View from the Quarterdeck: December 2020


Like the grey-bearded sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” first published in 1798, the world today appears driven south by an il wind of the coronavirus into the icy waters of an ever-widening COVID-19 pandemic.  Writing just after the American election of November 2020, perhaps we are about to be delivered from this fearful, solitary voyage by an albatross in the form of a new vaccine, but yet may still have some “weary times” ahead of us before returning to a safe harbor.  As the poet wrote:

Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean. Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.

Some scholars believe Captain James Cook’s second voyage of exploration to the South Seas and the Pacific Ocean (1771-1775) was the poem’s inspiration.  The young Coleridge’s tutor, William Wales, after all, was an astronomer on Cook’s flagship.  Facing challenging conditions, Cook crossed the Antarctic Circle three times on this voyage.  Few, if any, of us have accomplished that feat.

However, in our troubling voyage, we have more advanced technology than our 18th-century seagoing cousins to help guide us through difficult days.  As Assistant Editor for Archives, Dara Baker, reminds us in her fascinating account, we have no choice but to rethink and retool how we go about practicing our profession as historians.  The isolation imposed by the pandemic has caused us to face the reality of new ways of completing historical research to unlock the past.

Ms. Baker observes that we are facing the challenge of having to adapt to “a new way to do research, online and distant’ from the musty archives and libraries we have all come to love.   But this somewhat isolated and digital era is also full of new opportunities to expand interest in naval history as Book Review Editor Chuck Steele reminds us in his description of the International Journal of Naval History Facebook Page.  Admiral Sonny Masso at the Naval Historical Foundation initiated a series of special historical webinars with his “Second Saturday” series.  These discussions bring together notable scholars and practitioners’ on panels to discuss topics of great interest to naval historians and buffs alike.  Examples include President Teddy Roosevelt’s Naval War of 1812 (written when the future president was only 23) and another on a comparison of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower to Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey of Master and Commander. Here at IJNH, we can bring our readers in digital format the traditional academic journal style using all of this new technology.

In this robust issue, we open with an article from the age of battleships by Dr. Stanley Carpenter, Professor Emeritus at the U.S. Naval War College, and Historian General of the Naval Order of the United States.  Dr. Carpenter broadens our understanding of 19th and early 20th-century European naval history with his article on the Austro-Hungarian Navy’s rise and fall.  He reminds us that Germany, Great Britain, and the United States were not the only powers involved in naval arms races during the Dreadnought era.   Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a strong proponent of Austro-Hungarian navalism, and by 1914 Austria Hungary possessed a nascent blue-water Navy.  However, during World War I, that fleet was “singularly ineffective” for various reasons and turned out to be what Professor Carpenter calls a “wasted asset.” With the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the fleet ceased to exist.

Dr. Ulrilch van der Heyden also examines The Great War at sea with an exciting account of a British hospital ship sinking by a German U-boat.   This story continues, however, for another twenty-five years.  Dr. van der Hayden recounts how this incident had a complicated aftermath with ramifications that reach into the Second World War and Hitler’s submarine forces. In the Baltic.  Stepping back into the age of sail, CAPT John Rodgaard and Dr. Judy Pearson draw upon the recently published book  North American’s in Nelson’s Navy to point to the British Fleet’s international flavor and how those ships changed the course of world history at Trafalgar. 

We also include in this issue two articles about World War II, one drawn from an American perspective, the other Japanese.  Major Michael Anderson, a student at the USMC Command and Staff College, suggests in his piece on Kamikazes that the familiar image of Japanese zeroes crashing onto the decks of destroyers at Okinawa is too narrow.  He reminds us that Germany resorted to similar tactics towards the end of the war.  Also, there were other types of kamikazes, such as mini-subs or kaiten in the naval environment.

With her article “Neptune’s Commandments,” Heather Haley of Auburn University focuses on the experiences of a significant cohort of enlisted personnel from the USS ALABAMA (BB-60) as an example of how ships can form what she describes as an “imagined community.”  Her scholarship features oral histories from the ship’s veterans, highlighting enlisted personnel’s voices, all too often overlooked.  Her account is a fresh departure from the traditional officer-heavy narratives of the U.S. Navy. 

Part of this journal’s mission is to encourage and recognize scholarship by junior members of the historical profession.  Consequently, we include in this issue the first place paper from the 2020 Voices of Maritime History Competition at the U.S. Naval Academy written by MDN Joseph P. Bunyard (now ENS, USN.)   His article describes the historical precedent of Britain’s Chain Home Radar (the Dowding system) in World War II during the Battle of Britain to reinforce the importance of network survivability in current naval operations. 

And so, colleagues, as usual, we have much to share.  I welcome your comments and suggestions, but most of all, solicit potential articles for future issues.  There is much to learn from one another with such dialog, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic era.

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

(Go to December 2020 Table of Contents)

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