An Unatoned War Crime of the First World War: The Sinking of a Hospital Ship by U-86

Ulrich van der Heyden
University of South Africa, Pretoria

German War Crimes during the First World War? 

Even a hundred years after the beginning of the First World War, 1  some segments of the German media still glorify submarine warfare as having been the “seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century.” These accounts bluster about gross register tons sunk by German U-boats. They embed that force in a hagiographical narrative, 2  and by way of advancing counterarguments against various accusations, speculate about international law violations, especially by British naval forces against German citizens. 3 

At the same time, some popular history magazines and journals, wishing to draw on public interest, deny or play down German war crimes during the First World War. For all that, the German crimes contravening the international conventions of war cannot wholly be denied. Germans committed war crimes that are, for the most part, well documented. 

After the end of the First World War, the Allies put around 890 Germans on a war crime list, starting with the German Kaiser, to generals and admirals, right through to officers of various ranks and even to several ordinary soldiers. Wilhelm II escaped prosecution by fleeing and seeking asylum in the Netherlands; others, indeed the vast majority of the alleged war criminals, followed suit. By doing so, they tried to abdicate their responsibilities. However, one or two cases did reach the German public after the end of the war, primarily pushed by articles in the Allied press. Such reports generally elicited astonishment and skepticism among the population that had lost the war. The publicized crimes contradicted the noble image of German soldiers, who were said to have lost the war only because the “November Criminals” back home had stabbed them in the back.

A 1918 Canadian propaganda poster used the sinking of Llandovery Castle as a focal point for selling Victory Bonds
(Montreal, Montreal Litho. Co. Ltd., [1918]; Library of Congress)

The majority of the German people, at the beginning of a new century, did not believe that their military had committed acts of violence that violated international law during the First World War. 4  Their view was bolstered by the fact that, despite the gradually increasing awareness of war crimes committed by their soldiers and seamen, only a tiny number of those accused were prosecuted and tried before a court of justice. Still, the majority of the population sympathized with the military exploits of their heroes in the field.

War criminals of the Second World War were turned in by those who had lost the war. They were subsequently tried before Allied courts at Nuremberg and follow-up trials. Those accused of war crimes in the First World War suffered no such consequences. On the contrary, only a few had to stand trial before German judges; none before an Allied court.

One of the few sailors who were accused of war crimes was the commander of the German U-boat, U-86, Helmut Patzig. 5  He had, after the Treaty of Versailles, evaded punishment for his war crime by fleeing and assuming the surname of Brümmer. By changing his name, he hoped that he would not be tracked down and held accountable for his crime. 6 

The First World War – The Career of a Young Naval Officer

At the beginning of the First World War, when the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) joined the battle at sea with twenty-eight operational U-boats, its commanders generally adhered to the rules of naval warfare that were in place at that time. The U-boat force proved to be an effective instrument. When hostile warships were sighted, they were, if the situation allowed it, attacked without warning. The problem with merchant ships was different. Here the Rules of Prize Warfare applied, as laid down by international treaties. Conventions of the time meant that when a U-boat sighted an enemy merchant ship or a neutral vessel suspected of supplying the enemy with goods or military equipment, the U-boat could call the suspicious vessel to halt, search it, and, if necessary, sink it. This procedure proved to be increasingly risky for the Imperial German Navy, as other ships could meanwhile come to the assistance of the boarded vessel, or the purported merchant ship (Q Ship) turned out to be a U-boat trap. The Germans lost several submarines in this manner.

As a result, the German Admiralty proclaimed “unrestricted submarine warfare,” which meant that merchant vessels were treated as warships and attacked without prior warning. Doing so was a violation of international law, but the practice was probably obeyed by all German U-boat commanders. The German Navy High Command informed the “seafaring nations of the world in an insolent manner” that the waters around Great Britain and Ireland, including the English Channel, were war zones. Starting 18 February 1915, they would destroy any enemy merchant vessel found in this area. Further, it would not be possible in each case to avert the dangers faced by the crew and passengers. Germany also warned that ships sailing under a neutral flag also ran the risk of being sunk. 7 

In May 1915, the German submarine U-20 torpedoed the Lusitania, during which 1,200 people lost their lives, including 128 American citizens. 8  This violation of maritime law led to increased calls in the USA to become actively involved in the war against Germany. 

The German Reich Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg wanted to avoid the involvement of American troops in the hostilities in Europe at all costs. He, therefore, demanded that the German U-boat force should again engage in battle according to the Rules of Prize Warfare. Naval authorities widely criticized this action, as the Admiralty was confident that Great Britain would, amid a continued and unrestricted submarine warfare, capitulate within six months. The leading military officers on land (i.e., the Supreme Army Command, too), apparently still saw opportunities in bringing the deadlocked hostilities on the European continent to a victorious conclusion with an intensification of naval warfare. For this reason, the military commanders opposed Wilson’s demand. They could assert themselves at least to some extent. In some regions of the Atlantic, to wit, Germany continued to adhere to the practice of unrestricted or, as they called it, intensified, submarine warfare. Except for passenger liners, all enemy merchant ships in these areas could be attacked and sunk without warning.

As the literature has documented, the general war situation in late 1916 had deteriorated to such an extent for Germany that, on 1 February 1917, the German Navy resumed its all-out unrestricted submarine warfare, torpedoing Allied merchant ships without warning. 9  The outcome of this policy was that the USA declared war on Germany and its allies on 6 April 1917. American entry into the war brought about a decisive change in the balance of power, favoring the Entente.

At first, the German Navy sunk a record number of ships. By summer, however, reports of German U-boat successes had already began to dwindle. 10 

Many career-driven captains desired to earn their stripes by sinking more tonnage during the final year of the war, a fact which frequently remains undisclosed in naval history. “Patriotic sentiments and a spirit of solidarity” were to be encouraged through the “benefits of material nature.” 11  

However, this policy could not hinder the USA (apart from supplying a substantial amount of war materials) from entering the war at sea and, in a sustained manner from 1918 onwards, joining the Allies in land warfare. The German Navy could not prevent a single American troop carrier from shipping soldiers and military equipment onto Western Europe. Around 1.4 million US soldiers reached Western Europe, voyaging across the ocean unchecked.

A German Career in the Navy

During the First World War, Helmut Patzig, born 26 October 1890 in Danzig/Gdansk, served as executive officer, first on a submarine with the designation UA 12  and then on U-55. He had joined the Imperial Navy in April 1910 and served as acting sub-lieutenant (Leutnant z.S.) from 27 April 1913. At the start of the war, he was on board the battleship Pommern. Then he transferred to U-boats. He was promoted in March 1916 to first lieutenant (Oberleutnant z.S.). 

On 26 January 1918, Helmut Patzig took command of U-86. This submarine was a standard German U-boat of mid-range, which was to “earn the sad distinction,” 13  as stated in current work on the history of the First World War, of sinking the hospital ship Llandovery Castle in defiance of maritime law. 

HM Hospital Ship, Llandovery Castle (NS Archives).÷÷÷lko

What had happened? Helmut Patzig was regarded by his superiors as an ambitious officer and was popular among his subordinates. He had received the Iron Cross Second- and First class in May 1916 and March 1917. Decades later, “his” crew related stories of the cooperative interaction between them and “their” commander, who did not consider himself to be too good to lend a hand if, for instance, there was a technical problem with one of the U-boat’s engines. They believed he had saved the submarine and its crew by personally intervening with the repair of a faulty engine while being submerged. This story explains why so many crew members stuck to “their” commander, even after the war. Not one of them testified against him in court.

Under his command, U-86 successfully conducted ten documented operations against the enemy in the eastern North Atlantic around the British Isles. 14  Scholars cite thirty-two sunken merchant ships for U-86, with an overall tonnage of up to 119,000 gross register tons. 15  Among these ships were some who had sailed under a neutral flag. 

The War Crime

On 27 June 1918, when an erstwhile British passenger and mail ship, the Llandovery Castle (named after a Welsh castle ruin), clearly marked as a hospital ship, was heading towards the Irish coastline, the people on board were feeling entirely safe, for the British government had informed all countries engaged in warfare that it had commissioned the ship, previously also deployed as a troop carrier, into the medical service. Coming from Halifax, Canada, the ship had 164 crew members on board and an additional eighty Canadian medical doctors and orderlies, and fourteen Red Cross nurses. 

When the sun sat on the horizon that day, the sea was calm. Nobody feared any perilous surprises by German ships or U-boats. It was prohibited by international law to attack vessels and facilities with Red Cross identification. Several distinct red crosses were visible on the brightly lit ship. 

However, the sense of calm and safety was deceptive. For hours already, a German U-boat had been tracking the 622-berth hospital ship. The U-boat was U-86, the submarine under the command of First Lieutenant Helmut Patzig. During the previous night, the U-boat had torpedoed the British steamship Atlantia out of a convoy. Two shipwrecked crew members from the sunken ship were taken on board the U-boat as prisoners. 16  Why Patzig would track the Red Cross ship in the first place remains unknown. The lawyer and author Friedrich Karl Kaul, who was the first to examine the files, provides a plausible explanation. He puts it down to the character of the commander: 

At first, U-boat commander Patzig himself probably did not know why he was now tracking the ‘Llandovery Castle.’ The hospital ship could not really be considered as a quarry. Not really! But what if the Red-Cross-painted ship was carrying war equipment or relatives of combat units onboard? After all, German authorities were constantly alleging that, contrary to international law, the Yankees and Brits were camouflaging their war carrier vessels! If he, Imperial First Lieutenant Patzig, could succeed in providing the evidence for this violation of international law by hostile Allied forces – he would be sure of the ‘Pour le Mérite,’ the highest German war decoration, but at the very least the long-yearned-for appointment as Lieutenant-Commander (Kapitänleutnant). 17 

Even though Patzig could see that the ship in question was a hospital ship, he disregarded the misgivings voiced by his officers and attacked the Llandovery Castle.

Later, the officers and part of the crew would indeed use the excuse – spurred on by the German national press – that the ships of the Entente frequently camouflaged troop and ammunition transports as hospital ships. The vessel that had come into Patzig’s sights could, as he later offered by way of justification, also have adopted a Red Cross camouflage. He must have firmly believed this to be the case. Around 2130, the commander of U-86 ordered two torpedoes to be fired. One of the torpedoes missed its target. The other one hit the engine room on the port side. It took less than ten minutes for the ship to sink after it had broken in two. The torpedo had hit the ship’s boilers. According to credible testimonies, the officers and crew of the U-boat looked on in shock as the unarmed crew, together with the nurses and medical doctors, hurried to climb into one of the Llandovery Castle’s nineteen lifeboats. At least two lifeboats pitchpoled during evacuation. Most of them had either been destroyed by the explosion or capsized. Three lifeboats managed to get afloat. The ship’s captain, Edward Arthur Sylvestre, was in one of them. Those afloat now began pulling other survivors onto their lifeboats.

Llandovery Castle by George Wilkinson (Peace and War in the 20th Century Collection, McMaster University)

The German U-boat had meanwhile surfaced for rescue operations. Lieutenant-Commander Patzig ordered the rescue of the shipwrecked to be halted. The lifeboats had to go alongside. Patzig interrogated the surviving captain and several officers of the sunken ship. It now became unequivocally clear to him what he had done, of what crime against maritime law he had made himself guilty. For the time being, he let the lifeboats go on their way.

But then Patzig must have taken fright. It became clear to him that he had committed a war crime, to which there were witnesses. He ordered his boat to be turned around and went back to the scene of his crime. He ordered the helmsman to bear down on the lifeboats and to ram them. But they could narrowly escape the attacking iron monster, at which point Patzig gave the command, “clear to dive.” The crew subsequently went below deck. Only Patzig remained on deck, together with the two watch officers, John Dithmer and Ludwig Boldt, as well as Chief Petty Officer Meißner, who was the gunner in charge of the stern gun. 

Apart from the above mentioned individuals, Patzig did not wish to have any more witnesses to the heinous deed that was about to be committed. He was afraid that even his comrades – after knowledge of it had possibly become public – would deem it to be criminal. He ordered the gunner to fire at the lifeboats. They hit one, sinking it. The British and Canadian mariners and medical practitioners, just spared from drowning, now lost their lives after all. Only one lifeboat, containing Captain Sylvestre and twenty-three other survivors, could escape to the coast 116 miles away, despite the intense pursuit by the U-boat and its resumed ramming attempts. Two hundred thirty-four (234) people nevertheless fell victim to the war crime committed by the German U-boat commander Helmut Patzig.

Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Patzig

However, he was unaware of one fact that did not come to the knowledge of the investigators, prosecutors, appraisers, and judges: namely, that one of his devoted crewmembers, the helmsman, a simple seaman, had, contrary to his commander’s orders, opened a porthole in the conning tower and witnessed everything. Out of camaraderie or a certain reverence, he was reluctant to cause his superior any harm, and later also did not present himself as an eyewitness to the courts. The exact reasons for his behavior are not known. Was it only misplaced camaraderie or team spirit, or was it fear? After all, the gunner, himself, had died under mysterious circumstances after the war. 

No doubt, the eyewitnesses were reluctant to speak. The entire crew, officers and seamen alike, had to promise their captain to keep their silence about the sinking of the hospital ship and the lifeboats. What had happened, Patzig said, he only had to justify his actions before God and his conscience. He then tampered with the logbook, entering a route that his submarine ostensibly took, a long distance away from the scene of one of the worst war crimes of the First World War. As his crime remained hidden, for the time being, Commander Patzig, upon his return to Wilhelmshaven, received a congratulatory telegram from Kaiser Wilhelm II, which read: “Bravo to the valiant commander.”

An Attempt at Atonement

Shortly after arriving at the base, U-86 was taken to the dockyard as it had struck a mine. Patzig was transferred and became the captain of U-90, which he commanded until the end of the war. 19  At his request, the helmsman from his old crew was also transferred to the new U-boat. At the end of the war in 1919, both men were dismissed from the Navy. Even after his release from the service, Patzig was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander, retired. It is highly unlikely that his superiors were unaware of his crime. After all, the lifeboat survivors had informed the public of their ordeal. The war crime had elicited a regular storm of outrage on a global scale. Friedrich Karl Kaul, who was a prominent lawyer in East as well as West Germany, assessed the situation in a rather detailed article on the subject: “A hospital ship, clearly marked as per regulations of the 10th Hague Agreement, had been torpedoed! Its shipwrecked passengers had been fired at in open lifeboats, killing all but twenty-four! That constituted an accumulation of international law infringements at a level the Imperial German Navy had hitherto not dared to carry out.” 20  The Allies put Patzig’s name on the war criminals’ list. 

According to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the victorious powers would bring German war crimes to trial. Amongst others, the British government wanted to put three U-boat commanders on trial who had allegedly sunk hospital ships. Upon receiving the knowledge of this development, Patzig fled Germany. His name headed the line-up on the so-called “probationary list” of punishable war crimes. The fact that he was hiding abroad indicates how profoundly conscious he was of his punishable deed. South America, Danzig/Gdansk, and the Baltic countries were suspected as being his possible whereabouts; others claimed to have seen him in Sweden or Denmark. It remained a mystery at that time as to where he actually was. Current research has established that he was hiding in the Baltic capital of Riga. 21 

Patzig’s possible whereabouts and fate even occupied the cabinet meetings of the Reich Chancellor Joseph Wirth. Thus, when a report surfaced in July 1921 that Patzig had allegedly been arrested in Denmark, it was decided “that, if the report was accurate, everything should be done to obtain the extradition.” 22 

The preoccupation of the highest German government offices with the Patzig case also gave cause to concentrate on an “inverse list,” which was raised in public to implicate the victorious Allies of violations of international law. Such public accusations were usually met by approval in the German press, thereby contributing towards strengthening of nationalistic tendencies in the political sphere and the population in general.

The victorious powers took careful note of these developments and threatened to litigate against those responsible for German war crimes themselves. The German minister of justice, Eugen Schiffer, was instructed by the cabinet to ensure that  the “inverse list,” advanced by certain politicians of the Weimar Republic as a vehicle for anti-British propaganda, would not be published. As a result, concurrently planned political actions got delayed. Minister Schiffer subsequently wrote a “private letter” to the president of Württemberg, Johannes Hieber, who was an essential supporter of those who wished to hold a mirror up to the Allies. In it, he said, “The government of the Reich shares the view that the one-sided condemnation of German war criminals is immoral, which is justifiably experienced by popular sentiment as being a brutal violation of any sense of justice. It is therefore determined, as soon as an appropriate time presents itself, to demand equal treatment of foreign war criminals, for which the inverse list shall be used as the basis. However, for the time being, it deems this moment not to have arrived.” 23 

Agitation within the German populace and its politicians had already begun by the time the representatives of the Entente abnegated their right to refrain from demanding the extradition of Germans accused of war crimes. The Allies were entitled to demand extradition according to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. The hope was that doing so would appease the anti-British and anti-French voices in German society. The condition set down by the Allies for the indictment and conviction of German war criminals by the German judiciary was that the Reichsgericht (Supreme Court) in Leipzig was to conduct these trials. The German government had pledged its compliance in this regard. Germans could thereby sit in judgment over Germans.

The victorious powers and Reich government were fully aware that, if the parties concerned had insisted on the arrest and transfer of those Germans who should be hunted down and convicted, the possibility of unrest or even an uprising could easily have led to civil war. 24  

It is fair to assume that extradition of Patzig to the Entente powers would have acutely and profoundly fueled the explosive atmosphere in Germany during the early years of the Weimar Republic. Public opinion was, to a large extent, informed by discussions of the “Erfüllungs” and “Katastrophen” politicians (‘appeasement’ and ‘catastrophe’ politicians) who rejected the conditions stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles. Petty bourgeois jingoism and chauvinism were characteristic features of Germany at that time. 

The possibility that an intensified discussion of war crimes committed by the Allied forces could equally have come up in the event of mutual recriminations may also have been a reason for the Allies to cede the punishment of crimes committed during the war to their former enemy. It is for this reason that the Allies refrained from prosecutions through their judicial institutions; thus, the trial took place before the German Reichsgericht in the Saxon city of Leipzig. The Constituent National Assembly, together with the Reichstag (Parliament of the Reich), had provided the legal basis. The specially drafted “Act for the Prosecution of War Crimes and War Offences” was unanimously adopted. And so the “Leipziger Prozesse” (Leipzig trials) began. During the upcoming proceedings and sentencing, the only law that was to be applied would be German criminal law.

Based on the new act, the chief Reich prosecutor issued a total of 1,803 lawsuits, of which only thirteen went to trial. The remaining cases did not advance beyond investigation proceedings. Of the thirteen trials, only nine reached the sentencing stage; of the twelve men accused, only six were convicted. 25 

Helmut Patzig was to be one of the first to stand trial, but he remained elusive, and only two U-86 officers were arrested. However, Dithmer and Boldt, were on none of the lists that the Allies had handed over to the German authorities. Nevertheless, the chief Reich prosecutor saw that they were put behind bars, and issued an arrest warrant Patzig. The German judicial authorities wished to demonstrate that they were serious about autonomously prosecuting the war crimes committed by citizens of the Reich. Based on the statements of several U-86 crew members, the chief Reich prosecutor concluded that both watch officers were under suspicion of having been complicit in the shelling of the lifeboats. 26  This reasoning was that after the sinking of the hospital ship, the main suspect had “intentionally killed quite a large number of British officers and crew members, as well as several members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps and several nurses, and had willfully executed the killings” (“…vorsätzlich eine größere Anzahl von englischen Offizieren und Mannschaften sowie eine Anzahl von Angehörigen des Canadian Army Medical Corps und mehrere Pflegerinnen vorsätzlich getötet und die Tötung mit Überlegung ausgeführt…“) 27 

The trial had attained top political priority. Friedrich Karl Kaul explained the background for the charges brought against the two navy officers: 

It was not possible to demonstrate their goodwill with the example of one of the prominent figures, nor was it in their (the Reich government’s – UvdH) interest. And so an understanding was reached between the Reich Ministry of Justice, headed at that time by the Social Democrat Radbruck, and the gentlemen in red robes to use the case of the two navy officers, both unknown to the public, to serve as an ‘example.’ Moreover, the criminal charge brought against them … was virtually without equal in the history of maritime warfare. 28 

The indictment, dated 11 June 1921, accused John Dithmer and Ludwig Boldt of having killed an unspecified number of shipwrecked passengers. It, therefore, called for an initial charge of murder. 29  After all, Patzig had also been charged with murder in absentia. The court questioned witnesses in great detail. The court established that the two officers had participated in the actions concerned in the hearing. The accused men were not charged with violating international law by having sunk a Red Cross ship. Firing on shipwrecked passengers was the accusation. This act did not constitute murder, according to the court. The court deemed it to be manslaughter based on consultations with “experts” who described many cases. The accused men remained mostly silent, complicating the matter. The trial commenced in Leipzig on 12 July 1921. During the proceedings, sixty-three witnesses were called – among them, four survivors of the sunken hospital ship. The evidence established that U-86 had torpedoed and sunk the Llandovery Castle on 27 June 1918. Crew members had fired on the lifeboats with an 8.8-cm stern gun to eliminate the eyewitnesses. During the main hearing, no evidence could be found, of course, of the direct participation of the accused watch officers in the murder of defenseless civilians. Not one of the questioned German crew members could confirm this fact, as they had all gone below deck by order of the commander. 30  

Besides the two accused officers, there remained the fugitive commander and the gunner. The latter, however, had died. Presumably, the chief petty officer did not die a natural death. 31  There were no other eyewitnesses who came forth to testify in court, as the helmsman had not revealed himself as such. 

The course of the trial, which was closely followed by journalists of a broad political spectrum from various countries, proved to be unsatisfactory for the surviving Allied witnesses to the heinous deed. The British, Italian and American press, in particular, criticized the fact that the accused U-boat commander evaded his responsibility by having absconded, and attacked the German authorities for not launching an intensive search for the main accused. Observers of the trial criticized, with equal intensity, the two officers for their silence. Both refused to make any statement. According to Walter Schwengler, who made an in-depth study of the trial, the remaining crew members of U-86 “were unable to give any evidence about the target that had been taken under fire, since they had, as per instruction, been ‘on the diving station;’ in other words, inside the submarine.”

Only the helmsman, who had somehow peered out of the conning tower, had been a mute observer of the deed. And he remained silent: probably out of fear of the aggressive noises made by the nationalist press, and most certainly also out of a spirit of camaraderie. It was only in his old age, and within his family circle, that he spoke out about what he had observed. He related, among other things, how Patzig pushed the gunner aside as he was firing on the lifeboat. The reason for this is not known: was it because the gunner intentionally missed the target, was the cannon intermittently malfunctioning, or did the gunner refuse to obey the firing order due to a crisis of conscience? Patzig tried to kill the shipwrecked passengers himself. 32  This incident eventually led the helmsman – albeit rather late and despite the veneration the seaman held for his commander – to a critical evaluation of his superior whom most crew members had held in high esteem 33 , and to speak about it to his family after more than forty years.

Another matter that never emerged in court was the other method employed by Patzig; namely his elimination of witnesses in the lifeboats by ramming them with his U-boat. Only the commander and the helmsman knew about this, as Patzig had ordered hands to clear the command center. This command-style complicity – or rather connivance – placed the seaman under psychological stress. The images of shelling and hunting the lifeboats remained with the helmsman for the rest of his life.

As he subsequently did not testify in the Reichsgericht, the helmsman’s observations were not part of the evidence for the trial. Since Patzig, the main accused, had not handed himself over to the courts, his account would have made little difference anyway. Thus, the two officers of U-86 were each sentenced to a prison term of four years as having been accessories to manslaughter, because they had safeguarded the artillery shelling of the lifeboats through their monitoring activity. The accused nevertheless admitted no culpability where their actions were concerned. They believed that they had only followed orders and had merely scanned the horizon for enemy ships. They were unwilling to testify on the “events themselves.” As the accused Boldt put it, he was “bound to his commander by a promise to remain silent;” a promise he still felt obliged to keep. 34 

Although the two officers refused to testify, prosecutors nevertheless claimed limited success. The prosecutors believed they had made a point of identifying those responsible for monitoring the horizon, thereby having aided and facilitated shelling of the lifeboats. The indictment charged, “…that they had, by being on the look-out, guarded against any threat to the U-boat from the enemy and, by doing so, had created the possibility for Patzig to proceed with his course of action against the lifeboats in the first place.” 35  The Reichsgericht furthermore ruled that Dithmer be dismissed from service and that the right of Boldt to wear his uniform be rescinded. 

The sentencing of the two officers of U-86 was greeted with a certain amount of satisfaction by the Foreign Office because Britain had meanwhile reacted with increasing distrust concerning the seriousness with which the Leipzig war crimes trials were conducted, especially in light of the Patzig case. Now the Foreign Office could present, if not the main accused, then at least the sentencing of two suspects, the identification and prosecution of whom had been due to German investigative activity, something which “was noted with quiet satisfaction as proof of judicial impartiality.”

Several other questions arise retrospectively. What would have happened if the silent eyewitness helmsman had testified in court? What if the lawyers had proved that Patzig operated the gun that was supposed to sink the lifeboats? Or that he had intended to ram the lifeboats with the U-boat, a matter never raised during proceedings? How would the Allies have reacted, had they been made aware of such blatant, verifiably multiple violations of maritime and international law? Would they have demanded Patzig’s extradition to prosecute him themselves? How would the German government have reacted? And the German public? The former enemies? Would the witness’s life been in danger from right-wing nationalist forces? Had the helmsman therefore prevented an international conflict by remaining silent? 36 

Reactions to and the Significance of the Trial and its Outcome. 

Examining the attempts at atonement for war crimes committed by the Germans during the First World War heard in court in the early 1920s leads one to agree with Frank Neubacher that the results were poor, 37  especially if one considers the ratio of initiated lawsuits to those that resulted in a conviction. The balance was, after all, 1803 to 6. 

A contributing factor was that, with time, the energies of the judges in Leipzig to prosecute such crimes began to lag, especially when the interest shown by the Allies in this regard also began to wane. The judges discontinued many proceedings. Only a few of those sentenced had their convictions enforced. 

When the chief Reich prosecutor, Dr. Ludwig Ebermeier, had to read out the bill of indictment against the officers of U-86, he gave eloquent testimony to the attitude of the German judiciary towards the war crime hearings. He began by saying: “Hardly ever during the nearly forty years that I have been serving as a state prosecutor and a judge, has the performing of my official duties been more difficult than today, where I am compelled, due to the outcome of the three days of hearings that lie behind us, to bring charges against two German ship officers … for the most serious crime listed in the German code of law.”

He then proceeded to give a relatively faithful rendition of the course of events. In his account, he did not, however, accuse Patzig of torpedoing a hospital ship, but merely of attempting and executing the killing of defenseless, shipwrecked passengers. According to the chief Reich prosecutor, the accused, Boldt and Dithmer, assisted in the killing of the shipwrecked passengers and had “acted with premeditation.”

Leading representatives of the German Naval Command, such as the Commander in Chief (Submarines), Vice Admiral Andreas Michelsen, for instance, challenged the legitimacy of the trial in publications and lectures on the topic. 38  Along with other high-ranking German military officers, Michelsen acknowledged how reprehensible Patzig’s actions and commands were. Michelsen recognized that in “removing” witnesses, Patzig had attempted to “conceal” his deed. Patzig wanted to “prevent news of this matter from reaching Britain,” as pointed out in the judgment of the court. 39  

It appears as though the judiciary acknowledged this argument as being some excuse for the killing of unarmed civilians. That is the only plausible explanation for the fact that the sinking of the Llandovery Castle was manifestly considered to be a violation of international law, but had not been made the actual subject matter of the trial. 40 

For the victims, the outcome of the legal proceedings was far from satisfactory. The significance of the trial lies not in the lenient sentences handed down for sinking the hospital ship or the cowardly attacks on the lifeboats. Nor is it significant for the small number of punishments meted out to those Germans who had committed crimes that violated international law. The real significance of the trial was that in the future, individuals would be held accountable for their actions in wartime by the standards of international law.  41  It was furthermore clarified for the first time in Germany that a military subordinate’s duty to obey, and recourse to its subjective viewpoint, is not unconditional but rather subject to objective evaluation. 42 

An essential lesson of the Leipzig trials was that proceedings against war crimes must in the future not reside in the hands of a national judiciary, but that they instead require an international criminal court. Thus, the formation of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague grew out of the experiences acquired and lessons drawn from the Leipzig trials. 43 

From the viewpoint of legal history, the Leipzig trials, which were conducted solely on account of German war crimes committed during the First World War, led to necessary reforms concerning the conduct of war crimes trials subsequently held at Nuremberg and Tokyo after the Second World War. 

For this reason, in academic publications, the Leipzig trials are sometimes referred to as the “prologue to Nuremberg.” 44  At the Nuremberg trials, nobody wanted to repeat the same mistake made with the Leipzig trials, having resulted as they did from the Treaty of Versailles. The central aspect of this mistake was that terms of the treaty were dictated to and imposed upon a defeated Germany after the First World War. Subsequently, German authorities were left to prosecute and sit in judgment over their own war criminals. 

A Slapstick Farce instead of Punishing a Rare Crime

“Many things were not done strictly in accordance with the rule of law, back then in Leipzig,” the lawyer Harald Wiggenhorn, one of the most renowned experts in the events analyzed here, concluded. 45  In his book, he demonstrates that the Ministry of the Reichswehr (Army of the Reich) and the Reich Ministry of Justice were playing a double game. On the one hand, they investigated the crimes awaiting trial, but, on the other, they made funds, defense lawyers, and additional support available to the accused, to assist them and delay the proceedings.

For this reason, later experts on the subject classified the Leipzig trials as being a “parody, comedy and scandal” or, as Gerd Hankel, an expert in international law who also made a meticulous study of the Leipzig trials, rates them – and probably justifiably so –, as a “Schmierenkomödie” (slapstick farce) 46 .

An indication of the mood among the German people, mainly where the Patzig case was concerned, is that the courtroom erupted into turmoil when verdicts for the two officers, Boldt and Dithmer, were announced. After the sentencing, the two convicted men received written demonstrations of sympathy from various quarters, as high up as the Reichswehr and Navy Command.

And the two convicted men did not have to spend too much time in prison either. As early as 17 November 1921, Boldt escaped from a jail in Hamburg. On 29 January 1922, Dithmer was broken out of jail in Naumburg/Saale by several men who would later be part of the group that murdered Reich Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau. 47  Both absconded abroad. Dithmer worked in a bank in Barcelona, and Boldt founded a company for electrical systems in Cali (Colombia). Subsequently, German public interest in this “case” largely disappeared.

Even after the sentences, German politicians discouraged, as far as possible, any kind of public discussion of the matter. However, the war crime at sea, and the attempt to bring the culprits to justice, was not entirely swept under the carpet in the Allied press. In Britain, open criticism was publicly levelled at the verdict for months afterward. The sinking of a ship sailing under the banner of the Red Cross, together with attacks on the lifeboats, was considered a clear case of mass murder. 48  Conduct of the proceedings also elicited frequent criticism. It had been, as per a letter from the chief Reich prosecutor to the Reich Minister of Justice, rather difficult to appease the British government after the “escape of Boldt and Dithmer.” 49 

In 1925, a request for pardon for the two convicted men from U-86 was raised in the Weimar Republic. Authorities denied the request because such an action would spark criticism abroad. 50  A “deep concern” was expressed that an amnesty could “possibly bring about a revival in the abating propaganda of wartime atrocity in countries abroad.” 51 

However, in 1926, the arrest warrant for Helmut Patzig for committed war crimes was unexpectedly rescinded by order of the chief Reich prosecutor. The reason cited for this decision was that “pressing grounds for suspicion no longer exist;” that he had committed “the crimes he has been charged with.” 52  

The recorded files provide information about the struggle that went on behind the scenes in the Patzig case. The whereabouts of Helmut Patzig was still unknown to the German authorities. However, the political climate in the country had meanwhile produced a groundswell of nationalistic sentiment. Patzig no longer had to fear extradition or facing a lengthy prison sentence if he were to stand trial in Leipzig. The rescinding of his arrest warrant was proof of this.

The reason for this unexpected decision was a “statement of facts” and “explanation” dated 26 July 1926, which Helmut Patzig handed to his lawyer for the court. 53  In it, Patzig gave an account of his version of the incident and attempted to explain why he had torpedoed the Llandovery Castle and ordered his men to fire at the lifeboats. He argued that he had aimed to sink a troop carrier, because otherwise – such was his reasoning, dripping with self-conviction – he may have been “blamed for the outcome of the war itself.” 54  Besides, the lifeboats were, according to him, “filled with soldiers, who would go and stand among enemy ranks again.” 55 

The conclusion Patzig drew from his crime against maritime law is downright terrifying: “Today I am of the opinion that, if I should be faced with similar conflicts, I would be obliged to follow a similar course of action.” 56  After having taken note of Patzig’s statement, the Reichsgericht complied with the request of his defense counsel to reopen the proceedings. 

After receiving Patzig’s justification, the courts also granted a respite of the execution of sentence to Dithmer and Boldt, a search for whom had been ongoing since their escape from prison. The grounds for punishing their flight were thereby beyond judgment.

In 1928, after further expert evaluations – even one on Patzig’s “statement of facts” – had been issued, the non-public proceedings that followed this course of events recommenced before the Leipzig court. 57  The result was that, on 4 May 1928, the two officers were cleared of all charges, seeing that their commander, Helmut Patzig, who had emerged from the shadows, had generously taken sole responsibility for the incident. Upon reading the “statement of facts” of the commander of U-86, as well as an “explanation” drawn up by him on the same day, 58  one may discern the beginnings of doubt where his actions are concerned – provided that he was sincere. But then he went on to say: “There was no point in racking one’s brains over what happened.” 59 

The arrest warrant issued for Patzig was rescinded. Indicative of changing public attitudes in Germany, proceedings against the commander and the two officers from U-86 concluded after they responded to questions put to them by the Reichsgericht in Leipzig. 60  Further, the proceedings were placed on hold for a protracted period until, based on the so-called depenalisation laws of 1928 and 1930, their legal cessation took place. Boldt and Dithmer were even awarded financial compensation for the period spent on remand and for the partially enforced sentence. 61  

One may accept Walter Schwengler’s argument, which concludes that the responsible judges did “not observe their statutory obligation” in “pursuing Patzig’s arrest and sentencing.” With no judgment delivered against Patzig, however, the proceedings were, at least in strictly legal terms, concluded. Eventually, on 20 March 1931, the criminal division of the Reichsgericht closed the proceedings against Kapitänleutnant, retired, Helmut Patzig permanently.

This action, which made a mockery of the victims, did not create a great stir. An Allied commission to investigate the Leipzig trials did admittedly propose that those accused but not convicted of a war crime should be extradited to the countries on whose territory the crimes had occurred. The political situation had changed drastically by the late 1920s, and the courts would no longer act on considerations of this nature. Consequently, the death of 234 people remained unatoned. 

The War Criminal of the First, now in the Second World War 

Helmut Patzig joined the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party – the Nazi Party) 1 November 1933 62 , shortly after the party had come to power.  Although he still went by the name of Brümmer, he wished to change his name again, as he now no longer feared extradition to the Allies. He was engaged in commerce in Riga and, in 1937, was appointed training manager of the local NSDAP-branch of his hometown. 63 

Soon afterward, Patzig applied to the Reich and Prussian Ministry of the Interior to have his name changed. He informed resident officials in writing that, previously, he was obliged to change his name to Brümmer. Now, “after his return to the Reich and his redeployment in the navy,” his wish was “to be able to bear the name, at least in an ancillary fashion, under which he had become known during the World War.” The Navy High Command had given its endorsement to a corresponding application to the police commissioner in Berlin. 64  This action suggests that he had acquired a second home in the German capital. 

According to his statement, after the National Socialist assumption of power, Patzig had moved to Zoppot, to Baederweg 1. As a resident of Berlin, he was reactivated by the German Navy as Lieutenant-Commander of the Kriegsmarine and promoted to Commander (Korvettenkapitän) on 1 December 1939. It was, therefore, no problem for Patzig’s name change to be authorized. As evidenced by the records, that he was a “party comrade and an active officer” proved to be advantageous to him. 65

The Nazis were appreciative of Patzig’s attitude during the First World War and the Leipzig trials and knew how to utilize his naval expertise. From February to June 1940, he served in the German Navy in various submarine staff positions, in the French port of Lorient, for instance (June to September 1940), and in Königsberg (September to October 1940). From 28 January to 15 October 1941, he was the commander of a captured Dutch submarine, UD-4. He was primarily involved in training and was decorated with numerous military awards, such as the “Spange zum Eisernen Kreuz 2. Klasse” (Clasp of the Iron Cross 2nd class) and, in 1943, the “Kriegsverdienstkreuz II. Klasse mit Schwertern” (War Cross of Merit 2nd class with Swords). 

After being deployed as firing instructor of the 25th U-flotilla (November 1941 to March 1943), Brümmer-Patzig was put in charge of the 26th submarine flotilla – established in April 1941 – from April 1943 to 9 April 1945. This flotilla served as a training unit and was based in Pillau until 1945, and then, for a short period, in Warnemünde, a small harbor town on the Baltic Sea. His promotion to Fregattenkapitän came on 1 February 1944. 66  After the war, Brümmer-Patzig returned to his occupation in commerce. He was by now in a second marriage. After the Federal Republic of Germany had been established, and when the opportunity arose, he applied for compensation for the material losses he had suffered in Zoppot. He died on 11 March 1984. 67 

While he was head of the flotilla in the German Navy during the Second World War, Helmut Brümmer-Patzig encountered memories of his war crime during the First World War. His former helmsman, who knew more than he probably would have liked about him and his crime that had attracted worldwide attention in earlier days, paid him an unexpected visit. The former helmsman “asked” a favor for his son, who was doing service with the Navy on the Black Sea. He asked Brümmer-Patzig to take him into his division, if possible. Was it gratitude or even fear he felt for a witness who, had he testified, could have become very dangerous to him? Or was it a matter of genuine comradely empathy that induced Brümmer-Patzig to respond to the request of his former helmsman and to bring his son to Pillau and into his division? There the cadre seaman could survive the war years in relative safety, serving on an auxiliary cruiser.

Towards the end of the Second World War, the seaman received a confidential order from his commander. Brümmer-Patzig’s superiors should have been informed of the order but were not made aware. In the spring of 1945, with the war quickly drawing to a close, Brümmer-Patzig instructed two seamen from his division to take his private sailing yacht to a place of safety, ahead of the Red Army advancing from the east. The two seamen received explicit orders from Brümmer-Patzig not to take on board any of the civilian refugees who were fleeing East Prussia by the tens of thousands, hoping to be rescued by sea. The two seamen entrusted with carrying out this inexcusable and illegal order had to stand by and watch as women, children, and the elderly who were crowding at the harbor basin, flung themselves into the water, hoping to be rescued by the yacht. The helpless sailors could only watch. They could not do anything to assist the refugees on the exact order of Brümmer-Patzig, for whom the intactness of his private yacht was worth more than the lives of some German women, the elderly, and children.

Brümmer-Patzig’s order, under no circumstances, had anything to do with military necessity. Other German naval vessels, including U-boats, especially from Danzig/Gdansk and heading westward, took hundreds of refugees on board against official orders. For many years afterward, the son of the helmsman from U-86 felt tormented by the traumatic memories of not being in a position to rescue civilians who needed his help. He would share these memories with his father, albeit in a different context. Both father and son had become victims of the commander, who had been their superior in the two World Wars.

Years later, Brümmer-Patzig, living and working in North Rhine-Westphalia as a commercial employee, expressed gratitude towards his former helmsman for his silence. Brümmer-Patzig sent him half a pound of coffee twice a year, across the border into the eastern part of Germany. Then, about three decades later, by way of reciprocation for his gifts, he requested his former subordinate “colleague” in the Pillau division to supply him with a written declaration, stating that “the Russians” had “stolen” his private yacht. He presumably did this to be able to argue for compensation in a lawsuit. Because he never received any written statement from the son of his First World War shipmate, he was subsequently unable to include the yacht with his list of other material losses. Among the items for which he claimed compensation and provided documentary evidence, were things such as household goods, losses in savings, and the loss of a single-family house in Zoppot in which he had half ownership. 68  

With a declaration from his erstwhile subordinate in his pocket, he would presumably have attempted to apply for financial compensation, even if the relevant provisions of the Equalisation of Burden Act of 1962 would probably not have authorized monetary payment for the yacht. 
<With the request for a written confirmation attesting to the loss of the yacht, the memories of the events that occurred on the quay of the Pillau harbor came flooding back, which led to the father and son losing all previous feelings of gratitude towards their former commander. 69

(Return to December 2020 Table of Contents) 


  1. I thank Professor Holger Herwig for his valuable help in writing this article.
  2. Jörg-M. Hormann, “Erst verkannt und dann gefürchtet. Deutsche U-Boote im Ersten Weltkrieg 1914 – 1918,“ in: Schiff Classic: Magazin für Schifffahrts- und Marinegeschichte, no. 2, Munich 2014, 12 – 21.
  3. For instance Ulf Kaack, Tödliche Begegnungen, Schiff Classic: Magazine 2014, 23 – 25.
  4. John Horne and Alan Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (New Haven, Connecticut: 2001), especially 327 and 419.
  5. A first attempt at a reappraisal of this maritime war crime can be found in the popular science article by Ulrich van der Heyden, “HMHS Llandovery Castle. Ein ungesühntes Kriegsverbrechen 1918“, in Militärgeschichte. Zeitschrift für historische Bildung, no. 2, Potsdam 2016, 22 – 23.
  6. A document of the German Reich Interior Ministry states in this regard: “In order to evade being seized by the Entente, which had demanded his extradition, he fled in 1920 under the name of Brümmer.” – [„Um sich dem Zugriff der Entente zu entziehen, die seine Auslieferung gefordert hatte, flüchtete er im Jahre 1920 unter dem Namen Brümmer.“ – Federal Archives Berlin-Lichterfelde: BA, R 1501/127628: Namensänderung Patzig, sheet 208.
  7. Günter Krause, U-Boot und U-Jagd, 2nd ed., (East Berlin: 1986), 32.
  8. In this regard, the two most up-to-date, well-researched accounts (in German) are in Willi Jasper, Lusitania. Kulturgeschichte einer Katastrophe (Berlin: 2015); Erik Larson,  Der Untergang der Lusitania. Die größte Schiffstragödie des Ersten Weltkriegs (Hamburg: 2015). On the anti-German response elicited by the sinking of the Lusitania, even in South Africa, see. Tilman Dedering, “Avenge the Lusitania: The Anti-German Riots in South Africa in 1915,” in Immigrants & Minorities. Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora, no. 3, (London: 2013), 256 – 288.
  9. Wolfgang Krüger and Bodo Herzog, Der Entschluss zum uneingeschränkten U-Bootkrieg im Jahre 1917 und seine völkerrechtliche Rechtfertigung (Berlin/Frankfurt am Main: 1959).
  10. Richard Lakowski, U-Boote. Zur Geschichte einer Waffengattung der Seestreitkräfte (East Berlin: 1985), 116.
  11. Lakowski,  U-Boote, 121.
  12. Designation for non-series U-boats without numbering.
  13. Lutz Unterseher,  Der Erste Weltkrieg. Trauma des 20. Jahrhunderts (Heidelberg: 2014), 86.
  14. Bodo Herzog, Deutsche U-Boote 1906–1966 (Erlangen: 1993), 123.
  15. Herzog, Deutsch U-Boote, 68.
  16. Friedrich Karl Kaul, “Völkerrecht ist außer Kraft gesetzt. Der Fall Boldt/Dithmar 1918–1928“, in  Friedrich Karl Kaul, So wahr mir Gott helfe. Pitaval der Kaiserzeit (East Berlin: 1970), 296.
  17. Kaul, “Völkerrecht,“ 296.
  18. A well-researched depiction of this criminal act can be found in Harald Wiggenhorn, “Eine Schuld fast ohne Sühne”, in Zeit online, Dossier, 16.08.1996. This article is based on the book by Harald Wiggenhorn: Verliererjustiz: Die Leipziger Kriegsverbrecherprozesse nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Baden-Baden: 2005).
  19. Herzog, Deutsche U-Boote, 309.
  20. Kaul, “Völkerrecht,“ 301. – “Ein nach den Vorschriften des 10. Haager Abkommens gekennzeichnetes Lazarettschiff war torpediert worden! Seine Schiffbrüchigen hatte man in offenen Rettungsbooten beschossen und bis auf vierundzwanzig getötet! Das war eine Häufung von Völkerrechtsbrüchen, wie sie sich die kaiserlich-deutsche Marine bislang noch nicht zu leisten gewagt hatte.”
  21. Federal Archive Berlin-Lichterfelde: R 9361 II (Collection Berlin Document Centre), shelf number: 121765, sheet 1524.
  22. Files of the Reich Chancellery. Weimarer Republik, Vol. 1, cabinet meeting dated 22 July 1921, 148 (online edition). – “…daß im Falle der Richtigkeit der Meldung alles getan werden müsse, um die Auslieferung zu erreichen.“
  23. Files of Reich Chancellery 150. – “Die Reichsregierung teilt die Anschauungen, daß die einseitige Aburteilung deutscher Kriegsverbrecher unsittlich ist und von dem Volksempfinden mit Recht als eine brutale Vergewaltigung jedes Rechtsgefühls empfunden wird. Sie ist deshalb gewillt, sobald hierzu der geeignete Zeitpunkt sich darbietet, den Anspruch auf gleichmäßige Behandlung der fremden Kriegsverbrecher zu erheben und hierfür die Gegenliste als Grundlage zu benutzen. In diesem Augenblick aber scheint ihr dieser Zeitpunkt nicht gekommen zu sein.”
  24. Gerd Hankel, Die Leipziger Prozesse: Deutsche Kriegsverbrechen und ihre strafrechtliche Verfolgung nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Hamburg: 2003).
  25. Frank Neubacher, Kriminologische Grundlagen einer internationalen Strafgerichtsbarkeit. Politische Ideen- und Dogmengeschichte, kriminalwissenschaftliche Legitimation, strafrechtliche Perspektiven (Tübingen: 2005), 310.
  26. Walter Schwengler, Völkerrecht, Versailler Vertrag und Aus (Stuttgart: 1982),  348.
  27. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office: Rechtsabteilung, R IV: Kriegsbeschuldigte, Brief des Oberreichsanwalts an das Auswärtige Amt, 23.02.1921.
  28. Kaul,“Völkerrecht,“ 305. – “Ihren guten Willen an dem Exempel eines der Prominentesten zu statuieren war nicht möglich und lag nicht in ihrem (der Reichsregierung – UvdH) Interesse. So kam man im Reichsjustizministerium, dem zu dieser Zeit der Sozialdemokrat Radbruck vorstand, mit den Herren der roten Roben überein, den Fall der beiden in der Öffentlichkeit unbekannten Marineoffiziere als ‚Muster’ zu benutzen. Außerdem konnte der gegen sie erhobene strafrechtliche Vorwurf… in der Geschichte des Seekrieges wirklich seinesgleichen suchen.”
  29. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R IV: Kriegsbeschuldigte Nr. 2, Verhaftung und Auslieferung des Oblt. Dithmer.
  30. Schwengler, Völkerrecht, Versailler, 348.
  31. Mention is made in a letter to the Reich Minister of Justice to the Foreign Office, dated 18 May 1921, of a “meanwhile allegedly deceased Chief Petty Officer Second Class Meissner”. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R IV: Auswärtiges Amt, Friedensabteilung.
  32. Kaul, “Völkerrecht,” 308. One of the four seamen who operated and were close to the cannon had apparently injured his hand during firing. One of the other three took over.
  33. Hankel, Die Leipziger Prozesse, 457.
  34. Hankel, Die Leipziger Prozesse, 458.
  35. Schwengler, “Völkerrecht,” 148. Quoted from the bill of indictment – “ganz abgesehen davon, daß sie durch ihr Ausschauen einer Gefährdung des U-Boots von anderer Seite vorgebeugt und dadurch überhaupt erst für Patzig die Möglichkeit zu seinem Vorgehen gegen die Boote geschaffen.”
  36. These questions arise not only from the author of this essay, whose grandfather was the witness of the crime. The personal representations are based on many conversations with the grandfather.
  37. Neubacher, Kriminologische Grundlagen, 311.
  38. Andreas Michelsen, Das Urteil im Leipziger Uboots-Prozeß ein Fehlspruch? Juristische und militärische Gutachten (Berlin: 1922).
  39. Quoted in Michelson, Das Urteil, 56.
  40. Neubacher, Kriminologische Grundlagen, 312.
  41. Heiko Ahlbrecht, Geschichte der völkerrechtlichen Strafgerichtsbarkeit im 20. Jahrhundert. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der völkerrechtlichen Straftatbestände und der Bemühungen um einen Ständigen Internationalen Strafgerichtshof (Baden-Baden: 1999), 45.
  42. Hankel, Die Leipziger Prozesse, 463.
  43. Constanze Schulte, Compliance with Decisions in the International Court of Justice (Oxford: 2004).
  44. Dirk von Selle, “Prolog zu Nürnberg. Die Leipziger Kriegsverbrecherprozesse vor dem Reichsgericht,“ in: Zeitschrift für Neuere Rechtsgeschichte, no. 3/4, Vienna 1997, 192 – 209; James F. Willis, Prologue to Nuremberg: The Punishment of War Criminals of the First World War (Westport: 1982).
  45. Wiggenhorn, Verliererjustiz, “Eine Schuld fast ohne Sühne,“ “Es ging so einigs nicht ganz rechtsstaatlich zu, damals in Leipzig.”
  46. Hankel, Die Leipziger Prozesse, 500.
  47. A detailed description of the escapes is provided in Kaul, “Völkerrecht,” 310 – 316.
  48. Claud Mullins, The Leipzig Trials: An account of the war criminals’ trials and a study of German mentality (London: 1921), 108 and 134.
  49. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office (Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts), R 48433: Letter of the chief Reich prosecutor to the Reich Minister of Justice (with enclosures), 13.03.1928, (transcript) sheet 189.
  50. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: Report of the Foreign Office, dated 12.04.1928, sheets 163–164.
  51. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: Letter from the Foreign Office to the Reich Minister of Justice, 26.07.1926 (transcript), sheets 104–107. – “die einschlummernde Kriegsgreulpropaganda im Auslande zu neuem Leben erwecken…”
  52. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: R IV: Letter from the chief Reich prosecutor to the Foreign Office, 20.07.1926, sheet 100.
  53. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: Sachdarstellung, im Ausland, d. 6. Mai 1926 (transcript), sheets 116–127.
  54. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: sheet 118.
  55. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: Erklärung…, sheet 150. – „… mit Soldaten gefüllt, die sich wieder in die feindlichen Reihen einstellen würden.”
  56. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: Sachdarstellung…, sheet 126. – “Heute bin ich der Ansicht, daß ich in ähnliche Konflikte gestellt, auch wieder ähnlich handeln müßte.”
  57. The chapter summarising the countervailing facts: “Die heimliche Wiederaufnahme des Falles, ‘Llandovery Castle’ von 1922–1931“, in: Katrin Hassel, Kriegsverbrechen vor Gericht. Die Kriegsverbrecherprozesse vor Militärgerichten in der britischen Besatzungszone unter dem Royal Warrant vom 18. Juni 1945 (1945–1949), (Baden-Baden: 2008), 63 – 67.
  58. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: Erklärung, sheet 150f.
  59. Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, R 48433: Sachdarstellung…, sheet 124. – “Es hatte keinen Zweck, sich über das Geschehene zu zergrübeln.”
  60. Schwengler, Völkerrecht, Versailler, 358.
  61. Hankel, Die Leipziger Prozesse, 503f.
  62. Federal Archive: R 9361 II (Collection Berlin Document Centre), shelf no.: 121765, sheet 1524.
  63. Federal Archive: R 9361 II.
  64. Federal Archive Berlin-Lichterfelde: R 1501/127628, sheet 206–210.
  65. Federal Archive Berlin-Lichterfelde: In an administrative note, it states: “In 1931 he obtained permission in Danzig/Gdansk to use this name (Brümmer – UvdH). Since there no longer exist any grounds under current circumstances for him to conceal his name, Patzig, he requests that he may be called by this name again and, to wit, as an additional name to the one he currently holds. He will not relinquish the name Brümmer again, as he has, for the last nineteen years, been known under this name to an entire circle of individuals. He has furthermore gone through very difficult times under this name.” – “In view of the services rendered” by the applicant, councillor Lettner, who was dealing with the process, proposed a positive, free-of-charge outcome for the application, which subsequently happened. – [”Im Jahre 1931 hat er in Danzig die Genehmigung zur Führung dieses Namens erhalten. Da unter den heutigen Verhältnissen kein Grund mehr vorliegt, seinen Namen Patzig zu verschweigen, bittet er, ihn nunmehr wieder tragen zu dürfen, und zwar als Zusatzname zu seinem gegenwärtigen Namen. Den Namen Brümmer wird er nicht wieder ablegen, da er 19 Jahre lang unter diesem Namen einem ganzen Kreise von Menschen bekannt geworden sei. Ferner hatte er unter diesem Namen die allerschwersten Zeiten bestanden.“
  66. Hans-Joachim Busch, Rainer/Röll, Der U-Boot-Krieg 1939–1945: Die deutschen U-Boot-Kommandanten (Hamburg/Berlin/Bonn: 1996), 39.
  67. Kulturlexikon Langenberger. Immaterielles Kulturerbe der UNESCO,, 919.
  68. Federal Archive: Equalisation of Burden Authorities – “Brümmer-Patzig, Helmut”, shelf no.: ZLA 1/13395872.
  69. An upcoming book will deal with the subject in more detail: Ulrich van der Heyden, Helmut Patzig – U-Boot-Heroe oder Verbrecher?( Solivagus Verlag: Kiel, 2021).

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Anglo-American Naval Relations, 1815 — 1837

John Rodgaard1 
Captain, USN (Ret.)

Words such as admiration, contempt, cooperation, and hostility might describe the Anglo-American naval relationship that followed The Napoleonic Wars. Yet, that relationship formed the framework for today’s Anglo-American naval partnership. Examining the Anglo-American naval relationship between 1815 and 1837, we begin with the culture and values that both navies shared.

On 27 March 1794, the US Congress authorized the construction of six frigates under the War Department. On 30 April 1798, Congress established the US Navy (Although, the US Navy officially recognizes 13 October 1775 as the birth of the US Navy). In July, the Department of the Navy formally established the Marine Corps, and the first six frigates mandated by Congress were completed and commissioned. 2  Now the nation needed an officer corps and seamen to man the Navy’s ships. With recommendations from President John Adams and Captains John Barry, Samuel Nicholson, Thomas Truxton and Richard Dale, the Secretary of War, James McHenry, selected  “… six captains, 15 lieutenants and 21 midshipmen, three sailing masters, four surgeons, five surgeon’s mates, and five pursers…” to form the Navy’s first naval officer corps. Enlisted personnel were recruited through a two-year volunteer enlistment contract –  impressment was forbidden.

Dr. Christopher McKee asked how the US Navy had so quickly developed into a “… highly professional naval force … in eighteen years?’ Of the five elements that composed a navy (ships, shore establishments, civilian administration, seamen, and officers), the critical element was the US Navy’s officer corps. 

The newly-formed navy chose, as its model, the Royal Navy. McKee wrote, “…the choice was predetermined. The navy of Great Britain was part and parcel of the American colonial heritage.” In addition, Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy said, “We must imitate [the British] in things which tend to the good of the services.” In 1804, Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair, USN observed that “… the customs of the British sea services, in cases not embraced by our laws, have usually been the criterion by which we have been guided.” McKee wrote: “The historian is struck by the speed with which the transfer was accomplished, by the early date at which the fledgling navy of the Quasi-War and the Tripolitan War required the professional polish and established methods characteristic of a far more mature organization.” Surely such maturation was due to the manner in which the US Navy adopted Royal Navy operations.

Within the officer corps, the captains had combat-at-sea experience and the lieutenants were masters of sailing technology. All knew sail, ships, and the sea. Additionally, American naval officers expanded their professional development in the naval arts through self-education. McKee observed, “American naval officers owned, borrowed, read, and internalized the professional British naval literature  – The Naval Chronicle and  A System of Naval Tactics …” of the period. While at sea, they also had opportunities to observe the Royal Navy, especially at its operational nexus – Gibraltar. Beginning in 1800, American naval squadrons, ordered to the Mediterranean to fight the Barbary States, chose Gibraltar as a major communication and supply base. American and British officers continued to rub elbows at Gibraltar through the mid-nineteenth century.

McKee gave another example of how Royal Navy culture was transferred to the US Navy. It was through those sailors who volunteered to serve. Midshipman John Roche, Jr., USN, wrote to his father in 1798, while aboard the US Frigate Constitution, saying, “Our petty officers are very good men. Most of them, such as quartermasters, master’s mates, gunners, master-at-arms, etc., are either English or Irish who have sustained the same berths on board British men-of-war.” Thus, the lower deck could have fitted into either navy without much difficulty. Dr. Usher Parsons observed that, like the crews of British warships ‘… the crews of US warships were perceived by their officers as ‘a rough and rugged class of men,’ accustomed to and requiring severe physical punishment for their management.” The US Navy continued the “long tradition of naval justice inherited from the British role model; the pedagogical and conservative roles of tradition were not to be ignored. As aboard ships of the Royal Navy, the ‘rough and rugged class of men’ manning US warships experienced instant justice.” Minimum infractions were punished with men being denied their grog or being clapped in irons with reduced rations and no grog. Then there was flogging. Although the death penalty was on the books, it was the extreme exception even when an offence stipulated such in the regulations.

Concerning regulations, the US Naval Regulations of 1802 and the corresponding US Marine Corps Rules of 1798 relied heavily on the Regulations & Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea. However, as McKee wrote: “It would be wrong to think of either set as simply the product of a copy to the British Regulations and Instructions, scissors, paste, and a printing press.” 3  Yes, senior US Navy officers did assemble the new regulations by borrowing and excluding those from the British example as they saw fit. But, they also incorporated their own, and compiled them within the guidelines of US Constitution and Federal Statutes.

The men selected for the first US Navy officer corps became known as Barry’s Boys; named for Commodore John Barry. These officers piloted the Navy’s course for the next sixty years. Names such as Bainbridge, Barren, Decatur, Porter, Somers, and Stewart placed the US Navy on a solid foundation. But, domestic politics held considerable sway. As Professor John Hattendorf wrote in an article for the Naval War College: 

Americans were having a serious debate as to the “purpose and function of the navy”. There were two political camps: One, the Federalists who believedthe new navy should be the most effective expression and symbol of the nation’s power, honor, and prestige as well as a potent and capable and effective fighting force that played a major role in the world balance of power as an instrument of political influence.” 4 

A second influential group were the Republicans; the anti-navalists. While they recognized a need for a navy, they argued that Federalists aims were unrealistic and too costly. They visualized a small, militia-type navy, consisting mostly of gunboats for coastal protection, with a few large ships operating on distant stations – just enough to protect American commerce. Except for the Navy’s expansion during the War of 1812 and the American Civil War, the Republican vision held sway through most of the nineteenth century. According to Professor Hattendorf, the Republicans believed: 

British maritime superiority was a political and naval fact … Freed from this burden, the US Navy could concentrate on a more select range of tasks. What it could and did do was bounded, by both its capabilities and interests, as well as the political compromises necessary in the creation of practical naval policy and strategy. 5 

The incident between HMS “Leopard” and USS “Chesapeake” that sparked the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair. Drawn by Fred S. Cozzens and published in 1897. (Wikimedia Commons)

The US Navy concentrated on supporting and defending American maritime activities. The remainder of this article will discuss Anglo-American naval competition and cooperation through officer interactions and visits, defending trade in the Mediterranean, anti-slavery patrols in the Caribbean, and maritime scientific advancements during the early nineteenth century. 

A Visit to America 

After 1815, the relationship between the two navies reflected a mutually subdued appreciation for the qualities and limitations of each. One example can be seen through the eyes of a twenty-two-year-old Royal Navy officer who arranged leave from his duties at the Royal Navy’s North American Station in Halifax, Nova Scotia to visit the United States. In a book published in 1827, 6  Lieutenant F. Fitzgerald De Roos wrote about his one-month-long whirlwind tour. His insights on America, especially its navy, revealed aspects of life in the early republic. He was keen to see how Americans built their exceptional warships, famous for impressive exploits during the War of 1812.

In the company of Major Yorke, he sailed to New York City, bound for Washington, DC. From New York, he travelled by steamboat and horse-drawn coaches to Philadelphia, which, De Roos wrote, “Has the appearance of a well-built old English town of the time of Queen Anne.” Staying just long enough to drop off correspondence to the British consulate, the two officers travelled to Baltimore and Washington, DC. Reaching Washington, he delivered dispatches to the British minister, Mr. Vaughan, who escorted De Roos and Yorke to the Capitol. De Roos was “struck by its immense size … the senate-room and the chamber of representatives … remind me strongly of the Chamber of Deputies at Paris.” Vaughn then took De Roos and Yorke to the Washington Navy Yard. De Roos was surprised by the Marine guard’s the lack of interest in foreign visitors. The Marine said that, “he guessed we were at liberty to see any part of it we pleased.”

Walking through the yard, De Roos saw three frigates in various stages of construction or repair. The one that he identified as the Susquehanna was on the building way: 

She was constructed on the latest and most approved principles of the American builders, and was to mount 60 guns. Her timbers were close together, and her shape remarkable for a very full bow, and a perfectly straight side. She had a round stern, but its rake and flatness, combined with judicious construction of her quarter galleries, gave it quite the appearance of being square. 7 

Describing the second ship, the US Frigate Potomac (44), he wrote that she was “… another heavy and clumsy-looking 60 gun frigate, was hauled up on ways … called Commodore Porter’s inclined plane.” The third frigate, the USS Congress (38), was newly overhauled, and he was allowed to go aboard. 8  As the three left the yard, they came across a monument:

… which was erected to the memory of some officers, and bore an inscription declaring it to have been mutilated by Britons at the taking of Washington. At the capture of this city, many excesses were undoubtedly committed, but I have been assured that there are no grounds for this particular accusation. Let it, however in justice be observed, that this is the only public inscription of memorial which I saw in the United States, of a nature calculated to wound the feelings of a stranger. 9  

The monument was the oldest naval monument in the United States. It honoured those US naval officers who were killed during the Barbary Wars. 10  After spending an enjoyable evening in “…George’s Town, which had all the agreeable characteristics of a European assembly,” Roos and Yorke were invited to attend the only Episcopal church in the city. Present at the service were President Monroe and the recently returned ambassador to the Court of Saint James, Richard Rush. 11  One wonders if the preacher’s sermon was targeted at the two British officers:

The sermon was worthy of the preacher; it treated of the oppression which the United States formerly endured while under the yoke of England, whose downfall, discomfiture, and damnation he confidently predicted … I strongly suspect that the blasphemous absurdity was the produce of his own brain. I was sorry to learn that this man was considered much superior to American preachers in general.

Following the church service, De Roos was invited to a Virginia household, where: “Politics and travelling form the usual topics of conversation … The events of the last war, and the capture of Washington in particular, I found to be a frequent topic.” De Roos compared the American experience of the war with his own and that of Europe in general when he wrote: “The attention of Europe was so completely engrossed by the mighty conflict, which decided its fate on the plains of Waterloo, that the Washington campaign was regarded with comparative indifference.”

Travelling back to New York De Roos stopped at Baltimore, “… a port justly celebrated for its shipbuilding.” Walking down to the shipyards he noted, “… I saw a schooner building … Everything was sacrificed to swiftness, and I think she was the most lovely vessel I ever saw.” A shipbuilder showed him a book containing architectural ship drawings; “… drafts of all the fastest-sailing schooners built in Baltimore, which had so much puzzled our cruisers during the war. It was everything I wanted; but after an hour spent … I could not induce him to part with one leaf of the precious volume.” De Roos wrote: “I could not help admiring the public spirit which dictated his conduct, for the offer I made him must have been tempting to a person in his station of life.” So much for De Roos’ attempt at gathering intelligence!

Arriving in Philadelphia, he called upon the British consul, who took him to the birth place of the US Navy; the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Upon arriving, he saw on stocks the incomplete hull of the first-rate, USS Pennsylvania (136), the largest sailing warship ever built by the United States. He wrote: “A mistaken notion has gone abroad as to the Americans calling such ships … seventy fours [third rate], which, at first sight, …bears the appearance of intentional deception.” However, he knew that Congress had authorized the building of only third rate ships-of-the-line, but the Navy Commissioners took the liberty to build Pennsylvania and others “on a more extended scale.”

On his return to New York, De Roos visited the Brooklyn Navy Yard and was struck by the level of activity as well as the warships he observed. The yard was building the US Frigate Brandywine (60) and fitting out the sloop-of-war, USS Boston (20). Aboard the Boston, he noted an ingenious improvement:

To avoid the weakness … which is always made in the after-part of the lower-decks of vessels of this description, in order to give greater accommodation to the officers, it was laid so as to form a plane inclining toward the stern, and by this method, strength was united with convenience. So roomy was her hold, that there was sufficient space to pass between them and the lower-deck. By this means, she was enabled to dispense with hatches.

USS Ohio (NHHC Photo # NH 60676)

He next went aboard the first-rate USS Ohio (102), which was lying in ordinary. “A more splendid ship I never beheld.” However, he “… was filled with astonishment at the negligence which permitted so fine a ship to remain exposed to the ruinous assaults of so deleterious a climate … and … is already falling rapidly into decay.” De Roos later found that as with other American warships, the Ohio:

… was an instance of the cunning, I will not call it wisdom, which frequently actuates the policy of the Americans. They fit out one of the finest specimens of their shipbuilding in a most complete and expensive style, commanded by their best officers, and manned with a war-complement of their choicest seamen. She proceeds to cruise in the Mediterranean, where she falls in with the fleets of European powers, exhibits before them her magnificent equipment, deploys her various perfections, and leaves them impressed with exaggerated notions of the maritime powers of the country which sent her forth.

De Roos travelled next to Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard, where he was impressed with its size and the large ship storage houses. At the yard he was told that the: 

… Americans propose to divide their ships into five classes, namely, three-deckers, two-deckers of 102 guns, frigates of 60 guns, corvettes of 22 guns, and schooners. On the model of every ship a committee is held – the draft determined on, and transmitted to the builders of the dockyards; and as periodical inspections take place, no deviation from the original model can occur. This system of classification and admirable adherence to approved models has been attended by the most beneficial results, which are visible in the beauty and excellent qualities of the ships of the United States.

Ending his tour, De Roos reflected upon his experience: “Everything in America is upon a gigantic scale. How enormous are its resources! How boundless its extent! … From the energies she has displayed in her infancy, to what powers may not her maturity aspire?” However, his observations about the future of the US Navy were less than prophetic: 

My humble lucubrations were directed, during my tour, to points more immediately connected with my own profession; and I took my leave of America, with the satisfactory conviction that the naval strength of the United States has been greatly exaggerated – that they have neither the power nor the inclination to cope with Great Britain in maritime warfare – far less to presume to dispute with her the Dominion of the Seas.

The Mediterranean

With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the US Navy re-entered the Mediterranean. We can see aspects of the relationship between the two former enemies through the eyes of two men who left their respective journals to future historians. George Jones wrote his journal while in the Mediterranean Squadron between 1825 and 1827. 12  Although Francis Schroeder wrote his journal just after the end of the Georgian Era (1843 and 1845), his observations remain relevant. 13  Besides writing about their experiences with the squadron, both men provided insights into the Anglo-American relationship as a whole.

In 1825, Jones joined the US Frigate Brandywine (54) as a schoolmaster to the ship’s midshipmen. Brandywine, the second-rate USS North Carolina (90), and the sixth-rate sloop-of-war USS Erie (20) comprised the Mediterranean Squadron. Before entering the Mediterranean, Brandywine’s crew had the honor of returning the Marquis de Lafayette to France after the hero’s grand tour of the US. The trip was so arduous that the frigate required emergency repairs. Instead of re-caulking the ship’s hull in France, Brandywine’s captain sailed across the Channel to Portsmouth. Jones wrote that he was shocked by this decision, as it was only seven years since the war. “I should have thought him [the captain] foolishly jesting or mad.” 

However, Jones’ shock turned into admiration during Brandywine’s stay. He described the port and naval dockyard as a “… beautiful sight … a noble enemy to cope with …” 14  He visited HMS Victory and sailed to the Isle of Wight. He was impressed by the Royal Navy and the beauty of the island. He also wrote, “Our ship has had a great many visitor, and I understand has been greatly admired.” 14  

A similar experience occurred to then Midshipman Charles Wilkes, USN. In his autobiography, Rear Admiral Wilkes wrote about his visit to the heart of British sea power in 1818. “At Cowes the ship was much frequented by officers & men who seemed desirous of gratifying their curiosity by inspecting the American frigate who had celebrated the naval victories over them. The Guerriere …was equipped well for a fighting one and as such did credit to our country.” 16  However, his opinion of the Royal Navy Base at Portsmouth was in marked contrast to that of Jones who visited seven years later:

I was much [struck] at the want of system in the English dockyard and the want of arrangement. The wooden walls of Old England did not impress me with much respect. The Victory & other ships of note were laid up dismantled and, of course, it is difficult to impress one with much veneration for a small, dismantled hull. The Victory was of small dimension in our eyes, and the impression was how inferior to that of our own ship, both in size and armament…showing the progress that naval architecture and efficiency for combat had made within the last 20 years. 17 

Jones visited Gibraltar on 2 November 1825. Walking about, he was especially taken by one regiment – The Black Watch. He wrote that they “… are conspicuous, the brave ‘forty twa’s’ in their fantastic highland dress. They are fine looking fellows, with muscular limbs, stout frames and national features.” 18 

Six months later, the American squadron returned to Gibraltar to pick up spring dispatches from the Navy Department and State Department. The squadron arrived on King William IV’s birthday (17 April 1826). Jones observed that the “Rock” was celebrating in grand style. In full dress, the regiments of the garrison fired volleys and marched in review past the governor. “Nowhere, probably, can troops be found, in better order: their precision in exercise is astonishing to one accustomed to the militia parades. The Scots were there with their bagpipes and drew particular attention.” 19  He also noted that all the ships in the bay and harbor dressed ship, with the ships of the American squadron flying the Union Flag from their foremasts.

Francis Schroeder, secretary to the American Squadron’s commodore, Captain Joseph Smith, aboard the flagship, the US Frigate Cumberland (50), expressed the same sentiment seventeen years later. “We received the salutes of sentinels at every turn … I should again exclaim in admiration of the English soldier.” 20  Schroeder and the squadron spent Christmas 1843 in Gibraltar. In a letter to a friend, he expressed his admiration for British engineers regarding the “… extent, and ingenuity and immense labour with which they have been contrived. I was filled with amazement.” 21 

Greek pirates attacking the British merchant ship Comet, October 16, 1827 (Wikimedia Commons)

In June 1826, the American squadron entered the Aegean Sea, arriving at the island of Sifnos. The Greek War for Independence against the Ottoman Empire was raging. One aspect of the revolution was the scourge of Greek piracy. The squadron was escorting American merchant ships trading with the Ottomans
as well as working with the Royal Navy squadron in anti-piracy operations. At Sifnos, the British flagship of the squadron, HM Frigate Cambrian, had arrived and the American commodore visited with his British counterpart. Jones wrote:

We meet the vessels of that nation frequently and I am much pleased to see harmony and good feeling subsisting between their officers and our own. Dinners and visits exchanged from Captains to Midshipmen; picnics are made for each other; and speaking the same language, with common objectives of esteem and antipathy, they appear much like officers of the same nation; and so it should be.

On 30 April 1827, the American squadron arrived at the port of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey) to show the flag. Smyrna was the major trading port between the United States and the Ottoman Empire. In Jones’ writings, we see another instance of cordial Anglo-American naval relations: “We received the usual compliments on anchoring: visits have been frequent between the officers and ours: our midshipmen are giving a dinner to those of HM Frigate Seringapatum and the cries of ‘Hip, Hip, Hip – Huzza, etc.’ among them, are beginning to be thick and indistinct.”

Then again, arguments and slights did occur between the two navies. When the Constitution arrived at Piraeus, Greece, several British, French and Austrian warships were anchored there. HMS Cambrian and the Royal Navy flagship rendered honours to the arriving American. Jones wrote that as the Constitution passed by, Cambrian’s band played Hail Columbia. Constitution’s band responded with God Save the King. Then Cambrian played Yankee Doodle. Jones did not like the way the British ship played it. “They ‘rattled it off’ … I am sure it must have produced a general laugh there as it did with us. To me … it produced mortification.” 22  

Combatting Slavers

After the defeat of Napoleonic France, both navies waged another kind of war – the war against the African slave trade. Over the next three decades, they opposed the slave trade off the coast of West Africa and throughout the Caribbean. Their shared mission was truly ironic in that the wealth from human trafficking had shaped the prosperity of both countries. However, each country approached the trade differently. The US had tried, since the inception of its federal government, to suppress slavery in the Caribbean. President John Adams’ administration passed the Act of 1794, prohibiting Americans from transporting people to another country for the purpose of selling them as slaves. Heavy financial penalties, to include the confiscation of vessels, were imposed on those found to be conducting such activities. While the law originally had no enforcement provisions, fines and possible imprisonment were added during the last year of Adams’ administration.  Further, US Navy warships were authorized to seize US slavers operating in the Caribbean as prizes. However, along the American coastline:

 … the enforcement of foreign trade regulations was the provenance of the Revenue Cutter Service of the Treasury Department … the Revenue Cutter Service and federal marshals … were active, though with varying rates of success, in suppressing the trade as it occurred on the American coast and in its harbors. 23 

However, with the Jefferson administration in 1801, interdiction by the Revenue Cutter Service and by federal marshals at the source of interdiction (harbours and ports) dropped off precipitously. The Jefferson Administration’s anti-navalism severely reduced the size of the US Navy’s warships as well as the number of Revenue Service cutters. As a result, the percentage of American ships operating in the slave trade almost doubled. 24 

The Louisiana Purchase fed the demand for slaves. This vast territory, together with the invention of the cotton gin and improved methods of cultivating and processing Louisiana sugar cane, required thousands of slaves. Although the absolute ban on importation of slaves commenced in 1808, the illicit importation of Africans continued, but at a reduced rate. However, the demand for slaves was increasingly satisfied by a:

… new class of American traders … supplied with home-grown captives born into slavery on Virginia and Maryland farms. The conditions were right for a massive forced migration of enslaved Chesapeake labourers down South, and it did not have to be a one-time drain: a continuing domestic slave-breeding industry was possible. 25 

After the Napoleonic War, the US Navy became more active in law enforcement. With American-flagged ships conducting illegal slave trade, and the rise of piracy in the Gulf of Mexico and east Florida coast, the Navy assembled its first squadron to combat piracy and the slave trade. By the 1820s, the Navy had established the West Indies Squadron consisting of two frigates, a sloop-of-war, and five schooners. However, the squadron could seize only American slave ships. 26  It did not take long for American slavers to reflag their ships to evade the US Navy. 

The US government sent a US Navy squadron to Africa’s west coast in 1819, under the command of Commodore Matthew C. Perry. But Perry’s squadron, and subsequent squadrons sent out for the next twenty years, did not have enough ships to patrol the vast African coastline and the slave routes across the Atlantic. In fact, the Navy did not have a consistent presence until 1842. As a result, the US Navy caught few slavers, compared to the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron. Britain abolished all aspects of the slave trade by British subjects in 1807, and that included seizing ships fitted out for slave transportation and not having slaves aboard. During the height of the Napoleonic War, the Royal Navy dispatched the first tactically-paired warships to Africa’s west coast. 27  Also, the Crown offered letters of marque to stimulate private ventures in seizing slavers. However, during the first decade of the law’s enforcement, the Royal Navy had to tread lightly so as not to confiscate slavers from those countries fighting Napoleon, such as Portugal. 

With the end of the Napoleonic War, the Royal Navy’s West African Station established a naval station at Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1819. The first squadron consisted of just six ships, and it couldn’t possibly cover the entire expansive west coast of Africa ranging north of Sierra Leone down through the Gulf of Guinea toward modern day Nigeria. During the succeeding two decades, the squadron was enhanced to the point that it eventually comprised nearly 5 percent of Royal Navy commissioned warships. Additionally, Britain established special courts with judges from the various countries who signed the provisions of the Congress of Vienna. Throughout the remaining decades of the nineteenth century, British governments expanded the anti-slavery operations of the Royal Navy beyond the west coast of Africa, to include the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean.

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, with a provision to end the slave trade on the high seas, validated the US Navy’s contribution to the Africa Squadron. However, as Donald Canney’s book, Africa Squadron: The U.S. Navy and the Slave Trade, 1842-1861, states, the American squadron failed in its objectives. He wrote that, “… the squadron was unsuccessful, even though it was [ironically] the Navy’s only permanent squadron with a specific, congressionally mandated mission: to maintain a quasi-blockade on a foreign shore.” 28 

Science and Exploration

The end of the Napoleonic Wars brought about an explosion in scientific and surveying endeavors by both navies. The United States oriented much of this exploration toward the country’s continental expansion, although significant oceanic accomplishments supported the expansion of overseas trade. In response to Britain’s rapid post-war global economic expansion, the Royal Navy improved navigational and time-keeping instruments and created new supporting scientific organizations. 

Britain’s Hydrographer to the Admiralty and subsequent Admiralty’s Hydrographic Department was one such result. On the order of King George III, Alexander Dalrymple was appointed as the Hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1795. The King charged Dalrymple and the organization under his guidance to catalogue and centralize existing charts from private chart publishers and foreign sources. The first mass-produced Admiralty chart appeared in 1800, which supported the Royal Navy’s blockade of France’s Brittany coast. Subsequent charts were created and published to support naval operations in the Mediterranean, followed by charts of the North Sea and the English Channel. 29  Prior to his death in 1808, Dalrymple also produced sailing directions and notices to mariners’ journals. 30 

Dalrymple’s successor was Captain Thomas Hurd, RN, who “… brought considerable surveying experience, having spent nine years making a detailed survey of Bermuda.” 31  He standardized hydrographic surveying methods, improved the efficiency of Admiralty mass-produced charts, and made production costs part of the Admiralty’s annual budget. Hurd also made Admiralty charts available to merchant mariners. In 1819, Hurd negotiated with the Royal Danish Navy what is believed to be the first bilateral agreement with a foreign government to exchange charts and supporting publications. 

In 1823, Rear Admiral Sir W. Edward Parry, RN was appointed the third Hydrographer to the Admiralty. Parry, together with the Royal Society, organized scientific and surveying expeditions to the South Atlantic in cooperation with French and Spanish hydrographers. 32  

Parry preceded Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort who, in 1829, introduced a wind intensity scale named for himself –The Beaufort Scale – as well as a tide tables in 1833. He continued Parry’s program of scientific and surveying expeditions, of which the most famous were those conducted by Captain FitzRoy, commanding HMS Beagle. 33  The US Navy, as well as America’s merchant mariners purchased and benefitted from Admiralty charts. In 1830, the US Navy established the Depot of Charts and Instruments (the forerunner of the Navy’s Hydrographic Office). 34  In 1833, the thirty-five-year-old Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, USN took charge of the Depot of Charts and Instruments. During his naval service, he had shown considerable aptitude for coastal survey work along the American east and gulf coasts. 

In 1836, The US Congress authorized the formation of a US Navy Exploration Squadron with Charles Wilkes in command. It was an interdisciplinary scientific expedition for “exploring and surveying the Southern Ocean.” 35  It departed in 1838. Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, USN, one of the US Navy’s prominent hydrographers and scientists, followed Wilkes. His formative experience took place between the time he received a midshipman’s warrant at age nineteen in 1825, and 1837, when he studied navigation, meteorology and the world’s oceans. He eventually became the superintendent of the US Naval Observatory and the head of the Depot of Charts and Instruments. He made major contributions to humankind’s understanding of the world’s oceans, its currents, and winds. Maury became known as the Father of Modern Oceanography. After the American Civil War, the United States Hydrographic Office was established under the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation. 35 


Yes, words such as admiration, contempt, cooperation, hostility, respect and rivalry might describe the early Anglo-American naval relationship. This synopsis has shown that the relationship was indeed complicated. As the generation of men who fought against one another during the War of 1812 passed slowly from the scene, hostile attitudes gave way to cooperation (sometimes grudgingly), rivalry to be sure, and for many, admiration toward the others’ professionalism. Perhaps the reader will see this relationship, forged during war and peace, as fundamental in developing today’s partnership between the two navies; a partnership that now includes Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. This greater partnership will continue to have major consequences across the world’s oceans during the twenty-first century.

(Return to December 2020 Table of Contents)


  1. This article is adapted from John Rodgaard and Adam Charnoud, “The Anglo-American Naval Relationship, 1815 – 1837,” in Sean Heuvel and John Rodgaard, eds, From Across the Sea: North Americans in Nelson’s Navy (Winchester, UK: Helion, 2020).
  2. Christopher McKee, “Foreign Seamen in the United States Navy: A Census of 1808,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 42, no.3 (July, 1985), 383-393.
  3. Christopher McKee, A  Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the US Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815 (Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press, 1991), xi – 252.
  4. John B. Hattendorf (ed.), Changing American Perceptions of the Royal Navy Since 1775 (Newport, Rhode Island: US Naval War College, 2014).
  5. John B. Hattendorf (ed.), “The US Navy’s Nineteenth-Century Forward Stations,” Talking about Naval History: A Collection of Essays (Newport, Rhode Island: Naval War College Press, 2011), 233-234.
  6. F. Fitzgerald De Roos, RN, Personal Narrative of Travels in the United States and Canada in 1826 with Remarks on the Present State of the American Navy (London: William Harrison Ainsworth, 1827).
  7. De Roos, Personal Narrative, 10, 15-17.
  8. De Roos was mistaken about the name of the ship on the building way. The first US warship Susquehanna was a steam-powered warship, which did not see service until 1850. See  Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships: “Susquehanna I (Side-wheel Steamer),” Naval History and Heritage Command,, (accessed 11 July 2017). The Congress was one of the original six frigates authorized by the United States Government.
  9. De Roos, Personal Narrative, 19, 26-28, 38, 41-42, 61-63, 190-191.
  10. This monument is the Tripoli or Navy Monument. It presently sits on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.
  11. Rush had demilitarized the Great Lakes with the successful negotiations that led to the Rush-Bagot Convention in 1818. While ambassador to Britain, he acquired expertise in the Royal Navy. Rush became Secretary of State.
  12. George Jones, Sketches of Naval Life with Notices of Men, Manners and Scenery on the Shores of the Mediterranean in a Series of Letters from the Brandywine and Constitution Frigates, Volume 1 (London: Forgotten Books, 2017; originally published London: H. Howe, 1856), 4.
  13. Francis Schroeder, Shores of the Mediterranean With Sketches of Travel: 1843-45 (New York: Harpers & Brothers, 1846), digitized on The Internet Archive, 2009 from the collection of Harvard University, (accessed 31 March 2019).
  14. Jones, Sketches, 9.
  15. Jones, Sketches, 9.
  16. William James Morgan, David B. Tyler, Joye L. Leonhart, Mary F. Loughlin, (eds), Autobiography of Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes, US Navy, 1798-1877 (Washington, DC: Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, 1978), 52.
  17. Morgan, et al, Autobiography, 53.
  18. Morgan, et al, Autobiography, 17.
  19. Jones, Sketches, 30.
  20. Shroeder, Shores, 4.
  21. Shroeder, Shores, 5.
  22. Jones, Sketches, 51, 64, 70.
  23. Donald L. Canney, Africa Squadron: The U.S. Navy and the Slave Trade, 1842-1861 (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2006), xi-xii.
  24. Ned and Constance Sublette, in The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry (Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Hill Books, 2016), 348, quote Seymour Drescher in his book: Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition, 2nd ed. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), that the percentage of American ships engaged in the slave trade was 9 percent in Adam’s administration. Under Jefferson, it expanded to 16 percent.
  25. Sublette, American Slave Coast, 362.
  26. Canney, Africa Squadron, 16.
  27. The tactical pair consisted of a frigate and a brig-sloop. The latter cruised in shallower waters for scouting and capturing slavers operating inshore.
  28. Canney, Africa Squadron.
  29. Andrew David, “The Emergence of the Admiralty Chart in the Nineteenth Century,” a paper presented at the International Cartographic Association Symposium on “Shifting Boundaries: Cartography in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” Portsmouth University, Portsmouth, UK, September 10-12, 2008, 3, ICA Commission on the History of Cartography, (accessed 31 March 2019)
  30. “United Kingdom Hydrographic Office,” Wikipedia  (accessed 30 March 2019)
  31. David, “The Emergence…” 5.
  32. “United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.”
  33. Beaufort introduced FitzRoy to Charles Darwin; “United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.”
  34. “Naval Oceanographic Office,” Wikipedia,  (accessed 30 March 2019)
  35. “Naval Oceanographic Office.”
  36. “Naval Oceanographic Office.”

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Kamikazes: Understanding the Men behind the Myths

Michael Anderson1
United States Army Officer

In the western military tradition, the popular, common understanding of the Japanese kamikaze of the Second World War inspires images of lone, suicidal modern-day flying samurai knights devoid of empathy with a seemingly fanatical and inhuman desire to die for their emperor. The image of the kamikazes of the Pacific War in a post- September 11, 2001 America are at times compared to terrorists who hijacked and piloted the civilian airliners into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, and similar accounts of individual suicide bombers. This comparison is invalid and unfair to the complicated and intricate organization and employment of the Imperial Japanese airborne kamikaze forces of the war, and their effects on the course of the war. The organization and employment of Japan’s airborne kamikaze tokkōtai, or Special Attack Force may appear alien to Western military tradition – and the utility of their impact on the war debated – a deeper understanding reveals a human dimension, longing for life, loyalty, sense of duty, nationalism and strong camaraderie, and an undeniable impact on Allied strategic planning.

Origins of the Kamikaze Organization

In July 1943, Japanese Rear Admiral Kamito Kuroshime presented a proposal at the War Preparation Examination Conference to sanction the use of volunteer suicide attacks.  Kuroshime named his plan the ‘Invincible War Preparation’, which at the time, imperial leadership rebuffed. 2 The Japanese command suffered debilitating stalemates or, more importantly, losses such as those of the Battles of the Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal, but the Japanese held faith in a ‘conventional’ victory, or at least a conditional cessation of hostilities. However, the war continued and Japanese losses mounted with General Douglas MacArthur’s island-hopping campaign and Admiral Chester Nimitz’s relentless pursuit of the Japanese Navy. Under this onslaught, Japanese leadership began to rethink their denial of Admiral Kuroshime’s proposal for planned tokkō operations. In March 1944, Prime Minister Hideki Tojō gave the first seriously entertained suggestion of supporting the special attack concept. He ordered the Imperial Japanese Army air corps to begin preparing for ‘special suicide missions’. The first planned suicide mission occurred on the 27 May 1944, when a Japanese plane crashed dived into a U.S. sub-chaser off the west New Guinea coast. 3

The initial, isolated Japanese attack in May 1944 ushered in the official creation of the tokkōtai operation. The tokkō operation, or Special Attack Force, was not an overtly official formation of either the Imperial Japanese Army or Naval forces, but was presented as an all-volunteer corps, similar to the all-volunteer U.S. Flying Tigers unit flying in support of China during the early years of the Sino-Japanese Conflict. The all-volunteer corps removed the normal tradition of all orders within the unit issued “directly” by the emperor through the officers. The intent was to avoid the appearance of the emperor directly ordering these ‘suicide’ attacks, but instead the crews volunteered to conduct them. 4

It deserves mentioning that the Japanese forces were not alone in suicide-missions born in desperation of defeat during the Second World War. As Germany faced an overwhelming onslaught from ground and air, by 1944 their military publications and doctrine became more ideological in tone. Coupled with this change, the Nazi’s air wing, the Luftwaffe, developed similar formations to the Japanese kamikaze force. 5 The missions, labeled ‘extremely high-risk missions’ consisted of a group of standard fighters, stripped to bare minimum of armor and armament, with only sixty rounds of ammunition for one gun, intended to ram Allied bombers over the skies of Germany. The Sonderkommando Elbe or Schulungslehrgang Elbe was Germany’s one formation for these high-risk missions. Though instructed to bail out if practical, this was an extraordinarily dangerous endeavor for these pilots. 6 The specialized ‘ramming’ unit only conducted one recorded operational mission on 7 April 1945. One hundred and twenty German ‘ramming’ fighters- Bf-109s models-, supported by conventional German air support to draw away the approximately eight hundred American fighter escorts from the 1,300 four-engine bombers. This German attack group swarmed an American bomber formation during a daylight raid. Though differing counts exist, estimates hold the bomber force lost thirteen out of 1,300 B-24 and B-17s, costing the Germans fifty-three aircraft and more importantly the associated trained pilots. 7 While the Sonderkommando unit was both conventional airframe and had an intention, however unpractical, for its pilot to survive, the Nazi’s ‘Leonidas’ Squadron, formerly known as the 5th Staffel, Kampfgeschwader 200 group, was an all-volunteer unit. About seventy youths piloting manned versions of the V-1 rocket, old bombers, and even attack gliders formed the unit. The ‘Leonidas’ Squadron was billed as the total-commitment mission force with the volunteers knowing it as a suicide formation. Although the idea formulated for this unit in late 1944, after prolonged training and increased indoctrination, Germany never used them, and the formation disbanded. 8 However, this distinct difference separated the German flirtation with suicide units from that of the Japanese in that Imperial Japan organized, trained, and extensively utilized their suicide formations.

Captured Japanese Kaiten Type-1 Human Torpedo at Ulithi Atoll in 1945. Forward portion warhead, oxygen and fuel tanks and crew compartment missing. (U.S. Navy. National Archives Collection photo #: 80-G-350027)

The tokkōtai operation over all encompassed more than the just the well-known aerial kamikazes, operations included more than planes crashing into ships. The operation included two types of aerial attacks, conventional planes such as the famous Zero fighter plane being purposely piloted into Allied ships as well as specifically designed oka (‘cherry blossom’) piloted bombs dropped from a mother-plane once near a viable target and then guided into the enemy ships by its volunteer pilot. Kamikazes came not just from the sky, but even below the water with seaborne attacks like the kaiten (‘heaven shifter’) minisubs, essentially piloted human torpedoes 9 and the shin’yōs (‘ocean shaker’), a plywood motorboat stuffed with a warhead for ramming Allied ships. 10 Even the Japanese Army contributed to this concept, beyond even the normal final banzai charges of isolated garrisons, they conducted limited, specific planned tokkō attacks, such as the airborne assault against a U.S. airfield on Okinawa. The Japanese transport planes crash-landed on the U.S. runway and the Japanese Army paratroopers burst out, tossing grenades and firing small arms destroying and damaging as many U.S. planes as they could before being killed. 11 Though there were many programs, the most pervasive was the traditionally understood aerial kamikaze, resulting in this focus with limited comparisons to the other operations.

Initiation of Organized Kamikaze Operations

The tokkō operation officially initiated in October 1944, even as the oka, the specifically designed piloted-bomb dropped from a Mitsubishi Type-1 Attack Bomber (Betty), remained in testing. Customized Betty bombers carried the okas slung underneath with the kamikaze pilot inside and escorted by fighter cover until nearing viable enemy targets. Once the crew identified a target, the kamikaze pilot crawled through the bomb bay doors and into the oka for release. After release from the mother-plane, the kamikaze pilot guided the flying 250-kilogram bomb into the enemy ship. 12 Vice Admiral Takijirō Onishi, commander of the Philippines aerial defence, strongly supported the concept of the oka, arguing persuasively they could not wait for the oka to go fully into production and needed to approve utilization of conventional aircraft until the okas were available en masse. His arguments resulted with the formation of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps in the Philippines manned by volunteers. 13  

Japanese G4M Type-1 “Betty” Bomber launching an Oka. (Imperial Japanese Navy, unknown date. Public Domain.)

Admiral Onishi held operational control of the tokkōtai for use in defense of the Philippines. He coordinated the planned employment of the first kamikaze forces for Japan. The dire military situation of Japan led to this historically unprecedented embracement of organized suicidal attacks.
14 After the massive Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, the Imperial Japanese Navy ceased to be a viable option for Japanese victory, or at least achievement of a negotiated settlement. In Leyte Gulf, the Japanese lost four carriers, three battleships, ten cruisers, twelve destroyers, four subs and numerous land and seaplanes. The use of conventional planes as kamikazes, the first ones of the newly sanctioned Kamikaze Special Attack Corps, gave the only hint of success during the operation to delay the Allied retaking of the Philippines. 15 The Japanese leadership concluded extreme measures were needed due to the heavy losses sustained in the war, and the inexorable Allied campaign encroaching upon the Japanese Home Islands. 

The Allied advances slowly placed the Home Islands within range of U.S. bombers. The now regular and damaging air raids, conducted mainly by the large B-29 Super-fortresses operating out of captured island airfields and free-China, led the Japanese to extreme measures attempting to halt the Allied advance. 16 The Japanese forces suffered from a massive loss in skilled pilots through aerial attrition. United States labelled it as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’, officially the Battle of the Philippine Sea, epitomized the damage to the Japanese cadre of pilots with 243 of 373 Japanese planes lost along with their veteran crews compared to 29 U.S. losses. This further drove the Japanese to the kamikaze concept. 17 The American kill ratios in the air, especially after the Marianas-induced losses of veteran Japanese pilots, contributed to many Japanese leaders believing all flight missions were potentially suicidal, or ‘one- way’ without much chance of return. 18 The Japanese identified their last hope to defend the Home Islands being to force the U.S. to a conditional cease-fire by increasing the Allied losses in general but specifically with targeting the Allied aircraft carriers to limit U.S. air superiority. With this goal, the Japanese embraced the kamikaze concept:  one plane, one ship. Japanese aircraft production increased throughout the war even as veteran pilots decreased, leading the Japanese to recruit unskilled pilots for kamikaze duties. It took less flight training to teach a pilot to simply take off/land and crash-dive into a ship, compared to the complexities inherent in successfully surviving aerial dogfighting. 19 Once the Japanese determined to officially endorse kamikaze operations it was only a matter of how to recruit the pilots and crews.

The Recruits

Broadly, three types of people staffed the kamikaze units – fully aware volunteers, uninformed volunteers, and later, due to losses, conscripts. At the onset of organization, fully informed volunteers knowing exactly what they were volunteering for signed up. The original targeted audience for this first call to join the Special Attack Forces was small-craft flight instructors, both officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), mainly petty officers in the Navy. Once they volunteered, the Japanese military categorized these individuals as ‘very eager’, ‘eager’, ‘earnest’, or ‘just compliant’. The Japanese authorities considered those who signed their volunteer request in blood ‘very eager’. These applicants received further evaluation on comprehension, judgment, and decision-making abilities as ‘excellent’, good, or ‘just fair’. The Personnel Bureau of the Naval Ministry maintained the records of the volunteers. 20 As the losses within the Special Attack Force mounted during the initial employment in the Philippines Campaign, the ranks of volunteers thinned. With the Japanese command’s positive response on the returns during the inaugural organized kamikaze attacks done by volunteers in conventional planes, the specifically designed oka production increased along with its pilot ranks.

The oka unit formed officially in October 1944 along with the initial organization of Admiral Onishi’s conventional Kamikaze Special Attack Corps for defense of the Philippines.  The oka unit, based out of the Home Islands, was known as the Thunder Gods Special Attack Corps, numerically designated the 721st Naval Flying Corps. 21 The oka unit was a mixed unit of volunteers with the inclusion of conscripted pilots. The other classification of volunteers, the uninformed, knew they were volunteering for tokkō operations but it would not be until they already signed up and walked down the tarmac that they were informed exactly what it had meant that they volunteered for when they came in sight of the oka, the ‘flying-bomb’ – clearly designed for one thing. 22 The oka organization totaled four thousand pilots, the so-called ‘boy pilots’ made up around three thousand of the oka pilots. These ‘boy pilots’ were conscripted teenage youths or young volunteers whose education had been discontinued to allow for their conscription or enlistment. They were enlistees, not officers, enrolled in special programs designed to train young boys to accept becoming kamikazes. 23 In contrast to similar programs teaching suicide prevention, these programs surrounded young minds with peers to encourage the youths to embrace their calling to become tokkō pilots. 24

Other than the boy pilots, the ‘student pilots’ made up the other one thousand pilots of the Thunder Gods oka corps, drafted students of Japan’s universities. They graduated early to make them available to the draft. Highly educated, there was no favoritism involved, the student pilots came from even the most prestigious of the Japanese schools, drawn from arts and humanities academic majors, allowing for the science and technology graduates to be drafted to work in the military’s research and development sectors. 25

A Japanese MXY-7 Model 11 Okha suicide plane captured on 1 April 1945 at Yontan airfield, Okinawa. (U.S. Navy, dated 1 April 1945. Public Domain.)

The earliest volunteers, the experienced small craft pilot trainers, knew exactly what they were getting themselves into, while those unsure early volunteers who only wanted to fly to avoid service in the ground forces. There was definitively trepidation among the conscripted pilots on the final walk to the planes. Through the days of training, long days waiting for names to be chosen, watching others go to never return, and sometimes multiple sorties required to find a target, resulted in plenty of time to second-guess an earlier decision no matter how enthusiastically, or ‘eager’, it had been made, written in blood or not. The psychological effects of multiple aborted missions due to mechanical or weather complications coupled with the dramatic send-offs after mild sake toasting with white linen draped tables and Japanese young girls waving cherry blossom branches only added to the already mounting internal stress on the pilots. 26 Their determination torn between a will to live and devotion to duty and cultural expectations equaled an unbelievable and difficult psychological struggle.

Devotion to Duty and the Will to Live

On the day leadership chose him to conduct an oka mission, one of the Thunder Gods pilots riding in the truck alternated between boasting of his bravery and coming glorious crash-dive with a cry of ‘Mother! The Navy is trying to kill me!’ 27 This sort of inner struggle between the innate human will to live with the societal and cultural expectations and encouraged sacrificial action, was common in the kamikaze corps, mostly with the conscripted boy pilots and the student pilots. However, this sort of psychological battle within the Japanese pilot was likely a reality at some point for all kamikaze crews.

Other examples of the kamikazes will to live involved abuse of the recurring maintenance issues plaguing all Japanese aerial operations towards the end of the war. Engine troubles, landing gear retraction failures and poorly mixed fuels along with foul weather routinely terminated kamikaze sorties. Many times mechanical failures depleted kamikaze formations long before they reached the enemy’s forces. Weather, fuel, or mechanical issues forced many kamikaze pilots to turn around and return to base, awaiting another rendezvous with destiny, ostensibly with a fixed plane or better weather. However, some kamikaze pilots repeatedly suffered instances of ‘imagined’ mechanical failures or consistent ‘poor visibility’ conditions, leading to charges of cowardice from the command. The charges strove to avert a fear indirect non-compliance with kamikaze orders may spread among the force, and damage overall Japanese morale as the public learned their kamikaze ‘volunteers’ were not always so ‘eager’. As a result, the Japanese command sent these ‘repeat offenders’ on solo missions without air cover and told not to return, or if they had multiple offenders, the Japanese command grouped them together and sent them on missions without accompanying air cover, easy targets for the American fighter patrols. These kamikazes exploits remained unrecorded and unknown in contrast to the standard procedure of the other kamikaze exploits reported directly to the emperor. 28

Contrary to popular myth, the aerial kamikaze forces did not embark upon their missions with only enough fuel for a one-way trip. The ‘one-way fuel’ is not entirely accurate and is a belief that may have originated and been encouraged in the West to support the portrayal of a Japanese ‘callous disregard for life’. This was an easy way to rationalize the organization and employment of kamikazes by the desperate Japanese forces. The fundamental aspect of the Special Attack Force concept was not one of suicide or even ‘glorious’ death, rather a coordinated, planned, tactical application of a strategic military concept as Japan’s last chance to avert total defeat. 29 In actuality, if not in concept, kamikaze operations were essentially ‘suicide’ missions, but within the overarching Japanese command view on the operations it is clear to see they were organized and planned efficient military operations.  Full fuel tanks only added to the damage sustained by an enemy ship if successfully struck by a kamikaze, but also full fuel tanks allowed for kamikazes who failed to locate enemy ships to return to their airfields and sortie again another day to potentially strike the enemy later. 30

Cultural Influences on Kamikaze Motivations

There are a multitude of different factors to consider when determining what may or may not have motivated the kamikaze pilots. Each pilot was an individual with his own mind, logic, and sense of duty and devotion. Contrary to certain Western perceptions, the kamikaze pilots were not mindless automatons, drunken, drugged, or chained into their cockpits to undertake these missions. 31 One of the most commonly proposed is the influence of bushido on the Japanese culture, especially the military.

Bushido was a code of conduct harkening back to a sacred past of Japan, the samurai.  Highly idealized, the way of the warrior- bushido- illustrating the convictions and lifestyle of the samurai, blossomed into a national code of conduct. Due in large part to the historical role of the samurai as the guardians of Japan and the elite warrior class of Japanese history, it was natural their code played an integral part in modern Japanese military system and culture. At its core, bushido incorporated Buddhism, Shinto and Confucian beliefs- core Japanese religions- into a code of conduct for the samurai. With the modern Japanese presenting their military as the descendants of brave and dedicated samurai, bushido played a significant role in the mind-set of all Japanese military and especially those preparing themselves to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Bushido was technically an unwritten code, simply an understanding of expectations for the life of a samurai. The two major factors bushido imparted to the motivation of the kamikaze were the sense of duty to Japan and authority, acceptance of death, and the honor in so doing.  Buddhism, Shinto and Confucian beliefs played important parts in forming the core of bushido. Bushido added to the military mind-set of Second World War Japan the role- or duty- known as Giri. This giri drew from the major pillars of Japanese culture: the concept of duty to parents, superiors, inferiors and society above oneself.

Bushido formed a core to the Imperial Code of Military Conduct, fully instituted by the Meiji empire by 1882. The original imperial code of conduct had five main elements:  loyalty, propriety, courage, righteousness, and simplicity that guided Japan’s warriors, rooted in traditional bushido practices. In the early 1900s, however, the code and bushido’s role in it changed with the new generation of modern Japanese military leadership. Unlike the Japanese military and political leaders of the late 1800s, the harbingers of the evolution from samurai Japan to modern westernized Japan, these new leaders lacked experience or practice of traditional bushido. Instead through attendance to new military academies and experiences with larger, peasant conscript armies, these leaders embraced the doctrines of western influence while merging it with manipulated and modified aspects of traditional bushido past, linking the modern Japanese military with that of its idolized pre-20th Century samurai warriors.

The main element in this shift was the corruption of the loyalty to state and nation to now conform to the dominant “emperor ideology”, a blind obedience to whatever the emperor said, as commanded through his officers. Instead of the original code’s five main points, now this modified and manipulated code emphasized no surrender, blind obedience, and honor in dying for the emperor. The codification of this shift came from 1908-1913 as imperial military regulations changed, incorporating this new modified form of blended western doctrines with isolated, corrupted bushido principles. 32

Buddhism imparted ‘a sense of calm, trust in Fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, that stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, that disdain for life and friendliness with death’, something that was clearly applicable to the kamikaze situation. 33 Incorporating Shinto beliefs into bushido achieved the infusion of ‘such loyalty to the sovereign, such reverence for ancestral memory’ to provide the expectation of complete obedience.  For the Japanese military, and especially the Special Attack Forces, this provided the necessary expectation of obedience through loyalty to authority and respect for ancestors exemplified through an overwhelming patriotism. Confucius beliefs added another crucial aspect to the role bushido played in motivating and legitimizing the Japanese kamikaze practices. Confucian beliefs provided the ethical foundation, the most influential aspect being the Five Moral Relations, which relevant to the kamikaze undertaking emphasized the ethics and responsibilities of the governed (the pilots) to the governing (the command). 34

With this sense of duty and the acceptance of the costs, bushido gave the kamikaze pilots the concept of honor in their actions associated with their execution of their duties and the resulting costs. Nitobe in his classical work on bushido titled Bushido: Soul of Japan summed up the role of bushido in establishing the sense of honor with which the kamikaze pilots saw their actions as rewarding. He wrote on honor and bushido, ‘Life itself was thought cheap if honor and fame could be attained therewith; hence, whenever a cause presented itself which was considered dearer than life, with utmost serenity and celerity was life laid down.’ The key emphasis to the use of bushido inducing kamikaze pilot’s compliance with their missions was clear:  to present tokkō as a cause ‘dearer than life’ with which ‘honor and fame’ could be achieved and would have Japanese soldiers accepting those missions ‘with utmost serenity and celerity’. 35

This directly influenced the cultural expectations of Japanese military men in wartime.  When it comes to analyzing the motivations behind, the feelings and thoughts of kamikaze pilots there is a certain impasse, the challenge of limited explanation in their own words. The kamikaze pilots who fate never called before the end of the war can pass on their accounts, and the reasoning, motivations of the ones who actually undertook the kamikaze missions can live on in the diaries and letters of the student pilots, being highly educated and literate graduates of Japan’s top universities. They were the ones drafted into the tokkō operations and left an abundant of written work illuminating their struggles with the kamikaze concept. The only ones whose voice is lost to history are those of the boy pilots. Under educated, they left little literature documenting their thoughts and feelings. 36

In the words of the student pilots, it becomes clear the role of culture influenced by bushido values played into the reasoning, legitimizing, and struggle of acceptance. In a letter to his mother, a young drafted student and oka pilot named Ichizō wrote, ‘Mother, I am a man. All men born in Japan are destined to die fighting for the country. You have done a splendid job raising me to become and honorable man. I will do a splendid job sinking an enemy aircraft carrier.’ Elsewhere he wrote, ‘Mother, please be pleased that someone like me was chosen to be a tokkōtai pilot. I will die with dignity as a soldier.’ 37

In his dairy, Ichizō wrote on 23 February 1945, ‘I have dreaded death so much. And yet it is already decided for us.  My environment in the past was beautiful. So I feel I can die dreaming. But when I think of my mother, I cannot help but cry… When I think of my mother… I cling to life.’ In a later entry dated 2 March 1945, he wrote, ‘I dreamed of my death in a fierce battle.  My only wish is to die for the emperor.’ The internal struggle between duty and the cultural expectation with the natural human desire to live is clear in the words left behind by some of the tokkō pilots.

20th Century Reality:  Nationalism and Fatalism as Motivation

Some pilots completely disregarded the emperor-centric ideology, such as the Christian Japanese pilots, while others found final solace in accepting the inevitable. One student wrote, ‘There must be some peace of mind for dedicating my life to the emperor… To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine from my heart.  However, it is decided for me that I die for the emperor.’ Without accepting the emperor-centric ideology, or even not accepting the traditional Japanese religions, Japanese Christians still actually volunteered for the tokkō operations. It was not religion, or even culturally based at times. The motivations for service in the tokkō units were at times simply patriotic nationalism. Some of these Christian pilots quoted Bible verses in their letters and sang hymns in their cockpits. 38

There was also a shared and strong sense of fatalism, both with their individual circumstances for those drafted as well as the overall situation for Japan, which affected the volunteers. By the time the tokkō operations became official in autumn 1944, most pilots had seen their friends already die, they knew the war was lost for Japan and tired of being upset, to them death would be a release of emotions. 39 When it came to the conscripted pilots, their fatalism was of a different strand. The first lessons one conscript learned when he arrived at the Tsuchiura Naval Base for induction was how to kill himself with his own rifle. This was a resulting air of finality taught from the Imperial Military Code, which declared surrender, escape, escape even from ultimate defeat, was punishable by death. Disobedience was instant punishment, as obedience was a foundational expectation from bushido. If they returned without finding a target there was the possibility of execution, but normally just sent back out repeatedly.  Simple refusal to go on the missions routinely led to reassignment to the ground forces and transfer to the island garrisons, which many equated to suicide just as much as kamikaze missions. Not only was the soldier liable for punishment, but it could extend to the family. This led to the added social pressure on the service member for complete, unwavering obedience, if not for themselves then at least for their families. 40 Even so, in defiance, some pilots buzzed the command’s quarters in a defiant final gesture of their hatred for their leaders who sent them to their deaths while they remained behind. Some even tried crashing into the water near the coast in order to live. 41

On top of this, there was the allure of rewards. Fatalism inspired the cult of a hero’s death. Imperial Japan posthumously promoted kamikaze pilots by two ranks, and in their death families received the payments, so in death they not only provided for their families for the future but with increased salaries than if they had lived. This gave some of the less well-to-do individuals an incentive with which they could fulfil the cultural expectations of taking care of their families just by ‘dying a hero’, which they could not fulfil in life. In line with this system of punishments and rewards, there can certainly be made the claim authorities coerced kamikaze pilots. 42

Kamikaze Operations and Impacts on the Pacific War

As shortly as two hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese pilot purposefully drove his plane into a U.S. ship. The seaplane tender, U.S.S. Curtiss, fought off a midget submarine and multiple Japanese dive bombers, with one damaged plane crashing into the deck.  The Curtiss suffered fifty-four casualties during the Pearl Harbor attack. 43 At the time, it was not official Japanese war policy and isolated, individually spontaneous suicide attacks such as these were known as kesshi, or ‘dare-to-die decision’. 44 However, when assessing the effects of the official tokkō operations on the conduct of the Pacific War there are essentially three major engagements in which Japan used mass aerial kamikaze forces:  the Philippines Campaign, Battle of Iwo Jima, and the pinnacle of kamikaze employment during the war during the Battle of Okinawa. Japan organized and coordinated the tokkō operations within the larger strategic plan. They were not attacks made in isolation or in some sort of tactical or strategic vacuum. Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki pioneered many of the tactical employments of the kamikazes, calling them the ‘First Tactics’. First, radar-equipped scout planes went out to locate the enemy fleet at night. After locating the enemy fleet, the conventional torpedo planes attacked at dawn. This tangled up and diverted the Allied air cover and shipboard defensive armaments. The final strike came from a wave of kamikaze aircraft striking during the height of the day-light hours for best results, making it more difficult for gunners to defend the ships and easier for the pilots to locate targets. 29 Critical to the survivability of the kamikazes to impact was cover from supporting fighters to keep the superior U.S. Navy Hellcats and Corsairs from slaughtering the inexperienced Japanese pilots. Although some believed these escorts served other purposes as well, such as assuring the kamikazes carried out their attacks, not turning back, most agree they were there to provide support and record efficiency of the attacks. 46

The kamikazes received direction that the aircraft carriers were the first priority, and specifically to target the vulnerable and crucial elevators on the flattops. Even if the kamikaze did not put the carrier out of action by their hits, the damage done by the water and foam used to put out the fires kept the decks useless for weeks. Perhaps not sinking, but at least putting the carrier out of the action for a period.  During these attacks, many times Allied sailors pulled the Japanese pilots’ bodies from the wreckage on the Allied ships. 47  

The first coordinated, massive kamikaze aerial operation of the war was in defense of the Japanese-occupied Philippine Islands, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. There had been other impromptu suicide attacks before, but the Philippines Campaign, and more specifically the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was the first sanctioned and coordinated use of kamikazes. At Leyte Gulf, the casualty ratio was approximately 11:1, 131 U.S. casualties to 12 Japanese kamikaze crewmembers lost. The Japanese kamikazes at this early stage in the tokkō operations utilized conventional planes, and twelve conventional planes-turned flying bombs struck four light carriers, sinking one, the St. Lo. Of the 131 U.S. casualties, 114 came from the loss of the St. Lo alone. 48 At the time a U.S. Navy captain scoffed in an after action report commenting that the so-called ‘suicide dives’ were ‘a stupid way to attack because it has less a chance of getting home than other types of bombing’. 49

By the conclusion of the Philippines Campaign, the airborne kamikaze-caused U.S. casualty (killed and wounded) tallies of 763 at Leyte Gulf, 470 at Mindoro, and 167 at Lingayan Gulf, including an U.S. admiral, several Australian allies, and Winston Churchill’s personal representative, Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden. 50 During the Philippines Campaign, the tokkō operation commenced haphazardly, but during the subsequent Battle of Iwo Jima the kamikazes maintained a significant presence. At Iwo Jima, roughly twenty-four recorded kamikaze attacks resulted in hundreds of casualties. In isolated attacks, kamikazes even went as far as the Truk Islands harbor where the U.S. carriers returned for rest and refitting. Between the introduction of organized kamikaze attacks during the Philippines Campaign and the commencement of the Okinawa Campaign, U.S. casualties due to the airborne tokkō operations reached 2,200 personnel, virtually all naval personnel. 51

The Okinawa Campaign marked the pinnacle of tokkō operations during the Pacific War.  Leyte Gulf had been the trial and error period of employment, Iwo Jima had caught the corps reforming and regrouping after the Philippines Campaign, but it was at Okinawa where the Allies felt the full brunt of the Special Attack Force. 52 Between 6 April 1945 and 10 June of the same year, there were ten mass kamikaze attack formations numbering between fifty to three hundred aircraft targeting the assembled U.S. Navy around Okinawa. Because of this, approximately five thousand U.S. sailors died from kamikaze attacks, the highest losses the Navy had sustained in any battle during the war. 53 In comparison, the U.S. Army on Okinawa lost about four thousand soldiers, and the U.S. Marines lost nearly three thousand. The U.S. Navy lost 763 airplanes, many destroyed on the decks of their flattops from kamikazes, and 38 ships sunk, along with 368 ships damaged, with the casualties adding up to equal the aforementioned 5,000 deaths and nearly twice as many wounded. The losses sustained due directly to the kamikaze planes was so shocking the U.S. government kept the damage secret from the public right up until the cessation of hostilities, ostensibly to protect morale. 54 This reversal of the traditional casualty rates from the previous island-hopping campaigns led to increased tensions between the naval commanders and the ground commanders. Admiral Nimitz’s comments to the U.S. Tenth Army commander, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, showed the frustration, claiming the Navy lost ‘a ship and a half a day’ at General Buckner’s allegedly lethargic pace of advance on Okinawa. 55 Beyond just the physical damage done to the wounded and the fatalities, the U.S. Fifth Fleet at Okinawa suffered battle stress casualties at levels unmatched before or after, from land or sea engagements due to the immense tension and fear associated with the kamikaze planes. 54

During the Okinawa Campaign, the first use of the specifically designed oka flying bombs emerged on the battlefield. Overall, the okas effectiveness left the Japanese command unimpressed. The statistics for the okas’ use at Okinawa was 1 U.S. destroyer sunk, 6 other U.S. ships damaged for a loss of 375 Betty mother-plane crewmembers and 55 oka pilots. 57 The U.S. destroyer, the only ship sunk by an oka, was the Mannert L. Abele, split in half by the oka’s warhead, sinking in three minutes, testimony to the destructiveness of the more powerful oka warhead when compared to the conventional plane-turned kamikaze, bit only when it struck its target. It was the delivery method and limited maneuverability of the oka in comparison to the conventional Japanese planes cancelling the benefit from the stronger warhead. 58 Even still, the damage inflicted on the U.S. Navy since the onset of the tokkō operation during the Philippine Campaign was without question grim.

Allied Tactic Response to Kamikazes

The low estimate of Allied casualties at Okinawa due to the kamikaze attacks equaled 3,389 U.S fatalities along with 26 British losses, whose steel decks on their carriers afforded better protection when compared to the wooden decks of the American ships. 59 It was serious enough that it led the U.S. command to adjust its conduct of the Pacific War. The damage led to changes in the U.S. battle plans and task organization. The first lesson learned was the importance of fighter protection to bring down the kamikazes as far from the fleet as possible, striking the kamikazes at their bases while on the ground. This meant adding more interceptor aircraft to carrier compliments at the expense of attack aircraft, such as fighter-bombers and torpedo planes. 59

The tactical countermeasure used to combat the kamikaze threat started with an increased patrol range and number of planes in the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) out beyond the assembled fleet. These CAPs comprised Navy and Marine fighter-interceptors, later Army Air Corps planes after airfields taken on Okinawa placed Army planes within range to support.  This curtain of fighter protection, dubbed by many as the ‘Big Blue Blanket’ because of the blue paint jobs on the Navy planes, pounced on the incoming tokkō plane formations as far from the U.S. fleet as possible by direction from a series of concentric picket lines manned by radar-equipped destroyers. The picket line concept succeeded to an extent by cutting down on the amount of kamikazes that made it to the main fleet to attack the carriers or troop transports, but inevitably led to the kamikazes ferociously attacking the picket destroyers as targets of opportunity and causing massive casualties within the picket lines. On Picket Station 1, the average expectancy after a Japanese offensive was six hours before a kamikaze hit a destroyer. 61

Other dangers existed as well. The common anti-aircraft measures did not work against the kamikazes since their design was for conventional threats. This meant the anti-aircraft weapons caliber were only big enough to bring down a kamikaze on the larger ships, those with 5-inch guns, and the act of zigzagging and conducting evasive maneuvers at high speeds threw off the aiming of all but the most advanced radar-equipped gun-direction systems.  The need for larger caliber anti-aircraft coupled with the standard procedure of massing multiple ships together to form the tightest collection of gun coverage, led to a marked increase in ‘friendly fire’ incidents as shrapnel and shells from neighboring ships’ anti-aircraft guns rained down on other ships killing sixty-five and wounding three hundred and sixty-eight. 62

Japanese submarine I-361 with Kaiten attached at Hikari Naval Base. (Imperial Japanese Navy, dated 23 May 1945. Public Domain.)

The other adjustment to the U.S. Pacific War plan due to the emergence of the tokkō operation to the scene was the reassignment of two thousand B-29 bombing sorties from urban targets to identified tokkō airbases. These air raids successfully delayed some kamikaze sorties but at the cost of postponing the urban center raids, which remained the strategic priority for the bombing force.
63 Evidence supports the kamikazes flew even from pot-marked runways in order to carry out their missions, questioning the actual effectiveness of the bomber strikes against the kamikaze airfields. During the commencement of the official tokkō operations from October 1944 to the cessation of hostilities, 2,550 missions sortied, of which 475 successfully hit or had damaging near-misses, roughly an 18.6% hit rate. Overall, the airborne kamikazes damaged twelve aircraft carriers, fifteen battleships, sixteen light carriers; however, none larger than the escort carrier St. Lo sunk. The total sunk amounted to forty-five ships, mainly the destroyers operating the picket lines. 64 The final tally of the airborne tokkō operations varies but one account places it at 6,310 Japanese lost with 15,000 combined Allied casualties. In perspective, the kaiten amounted to less than two hundred Allied casualties for one thousand Japanese lost in kaiten operations, this including the crews of eight conventional submarines sunk trying to launch kaitens, and those dying in training. The sinking of the destroyer escort Underhill in the Philippine Sea demonstrated the destructive possibilities from a kaiten strike, splitting the ship in half, killing 112 sailors, nearly half the crew; however, kaiten operations rarely succeeded. The Japanese conducted ten major kaiten operations, most of which were miserable failures aside from the sinking of the Underhill. Kaitens sunk two other American ships, the U.S.S. Mississenewa oiler and an infantry landing craft. The Mississenewa was struck on 20 November 1944 in the first kaiten attack, losing sixty-three men, while the LCI-600 sinking killed three Americans. The cumulative loss of Americans from kaiten attacks totaled 181 Americans. 65 The arrival of the tokkō planes, in comparison, no doubt effected the unfolding of the war in the Pacific in many ways. 

Allied Operational Response to the Kamikazes

According to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey:  Pacific War Summary, the Japanese military had amassed approximately 5,000 tactical planes and 5,400 specifically designed kamikaze aircraft for use in the final invasion, with an additional 1,000 kaitens prepared to strike from undersea. 66 Intelligence intercepts from the code-breakers at Ultra determined the Japanese intended to target the troop transports as their main priority in the defense of the Home Islands, a switch from targeting aircraft carriers first. This switch showed shrewd Japanese calculations as the transports were slow moving, lightly armored and by their mission naturally stationed nearest the shore. 67 The change in focus of their attacks to exponentially inflict most possible casualties on Allied forces even came at expense of tactical victory by shifting from carrier to troop transport targets. This, without question, concerned a casualty-wary U.S. leadership this close to victory, having already obtained victory in Europe earlier in the year. The Japanese without a doubt, passed desperation and embracing refusal to admit unconditional defeat, amassed more planes than Allied planners initially anticipated before the intelligence intercepts. 68

Without a doubt, the costly success of the tokkō operations against the Allied forces played a role, among other critical factors, in the decision to use the atomic bombs and thus avoid the final showdown and bloodletting inherent in an invasion of Japan. The kamikaze toll during the Okinawa campaign so shocked the U.S. Navy leadership that chief of naval operations, Admiral Ernest King, withdrew his support for an invasion, conceding to the order to put it in motion as an option, but instead championed for a different route to victory, be it blockade, aerial bombardment or ultimately the atomic bombings. King was not alone in this, chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Nimitz also withdrew his support to an invasion after the Okinawa experience. 69

Twilight of the Kamikazes

The last kamikaze of the war struck at 1456 local time on 9 August 1945. He made it through the CAP and the anti-aircraft fire off the Miyagi Prefecture along the central Honshu coast of Japan to strike the destroyer Borie. This final strike killed forty-eight U.S. naval personnel and wounded sixty-six. With the last kamikaze passed history’s first example of an organized and coordinated effort to conduct tactical suicide missions in support of an overall strategic plan supporting a nation state’s military. 70 Neither of the two most vocal promoters of the tokkō operations, Admirals Ugaki and Onishi survived the war. Ugaki was last seen taking off on a final kamikaze mission in defiance of the emperor’s order for peace. Onishi committed ritual suicide rather than face defeat. 71 Earlier in the war, Onishi wrote,

In blossom today, then scattered

Life is so like a delicate flower

How can one expect a fragrance

To last forever 72

A surviving kamikaze pilot, Tashio Yoshitake, whose name Fate had not drawn for a mission before the end of the war, said, ‘I’ll tell you what war is. It’s a situation in which a person has absolutely no control over their own destiny. Everything is out of your hands. You can’t stay alive when you want to, but you can’t die when you want to, either.’ 73 The humanity of the tokko pilots is clear that by the time the war was nearing its end and the remaining pilots had seen so many of their comrades fly to their deaths but they themselves had remained behind no longer sung patriotic songs before the missions, instead they sung the ‘Lullaby from Itsuki’:

I long for the day I can return to my beloved parents when my service is over.
I am here far from home.
Even when I die, no one will cry for me.
How lonely it is only to hear cicada cry.
No one will come to visit my tomb.
Then I am better off buried along the road,
Since someone might offer flowers.
I don’t care which flowers the offer.  Perhaps camellia blooming in the wild
Along the road, no water is necessary, since it will rain. 74

Though the kamikaze forces of Imperial Japan may seem on the surface organized and utilized in a military manner uncommon to Western military customs, the human element of the Special Attack Force subscribed to eerily similar beliefs as those of Western military tradition, and the desperation leading to their utilization is not uncommon in the Western military traditions. In any case, the impact made on the war in the final months of the war by this organization was undeniably influential in the decision-making process for the U.S. military in the final days of the Second World War in the Pacific.

(Return to December 2020 Table of Contents) 


  1. The author wishes to acknowledge and express appreciation to W.E. from the Library of Congress main reading room, James Zobel archivist at the MacArthur Memorial Archives, Nathaniel Patch archivist from National Archives, and Dr. Charles Chadbourn III from the U.S. Naval War College for their timely support, recommendations, and encouragement in this manuscript during these challenging research days. Also wish to thank Megan Wood for critical review and research assistance. The end result greatly benefited from this help.
  2. Hatsuho Naitō, Thunder Gods:  The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Story (New York:  Kodansha International, 1989), 22.
  3. Naitō, Thunder Gods, p. 23
  4. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries:  Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 6.
  5. Richard R. Muller, ‘Losing Air Superiority:  A Case Study from the Second World War’, Air and Space Power Journal, Winter 2003, p. 59.
  6. Muller, ‘Losing Air Superiority’, and Michael Peck, ‘Hitler’s Kamikazes:  Nazi Germany’s Suicide Aircraft’, The National Interest, 16 July 2016.
  7. Muller, ‘Losing Air Superiority’, p. 60, and ‘Hitler’s Kamikazes’.
  8. Muller, ‘Losing Air Superiority’, p. 60.
  9. Natiō, Thunder Gods, p. 23.
  10. M.G. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind:  Human Legacies of the Kamikazes (New York:  NAL Caliber, 2005), 432.
  11. Naitō, Thunder Gods, 176 and John Toland, The Rising Sun, Volume 2:  The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 (New York:  Random House, 1970), pp. 882-883.
  12. Naitō, Thunder Gods, p. 34.
  13. Naitō, Thunder Gods, pp. 57-58.
  14. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 28.
  15. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 68-69.
  16. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, pp. 28-29 and Gerald Astor, Operation Iceberg: The Invasion and Conquest of Okinawa in World War II (New York:  Dell Publishing, 1995), p. 173.
  17. John Keegan, The Second World War (New York:  Penguin Books, 1989), p. 307.
  18. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 58.
  19. United States Strategic Bombing Survey:  Summary Report (Pacific War) (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1946), p. 9.
  20. Naitō, Thunder Gods, pp. 43-44. From a mirror-imaging cultural perspective, it can be difficult for some cultures to image the assessment of ‘compliant’ volunteer for kamikaze missions with ‘fair’ judgment and decision-making abilities, or of the written in blood ‘very eager’ kamikaze pilots obtaining an assessment of ‘excellent’ comprehension, judgment and decision-making abilities, but this would be assigning cultural bias in observation and understanding.
  21. Naitō, Thunder Gods, p. 54.
  22. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 154.
  23. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, p. 1-2.
  24. Astor, Operation Iceberg, p. 173.
  25. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, p. 2.
  26. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 63.
  27. Naitō, Thunder Gods, p. 172.
  28. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 291.
  29. Naitō, Thunder Gods, p. 107.
  30. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, see footnote on p. 61.
  31. Astor, Operation Iceberg, p. 172.
  32. Yuki Tanaka, Hidden Horrors:  Japanese War Crimes in World War II (Boulder:  Westview Press, 1996), pp. 207-209.
  33. Inazō Nitobe, Bushido: Soul of Japan (Rutland:  Tuttle, 1969), pp. 26-27.
  34. Inazō Nitobe, Bushido, for Shinto see pp. 12, 14 and for Confucian see p. 15.
  35. Inazō Nitobe, Bushido, pp. 80-81.
  36. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, p. 1.
  37. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, pp. 173-174.
  38. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, pp. 11, and 175.
  39. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 104.
  40. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, pp. 10, 4-5 and 7.
  41. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, p. 10.
  42. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, pp.  55, 8, and 7.
  43. USS Curtiss, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack, submitted 16 December 1941 ( accessed 21 August 2020.  Casualties included 20 dead (2 unidentified), 33 wounded and evacuated from ship, and 1 missing.
  44. Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (New York:  Penguin Books, 1995), p. 178.
  45. Naitō, Thunder Gods, p. 107.
  46. Ron Marans, Kamikaze in Color, DVD, (Thousand Oaks:  Goldhil Video, 2002).
  47. ‘There were multiple instances of U.S. crews giving the kamikaze pilots’ remains full military funeral honors burial at sea, including with an Imperial Japanese Rising Sun flag draping the body.’  Marans, Kamikaze in Color.
  48. Frank, Downfall, p. 180 and Thomas J. Cutler, The Battle of Leyte Gulf (New York:  Pocket Books, 1994), pp. 305-309.
  49. Quoted in Cutler, The Battle of Leyte Gulf, p. 306.
  50. Frank, Downfall, p. 180.
  51. Frank, Downfall, p. 180, and Marans, Kamikaze in Color.
  52. Keegan, The Second World War, p. 566.
  53. Keegan, The Second World War, p. 572.
  54. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 278.
  55. Keegan, The Second World War, p. 573.
  56. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 278.
  57. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 192.
  58. Naitō, Thunder Gods, p. 182 and Frank, Downfall, p. 159.
  59. Frank, Downfall, p. 182.
  60. Frank, Downfall, p. 182.
  61. Frank, Downfall, p. 182, and Astor, Operation Iceberg, pp. 204-205.
  62. Frank, Downfall, pp. 181-182.
  63. USSBS (Pacific War), p. 10 and Astor, Operation Iceberg, p. 206.
  64. USSBS (Pacific War), p. 10.
  65. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, pp. 433, and 436, and Samuel J. Cox, H-039-4:  The First Kaiten Suicide Torpedo Attack, 20 November 1944, dated 26 December 2019, ( accessed 21 August 2020).
  66. USSBS, (Pacific War), p. 9 and Frank, Downfall, p. 206.
  67. Frank, Downfall, p. 207.
  68. Richard B. Frank, “Why Turman Dropped the Bomb”, The Weekly Standard, 8 August 2005, (, accessed 24 August 2020).
  69. Frank, “Why Truman Dropped the Bomb”.
  70. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 373.
  71. Toland, The Rising Sun, Volume 2, pp. 1057-1059.
  72. Marans, Kamikaze in Color.
  73. Sheftall, Blossoms in the Wind, p. 110.
  74. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries, p. 9.

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Neptune’s Commandments: Invented Traditions and the Formation of USS Alabama (BB-60) as an Imagined Community

Heather M. Haley
Auburn University

Over the 245-year history of the United States Navy, five ships were assigned the name Alabama with a sixth, a sloop-of-war, serving in the Confederate Navy. Congress authorized the production of the battleship Alabama (BB-60) in March 1934. The economic crash associated with the Great Depression, however, did not allow construction to begin until February 1, 1940, when dockworkers laid the keel in the Norfolk Navy Yard in a ceremony “as impressive as those that usually attend a launching.” 1 Even at this earliest stage in the production process—the placement of the structural keel in the dry dock cradle from which the ship ultimately grew—the vessel began to penetrate the public consciousness as an “imagined community.” While the idiom did not exist until political scientist Benedict Anderson defined it for the first time in 1983 to explain the global phenomenon of nationalism, Alabama nevertheless functioned as an imagined community, with its sailors allying themselves with the ship and engaging in lifelong fraternal fellowship with their comrades. Anderson labeled nations as both imagined because of the unlikelihood that members of even the smallest nations would know, meet, or hear of their fellows, and communities because the nation actively maintains “a deep, horizontal comradeship.” It is this “fraternity that makes it possible . . . for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly die for such limited imaginings.” 2

According to Anderson, three sequential causes are necessary for the rise of nationalist fervor. Print capitalism’s technological advancements in journalism and fiction, specifically those of penny presses, market media, and national distribution networks, made it possible for populations to “imagine” their linked and previously disjointed communities into one homogenous entity. Secondly, elite nationalists used language and status to build such communities where none had previously existed. Finally, nations severed ties with their imperial holdings around the globe. 3 While the U.S. military may never completely dissolve its complex worldwide network of military installations, which could arguably be described as a global military empire, the Department of the Navy took an active role to inculcate an esprit de corps among the crew assigned to Alabama, as it did with the crews of all its ships and installations. With this action, the vessel became a floating, mobile, imagined community as its crew exploited print capitalism’s technology in journalism through the at-sea publication of the daily workings of the vessel in its War Diary (1942-1944) and the post-war manuscript, Battleship USS Alabama, BB-60, published in 1993 following the establishment of the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama. In addition, officers upheld traditional naval customs and ceremonies through their observance of the pranks and initiations traditionally associated with crossing the equator, entering the Arctic Circle, and passing over the International Date Line. These customs concluded with the ceremonial, albeit comical, distribution of “Ancient Order of the Deep,” “Royal Order of the Blue Nose,” and “Imperial Domain of the Golden Dragon” certificates for new initiates.

Ancient Order of the Deep (Shellback) certificate, ca. 1943-1945; Royal Order of the Blue Nose (Arctic Circle) certificate, a. 1943-1945; Imperial Domain of the Golden Dragon (International Date Line) certificate, ca. 1943-1945. (Images courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Veteran testimonies enrich such naval histories to give voice to this often-excluded group. The interviews themselves emphasize empowerment among enlisted veterans as they recover and interpret their pasts rather than having them interpreted or imposed upon them by others.
4 Benedict Anderson, a scholar of international studies, acknowledged a similar anomaly when he opined, “All profound changes in consciousness, by their very nature, bring with them characteristic amnesias.” 5 These amnesias and imposed interpretations of the past are further explored by American cultural historian Alison Landsberg with her analysis of “prosthetic memories,” or ‘memories forged in response to modernity’s ruptures,” most notably those of mass culture. The veteran oral histories found here, mostly from enlisted sailors with a smattering of commentary from commissioned officers, express the ways in which sailors endowed Alabama—initially an “undifferentiated space”—with experiential value, thereby transforming it into a place, or an imagined community. 6

Not only is this a history of specific events, but more importantly, it is about what these events mean to those who experienced them. These recorded memories, therefore, are interpreted life events rather than a linear chronicling of the past. The resulting narrative from oral history interviews is not necessarily fluid or articulated in a precise chronological fashion. Thus, the analysis is often causational as an interviewee’s social and cultural processes shape their subjectivity and recollections. By adopting the theoretical frameworks of Anderson, historians Eric Hobsbawm, Alison Landsberg, and humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, the analysis that follows provides a sociological lens through which historians might analyze a ship’s transformation from a work and living space into an imagined community to which sailors dedicate themselves. Veteran testimonies offer concrete examples of the ways in which they, and their contemporaries, engaged in socializing hijinks, “conventions of behavior,” and “invented traditions” that not only ensured “group cohesion,” but initiated a camaraderie and allegiance that transcended decades. 7

In 2000, Congress authorized the creation of the Veteran’s History Project to collect and preserve American war veterans’ testimonies. 8  9 Included within this ongoing series is a small, digitized collection of eight oral accounts from Alabama sailors—the only interviews available for reference at the time of this publication. While the questions posited to interviewees are standardized, with only rare instances of script deviation, veterans not only recalled the moments of overwhelming terror in battle in the Pacific but even the most mundane daily routines. Memory and its associated process of remembering are essential to oral history, as the interviewee’s recollections serve as the evidentiary source. As a process of remembering, memory involves the “calling up of images, stories, experiences, and emotions from our past life, ordering them, placing them within a narrative story and then telling them in a way that is shaped at least in part by our social and cultural context.” 10 As a result, memory is an active process in which an individual’s trace memories maintain a symbiotic relationship with the public memorialization of the past. Thus, memory is a socially shared experience.

Scholarship on naval vessels rarely engages with oral history as the central methodological practice. This practice is not unusual, as incorporating personal testimonies into the historical narrative places the additional burden on historians to determine “verifiability, reliability, validity, and representation as defined by the dominant intellectual structures” of the discipline. 11 Therefore, oral historians must be conscious of and actively identify prosthetic memories. Alison Landsberg, associate professor of history at George Mason University, identified this phenomenon in Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture when she argued that the advanced technologies of mass culture—the internet, interactive museum exhibits, movies, and television dramas—and the capitalist economy of which they are a part open up a world of images outside a persons lived experience, creating a portable, fluid, nonessentialist form of memory.” Like a prosthetic limb, these memories are not organic products of lived experience, but are nevertheless useful because, to the oral history interviewee, “they help condition how the person thinks about the world” and their relation to global events. 12

When involving oneself in memory studies, it is prudent for the researcher to be aware of the interviewee’s power to distort or shape recalled memories. Memory is fallible. While external mass cultural processes may have entered veterans’ consciousness and could thereby alter individual and sometimes traumatic wartime experiences, the inclusion of personal memories nevertheless transforms an otherwise elitist and official narrative into one of diverse inclusion. People retain memories over long periods, often with no significant memory loss because people are more likely to remember important experiences, images, stories, and emotions. 13 While some intricate details might fade, broad concepts remain throughout life.

USS Alabama as an Imagined Community

Ancient Greek and Roman seafarers sought the good graces and favor of the seas’ monarch: Poseidon and Neptune in Greek and Roman mythology, respectively. Ancient Greek ship-launching spectators wreathed themselves with olive branches, drank copious amounts of wine to honor the gods, and blessed the new vessel with water. 14 The ceremony currently executed by the U.S. Navy consists of the official recitation of the vessel name by a female sponsor, followed by a speech, and the breaking of a bottle of wine or champagne on the bow of the ship as she slips down the ways. Tradition maintained the use of water in the baptismal ceremonies of seafaring vessels in the western world until the first attempt to christen and launch the USS Constitution in September 1797, but “Old Ironsides” would not move without “a bottle of choice old Madeira.” 15

With the explicit intention of strengthening the American fleet across the globe, Alabama was the fourth ship of the South Dakota-class battleships. At the time of Alabama‘s commissioning in August 1942, there had been three Navy ships previously named after the Yellowhammer State and a screw sloop-of-war that saw vigorous combat as a Confederate-flagged commerce raider during the American Civil War. The Norfolk Navy Yard construction crew laid the keel in February 1940, and at completion, the ship was 680 feet in length and could displace 44,500 tons of water when fully loaded with a crew of 2,200 enlisted men and 127 officers. Deep in the vessel’s underbelly, a hydroelectric power plant enabled the massive ship to plow through waves at a top speed of almost 28 knots, approximately 32 miles per hour. 16

Whispered rumors of the technological enhancements of the South Dakota-class battleship’s electrical and combat systems undoubtedly spread among enlisted sailors who clamored to attend the ship’s christening by sponsor Henrietta Hill, wife of Alabama senator Lister Hill. Days before the launching, in a Western Union telegram to Alabama Governor Frank M. Dixon, Rear Admiral, Felix Gygax, Commandant of the Norfolk Navy Yard, advised the governor of newspaper reports predicting a “very large group from Alabama planning to attend launching.” 17 In a handwritten letter addressed to Alabama governor Frank Dixon, dated February 9, 1942, the father of midshipman James C. Sullivan, Jr. requested an invitation to Alabama’s launching on behalf of his son. The letter confirms that the midshipman, who was then completing his final year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, was not assigned to the battleship, but his residency in the state of Alabama compelled his attendance at such an “auspicious occasion.” 18

This correspondence suggests the ship’s role as an imagined community, as the father and son duo maintained their ties to “nationality as a socio-cultural concept.” 19 Although assigned to another vessel or duty station, the midshipman publicized his admiration for, and allegiance to, his native Alabama through this correspondence to Governor Dixon. Midshipman Sullivan’s residency and culturally rooted association with Alabama necessitated his attendance at the christening ceremony. It also speaks to the work of humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, who proposed the idea that an object, like the USS Alabama, “becomes a symbol when its own nature is so clear and so profoundly exposed that while being fully itself it gives knowledge of something greater.” 20 Additionally, Dixon subtly perpetuated Alabama’s association as an imagined community by using his elite and political status as governor to inquire on behalf of Sullivan if it would be at all possible for him to attend the christening.

The Western Union telegram from Rear Admiral Gygax that predicted crowds of attendees from Alabama further informed Governor Dixon that admittance into the Norfolk Navy Yard for the christening ceremony was possible but restricted to attendees with a pass. 17 This official correspondence confirms Dixon’s willingness to inquire about attendance on behalf of his constituents, thus reinforcing notions of patriotism, allegiance, and political patronage that created or tightened his existing sponsorships. This pair of primary sources preserved within the Alabama Department of Archives and History emblemizes Benedict Anderson’s concept of nationalism and allegiance concerning this imagined community. Here, two imagined communities emerged to inspire loyalty—one the state, one the ship. While this overlap is powerful for some people, one community can undoubtedly exist independently of the other, especially for sailors who did not hail from Alabama. With its patriotic music, dress uniforms, and the historical commemoration of the technologically advanced warship named after the Heart of Dixie, the centuries-old christening ceremony only reinforced nationalistic emotions and the fervor directly associated with this imagined community.


In the earliest days of the ship’s infancy, Alabama conducted a shakedown cruise, during which time the crew tested machinery, adjusted instruments accordingly, and familiarized themselves with the daily administration and operation of the ship. 22 On one uncharacteristically stress-free morning during this shakedown cruise, Lieutenant (junior grade) Ivan W. Parkins received the day’s orders and passed along its contents to each division as necessary. The document was lengthy and detailed, and Parkins commanded a subordinate, who he “knew by that time was a little more than the average in terms of leadership and responsibility,” to read the orders aloud. 23 The seaman respectfully declined. When ordered a second time, the crewman again declined. Parkins turned to his boatswain—the chief petty officer of the division—to determine why this crewman refused his order. To his surprise, Parkins learned that the deck crew had, on average, three or four years of elementary school education. Parkins acknowledged how the officers “had been quite neglectful about education” and, therefore, took it upon himself as the junior officer to improve literacy among his subordinates. He recalled:

One of the first things I got to do was to administer an exam, which somebody else had drawn up. . . . I didn’t think the exam was fair because it assumed far too much in reading capacity and writing capacity. Later I got to make up an exam for a similar purpose, and I tried to make it multiple choice and as few words and simple as I could. . . When I started asking around who would want to try for the next set of tests for an advancement, I got 40 percent of the people in the division. . . [but] I guess [they] lost the books from which they were studying to prepare. The division officers thought that was careless and wouldn’t get more books. . . I convinced the new division officer, my immediate superior, that we needed to get books for em. We got everyone supplied with books. We set up schedules so that the senior petty officers could teach the people from the rank below what they would need to know for an advance in rating. 24

Ultimately, every crewmember who participated in Parkins’ educational reform program passed their advancement exams. The success of Parkins’ top-down educational program, with other officers’ support, reinforced the communal nature of literacy in Alabama’s homogenization as an imagined community.


By August 1943, the Department of the Navy assigned Alabama to the Pacific Fleet, where she joined fast carrier task forces in providing fire support and anti-aircraft screening during numerous invasions, landings, raids, and pitched battles. The following month, the battleship Alabama departed Norfolk, Virginia, and sailed through the Panama Canal to join the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Apprehensive pollywogs, or “wogs,” those sailors who had not yet crossed the equator, and their seasoned “shellback” shipmates participated in a time-honored tradition colloquially known as “crossing the line.” These ceremonies often occur upon the occasion of crossing the equator, although sailors have created variations of the ceremony for passing through the tropics, the International Date Line, and the Arctic Circle. 25

These ceremonies were grueling and often conducted over multiple days to test inexperienced crewmembers for life at sea. This event grew out of antiquity as the mythical Roman god of the seas, Neptune, would only be satiated and appeased through the crew’s respect. 26 The traditional dramatic production, often involving costumes, props, and script-reading, emphasized the U.S. Navy’s instillation of an esprit de corps as these rehearsed events imitated ancient judicial and initiation ceremonies. The three particularly scripted and momentous junctures in the production—when Davy Jones summons the captain, who transfers his power to Neptune, and the subsequent trial and punishment of all pollywogs—exemplify the subsequent exercise in social control through the issuance of discipline to crewmembers by crewmembers, potentially of equitable rank. 27

The dramatic oration of scripts and readings from mock proclamations or rehearsed routines order the events and give them a symbolic inversion of dignified military judicial ceremonies. The scripted narratives highlight the exercise of social control and discipline. Amid general scenes of fraternal mayhem, as pollywogs shuffled through various torments imposed upon them by shellbacks, the scripts helped to maintain the traditional mythological belief underscoring the narrative structure. When Davy Jones came aboard for the first time as the arbiter of festivities, for instance, he ceremoniously addressed the captain, affirming that “there will be no leniency—all pollywogs will receive appropriate punishment.” 28 In the script, Jones foreshadows the next day’s rough treatment and warns pollywogs to take these festivities seriously. Here the crew accepted, unknowingly and perhaps begrudgingly, Benedict Anderson’s concept of inheritance. Crewmembers of Alabama not only perpetuated tradition but reinforced the establishment of the ship as an imagined community through their participation in this “historically deep-rooted” ceremony. 29

The modern navy’s line-crossing ceremonies remain as colorful as those engaged in centuries ago. The oldest and most dignified senior shellback of the crew assumes the role of Neptunus Rex and selects his assistant, Davy Jones. Her Highness Amphitrite “is usually a good looking young seaman who will appear well in a deshabillé of seaweed and rope yarns.” 30 The Court usually consists of the Royal Scribe, the Royal Doctor, the Royal Dentist, the Devil, and other names invented by the Neptune party. The Bears have the difficult task of rounding up pollywogs and distributing their official “summons”:

In And For The District Of Equatorius




Pollywog _________________________________ U.S. Navy.

You are hereby commanded to appear before the ROYAL COURT OF THE REALM OF NEPTUNE, in the DISTRICT OF EQUATORIUS, because it has been brought to the attention of HIS AUGUST HIGHNESS NEPTUNE REX through his trusty SHELLBACKS, that the good ship REGULUS is about to enter those waters manned by a crew who has not acknowledged the sovereignty of the RULER OF THE DEEP, has transgressed on his domain and thereby incurred his Royal displeasure.

THEREFORE be it known to all ye Box Car Tourists, Park Statues, Cream Puffs, Hay Makers, and Politicians that His Most Royal Muchness NEPTUNE REX, Supreme Ruler of all Mermaids, Sharks, Squids, Crabs, Pollywogs, Eels and other denizens of the deep, will, with his Secretary and Royal Court, meet in full session on board the offending ship REGULUS on __ day of October, A.D. 1943 to hear your defense on the charge of:

It is therefore ordered and decreed that the above named man present himself before the above Court at the time and place above mentioned or else be condemned to become food for Sharks, Whales, Pollywogs, Frogs, and all other scum of the sea, who will devour you – head, body and soul – as a warning to any Landlubbers entering my Domain, disobey this order under my displeasure – INCARNATION IN DAVY JONES’ LOCKER!!!

Given under my hand this __ Day of October, 1943.

[signed] DAVY JONES, Clerk,
Honorable Pegleg,

According to a 1957 publication documenting French, British, American, Dutch, German, and Russian ceremonies, “no custom of the sea is better known, for to qualify as a ‘shellback’ is a distinction desired by all sailormen.” 32 Douglas Manger, a former American sailor who participated in the ceremony in the 1960s, aligned the ritual with depictions of masculinity, as a means to prove ability and manhood. While Manger had a strong sense of his participation in a grand tradition that encouraged and reinforced “those masculine traits that have always defined ‘true’ Navy men,” including “queer branding and homophobic paranoia,” this unofficial simulation for social cohesion was abusive. Pollywogs had to “endure the humiliation of the ritual” to prove that they were salty dogs, real men. 33 It is here that historian Eric Hobsbawm’s idea of “invented tradition” comes to the fore. He defined this concept as “a set of practices . . . of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” 34 He argued that the invention of tradition is universal, but occurs most frequently in periods of rapid social change. In the instance of the crossing the line ceremony, the function of the invented tradition was to legitimize relations of authority and establish or symbolize social cohesion within this imagined community. 35

U.S.S. Alabama crew participates in crossing the Line ceremony, ca. 1943-1945. (Images courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History)

When Neptune stepped aboard Alabama with his royal entourage on September 2, 1943, the captain had the opportunity to beseech the king of the seas to be merciful, especially to his pollywog officers, but Neptune insisted that there would be no exceptions. In his most gracious tone and manner, the captain told Neptune, “It is a great pleasure to have you aboard,” to which Neptune replied, “The displeasure is all mine.” Neptune then complained that Alabama was “sorely infested with nefarious and slimy pollywogs, a situation which my Royal Party intends to correct by making them fit Shellbacks.” The captain then yielded his authority with the words, “I turn over my command to you for such time as you wish.”
36 Pollywogs were entirely unaware of the trials they were to undergo over the course of the ceremony. This tradition reinforces Yi-Fu Tuan’s idea that experience requires the individual to confront the unfamiliar and uncertain in order to learn in the most active sense. 37 LTJG Parkins recalled his participation in the festivities:

I made a mistake . . . that Id go first and get it over with. The thing was that on that ship there were few people who had been across [the equator] . . . and with hundreds of Marines aboard, they got very tired before they got through [everyone]. For those of us who went first, I had my hair clipped with tin snips. I had Vaseline and lamp black rubbed into me. I was fed some kind of hot mixture, beaten with wet towels, [and] I don’t know what else. 23

The perpetuation of this frequently humiliating tradition was a means to create a unifying sense of identity through which the crew could solidify their membership within this imagined community. The invented tradition of the crossing the line ceremony aboard Alabama was a formalization process characterized by reference—and reverence—to the past through repetition in the present. 39

The editors of the ship’s War Diary were sure to commemorate these ceremonies in their publication noting:

Veteran officers and men of the ALABAMA are more than qualified members of the Ancient and Honorable Orders of BLUENOSES, SHELLBACKS, and THE GOLDEN DRAGON, for she has crossed the ARCTIC CIRCLE 6 times, the 180th MERIDIAN an equal number of times, and the equator no less than 24 times. 40

While this statement indicates that all Alabama veterans are entitled to the rights and privileges as sailors who crossed the Arctic Circle, the Equator, and the International Date Line, respectively, it is unclear to what extent sailors of color participated in any of these activities. There remains a paucity of source material on the ship’s African American crew. Images of the Alabama’s basketball, baseball, and boxing teams included in the War Diary depict all-white athletes with no mention of any segregated equivalents. With the exception of W Division’s group photo and a crude drawing of an African American boxer, the ship’s War Diary chronicles the activities of its predominantly white crew. The absence of African American crewmen in images of crossing the line ceremony festivities implies that the segregation that characterized the World War II Navy transcended traditions considered sacrosanct to white sailors. The exclusion of Alabama’s African American sailors from the “deep, horizontal comradeship” of unofficial ceremonies, their absence in commemorative historical documents, and their experiences neglected from oral history projects affirm Benedict Anderson’s conclusion that while the “imaginings of fraternity” seemed to emerge “naturally,” the group was not homogenous, rather, fractured by racial antagonisms. 41

Post-War Service in the United States Pacific Reserve

In October 1945, Alabama steamed into San Francisco Bay, where Captain E. J. Pierce relieved Captain William Goggins as commanding officer. Japan had surrendered in September, and the war was over. The “relaxation of censorship restrictions” in that year allowed Personnelman Jack Burgeman “to tell all—or at least almost all” to his brother Clarence. In a piece of intimate correspondence, Jack lamented:

This rather sounds like an obituary. In a way it is, for in every nook and corner, the men are sitting around in groups dreaming of home. . . . And everywhere there is the sad realization that the best crew that ever served together is about to break up. It is the end of a grand association together and makes you feel sad in the same sort of way you felt when it came time to leave school and all the old comrades you knew and with whom you had shared countless experiences, both good and bad. When one of these groups grows silent, it is this nostalgic feeling that always makes someone say, “Do you remember–––?” 42

Burgemans lamentations confirm that sailors assigned to Alabama associated the vessel with place, not space. Etymological clarification between the two terms is necessary. According to Tuan, place is a unit measured by location—imbued with history and meaning as it somehow absorbs the “experiences and aspirations” from the consciousness of the individual that may be revived at a later time, whereas space is vast and quantifiable through the language of mathematics. 43 Having begun as an undifferentiated object, Alabama became a place as the crew endowed it with experiential value.

In addition to her receipt of the Navy Occupation Service Medal and the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation Badge, the U.S. Navy awarded Alabama nine battle stars on the Asiatic-Pacific Area Service Medal for her service against hostile forces in the Pacific. Two years later, she sailed to Seattle, where she was decommissioned as a ship of the line and placed in reserve. 44 Initially intended for scrap, whose salvage would repurpose newer vessels of the fleet, Alabama received public attention from Congressional delegations and countless Alabamians to save the vessel. Assistant Tailor Glen C. Lindstrom remembered:

Governor [George] Wallace was very much on the ball. He wanted to save USS Alabama and bring it up into his coastline, and he thought of some very good ideas. He put all of the kids in the state of Alabama to work to take collections every Wednesday, in what they called “penny Wednesday” and preserve those funds. They picked up close to $1 million for bringing USS Alabama down the west coast, through the Panama Canal, and up into Mobile Bay so to conserve it. 45

In September 1963, with the support of Governor George C. Wallace, the Alabama Legislature created the USS Alabama Commission, instilled with the responsibility to raise funds to have the ship towed an unprecedented 5,600 miles from Bremerton, Washington, through the Panama Canal, to Mobile Bay in order to establish a memorial park in memory of all Alabamians who served in World War II and Korea. Ultimately, this Act expanded to include Alabamian veterans of all wars. The residents of Alabama, the majority of whom were schoolchildren, managed to raise $100,000 from “penny Wednesday” collections. Additional fundraising efforts by life insurance agencies and local financial institutions in Mobile raised an additional $700,000. These funds were exclusively allocated to preserve the ship by providing low-interest loans to keep the memorial park in operation. In the early summer of 1964, the U.S. Navy transferred the ship’s title to the state of Alabama, and on September 12, 1964, she arrived in Mobile, where she dropped anchor for the last time. 46

The memorial park itself and the subsequent establishment of the USS Alabama Crewman’s Association allowed for the private publication of Battleship USS Alabama, BB-60. This monograph, coupled with the at-sea publication of the vessel’s pictorial War Diary, utilized print capitalism to promote the idea that the vessel was, and remains, an imagined community to this group of veterans. In August 1965, 30 veterans of the ship founded the Crewman’s Association, and at the time of the publication commemorating the establishment of the memorial park, membership in the organization swelled to 1,100 former members of the crew and their families. Here, they “try to embody their feelings, images, and thoughts” in this tangible, architectural space. 47 Thus, former crew members and their families acknowledged Alabama with its associated publications and veterans’ organizations as a center of value for those who lived and worked in this imagined community.

Nothing appears more linked to an ancestral past than the pageantry surrounding U.S. Navy servicemen and women with their participation in various ceremonies and initiations. Even in its modern form, it is the product of ancient and invented tradition. Anyone intimately familiar with the U.S. Navy will recall such traditions at a personal level through intimate recollections of the christening of navy vessels, crossing the line, entering the Arctic Circle, and the formation of a memorial park or a museum exhibit. The term “invented tradition” includes traditions actually invented, constructed, and formally instituted. Historian Eric Hobsbawm identified invented tradition “to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” 48 In so doing, these traditions establish continuity with a historic past. Invented traditions—including vessel christenings and crossing the line ceremonies—belong to three often-overlapping functions, as they exist to establish social cohesion within the imagined community, legitimize the authority maintained by senior officers, and instill beliefs, value systems, and conventions of behavior within the larger organization. While social cohesion is most easily seen, the other functions flowed from a sense of identification with the vessel as an imagined community. 49

Similarly, Benedict Anderson’s concept of nationalism—the sense of identification or belonging expressed toward the nation and other members of the imagined community—can be applied to Alabama. The invented traditions perpetuated by the U.S. Navy, including christening, informal initiation ceremonies, and the establishment of memorial parks, are incredibly emotive cultural forms through which service members express their allegiance to the imagined community. In order to explain the global phenomenon of nationalism, Anderson labeled nations as both imagined because of the unlikelihood that citizens would know, meet, or hear of their fellows and communities because the nation actively maintains a deep, horizontal comradeship” and it is this fraternity that makes it possible . . . for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly die for such limited imaginings.” 50 The sailors aboard Alabama may not have known, let alone met, every one of their 2,326 shipmates, but their collectively shared experiences solidified the vessel’s place as an imagined community. Seaman Second Class Ford Curtiss Thompson recalled how he managed to make it down to the Alabama moored in Mobile Bay “two or three times.” The U.S.S. Alabama Crewman’s Association has “a reunion every year,” he continued. “I don’t go every year, but I’d like to.” At the first reunion Thompson attended, he claimed only to know “two or three guys that was on the ship when [he] was there.” 51

In preparation for the fiftieth anniversary convention in Mobile, Chief Botswain’s Mate John P. Ryan, with the help of his family, made a concerted effort to update his uniform so that he might appropriately honor his service to the ship. “I take a lot of pride having served,” Ryan beamed. Ryan reminisced about the “old jitterbug days,” after his transfer to the Alabama in September 1942, “when sailors would dance with each other” as the ship’s band performed at sunset. Ryan confirmed that the crew aboard Alabama included a celebrity, baseball player Bob Feller, “who received a lot of recognition.” 52 In 2006, Congress read his professional baseball and naval performances into the Congressional record.

At the peak of his baseball career, Robert William Andrew Feller was sworn in to service two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and served aboard Alabama as a gunner’s mate “where he kept his pitching arm in shape by tossing a ball on the deck.” He earned eight battle stars and was discharged in late-1945. 53 While Feller’s oral history with the Library of Congress is succinct, amounting to only 11 minutes of commentary, Feller told interviewer Donald Adams, “I certainly had a great experience in the Navy . . . I am very proud of my Navy experiences.” 54 Ford Thompson admitted that he “didn’t have a lot of friends” aboard Alabama since his position as yeoman to the chaplain sequestered him to the library, but he managed to strike up a friendship with Feller. “Him and I became good friends because we was both from Iowa, and I would trade [news]papers with him,” Thompson explained. 51 Although Feller was a professional baseball player of some renown, whose reputation heightened following the publicization of his enlistment, the shared collective experience aboard Alabama that came with his enlistment was an equalizer that elicited camaraderie and lifelong friendship with his shipmates.

The scholarship of geographer Yi-Fu Tuan primarily centers on the way human beings interact with and experience their surrounding environments. As such, Tuan focuses on the concept of experience, calling it “a cover-all term for the various modes through which a person knows and constructs a reality.” 56 When asked to participate in the design of the tailor shop exhibit aboard Alabama, former Assistant Tailor Glen C. Lindstrom jumped at the opportunity:

When I left the ship to go home, which was back in the Minneapolis area, I picked up a few items from the tailor shop and mailed it home because I thought someday I will want to go back and restore the tailor shop. I did in 1988. I had enough equipment and stuff to go back to restore it. . . . There is only one thing missing and that’s a lampshade. 45

By moving through and responding to USS Alabama (BB-60) as a place—not a space—Lindstrom and those of his shipmates who participated in the establishment of the ship as a memorial park, or in crossing the line hijinks as enlisted sailors decades before, arranged their worldviews into similar structured and meaningful “centers of felt value.” 58

(Return to December 2020 Table of Contents)


  1.   U.S.S. Alabama History, n.d., Barbara Dickinson USS Alabama Collection, PR333, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
  2.   Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2006), 7.
  3. Ibid., 109-111.
  4. Mary A. Larson, “Research Design and Strategies,” in History of Oral History: Foundations and Methodology, ed. Thomas L. Charlton, Lois E. Myers, and Rebecca Sharpless (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 106, 107.
  5. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 204.
  6. Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 6.
  7. E. J. Hobsbawm, “Inventing Traditions,” introduction to The Invention of Tradition, ed. E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 9, 13.
  8. Alison Landsberg, Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 2.
  9. Veterans’ Oral History Project Act, Pub. L. No. 106-380, 114 Stat. (October 27, 2000).
  10. Lynn Abrams, Oral History Theory (London: Routledge, 2010), 78-79.
  11. Ronald J. Grele, “Oral History as Evidence,” in History of Oral History: Foundations and Methodology, ed. Thomas L. Charlton, Lois E. Myers, and Rebecca Sharpless (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 56.
  12.   Landsberg, Prosthetic Memory, 18, 24.
  13.   Ibid., 85, 86.
  14.   John C. Reilly, “Christening, Launching, and Commissioning of U.S. Navy Ships,” Naval History and Heritage Command, last modified June 23, 2014, accessed October 8, 2016,


  15. William P. Mack, Royal W. Connell, and Leland P. Lovette, Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, 5th ed. (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1980), 172-173.
  16. Battleship USS Alabama, BB-60, 14.
  17. Telegram from Felix Gygax to Frank M. Dixon, Alabama Governor (1939-1943: Dixon), SG12234, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
  18. J. C. Sullivan to Frank Dixon, February 9, 1942, Frank Dixon Papers, SG12234, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
  19. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 5.
  20. Tuan, Space and Place, 114.
  21. Telegram from Felix Gygax to Frank M. Dixon, Alabama Governor (1939-1943: Dixon), SG12234, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
  22. Mack, Connell, and Lovette, Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, 279.
  23. Ivan W. Parkins Collection (AFC/2001/001/55401), Video recording (MV01), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Simon J. Bronner, Crossing the Line: Violence, Play, and Drama in Naval Equator Traditions (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006), 8.
  26. Mack, Connell, and Lovette, Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, 186.
  27. Bronner, Crossing the Line, 17.
  28. Full text reprinted in Bronner, Crossing the Line, 17-19
  29. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 196.
  30. Harry Miller Lydenberg, comp., Crossing the Line: Tales of the Ceremony during Four Centuries (New York: New York Public Library, 1957), 152.
  31. “Crossing the Line: Historic Documents,” Naval History and Heritage Command, last modified May 12, 2014, accessed November 25, 2016,; “Crossing the Line: Pollywogs to Shellbacks,” Naval History and Heritage Command, last modified July 9, 2017, accessed September 3, 2020,
  32. Lydenberg, Crossing the Line, 192.
  33. Personal correspondence with Douglas Manger reprinted in Bronner, Crossing the Line, 45.
  34. Hobsbawm, “Inventing Traditions,” introduction to The Invention of Tradition, 1.
  35.   Ibid., 4, 9.
  36. Reprinted in Bronner, Crossing the Line, 19.
  37. Tuan, Space and Place, 9.
  38. Ivan W. Parkins Collection (AFC/2001/001/55401), Video recording (MV01), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  39. Hobsbawm, “Inventing Traditions” in The Invention of Tradition, 1, 4.
  40. War Diary, U.S.S. Alabama, 1942-1944, D774.A4 W37, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
  41. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 7, 203.
  42. Photocopy of letter from Jack Burgeman to Clarence Burgeman, 8/29/45, Jack Burgeman Collection, Box 1, Folder 2, Pritzker Military Museum and Library, Chicago, Illinois.
  43. Yi-Fu Tuan, “Space and Place: Humanistic Perspective,” in Philosophy in Geography, ed. Stephen Gale and Gunnar Olsson (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 1979), 387.
  44. Battleship USS Alabama, BB-60, 37.
  45. Glen C. Lindstrom Collection (AFC/2001/001/51412), Audio recording (SR01), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  46. Battleship USS Alabama, BB-60, 6, 40.
  47. Tuan, Space and Place, 17.
  48. Hobsbawm, “Inventing Traditions” in The Invention of Tradition, 1-2.
  49. Ibid., 9.
  50. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 7.
  51. Ford Curtiss Thompson Collection (AFC/2001/001/102395), Transcript (MS04), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  52. John P. Ryan Collection (AFC/2001/001/50545), Video recording (MV01), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  53. Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Historic 1946 Season of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Member Bob Feller and His Return from Military Service to the United States, H.R. Res. 449, 109th Cong., 2d Sess. (July 25, 2006).
  54. Robert William Andrew Feller Collection (AFC/2001/001/55642), Audio recording (SR01), Veteran’s History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  55. Ford Curtiss Thompson Collection (AFC/2001/001/102395), Transcript (MS04), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  56. Tuan, Space and Place, 8.
  57. Glen C. Lindstrom Collection (AFC/2001/001/51412), Audio recording (SR01), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  58. Tuan, Space and Place, 8, 4.

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Network Survivability in the Age of Great Power Competition

ENS Joseph P. Bunyard
USNA 2020 Voices of Maritime History Prize Essay

Executive Summary


How can the United States Department of the Navy (DoN) continue to leverage its advantages in Network Centric Warfare (NCW) in a communications contested environment?

Key Points

A return to great power competition places a renewed emphasis on network survivability, which is essential to the prosecution of modern naval warfare against near-peer adversaries with high-end capabilities. Current and evolving DoN strategies depend on fragile network connections that are increasingly vulnerable to enemy denial or disruption. The Battle of Britain offers key insights, from which DoN can benefit, into leveraging integrated network technology to achieve operational outcomes.


This paper uses historical examples and open source information to illustrate the role of networks in naval warfare, describe their vulnerabilities in a communications contested environment, and propose a way ahead.


DoN must invest in infrastructure that is more advanced, defensible, and autonomous in order to outpace the growing threat to Navy networks and the myriad of systems that depend on them. Key lines of effort must include keeping pace with rapidly evolving computing capacity, increasing network resilience through node surge capacity, and hardening existing electronic lines of communication.

I. Network Centric Warfare

Since the age of sail, networks have included both the physical and conceptual lines of communication necessary to relay information on the operational and strategic level. While these networks once consisted of signal flags, couriers, and telegrams, today’s requirement for real-time over-the-horizon communication necessitates methods of exceptional complexity.

Modern networks enable the global Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) infrastructure the Navy and Marine Corps rely on for everything from munitions guidance to transoceanic navigation. The act of leveraging networks for operational purposes is known as Network Centric Warfare (NCW), which is divided into three domains: the surface layer for battlefield local area networks, the airborne layer providing theatre wide coverage, and the space level for the Navy and Marine Corps Global Command and Control System (see Figure 1). 1 The 2016 Navy Network Environment Strategy (NNES) defines these networks as the “basic operational backbone” for all forms of communication and data processing. 2

In the current era of renewed great power competition, near-peer rivals openly flaunt the means and motivation to deny sailors and Marines the “overwhelming war-fighting advantage” uncontested network access provides. 3 Leading up to the Battle of Britain in 1940, the United Kingdom drastically shifted from expeditionary low-intensity conflict in foreign colonies to high-end warfare against Nazi Germany. The Department of the Navy (DoN) must now prepare for near-peer conflict much in the same way the UK did at the onset of the Second World War—by securing network access in both the electronic and physical battlespace.

Figure 1-Model of DoN assets deployed as nodes in NWC 4

Networks in Modern Naval Warfare

The future of naval warfare depends on reliable network access in the backyard of adversaries motivated to deny it. As the Navy and Marine Corps transition to a more distributed, automated force, the ability to connect sensors, command and control platforms, and shooters will be of the utmost importance. 5

A Strategic Shift

Distributed maritime operations represent the future of naval warfare by encompassing the collective efforts of the Navy and Marine Corps to deploy smaller, increasingly integrated forces in place of traditional strike groups. In its 2017 Surface Force Strategy (SFS), the Navy coined this requirement to send more ships further, faster, and more frequently into contested environments “distributed lethality.” 6 The Marine Corps’ 2019 Commandant Planning Guidance expands on the “distributed lethality” concept by insisting that forward deployed “naval expeditionary forces” with “sufficient resilience to persist within the weapons engagement-zone once actively contested” are critical to sea-denial and sea control. 7 An integrated naval force that is smaller and further apart will require robust networks capable of maintaining C4ISR and network-dependent weapons and countermeasures in a communications contested environment. Ensuring the availability of these systems is vital to carrying out the three critical functions of distributed maritime operations. In the third edition of Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations, the late renowned naval strategist CAPT Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret), lists these critical functions as dispersing assets for multi-node scouting and strike warfare, out maneuvering an adversary, and massing forces for defensive measures. 8

Scout and Mass

According to the Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment, the reemergence of near-peer competitors will require 148 new small surface combatants and 110 unmanned surface vessels to counter worldwide challenges to US sea lines of communication. 9 Many of these challenges come in the form of maritime insurgencies in places like the South China Sea and the Persian Gulf. Here, sustained patrols—for which current Navy platforms are ill-suited—are key to ensuring respect for international law. 10 Deploying a greater number of smaller platforms requires a network capable of massing ships and over-the-horizon capabilities when DoN presence is contested, in order to compensate for the reduced individual capability of smaller combatants—relative to that of a Cruiser or Destroyer (CRUDES). The NCW-enabled ability to patrol independently and mass overwhelming force when contested is vital to maintaining a credible deterrence.


The benefits of a smaller, distributed force are not exclusive to countering maritime insurgencies. The mathematical formulas from Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations in Figure 2 below illustrate the superior combat power of smaller, networked ships compared to larger, traditional surface combatants in a Mahan-styled decisive battle. 11 However, these hypothetical scenarios fail to represent the critical vulnerability of distributed maritime operations. Dispersed forces are only as capable as the networks that connect them. The value of connectivity increases as unmanned, optionally, and optimally manned platforms replace sailors and Marines on the front lines. 12

Figure 2-Selected excerpts from Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations, Third Edition 13

Out Maneuver

Maneuvering dispersed assets across a wide operating area forces an adversary to solve the complex, resource heavy problems of finding, tracking, and targeting each individual combatant, as opposed to a large formation. 14 However, dispersing assets while maintaining network access requires commanders to choose between the increased electromagnetic signature associated with C4ISR tasks or limiting emissions to avoid enemy detection. 15 As the Navy and Marine Corps introduce greater numbers of unmanned, optionally, and optimally manned platforms to the battlespace, the viability of NCW inside of an enemy’s weapons engagement zone will depend on the ability of commanders to both secure and mask their electronic emissions while maintaining network access (see Figure 3).

Figure 3-Modern C4ISR Infrastructure Integrated with Unmanned Vehicles 16

II. Vulnerabilities

A return to great power competition exposes DoN networks to threats unique to near-peer adversaries, which the Navy and Marine Corps have not been forced to address in the post-Cold War era. 17 Chief among these threats are Anti-Satellite (ASAT) and Electronic Warfare (EW) methods the Pentagon accuses China and Russia of designing “explicitly to deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy America’s eyes and ears in space.” 18

Anti-Satellite Warfare

Great power competition elevates the threat of ASAT missile strikes by near-peers and their proxies. Both China and Russia openly flaunt their ASAT missile capabilities through provocative shows of placing and destroying satellites in close vicinity to US intelligence assets. 19 Perhaps even more inflammatory—according to a 2020 Congressional Research Service report by Kenneth Katzman—China and Russia actively share ballistic missile technology and expertise with Iran and North Korea, effectively working to give even regional powers the ability to affect DoN’s operations globally. 20 A single ASAT strike would have catastrophic consequences for DoN networks. Defense industrial base estimates indicate that even a satellite with common commercial capabilities would take the Department of Defense approximately three years to replace. 21

ASAT warfare is not limited to missile strikes. Russia and China are actively investing in satellites capable of disabling other satellites with “little to no fanfare.” 22 Such satellites are equipped with nets, robotic arms, fuel draining apparatuses, and potentially even directed energy weapons, under the pretense of controlling “space-junk.” 15 In reality, they provide potential adversaries the ability to disrupt a satellite’s operation by physically interacting with it in space, unbeknownst to operators on the ground. Given the lack of treaties governing how and where satellites may deploy, malicious actors can even pre-position such assets in close proximity to US satellites—as Russia and China have demonstrated—in order to initiate attacks with little to no warning. 24

Electronic Warfare

The spoofing and jamming of GPS signals poses an entirely different risk to DoN’s ability to conduct warfare. Spoofing is the act of directing false data—in the case of GPS, coordinates and time—to a receiver with the intention of misguiding its platform. 25 Jamming occurs when a bad actor sends more power to a receiver on its operating frequency than the amount of power received from its intended source with the goal of degrading the system’s ability to operate (see figure 4). Unlike traditional military forces, EW is not constrained by vast geographic buffers, like the Pacific Ocean, from which the US historically benefits. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, the international reach of Huawei and ZTE 5G networks amplifies the threat of Chinese EW by providing infrastructure abroad that could quickly be repurposed for spoofing, jamming, and signals intelligence. 26

“Smart spoofing” allows malicious actors to guide semi and fully autonomous ships, aircraft, and weapons systems off course by sending their receivers inaccurate GPS coordinates. 27 Today, few navigation systems are equipped with the means to scrutinize the validity of the GPS signals they receive. 28 When used against GPS guided munitions, “smart spoofing” can easily make weapons inoperable, or worse, it can redirect them from a legitimate target—like an enemy’s air base—to an unintended site, such as a hospital. 29 Due to the exceptional distance between satellites and receivers on the surface, GPS signals are weak enough to be spoofed by nearly anyone with internet access and an off-the-shelf transmitter. 30

Figure 4-RADAR jamming equation 31

Signal jamming and spoofing pose a heightened risk to the type of unmanned assets the Navy and Marine Corps are introducing in growing numbers to the battlespace. In 2011, Iran claimed that it used jamming and “smart spoofing” techniques to hijack and safely land an American Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in Iranian territory. 32 As Figure 4 above illustrates, such results are possible due to the critical role that relative distance plays in signal strength. Since transmitter power is subject to the inverse square law, there is little that ships and aircraft can do to prevent RADAR and communications “burn through” in potential hot spots such as the South China Sea and the Persian Gulf. In order to preserve the warfighting advantages of NCW in the littorals, DoN must invest in advanced, defensible networks that maintain resiliency in close proximity to enemy assets, including commercial 5G infrastructure made in China.

III. Historical Analogy

Robust networks are force multipliers. The UK’s investment in an advanced anti-air network ahead of the Battle of Britain enabled it to halt the seemingly unstoppable Luftwaffe, securing the staging grounds for the Allies’ liberation of Europe. The keys to this feat were a forward-thinking approach towards integrating new technology into existing systems and a substantial investment in advanced infrastructure to maximize network effectiveness.

Although often derided as “cowardly” for his policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany, Neville Chamberlain led an unprecedented overhaul of the Royal Air Force (RAF) between his infamous 1938 meeting with Hitler in Munich and the start of the Battle of Britain in 1940. Shocked by the speed and intensity of the Blitzkrieg, Chamberlain believed that the key to defending the British Isles would be to “push forward [its] defense” through air superiority that only fighters could provide. 33 Securing investment for the new Spitfire and Hurricane interceptors would require Chamberlain to upend a long revered bomber-centric strategy—known as the “Trenchard Doctrine”—which claimed that such fighters were “an irrelevance” in what was then an entirely offensive air force. Despite fierce objections from Parliament and the Air Staff, in November 1938, a mere five weeks after promising Britons “peace in our time,” Chamberlain’s cabinet launched “Scheme M,” an ambitious plan that increased the strength of the RAF’s Fighter Command ten-fold by the start of the Battle of Britain. 34

While Germany—thinking that the war was nearly won—all but abandoned RADAR research and development in the lead up to the Battle of Britain, Chamberlain doubled-down on the new technology. Investing heavily in “Chain Home” early warning stations along the English and Scottish coasts gave the RAF the ability to pinpoint imminent air raids deep into Nazi controlled territory. 35 However, with little ability to link Chain Home information to RAF squadrons at the beginning of the war, only 30% of pilots ever saw a German aircraft during a given intercept mission. 36 To solve this problem, the UK implemented the “Dowding System,” a game-changing C4ISR network enabling the quick reception, verification, organization, and dissemination of target data—increasing interception rates to over 90% by the end of the three-month-long Battle of Britain. 15

The Dowding System linked coastal Chain Home stations with inward-looking Royal Observer Corps spotters—often stationed aloft telephone poles—to transmit real-time information on the number, direction, and location of enemy bombers to Fighter Command Headquarters (FCHQ) throughout a given raid. 38 FCHQ maintained an overall picture of the raid, notifying potential targets of an imminent attack, and pushing intercept information down to the specific squadrons tasked with the defense of the relevant sectors. 15 With this information, RAF squadrons often had the luxury of choosing when, where, and with what number of fighters to engage enemy formations. The warfighting advantage the Dowding System afforded the RAF allowed it to achieve an average two-to-one kill-to-death ratio against superior Nazi fighter planes over the course of the campaign, despite beginning the Battle of Britain with half as many aircraft as the . 40

The quality of targeting information passed on to RAF fighters depended on the coherence, accuracy, and speed of the Dowding System. “Filter Rooms” located next to segments of Chain Home for which they were responsible provided the quality assurance needed to make the Dowding System effective by verifying, interpreting, and plotting RADAR returns. 41 Slow or unreliable information did not simply cause fighters to miss their intercepts; it caused the RAF to waste limited assets that could have otherwise been effectively deployed.

The need to communicate information as quickly as it could be generated spurred a massive investment in telecommunications infrastructure across the UK. From the time a “Filter Room” received a RADAR return from Chain Home, it took 25 seconds to plot it, five seconds to determine the contact’s vector, and 30 seconds to transmit the information across an extensive network of telephone cables connecting coastal RADAR stations and far-flung aviation squadrons to FCHQ. 42 If the RAF aircraft in the sector called upon to intercept the target were in a state of “readiness,” they could be deployed with target data in-hand a mere six-and-a-half minutes after a contact’s first detection—long before Nazi bombers arrived over British territory. 43

The UK’s investment in Chain Home and its accompanying C4ISR network yielded unexpected dividends in the form of signals intelligence. By 1940, the construction of imposing RADAR stations along its southern coast allowed the UK to intercept “virtually every radio transmission of the German forces within range.” 15 The effective implementation of the Dowding System meant the network necessary to exploit this intelligence in real-time was already in place. In fact, RAF pilots often had German raid orders in their hands less than an hour after their transmittal. 45 The inability of the Nazis to keep pace with British research, development, and implementation of the Dowding System and its supporting infrastructure is a clear example of how abdicating primacy in NCW cedes unknown advantages to one’s adversaries.

Chain Home RADAR stations 46

The Dowding System provided the UK an unprecedented advantage in what renowned military strategist Air Force Colonel John Boyd would later call the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop. According to Boyd, the combatant with the shortest OODA loop has a decisive advantage in warfare, putting them on “the proper side of fighting.” 47 Boyd’s OODA framework expanded on an assessment made 70 years earlier by Prussian General Helmuth von Motlke, who attributed his success in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to a “systems based approach.” Motlke believed that as the character of warfare “broadened” with new means of communication and transportation, the combatant with the quickest and most reliable C2 network would be able to exploit the rapid changes and unknown factors in warfare in order to seize victory at the operational level. 15

Evaluating the Battle of Britain through the theories of Boyd and Motlke provides key insights into how DoN conducts modern day network centric warfare. NCW not only provides an asymmetric advantage by improving C4ISR, as in the Battle of Britain; it also represents a domain of continuous competition in which DoN must maintain the fastest and most accurate C2 networks. As Boyd and Motlke explain, the combatant with the most capable C2 system wields a decisive advantage in warfare.

The home field advantage the RAF received during the Battle of Britain by way of the Dowding System meant that fighters had only one role—shooter. This is an advantage China is likely to wield in maritime hot spots like the South China Sea and the Strait of Taiwan. Competing globally with near-peers in a new era of great power competition requires DoN assets to bring the network necessary to close their OODA loops and kill chains with them to the battlespace. Mimicking the detection, verification, prioritization, and tracking of enemy assets that the Dowding System offered the RAF in a modern day communications contested environment requires networks with a broad reach, electronic warfare contingencies, and an unprecedented amount of computing power. Depriving the fleet of any of these characteristics would be to remove Chain Home or the Royal Observer Corps from the Dowding System—significantly limiting its function and allowing the enemy to remain unseen until he is that much closer to his objective. DoN’s ability to outpace the ASAT and EW capabilities of its potential adversaries through early investment and fleet integration will determine whether it will play the role of the RAF or the Luftwaffe in the next near-peer conflict.

IV. Recommendations

As tensions rise between the US and China, warnings of Thucydides’ trap have become a common refrain among those who believe the two superpowers are “destined for war.” 49 Returning to great power competition means that DoN must reprioritize its ability to conduct high-end warfare. In 1938, the Chamberlain government—facing a similar situation—answered this call with an unprecedented campaign to overturn conventional thinking, invest heavily in emerging technology, and fully leverage the Dowding System by integrating it with the RAF.

Just as Chamberlain studied the Blitzkrieg and adapted his forces before the Battle of Britain, so has China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) studied US post-Cold War operations. As a result, the PLA’s foundational theory of victory, known as “system destruction warfare,” is designed around the notion that success belongs to “the belligerent that can disrupt, paralyze, or destroy the operational capability of [its] enemy’s operational system” through both “kinetic and nonkinetic strikes” while simultaneously “employing a more robust, capable, and adaptable operational system of its own.” 50 Countering Chinese efforts to dismantle and replace the networks sailors and Marines depend on to close the OODA loop requires DoN to take the following steps towards building a more robust infrastructure.

Figure 5-Legacy components of electrical grids and Navy networks (left) juxtaposed with examples of the increasingly complex systems they support (right) 51

In a recent Forrestal Lecture at the US Naval Academy, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), used the example of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison attempting to recognize the modern iterations of their respective inventions in order to demonstrate the underlying vulnerability of flashy technology running on outdated systems. While the phone has evolved to a mobile device with a worldwide reach and internet accessibility, the electrical grid used to charge it has evolved relatively little from Thomas Edison’s original designs for New York City (see Figure 5). 52 As a cellphone is relatively useless without an electrical grid to charge it, so are assets such as Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles without a C4ISR network.

In order to maintain a robust network under physical and electronic fire, DoN must build surge capacity into its arsenal of network relays. The ability to rapidly deploy groups of unmanned surface vehicles, UAVs, and miniature satellites across the ground, airborne, and space network layers (see Figure 1) generates the same complex, resource heavy targeting problems for adversaries as distributed maritime operations. However, unlike distributed maritime operations, quantity of assets cannot substitute the quality of bandwidth and computing power that is necessary to link platforms, download data, and process solutions.

In order to support increasingly sophisticated weapons and ISR platforms, DoN must invest in on-board computing power that enables C2 platforms to act as the “Filter Rooms” of the fleet by transforming large amounts of raw data into actionable intelligence for shooters. Just as the Dowding System’s “Filter Rooms” relied on telephone cables out of enemy reach to transmit target information to FCHQ and the Royal Observer Corps, distributed maritime operations requires secure lines of communication that can handle mass amounts of data on enemy weapons systems of increasing sophistication, range, and stealth. In order to ensure the flow of information across the battlespace, the Navy needs a bigger pipe that is harder for the enemy to break.

While—much like the RAF in 1938—DoN may not be able to predict what future advantages investing early and often in network resiliency may yield, it cannot afford to be left behind by near-peers who are willing to make such investments. The 2017 National Security Strategy articulates the challenge of constant improvement in describing the current “non-binary” state of “constant competition” in which the US must seek “overmatch.” 53 Pursuing “overmatch” means DoN cannot simply rely on full-scale EW negatively affecting all combatants equally—similar to how the “Trenchard Doctrine” viewed strategic bombing.

Moore’s law states that “the basic computing power of cutting-edge chips doubles every 24 months as a result of improved processor engineering.” 54 These chips play a vital role in training algorithms to receive, crunch, and transmit data faster than any human. Just as Nazi Germany failed to keep pace with the technological advancements of the UK in the lead up to the Battle of Britain, a failure to regularly invest and integrate rapidly improving network technology could result in deadly disparities between the speed with which DoN can close its OODA loop versus that of its adversaries.

Ensuring DoN’s ability to conduct NCW in a communications contested environment requires networks that are more advanced, defensible, and autonomous. Innovating and integrating new technology in the pursuit of more defensible networks must be a continuous process that outpaces the evolving threats DoN faces. The UK achieved operational overmatch against the Luftwaffe by strategically leveraging innovative technology. If DoN is to fully leverage its warfighting advantage against near-peer rivals, it must continually reinforce the underlying network infrastructure on which it relies.

(Return to December 2020 Table of Contents)


  1. David Steensma, Global command and control system joint operation planning and execution system § (2003).
  2. Naval Networking Environment: Strategic Definition, Scope and Strategy § (2016).
  3. Clay Wilson, Network Centric Warfare: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress. CRS Report for Congress § (2005).
  4. “Simplified Model of a NCW Information Network Navy and Air Force.” Research Gate. Accessed January 26, 2020.
  5. Wayne P. Hughes and Robert Girrier, Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations, (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2018), 5.
  6. Thomas Rowdan, ADM USN, Commander of Naval Surface Forces, Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control. Washington, DC, 2017, 9-10.
  7. David H. Berger, Gen.USMC, 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance § (2019), 13-14.
  8. Hughes, 288.
  9. USNI Staff, “FSA Executive Summary,” USNI News (US Naval Institute, December 16, 2016),
  10. Hunter Stires, “The South China Sea Needs a ‘COIN’ Toss,” Proceedings, May 2019.
  11. Hughes, 42, 286.
  12. John R. Hoehn, and Kelley M. Slayer, Congressional Research Service. National Security Implications of Fifth Generation (5G) Mobile Technologies, § (2020), 1-2.
  13. Hughes, 277-278
  14. Ibid., 279-280.
  15. Ibid.
  16. John Grady, “Entire Navy Tomahawk Missile Arsenal Will Upgrade To Block V.” USNI News, January 22, 2020.
  17. Erik E. Mueller, (2020, April/May). Asymmetric Warfare. Retrieved August 27, 2020, from
  18. Robert S. Walker, and Peter Navarro, “Op-Ed: Trump’s Space Policy Reaches for Mars and the Stars.”, October 20, 2016.
  19. Carin Zissis, “China’s Anti-Satellite Test.” Council on Foreign Relations, February 22, 2007.; Chelsea Gohd, April 16, 2020. “Russia tests anti-satellite missile and the US Space Force is not happy.” Retrieved August 27, 2020, from
  20. Kenneth Katzman, Congressional Research Service. Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies, § (2020), 14.
  21. Davis Satellite, AEROSPACE REPORT NO. ATR-2015-0053, How Long Does it Take to Develop and Launch Government Satellite Systems?
  22. Brian G. Chow, and Henry Sokolski, “Growing U.S. Satellite Vulnerability: The Silent ‘Apocalypse Next’.”, August 23, 2018.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Brian G. Chow.
  25. Paul Y. Montgomery, and Todd E. Humphries, “A Multi-Antenna Defense: Receiver-Autonomous GPS Spoofing Detection,” 2019.
  26. John R. Hoehn, and Kelley M. Slayer, 2.
  27. Dana Goward. “Now Hear This – ‘Misnavigation’ or Spoofing?” Proceedings, April 2016.
  28. CAPT Paul Heim, USN (Ret.), WR Systems Director of Strategic Engagement. Interview by author. In person at the 2020 Surface Navy Association Symposium. Washington, DC, January 14, 2020.
  29. David Hambling, “Ships Fooled in GPS Spoofing Attack Suggest Russian Cyberweapon.” New Scientist, August 10, 2017.
  30. Dana Goward.
  31. “Electronic Warfare Reference Guide,” (Raytheon), accessed February 15, 2020, documents/content/ew-quick-guide-pdf.pdf.
  32. Greg Jaffe and Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran Says It Downed U.S. Stealth Drone; Pentagon Acknowledges Aircraft Downing,” The Washington Post, December 4, 2011.
  33. Kyle D. Johnson, “British Appeasement 1936-1939: The Debate between Parliament and the Public,” (2017) 1134&context=award, 13.
  34. Brent Dyck. (2010), Remembering Neville Chamberlain. Historian, (106), 13-14. Retrieved from 743881842? accountid =8285,14.
  35. Mark Whitmore, “How Radar Changed The Second World War.” Imperial War Museums, May 24, 2018.
  36. Great Britain Air Ministry, and Hilary Aidan St. George Saunders. The Battle of Britain, August-October 1940: An Air Ministry Record of the Great Days from 8th August- 31st October, 1940 (London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1941).
  37. Ibid.
  38. Anthony J. Cumming, “Did Radar Win the Battle of Britain?” The Historian 69, no. 4 (2007): 688-705. Accessed February 5, 2020., 2-3.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Geoffrey Wawro and Saul David, Greatest Events of World War II in Colour: The Battle of Britain (Netflix, 2019).
  41. Cumming, 3.
  42. Paul J. Maykish, “C2 rising: a historical view of our critical advantage.” Air & Space Power Journal, July-August 2014. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed February 5, 2020), 3.
  43. Cumming, 3.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Brown, 109-111.
  46. Royal Air Force Museum, (2018). Retrieved August 28, 2020, from
  47. Maykish, 4.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China escape Thucydides’s trap? (Melbourne, Australia: Scribe Publications, 2019), 1-3.
  50. Jeffrey Engstrom, Systems Confrontation and System Destruction Warfare: How the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Seeks to Wage Modern Warfare. Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 2018. iii.
  51. “Major Essay #1,” Iris’s ePortfolio, December 8, 2017; Xavier Vavasseur, “US Navy Declares IOC for MQ-8C Fire Scout VTOL UAV,” Naval News, July 9, 2019.
  52. James Stavridis, ADM, USN (Ret.), “Naval Academy Leadership Conference 2020.” Naval Academy Leadership Conference 2020. January 21, 2020.
  53. Donald J. Trump, 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States of America § (2017), 28.
  54. Ben Buchanan, (2020, August 07). The U.S. Has AI Competition All Wrong. Retrieved August 27, 2020, from

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The International Journal of Naval History Interest Group on Facebook

Chuck Steele
International Journal of Naval History

From its inception, the International Journal of Naval History has endeavored to “provide a pre-eminent forum for works of naval history researched and written to demonstrable academic standards.” In a sense, the IJNH was created to give naval historians an intellectual home. Considering the slight numbers of historians engaged in researching and writing about war at sea, compared to those concerned with other fields of history, it is not surprising that naval historians constitute a small band of brothers and sisters. Undoubtedly, there are naval historians in the ranks of Britain’s Society for Nautical Research, the North American Society for Oceanic History, the Society for Military History, and the handful of professional associations and institutes devoted to naval affairs. However, those whose primary interest is the history of conflict at sea have remained a distinct minority within those larger groups. 

Part of the IJNH‘s mission is to “stimulate and promote research into naval history and foster communication among naval historians at an international level.” In addition to creating a forum for scholarship on its webpage, the IJNH has seized upon the reach of social media to build a global community. There are over 1700 followers/members of the IJNH Facebook page, and its appeal spans across the seven seas (almost). While most group members are from the United States, every continent, other than Antarctica, is represented in the community. Indeed, the page has demonstrated that naval history, like the oceans, is a global common. 

The main objective of the IJNH‘s social media presence is to sustain and stimulate an audience for the scholarship appearing on the webpage. However, it is also hoped that by engaging with as many people as possible, some followers might be inspired to read more actively and turn their attention to researching and writing for themselves. After all, the IJNH will “welcome any scholarly historical analysis, focused on any period or geographic region, that explores naval power in its national or cultural context.”

With the intent to appeal to as many students of naval history as possible, the editors at the IJNH seek news items for regular posting on Facebook from as many places as possible. The editors understand that history is a means to connect people across time and over great distances. To this end, the editors encourage community members to post historical content that is of interest to them. Part of history’s appeal is that its study often allows people to see themselves in the stories they share. The only restriction to this solicitation being that the content is confined to stories of the past—prognosticators and prophets can find many other pages better suited to their interests.

Click here to JOIN the interest group on Facebook.

(Return to December 2020 Table of Contents)

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Inside the Archives: In the Age of COVID

Dara A. Baker
Assistant Editor for Archives
Digital Format Specialist, National Archives and Records Administration


I am delighted to be back helming the International Journal of Naval History’s Inside the Archives column. For the first time since the advent of computers and digitization/digitalization, the archives profession and our users and researchers face the challenge of adapting to a new way to do research; online and distant from analog materials. For the past 20 years, archival organizations, libraries, and museums have been working to move our access online; COVID-19 has accelerated the importance of digital access. In this column, you’ll read a little bit about what archivists have been doing to assist the public and to document this historic time. I’ll offer a few tips on how to approach archival research online that will hopefully help you conduct your research in the coming months. 

I should note that these words are my own and in no way represent the organization I work for, the volunteer body I support, or any previous employers. With nearly two decades as a researcher and 15 years as an archivist, I hope these words provide encouragement to the Naval History community as we move forward. 

Where We Stand

I encourage you to remember that the archives might be a place that holds what matters to your research, but those materials are processed, described, protected, and made available through the hard work of archives professionals and paraprofessionals. It has been a difficult few months for the profession; we had to close our doors to all of you–and find new ways to make our materials accessible. Getting a digitization program up and running is never easy; doing it without access to the materials, with limited staff and shrinking budgets is a challenge–but it is one that archives across the globe are finding new and creative ways to meet. Most archives have shifted their focus to improve access to currently available work, if they can reenter their archives; they might be boosting their digitization programs, and focusing on answering reference requests. A number of archival organizations have opened for staff and internal audiences (corporate, faculty and students) when allowed by organization and state protocols; many have not yet reopened their research rooms. Check with your local archive, library or historical society to see where they are in the process. Each organization, based on local conditions, staff support, and community may be different and able to offer different levels of support. 

Reading Room at Archives 1 (NARA)

For the past six months, projects across the nation and the globe have looked at how to safely reopen archival facilities and to facilitate access. The OCLC REALM project REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums looks at the science of COVID-19 transmissibility on surfaces common to libraries, archives and museums: This work will help archival institutions make decisions about when, how, and in what ways they can reopen for staff and for researchers and users. Many archives have gone to appointment-only and limited access to materials, whether analog or online, so make certain to have a clear idea of what you are hoping to look at, when you wish to visit, and how long you plan to take. 

I can speak only to my own knowledge and experience, but I can say that archivists have two core functions among the few dozen other activities; collecting and preserving the records in our custody and providing access to those materials to our institution’s public. Both remain equally important. Some archives have been moving to doing remote reference–not just “Send us an email and we’ll respond,” but actual remote reference interviews via video. Most archives moved to distance work, just as most office workers did, at the beginning of the pandemic, a major shift in how we interact with the collections and our users. Seven months in, there have been some innovative developments in both these areas. You can read more about the University of Alaska’s work from archivist Arlene Schmuland “Trying video reference for access during COVID-19 or find out how archivists have adjusted to remote work in the Society of American Archivists’s Dispatches from a Distance blog series or the Denver Public Library’s posts on Remote Work. If you’re interested in how archivists planned to work at home and the variety of work we do and can do, check out the Archivists at Home crowdsourced document prepared by two dozen archivists in March 2020. 

Using Digital Resources

Now the big question: how do I do research if I can only access materials online? What if I am in the middle of a project that requires intensive time at an archive since my material is rare, oversized, or otherwise unavailable? I am going to be honest; in many cases, these projects will need to be reassessed or reworked to adjust to the limited access to materials. Is there a way to redirect a question to take advantage of online materials? Can you find a way to substitute one collection for another or one incorporating a different ship, event, or person? 

Archives always welcome requests from researchers. Just be aware that requests are often answered on a first come basis. If someone sent a request back in April, when the archives sites first closed, staff will answer that one first, if possible. Try to make your request as specific as possible; and as flexible as possible. Some archives might be open to digitizing a whole folder or a whole box compared to a single document; some archives might prefer the opposite. If an archive staff member is answering emails, check to see what kind of request would be preferable. I would also suggest trying to create a full list of what you’re seeking rather than making multiple requests, and note whether you would be fine receiving some materials rather than all at the same time. And please keep in mind, the situation is fluid–and the archives facility might be open to researchers one day a week and it may close with little notice if local conditions change. 

Cast a wide net when doing research online. You might find published materials like Naval Attaché reports and after action reports on the Internet Archive or in a forum of like-minded users. Many archival collections have worked with content aggregators or digitization collaborations like Internet Archive, Online Archive of California’s Calisphere, and Boston Public Library’s Commonwealth project. Search online systems to see if collections on persons of interest are accessible through a different institution that might be open to research or may have digitized some of their content. If you’re unfamiliar with it, ArchiveGrid from OCLC is a wonderful resource. I would suggest reaching out to fellow researchers who may have been to an archive and see if they have photographs of materials and if they might be willing to share access. If you have access to a university or corporate archives staff, reach out to them to see what recommendations they may have for your research; now is a great time to reconnect with the professionals at your own organization. Chances are, the most frequently used/popular materials from any field are more likely to be available online. More obscure materials, those that take time and different skills or tools to digitize like film, maps, blueprints, negatives and photographs may be more difficult to access at present. 

To maximize your search–and prevent disappointment, many archival online systems, catalogs, and finding aids enable researchers to limit searches to what can be found online. Some institutions, like the Smithsonian and National Archives of Australia provide an icon for digitized and available materials. To locate these materials, determine if the institution’s “search” or “advanced” search enables you to select “available online,” “digitized,” or another label. Please note, many collections have been digitized in part or in whole; you might find personal papers where three out of 20 boxes are available online–this is normal. Different institutions have different digitization processes. 

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (Oct. 13, 2010) United States Archivist David Ferriero, right, looks at paintings in the USS Constitution Museum depicting traditional roles of Sailors and Marines from the 19th century. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Shannon S. Heavin/Released)

Look outside of the United States and think outside the archives: published books, memoirs, and documentary edited collections of materials and museum collections may be more readily available. Archives overseas have ample digitization and born-digital collections that can be accessed and may have materials of interest on naval history that are less often accessed by American researchers than collections that have been more geographically accessible. 

Now might be the time to write that review piece, to think about collaborative work, or to volunteer to transcribe or edit a resource of interest to the community. 

If I am looking to support the archival community what can I do?

Archives need to know what researchers are interested in; if you haven’t already informed the archives staff that you are interested in a particular collection, send an email to let them know. Most of the time, public interest can help direct a digitization priority if there is a choice between two similar collections. In some cases, archives have been focused on increasing access through increasing community participation and crowdsourcing, something that is open to all researchers. Find a transcription, description, tagging, or identification project at an archive that matters to you and your research–Archivists at Home lists some that have been identified by archives staff. Many organizations have been actively collecting materials related to COVID-19 at the same time they have been promoting community-based participation in enhanced access. 

It’s a difficult time and so much has changed so quickly, but know that we in the profession continue our work to collect, protect, preserve and provide access for our researchers. 

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BOOK REVIEW – From Across the Sea: North Americans in Nelson’s Navy

From Across the Sea: North Americans in Nelson’s Navy. Edited by Sean M. Heuvel and John A. Rodgaard. Warwick, UK: Helion & Company Limited, 2020.

Review by Stanley D.M. Carpenter, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, U.S. Naval War College

From Across the Sea: North Americans in Nelson’s Navy provides a portrait of North American sailors who served in the British Royal Navy during the era of Vice-Admiral Horatio, Viscount Nelson, victor of the October, 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. The monograph, edited by Sean M. Heuvel and John A. Rodgaard with multiple contributors providing case study biographical sketches of several North Americans in Britain’s navy, addresses men from the ranks of ordinary seaman to admiral of the fleet that hailed from the newly independent United States, British Canada, and several West Indies islands, including Jamaica. Many, especially from the United States and Canada, hailed from Loyalist families forced to re-locate following the War of American Independence (1775-83). Some highlighted Americans already served in the king’s ships prior to the rebellion’s outbreak in 1775 and chose to remain loyal and in service. From economic need to patronage to patriotic motivations as well as anti-French sentiment following the Quasi-War with France (1798), these North Americans served in many capacities as Britain confronted first Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France.

The book’s format works well. It is thematically constructed by setting the stage for the dynamics of service in the fleet in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Professor Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London, addresses Britain’s overall strategy for confronting France, emphasizing that by 1793,“Britain had developed a powerful and coherent doctrine covering the full range of naval operations, from fleet battle and amphibious landings, to oceanic cruiser warfare and convoy defence.” Combined with British domination of world commerce and trade, Britain developed the economic power to simply overwhelm France in a war of attrition. The phenomenal growth in trade allowed Britain to “sustain the enormous economic demands of prolonged high level mobilization, the support of allies, and the expansion of imperial control.” To defeat France, Britain relied on a maritime and military strategy of sea control, economic warfare, and a series of continental coalitions that allowed her to implement the traditional expeditionary strategic culture. The overall British strategy required thousands of skilled and experienced seaman and North Americans in royal service manned the king’s ships in great numbers.

Captain John Rodgaard, a retired U.S. Navy officer and noted naval historian, and the late Adam Charnaud analyzed the relationship between the United States and Britain following the Napoleonic Wars from the ultimate French defeat at Waterloo, Belgium in June, 1815 through the first few decades on the 19th century. They argue that “admiration, contempt, cooperation, hostility, respect and rivalry” all characterized the relationship, but that the foundations of the modern “special relationship” can be traced to the Nelsonian Era. In short, “shared values” characterized the relationship. Thus, North American sailors blended in with their British shipmates quite seamlessly. Given this dynamic, the nascent U.S. Navy essentially reflected the traditions and values of its model, the Royal Navy. For example, Rodgaard and Charnaud point out that officers in the emerging U.S. Navy read, absorbed, and internalized British maritime and naval literature and professional publications. The U.S. Navy of the early 19th century saw its missions the same as their British counterparts such as trade defense, scientific exploration, and concepts of “freedom, neutral rights, and self-determination.”

Doctor Christopher P. Magra, Professor of Early American History at the University of Tennessee, addresses the controversial and often misunderstood issue of impressment. He argues that American resentment at the impressment of U.S. citizens into the Royal Navy represented an economic dynamic. Impressment meant removal from the maritime free market and an assault on one’s freedom and liberty. While impressment in the Napoleonic period sought to return British deserters to duty after they “jumped ship” and signed on to American vessels, the reality in the age before accurate record-keeping meant that a number of actual American citizens were impressed, a major cause of the War of 1812 (1812-15). When impressment occurred, typically where a ship’s company suffered manning problems due to combat, disease, desertion or other causes, experienced merchant sailors represented the ideal target for the press gangs. Landsmen, called “lubbers,” would only be pressed out of desperation. Given this dynamic where a skilled sailor made more income working in the merchant fleets than in warships and where merchant ship owners and captains lost valuable men to the press, one can understand the hatred of the practice. To complicate the matter, the legislation from 1708 known as “The Sixth of Anne” prohibited impressment in the North American colonies; nonetheless, particularly after 1746, impressment in the colonies represented a constant threat. Americans viewed the practice as an assault on their liberty and free labor rights. Thus, impressment, never liked in Britain, was particularly reviled in America.

Captain Peter Hore, RN (Ret.) analyzes the extant records and deduced that 389 Americans and 54 Canadians fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in October, 1815. The Ayshford Trafalgar Role, as complied from ship’s records by Pam and Derek Ayshford, as well as The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815 published by Patrick Marioné, Jean-Marie Pāques, and N.A.M. Rodger (2003) provide a fairly precise picture of the number of North Americans in Nelson’s squadron at the battle that finally secured unchallenged British maritime domination for over a century. As to impressment, experienced seamen represented the majority of those sailors and marines with unskilled landsmen only about 10% of the total. Hore calculates that fleet wide, 3,200 Americans and 360 Canadians served at the time with between 20 and 45% as pressed men. Thus, North Americans represented a substantial percentage of the Royal Navy of 1805.

Having established the contextual framework of the maritime and naval picture, the relationship between Britain and America, the nature of impressment, and the relationship between the emerging U.S. Navy and Britain’s Royal Navy, the work turns to a series of biographical sketches as a case study analysis. The personalities range from men of the lower decks such as Ordinary Seaman William Cooper (Matthew Brenckle) to Admiral of the Fleet James, First Baron Gambier, GCB (John Hattendorf). One of the more fascination sketches is provided by Doctor John Hattendorf, Ernest J. King Professor Emeritus of Maritime History at the U.S. Naval War College, who looks at the Brenton family of Newport, Rhode Island. Seven Brentons, a prominent Rhode Island Loyalist family, served in His Majesty’s Navy ranking from Purser to Vice-Admiral. Interestingly, a major figure in the early American naval firmament, Captain Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia (Chipp Reid), served as a Royal Navy officer prior to the American War, a fact little known to most Americans.

The work is well-crafted, nicely structured, and highly readable. The sketches are based on a wealth of primary sources; however, the book avoids the all too frequent trap of alienating non-academics by over citing. Non-academic readers can grasp the key points without reading footnotes while historians and academics will find a substantial collection of relevant and useful primary sources. Audiences from naval history scholars to students to those just interested in the naval heritage of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain will find the book enjoyable and enlightening. The monograph is a worthy addition to the scholarship and understanding of a critical period in history as the modern era emerged with Britain’s vault to world domination of the maritime commons, the establishment of a maritime empire and her domination of the world’s trade in the post-Napoleonic era. That vault was powered, in great part, by the contributions of seamen from North America.

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BOOK REVIEW – Incidents at Sea: American Confrontations and Cooperation with Russia and China, 1945-2016

Winkler, David F., Incidents at Sea: American Confrontations and Cooperation with Russia and China, 1945-2016. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2017. 320 pp. 

Review by LT Anthony Rush, USN
Senior Instructor, Department of History, USAF Academy

In Incidents at Sea: American Confrontations and Cooperation with Russia and China, 1945-2016, David Winkler gives an overview of the political and maritime histories of the U.S. in relation to those of the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War and beyond. In particular, noting the title of his work, Winkler examines a multitude of incidents at sea – above in the air, below underwater and on the surface – that have critically impacted U.S. interaction with these two powers in recent history. Excepting the first chapter, in which Winkler uses an aggressive encounter between the Soviet and U.S. navies in 1972 to introduce the first diplomatic steps to establishing naval rules of interaction between the two fleets, Winkler takes a chronological approach to his work. Through the course of the book, each chapter delves into a certain period, starting with intensifying Soviet Union-U.S. relations coming out of WWII continuing into President’s Nixon policy of détente in the 1970’s, and eventually ending with modern incidents that occurred as recently as 2014. 

In his work, Winkler argues there is a common innate tie between mariners that transcends nationalities that would ultimately reduce the number of incidents that would occur between navies of different countries. But he does not neglect the formal diplomatic agreements that have been made between the nations. In particular, he focuses on the “Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Incidents on and over the High Seas” (INCSEA), examining its effect on the development of the naval relations between the U.S.S.R./Russia and the U.S. He does not diminish the role of INCSEA but does largely note the limitations of it when the respective U.S.S.R.-U.S. delegations became mired in disagreements over certain definitions and standardizations within the accord – all while mishaps were continuing to occur between the two powers. This is where Winkler nods his hat to the professional mariners and airmen at sea who transcended the political disputes of their respective nations and allowed for the safe navigation of the high seas permitted under international maritime law. 

Although the subtitle of the book does include “China,” there is little mention of China until the last chapter of the work titled “A Global Legacy.” But this may be intentional by the author in an attempt to follow Sir Michael Howard’s advice: to study military history in width, depth and context. Winkler goes into outstanding detail regarding the history of the U.S.S.R./Russia and the U.S. He certainly covers the depth of the strained relations between the U.S.S.R./Russia and the U.S., giving thorough accounts of several incidents at sea as well as comprehensive examinations of the political discussions between the two nations. However, by lacking substantial discussion of the relations between China and the U.S., Winkler is introducing the width of the subject matter. These precarious incidents at sea are not isolated events between the Soviet/Russian and American navies, but are seen between other navies as well, such as situations between the Chinese and the U.S. navies. Given the author’s timeline of examination – covering the Cold War and beyond – and since the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) did not see expansion from coastal defense operations to high sea operations until the 1990’s, it is appropriate that more of the book material was dedicated to the discussion of the Soviet/Russian-American relations, especially since the INCSEA can be seen as the foundation of modern naval interactions and protocols. In having a limited discussion of the China-U.S. story within this context of incidents on the high seas, the author is perhaps setting the stage for a future work or prompting other historians to dive further into this content as well. 

Winkler uses a wide range of sources in his work. For primary sources, he uses declassified naval documents, official government records, and interviews/mail correspondence with both delegation officials and military officers involved in many of the referenced incidents at sea. Books, dissertations, and newspaper articles are among the secondary sources he uses. Put all together, Winkler expertly uses the variety of sources to give his book authenticity and substantiality, including the use of a few periodicals from the Morskoy Sbornik, a Russian magazine on naval topics.

To help convey his argument, Winkler uses different approaches to express content in order to engage the reader in varied capacities. Pictures of ships in close quarter situations portray the danger sailors found themselves in; the exalting foreword by Senator John W. Warner (Ret.) gives the work a validated prelude as Senator Warner was the chief U.S. negotiator at the INCSEA summit talks. Winkler also uses examples from other nations, such as the “Cod War” between Iceland and the United Kingdom, to augment his discussion on how third party actors influenced these seemingly bilateral issues. The forty-five page chronology, listing events related to high sea incidents from 1945 to 2017, allows readers to see how frequent these incidents occurred, how expansive this topic is within the context of international diplomacy and how critical this topic is to the modern-day sailor. 

Incidents at Sea is intended for a wide audience from the scholar to the casual reader, but it is particularly for those who possess an interest in naval history. Its meticulous recounting of the political and military developments and consequences of INCSEA offers tremendous utility to those studying in the fields of diplomacy or national security.  As a naval officer who served for over four years in the western Pacific, I appreciate the history that Winkler details between the U.S. and the other maritime powers in the region; this book would serve as a useful resource for naval officers operating within this area of responsibility to understand the history of the conflicts with which they are currently dealing. Ultimately, this book is an excellent read for any individual with an interest in understanding the naval component of the intense tensions between the U.S. and other big world players, Russia and China. 

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BOOK REVIEW – From Sun Tzu to Hyperwar a Strategic Encyclopaedia

Lars Wedin, From Sun Tzu to Hyperwar a Strategic Encyclopaedia. Stockholm: The Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences 2019. 319 pp.

Review by Chuck Steele, PhD
International Journal of Naval History

Lars Wedin, an accomplished author on strategic studies and retired surface warfare officer of the Royal Swedish Navy, has composed a noteworthy encyclopedia of military thought and strategy that, in some regards, might also be considered a series of personal meditations on those subjects. Citing heightening tensions between great powers and other sources of global insecurities, Wedin seeks to address a growing need for better understanding the evolution and components of strategic thought. In this endeavor, he sets his objectives as defining key terms, while placing them in proper contexts, and facilitating “structured discussions and analysis.” (3) Quite often, the author achieves his objectives, yet, there are instances when the work is abstruse, and his tasks go unattained.    

Among its strengths, is that the book is sensibly structured and easy to use. The author has divided his focus into three distinct parts. The first portion of Wedin’s work is a very brief discussion of the evolution of Western military thought from antiquity to the modern era. The second and strongest section of the book is a succession of topical discussions, starting with command and control and ending with Swedish strategy in the Cold War. These topical considerations are the entries that are most in keeping with the expectations of an encyclopedia and the author’s intent to provide structured discussions of important subjects. The book culminates with a series of short biographies highlighting the achievements of some of history’s better-known strategic thinkers. Interestingly, the subjects in this last section are drawn exclusively from the ranks of land warfare and sea warfare theorists, as no space is given to the likes of air power proponents Guilo Douhet, Hugh Trenchard, and Billy Mitchell, although they are mentioned in other places.

The greatest strength of this book is that it gives readers from English speaking countries, with long histories of close cooperation and shared views on military and naval affairs, the opportunity to see how the evolution of military thought and strategy is viewed by someone outside the usual channels. Specifically, the author brings the unique outlook of a career naval professional from neutral Sweden to bear on summarizing the salient points in the development of strategic thought. Considering Sweden’s long-standing ability to protect its neutrality in a region teeming with historic and potential threats, it is not a perspective that should be casually dismissed. It is also worth noting that the author draws upon the works of French thinkers, and thus affords readers an opportunity to assess the influence of one more non-English speaking center of strategic thinking. (4)

Unfortunately, what this book offers as its great strength comes at a price exacted in patience. The book seems to lose something in transitioning from the mind of a Swedish naval officer to becoming a useful text for an English reading audience. The examples provided in the book are not always fully developed, and they can be inconsistent in quality. This problem is most acute in the book’s first section. In several instances, Wedin mentions theorists, commanders, or book titles without providing sufficient details to clarify their importance. Additionally, the book suffers from various editing issues. For instance, the first time Alfred Thayer Mahan is mentioned, he is called TH Mahan. (16) two pages later, he is correctly identified as AT Mahan. In some instances, historically significant characters are introduced merely with their last names. This issue is indicative of poor-quality control that makes reading unnecessarily challenging at times. In short, the book suffers from a lack of editorial oversite.

Balancing its strengths and weaknesses, and beyond its value as a window into Wedin’s world, the book could serve reasonably well as either a reference or a generator for discussions in a strategic studies seminar. The quality of editing hampers its value as a reference work, but it still contains much that is of value. As a rule, Wedin offers definitions and topics for discussion that illuminate many significant developments and concepts in strategic thinking. These topical explorations could serve as good entry points for broad discussions of the concepts, or Wedin’s emphasis on particular concepts. 

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BOOK REVIEW – Victory Without Peace: The United States Navy in European Waters, 1919-1924

William N. Still, Jr., Victory Without Peace: The United States Navy in European Waters, 1919-1924.Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018, 3922 pp.

Review by Joseph, Moretz, PhD

If a purpose of war is to secure a better peace, then it is remarkable how few studies take their accountings past the end of hostilities. This is true for the historiography of the First World War, no less than for the treatment of other conflicts. Much is this to be regretted. This is ever more the case for the First World War which proved to be such a watershed for what followed in its wake. William Still has this very much in mind in Victory Without Peace, the third volume in a series dedicated to reviewing the U.S. Navy’s experience in European Waters from the end of the American Civil War until 1929. The story presented is one that should be better known—to the public, yes—but more especially to current American naval officers as the challenges and constraints faced in the aftermath of the World War offer both lessons and warnings.  

During the war, the United States had fought as an ‘Associate Power’ against Germany and Austria-Hungary while never declaring against the Ottoman Empire. Thus, fundamental policy differences always separated the United States from its fellow co-belligerents. Somewhat masked and sidelined while operations were active, the close of hostilities brought contrarian views to the fore. Foremost, stood the American insistence on “Freedom of the Seas” as enshrined in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points. To a maritime empire such as Great Britain that precept might be thought only obvious. Yet, it promised to defang the Royal Navy, for even in 1918, after four years of war and a major continental commitment, Economic Warfare as practiced through contraband control and blockade remained the cornerstone of British naval power projection and its command of the seas. In Wilsonian eyes and, in the view of many American naval officers, that command frequently operated at the expense of neutrals. Certainly, it had operated against the United States. Pleading and goodwill aside, British naval practice would never yield to American arguments while it retained might on its side. Thus, the United States now reaffirmed its intention to build “A Navy Second to None.” 

In Paris as the victorious leaders gathered to thrash out the terms of peace to be imposed on the vanquished, argument amongst the Allies raged. United in defeating German militarism and little else, unsurprisingly, disagreements were many. This included the fate of Germany’s High Sea Fleet. Parsing its remaining ships to the victors was one possibility, if agreement could only be reached on a satisfactory scale of distribution. The problem, however, proved insoluble until the Germans solved it themselves. In truth, the scuttling of the High Sea Fleet proved the perfect answer as it took at least one intractable problem off the table. Many others remained. Making peace may have not been as bloody as making war, but for the U. S. Navy in European Waters it was proving bloody enough as they now swept the mine barrage so recently sown in the North Sea.

If the United States had entered the war only late and reluctantly, then it wasted little time in trying to rid itself of further efforts. Returning 2,000,000 “doughboys” from France was one immediate challenge facing the Navy—the more so as the shipping situation remained acute. The British, so willing to bring the American Expeditionary Force to Europe in 1917, now demanded hard cash to carry the same troops home. That rankled and the more so as Admiral William Benson, the Chief of Naval Operations, sought to ensure his sailors returned home first. That many were reservists offers a partial explanation. That the Navy desired to rebalance its forces to the Pacific remains another. Still, the greater reason remained even more obvious: The World War was over and with it the Navy’s mission in Europe. Alas, such a view was decidedly premature.

Though an Armistice had been reached, political turmoil in eastern Europe and the Near East continued. Even where actual fighting had ceased, the plight of humanity remained acute with hunger and despair ever present. Unsurprisingly and worthy of a nation that had actually prospered from the war, it remained for the United States to take the lead in the relief efforts that now followed  the magnitude of which represented “a second war, involving thousands of personnel, hundreds of ships, and logistical problems nearly as complex as that during the conflict.” If the humanitarian efforts of Herbert Hoover remain that part of the story typically recalled, the nation could take pride in the contribution of its Navy, no less than in its civil agencies. For the U.S. Navy in European Waters this was no mean achievement. Having few ships and fewer still of the appropriate type, delivering that support taxed it to the utmost. Whether securing the necessary wharfage to hold the tons of relief shipped, protecting those stores once landed from the unrest all about and then guaranteeing its subsequent distribution, the Navy remained the vital enabler. Yet, perhaps no task was more challenging to the Navy than maintaining the communications guard via a chain of destroyers that allowed all to proceed.

With empires collapsing and much of Europe prostrate, turmoil in the aftermath of the World War was perhaps only to be expected. In a sense, the defeat of Prussian militarism merely returned things to the status quo ante. Thus, the Balkans and Asia Minor remained kindling to be lit. If not of a scale being experienced elsewhere, America too seemed a land in turmoil. The debilitation of President Wilson medically via stroke and then politically after the Senate’s defeat of the Versailles Treaty saw the creation of political vacuum. In Europe, a succession of flag officers now served but ever so briefly in London, Paris or in the Adriatic. How much this owed to affairs in Washington and its import on the management of the U. S. Navy in European Waters might have been considered more fully by the author. 

Ironically, the constant shuffling of flag officers ceased where it mattered most to American interests in postwar Europe: Turkey. Here, Rear Admiral Mark Bristol served concurrently as High Commissioner and Commander, U. S. Naval Detachment in Turkish Waters between 1918-1927. His task, never an easy one given America’s non-belligerency towards the Ottoman Empire, required doses of firmness, patience and resolve to be displayed towards London, Paris and Rome, no less than to Constantinople (and after 1923, Ankara). That the American diplomatic position was a weak one explains Bristol’s lengthy tenure. 

This is a history thoroughly researched employing both domestic and foreign archival and secondary sources. Accompanied by a fine selection of photographs of the principal officers discussed, the conclusions reached are always balanced. This is a fine addition to the U. S. Naval Institute’s Studies in Naval History and Sea Power and the work is highly recommended to those attuned to the period, or to those simply desiring to know more about the Navy in the aftermath of the First World War. Most especially, it is recommended to those professionals who weigh force drawdowns in the aftermath of hostilities for as Still reminds us, “The peacetime Navy is rarely at peace.” All who read Victory Without Peace will be amply rewarded.

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BOOK REVIEW – Silver State Dreadnought: The Remarkable Story of Battleship Nevada

Stephen M. Younger, Silver State Dreadnought: The Remarkable Story of Battleship Nevada. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018. 320 pp.

Review by Maj Jason Naaktgeboren
Senior Instructor, Department of History, USAF Academy

In Silver State Dreadnought, Stephen M. Younger takes on the ambitious effort of telling the comprehensive history of what he argues was the first “superdreadnought,” the USS Nevada. At first glance describing the life of a single warship may not seem to be the most arduous endeavor, however most warships were not Nevada. From the laying of her keel in 1912 until her final demise in 1948, Nevada faithfully served for over three decades, survived two World Wars, and even a nuclear blast. In between she participated in WWI convoy duty in the Atlantic, survived the scrapyards in the interwar era and most notably the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor before serving admirably in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters of WWII. By the time the war had ended, Nevada found herself obsolete and in poor repair, yet still survived two atomic detonations before her irradiated hull was finally sent to the depths as a target ship 37 years after her contract was initially awarded. 

Younger’s exploration of Nevada’s history is truly in-depth, beginning with her contract and design phase, and following the progress of her construction and sea trials. One particularly interesting narrative woven into the book is that of Nevada’s sister ship, Oklahoma. While both vessels were of the same class and would frequently sail together, the two ships were significantly different both in terms of build and luck. Both ships were authorized by congress on March 4, 1911, however their fates quickly diverged as Nevada was fitted with the most advanced turbine engines of the day, while Oklahoma received a traditional reciprocating powerplant. Both, however, would be equipped with the revolutionary ‘all or nothing’ armor concept and would be the first oil-fired dreadnoughts which would vastly improve their cruising speed and range, an indicator of what planners expected the future of naval warfare to hold. Interestingly despite an impressive main armament of 10 14-inch guns and a secondary battery of 21 5-inch guns, only four guns were allocated for air defense.  

Younger’s history of the “Cheer Up Ship” is largely drawn from entries in the ship’s log and war diaries, and are rounded out with an assortment of additional primary sources, such as personal letters and diaries, newspaper articles, and official reports from various government agencies including the Bureau of Construction and Repair, the Bureau of Ordnance, and of course, the Department of the Navy. A robust collection of secondary sources adds additional depth and analysis to each of the chapters, especially those dedicated to the interwar period and World War II. Younger specifically set out to tell the story not only of the ship, but also that of her crew, without devolving into a monotonous cycle of new commanders, exercises and inspections. The result gives a fascinating insight into the daily life, uncertainty, and rigors of the U.S. Navy from the era just before World War I to the introduction of the atomic age following the Second World War as Nevada regularly shifted between Norfolk, Guantanamo Bay, Puget Sound and San Pedro, with Fleet Problem exercises in between.  

Occasionally Younger’s reliance on the ship’s log leads to some superficial analysis that results in portions of the book reading more as a stream of consciousness rather than a well-focused history. One such example is that of Seaman Effle, who in 1939 reportedly returned to the ship late for muster in civilian clothing and without a liberty card. His justification was that he had rescued a woman who jumped into the ocean, saving her from an attempted suicide (121). While an interesting anecdote, it seems rather out of place in a chapter otherwise dedicated to preparing for the coming war with Japan and offering no detail as to what became of Effle or the woman he rescued afterward. Similarly, Younger includes a photograph captioned “Fire at Guantanamo Bay, January 14, 1920,” yet never addresses such an incident in the text, but later goes into extensive detail regarding the menu for the ship’s Christmas dinner (53). Perhaps the weakest portion of Silver State Dreadnaught was Younger’s coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor, during which Nevada was famously the only American warship to get underway. He attempts to address this shortcoming by noting the day’s events left the logbook “jumbled a bit,” however with the wide availably of sources on the attack this portion certainly could have been more robust.  

Younger himself is not a historian by trade, but instead has an academic background in physics, having earned his PhD in that field from the University of Maryland in 1978.  He is currently a senior policy scholar for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars having published more than 70 papers in physics, public policy, and anthropology. For most of his career, however, Younger worked with nuclear weapons, both as a designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and later as the Senior Associate Director for National Security at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This background explains why the book’streatment of Operation Crossroads, the 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll, for which Nevada was to serve as ground zero for Able, a 23-kiloton bomb dropped from a B-29, is its strongest component. Nevada’s luck, which Younger chronicled throughout his work, held, as the bomb missed by over 2,000 feet. Days later, Nevada would also survive the Baker test, however the 23-kiloton subsurface blast left her so irradiated that she could not even be sold for scrap.   

Overall Younger achieves his goal and delivers an objective yet detailed account of one of America’s most famous warships without straying into minutia or getting bogged down with technical jargon. Academics and serious historians will likely find Dreadnought too light on analysis and strategic depth to be satisfied, however for those with a more casual interest in the evolving role of surface warfare during the World Wars or the early development and use of nuclear weapons will likely find this book an excellent addition to their personal library.  

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BOOK REVIEW – All the Factors of Victory: Adm. Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier Airpower

Thomas Wildenberg, All the Factors of Victory: Adm. Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier Airpower. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018, 266pp.

Review by Lt Col Matt Dietz, PhD 
Assistant Professor, Department of History, USAF Academy

A recent Naval History Magazine Article by Vincent O’Hara bestowed the title of “Greatest Naval War Ever Fought” on World War II. American aircraft carriers were the critical cog of Allied victory, especially in the Pacific. In his book All the Factors of Victory, Thomas Wildenberg gives credit for this achievement to Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves. Wildenberg argues, “Admiral Reeves did more to shape the future of US carrier aviation than any other flag officer before World War II.” He shaped the development of carrier doctrine and tactics, transforming the US Navy’s fledgling carrier fleet from novelty at the end of World War I to America’s premier offensive naval weapon by World War II.

An award winning independent naval historian, All the Factors of Victory is Wildenberg’s sixth book. A straightforward biography, the book opens with a brief review of Admiral Reeves’ formative years before quickly diving into his forty-nine years of naval service—beginning with his time as a midshipman at the US Naval Academy. While at the Naval Academy, Reeves showed his trademark tenacity and ingenuity, becoming the first collegiate football player to wear a helmet. Following his commission as an engineer, Reeves’ tenacity and ingenuity during the Spanish-American War earned him both praise and promotion. The trend continued throughout his career and he steadily rose through the Navy’s ranks, serving as an ordinance expert and Naval Academy instructor before eventually taking command of the American battleships Maine and North Dakota. Following his battleship commands, Reeves’ insightful and controversial Naval War College thesis on the future of battleships and naval aviation earned him command of the Navy’s fledgling combat aviation squadrons onboard the first American carrier, the USS Langley.

Although Reeves eventually rose to command the entire US Navy fleet in 1934, Wildenberg makes it clear, from the moment Reeves’ assumed command onboard the Langley in 1925, his professionalism, intellect, ingenuity, and tenacity forever changed the American carrier force. For four years, from 1925 to 1929, Reeves steadily shaped the American carrier fleet into a combat armada, capable of striking well beyond the reach of battleship navies. After reaching the pinnacle of naval command, Reeves retired from the Navy in 1936, only temporarily returning during World War II to administer the Lend-Lease agreements with Great Britain. While Reeves did not see combat during the war, his protégées, and the carrier fleet he shaped, certainly did. Wildenberg concludes Reeves’ leadership during the tumultuous interwar years created a bold, flexible, and innovate force able to decisively shape World War II.

All the Factors of Victory makes it clear, that while Reeves’ accomplishments as a pioneer of carrier operations were eventually overshadowed by the accomplishments of his creation, they stand as a testament to his character and capabilities. Further, the telling of Reeves’ story was long overdue. Wildenberg’s biography deftly filled that void. Well researched and annotated, the book reads briskly, and the concise prose are interesting and informative. Similarly, the pictures and illustrations add both a depth to Reeves and unique insights into US Naval traditions. The account of Reeves’ professional life leaves the reader wanting to know more about the man, but Wildenberg offers only passing references to the Admiral’s personal life, focusing primarily on his career during the 1920s. During that critical decade, Reeves’ foresight, professionalism, and dedication to building America’s carrier fleet left an indelible mark on both the US Navy and history. All the Factors of Victory is an excellent and worthwhile read for anyone interested in naval history, military history, and America’s rise as a world power between the two World Wars.

(Return to December 2020 Table of Contents)

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View From the Quarterdeck: Volume 15, Issue 1


We live in a world of change driven by technology and a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that medical scientists have not yet been able to curb.  There is much talk of quarantines of all sorts.  Perhaps that is a subtle reminder of the importance of a journal dedicated to encouraging academic scholarship in the field of international naval history.  The very word “quarantine” derives from the Venetian language quarantena, meaning forty days.  The term referred to the isolation imposed on ships arriving in Venice before passengers and crews were allowed to go ashore as a means of disease prevention for bubonic plague in the 14th-15th centuries.  Ultimately the Black Death wiped out an estimated 30% of Europe’s population. 

On 22 October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the word took on a different meaning when President John Kennedy ordered and enforced a naval “quarantine” to prevent delivery of offensive weapons in the form of missiles the Russians were sending to Cuba.  The intent was to distinguish his action from a blockade which legally would have assumed a state of war existed between between the two countries.  As the United States Navy recently re-learned with spread of the novel coronavirus on the carrier USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT while on deployment in the Western Pacific, medical quarantines are not yet part of history’s dustbin.    

Perhaps the hidden benefit of today’s pandemic is that technology of our Zoom era provides more effective tools for all of us to make more effective use of our quiet time for reading and reflection, not unlike an in port stand down before an upcoming deployment.  As a digital publication, we at the International Journal of Naval History hope to be more active in the coming months as part of the digital exploration of naval history which is open to us during this era.  As archives and documents become more readily available to scholars and writers worldwide, we have become increasingly aware of maritime and naval stories which deserve both telling and analysis.  A crucial part of our mission is to serve as an outlet for writing such as this, bringing openness and fresh scholarship to readers in the world of naval history.

In this issue we are reaching another long-sought goal of focusing on a particular topic; in this case the USS PUEBLO Crisis of 1968.  Here we take a somewhat unusual approach by offering two articles from independent scholar Bill Streifer.  Mr. Streifer contends that “both contain startling revelations.”  He says that according to Dr. Andrei Lankov, a Professor of History at Kookmin University in Seoul, a recognized authority on North Korea, the PUEBLO was “hidden” at some undisclosed location after the North Koreans seized the vessel in January of 1968.  He discusses U.S. efforts to locate the ship, where it was “hidden” for decades, and how U.S. reconnaissance discovered it (not by spy plane).   

The second article describes how, following the PUEBLO’s seizure, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee interviewed the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He asked why, despite the “availability” of aircraft in Japan, Guam, South Korea, and on an aircraft carrier, USS ENTERRISE, senior admirals did not send any warplanes to protect the PUEBLO.  In 1969, during the Navy’s Court of Inquiry, the Senator returned to review his questions and their answers. He was shocked to find that someone had cut out an answer with scissors. The clerk of the Congressional Record said he had not seen this in his 22-years’ experience. If it was classified, the clerk said it would have been marked “classified” with a giant “C” in red, not doctored/altered/destroyed.  Historians do not make this stuff up!

Finally, we continue our longstanding practice of encouraging and recognizing scholarship by junior members of the profession.  To this edition we have a fascinating documentary on the career of legendary CAPT Rosemary Mariner, USN, a pioneer woman Naval Aviator.  The documentary was written and produced by Jessie Henderson, of Cleveland, Tennessee, much of it based on original work with primary sources, including interviews with family members.

Jessie received the Kenneth Coskey Prize in Naval History in the Senior Division of the 2020 National History Day competition at the University of Maryland in College Park for her work.  The Naval Historical Foundation awards the prize.  Her mentor, Dr. Julie Mitchell, was honored as a Naval Historical Foundation national “Teacher of Distinction” for 2020.  The documentary also includes an extensive annotated bibliography useful for anyone studying the role of women in the U.S. Navy.

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

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

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The Pueblo Incident: Locating the “Hidden” Spy Ship

Pueblo is Shifted by North Koreans: The North Korean moved the captured United States intelligence ship Pueblo from the port of Wonsan to another place, State Department officials said today.” 1

New York Times (AP)
May 10, 1968

Bill Streifer
Freelance Journalist

January 23rd of this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Pueblo Incident. On that day in 1968, the naval and air forces of the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) attacked a U.S. Navy intelligence ship with 83 men onboard. When the captain of the ship, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, surrendered without firing a shot, he became the first U.S. sea commander to do so since 1807. 2  After eleven months of beatings, brutal interrogations, and forced confessions as prisoners of the North Koreans, the crew of the USS Pueblo crossed into freedom across the “Bridge of No Return” at Panmunjom (DMZ). The ship, however, remains on display in Pyongyang, North Korea in what CBS News recently described as a “North Korean propaganda prize.” 3

Giles Hewitt / AFP / Getty Images

In a 2013 photo, 4  North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is seen saluting outside of the USS Pueblo (the “Victorious Fatherland War Museum”) prior to a fireworks display marking the 60th anniversary of the July 27th Korean War armistice agreement.

The story of the Pueblo is well-known to everyone interested in Korean contemporary history and the international politics of the Cold War, says Dr. Andrei Lankov, a Professor of History at Kookmin University in Seoul. 5  Born in the Soviet Union and a graduate of Leningrad State University, Lankov is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on North Korea. 6  He also attended Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, 7  In his article on the Pueblo Incident, “The Pueblo as a North Korean Monument,” Lankov remarked how the Pueblo, the only U.S. Navy ship held captive by a foreign government, 8  was “now ranked among the greatest monuments found in Pyongyang.” 9  And in the article’s subsection titled, “A Ship Resurfaces,” Lankov mentioned how the North Koreans had “hidden” the Pueblo at some undisclosed location, before it surprisingly reappeared in Pyongyang decades later:

In 1995, the Pueblo, hitherto safely hidden (and perhaps disguised) at some naval base, reappeared in public. The ship was moved to the East Coast city of Wonsan, a place near to where it was captured. It was held there for a few years, but in 1999 it suddenly disappeared, only to reappear on the banks of the Taedong River, in downtown Pyongyang (in 2013 it was moved to its current location).” 10


Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, officers, and crew appear before the international press.

About two weeks after the crisis in North Korea began, the New York Times reported that the crew of the Pueblo were moved to a point near the South Korean border “apparently in preparation for their return to American hands,” 11  and how the men would “remain at Kaesong pending the outcome of negotiations.” 12  According to an informed official source, two Korean newspapers in Seoul 13  reported that the crew was presented to the North Korean public at a rally in Pyongyang on February 8th. 14  The date of this stunt—corresponding to the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Army—was clearly chosen for propaganda purposes. 15  The next day, the captive crewmen were transported by train from Pyongyang to Kaesong, a North Korean village six miles northwest of Panmunjom where negotiations for the release of the ship and crew had already begun. 16

Quoting an (optimistic) unidentified informant, the South Korean press reported that North Korea would return the body of the dead seaman and the wounded men “within a few days,” 17  Through neutral negotiations, the Americans were informed that one member of the crew was killed and three others injured, one seriously, during the ship’s capture. 18  It was later learned that Marine Sergeant Robert Chicca had a hole the size of a silver dollar in his upper thigh 19  and that Fireman Steven Woelk was seriously wounded in the lower abdomen. 20  Worst of all was Fireman Duane D. Hodges, the crewman who died, when a 57-mm shell from North Korean cannon fire caught him almost squarely in the groin, ripping his intestines open and partially severing his right leg. 21

About three months into the crisis in North Korea, Nicholas Katzenbach, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Attorney General, testified in executive session on the Pueblo Incident before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Senator J. William Fulbright, Chairman of the Committee, presiding. 22  Katzenbach began by saying he hadn’t prepared a statement. “That is fine. I prefer it that way,” Fulbright said. “Just give us a little rundown in the situation in Korea and then the situation with respect to the Pueblo…” 23  First, the Attorney General asked for a few minutes to discuss the general situation in Korea before the current crisis erupted. 24  “I do not mean to be alarming in any way,” Katzenbach said, “but I think it is a situation that does give concern.” 25

For the last year and a half, the North Korean line had been “very tough indeed in terms of their public statements.” 26  Beginning in October 1966, Kim Il-sung, the leader and founder of North Korea, talked about unification; he talked about revolution in South Korea; and he called for joint action against U.S. forces. 27  This was accompanied, Katzenbach said, by “similar statements on an increased level.” 28  As recently as April 24, 1968 (post-seizure of the USS Pueblo), Kim Jong-il (Kim Jong-un’s father), the First Vice Premier of North Korea, talked about “the huge job of completing the revolution” and uniting North and South Korea. 29  He also said “war might break out at any moment in Korea,” 30  and they were taking “full measures to crush the U.S. imperialists, and so forth,” 31  Katzenbach said.

With respect to the Pueblo, the Attorney General told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Americans had engaged in private discussions with the North Koreans, without the presence of others, at fifteen meetings over a period of time. 32  “They have not been accompanied with a great deal of diatribe,” Katzenbach said. “I suppose that part. at least initially, we took as encouragement. On the other hand, they have gotten really virtually nowhere.” 33  During all meetings, the North Koreans were adamant: “You won’t get the Pueblo back.” 34  And before the North Koreans would consider releasing the crew, Katzenbach said, the Americans would first have to apologize publicly for their espionage activities and unlawful mission, as well as for their multiple intrusions into what the North Koreans claimed was North Korean territorial waters, 35  crimes for which the North Koreans said several members of the Pueblo crew, including the captain of the ship, had already “confessed.” 36  They had not even gone so far as to say, “If you do this, you will get the crew back.” 37  Instead, they said, “You do that, and that is an essential precondition to get back the crew. You won’t get the vessel back in any event.” 38  By then, the Pueblo was no longer in the Wonsan area, fearing the Americans might try to drag the American spy ship out. North Korea’s concern was justified.

When the Pueblo Incident began, President Johnson considered a dozen or more “possible actions” he could take in response to the North Korean seizure of the U.S. Navy vessel. One [Action No. 4] called for a show of force led by the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. 39  Another [Action No. 3] involved a diplomatic demand coupled with a tug that could drag the Pueblo out, if necessary. 40  To add meaning and force to the diplomatic demand, the plan called for a flag ship to arrive “peacefully and unarmed” at Wonsan, where the U.S. Navy ship was seized. 41  The intent of Action No. 4 was to demonstrate to the world “our determination and emphasize our insistence on prompt return.” 42  Also strongly implied was that force would be used unless the ship was returned safely. 43

With these goals in mind, the plan called for a U.S. Navy sea-going tug to steam to Wonsan to accept the return of the captured ship and crew. 44  Meanwhile, a carrier task force “over the horizon” would be available just in case. 45  Although it was believed the Pueblo could proceed on its own power, the tug would be available to accept custody and tow if need be. 46  The use of a tug, rather than a warship, would “display determination, confidence, and peaceful intent.” 47  If the tug met hostile action, however, “quick word to task forces would provide support.” 48

RD3 John L. Perry, a radarman aboard the USS Truxtun (DLG 35), recalls the plan to pull the Pueblo out differently—neither peacefully nor unarmed. 49  According to Perry, the Truxtun, along with the Halsey, were ordered to escort the Enterprise to Korea in retaliation for the seizure of the Pueblo. 50  However, when the Enterprise and Truxton received orders to proceed to North Korea, they were more than 500 miles from Wonsan. 51  To make things worse, only 35 of the 59 fighter jet aircraft on board the Enterprise were operational. 52

When the Truxtun pulled out of Sasebo, Japan at around 9 o’clock that morning, it was heading south toward the Philippines. 53  Then, during evening chow, Perry recalled that the ship heeled over in a sharp, table-clearing 180-degree turn, as the voice on the 1MC [the ship’s primary public address system] informed the crew of the Truxtun that an unnamed U.S. Navy vessel was captured by the North Koreans, and “we were going to assist, if possible.” 54  Meanwhile, the Enterprise and its screening ships were ordered to reverse course in the East China Sea and to run northward to the Sea of Japan as the Truxtun headed north at flank speed (about 33 knots) with the Enterprise and Halsey trailing behind. 55  Unlike the Halsey, the nuclear-powered Truxtun was fast and didn’t require refueling by the Enterprise, so it pulled steadily ahead of the other ships. 56

At around 4am the next morning, Perry said they received orders to rig up towing cables, and to be ready to go into Wonsan Harbor during the daylight hours. 57  They were going to “shoot the place up, recapture the Pueblo, and tow it out of there, 58  Perry said. However, with only one 5-inch/54 caliber and two 3-inch/50-caliber anti-aircraft guns, and an aluminum superstructure and thin skin, Perry figured they had their work cut out for themselves if the Truxton was to get into a gunfight with North Korean shore batteries. 59

By 5am, the Truxtun had pulled up just south of Wonsan, and an hour later, two older WWII-vintage destroyers arrived on station and were given the towing assignment, which was set to begin at 8am. 60  But the plan was postponed until 9, and then 10. 61  Perry said the recovery effort was eventually called off, either because they felt the Pueblo was a lost cause; or because the crew of the Pueblo had already been taken off the ship; or because the secret material on board had already been compromised. 62


On March 18, 1965, John McCone, the new Director of Central Intelligence, discussed with Secretaries Robert McNamara and Cyrus Vance the increasing hazards to U-2’s and the drone reconnaissance of Communist China. 63  Four days later, Brigadier General Jack C. Ledford, Director of the Office of Special Activities, briefed Vance on the scheme which had been drawn up for operations in the Far East. 64  The project was called BLACK SHIELD. 65

Between January 1, 1968 and the end of March, fifteen CIA “BLACK SHIELD” reconnaissance missions were alerted (scheduled) for flights over Communist targets. 66  The mission vehicle was the Lockheed A-12 “Archangel,” capable of photographing targets on the ground from an elevation of 10,000 feet and Mach 3.5 (three and a half times the speed of sound). Of the six missions actually flown, four were over North Vietnam and two were over North Korea. 67  Eight of the others were cancelled due to the weather, and the approval of one, for a flight over Korea, wasn’t obtained. 68

To determine the Pueblo’s current location, BLACK SHIELD Mission BX-6847 was flown over Wonsan on January 26; that was three days after the seizure of the Pueblo and one day after approval was granted for this reconnaissance flight. 69  The pilot’s name was Jack W. Weeks. His A-12 mission over North Korea was tracked by radars of the Chinese Air Defense System 70  and by Soviet air defense radars for about five minutes. 71  [The mission’s 3-pass flight path is seen in Appendix I] A photograph taken during this mission (See below) shows the Pueblo at anchor in Wonsan Bay. 72  The CIA said this mission demonstrated the BLACK SHIELD program’s ability to react rapidly.

In addition to the immediate task of locating the Pueblo, these A-12 flights also photographed North Korean industrial and transportation systems. 73  The mission also provided an updated order of battle for North Korea 74  (military units, formations, and equipment). During BLACK SHIELD Mission BX-6847, for example, the A-12 photographed dozens of North Korean COMIREX [Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation] targets and 837 bonus targets. 75  In addition to the Pueblo, three new guided missile patrol boats were observed. 76

A second BLACK SHIELD mission was flown on February 19, 1968. The CIA spy pilot’s name was Frank Murray. 77  During Murray’s Mission BX-6853, 84 North Korean COMIREX targets and 89 bonus targets were photographed, 78  and in the vicinity of Wonsan, one new occupied Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile site was identified. 79  [The mission’s 2-pass flight path is seen in Appendix II]

Frank Murray “Dutch 20” sitting in the cockpit of his A-12

In terms of this mission’s ability to photograph the Pueblo, however, it was hardly as successful as the first. Scattered clouds covered 20 percent of the area photographed, concealing the area where the Pueblo had been photographed previously. 80  Was the Pueblo “hidden,” just as Dr. Lankov said, or was it merely hidden from view due to excessive cloud cover? 81  All the CIA knew at the time—nearly a month after the Pueblo Incident began—was that the Pueblo had “reportedly” been relocated. 82

Two days later, in a top secret memorandum addressed to Richard Helms, the Director of Central Intelligence, with the subject line: “Location of the Pueblo,” Dr. William A. Tidwell, 83  the Chairman of COMIREX, 84  floated the idea of adding A-12 flights over North Korea. 85  “As a result of the last BLACK SHIELD mission,” Tidwell wrote, “it seems clear that we do not know the location of the Pueblo.” 86  Since COMIREX wasn’t scheduled to obtain assistance from satellite reconnaissance for the purpose of finding the Pueblo, 87  if the location of the Pueblo was “of critical importance in U.S. policy decisions during the next month,” Tidwell suggested that “the only feasible way of searching for its present location would appear to be to employ the OXCART” (code name for the A-12). 88  Tidwell’s memo concluded as follows: “We will be prepared to provide coordinated requirements as rapidly as possible if you decide at any point that the location of the Pueblo is of such importance as to justify another OXCART mission.” 89

Between April 1 and June 9, 1968, only two BLACK SHIELD missions were alerted, both for flights over North Korea. The first, BX-6857, scheduled for April 27, was cancelled. 90  The other, BX-6858 (scheduled for May 5th), was flown on May 8th. 91  The pilot’s name was Jack Layton. [The mission’s 2-pass flight path is seen in Appendix III] Hampered by clouds and heavy haze, this third and final OXCART mission over North Korea revealed no significant changes in North Korean military posture or disposition, 92  and coverage of the DMZ, transportation, and infiltration routes disclosed no significant troop build-up of logistic movements. 93     During the mission, 68 COMIREX targets plus 30 bonus targets were photographed, 94  fifteen of which were SA2 surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites. 95  Also identified was a possible Soviet-made SAMLET coastal defense cruise missile site, located between Wonsan and Hamhung. 96

Unfortunately, overcast conditions severely hampered the interpretability of mission photography. 97  A report on BLACK SHIELD reconnaissance missions by the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, stated: “Existing weather conditions in the target area did not permit the photographing of the USS Pueblo,” 98  nor was there any indication of a hostile weapons reaction. 99  Air surveillance tracking was accomplished by elements of the Chinese Air Defense System (ADS), but there was no indication of tracking by either North Korean or Soviet ADS. 100  Apparently, neither the North Koreans nor the Soviets paid much attention to this May 8, 1968 mission over Wonsan. Two questions remain: Had the North Koreans already moved the Pueblo out of harm’s way and where was the Pueblo now?



Winthrop G. Brown

A few days after the conclusion of the third and final BLACK SHIELD mission, the press reported for the first time that the Pueblo was no longer in Wonsan Harbor. In “Koreans Move Pueblo,” the Washington Post said that the State Department confirmed that the North Koreans had moved the USS Pueblo from where it was seized back in January. 101  The officials who provided this information declined to provide further details except to say that the vessel was moved without its American crew. 102  At the time. the U.S. had repeatedly called on North Korea to return the Pueblo and its men without result. 103  According to the New York Times, the surviving crewmen were still being held, possibly in several places. 104

The Washington Post further reported that it was Winthrop G. Brown, a former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea and currently a special assistant to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who had disclosed—during a closed session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee—that the Pueblo had been moved. 105  State Department Officials would only confirm Brown’s testimony, declining to provide any further details publically 106  Some members of the Committee, however, thought the Pueblo might have been taken to the North Korean city of Chongjin which the Washington Post said was “nearer the Soviet border.” 107  Joseph C. Goulden of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Washington Bureau provided another clue. In “Spy Satellite Spots Removal of USS Pueblo,” Goulden said that photos showing the Pueblo was no longer at the berth she occupied ever since her capture were taken by “one of the satellites that make regular sweeps over the Asian mainland.” 108

What the Government knew all along, but failed to disclose to the public, was that a GAMBIT 3 high-resolution photoreconnaissance satellite 109  had spotted the Pueblo in the waters off Vladivostok (USSR) at least a month earlier. On April 24, Dr. John S. Foster, Jr., an American physicist who had served as the Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, testified in closed session before the Senate Subcommittee on Military Preparedness. 110  As Director of Defense Research and Engineering who managed the Defense Department’s $8 billion research and development budget, U.S. Senator John C. Stennis said Dr. Foster played a “key role in the policy decisions which determine the quality of our nuclear strategic arsenal.” 111

In his opening statement (prepared by Dr. John Kirk, Assistant Director for Space Technology, on the April 12th), Dr. Foster said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss U.S. strategic nuclear policy and capabilities, and that his lengthy written statement, which he presented to the Senate Subcommittee, would cover three areas. 112  First, the general strategic situation for the next few years and U.S. national security objectives. 113  Second, our nation’s research and development philosophy and the guidelines for managing R&D on strategic programs. 114  And lastly, Foster said he would review for the Senate several major weapons systems issues, including a new missile, an advanced bomber, an air defense interceptor, and missile defense. 115

Dr. Foster also explained how, by means of the higher resolution of 12-18 inches, 116  the KH-8, or Keyhole, satellite was “used to provide engineering details which allow us to ‘Baseline’ equipment and probable usage of thousands of specific national targets within the Soviet Union and China.” 117  First launched in 1966, the GAMBIT 3 118  (KH-8) satellite camera system 119  provided the U.S. with an “exquisite surveillance capabilities from space.” 120  The GAMBIT, along with the U-2, A-12, and other air and space platforms, propelled the United States into an unparalleled position of dominance in photoreconnaissance capabilities, which the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) said helped the U.S. win the Cold War. 121

Among the targets Dr. Foster mentioned during his testimony included missile silos (starts and types), nuclear storage sites and facility changes, Chinese nuclear test build-up, and underground nuclear test craters in the USSR. 122  He also revealed that a KH-8 camera had “located USS Pueblo in North Korea about 19 miles south of Vladivostok…” 123  After learning of this information, Frank Murphy, the CIA spy pilot who flew his A-12 over Wonsan, North Korea in February 1968, wrote, “I did not know that Pueblo was moved to a place near Vladivostok.” 124

Following the North Korean seizure of the Pueblo, Soviet experts grabbed encryption machines and the top secret documents on board. So by the time the North Koreans moved this U.S. Navy spy ship up the coast, it was of no further value to the Soviet Union. Why, then, did the North Koreans elect to send the ship into the waters off Vladivostok, the main naval base of the Soviet Far East? This remains one of the unanswered questions surrounding the Pueblo Incident.

Appendix I
(Mission BX-6847 Flight Path — January 26, 1968)

Appendix II
(Mission BX-6853 Flight Path— February 19, 1968)

Appendix III
(Mission BX-6858 Flight Path — May 5, 1968)


  1. Pueblo is Shifted by North Koreans,” New York Times, May 10, 1968, p. 5.
  2. Cheevers, Jack, “The Pueblo Scapegoat,” Navy History Magazine, Vol. 28, No, 5, Oct. 2014.
  3. “USS Pueblo Displayed as North Korean Propaganda Prize,” CBS News, Pyongyang, North Korea: Jan. 25, 2018;
  4. In 2016, the photographer, Giles Hewitt (a British national born in India), was named Asia-Pacific editor of L’Agence France-Presse (AFP). Four years earlier, Hewitt became AFP’s Seoul bureau chief whose responsibilities included covering news out of North Korea where AFP recently became one of the few foreign media outlets to open a news bureau; afp-1
  5. Lankov, Andrei. “The Pueblo as a North Korean Monument,”, Nov. 3, 2014.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “USS Pueblo Displayed as North Korean Propaganda Prize,” CBS/AP, Jan. 25, 2018.
  9. Lankov, Andrei. “The Pueblo as a North Korean Monument,”, Nov. 3, 2014.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Trumbull, Robert, “Crew Moved, Papers Say,” New York Times, Feb. 10, 1968, p.12.
  12. Ibid.
  13. The Dalhan Ilbo and the Shin-a Ilbo.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. “On Watch: Profiles from the National Security Agency’s Past 40 Years,” Top Secret (classified by multiple sources), 1984 (approved for release by NSA on Sept. 10, 2007), p. 72.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. “Briefing on Site Negotiations and the Pueblo Incident,” U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, May 1, 1968 (The briefing began at 4:05pm), p. 473.
  23. “Briefing…,” p. 473.
  24. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  25. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  26. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  27. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  28. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  29. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  30. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  31. “Briefing…,” p. 487.
  32. “Briefing…,” p. 489.
  33. “Briefing…,” p. 489.
  34. “Briefing…,” p. 489.
  35. “Briefing…,” p. 489.
  36. “Briefing…,” p. 489.
  37. “Briefing…,” p. 489.
  38. “Briefing…,” p. 489.
  39. “Index of Possible Actions.” Undated. Top Secret. 35 pp. Source: National Archives, RG 218, Records of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Records of Chairman (Gen.) Earle G. Wheeler, 1964-1970, box 29, tab 449. 
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Ibid.
  49. RD3 John L. Perry; (blog), Feb. 5 2000.
  50. Also sent were battleships and two additional aircraft carriers, as part of a task group code-named “FORMATION STAR.” The Joint Chiefs also recommended that nine submarines be sent to support reconnaissance and potential attack missions. [Mobley, Richard, Flash Point North Korea: The Pueblo and EC-121 Crisis, Naval Institute Press, 2003
  51. Michishita, Narushige. Calculated Adventurism: North Korea’s Military-Diplomatic Campaigns, 1966-2000, Johns Hopkins University, 2003, p. 307.
  52. Ibid.
  53. John L. Perry, blog, Feb. 5, 2000.
  54. Ibid.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Ibid.
  61. Ibid.
  62. Ibid.
  64. Ibid.
  65. Ibid.
  66. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 January – 31 March 1968,” DST-BS/BYE/68-2, CIA, Directorate of Science and Technology, Top Secret, Apr. 20, 1968; approved for release, Aug. 2007, p. 1; after an MDR appeal, redactions were removed by ISCAP on Sept, 19, 2016.
  67. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 January – 31 March 1968,” p. 1.
  68. Ibid.
  69. Ibid.
  70. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 2.
  71. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 2.
  72. This image is a collage of photos taken from declassified CIA documents; Streifer, Bill. “Anything Could Happen: Newly Declassified CIA Documents Tell an Entirely Different North Korea ‘Pueblo Incident’,” North Korean Review 12(2), Oct. 2016.
  73. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 1.
  74. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 1.
  75. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 8.
  76. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 8.
  77. The author interviewed Frank Murray in February 2018.
  78. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 11.
  79. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 11.
  80. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 11.
  81. “BLACK SHIELD…March 1968,” p. 11.
  82. “Implications of Reported Relocation of USS Pueblo,” CIA Intelligence Information Cable, February 12, 1968, Declassified Documents Reference System, doc. no. CK3100137943.
  83. Typically, the Chairman’s name is redacted from top secret CIA documents, but not from the following top secret NRO document: “Program for Planning the Exploitation of Reconnaissance Imagery,” memorandum for COMIREX, Sept.25,1968 (Approved for release by the NRO on July 1, 2015). Dr. Tidwell. Years earlier, Dr. Tidwell also played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  84. “Location of the Pueblo,” memorandum the Chairman, Committee on Imagery requirements and Exploitation, to the Director of Central Intelligence, Feb. 21, 1968.
  85. Ibid.
  86. Ibid
  87. Ibid
  88. Ibid
  89. Ibid
  90. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June” (Appendix I), p. 5.
  91. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 1.
  92. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 1.
  93. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 1.
  94. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 2.
  95. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 2.
  96. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 2.
  97. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 2.
  98. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 2.
  99. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 2.
  100. “BLACK SHIELD Reconnaissance Missions, 1 April – 9 June ,” p. 2.
  101. “Koreans Move Pueblo,” Washington Post, May 10, 1968, p. A-23.
  102. “Pueblo is Shifted by North Koreans” (AP), New York Times, May 10, 1968, p. 5.
  103. Ibid.
  104. Ibid.
  105. “Koreans Move Pueblo,” Washington Post, May 10, 1968, p. A-23.
  106. Goulden, Joseph C. “Spy Satellite Spots Removal of USS Pueblo,” Philadelphia Enquirer, Inquirer Washington Branch, May 10, 1968, pp. 2-3.
  107. “Koreans Move Pueblo,” Washington Post, May 10, 1968, p. A-23.
  108. Goulden, Joseph C. “Spy Satellite Spots Removal of USS Pueblo,” Philadelphia Enquirer, Inquirer Washington Branch, May 10, 1968, pp. 2-3.
  109. This high-resolution illustration of a GAMBIT 3 satellite was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the NRO [F-2018-00050
  110. “Intelligence Information for Dr. Foster’s Appearance Before the Senate Subcommittee on Military Preparedness” (opening statement by Dr. John Kirk), Apr. 11, 1968 (Approved for release by the NRO on July 1, 2015), 5 pgs.
  111. “Status of U.S. Strategic Power,” U.S. Senate, Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, Wednesday, Apr. 24, 1968, p. 45-46.
  112. “Status of U.S. Strategic Power,” U.S. Senate, Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, Wednesday, Apr. 24, 1968, p. 45-46.
  113. Ibid.
  114. Ibid.
  115. Ibid.
  116. “Intelligence Information for Dr. Foster’s Appearance Before the Senate Subcommittee on Military Preparedness,” Approved for release on Feb. 21, 2018.
  117. “Intelligence Information for Dr. Foster’s Appearance Before the Senate Subcommittee on Military Preparedness” (opening statement by Dr. John Kirk), Apr. 11, 1968 (Approved for release by the NRO on July 1, 2015), 5 pgs.
  118. The photo of the GAMBIT 3 satellite was obtained from the NRO through a FOIA request on February 13, 2018.
  119. SPECS: 28.6 feet long, 5-feet in diameter with a focal length of 175 inches
  121. Clausen, Ingard & Miller, Edward A Miller, “Intelligence Revolution 1960: Retrieving the Corona Imagery that Helped Win the Cold War,” Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance, April 2012.
  122. “Intelligence Information for Dr. Foster’s Appearance Before the Senate Subcommittee on Military Preparedness” (opening statement by Dr. John Kirk), Apr. 11, 1968 (Approved for release by the NRO on July 1, 2015), 5 pgs.
  123. Though declassified in 2015, portions of Dr. Foster’s testimony remains heavily redacted; “Intelligence Information for Dr. Foster’s Appearance Before the Senate Subcommittee on Military Preparedness” (opening statement by Dr. John Kirk), Apr. 11, 1968 (Approved for release by the NRO on July 1, 2015), 5 pgs.
  124. Frank Murray, Feb.18, 2018.

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