Strategic Logic of the American “Pivot to the Pacific”

William Kyle
University of Mary Washington, Class of 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)


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  57. Bernard K. Gordon, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Rise of China.”, (November 7, 2011), (accessed December 1, 2012).
  58. John O’Callaghan and Manuel Mogato, “The U.S. Military Pivot to Asia: When Bases are Not Bases,” (November 14, 2012),,0,1426868.story (accessed November 26, 2012).
  59. United States Department of Defense, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” (January 5, 2012), (accessed December 1, 2012); Department of Defense, “Joint Operational Access Concept,” (January 17, 2012), (accessed December 1, 2012).
  60. Luke Hunt, “U.S. Increasing Military Presence in the Philippines,” The Diplomat (December 18, 2012), (accessed December 30, 2012); Brendan Nicholson, “Chinese Invited to Naval Exercise,” (February 4, 2013), (accessed February 11, 2013); Jim Wolf, “Analysis: U.S. Arms Sales to Asia Set to Boom on Pacific ‘Pivot,’” (January 1, 2013) (accessed March 7, 2013); Ward Carroll, “Army Reorganizing with Eye on Pacific Pivot,” (October 24, 2012) (accessed December 30, 2012); Randy J. Forbes, “America’s Pacific Air-Sea Battle Vision,” The Diplomat (March 8, 2012) (accessed August 14, 2012).
  61. Jonathan Greenert, “Sea Change: The Navy Pivots to Asia,”, November 14, 2012, (accessed November 20, 2012).
  62. Richard Jayad Heydarian, “U.S. Pivot Sparks Asian Arms Race.” Asia Times Online (January 17, 2013) (accessed March 6, 2013);

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

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

Brent Powers
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy


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

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

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

The Submarine Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons for Today

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

Night Naval Battles at Guadalcanal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons for Today

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


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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

Review by Timothy G. Lynch
SUNY Maritime College

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

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

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

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

Review by Joseph Moretz
British Commission for Military History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Joseph Moretz
British Commission for Military History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Howard J. Fuller
University of Wolverhampton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

Review by John M. Jennings
United States Air Force Academy

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Kaitlin Sadler
University of Mary Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 (Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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View from the Quarterdeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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The Warrior’s Influence Abroad: The American Civil War

By Howard J. Fuller
University of Wolverhampton

Quite simply, the Warrior altered the course of the American Civil War.

HMS Warrior NH 52524

HMS Warrior in drydock during her 1872-1875 refit. NHHC image NH 52524.

This isn’t something that’s made its way into the history books—literally thousands of them, more and more, when it comes to the great ‘turning point’ in American (and possibly world) history, as it’s often described. 1  For while the Warrior is still stately and afloat after 150 years, and many across the Atlantic now commemorate the Civil War’s own sesquicentennial, the stories of both, together, have been kept rigidly compartmentalized. There is American history, or there is British history; Civil War or Imperial history; diplomatic or naval history. The lines rarely cross, still. Should we continue to blame the ocean?

Yet the assertion above is understandably obscure because, on the surface at least, it’s entirely counterfactual. Great Britain never openly intervened in the American conflict—despite many close calls and temptations. The Royal Navy did not unleash its mighty ironclad champion upon the (presumably) Northern States. Nor did the Union Navy even attempt to challenge Britain’s mastery of the seas which the Warrior represented; instead, its own frontrunner, the U.S.S. Monitor, was little more than a gunboat and was herself finally mastered by the sea, on 31 December, 1862, taking down a quarter of her crew. And while President Abraham Lincoln mourned the loss, neither he nor the Department of the Navy pined for an equally gigantic, American Warrior to replace her. The ‘War Between the States’ was predominantly a brown-water affair whose chief strategic lines of communication, supply and invasion were along a generally shallow, treacherous coastline, and up and down winding riverways. As naval historian Donald Canney has argued, in the wider context of the Industrial Revolution as well as the turbulent scene in America, “the reflection of these world technological developments was distorted: capital ships such as the revolutionary British Warrior of 1860 did not play a significant part.” 2

So how did something which didn’t happen make a decisive impact upon everything else?  This is also one of the comparatively unspoken, and difficult, truths of history. Andrew Lambert’s study of H.M.S. Warrior offers the point-blank sobriquet of ‘Victoria’s Ironclad Deterrent’. Here it doesn’t matter the battles actually fought but those prevented—in a rational calculation of opposing strengths and weaknesses as a recurring feature of modern international relations. It’s then left to the historian (American, British, military, political) to reconstruct from a variety of artefacts, clues and sources a complex causal chain of events.


Our story begins in the press. The first printed descriptions of the Warrior were soon complimented by those amazing woodcut illustrations of Victorian greats like The Illustrated London News. Circulation took weeks, not minutes like today, to reach the far corners of the world by ship; but the news was nonetheless global and perhaps even more valuable—because it was a precious commodity—than now. As Lincoln exclaimed to famed Times correspondent William Howard Russell, “The London Times is one of the greatest powers in the world—in fact I don’t know anything which has much more power—except perhaps the Mississippi.” 3   1860 was a peculiar junction in the evolution of the ‘media’. Telegraph technology was available, though not quite yet on a trans-oceanic or continental scale. Likewise, while photography had advanced from the daguerreotype to the tintype process it did not mass-produce well. This left accounts of Britain’s revolutionary new iron war-behemoth, next to recent constructions like the Great Eastern, at the discretion of artists on the one hand and the imagination of readers on the other. In the mid-Victorian era bigger was better; a hallmark of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Anything seemed possible, and when it came to men-of-war, it seemed almost fitting to unleash a bold new design-concept, as the Industrial Revolution reached its zenith, which could literally traverse the wide breadth of the Queen’s empire, in every corner of the globe. The Warrior could go anywhere. She was more than a cruiser, even more than a battleship in her own way; she was Noah’s Ark, the dawn of a new world of British naval supremacy. Everything rested upon her long iron beams and steady Penn trunk engines. As such, when the weekly graphics depicted her under construction she was already larger-than-life, already a legend in the making. In fact it seems the artists settled on a distortion of some 25% bigger than reality (either that, or the Warrior in these illustrations was built by dwarves.) 4

It didn’t matter that the proportions were all wrong. The Admiralty knew better, so did Thames Shipbuilding. What was important is that the popular conception of Warrior mirificus was not only imbedded in the mind’s-eye of Britannia, it was exported worldwide. Thus, when Scientific American relayed the news to its many lay and professional subscribers, it immediately attached the warning cry that “owing to our inefficient navy, we cannot afford sufficient protection to American citizens engaged in commerce in various parts of the world… At present we have not a single first class war steamer—one that can compete with the most recently built French and British ones…we mean the iron-cased war wolves.”  Warrior had slipped into the Thames less than two weeks before, and already the alarm had gone up across the Atlantic that England’s newfound strength (or “terrific power”) must suddenly imply everyone else’s weakness. Of course this was wrong; the U.S. Navy had yet to devise any cheap and easy response that realistically countered the threat of war with a maritime titan. Writing from the newly-built but sail-only sloop U.S.S. Constellation in 1856, one officer urged ordnance expert and gun designer Commander John A. Dahlgren to rearm ships with short-range guns only—for fighting “night actions, always”. Now, America’s engineering intelligentsia shrieked how “a whole fleet of unplated vessels are completely at the mercy of one of the new iron-plated ships”, while the much more popular Harper’s Weekly headlined the “Revolution in Naval Warfare” with a half-page reprint of a British woodcut of the Warrior’s launch. 5

HMS Warrior NH 59569

Launching of HMS Warrior, from Harper’s Weekly, 9 Feb. 1861. NHHC image NH 59569


In the midst of this crisis of confidence, Abraham Lincoln, the new Republican Party candidate, was elected President, triggering the great Secession Crisis of the United States. Within three months (and before Lincoln even took office) seven of these formed their own ‘Confederacy’. Here, neither frantic political party negotiations nor Lincoln’s own considerable bargaining skills proved capable of stemming an avalanche generations in the making. Civil war was imminent. North America might not be a matter of ‘Manifest Destiny’ after all; a continental-scale power under one government. Instead, there could be several, rival republics, some free-soil, some slave-holding—and all perennially armed. Not only would America become like Europe, the Great Powers themselves would surely get involved. The nature of the new global economy by the mid-19th century meant that a war over the fate of North America affected everyone’s ‘interests’. The trans-Atlantic trading relationship was the most lucrative in the world, in history even, and any disruption of that would hardly be offset by an appeal to American nationalism or ‘Union’ (the North) over Southern independence. When the decision to blockade the entire rebel Confederate coastline finally issued from the White House, on 19 April, 1861, everyone in the Northern States knew who would be affected as much as the South: Great Britain. And while Queen Victoria’s own Proclamation of Neutrality angered many confused and embarrassed Yankees who expected moral support if nothing else, the blockade would take months, if not years, to be considered legally ‘effective’ as far as foreign powers were concerned. British recognition of the Confederate States would meanwhile “be British intervention, to create within our territory a hostile state by overthrowing this Republic itself,” wrote Secretary of State William H. Seward. And intervention would mean a world war “between the European and the American branches of the British race.” 6

It did not take long—if it was not simultaneous—for the dread spectre of British intervention in the American Civil War to assume the shape of HMS Warrior. And if the thought of this one warship, as a national icon of British naval and imperial power, haunted Lincoln’s cabinet (and gave heart to that of Confederate President Jefferson Davis 7 ), it also gave rise to the Union’s great response—in the form of the U.S.S. Monitor. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the Monitor would have been born without the Warrior’s influence.

Years before, Swedish-born inventor-engineer John Ericsson had devised his ‘sub-aquatic system of warfare’ for the Allied powers during the Crimean War. Though the Russian navy was largely bottled up before St. Petersburg, neither the British nor French were confident of their ability to overcome the combined defences of Cronstadt, guarding the seaward approach to the enemy capital. Stone forts were still stronger than wooden hulls. Ericsson’s plan called for a specialized steamer, screw-propelled and wholly armoured, with only a shallow raft mounting a revolving iron dome visible above the waterline. Inside this “impregnable globe” would be guns of the heaviest known calibre and capable of inflicting singular knock-out blows. Armed with such a vessel, Ericsson suggested to Emperor Napoleon III, gauntlets could be run with relative safety, and “A fleet at anchor might be fired and put in a sinking condition before enabled to get under way.”  Alas for steam blockships—and “for the ‘wooden walls that formerly ruled the waves!’ ” 8   The French, however, bombarded with a stream of plans (some more ill-informed than others) of how to decisively ‘win the war in a single day’, kept the idea of iron armour plating and steam propulsion generally and rejected John Ericsson specifically. Under the guidance of their own Ministry of Marine, shallow-drafted ‘batteries’ were constructed which could deliver a conventional broadside at fairly close quarters against shore fortifications. At the very least these might suppress counter-fire while a general bombardment rattled the defenders and troop landings took them from the rear. Iron might thus neutralize granite. At Kinburn (17 October, 1855) the results were remarkable; the French armoured batteries took amazing punishment yet performed well. Britain was building iron batteries of her own, along with a whole new Brown Water flotilla of gunboats and mortar vessels which suddenly shifted the seat of war back to the Baltic, even as Sevastopol finally fell to the bitter Allied siege in the Crimea. Ericsson accordingly tucked his proposal away and returned to other ventures. On 29 August, 1861 he was drafting a letter to President Lincoln ‘offering his services’.

Now the goal was rooting out Confederate warships guarded by land batteries—particularly the captured remains of the steam-frigate Merrimack at Norfolk, Virginia, which the rebels were known to be converting into a formidable iron-plated monster. Ericsson sought “no emolument of any kind”; he was rich enough on various engine patents and seems to have been caught up in the patriotic tide sweeping the North after the humiliating defeat at 1st Bull Run (21 July, 1861). He was also canny enough to mention in closing the “now well-established fact that steel clad vessels” could not be stopped by forts, and that New York City was “quite at the mercy of such intruders, and may at any moment be laid in ruins…” If Britain or France ever did challenge the Union blockade and enter the war, Ericsson reminded Lincoln, only his weapons-system held the key to “crushing the sides” of their ironclads “regardless of Armstrong guns” 9 .

American Civil War history leaves this letter out; indeed Ericsson never sent it. Perhaps he sensed that it would be lost in another flood of half-baked ideas from mostly under-qualified engineers and inexperienced inventors, patriotic or not. Nor could he go the customary route of pitching it to navy professionals; he was in the midst of a long-standing feud with many of them for the disastrous explosion of the ‘Peacemaker’ gun aboard the screw-propelled warship which he had designed and built in 1843, the U.S.S. Princeton. Instead, as the well-told story goes, he was drawn into the public bids for ironclad steamers (which Congress had advertised for earlier that August, 1861) by Cornelius Bushnell—who wanted the famed engineer to double-check the stability of his own submission. While performing the necessary calculations, Ericsson pulled out the dusty cardboard mock-up of his strange cupola vessel. It was nowhere near as predictable as Bushnell’s soon-to-be U.S.S. Galena. But his colleague immediately recognised a potential alternative to broadside-ironclads, and a deadly response to European powers. On Ericsson’s behalf he presented the model personally to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and then his Assistant, Gustavus Vasa Fox, announcing the President “need not further worry about foreign interference; I [have] discovered the means of perfect protection.”  Lincoln himself later whimsically added to the Ironclad Board reviewing Ericsson’s plans, “All I have to say is what the girl said when she put her foot into the stocking: ‘It strikes me there’s something in it.’ ” 10

NH 50954 USS Monitor

USS Monitor general plan published in 1862, showing the ship’s inboard profile, plan view below the upper deck and hull cross sections through the engine and boiler spaces. NHHC image NH 50954.


If this extraordinary man-of-war was first approved and contracted for in the two-tone shadow of a threat, one Confederate and the other European, then it was certainly in the harsh light of the Trent Affair—within a fortnight of her keel being laid—that she actually found a name. Nothing roused Britannia’s ire more than the brazen capture of two Southern emissaries aboard the British packet steamer by a Yankee cruiser, on 8 November, 1861. Anglo-American tensions were already at the breaking point since the Civil War began; the blockade, the Queen’s Neutrality, the highly protectionist Morrill Tariff, and the apparently open-ended duration of the conflict itself had sparked an increasingly acrimonious press war with Columbia even harsher than that of Northand South. Both English-speaking halves of the mid-Victorian era accused the other of arrogance and ignorance and both were probably right.

Only one side, though, had the muscle to ram home its point at that precise moment. This was a brutal lesson which Lincoln painfully recognised by Christmas, when he quietly released the two Confederates back into British custody. Far less subtle was Harper’s Weekly in its cartoon of 11 January, 1862, which depicted John Bull’s menacing new henchman wearing a suit of armour, and labelled ‘Warrior’—a connotation Lord Palmerston fully supported even before the crisis erupted. In a letter earlier that summer to the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Duke of Somerset, the Prime Minister urged that both the Warrior and her sister-ship Black Prince be sent to the American station as soon as they were completed:  “Their going could produce no bad Impression here, and depend upon it as to Impression in the United States the Yankees will be violent and threatening in Proportion to our local weakness and civil and pacific in Proportion to our increasing local strength.” 11   The unintended side-effect of all this realpolitik and ‘deterrence’ was how it sharply focused the Union’s need for an ironclad defender of its own. “The impregnable and aggressive character of this structure”, wrote Ericsson immediately following the Trent Affair, “will admonish the leaders of the Southern Rebellion that the batteries on the banks of their rivers will no longer present barriers to the entrance of the Union forces”:

The iron-clad intruder will thus prove a severe monitor to those leaders.

But there are other leaders who will also be startled and admonished by the booming of the guns from the impregnable iron turret: “Downing Street” will hardly view with indifference this last “Yankee notion,” this monitor. To the Lords of the Admiralty the new craft will be a monitor, suggesting doubts as to the propriety of completing those four steel ships at three and a half million apiece.

On these and many similar grounds, I propose to name the new battery Monitor. 12

Here too, the history books tend to overlook the role the British Warrior played in not only making the American Monitor but popularising that whole class of warship until it nearly lost the war for the Northern states. In his seminal 1933 work, The Introduction of the Ironclad Warship, James Baxter traces the overriding influence of Ericsson’s original ‘Monitor’ prototype in the fateful, decision-making days between August and December, 1861—three months before that warship duelled the Confederate Virginia (the Merrimack) to a standstill at Hampton Roads, Virginia (9 March, 1862). Not only did the U.S. Navy Department—and Gustavus Fox in particular—prefer traditional ocean-going frigates on the general plan of Britain’s Warrior, if not the French Gloire, but the Bureau of Ship Construction & Repair had its own scheme of a multi-‘cupola’ vessel in the works. Both ideas, however, required solid 4½-inch armour plating which had to be largely manufactured abroad and imported. Had the Trent Crisis not occurred during this interval, the Union’s ironclad navy during the Civil War might very well have had a different face, with a different outcome to the entire conflict.

Furthermore, it took the much more ominous threat at this time of a potential duel with the Warrior, or a similar vessel illicitly contracted for use by the Confederate States Navy, to underscore the need for a light-draft, ironclad-killing ironclad with an emphasis on sheer impregnability and hard-hitting ‘monster’ guns—even at the direct expense of long-range sea-keeping, or cruising. Neither the Bureau’s own turret vessel or indeed any broadside-armed ironclad conceived of, under construction or actually launched in the world by the beginning of 1862 was as purpose-driven (if not single-minded) as the ‘Ericsson Battery’, as it was being called in the Northern press reports. The Warrior helped give the Monitor focus, and helped the latter swerve Union naval policy towards counter-deterrence—or coastal defence—first, and coastal assault—against the Confederacy—second. As Baxter recounts, Ericsson had already provided the Secretary of the Navy with plans for an improved monitor (the Passaic-class), with thicker turret armour and to be armed with even larger smoothbores; 15-inch of 21 tons, and firing a solid shot of 450lbs., rather than the 11-inch Dahlgrens fitting on his battery in New York. Shortly afterwards, Union agents confirmed that “both the Home Office and the Admiralty, with a most delicate sense of the obligations of neutrality, which the British government did not invariably exhibit during this war, deemed the manufacture of armor plates for sale to the United States government illegal.” 13

The problem was that the Monitor, like all early ironclads, was expected to fulfil a variety of frequently ‘urgent’ yet conflicting roles. In her strict capacity as a man-of-war she successfully dominated American coastal waters, starting with the Battle of Hampton Roads. When news of this action reached Britain, in the spring of 1862, a wave of popular critical reaction swept over Whitehall. It was only by pointing out the Brown Water-limits of the Monitor, as a continental gunboat fighting in a civil war and not as a Blue Water-cruiser patrolling a global, maritime empire, that Palmerston in the Commons, and Somerset in the House of Lords were able to defer any serious lack of public confidence in national defence by sea. Privately, Old Pam had his misgivings about the “Pasteboard ends” of the Warrior being “knocked to shivers: the underwater compartments filled with water, everything above waterline smashed to Fragments; the Centre Box laying like a dog on the water, sunk several feet below the water line.”  During the Trent Crisis “the only Danger” he could conceive from the Union Navy “would arise from their having armed their vessels with very heavy guns throwing large Shells, and being therefore Gun for Gun probably stronger than ours of similar classes.”  The Warrior and her sisters he assumed would “checkmate” these. 14   Now the Monitor altered the equation again. “Only think of our position”, warned the Foreign Secretary, Lord Russell, to Palmerston, “if in case of the Yankees turning upon us they should by means of iron ships they should renew the triumphs they achieved in 1812-13 by means of superior size and weight of metal.” 15   But neither was the British government about to invest in ironclad ‘batteries’ rather than the controversial new harbour and coastal fortifications Palmerston had already insisted upon to neutralise the growing pretensions of Napoleon III. Given their littoral limits—particularly their limited coal bunkerage—monitors could hardly be expected to guard distant imperial frontiers either. 16

Thus, when talk turned to possible intervention, in the autumn of 1862 (following news of the Battle of Antietam on 17 September, and President Lincoln’s subsequent Proclamation of Emancipation to all the slaves in the Confederacy), the strategic problem of the Monitor and her sisters under construction in the North seriously complicated the idea of war with the United States. During the previous December, Britain was ready to single-handedly “iron the smile out of their face”, as expressed by Secretary of State for War Sir George Cornewall Lewis. By the following October, nothing less than a unified European front of five major Powers would be required, Russell finally admitted, to insure that Washington would not go through with its standing threat of war if Europe recognised the Confederacy. 17

The Northern press, as could be expected, took no end of pleasure from this reaction to the Monitor overseas. Scientific American reversed its previous insistence upon ocean-going Warriors and declared the Monitor more of the new ideal. “Practical men” in America saw revolving gun turrets “applied to any war vessel, no matter how large or fast she may be”; while “the designers and constructors of iron-clad vessels in England have committed a great mistake in building their frigates with too great a draft of water.”  Harper’s Weekly depicted the Monitor literally lecturing foreign powers how to build proper ironclad warships, showing up Johnny Bull in the proverbial contest of toy boats on ponds, and forcing the British Lion to change its tune over possible intervention. 18   It seemed, in those golden days and weeks following her debut, that anything indeed was possible.

In fact, the Monitor was capable of achieving very little—especially against forts. On 15 May, 1862, she attempted to force her way up the James River and place the Confederate capital of Richmond under her guns. A handful of cannon on the river bluffs, offering plunging fire, combined with obstructions blocking the river, were enough to drive off the Monitor, and leave her companion ironclad—Bushnell’s Galena—riddled with holes and casualties. Yet despite her commanding officer’s misgivings, Fox insisted that the newer monitors, in sufficient numbers, might smash their way into even the most heavily-guarded ports of the South. Hotbeds of rebel defiance, namely Charleston, South Carolina, would then be left with the stark choice of surrender or bombardment. This might have worked, had not the Confederates recognised that mines (or ‘torpedoes’) combined with forts and obstructions, were often enough to out-scare the enemy in his terrible new engines-of-war. Even Ericsson had his doubts; he had never promised an iron ship which could out-gun a stone fort—or even an earthwork. Turret ships might deliver 15-inch guns through gauntlets and sink any enemy warship, armoured or not, which they encountered. But they were just as susceptible to underwater threats as the Warrior, and much more prone to sinking like a stone if actually damaged, having little reserve buoyancy.

USS New Ironsides NH 61431

USS New Ironsides (left) and USS Monadnock (1864-1874) (right foreground) Engraving published in “Harper’s Weekly”, 3 February 1866 as part of a larger print entitled “The Iron-clad Navy of the United States. Text printed below the image is in error concerning the date of New Ironsides’ launch, which actually took place on 10 May 1862. NHHC image NH 61431.

What the Union Navy actually needed in its combined operations against Charleston were more broadside-ironclads like the U.S.S. New Ironsides, drawing 16-feet of water, if not the Warrior, drawing 26. At the very least, a half a dozen iron-armoured steam-batteries like those employed by France during the Crimean War might have likewise overpowered forts Wagner, Moultrie and Sumter, while the channel obstructions were swept and Union firepower was finally brandished before the ‘Heart of Rebeldom’. 19   Then again, how the New Ironsides’ 11-inch Dahlgrens would have fared against the sloping 4½-inch armour of the Confederate ironclads lurking in the inner harbour was another matter. Soon the beleaguered city was laying down another ‘Ram’, the Columbia, to be armoured with 6-inches of plating. Perhaps this fateful, strategic dichotomy was best summed up by Union Rear-Admiral David Porter at the close of the Civil War, during the massive combined operations against Fort Fisher, North Carolina (23 December, 1864 – 15 January, 1865):

The [double-turret monitor] Monadnock is capable of crossing the ocean alone (when her compasses are once adjusted properly), and could destroy any vessel in the French or British navy, lay their towns under contribution, and return again (provided she could pick up coal) without fear of being followed. She could certainly clear any harbor on our coast of blockaders in case we were at war with a foreign power…  Compared with the Ironsides, [the monitors’] fire is very slow, and not at all calculated to silence heavy batteries, which require a rapid and continuous fire to drive men from the guns; but they are famous coadjutors in a fight, and put in the heavy blows which tell on casemates and bombproofs. 20

Veteran ironclad Union Captain John Rodgers also felt that “the Monitor class and the Ironsides class are different weapons, each having peculiar advantages; both needed to an iron-clad navy, both needed in war”; while Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren, commanding the blockade squadron before Charleston, asked “What other style of vessel could the department have chosen?  Certainly none that has been built by English or French naval authorities. The Warrior and her class are exceedingly powerful, but could not get within gunshot here.” 21

As a result, those Confederate ironclad-rams which ventured out to challenge monitors were routinely forced to retire or surrender within minutes. The London Times demurred that these examples were hardly comparable; rebel casemates employed laminated armour plates—though inclined at least 45° to the horizon—and the latest experimental Armstrong guns would have accomplished even more in less time. This was the crucial factor, as Punch satirised; for if the Civil War in America continued much longer, ‘Mrs. North’ was going to have to fire her ‘Attorney’, Mr. Lincoln, and “put the case into other hands” in the November 1864 presidential election. But these complaints were more directed to the Admiralty apparently dithering on the concept of a sea-going turret-ship in the first case, and to chastising stubborn Yankees in the second. At any rate, the American Army & Navy Journal responded that “those iron-clads which the Times has handled so severely, the Monitor Monadnock among the rest, are intended for coast and harbor defense. It is not proposed to send these vessels after the Bellerophons or Minotaurs, but at the same time it may not be prudent to send these unwieldy craft after them.” 22

The United States had clearly gotten over its initial anxiety of the Warrior. This was, the New York Herald proclaimed, the inevitable triumph of ‘Yankee Genius’. 23

The Civil War, however, continued anyway.


This article has briefly described how the Warrior not only influenced decision-making in shipbuilding design and the formulation of naval policy abroad, but how those choices affected the conduct of battles, campaigns and even diplomacy. Following news of the Battle of Hampton Roads in London, the U.S. ambassador, Charles Francis Adams, wistfully observed:

In December we were told that we should be swept from the ocean in a moment, and all our ports would be taken. They do not talk so now. So far as this may have a good effect to secure peace on both sides it is good… 24

The Union’s historic response to the Warrior was indeed the Monitor, a weapons-platform concept far in advance of her contemporaries, including the idea of the man-of-war as nearly self-automated ‘machine’. For their part, British naval authorities were intrigued by the idea, but never fully sold. By the beginning of 1865, the Controller of the Navy, Rear Admiral Robert Spencer Robinson, warned Somerset and Sir Frederick Grey, the First Sea Lord, that “The Northern States would suffer little material injury by hostilities with Great Britain”, and that “very little damage it is apprehended could be done by Great Britain to the coastal towns of America by hostile operations. They are well defended now by land fortifications and the war with the South has called into existence a large fleet of vessels adapted for purposes of defence.” 25   On the other hand, American ironclads could hardly threaten the British Isles directly, though the menace to British interests on the North American and West Indian Station was serious. This effectively pulled the rug out from under much of Britain’s offensive-deterrence stance; protecting the land frontier of Canada by threatening the eastern seaboard of the United States. 26   Ironically enough, however, the outbreak of civil war in America so completely consumed much of the attention of the White House, that Seward’s wild suggestion of invading Canada as a desperate means of uniting North and South was quickly dismissed by Lincoln, while the merest hint of aggression—offered more by the British press than British foreign policy—was likewise enough to keep the Warrior safely anchored in Portsmouth, not off the approaches to New York City.

So completely obsessed was the mid-Victorian generation with ‘inventions’—with technology and ‘wonder weapons’—that ironclad revolutions like the Warrior or the Monitor were much more about their potency as floating symbols of propaganda and prestige. The real truths were much harder to capture and convey in contemporary newsprint, trans-Atlantic rumours and a myriad of semi-professional ‘opinions’. The real source of Warrior’s power was, after all, in everything that went into her construction, and everything that kept her fully operational, year-round, the world-over if need be. Thus, within a week of Robinson’s dour prognostication above, a first-hand, detailed report by U.S. Navy Chief Engineer J. W. King on the “dock yards and iron works of Great Britain and France” was so crushing that Welles ordered no less than a 1,000 copies of it to be printed for circulation to members of Congress. 27   “We have neither such dock-yards as are to be found in England and France, nor such a collection of iron ship building yards as there is in Great Britain; the combined capabilities of all the iron yards within our limits not being equal to the first of the great iron ship building yards on the river Thames.” 28   If America truly wanted to forge ahead as a leading maritime and naval power, it would take advantage of the brief yet crucial respite which the monitors had gained for the Union while it was at war with itself and commence a first-class government shipyard (in the manner of Chatham by 1865) at League Island, Philadelphia for the manufacture and maintenance of a Blue-Water Iron Navy. This didn’t happen until 1871, and American pre-eminence wasn’t firmly established until the Second World War finally called forth history’s greatest mobilisation of human and natural resources; a process above and beyond the creation of any fearful—yet ephemeral—war-winning ‘silver bullets’.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)


  1. “The central event in the American historical consciousness”, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009), xxiii.
  2. Donald L. Canney, The Old Steam Navy, Volume Two: The Ironclads, 1842-1885 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1993), 1.
  3. From Ian F. W. Beckett, The War Correspondents: The American Civil War (London: Grange Books, 1997), 1. Christopher Hibbert notes that by 1863, “well over 300,000 copies were being sold” of the Illustrated London News alone—more than four times the circulation of The Times; The Illustrated London News Social History of Victorian Britain (London: Book Club Associates, 1976), 13.
  4. See George A. Ballard (edited by G. A. Osborn and N. A. M. Rodger), The Black Battlefleet: A Study of the Capital Ship in Transition (London: Nautical Publishing Co., Lymington & the Society for Nautical Research, Greenwich, 1980), 42.
  5. 12 January, 1861, Scientific American, “New War Steamers”; 7 June, 1856, B. S. Porter to Dahlgren, John A. Dahlgren Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C.; 25-2-1861, Scientific American, “Altering Our Naval Vessels”; 9 February, 1861, Harper’s Weekly.
  6. 21 May, 1861, Seward to Charles Francis Adams, from George E. Baker (ed.), The Works of William Seward, 5 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1884), 5: 244-5.
  7. See for example, 2 December, 1861, A. Dudley Mann to Robert M. T. Hunter (Confederate Secretary of State), Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series II, Vol. 3, 307.
  8. See 26 September, 1854, Ericsson to Napoleon III, John Ericsson Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C.
  9. 29 August, 1861, Ericsson to Lincoln, John Ericsson Papers, American-Swedish Historical Foundation, Philadelphia.
  10. See James Tertius DeKay, Monitor: The Story of the Legendary Civil War Ironclad and the Man Whose Invention Changed the Course of History (Pimlico: Random House, 1999), 73-6.
  11. 23 June, 1861, Palmerston to Somerset, Somerset Papers (Edward Adolphus Seymour, 12th Duke of Somerset), Buckinghamshire Record Office, Aylesbury (UK).
  12. 20 January, 1862, Ericsson to Fox, quoted from John Ericsson, Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition (New York: Nation Press, 1876), 465-6.
  13. James Phinney Baxter 3rd, The Introduction of the Ironclad Warship (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933), 283.
  14. 27 March, 1861; 28 December, 1861; 6 December, 1861, Palmerston to Somerset, Somerset Papers.
  15. 31 March, 1862, Russell to Palmerston, Palmerston Papers (Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount), MS 62 (“Broadlands”), University of Southampton, Southampton (UK).
  16. See for example, Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, 3rd Series, Vol. 166, 3 April 1862, 430-44.
  17. 5 December, 1861, Sir George Cornewall Lewis to Edward Twisleton, from Gilbert Frankland Lewis (ed.), Letters of the Right Hon. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Bart. to Various Friends (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1870), 406; 24 October, 1862, Russell to Palmerston, Palmerston Papers.
  18. 8 November, 1862, and 11 October, 1862, Scientific American; 10 May, 1862, and 31 May, 1862, Harper’s Weekly.
  19. Arguably, the most successful Union ironclads of the Civil War were the lightly-armoured casemate-gunboats of the Cairo-class, or ‘Pook’s Turtles’. These light-draft, partially-protected vessels spearheaded combined operations in the Western theatre of the war and helped ‘cut the Confederacy in two’. They were, however, as Rear-Admiral David Porter wrote to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “built for temporary purposes only, or until monitors could take their places.”  Against “earthworks on elevated positions”, “No vessels have been more successful than the Mississippi gunboats…Still they were deficient in one aspect, as they were very vulnerable, suffered a good deal, and proved that in the end the monitor principle, from its invulnerability, was the only thing that could be safely depended on,” 16 February, 1864, see the Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 2nd Session, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy”, Appendix, 549-52.
  20. 15 January, 1865, Porter to Welles, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol. 11, 600-2.
  21. 7 April, 1864, Rodgers to Welles; and 28 January, 1864, Dahlgren to Welles, in Report of the Secretary of the Navy in Relation to Armored Vessels (Washington, GPO, 1864), 592-4; 579-88.
  22. 26 September, 1864, London Times; 24 September, 1864, Punch, or the London Charivari, “Mrs. North and Her Attorney”; 18 March, 1865, Army & Navy Journal.
  23. 3 November, 1864, New York Herald.
  24. 4 April, 1862, Charles Francis Adams to Charles Francis Adams, Jr., from Worthington Chauncey Ford (ed.), A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861-1865, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920), 1:123.
  25. 9 January, 1865, Robinson to Board of Admiralty, British National Archives (Kew), ADM 1/5931. The alternative of building “a new navy for the lakes of Canada”, Somerset commented in an enclosed note dated 1 January, 1865, “could hardly be undertaken without the direct sanction of Parliament,” and would “only mislead the Canadian government as to the extent of aid which this country would give them.”
  26. See for example, Kenneth Bourne’s work on Britain and the Balance of Power in North America, 1815-1908 (London: Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., 1967).
  27. 16 January, 1865, Welles to A. H. Rice (Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs), U.S. National Archives, Record Group 45, Entry 5.
  28. See the Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 2nd Session, “Report of the Secretary of the Navy”, enclosure No. 18, 1216-59.
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Two Captains, Two Regimes: Benjamin Franklin Tilley and Richard Phillips Leary, America’s Pacific Island Commanders, 1899-1901

By Diana L. Ahmad
Missouri University of Science and Technology

PH-30 - Benjamin Franklin Tilley - Polynesian Photo Archives

Captain Benjamin Franklin Tilley. Image PH-30 , courtesy Polynesian Photo Archives, The Dwyer Collection, Feleti Barstow Public Library, American Samoa

By 1900, with the acquisition of Guam in Micronesia and eastern Samoa in Polynesia, the United States had successfully expanded its borders into the Pacific Ocean. The Department of the Navy ruled these islands for fifty years and assigned Commander Benjamin F. Tilley to eastern Samoa and Captain Richard P. Leary to Guam as the first American officials. 1 Tilley worked with the islanders to secure their traditional culture and lands, while simultaneously developing a kinship with the Samoans that is still celebrated. Leary, on the other hand, sent his second in command to work with the people, while he remained aloof, longed to return to the mainland, and is rarely remembered. The straightforward, law-abiding governor of Guam left the island in less than a year with nary a person bidding him farewell, while the controversial governor of American Samoa left Samoans longing for his return.

The acquisition of the islands resulted from diplomacy and war. A prize of the Spanish-American War, along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines, the Treaty of Paris awarded Guam to the United States and American sovereignty began in April 1899. 2  For eastern Samoa, soon called American Samoa, the United States annexed the islands as a result of the Convention of 1899, a diplomatic agreement whereby the Germans, British, and Americans split Samoa into two sections giving western Samoa to Germany, eastern Samoa to the United States, and awarding special considerations elsewhere in the Pacific to the British. 3

Commander Tilley and Captain Leary graduated from the United States Naval Academy, where Captain Leary ranked in the bottom twenty percent of his 1864 graduating class of fifty, and Commander Tilley graduated at the top of his 1867 class of eighty-seven. While Tilley was too young to participate in the Civil War, Leary served in a blockading squadron off Charleston, South Carolina, during the conflict. Both men served as line officers on vessels in the Pacific during the 1870s and 1880s. Neither man possessed much experience with civil government. 4   The men would soon face similar challenges in running civil governments and controlling the naval stations on their respective islands.

Captain Richard P Leary USN

Captain Richard P Leary USN. Special Collections & Archives Department, Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy.

Conveniently located for coal burning vessels, Guam and American Samoa possessed excellent harbors vital to the Navy and commercial shipping. The American takeover of Tutuila gave the United States what many considered the most valuable harbor in the South Pacific, Pago Pago, and provided the Navy with the only inhabited American possession south of the equator. Tilley described Pago Pago as “one of the most beautiful and valuable harbors in the whole world,” with an importance that grew with the possibility of a Central American isthmian canal. Tilley also noted that Tutuila’s harbor was much safer than that at Apia, Upolu, in German Western Samoa, where an 1889 typhoon killed over one hundred people and destroyed or severely damaged six naval vessels. 5   Guam, located on the seven thousand mile route between San Francisco and the now American city of Manila in the Philippines, possessed Apra Harbor, a significant anchorage for naval and merchant vessels alike. In 1899, Ensign C. L. Poor noted that Guam’s “naval and military value will increase every year, and it will be of the greatest possible service to us in our future relations in the Pacific.” 6

The takeover of the islands came quickly and with little thought for the future of the territories. President William McKinley issued executive orders that established a legal basis for the governments of Guam and American Samoa and allowed the United States Navy to appoint officers to take control of the islands. In neither case were the islanders consulted about their futures; instead, Commander Tilley and Captain Leary determined those. On January 12, 1899, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long appointed Captain Leary as the first American Governor of Guam and Commandant of United States Naval Station—Guam. Arriving on August 7, 1899, Leary ended nearly four hundred years of Spanish rule and a fourteen month period of confusion between the initial American takeover of the island during the war and his arrival. Secretary Long ordered Leary to maintain Spanish laws for the time being and develop a benevolent relationship with the islanders. 7

As for Samoa, Commander Tilley learned of his new responsibilities on April 4, 1900, while at Apia. Already assigned to Tutuila to oversee the construction of a wharf and coaling station at Pago Pago Harbor, Tilley was a convenient first choice as the new ruler of the islands. He immediately arranged for the cession of Tutuila and several subsidiary islands, an act permitted by the Convention of 1899 and the American belief in manifest destiny. Secretary Long ordered Tilley to take care of the eastern Samoan islands in the name of the United States, to establish a naval station at Tutuila, and to develop a cordial relationship with the Samoan people. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Charles H. Allen, invested Tilley “with authority over the islands in the group embraced within the limits of the Station,” and instructed him to “exercise care to conciliate and cultivate friendly relations with the natives.”  Allen also ordered Tilley to establish “a simple, straightforward method of administration, such as to win and hold the confidence of the people….” 8   One of the most significant differences between the situations of Leary and Tilley was the Spanish rule over Guam. Samoa had never been ruled by Europeans, although since the 1840s the islands had dealt with European and American involvement in a dispute over who should be the next king of the archipelago. In that regard, Tilley was luckier as he did not have to deal with a well-entrenched European government structure; however, he worked within a strict Samoan one that had operated for centuries. Tilley established a civil government from its roots, while Leary changed the existing European government-style to fit the American way of doing things.

Relations between Europeans and Americans with the Samoans began in the early eighteenth century with the voyage of Jacob Roggeveen from the Netherlands and followed shortly after with the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Although neither explorer set foot on the Samoan Islands, both expeditions met Samoans who paddled their canoes to the Western ships anchored off shore. By the early nineteenth-century, Westerners began to choose to stay on the islands, although they were often men of bad reputations and included deserters, blackbirders, and escaped convicts. Soon some of these men participated in the wars between various Samoan groups that were vying for leadership of the islands. At about the same time, American missionaries hoping to save souls and whalers wishing to replenish supplies for the ships arrived in the Samoan group. 9

During the nineteenth century, with more and more Westerners coming to the Samoan Islands, each with their own agendas, conflicts between Samoans grew about whom best would serve the islands. In 1879, in order to protect Western interests in the islands, the British, Germans, and Americans established the Municipality of Apia. The conflicts between the Samoans increased in 1881 with the death of the current king and the debate about his replacement. The Germans supported Tamasese, while the British and the Americans supported Malietoa Laupepe. Eventually, even Robert Louis Stevenson, who retired to Upolu in western Samoa in 1890, became involved in the conflict between Samoan groups about the new leadership. 10 Commander Tilley arrived at Tutuila shortly after the often violent conflict had ended.

Unlike Samoa, Guam had been claimed by Spain since the middle of the sixteenth century, even though Ferdinand Magellan was the first European explorer to land on the island in 1521. By the eighteenth century, opposition to Spanish rule ended and Catholicism had become well-established. Guam’s location in the Western Pacific placed it largely out of the way of commercial vessels who generally plied the waters of the South Pacific from California or from Europe via the Straits of Magellan. Spanish galleons often sailed due west from Acapulco, Mexico, to Guam, and on to the Philippines. 11   Captain Leary took command from an island governed by the Spanish for over three hundred years.

Captain Leary learned of his new assignment while stationed stateside. On January 24, 1899, Leary reported aboard U.S.S. Yosemite to prepare for his journey to the Western Pacific. He spent four months outfitting Guam’s new station vessel and purchasing $10,000 worth of goods, including materials to repair the former Spanish governor’s home, a water treatment plant, roofing for coal sheds, an ice plant, scientific equipment, and agricultural supplies for the islanders. On May 10, 1899, President McKinley bade farewell to Yosemite as she sailed from New York en route to the Mediterranean, thence through the Suez Canal, into the Indian Ocean, on to Singapore and Manila, and finally dropped anchor at Guam on August 7, 1899. Three days after his arrival, Leary, a Protestant, issued his first proclamation abolishing the political authority of the Catholic clergy on Guam, and guaranteeing freedom of religion for all. He also explained that public lands and property now belonged to the United States and that Spanish laws would remain in force until modified or annulled. 12

Pago Pago NH 1457

Pago Pago Harbor, Samoa, 1899. NHHC image NH 1457.

On April 17, 1900, Tilley’s official announcement that eastern Samoa had become part of the United States led to a two-day party, perhaps facilitated by the fact that the Samoans had already known Tilley for several months and that they welcomed becoming a part of the United States. Tilley sent invitations to the German representatives in Apia, including Dr. Wilhelm Solf, who had taken control of Western Samoa on the first of March, for the flag raising ceremony on Tutuila. Tilley also sailed to Manu‘a at the eastern end of the archipelago to convince the Tui Manu‘a, king of the Manu‘a group, to accept the new American government. The Commander explained that the United States did not intend to oppress the islanders, but instead meant “to shield them from unscrupulous people.”  The Tui Manu‘a agreed to accept the “sovereignty and protection of the United States,” but would not cede his island group. 13   It took the Manu‘ans until 1904 to cede their islands to the United States, but the king agreed to attend the festivities on Tutuila.

At the flag-raising event, the Commander read a proclamation from President McKinley declaring the islands “to be under the sovereignty and protection of the United States of America…,” after which Mrs. Henry Hudson, wife of U.S S. Abarenda’s Chief Boatswain Mate and first Navy wife to live in American Samoa, hoisted the flag. The Samoans followed with a number of speeches accepting American sovereignty saying, for example, “We depend on the government and we hope that we indeed and the government will be prosperous; that the government will correctly guide and advise us in order that we may be able to care for and guard well and uprightly our different villages and also our districts.”  Several days earlier, Tutuila chiefs wrote to Commander Tilley expressing pleasure with the American acquisition of their islands saying, “We rejoice with our whole hearts on account of the tidings we have received… [that] only the government of the United States of America shall rule in Tutuila and Manua.” 14   With the American acquisition of eastern Samoa, the nearly three generation Samoan inter-island conflict over leadership of the island group came to an end.

PH102-B - Tutuila - Polynesian Photo Archives

Flag Raising on Tutuila, 17 April 1900. Image PH-102-B, courtesy Polynesian Photo Archives, The Dwyer Collection, Feleti Barstow Public Library, American Samoa

The ceremony continued with a religious service performed by the local Christian missionaries, a twenty-one gun salute from Abarenda and the visiting German vessel, Cormoran, songs from school children, a Samoan feast in Pago Pago village, and traditional Samoan dances, sports, and games. Tilley commented that at the festival that followed the flag raising, the Samoans “ate so much pig that it is a wonder that they survived.”  The United States Consul General at Apia, L. W. Osborn, reported to the Assistant Secretary of State David J. Hill that “all seemed much pleased to feel that they were henceforth to be under the flag of ‘Amileka.’  I am of the opinion that the new arrangement starts off under the most favorable auspices in Tutuila and Manua, the U.S. psossessions [sic].”  Ten days later, Osborn wrote, “The Tutuila people are much pleased, and very enthusiastic, and the Governor [Tilley] has their respect and confidence.” 15

It would be up to the Navy’s appointees to learn as quickly as possible how to work with the islanders. Tilley believed the Samoans were “almost, without exception, enthusiastic over their annexation by the United States” and he hoped that under American guidance the Samoans would “rise to a high degree of civilization.” 16   Vital to his mission, the Commander needed to learn fa‘a Samoa or the Samoan Way. Fa‘a Samoa developed over many centuries into a complicated family and government structure that consisted of aiga or family/kin groups, titled chiefs or matai who earned their rank based on birth and ability, and the fono or village assembly. The family’s assets were controlled by the title, not the person holding the title. The system also called for fa‘aaloalo or respect earned through service to the family or village. Several levels of matai titles existed, including ali‘i (lower ranking chiefs) and tulafale (orators). The basic source of authority came from the ali‘i and the tulafale distributed the food and wealth at official functions. 17

Tilley recognized the significance and active role fa‘a Samoa played in the region and quickly adjusted to it. To foster the good will of the Samoans, the Commander pursued a policy of conciliation with the island leaders. According to Tilley’s Secretary of Native Affairs, Edwin W. Gurr, the Commander did not want to force the Samoans into anything and “Tilley went among the people, ingratiating himself with them; accustoming himself to their habits, and studying the characters of the most prominent people.”  Dr. Edward M. Blackwell, Abarenda’s medical officer, concurred with Gurr that the Commander wanted “to get in touch with the natives.” 18   Not only did Tilley visit the local villages, he also transported villagers aboard the station vessel to Western Samoa to visit relatives or to do business there. The efforts to learn about the people and the simple act of assisting Samoans in their travel plans demonstrated that Tilley was not the usual imperialist leader sent to alter indigenous cultures, but instead indicated a man interested in bringing American civilization, for better or worse, to a place while simultaneously maintaining as much of the vitality of the local culture as possible.

PH-OL-102-K - USS Abarenda - Polynesian Photo Archives (edited)

USS. Abarenda on Flag Raising Day, 17 April 1900. Image PH-OL-102-K, courtesy Polynesian Photo Archives, The Dwyer Collection, Feleti Barstow Public Library, American Samoa

Significantly different from Tilley’s approach in American Samoa, yet possessing equivalent executive, legislative, and judicial authority, Leary chose to pass on much of his power to his Lieutenant Governor, United States Navy Lieutenant William E. Safford who arrived at Guam aboard U.S.S. Brutus on August 13, 1899. Not finding the conditions of his new island assignment to his liking, Leary remained aboard Yosemite for three months while awaiting the completion of repairs on the former Spanish governor’s palace so he could move onshore. Leary further separated himself from the local population by leaving orders that he did not wish to be disturbed unless in an emergency. This alienation from the locals was made even more pronounced during the early months since Yosemite was anchored approximately five miles by rough roads and two miles by water away from Agana. 19

No finer assistant for Leary could have been found. Lieutenant Safford sounded much more like Commander Tilley in his views of the island and its inhabitants. About Guam he wrote, “Surely I had found Arcadia” and “Nothing more beautiful than this island could be imagined; and no one could wish for more pleasant occupation nor for kinder friends.”  Safford became the trial judge of local cases, the registrar of property, and the auditor of the treasury on Guam. Personally, he purchased several properties so he could have a house, a garden, and a nursery for the plants he introduced to the island. In addition to hiring Chamorros to work on his properties, Safford entertained many Guamanian friends in his home. 20

As with Leary and Tilley, Safford graduated from Annapolis in 1880, although he never served as a line officer. He spoke Spanish and German and soon learned Chamorro, the native language of Guam and the Mariana Islands. In 1902, two years after leaving Guam, Safford left the Navy, and became a well-known botanist, ethnologist, and philologist, and in 1905, the Lieutenant published The Chamorro Language of the Island of Guam and Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, the first such books in English. 21

As for Tilley’s assistants, he looked to several people, including Chief Boatswain and Mrs. Henry Hudson, Lieutenant Commander Edward J. Dorn, and Mr. Edwin W. Gurr. Chief Boatswain Hudson took over responsibilities for the finances of American Samoa, customs operations, discharging cargo, and the construction of Naval Station Tutuila. Mrs. Hudson served as the first postmaster of the territory and photographed much of the island during her stay there. The couple lived in a cottage on Naval Station. Lieutenant Commander Dorn described her as “quite a superior woman, educated and refined.” 22   On July 25, 1900, Dorn reported for duty as Tilley’s Executive Officer and Navigator. Tilley also appointed Dorn the Assistant Commandant of the United States Naval Station—Tutuila. In November 1900, Tilley left for New Zealand for ship repairs and to get supplies leaving Dorn in charge of the territory. Tilley instructed him to “pursue a conciliatory policy” with the Samoans as the islanders “appear to be very friendly and were satisfied with the new government.”  Upon his return, the Commander informed the Assistant Secretary of the Navy that Dorn administered the Territory’s affairs “with much tact and efficiency. He has pursued the conciliatory policy which has been adopted with the natives, and while treating them with firmness, has won their good will.” 23

In August 1900, Tilley appointed Gurr the Secretary of Native Affairs and he became one of Tilley’s most valued and trusted assistants. Originally from New Zealand, Gurr had served as a barrister for the Supreme Court of Samoa at Apia during the 1890s when a tripartite commission of Americans, Germans, and British ruled the Municipality of Apia. Married to a high chief’s daughter, Gurr understood the Samoan language, as well as fa‘a Samoa. His father-in-law, Seumanu Tafa, helped save lives in Apia harbor during the 1889 typhoon. Gurr proved familiar with land claims and helped clear up ownership problems on the islands. 24

Holding the ultimate authority in their respective territories, the development and responsibility for the laws governing American Samoa and Guam belonged only to Tilley and Leary. In Secretary Long’s orders to Leary, he stated that the governor of Guam needed to maintain “the strong arm of authority” on the island. Tilley received similar instructions and viewed himself as the “supreme lawgiver.” 25   Safford carried out the laws passed by Leary, while Tilley created the Fita Fita, young Samoan men enlisted as Landsmen in the United States Navy that helped him maintain order and enforce his decisions and laws. 26

After abolishing the political rights of the clergy on Guam and disgruntled by the Spanish priests’ support for concubinage and the fathering of illegitimate children, Leary, a Protestant and bachelor, deported the priests, save Father José  Palomo, the first Catholic priest of Chamorro ancestry. Leary also banned Catholic festivities celebrating a village’s patron saint and the tolling of church bells in the mornings and evenings. 27   Unlike heavily Catholic Guam, American Samoa had missionaries from Protestant, Catholic, and Mormon groups long before the American takeover of the islands, and Tilley’s only concern regarding religious practices involved making sure that one religious service did not disturb another. 28

In a series of general orders, Leary changed the way of life on Guam. He found the custom of Guamanians living and raising families together without legal or religious ties to be repugnant to his conception of decency and modern life. This practice developed because of the Catholic ban on divorces that resulted in islanders sometimes leaving their legal spouses to establish families with others. To rectify this problem as Leary saw it, on September 15, 1899, he issued General Order No. 5 requiring all unwed couples on the island to marry before the end of the year. To facilitate these marriages, the government allowed divorces and temporarily waived the marriage license fee. On January 1, 1900, Leary also banned the system of peonage whereby lenders forced borrowers to work off their debts by laboring for their creditors for many years. 29

Unlike Leary, Tilley had no intention of drastically altering the customs and laws of the Samoans; yet, in a more sweeping manner, the Commander changed the way imperialists worked with those they governed. On April 30 and May 1, 1900, Tilley established his two most significant laws for American Samoa. On April 30, Tilley issued Regulation No. 4 prohibiting the Alienation of Native Land in Tutuila and Manu‘a and forbidding the sale of Samoan land to foreigners. The lands could be leased for up to forty years for any purpose, but only with the approval of the Commandant of Naval Station. Violation of the regulation could result in a $200 fine or forfeiture of some or all of the land to the government. In Regulation No. 5, A Declaration Concerning the Form of Government for the United States Naval Station Tutuila (May 1, 1900), Tilley promised that the naval government would uphold Samoan customs unless the Samoans wanted them changed or if the traditional customs came in direct conflict with American laws. It also established the three districts of American Samoa, and vested judicial power in the High Court, District Courts, and Village Courts with the Commandant serving as President of the High Court. Further, Regulation No. 5 established the Chief Secretary of Native Affairs to serve as the secretary to the Commandant and to supervise the district leaders. 30  With the passage of Regulations No. 4 and 5, Tilley showed commitment to the Samoan communal land preservation system, as well as to the maintenance of fa‘a Samoa.

On Guam, Captain Leary did not go as far as Commander Tilley in preserving the land claims of the islanders; however, he issued General Order 15 that protected the land claims of the islanders if they registered their lands with the government. As in many other instances, the task of identifying the land claims fell to Lieutenant Safford. Safford called together the large land owners and asked them to identify their holdings on a chalk map on the floor of his office. After some changes, land titles were granted.   Safford later wrote that he hoped that “for this, at least, we hope that the people of Guam may remember us with gratitude.” 31

Despite Tilley’s intentions to avoid interfering with Samoan customs, one significant incident embodied a direct conflict with fa‘a Samoa. In what became known as the Skipjack Case, a Samoan man, Fagiema, caught a fish known as a skipjack (member of the bonito family) and took it home to his family. According to fa‘a Samoa, this type of fish should have been given to the high chief of the region. The high chief discovered the infraction of the rules and punished the offender by evicting Fagiema and his family, burning down his house, killing his pigs and chickens, destroying his crops, and telling him that he may no longer hunt, fish, or gather fruit in the area again. Eventually, Commander Tilley heard about the incident and ordered the arrest of the chief who called for Fagiema’s punishment. The Chief was tried by the High Court and told to make restitution to Fagiema, stripped of his chiefly title, and confined to the Pago Pago harbor area for one year. Tilley decided that, in this case, fa‘a Samoa was unfair and the customary rules would be overturned. Although a small incident in itself, its significance was far greater. Tilley’s decision directly attacked fa‘a Samoa and demonstrated a clash between the American and Samoan laws and customs. 32   The incident ended with Tilley’s decision, indicating that the Samoans either simply accepted his decision or did not loudly express displeasure with it.

Tilley and Leary approached their duties and responsibilities very differently. While Leary limited what Catholic priests could do on Guam, Tilley worked with the missionaries who lived on Tutuila. Tilley likely believed that the best way to accomplish what he wanted to do was to work with the missionaries who lived in American Samoa. Tilley’s behavior with the islanders demonstrated that he enjoyed their company and respected their laws and customs, while Leary’s lack of participation in Chamorro culture led to a lack of understanding of the islanders’ lifestyle. Lieutenant Safford reveled in all things Chamorro and as a result, the islanders enjoyed his company and became his friends. It is probable that something as simple as the personality of the two men resulted in how they impacted their respective assignments.

Yosemite NH 82134

USS Yosemite, photographed circa 1899. NHHC image NH 82134.

Both Navy leaders sought to improve the quality of life on their respective islands. Navy doctors assigned to Guam and American Samoa willingly provided medical assistance free of charge. On Guam, Navy medical personnel brought care to the communities of Agana, Piti, Sumay, and Agat. In writing about Yosemite’s junior medical officer, Safford opined that through Dr. Alfred G. Grunwell’s “untiring devotion to his duty, his gentleness and kindness, he has done more than anyone else to win for us the love of the natives.” 33   On Tutuila, whenever Commander Tilley visited villages on inspection trips, he brought Dr. Blackwell with him. Although it is unclear what her relationship was to the United States Navy or to the Samoans, Mrs. Pike, a part-Tahitian woman living on Tutuila, helped the doctor with the patients, as well as with translation duties. Blackwell built a boat to take him to villages needing his assistance when he travelled without the Commander. Both leaders sent requests to the Department of the Navy for funds to build dispensaries, but as with other financial requests, they went unfulfilled. With some of Tilley’s funds from his small island budget, he purchased a trader’s store to serve as a small medical facility. 34

Despite the lack of additional government monies, health conditions in both island groups improved with the coming of the Navy. On Guam, the Navy built a better drainage system, installed a water distillation plant and water tanks, required village outhouses, and enforced garbage collection. On Tutuila, Tilley’s efforts to clean up the polluted water sources and build village outhouses reduced the incidence of filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, among the Samoans. 35

In the area of education, the commandants desired more schools for the people. Leary established a public school system and banned religious education, while Tilley supported the schools run by the Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon missionaries operating on the island when he arrived. Once again, Tilley proved flexible in his command of the island, while Leary did not. Schools funded by the missionaries would not burden American Samoa’s meager finances. Tilley wanted even more schools built and desired that the Samoans learn English with the boys trained in manual skills and the girls educated in the domestic sciences.  On January 23, 1900, Leary legislated that Guamanians learn how to write their names and recommended that they learn English. Several private schools opened on Guam to teach English, including one run by Lieutenant Albert Moritz, Yosemite’s chief engineer. During the evenings, Safford taught English to Chamorro friends in his home. 36

Paying for the improvements to Guam and American Samoa proved to be a problem for Leary and Tilley alike. Leary received $10,000 to start; however, he spent much of that outfitting Yosemite and purchasing supplies before he arrived. Once on Guam, Leary continued the taxes established by the Spanish and collected funds from, for example, the sale of postage stamps, import duties, license fees, and fines. As far as exports were concerned, Guam possessed a small amount of copra, the dried coconut meat used to make soap in the West. According to Safford, “nothing pays on this island so surely as coconuts,” yet he remembered that coconuts could be destroyed by typhoons. 37

Unlike Leary, Tilley took an activist approach to obtaining the funds he needed. As on Guam, Tutuila had copra and Tilley took advantage of the local crop. The Commander observed that copra traders paid Samoans one and a quarter cents per pound for copra, but sold the item on the open market for the best price available and kept the profits for themselves. Needing a way to finance his government and believing that the traders mistreated the Samoans in their dealings over the coconut meat, Tilley took over the copra export business. The Navy commander more than doubled the price given to the Samoans, allotting them three cents per pound, but charging them one dollar per Samoan as a “handling tax” for selling the copra. Between 1901 and 1902, approximately $10,000 came from the copra fees. 38

PH102-C - Benjamin Franklin Tilley - Polynesian Photo Archives

Captain Benjamin Franklin Tilley Holding court, 1900. Image PH102-C, courtesy Polynesian Photo Archives, The Dwyer Collection, Feleti Barstow Public Library, American Samoa.

Despite the many successes for Leary and Tilley, all did not go smoothly for the two men. Governor Leary’s problems began when the Navy released his reports to the press explaining that he sent the Spanish priests away from the island. The Catholic clergy in the United States quickly reacted and the Archbishop of New Orleans, who was also the apostolic delegate to the American territories, asked to visit Guam on his way to the Philippines. At first, Leary agreed, but then reneged when the Archbishop requested that Leary cancel his previous orders about the clergy and the religious practices of the islanders. As a result, General Elwell S. Otis in the Philippines ordered Major General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler to go to Guam to investigate Leary’s actions. Offended by the Army wishing to investigate a Navy command, Rear Admiral J. Crittenden Watson, Commander in Chief of the United States Naval Force on the Asiatic Station, told Leary to receive Wheeler but not to take any orders from him. 39

Arriving on February 6, 1900, and accompanied by his secretary and William Bengough from Harper’s Weekly, Wheeler toured the island with Safford. During his short visit, he interviewed Safford, Leary, Father Palomo, and native officials. Safford noted that Wheeler’s questions “bore evidence to his interest in the success of the United States colonial policy.”  Later, Safford also wrote that “General Wheeler seemed deeply touched by the fervent expressions of loyalty and friendship on the part of these good people, so different, he said, from what he had found in the Philippines.”  In his report to Washington, Wheeler commented that the religious restrictions were a hardship for the islanders and that Apra Harbor needed a breakwater. His report led to no changes in the administration of Captain Leary and the matter came to an end. 40

In contrast, Commander Tilley’s difficulties led to a court-martial trial. Displeasure with Tilley’s rule came from men under his command and from Anglo settlers and visitors to the islands, but not from Samoans. The accusations against Tilley included his being so intoxicated that he could not walk back to his ship from a tavern in Western Samoa and as a result, the liberty for his ship’s crew was “stopped for fear we would see him in such a state.” 41   Tilley’s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Dorn, found Tilley’s drinking enough of a problem to have a one-on-one discussion with Tilley about his alcohol consumption. Dorn reminded Tilley that the Commander had passed out on the poop deck of Abarenda with a Samoan woman, failed to go on the bridge when the vessel left Apia harbor, and became “too familiar with women” at a luncheon sponsored by Governor Solf. Tilley promised to reform and acknowledged that such a report would ruin his career. Dorn agreed not to report Tilley to the Secretary of the Navy; however, despite giving Tilley his word, the Executive Officer wrote Secretary Long the same day as his talk with the Commander. 42

Although not witnessing Tilley’s alleged behavior firsthand, Charles Keeler, from the California Academy of Sciences, heard about Tilley’s conduct while visiting Samoa in 1901 and claimed that “no one dared to tell the story” of Tilley’s escapades. Keeler sought out the assistance of H. J. Moors, a trader and hotel owner at Apia, who had had dealings with Tilley on several occasions. The letters between Keeler and Moors about Tilley’s behavior were sent to Dorn so he could deliver them to the Department of the Navy. Moors added to the letters saying that he did not want “to injure Capt. Tilley, but I do not wish to see him here again disgracing our flag, or making our government ridiculous at Tutuilla [sic] by his behavior there.” 43   Eventually, the campaign against Tilley involved Dr. Blackwell of Abarenda, rivalries between island hotel owners, and the step-daughter-in-law of Robert Louis Stevenson. Most of the complaints involved Tilley’s “drunken revels in Apia,” horse rides through the streets while intoxicated “with a notorious native woman,” and “carouses in Pango Pango [sic].”  In the midst of the complaints about Tilley, the Samoans sent letters supporting the Commander stating that they were “satisfied because the good Governor you sent to us has been faithful and kind to us, and has kept his promises.” 44   Ironically, in September 1901, in the middle of the anti-Tilley campaign, the Navy promoted him from Commander to Captain as his career, according to the New York Times in October 1901, had been thus far “unblemished.”  The newspaper had apparently not been apprised of the allegations against him. With all the attacks against Tilley, Secretary Long finally demanded evidence of Tilley’s misconduct or a cessation of the accusations. Shortly after that, the Navy called for the Captain’s court-martial. 45

Pacific Fleet Rear Admiral Silas Casey, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, and at least eight Navy captains gathered in Pago Pago for the court-martial proceedings. One of the most important figures in the accusations against Captain Tilley, Lieutenant Commander Dorn, left Samoa in October, just before the court-martial because of an alleged third heart attack. The Samoans organized a reception for the visitors and approached the Navy’s representatives with “scowls on their faces and demanded to know why their White Father was not among us.”  Apparently, the Samoans were unaware that Tilley was under house arrest and unable to attend the festivities. After speaking with Rear Admiral Casey, the group left “satisfied that their beloved governor would receive kind and fair treatment.” 46

On November 9, Tilley pleaded not guilty to the counts against him, including “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman,” “scandalous conduct,” “drunkenness,” and “neglect of duty.”  The government produced three witnesses, two testifying on behalf of Tilley and one against him. Dr. Blackwell, the sole witness for the prosecution, could not swear that Tilley’s behavior was caused by heat exhaustion or drunkenness. Expressing disdain for the proceedings in his memoirs, the doctor later wrote that “all the other witnesses who caroused with [Tilley] testified for him and, as the saying goes, ‘Dog won’t eat dog.’”  After listening to dozens of defense witnesses, the court adjourned and soon delivered a verdict of not guilty of all charges and acquitted Captain Tilley “most fully and honorably” and restored him to duty. Rear Admiral Evans claimed he had never seen “a case so weak as this one was, nor one where there was so little ground for charges.” 47   Although the court acquitted him, Tilley left Tutuila for his next assignment soon after the conclusion of the trial.

Tilley may have displeased the Anglo settlers and visitors, and his fellow officers; however, he certainly worked well with the islanders. Approximately a year after the court-martial, the Samoans sent a letter to the Department of the Navy asserting Tilley “did all that was good. We know of no wrong that he has done. There is no dissatisfaction towards the government; there is no dissension amongst the people. The people of Tutuila want no other to be here with them but Captain Tilley. Bad customs, bad laws have been abolished by Captain Tilley. He is the father of Tutuila and Manua.” 48

After relatively brief periods of time in the islands, Captains Leary and Tilley traded their assignments for positions stateside. Following only six months as governor, and only three of those months actually living on Guam, Captain Leary contacted the Secretary of the Navy about being reassigned claiming he had been at sea for nearly four years and needed to go home. The Secretary of the Navy complied with his request and Leary, as well as Lieutenant Safford, left Guam on August 2, 1900, aboard U.S.S. Yosemite. The Navy reassigned Leary to League Island Navy Yard, and soon after that to U.S.S. Richmond. Leary passed away just after Christmas 1901. After leaving American Samoa in November 1901, Tilley served at Mare Island Navy Yard for three years and then commanded U.S.S. Iowa for two years. On February 24, 1907, the Navy promoted him to Rear Admiral.  Less than a month later, however, Rear Admiral Tilley died of double-pneumonia. 49

Neither Leary nor Tilley received specific orders about how to run the new territories, instead the Secretary of the Navy told the Captains to do the best they could with virtually no funds and no guidance. The Captains enjoyed successes in their island governments, such as improving the sanitary conditions, the educational systems, and the roads. Both leaders also faced opposition to the way they ruled their respective islands, Leary from the Guamanians and Tilley from the Anglo population of American Samoa. Leary chose to work through his assistant, Lieutenant Safford, who won the admiration of the Guamanians he encountered, while few Guamanians even knew the governor. On the other hand, Tilley’s style was perhaps not the most desirable; yet, he earned the love and respect of the islanders. Even today, Tilley’s impact can be seen in the Revised Constitution of American Samoa that maintains fa‘a Samoa and Samoan land ownership. Captain Leary and Captain Tilley established governments in America’s new empire with only the materials they had on hand and only the experience they brought with them. As men-on-the-spot, Leary and Tilley succeeded in the only way they knew how. Leary appointed an assistant better equipped to handle the situation than he was, while Tilley learned to appreciate the Samoan culture, but became too familiar with the Samoans.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

  1. Commander B. F. Tilley was promoted to Captain while stationed on Tutuila. As such, Tilley’s rank in the text reflects how people either addressed him or his rank at that time.
  2. Robert F. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall:  A History of Guam (Honolulu:  University of Hawaii, 1995), 1, 113.
  3. Thomas F. Darden, Historical Sketch of the Naval Administration of the Government of American Samoa (Washington, D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1951), x-xi; David M. Pletcher, The Diplomacy of Involvement:  American Economic Expansion across the Pacific, 1784-1900 (Columbia:  University of Missouri Press, 2001), 80-82.
  4. “Featured Governor of the Month,” Office of the Governor of American Samoa, (April 2, 2002); “Capt. ‘Dick’ Leary Dead,” New York Times, December 28, 1901; United States Naval Academy Alumni Association, personal telephone call, June 1, 2009.
  5. General Study of American Samoa, Box 1, Record Group 284, National Archives—San Bruno, California (hereinafter cited as RG 284, NARA-SB); William Churchill, “Our Most Contented Dependency,” Harper’s Weekly 56:13 (April 20, 1912), np; David Starr Jordan and Vernon Lyman Kellogg, “Tutuila (U. S.),” Atlantic Monthly 94:562 (August 1904):  208; Rodney Blake, “Our Colony in Samoa,” The Era Magazine 12 (September 1903):  220: Benjamin F. Tilley, “The United States in Samoa,” The Independent 52 (August 2, 1900):  1841-1842; “The Value of Pago Pago,” New York Times, April 13, 1900, 5:5.
  6. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 1, 112; Willard French, “An Isolated American Island:  How We Are Neglecting Our Duty to Guam,” The Booklovers Magazine (March 1905):  370; Ens. C. L. Poor, “Guam—Our Miniature Colony in Mid-Pacific,” Harper’s Weekly 43:2238 (November 11, 1899):  1135.
  7. Earl S. Pomeroy, “Colonial Administration by United States Naval Officers,” Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 69 (October 1943):  1321; Paul Carano and Pedro C. Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam (Rutland, VT:  Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1964), 184; Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 114.
  8. General Study of American Samoa, Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB; Charles H. Allen to Benjamin F. Tilley, February 17, 1900, File:  General Interest, 1900-1919, Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB.
  9. Joseph Kennedy, The Tropical Frontier: America’s South Sea Colony (Mangilao, GU:  Micronesian Area Research Center, 2009.
  10. Robert Louis Stevenson, A Footnote to History:  Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa (Honolulu:  University of Hawai`i Press, 1996); Kennedy, The Tropical Frontier, 27-33.
  11. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 5, 18, 37.
  12. Lt. Louis M. Nulton, “The Expedition to the Island of Guam,” The Independent 51 (May 1899):  1357; Evelyn Gibson Nelson and Frederick Jens Nelson, The Island of Guam:  Description and History From A 1934 Perspective (reprint:  Washington, D.C.:  Ana Publications, 2006), 145; Henry P. Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 1898-1902, Administrative Reference Service, Report No. 6, Office of Records Administration, Department of the Navy, 1944, 21; “Proclamation in Guam:  Capt. Leary, the Governor, Established American Sovereignty,” New York Times, August 30, 1899.
  13. Tilley, “The United States in Samoa,” 1844-1845; E. M. Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, Book Two:  Memoirs of Edward Maurice Blackwell (Richmond, VA:  Old Dominion Press, Inc., 1948), 38-39; “Hoisting Our Flag at Tutuila,” Army and Navy Journal 37 (12 May 1900):  897.
  14. “Hoisting of Old Glory at Pago-Pago,” Samoan Herald (Apia, Upolu), 21 April 1900, Despatches From United States Consuls in Apia, 1846-1906, T27, Roll 26, NARA-SB; “Hoisting Our Flag at Tutuila,” 897; Chiefs of American Samoa to B. F. Tilley, April 2, 1900, File:  Deed of Cession, American Samoa Historic Preservation Office, Faga’alu, American Samoa; J.A.C. Gray, Amerika Samoa:  A History of American Samoa and Its United States Naval Administration (Annapolis:  United States Naval Institute, 1960), 128..
  15. Program for Flag Day, “Ceremonies Attending the Hoisting of the American Flag in the Samoan Islands,”  T27, Roll 26, NARA-SB; Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, 39; Tilley, “The United States in Samoa,” 1840; L. W. Osborn to David J. Hill, April 20, 1900, T27, Roll 26, NARA-SB; L. W. Osborn to Department of State (no name), May 1, 1900, T27, Roll 26, NARA-SB.
  16. Tilley, “The United States in Samoa,” 1846; B. F. Tilley, “Development of Our Possessions in Samoa,” The Independent 53 (July 11, 1901): 1601.
  17. Robert C. Kiste, “United States,” in Tides of History:  The Pacific Islands in the Twentieth Century (Honolulu:  University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 245;  David A. Chappell, “The Forgotten Mau:  Anti-Navy Protest in American Samoa, 1920-1935,” Pacific Historical Review, 69 (2000):  223, 225; David J. Herdrich, American Samoa Historic Preservation Office, Faga’alu, American Samoa, to author, July 16, 2003.
  18. Report of the Government of Tutuila, November 1901, File:  Report of the Secretary of Native Affairs, 1901, Box 8, RG 284, NARA-SB; Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, 44.
  19. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 114, 117; Capt. Frederick J. Nelson, “Lieutenant William E. Safford—Guam’s First Lieutenant Governor,” Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 78:8 (1952):  853-854; William Edwin Safford, Guam:  An Account of its Discovery and Reduction, Physical Geography and Natural History, and the Social and Economic Conditions on the Island during the first year of the American Occupation (Washington: n.p., 1912), 16. When the Americans arrived on Guam, they changed the spelling of Agaña to Agana. Today, Agana is called Hagåtña.
  20. Safford, Guam, 17, 27; William Edwin Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam:  An Account of the First American Administration (Washington, D.C.:  H. L. McQueen, 1910), 27, 107, 167.
  21. Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam,  35; Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam, 34.
  22. Darden, Historical Sketch of the Naval Administration of the Government of American Samoa, 22-23; General Study of American Samoa, General Report by Governor, 1940, Box 1, RG 184, NARA-SB; Barker, Cruise of the U.S.S. Abarenda, 10n3; E. J. Dorn to Mrs. Dorn, c1900, Box 2, Papers of Edward J. Dorn, Library of Congress (hereinafter cited as Dorn Papers).
  23. F. W. Hackett to E. J. Dorn, June 6, 1900, Box 2, Dorn Papers; B. F. Tilley to E. J. Dorn, September 20, 1900, Box 2, Dorn Papers; B. F. Tilley to E. J. Dorn, November 22, 1900, Box 2, Dorn Papers; B. F. Tilley to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, March 26, 1901, Box 4, RG 284, NARA-SB; Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, 43.
  24. General Study of American Samoa, Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB; “Rough Journal of Commandant’s Office,” Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB; J. F. Rose-Soley, “A Colonial Experiment,” Overland Monthly 38:3 (September 1901):  178.
  25. As quoted in Roger’s Destiny’s Landfall, 114; Tilley, “Development of Our Possessions in Samoa,” 1601.
  26. The Pacific American Foundation,, (June 16, 2003); “The Fita Fita Guard,” General Study of American Samoa, Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB; Darden, Historical Sketch of the Naval Administration of the Government of American Samoa, 1-2.
  27. “Proclamation to the Inhabitants of Guam and To Whom It May Concern,” as quoted in Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 22; “General Order No. 4,” August 25, 1899, in “General Orders Issued By The Naval Governor of Guam,” Guam Recorder 4:2 (1974):  50; Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 117, 119; Ens. C. L. Poor, “The Natives of Guam,” Harper’s Weekly 43:2243 (December 16, 1899):  29.
  28. “An Ordinance Concerning Sunday,” November 5, 1900, Box 1, File:  Regulations, Proclamations, and Orders of the Government of American Samoa, 1900-1906, RG 284 American Samoa Governor’s Office, NARA-SB.
  29. Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam, 40, 123; “An American in Guam,” The Independent 51 (November 30, 1899):  3196; Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 29.
  30. Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, 42; Malama Meleisea, Lagaga:  A Short History of Western Samoa (Suva:  University of the South Pacific, 1987), 109-111; For regulations passed by Commander Tilley, see United States Naval Station, Tutuila, List of Regulations and Orders forwarded to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, October 29, 1902, File:  (Regulations, Proceedings, Orders of the Government of American Samoa:  1900-1906), Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB. See also, Darden, Historical Sketch of the Naval Administration of the Government of American Samoa, xiii, 20 and Gray, Amerika Samoa, 125-127.
  31. Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam, 18; Nelson, “Lieutenant William E. Safford,” 855; Safford, Guam, 32.
  32. Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, 32-33; Gray, Amerika Samoa, 132-134.
  33. Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam, 109; Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 31.
  34. Report on the Government of Tutuila, November 1901, Report of the Secretary of Native Affairs, 1901, Box 8, RG 284, NARA-SB; General Report by Governor, Rough Draft (2 of 2), Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB; Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, 28; Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 56th Cong., 2d sess., 1900, H. Doc. 3, 18.
  35. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 121; P. Craig, “Mosquitoes, Filariasis & Dengue Fever,”, January 31, 2004; Gray, Amerika Samoa, 164-169. Filariasis continues to exist in American Samoa with thirteen percent of the 2002 population infected with it.
  36. Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam, 79, 138-139; Carano and Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam, 406; General Order 13, January 23, 1900, “General Orders Issued By The Naval Governor of Guam,” 52; Gray, Amerika Samoa, 173-174; Darden, Historical Sketch of the Naval Administration of the Government of American Samoa, 34.
  37. Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam, 67, 130-131, 164, 184; Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 122;
  38. “American Samoa:  A General Report by the Governor,” 1912, Box 1, RG 284, NARA-SB; Jordan and Kellogg, “Tutuila (U.S.),” 209; Gray, Amerika Samoa, 151-152; Benjamin F. Tilley to Charles Morris, June 19, 1900, Government Affairs, 1900-1901, Box 4, RG 284; NARA-SB; Benjamin F. Tilley to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, May 7, 1901, Government Affairs, Box 4, RG 284; NARA-SB; Captain U. Sebree, “Progress in American Samoa,” The Independent 54 (November 1902):  2814-2815.
  39. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 120-121; Nelson and Nelson, The Island of Guam, 158; Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 36.
  40. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 121; Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 36-37; Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam, 143-144,  148, 154.
  41. Norma E. Hacker, ed., Charles E. Barker, Cruise of the U. S. S. Abarenda, “Collier,” 1899 (n.p.).
  42. “Memo of a conversation with Comdr. B. F. Tilley on 17 May 1901,” File:  General Correspondence, 1901, Box 3, Dorn Papers; E. J. Dorn to the Secretary of the Navy (John D. Long), May 17, 1901, File:  General Correspondence, 1901, Box 3, Dorn Papers.
  43. Charles Keeler , “A Blot on Our Insular Rule,” New York Evening Post, October 23, 1901; Charles Keeler to H. J. Moors, August 26, 1901, Box 3, Dorn Papers; H. J. Moors to Charles Keeler, September 7, 1901, Box 3, Dorn Papers; H. J. Moors to E. J. Dorn, September 7, 1901, Box 3, Dorn Papers.
  44. “Samoans to the President,” New York Times, March 20, 1901, 6:2.
  45. Gray, Amerika Samoa, 135-137; “Capt. Tilley Under Charges,” New York Times, October 10, 1901; “Rear Admiral Benjamin Franklin Tilley, USN,” Factsheet, Early History Branch, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
  46. Evans, An Admiral’s Log, 10, 14-16; Blackwell, Blackwell’s Genealogy, 51; Gray, Amerika Samoa, 138; F. W. Hackett to Commandant, Navy Yard, Mare Island, October 8, 1901, Letterbook, July 10, 1901-June 20, 1902, Box 15, RG 181, NARA-SB; F. W. Hackett to Commandant, Navy Yard, Mare Island, October 7, 1901, ibid.
  47. Pacific Station, year 1901, General Court-Martial, Order No. 10, U.S. Flagship Wisconsin, Pago Pago, Tutuila, Samoan Is., November 15, 1901; Evans, An Admiral’s Log, 11-12, 17; Blackwell, Blackwell Genealogy, 51-52; “Capt. Tilley Exonerated,” New York Times, December 3, 1901, 9:4.
  48. Petition, Samoans to United States Navy, c 1903, Mss 49171, Papers of the United States Navy, Collection 1899-1903, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.
  49. Beers, American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 35; “Capt. ‘Dick’ Leary Dead,” New York Times, December 28, 1901; William B. Cogar, Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy, Vol. 2, 1901-1918 (Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 1989), 284; “Death of Admiral Tilley,” Washington Post, March 19, 1907.
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Strategy, Language, and the Culture of Defeat: Changing Interpretations of Japan’s Pacific War Naval Demise

By Hal M. Friedman
Henry Ford Community College

Military historians say that military history is written from the perspective of the victor. Japan’s naval defeat in the Pacific War, however, provides a highly arguable case. Much of the translated postwar literature on the Pacific War has been written from an Allied perspective which overemphasizes Japanese weaknesses, deemphasizes the strengths of the Japanese military, and places defeat in a cultural and even racial context. This viewpoint raises the question of whether or not the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) lost the Pacific War because of national characteristics supposedly “unsuited” to twentieth century naval warfare, if Japan was defeated by the Allies because of strategic, operational, and logistical factors over which it had little or no control, or if Japan lost because of the poor strategic decisions it made, especially the gap between planning and operations? 1  Race and culture versus strategy, operations, and logistics are the two opposing views expressed by Japanese naval officers who wrote about their nation’s defeat after the Pacific War. The following paper is a limited review of translated post-1945 Japanese naval accounts written by two groups of authors. The first group consisted of officers who served during the Pacific War, as well as one journalist, all of whom wrote about the war during the 1950s from a cultural perspective. The second group consisted of officers writing since 1960 who had either served during the war or in the postwar Self-Defense Forces, as well as one historian, all of whom viewed Japan’s defeat from a more conventional strategic and operational perspective.

Culture, Language, and Defeat

Though most of the literature which concentrated on cultural factors analyzed Japan’s defeat in a negative context, there was at least one exception. Rear Admiral Tanaka Raizo, Commander of Japan’s crack Destroyer Squadron 2 in the Solomon Islands battles, offered a balanced military analysis of Japan’s defeat, blaming it on the failure to develop radar, a disunited naval command structure, and interservice rivalry with the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Yet even Tanaka explained Japan’s proficiency in night torpedo surface warfare partially in terms of cultural characteristics. 2  Tanaka claimed, for example, that Japan excelled in night torpedo warfare until late 1942 because night surface engagements “. . . agreed with the character of Japanese sailors.”  This statement implies, of course, that other nations in the Pacific War failed at early night engagements because of a deficiency in “character” traits “suited” to nighttime naval warfare.  Tanaka’s statement similarly denotes that proficiency in warfare does not ultimately depend on doctrine, training, equipment, and tactics, but on “character” and “spirit”. The question to be asked, therefore, is whether or not Japanese naval officers thought that the IJN lost the war after 1942 because it ultimately lacked character and spirit? Tanaka does not address this issue, but the importance of cultural and national traits as an element of naval warfare is a theme which was highly prevalent in the literature from the 1950s.

The following Japanese literature overwhelmingly employed a cultural context to describe the IJN’s defeat in the Pacific War. It also largely perceived Japan’s national characteristics in negative cultural terms. Interestingly, this tendency to explain defeat in denigrating terminology was in complete contrast to most of Japan’s wartime propaganda, which emphasized Japanese strength, purity, and uniqueness in comparison to Western weaknesses. 3

An example of this postwar literature can be seen in Oi Atsushi’s analysis of Japan’s antisubmarine warfare campaign against the United States. A former Captain in the IJN whose primary duties had been planning Japanese antisubmarine defenses against the United States submarine blockade, Oi forcefully asserted that Japan’s defeat in the submarine war in the Pacific was due to the cultural characteristics of the Japanese people. Oi claimed that Japan lost the submarine war because the Japanese were “racially intemperate” and “less tenacious” in a very “tedious” kind of warfare. Moreover, he argued that antisubmarine warfare was shunned by the “more impetuous” Japanese, who desired to focus on “colorful and offensive” fighting rather than “defensive” antisubmarine tactics. 4

The vocabulary of Oi’s criticism is fascinating for at least two reasons. First, his use of words and phrases such as “racially intemperate,” “impetuous”, and “untenacious” immediately conjures up images of a nation of children who were ill-prepared for modern technological warfare. Second, this portrayal of non-whites as children coincides with a very strong element of nineteenth and twentieth century racist ideology which had been employed by the nations of Western Europe and by the United States to justify their claims to global hegemony. Oi’s vocabulary, in other words, implies a tacit acceptance of prewar Social Darwinist thought that non-white nations like Japan were inferior states. While Japan had certainly subscribed to its own strain of Social Darwinist thought during its grand days of empire, Oi seems to have completely turned the tables and accepted the Western idea that even Japan was inherently inferior because of its societal and cultural background. 5

In a different vein, retired Vice Admiral Yokoi Toshiyuki, Chief of Staff of the Japanese Fifth Fleet when the war ended, more specifically blamed Japan’s defeat on the lack of a “well considered” strategy. He claimed that Japan’s defeat after 1943 was “inevitable” because of a “flawed” strategy which emphasized battleships over airpower. Completely ignoring the vast logistical disparities between Japan and the United States, especially after 1943, Yokoi argued that Japan was not only plagued by its own “flawed” strategy but also asserted that it was “outmatched” by an opponent ” . . . more skilled and powerful in strategy.” 6  Since strategy is largely an intellectual exercise, at least in its initial formulation, Yokoi’s charge of a “flawed” or “weak” strategy subtly implies that Japan sported a flawed or weak intellectual foundation in its naval officer corps. On the one hand, Japan’s naval officer corps did demonstrate a weak strategic foundation with its fixation on battleships and the Decisive Battle Doctrine (see below). 7

What Yokoi failed to point out is that the United States Navy experienced similar kinds of intraservice rivalry and lack of high-level strategic foresight during the 1920s and 1930s, a situation which resulted in a number of serious tactical reverses in 1941 and 1942. , According to Yokoi, many of Japan’s naval leaders failed to grasp the potentialities and implications of their growing naval aviation capability because its early logistical and material superiority afforded it a comfort zone of mistakes. Yet at the same time, he fails to acknowledge the leaps and bounds Japan made in areas such as carrier aviation doctrine which were well ahead of other nations at the time. 8

Strategic, operational, and logistical factors, however, seemed to matter very little in Yokoi’s argument. In fact, his article inferred that if Japanese naval strategy had been “strong”, the war might not have been lost or at least lost so badly. He concluded, however, that the strategy could not have been a “powerful” one because Japanese naval strategists were deficient. 9 Similar to Oi’s subscription to Social Darwinist thought, Yokoi’s subtle allusions to Japanese intellectual inferiority seems to be another significant acceptance by Japanese naval officers of a central theme of Western racist ideology.

There is additional evidence of Japanese naval officers perceiving their officer corps and  nation in negative cultural terms. Former Commander Chihaya Masataka describes a very successful and stealthy Japanese withdrawal from Kiska in the Aleutians in 1943 and attributes the success of the operation to the talents of Rear Admiral Kimura Masatomi, the commander of the evacuation force. Chihaya’s analysis of the operation, however, denotes that Kimura’s talents were rare in the IJN officer corps in particular and in Japan as a whole. Chihaya described Admiral Kimura as very “calm” in a tense situation, “careful” in his planning and decision making, and “unimpetuous”. From Chihaya’s description, one receives the impression that almost the entire IJN officer corps was composed of hotheads and childlike personalities who reacted badly to complicated plans or combat situations. Chihaya’s generalizations again leave the reader with the impression that Japan was a nation of children which was defeated because of its own immaturity in military planning and decision making. 10

Chihaya’s account, however, is not the strongest in its use of stereotyped Japanese character traits to explain defeat. In 1955, former Captain Fuchida Mitsuo, strike leader for the Japanese First Air Fleet and commander of the Pearl Harbor raid in 1941, and former Commander Okumiya Masatake, a carrier operations officer in the Pacific War, published Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan. Not necessarily a scholarly account, Midway was nevertheless an early Japanese primary source about one of the war’s most decisive battles. 11  Fuchida and Okumiya briefly detailed the IJN’s exploits in the Pacific from December 1941 until the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and then devoted most of the book to analyzing the events and outcome of the battle. The most interesting aspect of this work, however, is the concluding analysis and the language used to describe Japan’s defeat. The authors employed a variety of cultural stereotypes to explain Japan’s defeat at Midway and in the Pacific War. Their perspective might have to do with a generational change in the Japanese military officer corps after 1905. Older officers who had matured during the Meiji Restoration had had to be much more familiar with and adept at diplomatic exchange with foreign officers, especially as the Japanese military was modernizing. After 1905, it has been argued that the military officer corps became more insular and parochial in its professional education and training as well as more extreme in its attitudes toward both domestic and international political compromise as Japanese officers had to interact internationally less and less. Perhaps in this vein, both Fuchida and Okumiya, for example, attributed the defeat to the “technological backwardness” of the Japanese people themselves. Largely disregarding Japanese advances in weaponry such as the Long Lance Torpedo, the Fubuki-class destroyer, and the Zero fighter, the authors stated that “. . . Japan started out the Pacific War in an inferior [technological and material] position and remained there.” 12  To Fuchida and Okumiya, this technological and material “inferiority” was not simply a product of a resource poor nation fighting a total war. Both officers believed that Japan’s defeat in the war “. . . lies deep in the Japanese national character . . .” and asserted that the Japanese people as a society were “naturally” unsuited to mass production work and were doomed to defeat in a total, industrialized war.  Other terms used to describe the Japanese were equally revealing. Fuchida and Okumiya claimed the Japanese were “impulsive”, “irrational”, “haphazard”, and “contradictory”. In addition, Japanese were portrayed as “narrow-minded,” “indecisive”, and “vacillating”. Worse, the Japanese were allegedly prone to confuse reality and fantasy. 13 Even though the body of their analysis followed a conventional military critique of strategy, operations, tactics, training, and doctrine, the tone of the conclusion denoted that racial, cultural, and national characteristics were, in the authors’ views, the root cause of the defeat in the battle and in the Pacific War in general. The defeat, in other words, had little to do with material differences, strategy, or even luck, and everything to do with intellectual and cultural deficiencies arising out of racial inferiority. 14

There are, of course, significant problems with Fuchida’s and Okumiya’s work, especially their claims about Japanese weaknesses, which are counterfactual to the available evidence. For example, the Japanese allegedly lacked imagination and daring, yet they were able to carry out an operation like the Pearl Harbor raid. Moreover, Japanese were supposedly unable to sacrifice short-term desires for long-term goals, yet they had industrialized their nation in just one generation during the Meiji Era. 15  Contradictory and racist statements such as these detract from what was considered at the time to be a very credible military analysis of the Midway battle. Their work, however, is hardly unusual among the postwar analyses written by former naval officers in the 1950s. What sets Fuchida and Okumiya apart is the particularly strong language they used to describe Japanese culture and society.

A kind of helpless victimization occurred in other works as well. Among some authors, there was a tendency to blame defeat on spiritual occurrences or suppositions. Bad luck, good fortune, and even religion are common in any military organization which trains its people for combat and death. Still, it is interesting to note that spiritual and supernatural forces were given credit for victories and defeats on numerous occasions in this literature. Journalist Ito Masanori, for instance, essentially blamed Japan’s defeat on the “genius” of American radar, which was, of course, a British invention. More importantly, Ito downgraded and demeaned Japan’s victories in 1942 by implying that the victories had less to do with skill and more to do with luck. Ito even called the victory streak a matter of “good fortune.” 16 Similarly, defeat at Midway was a matter of an “avenging God” turning against Japan, while defeat in the Solomons was the result of the “superior zeal and fighting spirit” of the enemy. 17  Defeat in the Pacific War in general was also attributed at various times to “bad omens” and “abandonment by the Gods of War.” 18

Agawa Hiroyuki, a junior information officer in the IJN during the Pacific War and author of a major postwar biography on Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, placed the Midway defeat primarily in terms of “bad” or “fool’s luck.”  As elements in the defeat, Agawa cited and emphasized such things as the “bad luck” of Commander Fuchida’s last minute sickness and the “misfortune” of malfunctioning scout planes. Agawa essentially ignored the strategic, operational, and tactical mistakes of dividing the strike forces over a large geographic area, the failure to establish operational priorities, or Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi’s indecisiveness as the senior officer on the spot. 19

How are historians to explain these protestations on the part of Japan’s Pacific War veterans?  There are several possible explanations, though no very definitive answers. First, these works may have merely been the product of a clever marketing tactic, aimed at selling books to a 1950s American audience through the reinforcement of dearly held Western cultural stereotypes about “inferior” Asian peoples and their alleged inability to fight protracted, modern wars. This theory, however, seems too simplistic and crass for officers who had dedicated their previous lives to serving the Emperor and were now writing as social outcasts in postwar Japan.

Second, the books and articles may have simply been a way for the naval officers to vent their frustrations about mistakes made during the war or to project blame for the defeat away from the Imperial Navy and its officer corps. By singling out cultural or national characteristics as the cause of defeat, the authors suggest that any human action taken was meaningless because Japan was destined to be defeated. Thus, no matter what they or other officers had done during the war, defeat was inevitable and the officer corps should not be blamed for the consequences. Defeat, in other words, was not an outgrowth of flawed strategy, tactics, or doctrine but was inevitable because of the loss of a heavenly mandate, though this last reason is not a Japanese monopoly. 20 The third possibility was provided by retired Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Admiral Hirama Yoichi during a conversation with the author. Admiral Hirama asserted that the naval officers were not just writing in a context of defeat and were not just seeking to explain the reasons for Japan’s defeat. Instead, he argued that military officers in 1950s Japan were seen as criminals who had been entirely blamed for the defeat and occupation. If correct, Admiral Hirama’s conclusion would mean that these officers may have been attempting to bring an end to their outlaw status in postwar Japan by demonstrating to the nation that defeat was caused by deeply ingrained flaws in the national polity rather than by a criminal military officer corps which had run amuk. 21

Fourth, fortune, luck, and heavenly favor are particularly interesting when placed in their historical and political contexts. Ito’s account provides a particularly useful vehicle for analyzing these motives. Published in 1956, the language about “abandonment” by the “Gods of War” could very well have been an admission of guilt to a largely American audience about Japan’s conduct in the war, especially the Pearl Harbor operation. The context of the time period may have been the key to this admission, since the United States and Japan signed the Mutual Security Treaty just a few years later, in 1960. At a time when Japan’s economic, political, and military health was increasingly dependent on its relationship with the United States, unofficial admission of war guilt may have been a step by the authors to mend the fences and begin relations anew with the US.

Finally, the naval officers writing in the 1950s may have simply been too close to the actual events to provide any kind of detached analysis of their own defeat. As the late Craig Cameron asserted in his study of the 1st Marine Division during the 1940s, veterans’ viewpoints about their role in the war became fixed and selective over time. This phenomenon among former Japanese naval officers may explain why one group from the 1950s blamed culture for their defeat and why a different group of officers writing after 1960 found culture to be a largely insignificant factor. 22

Strategy, Logistics, and Defeat

A dramatic change in explaining Japan’s naval defeat occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. In these decades, some officers who had fought in the war, as well as a younger generation of officers serving in the Self-Defense Forces, began to explain Japan’s loss of the Pacific War in more conventional military terms. The authors reviewed in this section sought to explain Japan’s naval defeat in terms of military, rather than cultural, strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, they contended that the Imperial Navy was as proficient at various aspects of twentieth century naval warfare as foreign navies, but that Japan was defeated because of strategic, logistical, and technical deficiencies over which it had very little control, because of the negative results of fallible human decision making, and because of the bureaucratic inertia found in many modern military organizations.

Writing in 1961, Captain Hara Tameichi, one of Japan’s ablest destroyer leaders, saw very specific strategic and tactical reasons for Japan’s naval defeat in the Pacific War. Hara made clear his belief that the IJN, especially the surface forces, excelled in quality over the Allied navies because of its difficult and realistic peacetime training program. To Hara, defeat came about because of weaknesses in industrial, material, and logistical capability and the failure to fully exploit technologies like radar and airpower. 23 Hara also saw major problems with the IJN’s training doctrine. He believed that most IJN officers were indecisive when it came to battle, not because of any inherent cultural or racial characteristic, but because of a rigid and even brutal training regimen at Eta Jima Naval Academy which produced “sheepish”, unaggressive, and bureaucratic officers who were unimaginative in their strategic and tactical thinking. Hara attributed senior officers’ continuing fixation with battleships during the interwar period to this bureaucratic inertia. He also attributed the battleship officers’ dominance of the Decisive Battle Doctrine–the Mahanian line-of-battle engagement in the Central and Western Pacific which IJN officers believed would decide victory or defeat in any war with the United States–to this bureaucratic inertia. 24 As evidence for his assertion, Hara cited numerous instances when successful battle tactics were repeatedly used until they lacked an element of surprise for the United States Navy. These tactics then resulted in heavy casualties for the IJN, yet they continued to be used until long after their effectiveness had clearly dissipated. Hara argued that a more realistic and flexible training program at Eta Jima and Japan’s Naval War College could have produced a less bureaucratic and more proficient naval officer corps. 25 To Hara, this stagnant leadership, combined with the Navy’s failure to avoid attrition battles after Guadalcanal, were the main reasons for Japan’s defeat. 26   Cultural factors had little, if anything, to do with his analysis.

The idea that training was at the root of the problem was taken up by Asada Sadao in his very thorough and scholarly account of the IJN in the 1930s. The sole naval historian studied in this paper, Asada also saw a very stale, unimaginative, and bureaucratic officer corps coming out of Eta Jima and the Naval War College. Being taught to unquestioningly obey and subscribe to the validity of battleship superiority and the Decisive Battle Doctrine, the officer corps was highly resistant to innovation in terms of a reorientation toward naval airpower. 27 Yet this fact alone does not fully explain Japan’s defeat. The same kind of bureaucratic inertia and resistance to innovation was evident at times in the United States Navy in the 1920s and 1930s, and it is still debated to what degree the American Navy had reoriented itself from surface to naval airpower by 1941. Only the defeat at Pearl Harbor forced the United States Navy to rely fully on its aircraft carriers in the following months. In fact, the IJN had a greater number of aircraft carriers in operation in 1941 and seemed to have a more serious commitment to naval aviation at the beginning of the war. 28 Thus, numbers, as Hara stressed, seem to have become the determining factor by 1942-1943, as opposed to training policy, which Asada asserted more strongly. Still, Asada, like Hara, deemphasized culture as a debilitating factor and demonstrated with primary sources that the IJN suffered from bureaucratic problems similar to other military organizations in the early twentieth century. 29

Numbers and numerical inferiority, especially in naval airpower and radar-equipped ships, were the main reasons which retired Air Self-Defense Forces General Genda Minoru cited for Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War. Genda was one of the IJN’s first fighter pilots and helped plan the Pearl Harbor and Midway operations as the Air Operations Officer for the First Air Fleet. Genda asserted that the IJN was superior to the United States Navy in terms of flying, navigation, night fighting, torpedo warfare, and bombing skills. 30 According to Genda, the reason the war was lost was a tendency in the IJN to try to compensate for material shortages with “spirit”. This tendency was not, however, attributed to any national or cultural characteristic, but was simply a tactic used by a resource poor nation to redress inherent logistical deficiencies. Genda argued that Japan’s primary mistake was getting involved in a long war with the United States. The fact that Genda never recanted Japan’s role in the war itself suggests that he found nothing wrong with the war or its goals, in complete contrast to the officers writing in the 1950s. To Genda, the war was merely badly planned and poorly executed in terms of its objective timetables. Japan, in other words, flawed when it failed to quickly destroy the American carrier forces, secure a comprehensive Pacific Basin defense perimeter, and negotiate a peace. It did not flaw in launching the Pearl Harbor operation itself. 31

The most scholarly and well-researched work which was reviewed was Admiral Hirama’s article. Hirama, writing in 1991, was one of the few authors, in addition to Asada, to extensively use IJN planning documents as his sources. Hirama admits that the interwar worship of the battleship may have been too strong for the IJN’s own good, but he does not believe that the Navy’s concentration on surface power was as strong as previous scholars have alleged. Nor does he believe that the Decisive Battle Doctrine was as inflexible as previously asserted. 32  In fact, Hirama demonstrates that the Decisive Battle Doctrine changed over time by illustrating that the doctrine was defensive and based on surface power only in the 1920s, before submarines and naval airpower became viable agents to implement a more offensive strategy. 33  Hirama cites force strengths and planning documents to show that as submarines and naval airpower grew in numbers and capability,they also grew in importance for IJN operations. 34

In addition, he claims that the IJN’s strategy evolved from an “interception” strategy, whereby the Navy would intercept the American Fleet as it moved close to Japan, to one of “interception-attrition”, whereby the Navy would use its bases in Micronesia, its longer-ranged submarines, and its carrier fleet built in the 1930s to intercept the American Fleet much closer to Hawaii than previously planned. Only more powerful submarines, more capable carrier airpower, and the integration of these forces into line-of-battle tactics allowed the Navy to revise the strategy in this way. 35  To Hirama, the only reason the IJN continued to emphasize night torpedo warfare after the 1920s was that nighttime surface training was a useful support in battle vis-a-vis the air and subsurface arms, and because it was valued as a way to keep the IJN’s battle skills honed in peacetime. He also argued that Japan’s fatal mistake in the Pacific War was not an overemphasis on surface power, but an overemphasis on land-based naval airpower and an inability to counter highly mobile American carrier groups which outnumbered IJN forces after 1943. 36

Another fascinating paper was that presented in the fall of 1991 at the United States Naval Academy’s Tenth Naval History Symposium in Annapolis, Maryland, by retired Maritime Self-Defense Force Captain Akihiko Yoshida. Akihiko presented research on the Pearl Harbor strike and contended that the air assault on Battleship Row could have been conducted in a more “organized” and “effective” manner! 37 Akihiko’s interpretation was that the air assault was generally successful, but that it could have been much more effective if veteran flyers had been used in the initial assault, neophyte flyers had flown the second wave, and radio communications had been used to coordinate strikes after the attack force arrived over Pearl Harbor. 31  Apparently, there was confusion about Commander Fuchida’s flare signals for the attack and the manner in which the aerial units were to coordinate their strikes. 39  As reasons for the “confused” air assault, Akihiko found fault in the policy of mixing veteran and neophyte air groups which had not trained together for very long. He also found fault with the Navy air arm’s lack of training in high and very high frequency (HF/VHF) radio communications, and with its obsession with radio silence even after the strike force arrived over Pearl Harbor. 40  Akihiko’s interpretation must have proved particularly interesting to his audience, considering that it was predominantly composed of American naval officers marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor raid!

The works by Hara, Asada, Hirama, and Akihiko illustrate another side to the debate over Japan’s naval defeat. These authors consistently saw Japan’s defeat as the result of military-technical factors over which Japan had little control, or as a consequence of bureaucratic inertia that was fairly common in military organizations, or as the result of poor decisions made by fallible human beings under tremendous pressures. National or cultural characteristics as factors in military defeat had little, if any, place in their analyses.


A number of conclusions can be drawn from these most recent examples of post-1945 accounts. One, the historical analysis of Japan’s naval defeat became more sophisticated over time as naval historians and naval officers trained in historical research techniques took over strategic, operational, and tactical analysis from officers who actually fought in the war. A second conclusion is that as the war  receded into the past and professional historians with fewer political axes to grind  came to dominate the debates, explanations for Japan’s defeat  became more precise, more intellectually sound and debatable, and certainly less grounded in over-generalized, stereotyped,  racist, and even self-flagellating terminology. Third, and most obvious, the explanations about Japan’s naval defeat have entailed more complex comparisons with other naval powers and the problems these powers encountered in projecting and employing their naval forces during wartime. This greater complexity can especially be seen with the thoughts of Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, retired Commander of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Fleet, who argued that while the Japanese Government and military began to exhibit “emotional” characteristics in its strategic formulations in the 1930s this phenomenon could happen to any nation because of human nature, bureaucratic inertia, and a gap between planning and operations.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

  1. See Vice Admiral Koda Yoji, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) (RET),”Doctrine And Strategy in IJN” (lecture, U.S. Naval War College, 20 January 2011).
  2. Ibid.  According to John Dower, the idea that a nation could be classified by “character traits” was also the basis for much of the Allied wartime study of Japan.  In fact, these wartime studies were called “national character studies”; see John W. Dower, War Without Mercy:  Race & Power in the Pacific War (New York:  Pantheon Books, 1986), 9 and 120-123.
  3. Dower believes that Japanese wartime propaganda had more to do with self-promotion and the negation of Western stereotypes rather than the denigration of Westerners themselves.  For an analysis of this wartime propaganda, see ibid, 203-233 and 262-290.
  4. Captain Oi Atsushi, “Why Japan’s Antisubmarine Warfare Campaign Failed,” in David C. Evans, ed., Japanese Navy in World War II: In the Words of Former Japanese Naval Officers (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1986), 387 and 414.
  5. Again, the allusions to immaturity are analyzed by Dower.  The pre-1941 language and terminology used in the West to describe the Japanese significantly parallels the language used by Japanese naval officers during the 1950s to explain their own defeat; see Dower, War Without Mercy, 9, 122, 133, and 145.
  6. According to Admiral Koda, the entire Japanese strategic planning apparatus demonstrated major and basic flaws, but not because of any racial or cultural mindset.  Admiral Koda demonstrated that it was Japan’s inexperience with modern total war, stemming from its lack of participation in the European phase of World War One that created the vast gulf between planning and operations that became so prevalent in the 1920s and especially the 1930s; see Koda, “Doctrine and Strategy of IJN,” 20 January 2011.
  7. Vice Admiral Yokoi Toshiyuki, “Thoughts on Japan’s Naval Defeat,” in Evans, Japanese Navy in World War II, 515.
  8. For the Decisive Battle doctrine, see footnote 24.  For aspects of American wartime strategy, see D. Clayton James, “American and Japanese Strategies in the Pacific War,” in Peter Paret, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy:  From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1986), 726-727.  For evidence that some senior American naval officers may not have appreciated or even understood the potentiality of carrier forces, see Clark G. Reynolds’ account of Admiral William Halsey’s conduct as Commander of the US Third Fleet during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in The Fast Carriers:  The Forging of an Air Navy  (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1992), 253-300.  See also Vice Admiral John Towers’ frustration over American carrier forces being commanded by surface officers in 1942.  Towers, the United States Navy’s third naval aviator, one of its first “air admirals,” and Nimitz’ Commander of Pacific Fleet Air Forces (COMAIRPAC), specifically blamed heavy carrier losses in 1942 on the ships being commanded by surface officers who allegedly did not know how to employ these vessels; see Reynolds, Admiral John H. Towers:  The Struggle for Naval Air Supremacy (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1991), 406-454.  For a highly cogent demonstration that some senior surface officers in the United States Navy did, in fact, know how to fight the carrier forces effectively, see John Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral:  Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2006).  In addition, it needs to be understood that numerous naval historians have significantly recast the interwar United States Navy and the senior officer corps.  Based on reexaminations of primary sources, post-Cold war historians have demonstrated that the interwar American naval officer corps experimented with naval aviation, submarine warfare, and amphibious assault doctrine to a much greater degree than the Japanese Navy did or than Cold War-era historians such as Reynolds were willing to admit.  For detailed accounts of interwar American naval doctrine, see Joel Davidson, The Unsinkable Fleet:  The Politics of U.S. Navy Expansion in World War II  (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1996), 11, 12, 14, 15-16, 19-21, 23, 24, 32, 34, 60, 96, and 97; Thomas Wildenberg, Destined for Glory:  Dive Bombing, Midway, and the Evolution of Carrier Airpower (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1998), 48-64, 83-98, 126-128, 141, 155, 157-160, 163-164, and 170-171; William McBride, Technological Change and the United States Navy, 1865-1945 (Baltimore, Maryland:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 111-212; Thomas Hone and Trent Hone, Battleline:  The United States Navy, 1919-1939 (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2006), 110-125; Craig Felker, Testing American Sea Power:  U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923-1940 (College Station, Texas:  Texas A&M University Press, 2007), 61-75; John Kuehn, Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet that Defeated the Japanese Navy (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2008), 87-92, 173-175, and 205; Joel Holwitt, “Execute Against Japan”:  The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (College Station, Texas:  Texas A&M University Press, 2009), 22, 62, and 63-83; and Albert Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War:  The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Newport, Rhode Island:  Naval War College Press, 2010), 25, 51-56, 60, 62, 64, 65, 66, 74, 76-77, 80, 85-86, 93-94, 100-102, 104, 105, 110-117, 121-125, 129-136, 139-146, 151, 155, 156-159, 169,197-203, 207-216, 219-227, 229-237, 253-263, and 287-288.  For interwar Japanese carrier doctrine development, see Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, Shattered Sword:  The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Washington, D.C.:  Potomac Books, 2005), 82-86, 158, 163, 167, 168, 171, 397, 414, and 442
  9. See Dower, War Without Mercy, 103, for pre-1941 Western perceptions about “inflexible” Japanese strategies and tactics and ibid., 97-98, 122, 123, 145, and 153-154, for Western views on alleged Japanese intellectual inferiority which were highly similar to views expressed by Japanese naval officers such as Captain Oi.
  10. Captain Fuchida Mitsuo and Commander Okumiya Masatake, Midway:  The Battle That Doomed Japan (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1955).
  11. Ibid., 243.  Similarly, former Lieutenant Commander Hashimoto Mochitsura, writing about the destruction of the IJN’s submarine force in the Pacific War, claimed that the IJN’s major fault was in failing to develop sophisticated radar before 1943.  Hashimoto asserted that the lack of this sophisticated technology was like going to war with a “bamboo lance.”  The phrase conjures up images of “primitive” weapons and “native” warriors fighting “civilized” Western Techno-soldiers.  In effect, the phrase implies that the Japanese military was somehow culturally inferior to the American military in World War Two and was thus defeated; see Hashimoto, Sunk: The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1941-1945 (New York:  Henry Holt And Company, 1954), vi; see also Dower, War Without Mercy, 94-117 and 121-122.  Dowers offers a great deal of evidence from pre-1941 Western sources that the Japanese were perceived as “subhuman creatures” who were incapable of producing “modern” weaponry or conducting “modern” warfare.  After the Japanese victories of 1941-1942, however, much of this propaganda gave way to stereotypes painting the Japanese as quasi-supermen.  For the changes in Japanese military leaders attitudes after the Russo-Japanese War, see Yuki Tanaka, Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II (Boulder, Colorado:  Westview Press, 1996), 206-211.
  12. See Fuchida and Okumiya, Midway, 243-244 and 247-248; see also Dower, War Without Mercy, 121-122.
  13. Fuchida and Okumiya, Midway, 247-248.
  14. Ibid., 232-248.
  15. For this transformation from “sub-humans” to “supermen”, see Dower, War Without Mercy, 97-98 and 112-116.
  16. Ito Masanori, The End of The Imperial Japanese Navy (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1956), 44-53.  Ito was the only author from the 1950s studied for this paper who was not a professional naval officer.  He was, in fact, a journalist, but his viewpoints about Japan’s defeat closely coincided with the naval officers writing in the 1950s.
  17. Ibid., 69 and 83.
  18. Ibid., 93 and 107.  The reader should note, however, that blaming military defeat on luck or metaphysics was not limited to the Japanese or even to the military personnel of a defeated power.  Craig Cameron has demonstrated that Richard Tregaskis, author of Guadalcanal Diary, described the men of the 1st Marine Division as “pawns in a battle of the gods” when the situation looked “in doubt” after the United States Navy withdrew its carrier forces from the Solomons area in August 1942; see Tregaskis, Guadalcanal Diary (New York:  Random House,1943), 62, as quoted by Cameron, American Samurai:  Myth, Imagination, And The Conduct Of Battle In The First Marine Division, 1941-1951 (Cambridge, England:  Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.
  19. Agawa Hiroyuki, The Reluctant Admiral:  Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy  (New York: Kodansha International, Ltd., 1979), 312 and 314-315.  For a balanced critique of battles such as Midway and the Japanese defeat because of a gap between planning and operations rather than race and culture, see Koda, “Doctrine and Strategy of IJN,” U.S. Naval War College lecture, 20 January 2011.
  20. In May 1993, Dr. Raymond O’Connor, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Miami, told this author that Japanese naval officers using cultural arguments to explain their defeat was “endemic”.  O’Connor’s observations were based on numerous conversations he had had with his California neighbor, retired Rear Admiral Edwin Layton, who had been the Combat Intelligence Officer on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) immediately before and during most of the Pacific War.  Layton had been involved in interrogating Japanese naval officers after the September 1945 surrender, and he told O’Connor that this phenomenon had been a widespread occurrence; conversation between Dr. O’Connor and the author, 60th Annual Conference of the Society for Military History, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario, May 21, 1993.  While General Robert E. Lee did employ similar types of fatalism to denote Confederate victories and defeats in the American Civil War, this author would suggest that perhaps Lee’s nineteenth century context should be taken into account in any analytical comparison to twentieth century military officers; see Thomas Buell, The Warrior Generals:  Combat Leadership in the Civil War (New York:  Three Rivers Press, 1997), 49, 80, 98, 131, 210, and 233.
  21. Conversation between the author and Rear Admiral Hirama Yoichi, World War II in the Pacific Conference, U.S. Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., August 10, 1994.
  22. See Cameron, American Samurai, 10, 34, and 249.
  23. See Captain Hara Tameichi, Japanese Destroyer Captain (New York:  Ballantine Books, 1961), 1-25, 58, and 61.
  24. The Decisive Battle Doctrine was a strategy which was based on the battleship strength of the IJN.  The role of battleships in the victories over China and Russia in 1894-1895 and 1904-1905, respectively, produced a nearly unshakeable confidence among many Japanese naval officers in the ability of battleships to destroy the American Pacific Fleet if it ever attempted to interfere in Japan’s sphere of influence on the East Asian mainland.  The strategy evolved, however, through a number of revisions, and Admiral Hirama argues that the centrality of the battleship gave way to an emphasis on carrier and submarine forces by the 1930s.  Nevertheless, battleship operations continued to remain a major focus until the Pacific War and the Doctrine continued to envision the US Pacific Fleet advancing from Hawaii, being reduced by air and submarine forces along the route to Japan, and then being decisively engaged near Micronesia by the main battleship fleet.  For the development of the Decisive Battle Doctrine, see Mark R. Peattie, “Akiyama Saneyuki and the Emergence of Modern Japanese Naval Doctrine,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 103 (January 1977):  60-69; Peattie and David C. Evans, “Sato Tetsutaro and Japanese Strategy,” Naval History 4 (Fall 1990):  34-39; and Carlos R. Rivera, “Akiyama Saneyuki and Sato Tetsutaro:  Preparing for Imperial Navy for the Hypothetical Enemy, 1906-1916,” paper presented at the 29th Annual Northern Great Plains History Conference, St. Paul, Minnesota, September 28-October 1, 1994.  For changes in the Decisive Battle Doctrine as new technology was introduced in the 1920s and 1930s, see Rear Admiral Hirama Yoichi, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (Retired), “Japanese Naval Preparations for World War Two,” Naval War College Review 44 (Spring 1991):  63-81. For more recent work in this area, see David Evans and Mark Peattie, Kaigun:  Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941 (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1997); Mark Peattie, Sunburst:  The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941 (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2001); and Asada Sadao, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor:  The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2006).
  25. See Hara, Japanese Destroyer Captain, 11-17, 117, 118, 120-121, 134-157, and 157-176.  Western observers in the 1930s and 1940s believed that Japanese tactics were inflexible because of “national characteristics,” especially a predilection to “short tempers” in stressful combat situations.  Hara, however, sees a bureaucratic, rather than a cultural, reason for this phenomenon and believed this bureaucratic inertia could infect and negate the efficiency of any naval organization.  So does Admiral Koda; see Koda, “Doctrine and Strategy of IJN,” U.S. Naval War College, 20 January 2011.  For the Western literature, see Dower, War Without Mercy, passim.
  26. See Hara, Japanese Destroyer Captain, 3.
  27. Asada Sadao, “The Japanese Navy and the United States,” in Dorothy Borg and Okamoto Shumpei, eds., Pearl Harbor as History:  Japanese-American Relations, 1931-1941  (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), 225-259; see also Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor, 287-296, especially for the perspective that much of IJN strategic thought was a response to bureaucratic rivalry with the IJA, not really an orientation to fight the United States Navy.
  28. See Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations,” 69-71; see also Parshall and Tully, Shattered Sword, 3-18 and 60-114.
  29. See Asada, “The Japanese Navy and the United States,” passim.
  30. General Genda Minoru, Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (Retired), “Tactical Planning In The Imperial Japanese Navy,” Naval War College Review 22 (October 1969):  45-50.
  31. Ibid.
  32. See Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations,” 63-81.
  33. Ibid., 64-67.
  34. These consisted of a series of “Replenishment Plans,” or programs designed to build up the submarine and air strength of the IJN in the late 1930s.  For example, larger submarines for ocean cruising were developed, as were submarine command and control vessels to ensure tactical control over large submarine flotillas operating at long distances in the central and eastern Pacific.  In addition, the famous Zero fighter and the Betty land-based torpedo bomber were developed at this time and the strength of the naval air force grew from 7.5 air groups and 120 aircraft in 1931 to over 3300 aircraft and ten aircraft carriers in 1941; see Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations,” 70.
  35. Ibid., 67-71 and 73-74.
  36. Ibid., 78-79.
  37. Captain Akihiko Yoshida, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (Retired), “The Disorderly Air Assault on Battleship Row,” paper delivered at the Tenth Annual Symposium on Naval History, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, September 13, 1991, 1-4.  For a more recent and even more critical, though probably overdone, critique of the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, see Alan Zimm, Attack on Pearl Harbor:  Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  Casemate Publishers, 2011).
  38. Ibid.
  39. Ibid., 3.
  40. Ibid., 3-4.
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