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Naval Historical Foundation   

25 March  2011

In This Issue:
Correction: Submarine History Seminar Location
To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940
Manila and Santiago: The New Steel Navy in the Spanish-American War
Passport Not Required: U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941
Books Currently Available for Review
Correction: Submarine History Seminar Location

 

CORRECTION: The site of the 14 APRIL Submarine History Seminar reported in the last WE-PULL TOGETHER is the National War College (not Naval War College).  For information and registration please visit The Naval Submarine League website


To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940

by Albert A. Nofi, Naval War College Press. Newport, RI (2010)

 

Reviewed by Corbin Williamson

 

            Albert Nofi's To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 adds to the growing literature on the interwar United States Navy with a discussion of the organization and course of fleet problems. Nofi is an accomplished naval historian who worked in public education in New York while designing war games before moving to the Center for Naval Analyses as a research analyst. Nofi completed his doctorate in military history at City University of New York and has since retired. He argues that the previous monograph on the fleet problems, Testing American Sea Power, was focused on the relationship between the problems and technological innovation and change.[1]To Train the Fleet for War provides comprehensive coverage of the fleet problems by setting them in the context of the Second World War. The account is based on the records of the fleet problems held at the Naval War College as well as secondary works on the interwar U.S. Navy. Nofi concludes that through the fleet problems the U.S. Navy came to understand future combat operations "in terms of surface, undersea, and marine forces integrated into a combined arms "naval force" (xxvi) and "learned to fight World War II" (321).

 

            The work is divided into three parts with multiple chapters in each part. Part I includes a description of the state of the Navy during the interwar period and the structure and background of the fleet problems. Nofi emphasizes that the fleet was composed of a mix of new, recently modernized, and older vessels manned by a small, high quality base of enlisted personnel and officers. The fleet problems themselves are described as "systematic free play battle exercises" that were designed to provide realistic training for the fleet as a whole and commanders in particular. In some form or fashion, the fleet problems all examined some aspect of War Plan Orange, the U.S. Navy's plan for war with Japan.

 

            For each problem, the fleet would be divided into two or more not necessarily equal groups, with each group assigned a color such as black, blue, white, orange, or grey. The commander of each group would be given a mission and would produce his plan for completing said mission several weeks or months in advance of the problem. Each group sought to complete its objective in the face of opposition from the other group. Attacks by gunfire, aircraft, torpedoes, and submarines were simulated and damage was accrued to ships and aircraft based on scoring rules interpreted by umpires, themselves naval officers. The rules governing damage and accuracy were not always borne out by experience in World War II, but did provide a level playing field and were often updated. After the problem was concluded, an open review and critique of the problem was held in front of the officers who had participated in the problem. Nofi argues that these reviews were frank and honest, a quality he sees as critical for the improvement of the interwar Navy.

 

            The bulk of the work consists of descriptions of each fleet problem, including the background, plans, course, result, and conclusions for each problem. In addition, many of the problems were preceded or followed by exercises that are also described in detail. Nofi highlights the perception and use of naval aviation in each problem as well as developments in other aspects of naval warfare. He emphasizes the influence of tight, interwar budgets on the problems that affected the use of dummy torpedoes, safety rules about operating aircraft, and speed restrictions to limit fuel consumption.

 

            The conclusion draws together themes identified in passing throughout the work, resulting in a very readable monograph. Nofi identifies several patterns in the problems: they all tested aspects of War Plan Orange; when other services were involved their involvement was inter-service, not joint; and over time the problems became longer, more secretive, and involved a greater percentage of major fleet units. He states that "despite all the experimentation with aircraft and aircraft carriers, submarines, amphibious operations, and underway refueling, from first to last the main concern of the fleet problems was the battleship and how best to employ it" (287). At the same time, Nofi sees the most significant advance coming out of the fleet problems as the creation of the carrier task force and an initial understanding of its proper employment. He ends the work by noting lessons that modern militaries can draw from the fleet problems, such as the importance of allowing technical innovations to reach maturity before passing judgment and the need for openness, flexibility, and frankness in exercise reviews.

 

            To Train the Fleet For War should become the standard work on the Navy's fleet problems for the foreseeable future.



[1] Felker, Craig C. Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923-1940. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2007.

 

 

Corbin Williamson is a master's student in history at Texas Tech University, focusing on 20th century military and naval history. His thesis will examine cooperation between the Royal Navy and the US Navy in 1941, specifically the repairs performed on British warships in US shipyards.

Manila and Santiago: The New Steel Navy in the Spanish-American War   

by Jim Leeke, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2009).

 

Reviewed by JJ Ahern

 

Theodore Roosevelt referred to the Spanish-American War as a "splendid little war."  It is the shortest declared war in United States history - lasting only four months - and catapulted the nation to colonial power with the acquisition of territories in the West Indies and Pacific Ocean.  It also put the U. S. Navy in the spotlight following decades of neglect.  With two stunning victories over an aging Spanish Navy, the theories of those who supported a strong navy were proven to the nation.   

 

In Manila and Santiago: The New Steel Navy and the Spanish-American War, Jim Leeke looks at the principle participants and events in U. S. naval history leading up to the two battles and the effects of their outcome.  Leeke organizes his work into three parts: Part One: Thirty-Three Years (1865-1898), Part Two: Manila, and Part Three: Santiago.  In the first part, we are introduced to two of the leading naval officers at the battle of Fort Fisher in 1865: George Dewey as a young lieutenant in USS Colorado, and Robley Dunglison Evans serving in USS Powhatan.  From there Leeke charts the careers of Dewey, and Evans through the post-Civil War Navy; the state of the Navy, and the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana.  In all cases, the reader comes away with a solid, if brief, introduction to the state of the fleet and the life of the two men who would prominently lead the ships into battle in 1898.  

 

In Part Two, we follow Dewey as he is named commander of the Asiatic Squadron (with help from Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt), and introduced to the ships and officers of the force he commands.  Leeke provides the reader with a solid picture of the Spanish Fleet and its officers at Manila, and compares them with U.S. and European navies.  While today the outcome of the war seems obvious, at the time there were those who thought that Spain might defeat the United States.  As Leeke notes, "The American star was ascending, while that of the Spanish was clearly in decline - although just how precipitously wasn't apparent to most observers" (47)."  Through the rest of the chapters, the author provides a sound narrative of events, with commentary from both American and Spanish participants.   

 

The final part of the book shifts to the Atlantic Ocean, and events around Cuba.  Again, Leeke nicely describes both the American and Spanish participates in the coming battle at Santiago.  The reader is given an account of political events in both the U. S. and Spain, in addition to the movement and state of both commanders.  In particular the reader sees the commander of the Spanish fleet, Admiral Don Pascual Cervera y Topete, more as a noble tragic figure and less as an enemy.  Leeke also provides a nice balance in describing the relationship (or lack there of) between Evans, Commodore Winfield Scott Schley, and Admiral William T. Sampson.  The description of the Battle of Santiago is a well written narrative, with voices from both fleets, and a review of the aftermath of the engagement.   

 

From a scholarly viewpoint, Manila and Santiago does not break any new ground in the interpretation of the U.S. Navy in the Spanish-American War.  All of the sources that Leeke consults are published primary and secondary works - in particular the autobiographies of Dewey, Evans, and Schley.  Though this does not detract from the value of the work, Leeke excels at weaving together the naval, social, and political aspects of the War together.  Anyone looking for a well written, concise narrative of the naval aspects of the Spanish-American War will be more then pleased by Manila and Santiago. 


 

Joseph-James Ahern, senior archivist at the University Archives and Records Center of the University of Pennsylvania, specializes in U.S. naval and military history and the history of technology.

Passport Not Required: U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941    

by Eric Dietrich-Berryman, Charlotte Hammond, and R. E. White, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2010)

 

Reviewed by Captain Roger F. Jones, U.S. Navy (Retired.)

          

This book describes how twenty-two relatively unknown Americans initially fought beside the British by serving in the Royal Navy during the early years of World War II.  During this period, the United States remained a neutral county, although Nazi Germany had already either annexed or conquered Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France, with the subjugation of Great Britain as its next objective.  It is a remarkable story of idealism and bravery that one seldom reads about in a military-adverse press today.  To a large degree, these volunteers followed in the footsteps of those Americans who fought in World War I with the French and British, before the U.S. jettisoned neutrality and joined the Allies against Imperial Germany.

 

While each volunteer had unique background and experience they could offer, there were several defining characteristics they shared.  Perhaps overriding everything else, there was a desire to oppose the Nazi blitzkrieg on moral grounds.  Unlike their countrymen who flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain, these men fought out of the public sight, such as deck officers on Royal Navy ships escorting convoys across the North Atlantic during a time when German U-boats were exacting a terrible toll in lives and ships. Of particular interest, the authors persuaded a former Kriegsmarine U-boat captain, Otto von Bülow, to write a brief reflection on the war at that time, for inclusion in this book.

 

The larger part of the book is organized largely along chronological lines, and provides a sense of how these individual volunteers fitted into the major events of the war as they evolved.  This does present some challenge to the reader to try to follow the continuity of each individual's experience.  A call by the reviewer to one of the authors also brought out that, since the amount of information on each person varied from extensive to very little, it made more sense to follow the group's experiences in the course of the time line of the war rather than attempting to construct twenty two chapters that describe each individual's experiences in the course of the war.  Nevertheless, there are extensive biographical notes on each of the volunteers near the end of the book that provide as much information as obtainable about their lives apart from wartime operations.

 

Passport Not Required came into being due to the unflagging interest and energy of two British authors, Ronald E. White and Charlotte Hammond, who were eager to tell the story of how these brave and idealistic men overcame many obstacles to join the Royal Navy.  White served in the Royal Navy for nine years before becoming a police officer; sadly, he died a year before the publication of this book.  Hammond joined White to research the material - much of which needed individual contacts to obtain.personal details (access to British service records is much more restrictive than to American ones), and families are not always eager to share such information.  Between the two authors, they contacted families and friends of the volunteers, and persuaded them to share what information they could.  Later, White and Hammond were joined by the third author, American Eric Dietrich-Berryman; his background as a retired U.S. Navy officer and his writing skills are well-suited to the collaboration.

 

This should be an interesting read for World War II buffs; both heroic and tragic stories abound.

         

              

Captain Jones served 3 years on active duty and 30 in the active reserve as a cryptologist. He also served many years as a paper reviewer in the American Chemical Society and the Society of Plastics Engineers and contributes reviews to Amazon.com.

Books Currently Available for Review    

 

We have a number of books here in our offices that are available to be reviewed. If you are interested, please contact Dr. Dave Winkler at dwinkler@navyhistory.org.

  

 

Ship Killers: A History of the American Torpedo, Thomas Wildenberg & Norman Polmar, Naval Institute Press, 2010, 288 pages

   

Where Do We Get Such Men: The Story of One Such Man - Charles Erb, Crd. USN (Ret), Steven Craig Reynolds, Author House Publishing, 2009, 237 pages


Leadership in Action: Principles Forged in the Crucible of Military Service Can Lead America Back to the Top, Greg Slavonic, Rear Admiral, USN (RET), Fortis Publishing, 2010, 245 pages

 

SEALs: The US Navy's Elite Fighting Force, Mir Bahmanyar with Chris Osman, Osprey Publishing, 2008, 256 pages

 

First South Pole Landing: The Pilots Story, Jan Churchill, J. Churchill Publishing, 2011, 82 pages

   

Digesting History: The U.S. Naval War College, the Lessons of World War Two, and Future Naval Warfare, 1945-1947. Hal M. Friedman, Naval War College Press, 2010, 375 pages 

 

The Ablest Navigator: Lieutenant Paul N. Shulman, USN, Israel's Volunteer Admiral. J. Wandres, Naval Institute Press, 2010, 174 pages.  

 

A Hard Fought Ship: The Story of HMS Venomous. Robert J. Moore and John A. Rodgaard, Holywell House Publishing, 2010, 360 pages.

 

Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936-1943. David J. Ulbrich, Naval Institute Press, 2011, 285 pages.  

 

Stockpile: The Story Behind 10,000 Strategic Nuclear Weapons. Jerry Miller, Naval Institute Press, 2010, 273 pages.

 

The Great Expedition: Sir Francis Drake on the Spanish Main, 1585-86. Angus Konstam, Osprey Publishing, 2011, 80 pages. 

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