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

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

Review by Howard J. Fuller
University of Wolverhampton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

Review by John M. Jennings
United States Air Force Academy

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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

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

Review by Kaitlin Sadler
University of Mary Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 (Return to the July 2014 Issue Table of Contents)

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View from the Quarterdeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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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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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.

(Return to the October 2013 Issue Table of Contents)

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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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