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.

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