BOOK REVIEW – Churchill Goes to War: Winston’s Wartime Journeys

Brian Lavery, Churchill Goes to War: Winston’s Wartime Journeys, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2007. 392 pp. Illustrations, photographs, notes, bibliography, index.

Review by Timothy J. Demy
U.S. Naval War College

Brian Lavery’s name and works are well known to naval and maritime enthusiasts and historians.  Lavery is the author of more than thirty books, covering marine architecture, ship construction, and naval warfare from its infancy to the present day.  He is perhaps best known as a leading expert on the career of Lord Nelson and the Royal Navy of Nelson’s era.  In the present volume he puts his pen to the travels of Winston Churchill during the Second World War and provides readers with a well-written, enjoyable and informative study of Churchill’s journeys to meet with Roosevelt, Stalin, and other wartime leaders. Churchill always preferred face-to-face meetings over telegraph, telephone, and written means of communication, and was the person who in the 1950s coined the term “summit meeting.”

Travelling by air and sea, Churchill covered thousands of nautical and air miles to and from fourteen major leadership summits.  He was by far the most-travelled of the wartime political leaders.  Always craving danger and excitement, Churchill combined his enthusiasms with advances in transport capabilities to meet face-to-face with Allied leaders. And the dangers were very real for Churchill.  In the air, there was the threat of attack from the Luftwaffe, and on the sea there was the potential for sinking by U-boats.  Yet, Churchill was undeterred, travelling thousands of miles in fourteen major trips outside Western Europe beginning in August 1941 aboard H.M.S. Prince of Wales to Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, then a British colony, and ending with a flight to Potsdam in July 1945.  In January 1942, returning from Washington, D.C., via Bermuda, Churchill was the first prime minister to cross the Atlantic by air.  Lavery provides an excellent reconstruction of the reminiscences and accounts of Churchill’s Boeing 314 Clipper being lost in fog and nearing German anti-aircraft batteries at Brest, showing that the danger was not as close as Churchill and others reported.

Viewed frequently through the eyes of those who accompanied Churchill, the narrative skillfully shows the amazing amount of detail involved in the preparations for and mechanics of each trip.  The narrative of the journies gives the reader a sense not only of Churchill, but of the atmosphere surrounding him and the significance of each journey for the Allied cause.  During each trip, Chruchill continued to work sending messages, writing letters and memos, and always thirsting for more news and information. Lavery presents a well-crafted narrative in which the reader can easily sense each mission, whethere airborne, ashore, of afloat.  The feats of the air travels were remarkable for the era and Churchill embraced air travel as a means of both expediency and adventure.

Naval literary enthusiasts will appreciate knowing of Churchill’s reading of books from C. S. Forester’s series Captain Horatio Hornblower, RN during the Placentia Bay trip.  Details such as this, along with Churchill’s playing darts and backgammon are skillfully woven into the narrative of each trip presenting readers with information about Churchill and his entourages but also giving important information about the activities and accomplishments of each journey.   Lavery’s work puts a very personal face on the meetings that shaped Allied strategy for the war.

Although previous works have discussed Churchill’s wartime leadership in great detail, what has been missing is a study of his journeys during the war.  This volume admirably fills that void.  It is much more than a book of travel trivia; it is a work that shows aspects of Churchill’s leadership and wartime efforts that were previously known, but lacking in critical evaluation.  Lavery provides such evaluation very well.  His concluding pages evaluate Churchill as a trendsetter for future leaders for whom transatlantic travel would become normative.  He also provides a brief postwar account of the aircraft and ships in which Churchill traveled as well as a brief summary of members of the traveling parties.  The book fills a needed void in naval studies of the Second World War and naval historians and Churchill enthusiasts will not be disappointed.  The volume has excellent maps detailing the course of each journey and a nice selection of photographs.  It is an informative and most enjoyable read.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Forgotten Weapon: U. S. Navy Airships and the U-boat War

William T Althoff, Forgotten Weapon: U. S. Navy Airships and the U-boat War. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2009. 417 pp. heavily illustrated with B& W photographs; maps, chronology, glossary, appendixes, bibliography, notes, index.

Review by Andrew Lambert
King’s College London.

Long recognised as the expert on United States Navy lighter than air (LTA) operations William Althoff has once again mined his seminal 1990 text Sky Ships: A History of the Airship in the United States Navy for a theme that required further development. This study shifts the focus from the broad focus to the wartime role of small non-rigid ‘blimps’ in the context of the anti-submarine campaign. Despite the abandonment of the large rigid airships, after the costly failure of successive American built ships, and the death of their chief proponent, Admiral William Moffett, lighter would not die. Instead it was stripped back to the training cadre of blimps at Lakehurst New Jersey. As the world spiralled down towards a Second World War the LTA programme managed to cling onto the coat tails of a vast expansion of American naval power, one that generated a force of over 7,000 officers and men, one that would put over 100 blimps into the sky between the Canadian frontier and Brazil, with detachments operating from Morocco, France and Italy. Some of the LTA leadership, notably career LTA aviator the abrasive Admiral Charles Rosendale, hoped to rebuild the rigid airship programme on the back of a successful war, pushing designs for long range LTA aircraft carriers with seven scout bombers, or massive strategic transports. Instead the service received over 100 K type combat blimps, and a useful force of training ships, all produced by the Goodyear Corporation. Goodyear had made a long term commitment to the technology, operating the world’s only truly commercial LTA fleet.

It might be wondered what role the small non-rigid airship could fulfil in 1940 that would justify the expenditure of considerable money, industrial effort and manpower. There were many critics at the time, and the consensus down to the present has been that more aircraft and/or surface ships would have been a better choice. Althoff makes a good case for LTA, and may just prompt a revision of those judgements. By addressing the U-boat war at all levels, from grand strategy to tactics his book places the LTA effort in a clear context. The Navy had an LTA capability, and simple blimps had been a critical convoy escort asset for the British in 1918, when they deterred U-boat attacks, reported on their movements and generally denied them the opportunity to operate on the surface. When the United States joined the Second World War a dramatic U-boat offensive struck the Eastern Seaboard, exposing an almost catastrophic failure by state and service to anticipate and prepare. Everything that could fly was dragged into the defence of shipping. The blimp worked because it faced no air threat on the American coast, could stay aloft for 12 to 18 hours, was highly visible, provided an excellent viewing platform and operated at low speeds that were suitable for the escort role. In early 1942 blimps rushed into service to provide a modicum of protection to coastal shipping, and they did so without effective weapons or sensors. Despite these limitations their presence provided useful area denial and a potent deterrent, one that helped to turn the tide. When the U-boats withdrew to the West Indies, Venezuela and the Panama Canal Zone the blimps followed them, with major infrastructure projects needed to create the big sheds, aprons and helium refinement plants that were required to sustain the gasbags. Fields in Trinidad and then along the Brazilian coast supported squadrons that escorted high value convoys of oil and bauxite.

At 75 mph flat out blimps were too slow to press home an attack on a diving submarine, and vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire so standard ASW procedure for blimps was to report sightings and then tail them from a safe distance by eye, radar or latterly MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detection), calling up surface and heavier than air support. The only blimp to exchange fire with a U-boat, K74, spotted U134 off Florida, and the skipper chose to engage, dropping depth charges and firing the single 50 calibre machine gun. With the envelope punctured by 20mm fire the blimp went down, although the crew were rescued. The U-boat suffered significant damage to her dive tanks, aborted her mission, and was sunk by British aircraft as she neared base in France.

A squadron deployed to Morocco conducted night ASW with MAD in the Straits of Gibraltar, in mid-1944, before the blimps were sent to the south of France, Tunisia and Italy where they spotted minefields and directed the surface minesweeping effort with great success. This was another role pioneered by the Royal Navy in 1918, in which LTA was far superior to HTA. The Pacific theatre witnessed a few tentative early ASW patrols, but by the time the blimps were combat ready the Japanese submarine threat had disappeared and the blimps were never deployed to the combat zone, despite successful carrier compatibility exercises.

In August 1943 LTA found itself in the middle of a bitter turf war between the Army Air Force and Navy for control of land based air ASW. The programme was stopped; orders for new airships were cut back, ending production of the new, larger M type at 4 units, and the K series at 135, with spares and 22 training ships. By this stage the blimp was finally getting effective sensors, and the hint of useful weapon. After extensive trials on blimps and aircraft MAD, produced traces that would allow a blimp to follow a submerged U-boat, and plan an attack. By 1944 the doctrine was to locate U-boats by eye, or by radar, and then track them underwater with MAD, to deliver the contact up to more effective killer systems. The addition of sono-bouys, another system developed for the blimp, finally linked all the pieces of the system into a usable platform, about two years after it would have been really useful, against the first U-boat campaign off the East Coast. By late 1944 the development of the modern diesel electric submarine had fundamentally changed the balance of power between air and submarine. This gave the MAD equipped blimp a key role, detecting and especially tracking an underwater target capable of 16 knots. Plans to base a squadron in the United Kingdom to meet this emerging threat were aborted by the end of the war, with two ships already in the Azores. Using blimps for inshore work would free up very long range HTA for distant operations.

In late 1944 the blimps also began to be fitted with acoustic homing torpedoes, the ideal attack weapon for the platform. In April 1945 K72 dropped an acoustic, and the accompanying destroyer escort picked up a clear underwater explosion, probably the destruction of U879. However, in the absence of debris and wreckage the kill was never awarded. Another blimp joined in the last American U-boat kill, too little and too late to hit the headlines.

The 1943 cutbacks hit LTA development, but the killer blows were the high casualty rate from basic aviation accidents, and the failure to score a single clear cut U-boat kill. While Althoff stresses the negative aspects of the Navy’s handling of LTA in the wrap up chapters 8 and 9, the programme was a success. LTA retained key personnel and survived the war, acquired new N type ASW blimps, proof positive that the Navy valued LTA in the jet age, and even took on a new role in national defence, providing long endurance Airborne Early Warning. In fact the Navy carried on with LTA, a decade after it paid off the last battleship. Given the utter lack of interest in LTA in any other Navy this suggests that US Navy LTA was pushed to its limits by a small but determined and pugnacious band of believers, led by Admiral Charles Rosendale, and their long term allies at the Goodyear Corporation. The blimps helped to drive the U-boats out of American and Caribbean waters, a result that should have satisfied even their harshest critics, and released other air ASW assets for operations further afield. As convoy escorts they deterred and diverted U-boats, saving countless ships and men; indeed Althoff notes that only one merchant vessel was sunk while under blimp escort. By 1945 they had the technology to be serious U-boat killers, but ran out of time to prove the point.

Althoff’s expertise, insight and enthusiasm shine through this excellent book, both as a record of a genuinely under-appreciated weapon system, and another case study of the technological innovation in wartime. The blimp may have lacked the allure of the big rigid ships, but it was a far more effective weapon in the war that was fought between 1941 and 1945. This elegant and effective book provides a lasting monument to the achievement of the LTA squadrons, establishing their contribution to victory beyond any doubt. Now we must hope that the author is ready to finish the story, treating the post-1945 LTA effort in similar fashion.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – “Friends in Peace and War” The Russian Navy’s Landmark Visit to Civil War San Francisco

C. Douglas Kroll, “Friends in Peace and War” The Russian Navy’s Landmark Visit to Civil War San Francisco, Potomac Books, 2005. xii & 288 pp. endnotes, bibliography, index.

Review by Andrew Lambert
King’s College London

The arrival of the Imperial Russian Navy’s Pacific squadron at San Francisco in July 1863, where it remained for a year, has been interpreted in several distinctly different ways. While the relationship between the United States and Tsarist Russia might, at first glance, seem to be unusual, linking a democratic republic with a repressive autocratic empire, there were deeper reasons for this odd partnership. Both states were vast, truly continental landmasses with a taste for conquest, seizing large swaths of territory from Mexico and China. In both states land hunger and ever expanding frontiers were linked to religious faith and cultural identity. In the 1860s both states faced a crisis of secession, the Southern Confederacy in 1861 and the Polish uprising in 1863. Both states contained large slave populations, the Russian serf had no more freedom than a field slave in the southern states of America. These synergistic factors far outweighed any ideological divisions.

Critically both states feared the global reach and economic power of Britain, and the cutting edge of that power, the Royal Navy. In 1812 – 1814 America felt the hard hand of British economic warfare; the Russians had learnt the lesson more recently, in the Crimean War of 1854-56. In that conflict Americans supported Russia, supplying arms and intelligence, even offering to operate privateers. After the Crimea American entrepreneurs like Samuel Colt and shipbuilder William H Webb were quick to profit from the Russian re-armament programme. This was a partnership built on self-interest, and shared hatred.

When the Civil War broke out Russia, ideologically averse to internal unrest rejected French calls to join a European diplomatic intervention. In 1863 the Federal Government repaid the compliment by backing Russia against a Polish national uprising, while Britain and France protested. The fact that both powers faced dangerous internal divisions and external pressure from London and Paris generated a geo-strategic partnership.

In the Crimean War the Russian Fleet, unable to get to sea from the Baltic and the Black Sea, had been effectively useless. Learning the lesson the Russians sent their Baltic and Pacific squadrons to America in 1863, in case the Polish Revolt turned into a second Crimean War, in part because the Americans had already offered them access to repair facilities at New York and San Francisco. San Francisco was a key Federal position, during the war $173 million worth of gold passed through the port, shipped to the east by steamer. The Confederates, well aware of these shipments, attempted to seize one of these ships. The presence of Southern sympathisers made the city nervous, and it was not very well defended. Fort Point, now under the southern end of Golden Gate Bridge, was newly completed, but not especially powerful. Without a linked battery on the north shore it was easily avoided. Alcatraz was rather stronger, but did not receive ship-killing 15 inch Rodman guns until 1864. The American Pacific Squadron comprised a few steamers and sailing ships. The monitor Camanche sent out in sections sank to the bottom of the harbour before being unloaded. Although raised she only entered service when the threat had passed. Consequently the arrival of a powerful Russian squadron that offered to defend the port against a Confederate (and perhaps a British) attack was most welcome. That said the Russians Novik was wrecked at Point Reyes, but five more ships arrived, and stayed for a year. Russian sailors helped put out a fire in the city, and spent a lot of money locally, on repairs at Mare Island Navy Yard, supplies and coal, before staging a grand ball. In addition local merchants hoped to secure access to the expanding Russian market in the newly conquered Chinese territory in the Amur River delta, site of modern Vladivostock. Once the Russians had completed their repairs, and the Polish Revolt was over, Admiral Popov departed, the last ship left in August 1864.

This is an excellent case study of diplomatic and strategic interaction, with a strong local resonance. There are a few minor inaccuracies, the Russian flagship Bogatyr, a steam screw corvette, carried 17 guns not the 48 she is credited with on page 70, while Tsar Alexander did not mediate the War of 1812, His offer was firmly rebuffed by the British – at that time their allies against Napoleon.

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BOOK REVIEW – From Hot War To Cold: The U.S. Navy and National Security Affairs, 1945-1955

Jeffrey G. Barlow, From Hot War To Cold: The U.S. Navy and National Security Affairs, 1945-1955, Stanford University Press, 2009, 710 pp., maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.

Review by Jack Binkley
University of Maryland, University College

With the Cold War ending two decades ago, and with the perspective of time along with the declassification of information, historians can now turn their attention to the institutional history of the military services during this period.  In furthering our understanding of this subject, the United States Navy, in conjunction with Stanford University Press, has come forth with the publication of Jeffrey G. Barlow’s widely anticipated book, From Hot War To Cold: the U. S. Navy and National Security Affairs, 1945-1955.   Jeffrey Barlow is no stranger to military historians in general and to the readers of this journal in particular. A career historian at the U.S. Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command, he has covered some of the same material, albeit from a different perspective, in his earlier work, The Revolt of the Admirals: The Fight for Naval Aviation, 1945-1950. 1

Obviously, no single volume can address all of the varied issues that confronted a military service over the entire Cold War.  Barlow understands this and appears to be offering up the first of a multi-volume work on the subject.  Not only does From Hot War to Cold focus on the first decade of the Cold War, but within that time frame on the Navy’s role in national security policy development. Thus, his story revolves around the Navy’s role at the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) level, as he explains how the Chief of Naval Operations (“CNO”) and the Navy staff viewed the new responsibilities confronting America as a global power.   From Hot War to Cold is an extraordinarily ambitious endeavor, and Barlow has produced a book which, on one hand, and at so many levels, is tremendously rewarding and useful; yet, on the other hand, because of what the author included or omitted, it can be maddening and for some readers even disappointing.

The greatest strength of this book is the scope of the author’s research.  The nearly three hundred pages of notes and bibliography supply a veritable road map for future researchers on a myriad of subjects.  He not only has opened the door to the invaluable collections that reside in the Navy’s archives, as well as the National Archives, but has directed scholars to numerous collateral collections.  In some cases he has reviewed documents that no other historian has previously worked.  Furthermore, he has enhanced his archival work through the use of a wide variety of oral history interviews, some of which are located at other institutions, such as the Truman Library or the Columbia University Oral History Research Office, but many were conducted by the author himself.

Another great strength of this book is how much it adds to our knowledge of the unification/reorganization debates during this period.  Three of the first four chapters of the book examine the wartime changes that occurred within the office of the CNO and the Navy’s position in the unification debate that resulted in the National Security Act of 1947.  There are also several excellent chapters on the early reorganization efforts of the Eisenhower administration.  While the Navy’s position during the unification controversy is generally well known, for those historians interested in delving into the back story, these chapters are gems.

Barlow has also enhanced our understanding of civil-military relations during this period and in particular the process by which the Navy’s representatives on the JCS were chosen.  For example, this reviewer had always assumed that it was a foregone conclusion that Admiral Nimitz would succeed Admiral King as the Navy’s member on the JCS, just as Generals Eisenhower and Spaatz succeeded Generals Marshal and Arnold.   However, Barlow paints a very different picture, which includes Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal’s ambivalence, if not outright hostility, to Nimitz’ appointment.  Barlow also casts light on how senior officers lost the support of their civilian leaders.  The fate of Admiral Robert B. Carney, who was not reappointed CNO in 1955, is illustrative, as the author makes a compelling argument that the real issue was a fundamental difference over the degree of civilian intrusion into military operations.  For specialists in civil-military relations, Barlow provides a fascinating parallel story to the issues raised by Army Chief of Staff, General Matthew Ridgway. 2  However, despite these wonderful sections on the rise and fall of senior officers, there is little in the book that explains the selection of Vice Admiral Forrest Sherman, in 1949, or Rear Admiral Arleigh Burke, in 1955, for the position of CNO.  Burke’s case is especially unique, inasmuch as he was promoted over 98 more senior line officers.  How did their promotions relate to the strategic and organizational goals of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations?  Unfortunately that is left unanswered.

Another important area of value in this book is its effort to explain the Navy’s role in strategic planning.  What is clear from Barlow’s book is the Navy’s continual difficulty relating its Cold War mission to its force structure. Historically, navies are built to fight other navies, and the fact that the Soviet Union was a land power simply exacerbated the Navy’s problem. Without a clearly articulated mission, the Navy could not rationalize increased budget allocations, nor defend its force structure.   This is very apparent in several excellent chapters on the Navy’s assessment of the Soviet threat as the Second World War ended, and how the Navy tried to find a role in the defense of Western Europe in the late 1940s and during the development of the New Look.    This mismatch of missions and force structure was quite obvious in Barlow’s discussion of the cancellation of the flush deck aircraft carrier U.S.S. United States in 1949, the agreements over service roles and missions, and the development of strategic war plans against the Soviet Union, all of which are covered quite effectively.  But, here again, one is surprised by what is omitted. There is no discussion of how the Navy tried to fill the gap between its mission and its force structure through the development of sea-based missiles or the construction of the Forrestal class aircraft carriers during the 1950s.  While Barlow does note the “successful defense of the Navy’s program to build additional Forrestal class” carriers (p. 321), how the Navy promoted this new class of ships only a couple years after the cancellation of the U.S.S. United States, and in the face of the continued opposition by Air Force and Army, is unanswered even from the Navy’s perspective.

A final point that one takes away from this book is how little the Navy was involved in many of the key national security crises of the period. This is only natural given the geopolitical nature of some of the problems.  However, there are a number of sections of this book detailing subjects in which the Navy had no obvious role.  For example there are splendid sections on the creation of the North Korean Army prior to June 1950, and Marshall’s mission to China, but one wonders what they have to do with the Navy.  It is almost as if the author felt that he had to insert a Navy role, even when it was at best relatively minimal.  At times, where the Navy does have an important role, such as the decision to support the French at Dien Bien Phu, his research and analysis is excellent.  At other times, the Navy’s important role was ignored.  A prominent example is that except for a discussion of the initial decision to enter the Korea conflict, the Navy’s views on the crucial political/military and civil/military decisions made during the war are entirely absent.

Notwithstanding these minor criticisms (and they are minor compared to the over-all quality of the book), Barlow has completed a work for which he and the Navy should be justly proud.  Any scholar planning to work in the area of early Cold War national security policy or civil-military relations must keep a copy of this book handy and address some of the issues that he raises.  It is also a book that belongs in any research library.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)


  1. Jeffery G. Barlow, Revolt of the Admirals: the Fight for Naval Aviation, 1945-1950,  (Washington D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, 1994).
  2. See Matthew B. Ridgway, Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway,  (New York, New York: Harper Brothers, 1956) , 269-273.
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BOOK REVIEW – McNamara, Clifford, and the Burdens of Vietnam, 1965-1969

Edward J. Drea, McNamara, Clifford, and the Burdens of Vietnam, 1965-1969, a volume in the Secretaries of Defense Historical Series, Washington, D.C.:  Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, (2011).

Review by Dr. Richard P. Hallion

The historians within the Office of the Secretary of Defense have established an enviable reputation for meticulously researched and well-crafted books, particularly their series on the various Secretaries of Defense.  Edward J. Drea’s impressive new volume in this series will add further luster to both the office and its author.  Drea, a highly regarded historian of wide-ranging experience, is no stranger to those in the military history community, and he has drawn on a wide range of official and unofficial sources to brilliantly relate four crucial years in the Johnson era.

The central figure of Drea’s book is the enigmatic Robert Strange McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961-1968, his successor Clark Clifford (though well-treated) serving as a coda to the rest of the work.  From his preface onwards, Drea is unsparingly blunt examining McNamara and his acolytes, their motivations, their actions, the impact on the military and the war in Vietnam, and the McNamara legacy, noting that:

“He mismanaged the military services, leaving them under-funded, under-strength, and discredited in the eyes of the nation.  He routinely disregarded military advice, particularly on strategic maters, leaving the United States weaker before the Soviet Union.  He unilaterally implemented programs and disregarded their consequences, leaving the larger society poorer for it.  Even now, McNamara remains a vilified man, and attempts to rehabilitate his reputation during the 1990s only served to reopen the raw emotions of the contentious Vietnam era”(iii).

All this constitutes red meat for McNamara’s legions of critics (not least of which are those who fought while under his tenure as Secretary).  Despite this, Drea approached this history hoping to “derive a more balanced view of McNamara’s and by extension OSD’s, successes and failures”(iii). It is a task he takes on dutifully, recognizing McNamara’s outstanding early background, “surpassing intellectual gifts. . .an almost inexhaustible amount of energy,” and his unprecedented “mastery of the enormity and complexity of the Pentagon,” but nevertheless concluding “for all his luminous achievements, his choices that led to the Vietnam disaster will forever remain McNamara’s enduring legacy”(547).

Indeed, after one finishes this book, it is hard to see how McNamara’s reputation could possibly be worse, despite Drea’s scrupulously even-handed treatment.  Whether dealing with acquisition (example: the “do-everything” TFX [F-111] program that cost the Navy ten years of fighter development time), space policy, naval surface ship acquisition, relations with the Joint Staff, and his misguided faith in leadership via statistical analysis, McNamara blundered.

Nothing exemplified McNamara’s disastrous defense leadership more than Rolling Thunder, a misbegotten air campaign predicated on sending signals rather than achieving decisive effect.  Drea presents a masterful “view from the top” of the micro-management, faulty assumptions, and political meddling that characterized this ill-fated operation, concluding: “The largely civilian direction of the air strategy failed the tests of both conception and execution….Lacking an integrated and coherent political-military strategic foundation the air campaign proceeded by fits and starts, sputtering most of the time” (82).

Matters came to a head on Capitol Hill in the summer of 1967, when Pacific commander Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp, 7th Air Force commander Lieutenant General William Momyer, and other military figures testified that McNamara’s bombing strategy was bankrupt.  Though McNamara vigorously defended his record, Senators were unconvinced. “Throughout the adversarial questioning,” Drea writes, “McNamara resorted to evasion and obfuscation to ward off his critics,” adding: “McNamara obstinately insisted despite testimony by uniformed leaders to the contrary that no gulf existed between military and civilian officials over target selection.  This was the McNamara of old—supremely confident, certain of his mastery of the facts. . . But three years of Vietnam had destroyed his credibility, discredited his policies, and shattered his aura of infallibility” (216-7).

McNamara was done.  Three months later, amid sleet and rain, he left office, his reputation in tatters, his policies discredited.  Rolling Thunder outlasted him by just eight months until it, too (as Drea notes damningly) “ended as it had unfolded—troubled, contentious, and inconclusive” (232).

Drea’s book is remarkably free from error, a tribute to its editing.  The author’s tendency to jump back-and-forth over time and topic can be jarring, but is probably unavoidable, given the complexity of the subject.  It is an excellent companion to H. R. McMaster’s earlier Dereliction of Duty:  Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam (New York:  HarperCollinsPublishers, 1998 ed.).  Like that now-classic work, Drea’s book tells a sad, troubling, and cautionary tale, one to be taken to heart by those entrusted today with the defense of the nation.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Napoleon’s Troublesome Americans: Franco-American Relations, 1804-1815

Peter P. Hill, Napoleon’s Troublesome Americans: Franco-American Relations, 1804-1815, Potomac Books, 2005. xii & 288 pp. endnotes, bibliography, index.

Review by Andrew Lambert
King’s College London.

While American historians have paid close attention to the Anglo-American diplomacy of the Napoleonic Wars, as the lead up to the War of 1812, the equally troubled relationship with France and her mighty Emperor has received less attention. Peter Hill’s book focuses on the diplomatic exchanges, relegating the maritime issues that dominated the era to the background. Based on extensive research in American and French archives it provides parallel treatments from the perspectives of the Embassies in Paris and Washington as they struggled to find common ground between a peaceful republic and a massive empire built on military power. Hill’s judgement is clear and highly significant for students of the Anglo-American relationship. Napoleon systematically bullied and deceived successive American administrations because he could. The Americans had no power to coerce him, and he did not accord their arguments about international law or morality any weight. He acted in this way because America would not help him defeat Britain, instead American ships systematically, repeatedly and skilfully violated the ‘Continental System’ his economic total war against Britain, which relied on excluding British goods from Europe. He spent seven years trying to crush every neutral state that tried to maintain trade because this was a total war, one in which there could be no neutrals. He believed Americans, and he had a hard job telling them apart from Englishmen, were only interested in a profit, they had no honour and meekly accepted the British Orders in Council that placed his empire under an illegal blockade. He impounded American merchant ships, and recognised that almost half of all ‘American’ sailors were British. These men were locked up as Prisoners of War – to stop them being impressed into the Royal Navy. Any hints he made about relaxing his regime were entirely self-serving and failed to progress when Washington requested suitable recompense.

To make matters worse when the American Congress finally reacted to British provocation they did so with economic measures like the Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts that damaged France more than Britain. These included leaving open the export of American flour to Spain, where it fed the British army that the Duke of Wellington used to drive the French back over the Pyrenees. When French frigates occasionally got to sea they systematically burnt these ships, causing outrage in Washington, leading to diplomatic protests that caused incomprehension in Paris. Hill stresses the diplomatic damage done by French frigates burning American merchant ships, but he misses the irony that their only defence was provided by the Royal Navy. The British captured many of the French raiders, and sent them to the American coast, to replace other ex-French ships like the Guerriere and Java.

The question of the former French colony of San Domingo, which was now the black republic of Haiti, run by former slaves who had overthrown and massacred their white masters proved equally divisive. The Americans here happy to sell guns to the new republic, but would not recognise it, fearing the idea of such a state might give American slaves dangerous ideas. This infuriated Napoleon, who had plans to recover San Domingo, as well as Louisiana, Florida and much more, once he had finished off the British.

Occasionally Napoleon hinted that if the Americans resisted the British, by declaring war, he might treat them better and offer an alliance. James Madison stiffly noted that America did not enter alliances. Finally his one and only gesture of support for the American war effort in 1812, allowing American privateers to sell captured British prizes in French harbours, was not reciprocated. Congress would not repeal the legal barrier.  Throughout the War of 1812 the British anxiously looked for signs of Franco-American collusion, of an alliance or joint operations at sea. Nothing happened. Napoleon didn’t care, the Americans were at war and that would suffice. Desperate attempts to end French seizures of American merchant ships, and secure indemnity for French outrages proved futile. When pressed Napoleon either ignored the issue, or simply lied about his policy. He did not value honesty or integrity, something that his American counterparts slowly came to realise. Attempts to secure a Commercial treaty, and build co-belligerent co-operation perished with Ambassador Joel Barlow, who died at Vilna on 26 December 1812 on a futile mission to meet the Emperor. Napoleon, on his way back from defeat at Moscow did not bother to stop. America was irrelevant to a man who needed 250,000 fresh soldiers.

While Thomas Jefferson courted France in pursuit of preposterous claims that West Florida had been part of the Louisiana Purchase, James Madison was more concerned with the growing list of maritime insults suffered at French hands, but he still hankered after seizing Florida from Spain. Ultimately American concerns to expand their borders outweighed the maritime dimension, and although Hill echoes much recent diplomatic history, arguing the War of 1812 was a question of national honour, and the survival of republican government and the Republican Party, he provides ample evidence that the conquest of Canada and Florida were major themes. In 1807 Jefferson told the French Ambassador (p.30) ‘If the English do not give us the satisfaction we demand [over the Leopard/ Chesapeake incident], we will take Canada which wants to join the Union, and when with Canada we shall have the Floridas, we will no longer have any difficulty with our vessels, and this is the only way to stop them.’ This theme constantly recurred through the intervening seven years until in 1812 American troops invaded Canada and Spanish Florida. They were intent on conquest and had no intention of leaving. This was the only war America could hope to win.

Napoleon’s Troublesome Americans is a useful reminder of the problems that face smaller powers in an age of totals war, and a lesson in the irrelevance of diplomacy in the face of blatant, repeated, unblinking dishonesty. In sharp contrast to the position in 1914 Madison’s America lacked the weight and power in international affairs to be taken seriously by London and Paris, then in the middle of an existential conflict. Britain would not surrender the ancient legal right to impress her own sailors; France would not concede the Floridas, or free trade. Both France and Britain were overbearing, arrogant and dismissive of minor neutrals, as all great powers have been in times of national emergency. Fine words and elevated principles were not enough.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – Guiding Lights: United States Naval Academy Monuments and Memorials

Nancy Prothro Arbuthnot,  Guiding Lights: United States Naval Academy Monuments and Memorials, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2009.

Review by Matthew McGrew
University of Southern Mississippi

Recent “History and Memory” scholarship has analyzed the importance of monuments and memorials to the societies that erect such tributes.  Readers should approach Nancy Prothro Arbuthnot’s Guiding Lights with the understanding that the author’s purpose is not to follow the footsteps of scholars such as Jay Winter in providing a cultural reading of Annapolis memorials.  Rather, this book serves as a veritable ‘family album’ to insiders of the navy community and a ‘tour guide’ to individuals on the outside looking in.  From this perspective, Arbuthnot’s book provides readers with an accessible compendium to many well-known Naval Academy monuments.

Guiding Lights’s no-nonsense organization lends itself well to Arbuthnot’s goal of exploring the history behind the sites passed daily by past and present midshipmen.  An introductory chapter about the architectural history of “the Yard” from the nineteenth century to the present gives way to over sixty brief sketches of selected monuments in alphabetical order.  Readers will easily jump from the “Administration Building” to the “Zimmerman Bandstand” and all points between – assuming that memorials of interest made the author’s cut.  Though space limitations and authorial license did prevent the inclusion of all Annapolis tributes, the information and photographs (B/W) included with each entry more than make up for any missing sites.

The book’s greatest strength comes from the inclusion of poetry and reflections about each location provided by more than eighty midshipmen in the graduating classes of 2001-2010.  In addition, the author’s own poetry about specific monuments of importance to herself – as both a faculty member and daughter of an Academy graduate – will catch the attention of future researchers interested in Annapolis culture and legacy.  As with all books however, Guiding Lights is not without its shortcomings.  The most glaring flaw – a complete lack of foot- or endnotes – will prove a hindrance and irritation to most academic readers.  While the author does enclose all primary source excerpts within headers and footers that allude to point(s) of origin, readers looking for a bread-crumb trail to the archives will search in vain.  With no citation to directly link text to bibliography, interested researchers will spend time scouring the reference list for what may be the appropriate book, article, manuscript collection, or website.  Aside from this major drawback, Arbuthnot’s book is quite user-friendly.

Because of its more-basic, less-specialized approach to the subject matter, Guiding Lights will appeal to a wide range of academic and non-academic readers.  First, any researcher of service academy mentalité (i.e. what type of environment makes a midshipman a midshipman) will delight in the ability to visit these Annapolis haunts from the comfort of home.  Second, the poetry and reflections by the author and the midshipmen contributors will serve as valuable primary sources to future “History and Memory” scholars.  Third, Arbuthnot’s book will undoubtedly find a welcome audience among current and retired naval personnel, their friends and family, and any laypersons interested in the Naval Academy.  Simply put, most readers who pick up Guiding Lights will find it a useful guide to Annapolis with a variety of research applications.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – The Navy of the Nuclear Age, 1947-2007

Paul H. Silverstone, The Navy of the Nuclear Age, 1947-2007, The U.S. Navy Warship Series, Routledge, 2009. 321 pp. Illustrations, glossary, appendices.

Review by Sebastian Bruns,
Institute for Security Policy & PhD candidate, University of Kiel, Germany.

Naval vessels are a multifaceted military asset. Some are built as a class and purchased in greater numbers, while others are one of a kind vessel.  Even ships of the same class tend to differ in subtle ways from one another.  Some have endured repeated combat tours, while others have served quietly and diligently in peacetime missions; some have been transferred to partner nations, and others await their end as part of the Reserve Fleet or as towed drones for live-fire target practice. From aircraft carriers to cruisers, from coastal minelayers to submarine tenders, from naval icebreakers to fleet tugs, the selection of vessels employed by the sea services of the United States (the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard) during the post-World War II period is nothing short of overwhelming. The advent of the nuclear age (both in terms of propulsion and armament) and the Cold War were just two of the factors that shaped U.S. warship development after 1945.

The most famous ships such as the Maddox (engaged in the Gulf of Tonkin events in August 1964), Pueblo (seized by North Korean forces in 1968), Stark (damaged by two Exocet missiles fired by Iraqi aircraft and fire in Persian Gulf in May 1987, claiming 37 lives), and Cole (damaged by terrorist attack in Aden harbor, October 2000, killing 17), to name but a few, are well known to the public. The service history of most naval vessels can only be uncovered in command histories, cruise books, deck logs held in archives and libraries, and of course the Naval History & Heritage Command’s monumental series, The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS), which is available online at

Paul Silverstone’s book, The Navy of the Nuclear Age is an illustrated compendium of all ships in service for the United States between 1947 and 2007. This is the fifth book of the U.S. Navy Warship Series, with the previous issues covering The Sailing Navy (1775-1854), Civil War Navies (1855-1883), The New Navy (1883-1922), and The Navy of World War II (1922-1947), respectively.

To organize the work, Silverstone has divided the various ships into chapters for aircraft carriers, submarines, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, escorts/frigates, amphibious ships, patrol combatants, mine warfare ships, tenders, transports and supply ships, fleet tugs, sealift ships, U.S. Coast Guard, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ships. Combatant vessels are listed first, with auxiliaries following. Particulars are given for each ship, including name, hull number, builder, construction dates, tonnage, dimensions, machinery, endurance, armament, and armor. One of the more intriguing features is the service record for each vessel. It is a capsule summary of the ship’s DANFS entry, but still serves as a starting point to learn more about the ship’s history. The data is completed by dates of foreign deployments involving possible or actual combat, and the fate of the vessel after it was decommissioned or stricken from service.

A U.S. Navy chronology, a list of type designations, a chapter on naval ordnance, and a list of principal shipbuilders worldwide complete this voluminous book. It serves as a thorough reference for anyone interested in a particular class of ships, or a specific vessel. As such, it does not replace archival research on a topic of interest, because it does not provide extensive information outside of the listed data bits.

It is a valuable addition to any library and for anyone working professionally on American naval history. Unfortunately, the high price tag ($150) will likely dissuade many from purchasing the book. The availability of most of what the book has to offer on the web (especially the most sought-after data such as concise information on a service history or a particular vessel’s details) and the formidable competition by similar works (i.e. Jane’s Fighting Ships) add to the impression that this book has yet to find its way in making a major impact on the work of professional naval historians and the interested public alike.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – The Battle of Midway

Craig L. Symonds, The Battle of Midway, Oxford University Press, 2011.  452 pp., appendices, notes, bibliography, photos, index.

Review by Dr. John Abbatiello
Monument, Colorado

The series editors of Oxford’s “Pivotal Moments in American History” collection certainly hit a home run when they asked Craig Symonds to write about the battle of Midway. Symonds needs no introduction to IJNH’s readership, having published widely in naval and American history and having taught countless midshipmen at Annapolis for thirty years.

Building on research for the Midway chapter from his 2005 Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History (also an Oxford publication), Symonds synthesizes the recent superb scholarship on this decisive battle and adds his own emphasis and analysis. His focus is on the key decision makers, from King and Nimitz to the task force, ship, and aviation squadron commanders. His thesis is that while fortune played a minor role in the battle, Midway’s outcome “was primarily the result of decisions made and actions taken by individuals who found themselves at the nexus of history at a decisive moment.” So, when many previous authors counted luck as the key factor in Wade McClusky’s spotting the Arashi’s wake as it headed back to the Japanese carrier fleet alone at high speed, allowing the dive bombers of the USS Enterprise to follow it straight to their targets, Symonds explains this episode as being driven by individual decisions. Bill Brockman’s aggressive command of the USS Nautilus, which hounded the Kido Butai’s heavy escorts and forced the Japanese to detach Arashi to defeat this submarine threat, was instead the primary cause of McClusky’s sighting. According to Symonds, the naval culture that produced these leaders—both American and Japanese—likewise served to influence their actions and decisions in fundamental ways. For this reason, the author provides thorough biographical sketches of each of the key players throughout the narrative, focusing on education and previous naval experience. This serves the dual purposes of explaining cultural norms while offering the reader insights into individual personalities.

Symonds did not simply rely on the research of others; his examination of operational archives, oral histories, memoirs, and official records was thorough and consistent with the comprehensive archival investigation one would expect. When borrowing from previous scholarship or debunking long-held myths, Symonds is careful with his language and endnotes. For example, the late launch of the Tone’s Number 4 search plane was for many years cited as a reason for the Japanese not sighting the US carriers first.  Symonds relates later research by Dallas Isom—repeated in Parshall and Tully’s Shattered Sword—showing that an on time take off would have caused Number 4 to miss the US task forces completely.

So what is new and refreshing in this account of a well-worn topic? Primarily, the focus on the commanders and their interactions was most enlightening.  Employing expert prose that is both clear and careful, Symonds highlights the relationships between the key leaders. For example, the author makes clear Nimitz’s frustration with King, who attempted to micro-manage the Pacific War from Washington. Symonds shows how Spruance resolved differences of opinion between his Chief of Staff, Miles Browning, and the Enterprise’s CAG, Wade McClusky.  Symonds is not afraid to criticize when warranted, such as in the case of the less than stellar decision-making of Hornet’s CO, Pete Mitscher, and CAG, Stanhope Ring.  Ring’s subordinate squadrons, including John Waldron’s VT-8, abandoned their CAG on the morning of 4 June once they realized he was not leading them to the Japanese carriers. Failing to sight the enemy, Ring flew back to the Hornet alone. Had Waldron survived his suicidal attack on the Japanese carriers that morning, he certainly would have been court-martialed for insubordination. On the Japanese side, descriptions of Yamamoto, Nagumo, and the carrier captains provide valuable insights into the naval culture of command of America’s Pacific adversary. In praise and criticism, the author presents an evenhanded treatment of the performance of the decision-makers at Midway.

Symonds’ The Battle of Midway is a must-read for naval historians. The award-winning author is a brilliant storyteller who weaves culture, leadership, doctrine, strategy, technology, and biography into a powerful narrative. His focus on decision-making is reasonable, well supported, and skillfully presented.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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BOOK REVIEW – The Silent Service in World War II: The Story of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force in the Words of the Men Who Lived It

The Silent Service in World War II: The Story of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force in the Words of the Men Who Lived it. Edited by Edward Monroe-Jones and Michael Green, Casemate Publishers, (2012), 264 pp.

Review by Phillip G. Pattee, Ph.D.
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

Edward Monroe-Jones, director of the Submarine Research Center, has previously written two other books while his co-editor Michael Green, a freelance writer, has credits for over ninety titles. To say the least, this is a pair of experienced writers who have put together another compelling book. For The Silent Service in World War II, they have compiled 46 mostly firsthand accounts of submariners’ (and a couple of aviator and nurse tagalongs’) experiences during World War II.

All of these stories have been previously published, mostly in back issues of Polaris Magazine but also in “Undersea Encounters” and other articles from the Submarine Research Center and the Submarine Review Journal. Because of that fact, one might mistakenly conclude that The Silent Service in World War II makes only a small contribution to World War II literature, but this book has much to offer and engage the reader.

First, most interested parties will not have seen the original articles and are unlikely to find the various stories compiled here on their own. The editors have provided a wonderful collection of stories that cover not only the routine tales of mistakes and heroics in war but also rare and unusual occurrences in the submarine force. Some examples include an accidental torpedo firing in Pearl Harbor, a kamikaze attack on USS Devilfish (SS 292), and the capture of the giant Japanese sea-plane launching submarine (I 401).

Second, the editors compiled the stories chronologically, grouping them into early war 1941-1942, mid war 1943, and late war 1944-1945. The chronological ordering of stories allows a careful reader to discern the evolution of submarine technology and tactics over the course of the war.

Third, no sailor can resist a good sea story. The ones compiled here are rich in wisdom, overcoming hardships, and demonstrate plain old deck-plate ingenuity. My favorite story is Chapter 27 detailing the loss of the USS Flier (SS 250). I admire the resolve and determination shown by the remnant of the crew as they swam at sea surviving for over 17 hours until they reached land. Read the book and you will find a few favorites of your own. Sailors, particularly submarine sailors, should read these and learn from them. Did you know that you can clear electrical grounds in equipment by soaking electronic parts in fresh water with cut up potatoes? The spuds draw salt out of parts that have been sprayed with salt water. You can then dry the part out and return it to service.

The stories, being accounts told by the submarine veterans themselves, in their own words, are filled with jargon specific to submarines and the historical period. The editors navigate this storm with a clever introduction that does several things. First, the introduction explains terms frequently used in the sailor’s tales. Second it also includes names for specific components that the stories often reference, and third, it describes the general layout of the classes of submarines in service during the war. They have also included pages of photographs with explanatory captions that depict many of the items already familiar to veteran submariners so that a layman can become acquainted with them as well. The book lacks cutaway diagrams of the fleet submarines, which would go further helping the reader follow the narratives, but this is a small point.

The Silent Service in World War II should be picked up and read by anyone with an interest in World War II history. Naval historians will find this a rich collection of primary accounts, enthusiasts will enjoy the tales, and submariners will find more reasons to respect those that came before them.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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Call for Papers and Reviewers

The International Journal of Naval History (IJNH) is back in operation. After a two-year hiatus, IJNH is once again ready to welcome submissions from scholars, including junior colleagues still in school, seeking a forum for their research. The editors invite interested individuals to contact the Editor of IJNH, Dr. Charles Chadbourn, with paper proposals addressing all matters pertaining to naval history. See the page on “Submissions” for additional suggestions and guidelines on manuscript submission.  The IJNH also invites inquiries as to the availability of books for review. Or, if you would like simply to add your name to our list of available reviewers please contact the Book Review Editor, Dr. Chuck Steele.  For further information please feel free to reach out to any member of the IJNH Staff.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Charles C. Chadbourn, III

Book Review Editor, Dr. Chuck Steele

Digital Editor, David Colamaria

IJNH is sponsored by the Naval Historical Foundation.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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Every once in a while we all need to make a change, to recast ourselves, to rediscover the vitality and joy that comes from doing something you love. With the International Journal of Naval History we have provided our readers with some of the best scholarship available on naval history writ large for over a decade. Our journal has no chronological or national boundaries. We accept only the limits imposed by the ocean, the wind, the open sky, and available fuel. We have accomplished this with a group of dedicated volunteers working without any remuneration and with the very gracious support of the Naval Historical Foundation.

In recent months we have realized that the IJNH needed an overhaul, both in appearance and tasking. The journal cried out for a fresher look and an organization that would permit easier navigation. We also needed to give our volunteers a chance to do other things or to contribute in different ways. Many have supported the journal for many years without hesitation. For example we thank Bryan Hockensmith for his years of service as our book review editor and welcome Professor Charles Steele of the U.S. Air Force Academy as our new volunteer in that post. We thank David Colamaria of the Naval Historical Foundation for the amazing work he did on the technical changes we have implemented and graphic artist Lili Tuggle-Weir of Underground Images for our bold new look. Above all we want to thank the Naval Historical Foundation for their continued faith and support.

We intend to reach out eagerly to scholars all over the world for submissions, using traditional networking via conferences and the new tools provided by social media. The IJNH has a page on Facebook and we welcome comments on our work and inquiries regarding possible contributions. We still hold to our past policy of triple blind peer review, but we will not and have never held copyright to the work we publish. The copyright remains with the author who did the research and analysis. Ownership should remain with the scholar.

As one of the few places in the scholarly world where naval history reigns, we invite you to visit often, to read, submit, and use the perspectives we offer. With the anniversary of the War of 1812 upon us and the centennial of the Great War of 1914-1918 on the horizon we have much to examine and debate. Join us!

Dr. Gary E. Weir

Editor, IJNH

29 February 2012

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Operation Thunderhead: The True Story of Vietnam’s Final POW Rescue—And the Last Navy SEAL Killed in Country

Kevin Dockery, Operation Thunderhead: The True Story of Vietnam’s Final POW Rescue—And the Last Navy SEAL Killed in Country, Berkley Press, 2009. 294 pp., photos, appendix, index.

Review by John Darrell Sherwood
Naval History and Heritage Command

The story of the American prisoners of war (POW) in Vietnam has been told many times with the definitive account being Stuart Rochester and Frederick Kiley’s Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973 (Naval Institute Press, 1998). This “new” POW book by Kevin Dockery re-hashes the story of John Dramesi’s ill-fated May 1969 escape attempt and ends with a coda about an aborted June 1972 U.S. Navy special operations mission to assist Dramesi in a second attempt that never happened.

Air Force Captain John Dramesi was a brash young officer from South Philadelphia who in May of 1969 made a daring escape attempt from the “Zoo Annex” prison in Hanoi with fellow Air Force Captain Ed Atterberry. The two men planned to break out of the camp disguised as Vietnamese peasants, steal a sampan, and paddle down the Red River to the Gulf of Tonkin , where they hoped to be picked up by the U.S. Navy. Escaping from the prison proved to be the easiest part of the mission, but the two men never fully considered how they would be able to travel over 110 miles through hostile, heavily populated territory to the coast. The fact that neither man was of Asian heritage or spoke Vietnamese compounded their difficulties.

The escape attempt occurred without the blessings of compound’s senior ranking POW, Air Force Captain Konrad Trautman. Trautman felt he could not order Dramesi and Atterbery to cancel the attempt because the Code of Conduct specifically demanded that POWs make every effort to escape, but he did believe that the attempt was ill-advised and could cause severe repercussions for other POWs held at the Zoo Annex.

The two men escaped from the compound at night by crawling through an attic above the cells and clamoring down the roof of the facility to the street. A North Vietnamese patrol discovered the two men at sunup the next day in a bramble thicket about four miles from the Zoo Annex. Over the course of the next two months, the prison authorities severely tortured the two escapees plus two dozen other American POWs. One officer, Lieutenant Eugene “Red” McDaniel, received 700 lashes as well as electric shocks and a form of rope torture during the ordeal, which he called his “darkest hour.” After seven days of severe torture, Atterbery died—a death Dockery attributes to pneumonia, but which Rochester and Kiley argue had to have been caused by excessive torture and medical neglect.

Dockery, a “radio broadcaster, gunsmith, and historian” and the author of a number of popular histories of the SEALs, staunchly defends Dramesi throughout the book as an American hero. But other historians of the POW experience view his actions in a more critical light. Rochester and Kiley define him as an “accident waiting to happen,” whose actions caused unnecessary pain and suffering for their fellow POWs. Operation Thunderhead also yields no new information on Dramesi or his escape, and because no sources are cited in the book, I am left wondering if Dockery even interviewed Dramesis or simply constructed his narrative from Dramesi’s memoir Code of Honor (Norton, 1975). There are also some embarrassing errors in the book, such as the misspelling Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robinson Risner’s last name, “Reisner,” in several places in the book. A Korean War ace, Risner was one of the longest serving senior officers in the Hanoi Hilton, and the recipient of the Air Force Cross. Any historian of the American POW experience should have been able to spell his name properly.

But what irritates this reviewer the most about Operation Thunderhead is the book’s misleading title. Only the last 62 pages of the book focus on the SEAL effort to assist Dramesi in a second escape bid in the spring of 1972. This portion of the book focuses solely on the SEAL operation to penetrate North Vietnamese territory, using the special operations submarine Grayback (LPSS 574). According to Dockery, the SEAL mission was plagued by problems from the very onset. During an attempt to land on an island in the Red River , a SEAL Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV) ran out of battery power while fighting the strong currents of the river, forcing the 4-man SEAL and Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) crew to abort the mission, and destroy the SDV. After being rescued by helicopter and transported to Long Beach (CGN 9), the four operators attempted to return to Grayback by dropping from a helicopter and diving to the boat, but in the insertion attempt, one of the SEALs, Lieutenant Spence Dry, hit the water too hard and died, and several of the others were badly injured. A rescue helicopter eventually retrieved Dry’s corpse along with the three survivors.

Communications difficulties had prevented Dry from informing Grayback of their attempted return to the boat, and so the boat launched a second SDV before their jump. This SDV, however, sunk almost immediately after launch, forcing the operators to scramble out of the vehicle and swim to the surface, where they were eventually rescued by a helicopter. The SEALs planned to make a third attempt with an inflatable boat, but this attempt was ultimately cancelled after the Grayback’s commanding officer suddenly shifted his boat’s location upon hearing chains being dragged near his boat.

Dockery does not reveal his sources for this section of the book either, but presumably, he gleaned his details from interviews with some of the surviving special operations personnel. No official documents or after action reports are cited. The author also does not discuss Operation Mole—Dramesi’s second escape plan in which he and several others were to tunnel out of Hoa Lo Prison and pose as German tourists. Operation Mole was cancelled after some of the participants were transferred out of the jail, and Air Force Colonel John Flynn, the Senior Ranking Officer at the time, decided that the chances of success were minimal and the probability of severe reprisals against the other POWs, extremely high.

Operation Thunderhead offers no new insights on the American POW experience during the Vietnam War and limited new material on Operation Thunderhead. It is a work of popular history of little use to serious scholars of the war in Southeast Asia . Until more official documents are released on special operations in North Vietnamese territory, this chapter of the war will remain shrouded in mystery.

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In Search of Captain Cook: Exploring the Man Through His Own Words

Dan O’Sullivan, In Search of Captain Cook: Exploring the Man Through His Own Words, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., 2008. 233 pp., illustrations, references, suggested reading, index.

Review by Mark M. Hull
Department of Military History,
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

It is reasonable to assume that everything that could possibly be written on the life and achievements of Captain James Cook has been written. However, in this brief, thematic look at this enigmatic British explorer, Dan O’Sullivan advances an interesting perspective. He makes no effort to overturn the definitive work on Cook – J.C. Beaglehole’s The Life of Captain James Cook – and he happily avoids either of the two partisan extremes usually associated with the subject of 18th and 19th century exploration: hagiographic treatments or the all-explorers-are-racist-imperialists school. Sullivan wisely skirts the more recent, largely esoteric debate between Gananath Obeyesekere and Marshall Sahlin as to whether Hawaiian islanders reaction to Cook indicated a “Western” rationality.

Instead, In Search of Captain Cook returns to what are practically the only surviving records – the logs from Cook’s three voyages – and tries to present an accurate portrait of the explorer’s personality by measuring it against several situational templates: how Cook interacted with the officers and men of his ships, Cook’s contribution to science and health, and his understanding and treatment of the native peoples he encountered.

The process of unraveling the “real” James Cook is complicated. Aside from the logs, a handful of surviving letters, and the recorded impressions of but a few officers and men, there are scant primary sources. The traditional picture of Cook is of an almost stereotypical hero: brave, resolute, determined, and far-sighted. Even Cook’s murder in Hawaii in 1779 has an appropriately iconic feel to it. Any sense of humor or more prosaic personal trait is simply missing from the image we have. But, as O’Sullivan points out, even the best surviving sources can be misleading.

When Cook returned in 1771 from his first voyage on HM Bark Endeavor, both the Royal Navy and government were quick to appreciate the domestic public relations benefit of Cook’s words and deeds. They considered, however, that Cook’s diction needed polishing, and so the more fluent writer John Hawkesworth was hired to shepherd the book to press. Not only did Hawkesworth reword some of Cook’s more stoic and technical diary entries, but he used the works of other voyage participants (principally botanist Joseph Banks) to augment Cook, merging them all into what appeared to be a seamless whole, and presenting the completed package as the unvarnished thoughts and actions of Britain’s newest hero.

The fact is that James Cook was a self-taught naval officer, not a professional writer. He recorded his log entries in such a way as to keep an accurate record of information intended to assist other ships’ captains. Talk of tides, winds, and locations in minutes, degrees, and seconds might be essential for another seaman, but were judged to be excess for the well-read target audience. Cook was displeased with the artificial result, and during the course of his next voyage (1774-1776), he kept the public end-goal in mind. Accordingly he went through several drafts of his own log entries, gradually improving as a less-technical writer. To get even close to the truth of James Cook, then, it is necessary to plumb his original words and thoughts, not those later adapted by others for public consumption.

O’Sullivan’s statement that “Since Cook’s death there have been many Cooks,” refers to the praise or damnation heaped upon James Cook by authors living in different eras, with different axes to grind. It is an accurate assessment. Stripping away the myth – some of it started even in Cook’s lifetime – is a challenging business.

The author’s James Cook comes across as a human being, not a statue. He has likes and dislikes (he refers to the Malekulans of the New Hebrides, for instance, as “the most ugly and ill proportioned people I ever saw”), opinions – some of them prescient, some erroneous; he has a sense of obligation to his crew and the people he encounters; he operates from a singular sense of duty and purpose. While not afraid to flog offending sailors, he nevertheless provides intelligent leadership in places that could not be more remote or different from the Yorkshire village where he was born. Cook was in almost every sense a scientist, although even that word was unknown to his era. He understood the importance of diet on crew health but never made the critical link to citrus fruit (he advocated fresh meat and vegetables); he displayed a delicate understanding of diverse cultures, and the possible negative impact of Western society on those cultures weighed heavily on him despite his duty to make first contact. Cook makes errors, too, but generally ones that are understandable when viewed through an 18th century lens – and even his final error on Hawaii fits into this paradigm.

The debate over the nature and significance of James Cook and his voyages will certainly continue. In Search of Captain Cook is a welcome addition to that search for meaning.

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„Erleben – Lernen – Weitergeben“ Friedrich Ruge (1894-1985)

Jörg Hillmann (ed.), „Erleben – Lernen – Weitergeben“ Friedrich Ruge (1894-1985), Kleine Schriftenreihe zur Militär- und Marinegeschichte, 2005. 568 pp., illustrations, glossary, appendices.

Reviewed by Sebastian Bruns
University of Kiel

Who was Friedrich Ruge? “The first Inspekteur der Marine after World War II,” some may say, “and someone who passed away some 25 years ago.” The answer, obviously, is much more complex. Dr. Jörg Hillmann, Captain in the German Navy and currently based in Bruxelles , Belgium , underscores the significance of this man by showing that his work and his motto “Experience – Learning – Sharing”, is still very much relevant today. From Ruge’s strong lifelong relationship to the United States (in particular with Admiral Arleigh Burke, U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations from 1955-1961, whom he met during his first official visit to the U.S. in 1956), to issues of defense, maritime thinking, and conscription in the German Armed Forces, many issues are still highly relevant for today’s armed forces and society, whether German, European, or North American.

Hillmann achieves this objective not by writing a single dedicated essay or book, but by assembling and commenting on a selection of Ruge’s own papers, speeches, letters, essays and autobiographic recollections, with a handful of other contributors filling in here and there. The essays range from 1912, detailing Ruge’s pre-naval experience in his own words, to the obituaries upon his death in 1985. All of these contributions are prefaced by a brief write-up by Hillmann detailing the circumstances under which the various texts were published. The defining moment of Ruge’s professional life was and continued to be “No more 1919’s” – he served in World War I and witnessed the end of the Imperial German Fleet at Scapa Flow – instead of a more plausible “No more 1945’s.” Some of Ruge’s positions might draw explicit criticism from today’s readers, such as contemporary papers on the navy of the Third Reich, leadership issues in World War II, or naval tradition (i.e. the role of the Admirals Dönitz and Raeder who were still imprisoned at the time when the post-war German Navy took shape ). In some instances, Ruge withdrew from some of his ideologically charged positions in later publications.

Two essays introduce to the anthology. The editor himself details Ruge’s career development in the ever-changing currents of German politics in an essay under the heading “Friedrich Ruge – Naval Officer and Professor.” It becomes evident that Ruge’s life was shaped by extraordinary events and was, by no means, linear.

Quite possibly, even though Ruge grew up in a non-democratic environment, he was able to master the later challenges of the Bundesmarine by strictly emphasizing jointness and international cooperation. The selected articles in the book call attention to the personality development of a man who served in four navies (the title of Ruge’s autobiography).

Despite the radical changes that shaped history in the early 20th century especially in Central Europe, and thus Ruge’s own career, Hillmann is able to point out some overarching issues of concern for Ruge. The very close personal and working relationship to the United States since the 1920’s, his pledge for an Atlantic framing of German foreign and security policy, for character development and education of sailors and naval officers, and the question of tradition in naval forces are recurring topics for Friedrich Ruge. Moreover, some light is shed on Ruge’s family and their relationship to the profession of the father. Consequently, Hillmann provides information on Ruge’s oldest daughter, whom he shared a crucial bond with: Ingeborg Eggert engages in the question of researching her own father as well as her relationship to him, setting the stage for the topical anthology.

Hillmann has published widely on subjects such as the Battle of Jutland in World War I and the World War II admirals Dönitz and Raeder. He was fortunate enough to obtain a large variety of papers detailing Ruge’s broad experience (some of which have never been published) on diverse topics such as the end of World War I (1918), torpedo and minesweeping boats in the Reichsmarine of the 1930’s, and the foundation and consolidation of the Bundeswehr after World War II (1956). Ruge’s later years in the highest Bundesmarine positions and publications after his retirement are also covered extensively. The tremendous variety of topics covered is nothing short of overwhelming. Nevertheless, it remains an enlightening reading for anyone interested in different aspects of maritime strategy, naval tactics, the career progression of a naval officer in rough and challenging times, and the foundation of the Bundesmarine, “a Navy with limited tasks, but with an unlimited horizon.” Keeping a written record of his experiences had been of central importance for Friedrich Ruge, and thankfully, Hillmann’s anthology allows us delve into this trove of personal papers and publications. Ruge’s professional writing should serve as a model for today’s officers, as has been pointed out, among others, by one of Ruge’s successors, Lutz Feldt (Inspekteur der Marine from 2003-2006 and author of a short preface to this book).

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