company has for the supplies in his charge…” 93

There is also a firm assertion of the need for respect in the officer/sailor relationship that comes through in the letters, as well as a demand for consistent adherence to set rules of conduct.  The Articles of War were understood to be a behavioral contract, but while most often applied to the men before the mast, the sailors also saw it as pertaining to the officers that led them. 94   This notion of reciprocity is underscored by the sailors’ repeated critique of arbitrariness or tyranny on the part of the officers.  The men of the Rattlesnake charged, “We have been Oppressed by young and unexperienced Officers, who had learned to Command before they had learned obedience.” 95   Royal Navy seamen expected to be punished for offences; this was part of the forecastle culture.  However, they could not sanction what they saw as abuse of power, or a deviation from expected modes of punishment.  The behavior on the part of Mr. Stewart and Lt. Syms on the Rattlesnake was as suspect for its flagrant cruelty as for its deviation from acceptable forms.  In the words of the crew, “We allow Laws to Punish, but no Tyrants to bear His Majesty’s Commission.” 96

The envisioning of the Articles of War as a reciprocal contract is further emphasized by the critique of Captain Stephens given by the crew of the Tremendous.  They took particular umbrage against his regularly reading to them a set of orders that was different from the standard Articles of War.  The men’s fears for the repercussions of allowing a Captain to write his own rule book, no matter how closely allied in spirit or tone with the Articles of War, was that it “opens a wide field for fraud” depending on the temperament or caprice of the Captain. 97   By devising and formalizing a system of rules that, though similar, is not to the letter the same as the Articles of War, Captain Stephens broke a perceived code of conduct and risked usurping the authority of the English government.  His crew firmly stated that “they are Humbly of opinion that no Authority whatever has a Right to impose new Laws on them except that of the British legislature…” 98  Here we see a subtle argument which not only decries deviation from the Articles of War, but also points to an additional sense of rights rooted in English citizenship, one which is reinforced by a letter from the Rattlesnake,

“We the lawfull and true Born Subjects of Great Britain Serving as Loyal Subjects for our king Church and State have been abused harassed and unconssistant and against the Civil order and Humanity of the laws of our Country the which we as one Man agree to fight In his Defence and in the Defence of the United Kingdoms that he Ruleth By a Good and Just Law that have been from our Ancestors… 85

Their equivalents at Spithead and the Nore also embraced the common themes of deserved and undeserved treatment, as well as a notion of rights that was defined by accepted codes of conduct and an evolving vision of English manhood and nationality.  At Spithead, the sailors began one of their petitions to the Admiralty with the following lines:

My Lords, We, the seamen of His Majesty’s navy, take the liberty of addressing your Lordships in an humble petition, shewing the many hardships and oppressions we have laboured under for many years…  We, your petitioners, do not boast of our good services for any other purpose than that of putting your and the nation in mind of the respect due to us, nor do we ever intend to deviate from our former character… 100

The most famous missive of the Nore, while reiterating the desire for fair and equitable treatment, also bore genuine revolutionary overtones:

Shall we, who in the battle’s sanguinary rage, confound, terrify and subdue your proudest foe, guard your coasts from invasion, your children from slaughter, and your lands from pillage—be the footballs and shuttlecocks of a set of tyrants who derive from us alone their honours, their titles, and their fortunes?  No, the Age of Reason has at length revolved.  Long have we been endeavoring to find ourselves men.  We now find ourselves so.  We will be treated as such. 101

The same revolutionary temper, wherein a concept of rights and fair treatment is directly linked to a rising up against tyranny, is echoed in the words of the crew of the Rattlesnake during the Cape mutinies,

We accost you with the joyfull Account of our having Canvassed our Grievances amongst each other, and finds that the Majority of us are determined to bring the Usurpers of our Rights to a just account of their future Transactions, and make or Compel them to render us justice and better usage in the future, having long laboured under their Yoke… 102


When studied in depth, the auxiliary mutinies at the Cape offer graspable details of both the explicit and implicit rules of the world in which the sailor lived and operated in, and the particular systems of values and rights born of that world.  The men engaged in the making of mutiny at the Cape were by no means the “blind agents of Blind agents” that Lady Anne Barnard described, nor were they suffering from any kind of delusion as Major-General Dundas had hoped.  Instead, they had real grievances and a genuine sense of what their rights were as men, as Royal Navy sailors, and as English citizens, and how those rights had been violated.  In their protests for better provisioning, fairness in compensation, a more consistent relationship with officers and a more consistent meting out of punishment, lie specific ideas of what constitutes equitable treatment, and notions of manhood and citizenship influenced by both the political revolutions abroad as well as more homegrown cultural legacies.  The sailors of the Cape Squadron acted not only in defense of their own rights, but also in solidarity with their compatriots in the Royal Navy stationed across the globe, wanting above all else for “Every ship in the Fleet must be Eused like men…” 89

(Return to July 2015 Table of Contents)

AFunk bio picAllison Funk received her B.A. from Bard College and her M.A. in History from Northeastern University.  She is currently pursuing research on mutiny and troop insubordination.  In addition to a focus on the social and cultural history of warfare on land and at sea, she has a professional background in museum theory, collections care and management.


A88, Earl Macartney Papers, selected letters from boxes 45-221, University of Witwatersrand Library, Historical Papers Archives, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Barnard, Lady Anne (Dr. A.M. Lewin Robinson, ed.) The Letters of Lady Anne Barnard, Written to Henry Dundas From the Cape of Good Hope 1793-1803, together with her Journal of a tour into the interior from Cape Town to beyond Swellendam. Cape Town: A.A. Balkema, 1973.

Barrow, John. An Account of Travels into the Interior of South Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798.  London: A. Strahan, 1801.

Barrow, John. An Autobiographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart., Late of the Admiralty; including Reflections, Observations, and Reminiscences at Home and Aboard, From Early Life to Advanced Age. London: John Murray, 1847.

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  1. Title is from “Enclosure A, Letter dropped on the Quarterdeck of the Tremendous on the 7th of October,” reprinted in George McCall Theal, ed., Records of the Cape Colony, December 1796 to December 1799. Vol. II,  (London: William Clowes and Sons Ltd., Printed for the Government of the Cape Colony, 1898), 161-162.
  2. MS 52/2 “George Macartney to Henry Dundas, War Office, London, Private, November 13, 1797,” in Maurice Boucher and Nigel Penn, ed., Britain at the Cape: 1795 to 1803, (Houghton, South Africa: The Brenthurst Press, 1992), 189-190.
  3. Asef Bayat, “A Street Named Revolution,” in Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009), 167.
  4. N.A.M. Rodger writes, “It is customary to speak of two great naval mutinies, at Spithead and the Nore, but would be more accurate to distinguish four – the first and second Spithead mutinies, the Nore mutiny, and the mutiny of the North Sea squadron off Yarmouth which subsequently joined the Nore mutiny.” N.A.M. Rodger, “Mutiny or subversion? Spithead and the Nore,” in Thomas Bartlett et al, 1798: A Bicentenary Perspective, (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003), 550.
  5. For estimates of the numbers of ships and men involved in the mutinies at Spithead and Nore, see Ann Veronica Coats and Philip MacDougall, The Naval Mutinies of 1797: Unity and Perseverance, (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2011), Table 1.2, 32, and James Dugan, The Great Mutiny, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1965), Appendix III, “British Naval Vessels Controlled by Delegates of the Fleet in 1797: from Admiralty Records,” 476-478. 
  6. Sailors cited the inequality in frequency of pay increases between the services, and claimed that not since the reign of Charles II, over 100 years prior, had they received a raise in pay. Conrad Gill, The Naval Mutinies of 1797, (Manchester: Sherratt & Hughes, Publishers to the University of Manchester, 1913), Appendix A, “From the Defence to the Admiralty,” 359-360. Over the course of the mutinies, the sailors’ preliminary demand of a pay raise blossomed into a variety of requests for improved conditions, such as better and more provisions, improved treatment and compensation for the sick and wounded, increased opportunities for liberty, and the removal of certain officers.  Gill, Appendix A, “From the Delegates to the Admiralty, 18 April,” 362-364; Gill, Appendix A, “The ‘Total and Final Answer’ of the Seamen (22 April),” 373-374; Manwaring and Dobree, 85-86, 109-112; Dugan, 166-167; Coats and MacDougall, 26-27.
  7. Coats and MacDougall, 24-25.
  8. Red flags signified going into battle; used by mutineers, the “bloody flag” was a sign of defiance. Coats and MacDougall, 49; G. E. Manwaring and Bonamy Dobree, The Floating Republic: An Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797, (Yorkshire: Pen & Sword, 1935/2004), 37-38. 
  9. Sailors convicted of serious crimes were hanged from the yardarm of the ship.  The mutineers’ hanging of ropes from the yards symbolized the continuance of law and order aboard the ships during the mutinies.  Manwaring and Dobree, 39; Dugan, 97.
  10. Richard Parker, a professional sailor and quota man, was the most notorious of the Nore mutineers eventually sentenced to death.  A figurehead of the mutiny and referred to as the “President,” his actual role in leading the mutineers is uncertain.  Parker was convicted by court martial and hanged aboard H.M.S. Sandwich on June 30th, 1797. Manwaring and Dobree, Appendix IV, “Notes for the Life of Richard Parker,” 269-271; See also: Memoirs of Richard Parker, the mutineer: together with an account at large of his trial by Court Martial, defence, sentence, and execution and a narrative of the mutiny at The Nore and Sheerness. (Gale ECCO, Print Editions, 2010).
  11. William Pitt, “The Mutiny in the Fleet, June 2, 1797” in The War Speeches of William Pitt the Younger, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940), 192-193.
  12. E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, (New York: Vintage Books, 1966),168.
  13. Richard Braithwaite, quoted in Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 143. 
  14. William Neale, Conrad Gill, G.E. Manwaring and Bonamy Dobree, and James Dugan all centered their analysis on the pivotal role of the quota man.  See William Johnson Neale. History of the mutiny at Spithead and the Nore: with an enquiry into its origin and treatment: and suggestions for the prevention of future discontent in the Royal Navy, (London: T. Tegg. 1842), 8-9, 400; Gill, 311-312; Manwaring and Dobree, 15; Dugan, 63.  However, a review of existing research and source material supports the argument that despite a distinct bias against quota men in the existing scholarship, the evidence that they are criminals, troublemakers, or even poor sailors doesn’t hold up to careful scrutiny. Coats and MacDougall, 236-237. See also: N.A.M. Rodger, Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649-1815, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 444.  There is also a lack of evidence, when reviewing the muster books and comparing them to the lists of delegates, that shows quota men as having played a leadership role. Coats and MacDougall, 15. For more on the institution of the Quota Acts, see Rodger, Command of the Ocean, 443-444.  See Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, 152-157, for a brief history of the LCS.
  15. Ann Veronica Coats, editor of The Naval Mutinies of 1797: Unity and Perseverance perhaps says it best in her attack on the idea that the sailors had to be led to act, writing, “This insulting view of the majority of seamen misrepresented the true significance of the Spithead mutiny: that long-serving seamen, part of the social and political milieu of the 1790s, could successfully organize and execute a collective action.” Coats and MacDougall, 21.
  16. Jonathan Neale, “Forecastle and Quarterdeck: Protest, Discipline and Mutiny in the Royal Navy, 1793-1814,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Warwick, 1990), 38.
  17. In contrast with Simon’s Bay, almost no examples of the sailors’ demands during the Table Bay mutiny were kept by the authorities, rendering these men mute by default.  The letters of the Simon’s Bay sailors will unfortunately have to speak for all of the men stationed at the Cape in this analysis.
  18. P.J. Marshall, ed., The Oxford History of the British Empire Vol. II, The Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 12.  In using this term, Marshall is referencing T. H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776”, Journal of British Studies, XXV (1986), 467-499.
  19. Marshall, 14.
  20. Alan Lester, Imperial Networks: Creating Identities in Nineteenth-Century South Africa and Britain, (London:Routledge, 2001), 6.
  21. Leonard Monteath Thompson, A History of South Africa, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 52.
  22. “Letter from the War Office to the Earl of Macartney, October 10, 1797,” RCC II, 160. 
  23. “Enclosure, A List of Ships and Vessels arrived in Simon’s Bay to the 27th of July 1797,” and “Copy, List of His Majesty’s Ships at the Cape of Good Hope in July 1797,” RCC II, 131.  See also, “Arrival of Ships,” RCC II, 219-220.
  24. “Letter from the Earl of Macartney to the Right Honorable Henry Dundas, Castle of Good Hope, October 13,” RCC II, 187; Arrival of Ships,” RCC II, 220; Lady Anne Barnard (Dr. A.M. Lewin Robinson, ed.), The Letters of Lady Anne Barnard, Written to Henry Dundas From the Cape of Good Hope 1793-1803, together with her Journal of a tour into the interior from Cape Town to beyond Swellendam, (Cape Town: A.A. Balkema, 1973), Letter 12, 67.  In her letter,                                                                            Lady Anne claims that news of the mutinies in England was heard first from a foreign merchant ship then officially confirmed by the Arniston.
  25. Rear Admiral Thomas Pringle, “Rear Admiral Thomas Pringle to Governor George Macartney, Tremendous, Simon’s Bay,” August 31, 1797, MS, A88/Box No: 45-136/Paper No: 135, George Macartney Papers, The Library, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  26. “Letter from Admiral Pringle to Evan Nepean, Esqre., Tremendous, Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope, 18th October, 1797,” RCC II, 161; “Enclosure L, The Suffolk’s Grievances at the Mutiny,”  RCC II, 177.  
  27. One additional ship can also be considered a factor in the outbreak of this mutiny.  Trouble on board the HMS Vindictive, anchored nearby in Table Bay, occurred on October 2nd; a letter passed between the crews of the Rattlesnake and the Tremendous makes direct reference to this incident’s relevance: “We have had A Bit of Disturbance in Table Bay As Well As the Vindictive for which as far as we can learn there is some Appointed to be Tried by a Court Martial we Cannot Affirm it for truth But if it should Come to That head it lieth in the Power of our Brothers On board H.M. Different Ships to Prevent it… if any Thing should happen on that Account the Signall will Be a Jackett at the Jibb Boom End then Answered with Three Cheers the Vindictive is Acquainted with it They also had the Same in hand.” “Enclosure B, Letters from the Rattlesnake produced by the Tremendous’s Ships’ Company when they mutinied on the 7th of October,” RCC II, 163. For additional mentions of the HMS Vindictive see, “Macartney to Dundas, October 13,” RCC II, 187.
  28. Historian Nicole Ulrich gives an excellent play by play of the sailors’ demands and the Admiral’s responses in her essay on the Simon’s and Table Bay mutinies. She is one of the only authors out there to tackle these mutinies specifically, and tries to draw connections between the sailors’ actions at sea and later dissent on land.  See Nicole Ulrich, “International Radicalism, Local Solidarities: The 1797 British Naval Mutinies in South African Waters,” International Review of Social History, FirstView Article, September 4, 2013, available on CJO2013. doi:10.1017/S0020859013000266, 12-18. 
  29. See footnote 6 for overview of demands made at Spithead and Nore.
  30. “Enclosure D, The Tremendous’s Grievances at the Mutiny,” in RCC II, 162-163, and “Enclosure M, General Statement of the Grievances complained of by the Different Ships Crews of the Squadron,” in RCC II, 177-179.
  31. Complaints against pursers were a common theme in these letters.  See “Enclosure D,” “Enclosure G, The Imperieuse’s Grievances at the Mutiny,” and “Enclosure H, The Braave’s Grievances at the Mutiny,” RCC II.
  32. “Enclosure M,” RCC II, 178.
  33. “’Enclosure A,’ RCC II, 161; Enclosure C, Reply of the Tremendous to the Rattlesnake,” RCC II, 163-164; Enclosure D,” 165-167; “Enclosure K, The Star’s Grievances at the Mutiny,” RCC II, 176; “Enclosure M,” RCC II, 177.
  34. “Enclosure A,” RCC II, 161.
  35. George Macartney, “Letter from Earl Macartney to Major-General Dundas, Castle of Good Hope,” October 7, 1797, MS, A88/137-221/149.
  36. Francis Dundas, “Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 9, 1797, MS, A88/137-221/153.
  37. Barnard, Letters, Letter 12, 68.
  38. A88/137-221/153.
  39. Francis Dundas, “Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,”October 9, 1797, 6AM, MS, A88/137-221/155.  Cap’n Stephens refers to Captain George Hopewell Stephens of the Tremendous.
  40. Francis Dundas,“Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 9, 1797, 4PM, MS, A88/137-221/156; Francis Dundas,“Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 9, 1797, 11PM, MS, A88/137-221/157.
  41. Francis Dundas,“Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 11, 1797, MS, A88/137-221/161.
  42. Francis Dundas,“Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 10, 1797, MS, A88/137-221/159.
  43. A88/137-221/159.
  44. A88/137-221/161.
  45. See note xxviii.
  46. A mention by Dundas in a letter to Earl Macartney and Lady Anne Barnard’s references to “the Stevens’” in her letters are some of the only existing evidence of the Rattlesnake’s Captain Steven’s also having been singled out for court martial. Francis Dundas,“Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 11, 1797, MS, A88/137-221/164; Barnard, Letters, Letter 13, 67, 71-73. 
  47. Francis Dundas,“Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 12, 1797, Noon, MS, A88/137-221/169.
  48. Thomas Pringle, “Rear-Admiral Thomas Pringle, Simon’s Bay, To the Respective Commanders and Commanding Officers of His Majesty’s ships and vessels in Simons and Table Bay,” October 11, 1797, MS, A88/137-221/165-166.
  49. George McCall Theal, ed., Records of the Cape Colony, February 1803 July 1806,Vol. V  (London: William Clowes and Sons Ltd., Printed for the Government of the Cape Colony, 1899), 38.
  50. Barnard, Letters, “Letter 13,” 73.  See also Lady Anne Barnard, (ed. A.M. Lewin Robinson) The Cape Journals of Lady Anne Barnard 1797-1798 (Cape Town: Van Riebeek Society, 1994), 226, and “Letter from the Earl of Macartney to the Right Honourable Henry Dundas, Castle of Good Hope, November 12, 1979” RCC II, 202.
  51. “Letter from Admiral Pringle to Even Nepean, Esquire, Tremendous, Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope, 27th, November 1797,” RCC II, 207.
  52. Barnard, Journal, 244.
  53. “Enclosure C, Proclamation,” RCC II, 210.
  54. “Enclosure D, Proclamation,” RCC II, 210.
  55. John Barrow, An Autobiographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart., Late of the Admiralty; including Reflections, Observations, and Reminiscences at Home and Aboard, From Early Life to Advanced Age, (London: John Murray, 1847), 219.
  56. “Letter from Admiral Pringle to Even Nepean, Esquire, Tremendous, Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope, 27th, November 1797,” RCC II, 208.  See also RCC V, 39-40.
  57. While Stephens was sent back to England, in is unclear from the source material reviewed what became of Captain Steven of the Rattlesnake.  While it is safe to assume that if he was brought to trial he would have been acquitted of all charges, it is uncertain as to whether he resumed command or was transferred elsewhere.
  58. A88/137-221/159, George Macartney Papers.
  59. Barnard, Letters, Letter 13, 73.
  60. Barnard, Journals, 241.
  61. Francis Dundas, “Letter from Major-General Dundas to Earl Macartney, Simon’s Town,” October 11, 1797, MS, A88/137-221/162.
  62. Barnard, Journals, 243.
  63. Barnard, Journals, 244-245.
  64. Barnard, Letters, Letter 12, 67.
  65. Barnard, Letters, Letter 14, 75.
  66. Rodger, Command of the Ocean, 212.
  67. Rediker and Linebaugh, 143.
  68. Rediker and Linebaugh,144.
  69. David Featherstone, “Counter-Insurgency, Subalternity and Spatial Relations: Interrogating Court Martial Narratives of the Nore Mutiny of 1797,” South African Historical Journal, 61:4 (2009),772.
  70. Featherstone, 774.
  71. Coats and MacDougall, 126; J. Neale, 38-39.
  72. From the Greek word thalassa, meaning sea, the term thalassological is used here to connote not just the reciprocal relationship between man and the sea, but a cultural force derived from close contact with the marine sphere.  For more information on thalassology and the “new thalassology” as trends in the practice of history and the subfield of maritime history, see Gelina Hafarlatis, “Maritime History or the History of thalassa,” in Gelina Harlaftis  et al, eds. The New Ways of History (London: IBD Tauris, 2009), 211-238.
  73. N.A.M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986), 207.
  74. Rodger, Wooden World, 217. “The principle of the divisional system was, and is, simply that each of the lieutenants should take charge of a division of the ship’s company… Under the lieutenants the midshipman were allocated subdivisions.  The warrant officers looked after their own departments, and the master’s mates mustered the seaman petty officers.” Rodger, Wooden World, 216.
  75. Coats and MacDougall, 43, 45, 46.
  76. Rediker and Linebaugh, 214.  For further examples of sailors’ strikes, see Joseph Price Moore III, “‘The Greatest Enormity that Prevails’: Direct Democracy and Works’ Self-Management in the British Naval Mutinies of 1797,” in Colin Howell and Richard Twomey, eds., Jack Tar in History: Essays in the History of Maritime Life and Labor, (Fredericton, New Brunswick: Acadiensis Press, 1991), 82-83.
  77. Rodger, Wooden World, 243-244.
  78. The Treason Trials and the suspension of habeas corpus in 1794, and the implementation of the Treasonable Act and Seditious Meetings Act in 1795 are examples of the atmosphere of repression and suspicion in England that predated the 1797 mutinies. For a detailed overview of the laws enacted and enforced by the British government to quell radicalism during the 1790s and related cases see Michael Lobban, “Treason, Sedition and the Radical Movement in the Age of the French Revolution,” Liverpool Law Review, 2000, Vol. 22, 2-3, 205-234. See also Chapter 5 of Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, 102-185.
  79. For more on the importance of “formal and informal machinery for addressing grievances.” see Christopher M. Bell and Bruce A. Elleman, ed., Naval Mutinies of the 20th Century: An International Perspective, (London: Frank Cass, 2003), 269.
  80. J. Neale, 49.
  81. J. Neale, 38.
  82. Leonard V. Smith, Between Mutiny and Obedience: The Case of the French Fifth Infantry Division During World War I, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), 8.
  83. Coats, 257-259. MacDougall also gives much credence to the escape of several groups of mutineers to France at the end of the Nore mutiny.
  84. Bartlett et al, 562. Several historians, Conrad Gill included, use as direct evidence of United Irishman involvement in the 1797 mutinies a proclamation written by Theobald Wolfe Tone (undated, but assumed to be 1796) that urges the Irish members of the fleet to rise up against England, seize the ships, and sail them to France. However, Tone himself wrote in his journal in the summer of 1797, “Five weeks, I believe six weeks, the English fleet was paralysed by the mutinies at Portsmouth, Plymouth and the Nore. The sea was open, and nothing to prevent both the Dutch and French fleets to put to sea. Well, nothing was ready; that precious opportunity, which we can never expect to return, was lost… Had we been in Ireland at the moment of the insurrection of the Nore, we should, beyond a doubt, have had at least that fleet, and God only knows the influence which such an event might have had on the whole British navy. The destiny of Europe might have been changed for ever; but, as I have already said, the great occasion is lost, and we must now do as well as we can.” Theobald Wolfe Tone, Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone, Volume II, edited by William Theobald Wolfe Tone (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1826), 427.
  85. “Enclosure B,” RCC II, 163.
  86. “Enclosure G” RCC II, 171.
  87. “Enclosure K,” RCC II, 176.
  88. “Enclosure J, The Rattlesnake’s Grievances at the Mutiny,” RCC, 174.
  89. “Enclosure A,” RCC, 161-162.
  90. The National Archive, Kew, PCI/38/122, Letter 13, “Seaman Joseph Thompson to the window Thompson of Yarmouth, 2 June, 1797,” quoted in Coats, 255.
  91. TNA, PCI/38/122, Letter 15, “Seaman William Roberts of Director to his wife Elizabeth Roberts, 2 June, 1797, Nore, quoted in Coats, 256.
  92. “Enclosure K,” RCC II, 177.
  93. “Enclosure G,” RCC II, 171-172.
  94. For full transcript of the 1749 Articles of War, see N.A.M. Rodger, Articles of War: The Statutes Which Governed Our Fighting Navies, 1661, 1749, and 1886, (Hampshire: Kenneth Mason, 1982), 21-34.  The sailors were not misled in their understanding.  Article XXXIII dealt specifically with “Scandalous, oppressive, or fraudulent Behavior of officers.” Rodger, Articles of War, 28.
  95. “Enclosure J,” RCC II, 174.
  96. “Enclosure J,” RCC II, 175.
  97. “Enclosure D,” RCC II, 166.
  98. “Enclosure D,” RCC II, 165.
  99. “Enclosure B,” RCC II, 163.
  100. Reprinted in Gill, “From the Delegates to the Admiralty, 18 April,” Appendix A, 362.
  101. Delegates of the Nore, as quoted in Gill, 301.
  102. “Enclosure B,” RCC II, 162.
  103. “Enclosure A,” RCC, 161-162.

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USS Kirk: Leadership Amidst Chaos, A Legacy of Survival

Abigail Wiest
Sacred Heart Catholic School
Hattiesburg, MS

I chose my topic of the U.S.S. Kirk because I had a deep interest in the fall of Saigon.  I had heard about this topic in class, and it instantly grabbed my attention. So, I proceeded to research the Kirk and its crew, and I realized that their unique story perfectly related to this year’s topic of leadership and legacy.

There were several aspects of conducting my research. I had done a reading fair project on a book about the Vietnam War, which began my fascination with the subject. After this, my class began another book on the Vietnam War detailing the fall of Saigon, and listened to a radio series about the U.S.S. Kirk, which helped my interest grow.  My next step was watching documentaries on the topic, visiting the online Texas Tech Archive, and accessing the U.S.S. Kirk website. These sources helped me further my knowledge about the Kirk and gave me vital information for my documentary.  In all of these sources, though, Vietnamese voices were largely absent.  Hoping to add the legacy of the survival of the Vietnamese refugees to the story of the Kirk, I worked through family contacts in the New Orleans Vietnamese community and located two of the major Vietnamese actors in the drama that was the fall of Saigon.  I was able to interview Colonel Toan Nguyen, who saved two families by flying his helicopter to the Kirk, and Captain Kiem Do, who led 30,000 South Vietnamese refugees to safety with the help of the crew of the Kirk.  These interviews were critical, original primary sources that completed the story of the Kirk and brought the entire project together.

I decided to present my research as a documentary because of my past experience with the technology as well as my passion for film making and film editing. I had created many films in the past, including advertisements for a 5k race, projects in class, and a state winning documentary for National History Day in 2014. These past experiences helped focus my project this year.  I also chose this category because I find it interesting and fulfilling to make history come alive on film.

My project relates to the topic of leadership and legacy in many ways. As Saigon fell, military leaders, exemplified by Captain Paul Jacobs and the crew of the Kirk, Colonel Toan Nguyen, and Captain Kiem Do, became humanitarian leaders.  The Kirk and its crew exhibited great leadership by helping save hundreds of South Vietnamese civilians aboard a swarm of helicopters in the middle of the South China Sea. Working with Captain Kiem Do, the Kirk next labored to save 30,000 people aboard a desperate South Vietnamese armada. Tens of thousands of survivors who went on to form vibrant Vietnamese expatriate communities across the United States stand as a living legacy and testament to the leadership of the crew of the U.S.S. Kirk.

Annotated Bibliography

Primary Sources


Do, Kiem. Author’s interview with Captain Kiem Do of the South Vietnamese Navy, who led a flotilla of ships carrying nearly 30,000 South Vietnamese refugees from Saigon as the city fell in 1975. 31 May 2015.

This interview that I was privileged to conduct with one of the main Vietnamese figures involved in the evacuation of Saigon gave me an invaluable primary source regarding the flight from Saigon, the role of the USS Kirk, and the legacy of war for the Vietnamese refugee community.

Doyle, Hugh. Interview with Chief Engineer of the USS Kirk. Web. 11 March, 2015.

This taped letter that Doyle sent home to his family provided a dramatic, first hand account of the landing of refugee helicopters aboard the USS Kirk that helped to make the desperation of the Vietnamese helicopter pilots more clear.

Jacobs, Paul. Interview with Captain of the USS Kirk. Web. 10 March, 2015.

This interview provided a dramatic, first hand account of the actions of the USS Kirk making clear the integral role of the captain in the story.

Nguyen, Nho and Nguyen, Ba. Interviews with two Vietnamese refugees rescued by the USS Kirk. Web. 12 March, 2015.

This interview with a Vietnamese refugee couple provided a valuable primary source that told the story of their rescue by the USS Kirk and of their subsequent refugee experience.

Nguyen, Toan. Author’s interview with Colonel Toan Nguyen of the South Vietnamese Air Force. 31 May 2015.

This interview that I conducted with Colonel Toan Nguyen, who flew one of the South Vietnamese helicopters that landed on the USS Kirk during the evacuation of Saigon, provided a primary source for the role of the USS Kirk in the evacuation of Saigon and of the drama of the events that took place at that time. It also provided key insight into the lives of the Vietnamese refugees.

Pham, Van. Author’s interview with one of the leaders of the New Orleans Vietnamese expatriate community. 31 May 2015.

This interview that I conducted with Van Pham, who fled South Vietnam at age 15 aboard a shrimp boat as Saigon fell, helped provide valuable context for the actions of the USS Kirk and of the experience of the fall of South Vietnam and later of life in the United States for members of the younger generation.

Sautter, Rick. Interview with Air Officer of the USS Kirk. Web. 11 March, 2015.

This interview provided a dramatic, first hand account of the actions of the USS Kirk with special emphasis on the landing of helicopters on the small flight deck.


The Saddest Day: 30 April 1975 (The Fall of Saigon). Web. 12 March 2015. Primary source film footage of the fall of Saigon and accessed on YouTube.

This source provided important footage and photos of the Vietnamese refugee experience utilized in the documentary and helped to provide valuable context for my National History Day documentary film.

Vietnam Saigon Evacuation. Web. 12 March, 2015. Film produced by Independent Television Network (UK) and accessed on YouTube.

This source provided valuable primary film footage and photos of the fall of Saigon used in the documentary that dealt especially well with the helicopter evacuation from Saigon.

Secondary Sources


Butler, David. The Fall of Saigon: Scenes from the Sudden End of a Long War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

This book contained a vivid, personal portrayal of the end of the war in Vietnam that helped to frame my research.

Herman, Jan. The Lucky Few: the Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk. Washington, DC: Naval Institute Press, 2013.

This book provided the background story that helped to initiate my research into the story of the USS Kirk for my documentary.

Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out and Back Again. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.

My history class read this book about the fall of Saigon and the Vietnamese refugee experience. It was reading this book that began my interest into the fate of Vietnamese refugees and began my work on this documentary.

Wiest, Andrew. The Vietnam War, 1956-1975. London: Osprey Press, 2014.

This book served as a general resource for facts on the Vietnam War for my documentary.


Last Days in Vietnam. Web. Film produced by PBS on the fall of South Vietnam and accessed on YouTube. May 2015.

This film provided important photos, and historical context that helped me to revise the documentary that I had already created for National History Day. It was an especially valuable source for film footage.

The Lucky Few: The Story of the USS Kirk. US Navy Medicine and Support Command. 2010.

This documentary on the story of the USS Kirk provided valuable background, film footage, and pictures for my own documentary on the subject. The film was among the first major sources produced on the USS Kirk and did much to reclaim what had been in many ways a forgotten story.


Anaheim Blog. Web. 20 May, 2015.

This site provided information and images on Janet Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American politician, which helped to provide valuable context regarding the successes of the Vietnamese community in the United States.

Fall of Saigon Bittersweet for Vietnamese Refugees. Web. 13 March, 2015.

This website, which included interviews with and pictures of Vietnamese refugees, helped me by providing information on the experience on the Vietnamese émigré community in the United States.

The Fall of Saigon Marines Association. Web. 14 March, 2015.

This site provided information and photographs documenting the fall of Saigon from the perspective of the United States Marines.

The Hero Pilot of Vietnam. Web. 10 March, 2015.

This article helped provide background information and photographs for the documentary, especially concerning the helicopter evacuation of civilians.

How to Steal a Navy and Save 30,000 Refugees. Web. 11 March, 2015.

This website contained valuable information on the role of the USS Kirk especially concerning the rescue of 32 South Vietnamese naval vessels.

Le Xuan Nhuan. Web. 22 May, 2015.

This site provided information and images concerning Le Xuan Nhuan, a Vietnamese-American poet and writer.

Mai Quinh. Web. 21 May, 2015.

This site provided photos of Maggie Q, a popular Vietnamese-American actress and star of Divergent.

NavSource Naval History: Photographic History of the US Navy. Web. 12 March, 2015.

This website provided several images of the USS Kirk, its memorabilia, and its crew, which were vital to the making of this documentary.

Ocean Doctor. Web. 22 May, 2015.

This website provided images of the Vietnamese community in the United States.

Refugee Sponsorship Training Program. Web. 21 May, 2015.

This website provided insight and images on the Vietnamese refugee population in North America.

Trung Tam Phat Giao Chua Viet Nam: Vietnam Buddhist Center. Web. 21 May, 2015.

This website provided information and photographs about the vibrant Vietnamese community in Sugar Land, Texas.

The USS Kirk: Valor at the Vietnam War’s End. Web. 10 March, 2015.

This website was invaluable to providing a host of information and images utilized in this documentary. It proved a special treasure trove of still photographs of the Kirk.

US Navy. Web. 21 May, 2015.

This site provided information on and photos of Commander H. B. Le, the Vietnamese-American commander of the USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer.

USS Kirk: Su hy sinh cua Hai Quan My cuu nguoi Viet ti nan. Web. 13 March, 2015.

Although I was unable to read most of this article, it provided context and especially pictures regarding the Vietnamese experience of the events surrounding the USS Kirk.

USS Kirk: The Untold Story. Web. 11 March, 2015.

This site serves as a central clearing house for information on the USS Kirk and for many personal stories provided by the veterans themselves. The information and pictures gained here were of central importance to my documentary.

Vietnamese New Year Celebrations. Web. 12 March, 2015.

This website provided important background on the Vietnamese community in New Orleans, a community in which many of the USS Kirk refugees reside.

Westminster Chamber of Commerce. Web. 23 May, 2015.

This site provided information and images concerning the largest Vietnamese community and memorial in the United States.

(Return to July 2015 Table of Contents)

AbigailAbigail Wiest is a student entering the 8th grade in Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Hattiesburg Mississippi.  A straight A student, Abigail has received many academic awards, including regional and state recognition in the Academic Competition for Excellence and the Duke TIP Program.  Abigail’s documentary “USS Kirk: Leadership Amidst Chaos, A Legacy of Survival” took first place honors in the National History Day competition in Mississippi.

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