Noted Historian Weighs in on Recent Naval History Scholarship

This past September, our Digital Content Developer posted a recap of the McMullen Naval History Symposium, which included his own personal thoughts on the state of naval history. The post elicited this essay by long-time NHF member Dr. Christopher McKee. We welcome such dialog on a subject so important to the nation. Please consider joining in on the conversation in the comment section, or sending your personal thoughts on this matter to

By Dr. Christopher McKee

In a 23 September post, Naval Historical Foundation Digital Content Developer Matthew T. Eng reported his impressions of the 2015 McMullen Naval History Symposium held at the Naval Academy in mid-September.   By way of introduction he quoted, with agreement, John Hattendorf’s report on a 1993 conference sponsored by Yale University and the Naval War College:  “… much of the work that was being published in the field [of naval history] was both relatively unsophisticated and outdated in its approach.”   Matthew Eng then goes on to add for himself:  “Unfortunately, that outdated approach remained relatively unchanged throughout the nineties and into the new millennium.   Naval history stayed two-dimensional and transparent in intention, form and purpose …. Very little was showcased to breathe new life into the discipline like other similar fields.”

I welcome with enthusiasm scholarly discussion that expresses differing points of view on the historiography of our profession.  Consequently, I read Mr. Eng’s essay with keen interest.  However—as the reader must suspect by this point—I am more upbeat about the writing of naval history than is Mr. Eng.   At a 2013 McMullen Naval History Symposium session honoring Harold Langley’s Social Reform in the United States Navy (1967) I suggested that the years since the late 1950s have seen an impressive array of first-rate, and often innovative, naval historical writing.

For present purposes, however, I will limit myself to questioning Mr. Eng’s contention that the writing of naval history remained mostly static and parochial even into the new millennium.  Here is my personal selection of nine titles published in the first decade of the twenty-first century that, in my opinion, compete with the best of scholarship in other fields of history and which have been brought to print by mainstream scholarly publishers.  The list is alphabetical by author and unashamedly subjective; it reflects my preference for work that is well-written, multinational and comparative.  With apologies to authors I may have overlooked, I have included only titles that I have actually read.   My hope is that students of naval history may discover, enjoy and profit intellectually from these books as much as I have—if they have not already done so.

The Age of the Ship of the Line
Dull, Jonathan R., The Age of the Ship of the Line: The British & French Navies, 1650-1815 (University of Nebraska Press, 2009)

Comparative naval history at its best; the British-French naval rivalry is examined in its broadest technical, political and economic contexts.  Dull’s companion study, American Naval History, 1607-1865: Overcoming the Colonial Legacy (Nebraska, 2012), is an insightful, if underappreciated, reinterpretation of its subject.

Liberty at the Waterfront

Gilje, Paul A., Liberty on the Waterfront: American Maritime Culture in the Age of Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)

A prize-winning social history of American (native-born and immigrant) mariners, men who moved seamlessly between naval and merchant marine service.  Gilje’s theme plays skillfully off the multiple meanings of the word liberty in the sailor’s mental world.   The text is complemented with a gallery of previously unseen images—a welcome change from the same old pictures too-typically pulled from ready-to-hand sources.

Jack Tar's Story

Glenn, Myra C., Jack Tar’s Story: The Autobiographies and Memoirs of Sailors in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Many sailor “autobiographies” were published in the nineteenth-century United States—and some of them were real.  Glenn skillfully separates the authentic from the fake, and uses their texts to explore such topics as patriotism, manhood, and the demand for human respect among these seafaring workers.

Historical Dreadnoughts

Gough, Barry, Historical Dreadnoughts: Arthur Marder, Stephen Roskill and Battles for Naval History (Seaforth Publishing, 2010)

Marder and Roskill dominated—often with an excess of personal acrimony—British naval historical writing in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.   In this parallel-lives biography Gough opens a fascinating window into the world of historians at work.  Historical Dreadnoughts is a true labor of love.


Leiner, Frederick C., The End of Barbary Terror: America’s 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Yes, there is United States naval history after the War of 1812.  There was a lot of important work for the Navy to do between 1815 and the Civil War; Leiner has charted the newest track into this unfortunately neglected period.


Skaggs, David Curtis, Thomas Macdonough, Master of Command in the Early U. S. Navy (Naval Institute Press, 2003)

Skaggs employs contemporary leadership and command theory to analyze this prominent officer’s naval career.   A fine biography, strong on analysis and interpretation.

510P6RXGJGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)

Spector, Ronald H., At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century (Viking, 2001)

A pioneering—and entirely successful—effort to break out of the single-nation focus of naval history.  From Tushima through the Cold War, Spector surveys the naval battles and maritime strategic rivalries of all the major contenders for dominance on the world’s oceans.


Taylor, Bruce, The Battlecruiser HMS Hood: An Illustrated Biography, 1916-1941 (Chatham Publishing, 2004)

Brilliant and innovative attempt to write a ship’s history in the French “total history” tradition: design, construction, armament, place in British naval policy between the wars, personnel and personalities, cruises, and death in battle.  Even Hood’s resident cats are included.  Richly and beautifully illustrated, but no coffee-table book.  Taylor has thrown down a challenge that no other historian has, to my knowledge, yet taken up.

Christopher McKee
Rosenthal Professor Emeritus
Grinnell College
Grinnell, Iowa
The Newberry Library
Chicago, Illinois

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Pulling Together Pull Together: The Making of an Issue (PART II)

Pulling Together Pull Together Cover 2

A Blog Series by Matthew T. Eng

With base access at the Washington Navy Yard restricted, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak behind the process of producing the Winter 2015 (Vol 54, no. 4) issue of Pull Together. Disclaimer: The comments included in these posts are my own, and represent an “unfiltered” approach to writing about and communicating history. There’s a lot that goes on before each member gets their issue, and I want to share every bit of it with you.

PART II: The Hard Is What Makes It Great

Unfortunately, there aren’t many updates. After the fairly long explanation of this blog project in the first post, there isn’t much to say. The creative process may be halted by the promise of turkey, stuffing, and gravy in the next couple days. Don’t worry – I will have plenty of energy (and leftover turkey sandwiches) to get me through the next few days. I don’t think there is any time to necessarily ENJOY the holiday, unfortunately. We have our last issue coming out within two weeks. There will be time for family, surely, but there will also be time set aside to try to get this done. Black Friday for me will be a wholesale on .psd files, edited text, and (of course) more organization. I think that is another byproduct of this profession. The amount of work you do at home is staggering, whether you want to or not. It’s just how it is. The historical profession is not a 9 to 5. If you find a job in history that is, let me know. I’ll say you will be hard pressed to find it.

I am reminded of one of my favorite scenes in film whenever I talk about stressful times like these:

For us, naval history is what gets inside of you. It lights me up with a sense of hope that SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, will get switched on to our great naval heritage. For my colleagues, I know they feel the same way. And so we work long hours in order to do it. Don’t let anybody tell you different: it’s the hard that makes it great. Anybody else in this field that tells you different is a liar…or they don’t have their heart in it. After all, if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it (or study some other niche field in history).


Progress on the Violent Skies layout for the issue.

Progress on the Violent Skies layout for the issue.


As you can see, I have at least started thinking about translating some of the ideas I had on paper into a digital format. Personally, I am not sure how I feel about the Violent Skies layout. I might change it. I’m sure I will change it…two or three more times. The layout for the events page is now two columns instead of three. I simply cannot fit everything in a three column spread for this. Anything less than a 12 point font on these types of publications is usually a personal guarantee that some member will (rightfully) complain. Let’s not do that. Nothing is moved over from my chart on the wall in my cubicle yet…but SOON. Did I mention that the fine folks at the Navy Yard finally turned on the heat? It’s blowing hot air that is at least 85 degrees, making our office like a sauna. I’ve needed to use a fan to cool me down these past few days. I’m sure that won’t last.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 11.06.48 AM

For some reason, I have decided to forego shaving until the project is complete. Is it solidarity? Probably not. I am most likely just lazy. Let’s see how long that (or my wife’s patience) will last.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Pulling Together Pull Together: The Making of an Issue (PART I)

Pulling Together Pull Together Cover

A Blog Series by Matthew T. Eng

With base access at the Washington Navy Yard restricted, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak behind the process of producing the Winter 2015 (Vol 54, no. 4) issue of Pull Together. Disclaimer: The comments included in these posts are my own, and represent an “unfiltered” approach to writing about and communicating history. There’s a lot that goes on before each member gets their issue, and I want to share every bit of it with you.

Part I: Murder Your Darlings

What makes naval history…history? How is it transmitted from one person to another? Is it spoken, drawn, painted, photographed, or written down? In the end, how effective was it in reaching the reader?

In the generations that preceded us, these kinds of questions were unnecessary. Naval history, like the pages it was printed on, existed in black and white. Within this niche genre of military history, the original social network of person-to-person communication between naval historians remained small and ultimately familiar. Most found yearly academic conferences and symposia the only way to know who was doing what in the field. That world does not exist today. Communication is not a two way street – it’s a superhighway. Information is both infinite and instantaneous. Naval history itself is on the rise. Followers and enthusiasts increase by the hundreds and thousands each day. Need convincing? Take a look at the Naval History and Heritage Command Facebook page for some solid evidence.

Main staples of life: coffee and computer. (Photo by Author)

The main staples of life for my creative process: coffee and computer. (Photo by Author)

Some things about the delivery of naval history are the same. For the Naval Historical Foundation, we still use our publication, Pull Together, as a central way to inform members about what we are doing. That is where most of the similarities stop. In today’s media-centric society, every factor listed in the first paragraph have to be carefully factored into the design of naval history-related content in a way that is both appealing and approachable for readers. Social networking surely aids the cause, but the way we present information must keep the readers’ attention in print as it does online. Because of this, I want to show our loyal readers, followers, and members how we make history happen in the upcoming issue of Pull Together, from start to finish.

I may need a disclaimer.

This is in no way a forum to amplify or glorify what I do/NHF does. It is not a showcase piece about hard work, even if that surely is a byproduct. ALL of my colleagues in naval history, from the dedicated men and women of the Naval History and Heritage Command to the educators of our nation’s historic ships, work hard to make our maritime past come to life. This is not an exercise of vanity; it is a lesson in honesty. I personally think few people are entirely honest about the writing process, especially online. This is as open and honest as I can be. The Foundation is located within the confines of a physical space heavily guarded and difficult to access (albeit possible). In the digital sphere, however, we are completely mobile and acessible. There are no walls separating us from the reader. This “Pulling Together Pull Together” column is one way we can provide everyone outside the walls of the Washington Navy Yard a “behind the scenes” picture of what we do.Before I offend anyone, I need to once again say that these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the Naval Historical Foundation.

I’m So Excited. I’m So Scared.

tumblr_mohveuGknJ1qajc4eo1_250This will be my second foray into designing Pull Together. I am both excited and scared at the same time. Why? I am cautious going into this next issue because of my experience putting together the Summer 2015 issue of Pull Together. About 75% through my inaugural design project, my hard drive inexplicably crashed. I lost almost all of my files and had to do two weeks worth of work in two days to meet a publication deadline. After a few frantic days fueled gallons of coffee, I managed to work with the staff to get the issue out just before the McMullen Naval History Symposium. With several new portable hard drives at the ready (both physically and in the cloud), I think am ready for this next issue.

I’m learning desktop publishing as I go along. Like I said before, this is only the second time doing this for me. It’s stressful, but completely worth it. Even in my capacity as the “Digital Content Developer” for NHF, it’s a daily challenge to make sure I keep up to date with content development. There were no history classes to prepare me for this. No professor armed with elbow pads told me about time management and the necessity of using images of at least 300 dpi as embedded Photoshop files for print publications. Looking back, I wish there was! I study magazines and watch tutorial after tutorial online to make sure I give NHF members the best possible edition of Pull Together. It takes dedication. It takes patience. It takes hard drive space. Above all, it takes coffee; lots and lots of coffee. The stronger the better.

With a completion deadline set for the beginning of the first full week in December (ironically, Pearl Harbor Day), we have a lot of work to do. Let’s begin.

How it Starts

It all starts with an idea. Well…several ideas that will make up a short magazine either 16 or 24 pages long. To use some naval terminology, we are building an issue from the keel up.

My scribbles for the design process of the Violent Skies page (left) and Upcoming Events page (right)

My scribbles for the design process of the Violent Skies page (left) and Upcoming Events page (right)

Pull Together remains the brainchild of our historian, Dr. David Winkler. Each quarterly issue begins with him generating a broad outline for its contents. His thoughts on paper turn into a short discourse over emails. Content comes soon after. In a few days, or over the course of a week, something will begin to formulate on the computer screen. That is where I come in. It is my goal to take the words and turn the into something informative and pleasing to the eye. It’s truly an art form, for which I am a mere apprentice. Surely, I am not Barclay or Reuterdahl. My broad brush is a Macbook trackpad. With a little passion and a lot of patience, I will hopefully put the ideas together in time for our steadily approaching deadline.

We are planning to include a lot of information in this current issue. With only sixteen pages to fill, it is going to be a real challenge. We know we want to have several main components for this issue. Without spoiling it:

1. Chairman Message (More to follow on that)
2. Recap of Violent Skies Conference
3. Focus on Historians – several articles therein
4. Promo 2016 naval history events, conferences, and symposia

From the initial email listing a general idea and order to the pages, I set out to put down my own table of contents for the issue. Within two days, the order and content for each page has changed twice. It will change again. Organization is key, and my handwriting skills are as neat as I am organized. Luckily, this dog can learn some new tricks (thanks Google Drive!). I am finding that organization in the beginning is key. It’s already gotten to the point that I am typing out daily organizational notes and reminders, almost in tears from listening to Adele’s new album at the same time. I find it helps set the mood. My wife always says that a craft or sewing project is never complete until you bleed for it. I’d say for history, nothing is done until you’ve wept over it.

How I stay organized: My Scrum Burndown Chart. Confession: I got the idea watching the TV show Silicon Valley.

How I stay organized: My Scrum Burndown Chart. Confession: I got the idea watching the TV show Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately, other things get in the way. We are a small staff forced to master the subtle art of multi-tasking. There are emails and emails about said emails. Most have nothing to do with the next Pull Together issue, but are still nonetheless important and need to be answered in a timely fashion.  Some are informative, while others are simply redundant. Then comes the meetings about the emails. From there, the real work will be done for the issue: drafting, editing, redundancy, proofing, editing, redundancy. It’s an endless cycle until final copy Nirvana is fully achieved. Don’t worry: we are a LONG ways away from that. Did I mention things get redundant?

Editing down my Violent Skies article (Photo by Author)

Editing down my Violent Skies article for Pull Together (Photo by Author)

Along with the current Pull Together project, we are also putting together the final touches on a board meeting next month and working towards raising funds for a case to house a WWII mannequin inside the National Museum of the United States Navy. I am also working with Dr. Winkler to put out the next issue of the International Journal of Naval History, which I am also the digital editor of. To top it all off, my wife just bought me the video game Star Wars Battlefront. I would like nothing more than to blast some scruffy nerf herders all night, but I can’t. Time is of the essence (but I will find time to play the game, obviously).

One of the tasks I worked on today was condensing a five page summary article I wrote on the Violent Skies symposium back in October into two short pages. Using images I took from the event in the layout will make space even more valuable. Time to cut. If you told my eighteen year old self as a freshman in college that I would struggle to cut down writing to only a few pages, I am sure he would laugh profusely. I often think of a quote attributed to William Faulkner whenever I have to edit a piece down: murder your darlings. I grabbed my red pen and spent the afternoon trimming the fat.

I used the pen profusely to slice and dice my way through the full article. It hurts. They are your darlings, after all. I carefully tapered it down to just over two pages. Although it’s not enough, it will do for the time being. It’s way too early to set anything in stone. Perhaps I am worried about the overall design of the issue itself. The design needs to be catchy, which will require a large portion of space on the front of the two-page spread. Finding that I’d had enough of the “Mask of Red Pen Death,” I spent my last few minutes of work sketching out the physical appearance of some of the more challenging page layouts, including the events calendar and Violent Skies piece (shown above). By the end of the day, a rough outline is prepared to work with in the upcoming days. Full speed ahead.

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Message from the President: End of the Year Donation and Planned Giving

150511-N-AT895-151 WASHINGTON (May 11, 2015) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and retired Adm. James Holloway, former CNO, cut the cake during the centennial celebration for the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Navy staff at the Washington Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)

150511-N-AT895-151 WASHINGTON (May 11, 2015) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and retired Adm. James Holloway, former CNO, cut the cake during the centennial celebration for the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Navy staff at the Washington Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)


2015 has been a busy year for your Foundation, as you have seen in the pages of our Pull Together newsletters and through the stories on our website blog.  It was our particular privilege to participate in two special Navy centennial anniversaries this year:

  • The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Navy Reserve, marked by a number of ceremonies which prominently featured the Dave Winkler-authored coffee table book, Ready Then, Ready Now, Ready Always: More Than a Century of Service by Citizen Sailors (a great holiday gift by the way, for your favorite Navy Reservist—see our website at for details!).
  • The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the position and office of the Chief of Naval Operations. At a memorable celebration in May at the Navy Museum with the Secretary of the Navy presiding, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Commandant of the Coast Guard present, 30th CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenert was joined by NHF Chairman Emeritus and 20th CNO Admiral Jim Holloway to cut the birthday cake with the sword of 15th CNO Admiral Arleigh Burke!

All this reminds us of our mission statement that the Naval Historical Foundation preserves and honors the legacy of those who came before us. We educate and inspire the generations who will follow.

Your support makes a difference in our ability to accomplish that mission! We have been especially appreciative of the financial support that many of you are making to keep us on course—and the purpose of this end-of-year appeal is to ask you to continue that generous practice!

  • Mail in a donation using the enclosed form or via our website online giving option at
  • Consider making a pledge to join the 15 members whose level of giving has made them charter members of our Admiral James L. Holloway III Donor Society (Executive Director Todd Creekman can provide details);
  • Using the planned giving tips on our website, remember NHF in your will or with a stock or IRA donation before the end of the year;
  • Encourage a friend to join, or present that friend with a gift membership!

So what do your dues and donations, particularly from these year-end appeals, accomplish for naval history? One of our high visibility programs recognizes naval history excellence from middle school students to the pre-eminent naval historians of the 21st century:

  • The Captain Ken Coskey National History Day Naval History Prizes—middle and high school students.
  • The Captain Edward L. Beach Naval Academy History Department Prize—Naval Academy midshipmen.
  • The Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn NROTC Essay Competition—NROTC midshipmen.
  • The Commodore Dudley W. Knox Naval History Lifetime Achievement Award—career naval historians.     

Our STEM-H (H for History!) program has been so well-received that we are now partnering with the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, CA on a three-year grant.  The grant took effect in August, just in time to support our third annual STEM-H teacher fellowship program at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, CT.  The grant expands STEM-H programs to all Navy museums, including museum educator and teacher training by the USNA STEM Center.  USNA training focuses on project-based learning and the engineering design process, including materials and examples of basic lesson plans adaptable to each museum. Historic naval ship museum educators also fall within the scope of the grant, broadening Navy STEM-H outreach possibilities nationwide. 

USNA STEM Center workshops in the fall, spring, and summer in Annapolis are open to all Navy and historic ship museum educators and local teachers.  This year’s 25-26 September workshop included a special half-day session for museum educators from Groton, CT, Norfolk, VA, Great Lakes, IL, Newport, RI, Alameda CA and Washington, DC.  Travelling USNA workshops at historic naval ship sites for museum educators and local teachers are planned in winter 2015-2016 for Norfolk, VA and Alameda, CA, with more to follow.  The NHF portion of the grant enables STEM-H fellowship support for: educator travel to USNA workshops, teacher lesson planning efforts with educators at the Navy and historic naval ship museums, and the work to have all developed lesson plans shared on Navy museum, historic naval ship, NHF, and Historic Naval Ships Association websites.  Your continued support will permit us to work with more museums and ships to link teachers and students to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math through the lens of naval history!

We continued to reach out to our members at gatherings beyond our Annual Meeting, including:

  • An April National Maritime Awards Dinner in partnership with the National Maritime Historical Society at the National Press Club in Washington, DC where the NHF recognized Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert with a Distinguished Service Award;
  • The annual Submarine History Seminar in April in partnership with the Naval Submarine League;
  • A reception in May in conjunction with the kick-off of the North American Society for Oceanic History’s
  • annual conference at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California;
  • The annual Battle of Midway Celebration Dinner in June in partnership with nine other Navy and Marine Corps nonprofits—where we were joined by six hardy veterans of that pivotal battle;

A joint mid-October symposium with our four sister historical foundations titled Violent Skies: The Air War Over Vietnam—to commemorate the 50th anniversary of service and sacrifice by Navy men and women during the Vietnam War.

Your contributions are vital to our ability to carry out our naval history mission!  In return for your generous year-end tax-deductible contribution, you earn our sincere thanks for becoming a dedicated partner in the effort to connect Americans with their proud naval heritage!


Mitchell signature


John T. Mitchell
Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.)

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Free Trade and Sailors Rights: A Case for Cap’n Crunch

capn cover image

From Naval Intelligence to Cold War cruise books, there is more than meets the eye with one of cereal’s most iconic figures.

By Matthew T. Eng

I have a tendency to read into things. I ask too many questions Ask anyone who has been to the movie theater with me. It’s just in my nature. I was always taught to ask freely and think rationally. Isn’t that the mark of any good historian?

When it comes to matters of naval history and its relationship to popular culture, I always go the extra mile. If I can fit it into a conversation, I will. I cannot begin to explain how many times I argued how rebel blockade runners originated from the American Civil War, not the Star Wars film franchise. I once spoke at a film festival about the role of the Navy and Marine Corps in the 1990s sci-fi epic Starship Troopers. As a testament to my curiosity in my current position at the Naval Historical Foundation, I publish a weekly factoid about the Navy’s ties to popular culture on our social media sites. The posts sparked some interesting and insightful debate over the course of the last year. Every cornerstone of popular culture, from comics and novels to films and television, are analyzed. I’ve tackled everything from the creator of the Slinky to the use of and inspiration of the Navy in Pixar films. What would I read too much into next?

I ultimately decided to tackle one of my favorite breakfast cereals from childhood (and adulthood): Cap’n Crunch.

Cap'n Crunch as he appeared in his original 1963 Quaker Oats Commercial (via Youtube Screengrab)

Cap’n Crunch as he appeared in his original 1963 Quaker Oats Commercial (via Youtube Screengrab)

Created by television producer and animation pioneer Jay Ward of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame, the Cap’n Crunch persona grew among the mass appeal of children throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Ward found a way to compete with Kellogg’s lucrative brand tie-ins of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound in the commercial market. According to the Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns, cereal owner Quaker Oats (now PepsiCo) once used eighty percent of their advertising budget solely on Cap’n Crunch. It worked. He was heavily advertised as a man born on Crunch Island in the Sea of Milk, whose sole duty was to sail the seven seas with his precious cargo of sweet corn nuggets with his First Mate Sea Dog and crew of hungry kid sailors. The only thing stopping him from delivering his tasty breakfast treat to a store nearest you was his dreaded enemy, the shoeless pirate Jean LaFoote.

Children identified with the lovable style of Ward’s cartoon production and the vocal stylings of voice actor legend Daws Butler. By the turn of the century, however, Quaker Oats shifted focus on the brand in response to a decrease in sales. They soon relied on nostalgia to attract adults back to the cereal they once loved.

Times got even tougher for Cap’n Horatio Magellan Crunch in recent years. The delightful cereal mascot came under fire in June 2013 when news agencies and social media sites like Gawker and The Consumerist reported on a scandal that shook the breakfast world: was Cap’n Crunch really a Captain? 

(Foodbeast Article Screengrab)

(Foodbeast Article Screengrab)

The initial series of reports specifically questioned the character’s rank. In the most recent portrayal of Cap’n Crunch on cereal boxes, he is sporting a blue uniform with three stripes on his sleeve. Under U.S. Navy uniform regulations, that would make him a Commander. Gawker went so far as to call him “potentially [. . .] a criminal and a traitor.” The story even made it to the pundits at CNN. Foodbeast blogger Charisma Madarang wrote a slanderous article about the cereal mascot that ran with the headline “Cap’n Crunch is a Liar and a Fraud.” This was not exactly the kind of reception one might expect from a man who promised that the cereal cargo aboard his ship SS Guppy would remain crunchy ’til the end, even if it were drowned in a sea of milk.

The uniform debate dates back well before the 2013 scandal. When the first Cap’n Crunch commercial aired in 1963, he is shown wearing three stripes on a blue naval uniform and Napoleonic-style bicorne hat. Yet the same cereal box that debuted with the original commercials show him with only one strip on his sleeves. There was never any cohesion between the two. In subsequent years, Cap’n Crunch has oscillated between primarily two and three stripes on his uniform. If you take U.S. Navy uniform code to heart, the cereal could easily be called “Ensign Crunch,” “Lieutenant Crunch,” or “Commander Crunch,” given what the artists were drawing on that given day:

Rank Comparison (Quaker Oats/Wikimedia Commons)

Rank Comparison (Quaker Oats/Wikimedia Commons)

Some articles went so far as to include responses from official U.S. Navy representatives on the claim of Cap’n Crunch’s stolen valor. Public Affairs Officer Commander Chris Servello, who headed up the Navy’s news desk at the Pentagon (Servello currently serves as a spokesman for Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson), weighed in on the matter for The Consumerist:

“We have no Cap’n Crunch in the personnel records [. . .] we have notified NCIS and we’re looking into whether or not he’s impersonating a naval officer.”

That is surely a very serious accusation. LCDR Sarah Flaherty echoed a similar sentiment to Foreign Policy:

“You are correct that Cap’n Crunch appears to be wearing the rank of a U.S. Nav commander [. . .] our records do not show a ‘Cap’n Crunch’ who currently serves or has served in the Navy.”

In a deep and dark of the Internet, there is actually a site dedicated to signing a petition for Quaker Oats to promote Cap’n Crunch to an Admiral. The website petition felt it necessary to promote a man whose sole mission to deter pirates and deliver crunch corn flavor to kids around the world was worthy of such an honor. According to the out-of-date Geocities site, over 1,500 individuals signed the petition. Despite the grassroots campaign, Horatio remains just a “Cap’n.” Apparently, Quaker Oats might do good to read about the troubles that the United States Navy had in the early to mid-19th century with promotions based on seniority as opposed to merit. Then again, we don’t need a Civil War over cereals to rectify that  – there is no need to get a combined Army-Navy operation with General Mills here. We already have a definitive answer from the company on what they feel is the reasoning behind Cap’n Crunch’s name and rank:

As many veterans and active duty sailors know, Horatio Crunch is absolutely correct. According to a Navy website on terminology for Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, “Any naval officer who commands a ship is addressed by naval custom as “captain” while aboard in command, regardless of their actual rank.”

There you have it. Is the story over? Not quite.

This debate opens up an entire world of childhood-ruining possibilities: Is Count Chocula really a Count? Is King Vitamin truly cereal nobility? Who REALLY is Cap’n Horatio Magellan Crunch? Is he a product of stolen valor? Is the issue not with the man, but the uniform? What is his true connection to the United States Navy? I was ending my search with more questions than I began with. I had to know more.

As it turns out, it’s never been about the cereal. It’s the man behind the sweet corn crunch and the symbol he represents as a pop culture icon that gives him such a unique place in naval history. 

A Character of Naval Intelligence and Crunch’s Guerre de Course

Daws Butler (Hannah-Barbera)

Daws Butler (Hannah-Barbera)

Cap’n Crunch’s ties with the Navy go back to the very beginning. As previously stated, Cap’n Crunch was originally portrayed by celebrated voice actor Daws Butler. Butler is best known for his work with Hanna-Barbera voicing characters like Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, and Huckleberry Hound. In 1963, he found another avenue for success portraying the intrepid Cap’n Crunch. Prior to his meteoric rise as a voice actor, Butler served in the United States Navy during World War II. Most print sources about his wartime career are unfortunately scarce. One source on the Internet, the military network Together We Served, offered up some interesting information about him. According to records posted on the website, Butler barely met the requirements to join the Navy, as he was initially screened as too short for active duty. An amusing anecdote from Butler’s childhood friend Bill Hamlin about his strange path to service is included in his biography in Tim Lawson and Alisa Parson’s book, The Magic Behind the Voices:

“One day I walked in and Daws was hanging in the doorway with bricks tied to his feed. I said, ‘What in the heck are you doing?’ he said, ‘Doc says I can stretch an eighth of an inch this way.’ And, you know, he did! He became a navy man.”

Butler joined the Naval Reserve in 1942. After training at RTC Great Lakes, he went on to the Naval Intelligence School and the Officer of Naval Intelligence (ONI) where he served from 1943 to 1945. He left the Navy in 1946 as a Petty Officer Second Class Communications Specialist (Q-ESR-Communications Specialist). Butler’s page noted that he earned an American Campaign Medal, Navy Good Conduct Medal, and World War II Victory Medal. After leaving the Navy in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he rose to stardom as a recognized voice actor for some of the most iconic figures in animated television, including the beloved Cap’n Crunch. Butler died in 1988 at the age of 71.

Lafitte and LaFoote (Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Wikimedia Commons)

Lafitte and LaFoote (Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the character drew inspiration from Butler’s naval service? The Cap’n always knew trouble was at hand when Jean LaFoote, who was undoubtedly inspired by the War of 1812-era Privateer/Pirate Jean Lafitte, was nearby. In over fifty years, the Guppy’s precious cargo of cereal has remained firmly in the hands of the Cap’n and his crew. It’s the kind of long-term anti-piracy operation any country would be proud of. Is the cereal war between Cap’n Crunch and LaFoote simply an illustrated example of guerre de course strategy? A Layman’s Guide to Naval Strategy (Princeton University Press, 1942) explains it very clearly:

“The guerre de course (war of the chase), as strategists all the technique of commerce raiding, is ordinarily the recourse of the belligerent who is inferior generally, or at least inferior in the particular area where he practices it [. . .] It represents an attempt to deny in part to the enemy what that enemy has already succeeded in denying completely to one-self.”

Cap’n Crunch’s naval intelligence network won’t make the CNO’s yearly Navigation Plan, but it is nonetheless impressive.

A Character of Cruise Books

Cap’n Crunch’s naval connection cropped up again several decades after the end of World War II. Cold War Navy veterans may remember the cereal icon appearing in their cruise books during the 1970s and 1980s.

Capn Cruise Books

Cruise Books of USS Lang, USS Merrimack, USS Mauna Kea, USS Morton, and USS Nicholson (Navy Department Library)

Here is a sample list of cruise books that included an image of Cap’n Crunch in its pages:

  • USS Morton (DD 948) – 1974
  • USS Rogers (DD 876) – 1974
  • USS Lang (FF 1060) – 1975
  • USS Mauna Kea (AE 22) – 1979
  • USS Nicholson (DD 982) – 1980-1981
  • USS Merrimack (AO 179) – 1983
  • USS Elmer Montgomery (FF 1082) – 1986-1987

Apparently, Horatio Crunch prefers to be seen in destroyers, frigates, oilers, and ammunition ships. Most of the cruise books listed above show him alongside other hand-drawn images from crew members, or as a standalone centerpiece on the page. The image of Cap’n Crunch is the same one drawn from the original artist conception in the early 1960s. The majority of these cruise books were printed by Walsworth Publishing Company in Norfolk, VA. I have yet to personally find a representative from the company to speak on behalf of the Cold War cruise books or the connection with his inclusion amongst the crew. Was he seen as a mascot? Was he a popular cereal amongst the crew?

Horatio Magellan Crunch: Admiral of the Navy?

Cap’n Crunch is still around today, regardless of the controversy. In fact, he openly embraces the criticism and moves forward in the sea of milk, full speed ahead. I couldn’t help but take it upon myself to figure out WHO (if anyone) Cap’n Crunch is supposed to represent. I combed through books on U.S. Navy uniform history without any true matches. The distinctive blue uniform of the cereal officer never completely matched anything wore by the United States Navy. If we just take his sleeves and appearance into consideration, however, there is one person who may fit the description: Admiral of the Navy George Dewey.

(Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Naval History and Heritage Command)

(Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Naval History and Heritage Command)

Placed side by side, there are some parallels with his appearance and uniform. The white walrus mustache, button placement, and epaulettes share a striking similarity to uniforms worn by naval officers during the Spanish American War-era. Perhaps the white pants worn by Crunch are a throwback to the white ones worn by Dewey during the Battle of Manila Bay (The real Jean Lafitte was once a spy for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence). Is Sea Dog Charles Gridley?

Although they are not similar in size, an Admiral of the Navy’s uniform sleeve has three stripes and a single gold star: just like Cap’n Crunch’s. Could that be you, Admiral Dewey?

Am I “crossing the line” with this assumption? Yes. In all likelihood, it is a stretch. Yet it is always fun to use a figure of popular culture as a way to write about history. Forget the naysayers: Cap’n Crunch does have a place in naval history.

Cap’n Crunch sails under a flag of taste and crunch. He may not fly a United States ensign on the Guppy, but he is distinctly American. It is the man who represents the name, not the uniform. Whether he is a Commander, a Captain, or a facsimile of the highest ranking officer in U.S. Navy history, he will always be a leader amongst fans worldwide. O Cap’n, my Cap’n, I salute you with an open heart and an empty stomach.

You may crunchitize when ready, Gridley.

Print Sources:

Godin, Seth. Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. New York: Penguin Books (2004).

Lawson, Tim and Alisa Parsons. The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who’s Who of Cartoon Voice Actors. Jackson: The University Press of Mississippi (2004).

Mansour, David. From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing (2005).

Riggs, Thomas. The Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns, Volume 1. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group (2000).


“Cap’n Crunch.” Retroland.

“Daws Butler.” Together We Served.

Madarang, Charisma. “Today I Learned – Cap’n Crunch is a Liar and a Fraud.” FoodBeast (June 14, 2013).

Nissenbaum, Dion. “U.S. Navy: No Record of Cap’n Crunch Service.” Washington Wire (June 19, 2013).

“Promote Cap’n Crunch to Admiral.” Geocities Website.

Quirk, Mary Beth. “We Don’t Know How To Handle The Fact That Cap’n Crunch Has Been Living A Lie.” The Consumerist (June 17, 2013).

Quirk, Mary Beth. “U.S. Navy Weighs In On Cap’n Crunch Scandal: Oddly, He’s Not In Our Personnel Records.” The Consumerist (June 20, 2013).

Any use of Cap’n Crunch and Jean LaFoote are copyright Quaker Oats Company/PepsiCo.

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A Scaled Curse: Kennedy and the Curious History of the “Black Constitution” Model

Constitution model on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)

Constitution model on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”

                             – President John F. Kennedy, September 1962

The last thing you might think about after a beloved U.S. President is shot is where his ship models will go. If you were as avid a collector as John F. Kennedy was, however, it was very important. One such model currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy has an interesting and ominous tie to both Kennedy and White House history.

The Young Man and the Sea

John F. Kennedy had a lifelong relationship with the sea. As a young officer in the U.S. Navy, Kennedy one worldwide fame for his heroic actions as the skipper of PT-109 during World War II. That universal acclaim eventually began a political career that catapulted him from public office to the White House, where he adorned the Oval Office with a maritime/naval theme as a testament to his coastal ties. Among the more recognizable artifacts now currently in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum collection are several pieces of scrimshaw, a Fisherman’s prayer plaque, notable paintings of Navy battles, a ship’s clock/barometer,Commodore Barry’s flag, and of course, numerous ship models.

110529-O-ZZ999-007 FILE PHOTO (circa 1943) Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109. (Photo courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston/Released)

FILE PHOTO (circa 1943) Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109. (Photo courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston/Released)

Kennedy had a passion for ship models. He and his staff corresponded regularly with model ship designers about their work, often receiving the help of longtime friend Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings to seek out his favorite ships for his personal collection. The JFK Presidential Museum and Library has an entire folder of correspondence between Kennedy, Billings, and several model makers about prospective purchases. Among the collection today are the Danmark, Sea Witch, and Wasp. These ships are clearly seen in many photographs of Kennedy working in the Oval Office.

The ship he admired the most, however, was USS Constitution. His ties to the ship are as long and tied together as the ship’s rigging. As a young boy, Kennedy was taken to visit USS Constitution in Charlestown, Massachusetts by his grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald helped save the ship from demolition back in 1896 while serving as a Massachusetts Congressman. Kennedy’s office at the White House also included a set of bookends with replica models of 24-pounder cannons used aboard USS Constitution. The working replica bookends were made by Oscar Lee Richardson.

He even used the ship for political purposes early on in his Presidency. Under the guidance of Lem Billings, Kennedy famously presented a model of her to Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev during a luncheon at the Vienna Summit in June 1961. The model represented the relationship of the old style of warfare to the more current nuclear threat, hoping its symbol would assure no such exchange would occur.

He loved the ship so much that he had the White House Naval Aide, Captain Tazewell Shepard, Jr., write a letter to the Secretary of the Navy about the possibility of sailing Constitution from Boston to the 1964 World’s Fair in  New York City.

Captain Shepard ended the letter to SECNAV Fred Korth with a simple and to the point question:

“In essence, the President would like to know: ‘Is it feasible, and what would it cost.”’

Ultimately, the Navy decided that the ship at the time was not in good enough of condition to make the trip to New York. According to one naval advisor, “the President would certainly bear the responsibility and Massachusetts citizens would have another Tea Party” should she be damaged in transit.

Although he could not convince the Navy to sail Constitution to the World’s Fair, he did have a model of the ship in the Oval Office. Although it cannot be completely confirmed at this time, most sources say the model of Constitution was placed on the mantle in the Oval Office. In Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, author Sally Bedell Smith recalled how journalist and painter William Walton “found a model of the frigate Constitution and two paintings of the ship in battle” for display in the oval office. This could perhaps be the model in question. There are several photographs that corroborate this, courtesy of the JFK Museum and Library.

View from behind the President's desk in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Presidential Library and Museum/Image # JFKWHP-KN-C18712-A)

View from behind the President’s desk in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Presidential Library and Museum/Image # JFKWHP-KN-C18712-A)

If this is true, the model would be placed directly across the room from Kennedy’s Resolute desk near the doorway. It would a main focal point to the new redecoration scheme of the office in 1963. The carpet and decor remained largely the same since Truman’s Presidency in the 1940s, and the new face of the American people wanted to reflect a new direction. Kennedy himself had a flair for decoration and style, largely due in part to his trend-setting First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He ordered a major change in design and redirection during his time in office. The new redesign of the Oval Office was just being completed when the Kennedy’s arrived in Dallas in November 1863. By the time Mrs. Kennedy returned from the traumatic events, the entirety of the office was dismantled, including the Constitution model.

1963 Oval Office Renovation (Image: Kennedy Library/Viewed on

1963 Oval Office Renovation (Image: Kennedy Library/Viewed on

Interestingly enough, little evidence online suggests the model’s connection to the President. If you views the archives of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, you will find little mention of it. There are numerous items to view in their digital exhibit of Oval Office artifacts, but the model is not amongst those previously mentioned. Most descriptions of the  model is merely anecdotal. Photographs are too out of focus or small in resolution to fully confirm its place inside the office. Personal memoirs of those closest to the President also yield little confirmation. A fabulous photo spread done by Look Magazine photographer Alan Stanley Tretick (the same that published the famous image of John F. Kennedy, Jr. under the Resolute Desk) yields incomplete results. Despite this, it is a fact that the model was present in the White House at the time of the assassination in 1963.

The model changed hands over the years, eventually making it to the office of Reagan Press Secretary James Brady. Brady was critically wounded during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Brady died in 2014 in large part to the complications sustained from his wounds during the 1981 attempt.

A Cursed Ship?

Weekly World News, December 1, 1981 (Screencap via Google Books)

Weekly World News, December 1, 1981 (Screencap via Google Books)

Last year, U.S. News & World Report picked up on the curious connection between the Constitution model, Kennedy, and the White House, and wrote a story on their website. Dubbed the “Black Constitution,” reporter Nikki Schwab interviewed Captain Henry J. Hendrix, then Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, about the ship. Captain Hendrix told the story about the ship in the news article and commented how the White House returned the ship to the Navy and the possession of Curator of Ship Models, Naval Sea Systems Command after 1981. “I wouldn’t have it in my office, for instance,” said Hendrix in the interview. An article in the 1 December 1981 edition of the Weekly World News of all places ran a brief article with the title “Jinxed Ship Model Tossed Out.” In the article, one aide to Reagan is quoted with saying that “the ship wasn’t exactly in demand anymore.” Another individual commented that the model “was spooky [. . .] I don’t know why – but it is.”

The 1/8”:1’ scale ship now resides in front of the Constitution fighting top at the front of the National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington, D.C. A small description on the model case perfectly describes the model’s eery connection to an American tragedy:

“This exquisite model was on display in the Oval Office when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963. Eighteen years later it was in presidential press secretary, James Brady’s office when he was shot. After this second tragedy, the White House requested that the model be removed, and it was placed on display in The Navy Museum.”

The model, alongside countless others inside one of Washington, D.C.’s best kept secrets, is free to visit.

Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. The Kennedy White House: Family Life and Pictures, 1961-1963. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Graham, James W. Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat and the Sea. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2014.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Oval Office Exhibit Highlights Slideshow. (accessed November 1, 2015).
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Scrimshaw and Ship Models. (accessed November 1, 2015).
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. News Release: New Exhibit to Celebrate JFK’s Love of the Sea. (accessed November 1, 2015).
“Jinxed Ship Model Tossed Out.” The Weekly World News, December 1, 1981.
Learning, Barbara. Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
Schwab, Nikki. “Nobody Wants the ‘Black U.S.S. Constitution’ in Their Office.” U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2014. Accessed November 1, 2015.
Smith, Sally Bedell. Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.
White House Museum. Oval Office History. (accessed November 1, 2015)

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Naval Disaster in Newfoundland

THE WRECKAGE OF THE U.S. NAVY SUPPLY ship Pollux lies aground off the Newfoundland coast, where it foundered in a storm February 18 with many lives lost. The U.S. destroyer Truxtun was wrecked near the same spot during the storm. (AP Wirephoto/NHHC Collection)

THE WRECKAGE OF THE U.S. NAVY SUPPLY ship Pollux lies aground off the Newfoundland coast, where it foundered in a storm February 18 with many lives lost. The U.S. destroyer Truxtun was wrecked near the same spot during the storm. (AP Wirephoto/NHHC Collection)

By Captain George Stewart, USN (Ret.)

This post provides a description of the events surrounding the loss of USS Truxtun (DD 229) and USS Pollux (AKS 2) by grounding off the coast of Newfoundland in February 1942. Because over 200 lives were lost, it is considered to be one of the worst disasters in Naval history. The information contained in this post was obtained from a number of sources including NAVSOURCE, DANFS, Theodore Roscoe’s Tin Cans, and a variety of online web sites.

In order to fully understand the circumstances surrounding the event, it is first necessary to look at it from an overall historical perspective. By 1939, major world events had taken place. Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war in response. Meanwhile in the Atlantic, German commerce raiders began operating. This resulted in the establishment of a neutrality patrol in the Atlantic. In 1940 Great Britain and the United States signed the Destroyers for Bases agreement. That same year, Germany began unrestricted U-Boat warfare. It was decided at that time to establish naval bases at Casco Bay, Maine, and Argentia, Newfoundland. These sites were chosen because of their proximity to convoy routes.

The Argentia base was located at the north end of Placentia Bay on the southern coast of Newfoundland. It was commissioned in July 1941. The base included both naval facilities and an airfield.

The three ships involved in the incident were the USS Truxtun (DD 229), USS Pollux (AKS 2), and USS Wilkes (DD 441). A brief description of each ship follows:

Pictured L to R, USS Truxtun (DD 229), USS Pollux (AKS 2), and USS Wilkes (DD 441)

Pictured top to bottom, USS Truxtun (DD 229), USS Pollux (AKS 2), and USS Wilkes (DD 441)

USS Truxtun (DD 229) was a Clemson-class destroyer. It was one of 156 ships of the class that were commissioned between 1919 and 1922. A number of ships of the class served in World War II. They were frequently referred to as “four pipers”. Most of Truxtun’s service prior to War II was in the Pacific. The ship was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet in 1939 where it performed patrol and convoy escort duties. At the time of the grounding, the ship’s crew consisted of 156 personnel.

USS Pollux (AKS 2) was originally built as a standard Maritime Commission Design C-2 type cargo ship. It was launched in 1939 and acquired by the US Navy for conversion into a general stores ship. It was commissioned in May 1941. It served with the Atlantic Fleet on regular provisioning cruises. Its normal crew complement was 159 personnel. However, it was carrying 74 additional personnel on its trip to Argentia for a total of 233.

USS Wilkes (DD 441) was a Gleaves-class destroyer. It was commissioned in April 1941. At the time, it was one of the Navy’s most modern and technically advanced destroyers. For this reason, it was often assigned flagship duties when operating in convoy. The Gleaves-class was the last of the of the raised forecastle “step deck” type destroyers.  Wilkes served in the Atlantic until 1944 when it was transferred to the Pacific. It was decommissioned in 1946. Its normal complement was 239 personnel.

In February 1942, Pollux departed Casco Bay, Maine, along with Wilkes and Truxtun who were assigned as convoy escorts. The ship was carrying a cargo of bombs, radio equipment, aircraft engines, and other supplies for delivery to the naval base at Argentia. Wilkes was acting as the convoy flagship. As the ship approached Newfoundland, a severe winter storm developed and visibility was reduced to near zero and the ships were unable to effectively obtain radio direction finder bearings. It appears that the ships were driven northward of their plotted track. This led to the groundings on 18 February 1942.

In order to completely understand the following events it is necessary to understand the geography of the south coast of Newfoundland.

Placentia Bay is located in the Southeast part of Newfoundland, It is bounded by the Avalon Peninsula to the East and the Burin Peninsula to the West. Argentia is on the East side of the bay, about 70 miles to the north of open water. The disaster actually took place on the southwest side of the Burin Peninsula after the ships got lost In the storm and failed to make their right turn to go up the bay to Argentia. As can be seen in the following photo, this is a very bad place to run aground because the area has a rocky coast and is bounded by high cliffs, making rescue very difficult.

(Image courtesy Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Govt.)

(Image courtesy Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Govt.)

The groundings actually took place at about 4 AM on 18 February 1942 within minutes of each other. Truxtun grounded at Chambers Cove near the town of St Lawrence. The area is bounded by cliffs as much as 400 feet high. Pollux grounded about 1.5 miles to port of Truxtun at Lawn Point near the small fishing village of Lawn. The cliffs in this area are about 250 feet high.  As soon as the word got out of the grounding, the local villagers organized rescue efforts. Unfortunately, the only effective method for recovering survivors was by lowering ropes and dragging them up the cliffs before the tide came up. Because of the difficult surf and the bitter weather, loss of life was high on both Truxtun and Pollux.

Truxtun broke up almost immediately upon grounding. Out of the crew of 156, only 46 crew members survived and 110 were lost.  The survivors were rescued by residents of the nearby mining town of St Lawrence. They were picked up by the Navy the next day.

Pollux ran aground shortly after Truxtun. As soon as he realized that the ship was aground, the Commanding Officer ordered full speed ahead in order to keep the ship from sliding back and sinking into deep water. Some of the crew attempted to swim ashore via swim lines without success because the lines became oil soaked. Finally, lines with a boatswain’s chair were rigged to a ledge and the remaining crew members were conveyed ashore by that method where they were trapped on an icy cliff until rescuers arrived from the town of St. Lawrence. The ship broke up shortly thereafter. Out of the crew of 233 personnel, there were 140 survivors with 93 personnel lost.

The high cliffs of Argentia Bay (USN Photo/Natl. Archives/Image # 80-G-K-13566)

The high cliffs of Argentia Bay (USN Photo/Natl. Archives/Image # 80-G-K-13566)

Wilkes’ fate was very different. The ship actually ran aground slightly before Truxtun and Pollux. Fortunately, only its front portion ran aground. The ship was able to break free and back out to sea without casualties by moving personnel and cargo aft. Due to the seas, there was little they could do to help the survivors. Wilkes later proceeded to Argentia where she remained for six days prior to proceeding to Boston for repairs.

Out of a total of 389 personnel aboard Truxtun and Pollux, there were 203 casualties and 186 survivors. This made it the largest single casualty experienced by the US Navy in World War II up until that date. It remains among the worst in naval history.

Newspaper headline, Tuscaloosa News, March 25, 1942

Newspaper headline, Tuscaloosa News, March 25, 1942

A great deal of credit goes to the tireless, efficient, and in some cases heroic efforts of the shore side people of the towns of St Lawrence and Lawn on the Burin Peninsula. Without these efforts, the number of casualties would have been much higher.

The Naval Station at Argentia was decommissioned in 1973 and the land was transferred to the Canadian government in 1975. The last US Navy personnel left the area in 1994.

George W. Stewart is a retired US Navy Captain. He is a 1956 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. During his 30 year naval career, he held two ship commands and served a total of 8 years on naval material inspection boards, during which he conducted trials and inspections aboard over 200 naval vessels. Since his retirement from active naval service in 1986 he has been employed in the ship design industry where he has specialized in the development of concept designs of propulsion and powering systems, some of which have entered active service. He currently holds the title of Chief Marine Engineer at Marine Design Dynamics.

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BOOK REVIEW – The German and the Austrian Navies: Vol. I and II (Second Edition)


Reviewed by Captain Winn Price, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired)

A couple of years ago, I reviewed the first edition of Marc Nonnenkamp’s two volume set, The German and the Austrian Navies. In my previous review, I highlighted many admirable qualities of these two volumes: 1) The comprehensive coverage of every ship that served in the navies of Germanic speaking peoples. 2) Ships planned but never built 3) Ships captured by the Germans and placed into service with their navy 4) Forty page essay on the German’s Operation Sealion, the planned assault on England. 5) Appendices listing additional sources – books and websites.

The larger issues that gave me concern – the lack of a ship index in a reference book and the paucity of ships’ photos (especially in color) have been rectified nicely. The reader will be especially drawn to the color paintings by the late marine artist Gunther Todt. In summation of the positives, the 2nd Edition is a clear upgrade. It is much friendlier to the researcher and more interesting to the casual reader who enjoys ships photos and excellent paintings.

I would like to end this update review here, dwelling on the substantial improvements that the author has made. Alas, I would be shirking my duty. One of my previous complaints seems to persist – errors and omissions. I have no expertise in the subject matter, but I do have some isolated familiarity.

For example, when serving as CIC officer on the Tattnall (DDG 19), my wonderful crew of radarmen hosted their opposite numbers from the visiting sister-ship Lutjens in a beach party in Mayport in 1970. Wisely the Americans brought the food and the Germans the beer. So I looked up this BIW built German DDG. The text reports she is armed with “…40 surface-to-surface missiles, 2 surface-to-air missiles (SAM)…” The magazine for the Mark 13 launcher holds 40 SAMs. I don’t know what the mention of 2 SSMs is in reference to. The description goes on to credit Lutjens with main propulsion diesels (incorrect) and four boilers.

In my previous review, I mentioned my interest in three 19th century German warships that were present for the 1889 Samoan cyclone – Olga, Adler and Eber. The first two ships were easily found thanks to the new index. The third, Eber, does not seem to be included based on the index. The gunboat Eber (1903) in the index (pg. 183) is not the one lost in Samoa. I assume her class is missing from the text.

If the preceding errors were the sum total, then I would be carping over a small sample. The problem is that I want to rely on this reference, but I am hesitant. I just do not know the extent, if any, of additional errors. In summary, this is a substantially improved edition courtesy of the author’s hard work driven by a love for German history and her warships, but marred, perhaps only slightly, by nagging doubts of accuracy.


Captain Winn Price is a writer of naval historic fiction.

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BOOK REVIEW – Cushing’s Coup: The True Story of How Lt. Col. James Cushing and His Filipino Guerrillas Captured Japan’s Plan Z and Changed the Course of the Pacific War

Cushings CoupBy Dirk Barreveld, Casement Publishers, Havertown, PA (2015)

Reviewed by Nathan Albright

Every once in a while there is a book about a forgotten or neglected aspect of World War II history that makes a reader wonder why this story has not been turned into a movie.  Cushing’s Coup is one of those books, managing not only to tell the story of how Cushing’s daring and independent spirit as a guerrilla leader on Cebu during World War II sought to preserve both the well-being of the local population during occupation, but also managed to provide the Allied forces with detailed plans about the Japanese military in 1944 that greatly influenced the dispositions of the American fleets in the Battles of the Philippine Sea as well as Leyte Gulf. It also led General Douglas McArthur to push the timetable of his return to the Philippines two months earlier. As the author notes, his leadership and his intelligence gathering was worthy of the Medal of Honor, and it is unjust that the location of his grave is unknown and that his heroism is largely unknown today. Of course, if this book is widely read, memory of his deeds is likely to increase.

The book does more than detail this incident, although it serves as the inspiration of the book.  Rather, Barreveld manages to place Cushing’s actions as a local guerrilla commander in a larger context that examines the American imperial presence in the Philippines, the importance of the Philippines for its natural resources as well as for its control of vital shipping lines for Japan, the power of the native oligarchy in the Philippines that to this day has hindered a more just political and economic order, and the lure of mining in the Philippines that led James Cushing and at least two of his brothers to travel there during the interwar period. Barreveld also manages to examine Cushing’s behavior with regards to Plan Z in the larger context of guerrilla activities in the period between 1941 and 1945, and the achievement of the Cebu guerrillas under his command, including their ability to avoid infiltration by the Japanese and their impressive record in battle and in raids against the Japanese occupying forces.

One of the most compelling aspects of this book, and what makes it a likely source material for a gripping war movie, is the descriptive nature of various elements of the story of Cushing’s resistance against Japan and the travel of Plan Z in absolute secrecy on both sides.  After a dramatic plane crash leaves some high-ranking Japanese officials as captives of the local guerrillas, a massive crackdown by Japan’s occupying forces follows, and the absence of timely communication with Allied commanders leads Cushing to exchange prisoners for a release of military pressure on the local population. Meanwhile, some uncoded Japanese documents are found on the beach. Once their value is realized, they were shipped to Australia via submarine with everything being done in the highest level of secrecy. Likewise, the behavior of the guerrillas as well as the Japanese authorities in Tokyo to the surviving prisoners in the aftermath of their capture, and the treatment of local dignitaries by the Japanese, is of a gripping nature that would be likely to be of interest to those who have read books like Captured:  The Forgotten Men Of Guam, Unbroken, or King Rat, as portraying various aspects of the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere and how it acted towards those under its misrule.

The book also manages to provide detail of the command infrastructure of the various guerrilla groups, and how there was a great deal of political rivalry and infighting among them.  The tardy recognition of Cushing’s leadership by Allied command hindered the logistical efforts of the guerrillas in Cebu, forcing them to be more resourceful in acquiring supplies from Japanese occupation forces in the absence of local capabilities in manufacturing their own munitions, and also hindering promotions and recognition of the achievements of the Cebu guerrillas. The political infighting on the side of the Allies, including the lure of betrayal, which was avoided by sound intelligence work, is one of the more intriguing elements of the story, demonstrating that issues of command for guerrilla operations is seldom smooth and depends on a great deal of diplomatic action as well as the ability to maintain communications with cells in occupied territory, no easy task.

Ultimately, this book serves several functions.  For one, it reveals the serendipitous discovery and savvy exploitation of the intelligence coup of the naval plans of the Imperial Japanese Navy for 1944, demonstrating the importance of intelligence to the prosecution of the Allied effort during the Pacific War, and how that intelligence depended on little-known and poorly remembered people on the ground like Lt. Col. James Cushing and his local guerrillas of Cebu. Also of great interest, besides the value of this work in the larger place of World War II historiography, is the attention paid to areas of political, diplomatic, and logistical skill, a vivid portrayal of the difficulties of guerrilla and anti-insurgent combat, and also the difficulties faced by war heroes in being remembered when their service has taken place in what are now post-colonial regimes.  In providing a record of the heroism of a forgotten man, this book serves to enlighten its readers about a man as well as the place and time in which he operated, all of which are insufficiently known even by those who are avid readers of World War II history.


Nathan Albright resides in Portland, Oregon.

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BOOK REVIEW – Big Gun Battles: Warship Duels of the Second World War

Stern_Big Gun BattlesBy Robert C. Stern, Seaforth Publishing, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley, South Yorkshire England, (2015)

Reviewed by Ed Calouro

Robert C. Stern has added yet another authoritative work to his long list of titles about naval warfare written over the past thirty years. Having examined submarines, destroyers, aircraft carriers, kamikazes, and the U.S. Navy in Europe, among others, Stern set his sights on big-gun, World War II naval actions.

A major dilemma was deciding which battles to include or exclude. Stern used broad categories to make his determinations. The actions must be the most important and interesting naval gun battles. They must demonstrate how changes in technology led to an increased ability to destroy enemy warships by gunfire. The battles should have influenced the course of the war; yet the author also favored less well-known engagements.

Stern evaluated seven chronological periods starting with “The Curtain Rises (August 1939-June 1940)” and ends in October 1944. The commerce raiding cruise of the Panzerschiffe (pocket battleship) Graf Spee, the Battles of the River Plate, Denmark Strait, North Cape, Surigao Strait, and others are analyzed. The last three were subjects of full length books reviewed here. Lesser known engagements include the Battle of Punta Stilo (9 July 1940), the Action off Cape Spada (19 July 1940), and the Battle of Balikpapan (23-24 January 1942).

There is no getting around technical terms. Stern largely deals with these well in his introduction and does not bog the reader down with naval jargon. The novice is exposed to the Ford Range-keeper, Argo Clock, Dreyer Table, stereoscopic vs. coincidence rangefinders, and synthetic vs. analytic systems for finding firing solutions. They underscore a major point:  these technological innovations – most especially radar – had a “profound impact well before the end of the war”     (p. XVII).

Helpful and illuminating observations are provided. There is a “Who Shot Well” section at the end of the River Plate battle and similar after action analyses. The author addresses why German shooting was often accurate:  gunnery optics, doctrine, and training gave them “a decided advantage at long-range” (pp. 82-83), though one wishes there was more elaboration.  The reader learns why, despite the improvements in gunnery, the rate of hits in general in World War II was often two percent or less. It was interesting to learn HMS Hood had no immune zone against Bismarck’s 15-inch shells and that the heavy cruiser Prince Eugen’s 8-inch/60 caliber guns outranged Hood’s 15-inch/42 caliber weapons.  Stern provides several nuggets of interesting and applicable information.

One can question the battles chosen. Stern analyzed the Battle of Denmark Strait, but dealt with the sinking of the Bismarck succinctly. Given the author’s assertions that the naval long rifle was not the best weapon to sink a large, well-built enemy ship at close range (see the Battle of North Cape and attempts to sink the Yamashiro at Surigao Strait), an analysis of the Rodney and King George V’s attempt to sink the Bismarck would have been interesting. One also wonders why the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (November 1942) was not evaluated.

A good case is presented asserting that technological advancements resulted in improved gunfire by 1944. On 28 June 1940, it took five Royal Navy cruisers almost an hour, using 85 percent of their ammunition, to sink one Italian destroyer, capable of only 25 knots. The RN here “displayed far more enthusiasm than skill in gunnery” (p. 39). The author demonstrated how naval gunfire progressed from “art to science,” (pp. 225-226) but does not make a totally convincing case. Earlier, Stern wrote: “Ships were hit or missed more by luck than intent and sometimes the ship that was hit was not the intended target” (p. 202). There is a brief (less than one full page), “Afterword” wherein Stern reasserts his major findings. Readers would benefit from a longer analysis synthesizing the many assertions put forth here. More pages devoted to a final summary and conclusion section would have been helpful.

The writing is crisp, clear, and comprehensible. Errors are few and insignificant, testimony to this veteran author and his copy editor. One example:  the range of West Virginia’s target did not drop from 24,000 yards at 0349 to 2,800 yards at 0352-10 (p. 208).  It was 22,800 yards.

The 148 pictures contribute mightily to the success of this book. Images of scorched gun barrels and battle damage have a more telling effect than words. Ample charts, maps, and drawings are useful. This volume is firmly grounded in primary sources, most notably, After Action and Admiralty reports. The explanatory footnotes provide a wealth of additional information. Though not necessarily for the neophyte, this book is a handy addition for serious students of World War II naval history.


Ed Calouro is an adjunct instructor in the History Department at Rhode Island College.


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BOOK REVIEW – Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd

airpower rebornEdited by John Andreas Olsen, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Colonel Curt Marsh, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)

Airpower Reborn is an excellent update on strategic concepts and theory with an emphasis on airpower’s strategic usefulness. Although this book is a part of a new History of Military Aviation series edited by Paul J. Springer, the other books in this series are not listed (Possibly this is the first in the series). The book is primarily a compilation of articles discussing the evolution and development of strategic thought concerning the use of airpower. Emphasis is given to the more recent development of air strategy by John Boyd and John A. Warden III.

The articles (or chapters) go beyond just airpower strategy and addresses the greater topic of national strategy for any major conflict.  The unique status of air power is that it provides capabilities that transcend the land or army centric constructs of the classical strategists like Clausewitz.  The articles posit that airpower’s modern capabilities to provide responsive, flexible and precision weapons effects require new perspectives on developing and implementing strategies.  Anyone familiar with airpower theories will recall that the early proponents of airpower have promised wonderful revolutionary results since the first use of airpower in World War I.  The extravagant claims of such proponents as Jan Smuts, Giulio Douhet, Hugh Trenchard, Billy Mitchell and others famously oversold the capability of airpower to single handedly win wars.  According to the editor for the book’s articles, the full capabilities of airpower finally came of age in Operation Desert Storm (1991) after disappointing for so many years.

John Boyd developed the construct of the OODA Loop as a concept of strategic decision making.  OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.  A common application of this is “rapid OODA looping” or quickly working through the OODA loop process in order to think and act faster than your opponent.  The author of the chapter on Boyd and the OODA loop presents it as much more complex and insightful than this simplified “rapid” concept.  He goes through a very thorough academic discussion on how the OODA loop decision making process was founded upon applied concepts from Post Modernism, Cognitive Sciences and Organizational Theory (open and closed systems).  This particular chapter is a bit of an academic slog with one section titled “Neo-Darwinism, Evolutionary Epistemology, and Military Strategy” (In one sentence, he uses the word “zeitgeist” twice!). Regardless, it is an interesting review of modern organizational thought and science which is applied to methods of warfare designed to defeat an opponent through organizational and/or psychological collapse.

John A. Warden III’s chapter titled “Smart Strategy, Smart Airpower” discusses his concepts of airpower leading up to Operation Desert Storm and its application in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion of Iraq.  Warden was one of the key strategists for both operations including the “Shock and Awe” air campaign.  He addresses Centers of Gravity and the Five Rings Model (Leadership, Processes, Infrastructure, Population and Field Forces).  He also makes a great case for having an “Exit Strategy” before you ever start a war.  His point here is to understand what end-state you desire before engaging in conflict, and to evaluate how successfully it may be achieved (A concept not very well applied to either Iraq or Afghanistan!).

This book is an excellent addition to your library for those who enjoy strategic analysis and theory.  It should be required reading (as it may already be) at all of our service War Colleges.  On a personal note, my one struggle with strategic theory is considering how to apply these concepts to our current conflicts such as with defeating ISIS.  I do believe we can develop a winning strategy, but as usual the primary constraint is the political leadership.  Regardless, professional military leaders need to be fully equipped to think through strategic concepts and be able to develop useful strategies for success against any opponent.  Promoting winning strategies to the political class is a different issue but a skill that our senior military leaders must apply.  The strategic use of airpower offers new avenues for success in warfare that the old land centric concepts of Clausewitz could never imagine.


Colonel Marsh is a naval aviator and frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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BOOK REVIEW – Long Night of the Tankers: Hitler’s War Against Caribbean Oil

Long Night of the TankersBy David J. Bercuson and Holger H. Herwig, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (2014)

Reviewed by Diana L. Ahmad, Ph.D.

All the action in World War II did not take place in Europe, North Africa, or the Pacific.  David J. Bercuson and Holger H. Herwig thoroughly explained how Hitler’s Kreigsmarine endangered the course of the war for the Allied forces by sending its “gray sharks” to the Caribbean to sink any vessels they encountered, particularly those carrying crude oil and bauxite. Using war diaries, first-hand accounts, and primary materials from the German Federal Military Archives and the Deutsches U-Boot Museum, Long Night of the Tankers provides an exciting look at the submarines that caused so much fear and destruction in the North American theater.

Concentrating on the period between the United States entry into the war in December 1941 and 1943 and covering Operation New Land (“Neuland”), the authors explained the differing strategies of the leaders of the German Navy, Admirals Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz.  Raeder wanted the submarines to destroy the oil refineries and tank farms in, for example, Aruba, while Dönitz wanted a “tonnage war” and permitted his U-boat captains to sink any vessels they thought carried materiel that could aid the enemy. Ultimately, the German submarines sought victims from the Panama Canal to the east coast of Brazil and beyond.

To achieve the goals of Dönitz, the U-boat commanders understood the importance of surprise attacks. The downside to the numerous attacks on Allied shipping between February and March 1942 was that the Allies increased their defenses against the U-boats. Ultimately, the Allies developed better systems to detect the presence of the German submarines and had aircraft with lights attached to their underbellies that could shine on the submarines as the U-boats surfaced during the nights to permit fresh air to flow into the vessels and to recharge their batteries.

The Caribbean became a key theater of war because of the minerals and oil in the region.  Aruba, Curaçao, and Trinidad refined the largest amount of oil in the world and their facilities proved particularly important because of the 100-octane aviation gasoline they produced and so necessary for the British air force. In addition to the oil and gasoline, tankers also carried, for example, bauxite, tungsten, nickel, platinum, copper, and tin, minerals necessary for the production of war materiel, especially aluminum needed for the building of ships and planes.

The majority of the book concerns itself with the day-to-day operations of the German vessels, their commanders, and crew, and goes into great detail on the battle scenarios that the U-boats encountered. On occasion, the inside temperatures of the vessels reached 40° Celsius with 100% humidity. When damaged by Allied attacks, the lights went out and the head spilled, causing even normally unpleasant conditions to quickly deteriorate. Concentrating on the operations of Albrecht Achilles, Werner Hartenstein, and Jürgen von Rosenstiel, as well as a few others, the authors explained the U-boat operations with a wonderful mix of military action and personality. As in the film “Das Boot,” the reader comes to see the officers and crew as more than just the enemy.

As the submarines had limited amounts of fuel and torpedoes, their time in the Caribbean proved limited and they needed to make the long return journey to the French coastal harbor at Lorient. While there, Admiral Dönitz greeted the victorious submarine commanders with medals and shore leave or reprimands for those commanders not aggressive enough against the Allies.

The questions that arise from the book are brief and include what happened to all the unexploded torpedoes and bombs in the Caribbean and what was the environmental impact of the attacks on the tankers? Why did the German Navy continue to give the U-boats often ineffective “eels” (torpedoes)?  As the Allies continued to improve their defenses against the German attacks, why did the German military fail to counter the Allied improvements? The book also provides a wonderful glossary, bibliographical essay, and photographs. There is only one small detraction in the work; the authors occasionally used clichés that could have been avoided, such as “freshly baked,” “pissed off,” and “born leader.” That aside, this is an excellent book, well worth reading.


Dr. Ahmad teaches at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

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BOOK REVIEW – General Henry Lockwood of Delaware; Shipmate of Melville, Co-builder of the Naval Academy, Civil War Commander

HEnry Lockwood of DelawareBy Lloyd J. Matthews, University of Delaware Press, Newark, DE (2014)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

Those who watch the annual Army-Navy football game and be not a bit awestruck by the competing corps of cadets and midshipmen might not realize that these two friendly rival institutions have an interesting connection. Henry Lockwood was an alumnus of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, who then went on to help found the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and served on its faculty for over two decades. That alone would mark him as a remarkable man of the 19th century; but his service to the nation and connections to other notable political, military and reformist-minded individuals lead the reader to someone more. Neither Henry Lockwood nor his equally prodigious elder brother John, are well-known individuals in popular history. Lloyd Matthews has set out to amend this. In many ways, this volume is a labor of love to bring the Lockwood brothers to a notoriety that they deserve.

While he was the younger brother, Henry Lockwood is the main subject of Matthew’s volume; although John Lockwood appears throughout as their lives intersected. The elder brother is covered in the final two chapters, as well. With their mother’s death at a young age, the siblings were primarily raised by their father, Colonel William Lockwood, though their maternal grandfather Manlove Hayes was also a strong paternal influence. William Lockwood would prove to be a professional inspiration to both of his sons. Serving as a midshipman and militiaman for Delaware during the War of 1812, his long service to the state would see him raised to a Colonelcy of the Fifth Regiment, and when his younger received his brigadier general’s star, it doubtless filled him with pride (and maybe a bit of jealousy). While the father served primarily the Maryland Armed Forces, the sons would seek federal service. Henry Lockwood was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York; graduating with the class of 1836, and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in Artillery. His first (and only unit) was the Second Artillery Regiment, which had weathered the British bombardment at Fort McHenry.  He served for just over one year, but that would be one of long-term importance. The Second Seminole War was a costly, dirty affair; and must have been a shock going from learning about fighting wars by the book, to seeing an unconventional conflict up close. His Civil War record would illustrate that he learned both methods very well; and quite quickly.

After his initial military service, Lockwood resigned his commission and spent four years as a farmer in Illinois. His elder brother John indicated that his schooling military experience might be better spent elsewhere. John was serving as an assistant surgeon in the Navy, and suggested that branch of service might have opportunities for the younger sibling. John was correct in this regard, for Henry would dedicate more than two decades to the junior service. The first part of this naval service would be as a professor on board the frigate USS United States flagship of the Navy’s Pacific Squadron. The United States was a storied vessel. Stephen Decatur had captained her during the War of 1812; defeating His Majesty’s frigate Macedonian, and she would serve in one way or another for nearly seven decades. Under Captain Thomas ap Catesby Jones, the vessel would crisscross the great ocean protecting and enforcing American interests.

The most dramatic example of this was the seizure of the Mexican town of Monterey under the mistaken belief that the United States and Mexico were at war. (Catesby Jones was just a few years premature). While embarrassing for all concerned in the short-term, most careers would not be affected, or would prosper. This was true of Catesby Jones and Lockwood. His time on the United States would be exceedingly important for three major reasons. The first was that his exemplary service on board (including leading one of the landing parties into Monterey) would make his name a familiar one on naval circles. The same would be true for his brother. His time as a floating professor of Midshipmen led him to believe that a more traditional educational approach, akin to his own alma mater be embraced by the Navy. Finally, it is important, because Lockwood was immortalized by a lowly seaman on board. This was none other than Herman Melville, who put Lockwood (with some modifications) into his novel White-Jacket. One of the issues Melville remarks on in this work is the Navy’s use of flogging as a means of punishment. Within a decade this practice would be ended via Congressional action, thanks in no small part to Melville and his good friend who was the most vocal uniformed opponent to flogging, none other than Naval Surgeon John Lockwood. Whether or not Lockwood knew of this caricature Matthews is unsure of.

The greater part of this volume deals with Lockwood’s efforts to create a naval equivalent to West Point; and his military service during the Civil War. The effort to make this happen might be the most important in Lockwood’s long career. While still friendly rivals to this day, there was no love lost between the Departments of War and Navy during the nineteenth century. The American military was a step-child of its former colonial overlord Great British. This was advantageous for the Sea Services, as the Royal Navy and Marines were thoroughly professional forces. The performance of the US Army in the American Revolution and War of 1812 was in many ways lackluster. Attempts to fight the war cheaply by relying on a militia meant that both conflicts nearly took disastrous turns. The War of 1812, especially the burning of Washington, D.C. and the White House had shown that the nation’s defense would require a more professional force. The Navy and Marines had acquitted themselves well, and the Army would spend the greater part of the ensuing century to bring itself up to par. While the militia system would be retired, the “volunteers” that replaced it was the same problem under a different name. The Mexican War allowed the U.S. Army to gain experience against a lesser opponent.

From the very beginning, the U.S. Navy would be a much more professional organization than the militia-based Army. The nineteenth century would illustrate that while the Army might get the funding; the Navy would often do more with less. The one area that the Army led the way in was in its officer corps education. Like its British forebear, junior officers would now be taught at college institutions rather than the Navies’ on-the-job training of midshipmen. Founded during Thomas Jefferson’s first term in office; the United States Military Academy at West Point seems an unlikely action by America’s third President. Known for his desire to shrink the size of the government as a whole; and especially the military, creating a federally funded school to staff a large professional military does not seem to fit in with the policies of a President who believed that the nation’s defense would be handled by state militias; but the USMA was envisioned as something far different from what it became. Heavily inspired by the École Polytechnique; founded in Paris in 1794, Jefferson saw West Point as an institution that could provide an excellent education to upstanding young men who would focus on the enlightened subjects of Science, Engineering and Cartography. While new graduates would initially serve as junior officers in the US Army, the Army’s small size in relation with the militia meant these men would eventually turn to service as militia officers, civic leaders and follow in the footsteps of men like Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Zebulon Pike. This explains how Lockwood could leave military service after only one-quarter of the time that it took to commission him.  It would also potentially rival institutions like Harvard, Yale and Columbia which lay in the still heavily Federalist Northeast. In the wake of the militia’s disastrous performance in the War of 1812, and the growing call for a more professional military force by men such as Winfield Scott and Jacob Brown, West Point would need to reflect these changes; which took place after Sylvanus Thayer took over the position of Superintendent in 1817. His predecessor Alden Partridge actually left the service to found the first private military academy in Norwich, Vermont in 1819. Whereas Thayer and his successors would strive to model an officer corps for an evolving professional force; Partridge and his successors would retain something of the Jeffersonian ideal of a short-term citizen officer. Lockwood’s matriculation overlapped that of Thayer’s time in office; so the influence was there. Lockwood was not alone in his fight (his old Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones was part of the review board that expanded the old Naval Training Schools into the modern incarnation of a Naval Academy), but his efforts and long tenure on the faculty mark him out for special attention. His brother John was also a founding faculty member.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Lockwood’s home state of Delaware (as well as the neighboring state of Maryland) chose to remain in the Union, despite slavery being legal. Commissioned Brigadier General of Delaware volunteers, Lockwood would bloodlessly pacify what Matthews calls the “Delmarva” Peninsula. There were counties bordering the Chesapeake in the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Despite the latter state’s secession into the Confederacy there was very little violence during the occupation. Lockwood’s ability to do this with a small force meant that additional units could be deployed to the front line. Brigadier General Lockwood did see fighting service. His independent brigade was part of the defense of “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg, and saw action at Cold Harbor, where Lockwood was relieved of his command (unjustly as Matthews defends quite effectively) by former subordinate Gouveneur Warren.

The last three chapters focus on the General’s later years as well as a more thorough look at his brother John’s professional and personal life.

This is a fine book. There are only three slight criticisms. All of the photos are at the end of the book, as opposed to the chapters on Lockwood’s formative years, and his later years. This might have helped with the impact of certain family members; especially his father. The other issue is in regards to Lockwood’s alma mater, and that of Sylvanus Thayer. I am writing this less than a mile from Thayer’s birthplace (Matthew’s volume has a bookmark from the Thayer Public Library sticking out of it); and while the old general did help transform West Point into a true military academy, he did not begin its status as an engineering institution. This was part of Jefferson’s original design for it. Arguably the most important action of Sylvanus Thayer’s stint as West Point Superintendent was to bring Dennis Hart Mahan onto the faculty as Professor of Military Science and Engineering Methodology.  Ironically, Mahan’s son Alfred Thayer Mahan was a midshipman at Annapolis under Lockwood, and the younger Mahan unfairly mocked him for his stuttering. Many of the textbooks that Mahan required had the phrase “Translated from the French” on their title pages. His term came to an end in 1871, the same year France suffered defeat at the hands of Prussia. The campaigns of Napoleon and the writings of the Swiss staff officer Antoine-Henri Jomini were studied in detail; leading to the comment that officers in the Civil War charged into battle with a sword in one hand, and Jomini in the other. Finally, Matthews ignores the white elephant in the room that inspired most nations during the nineteenth century to create fully accredited Naval Academies: the Industrial Revolution. While it would be used as a building material for some time; as the century wore on, it was becoming glaringly apparent that the age of “Wooden ships and Iron men” was being replaced by the age of “Complicated Steam-driven ships and literate men”. I highly recommend the volume to anyone interested in the evolution of the modern US Navy, and Naval affairs in general.


Nathan D. Wells is an adjunct instructor of History and Government at Quincy College in Quincy, MA.




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BOOK REVIEW – Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor

Target TokyoBy James M. Scott, W.W. Norton & Company, New York (2015)

Reviewed by John R. Satterfield, DBA

In the spring of 1992 at my local airport, two B-25 bombers landed and taxied to the FBO to refuel. I found out that they were headed to Washington, DC, for a low-level flight down the Mall to honor Jimmy Doolittle and the Tokyo Raiders on the 50th anniversary of that extraordinary mission.  Doolittle was still with us, 95 at the time, and attended the event, a measure of the nation’s gratitude for an act so audacious and unmistakably heroic that it immediately assumed iconic standing in U.S. military history, retaining that prominence ever since and still a point of shared pride for the U.S. Navy.

Hundreds of books and articles have covered the raid in infinitesimal detail, but this new volume, meticulously researched and documented, brings everything together in style.

Author James M. Scott, a former journalist and Nieman Fellow at Harvard, captures the reader early and maintains suspense even though the outcome is well known.  Although Target Tokyo is filled with facts and encyclopedic in scope, it is a pleasure to read and hard to put down, despite its nearly 500-page length.

The raid was World War II’s truly combined operation from the start. The Navy conceived, helped to plan and then trained a group of all-volunteer Army Air Forces crews to handle takeoffs from a carrier deck. The raid itself involved two Navy aircraft carriers and a small armada of warships with orders to steam close enough to Japan to launch 16 modified B-25B Mitchell medium bombers from the flight deck of Hornet, on its first Pacific deployment, to attack Tokyo and nearby cities.

After detection by Japanese fishing trawlers serving as picket vessels, Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, naval commander of the operation, ordered Lt. Col. Doolittle, a reserve officer recalled to active duty and an aviation legend in his own right, to take off, although the fleet was 750 miles, nearly 200 miles farther than planned, from Japan.  The early takeoff in poor weather and high winds, guaranteed that the aircraft had insufficient fuel to land safely at Chinese airfields.

All the raiders dropped their bombs, and Scott documents their damage plane by plane.  Not surprisingly, because of Tokyo’s densely packed population and sprawl, much of the destruction and many of the casualties were civilian, a fact ignored by Americans and emphasized by the Japanese.

The impact of the raid had enormous implication for World War II. It cemented the Japanese Navy’s desire to extend the Empire’s defensive perimeter and take Midway, a move that turned out to be the disaster that began Japan’s inexorable Pacific retreat. Just as important was Japan’s vengeance on China for harboring the Americans. Japanese forces tortured, raped and killed thousands of Chinese civilians for nothing more than living in areas through which the Raiders passed during their escapes. Many towns in the vast coastal region that helped the aircrews were left in ashes.

Only one raider managed to land by diverting, against orders, to Vladivostok in the neutral Soviet Union. The crew was interned for over a year, enduring sub-zero winter temperatures and subsistence diets until they were smuggled across the Iranian border to freedom. The other fifteen aircraft crashed in China. Most crews bailed out, but a couple attempted to ditch near the shore, causing serious injuries to several crew members.

Overall, mission personnel were lucky. Of the 80 crewmen, three were killed, one when his parachute failed to open and two by drowning when their plane ditched. The Japanese captured eight crew members who suffered unspeakable torture and abuse from their captors. Three would be executed by firing squad and one died from starvation. The remaining four weighed less than 100 lbs. when liberated, and one of them suffered such violent delusions that medical authorities had to place him in a straightjacket. The remaining crewmen, one of whom lost a leg because of his injuries, survived and eventually came home.

Doolittle himself thought the mission was a failure because he had to bail out of his aircraft and assumed all others had crashed the same way.  Sitting by the wreckage of his bomber, he said he expected a court-martial and demotion on his return.  His flight engineer, Sgt. Paul Leonard, disagreed. “They’re going to make you a general and give you the Medal of Honor,” Leonard argued. He was right.

After returning to the U.S., Doolittle skipped a grade and was promoted immediately to brigadier general. In the Oval Office, President Roosevelt pinned the Medal of Honor on his uniform as his wife, flown from her California home, looked on. Doolittle went on to become the Army’s only reserve four-star general, commanding the 8th Air Force in Europe. He passed away in 1993, aged 96. Thirteen of the 80 Doolittle raiders, including the prescient Paul Leonard, were killed in action in World War II. The surviving 60 fliers celebrated their achievement at annual reunions, and most enjoyed many such gatherings, living to ripe old ages.  At this writing, two Raiders remain – Doolittle’s copilot, Dick Cole, who will be 100 years old on September 7, and David Thatcher, 94 on July 31, who helped to save injured crew members from his ditched aircraft, Ruptured Duck.

Target Tokyo is a delight, capturing the epic character of the raid, and more importantly, the 80 brave men who carried it out.


Dr. Satterfield teaches military history and writes about military affairs and weapon systems.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Myth of the Press Gang: Volunteers, Impressment, and the Naval Manpower Problem in the Eighteenth Century

myth of the press gangBy J. Ross Dancy, Boydell Press Woodbridge, Suffolk, England (2015)

Reviewed by Mark Lardas

If you rely on nautical fiction or even some histories (John Masefield’a among them), you might believe the Royal Navy of the Age of Fighting Sail was mainly composed of impressed men, with many – if not most – conscripts being landsmen. The Myth of the Press Gang: Volunteers, Impressment, and the Naval Manpower Problem in the Eighteenth Century, by J. Ross Dancy challenges that view.

This book may be the first statistical study of Royal Navy manning in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Dancy goes to primary sources, examining muster books from 81 Royal Navy warships – three ships per year for nine years. Split between ships-of-the-line, frigates, and sloops of war, his survey spanned the French Wars of Revolution – 1793 through 1801.

The resulting database listed 27,174 men. Around 250,000 total men served in the Royal Navy over that span; Darcy examined a statistically significant fraction of the Royal Navy’s manpower.

His results are startling. Twentieth century historians assert at least 50% of the Royal Navy’s seamen were impressed, with estimates running as high as 80%. Darcy’s results reveal the actual total never exceeded 30% over the period studied. Generally less than 20% of the Royal Navy’s annual manpower intake came from impressed men. The vast majority of impressed men were mariners.  Only 16% were landsman.

Darcy unveils these statistics in the first two chapters: “British Naval Administration” and “Manning Statistics.” “British Naval Administration” examines how the Royal Navy’s administrators handled the problem of manning the Royal Navy. It covers a period from 1660 to the start of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793. In “Manning Statistics,” Darcy looks at who made up the wartime crews of the Royal Navy’s ships by examining their backgrounds, ages, experience, and places of origins. His studies disclose seafaring to be a young man’s game. Two-thirds were under 30, and over half under 25. The muster books also reveal where the men came from – whether they were turned over (previously enlisted), volunteers, unknown, or Quota Act volunteers. Most landsmen who served were volunteers. At least 90% volunteered, and most were young; under 25.

The next three chapters, “Volunteers,” “Impressment,” and “The Quota Acts,” examine each source of manpower individually. Darcy examines who volunteered and why.  He looks at who was impressed and how the Impressment Service worked. He also looks at the Quota Acts, and how they added men to the Royal Navy.

In the process, his statistics demolish many long-held myths.  The Royal Navy proved popular both for experienced mariners and unskilled landsmen. It was seen as an opportunity for advancement. Manpower shortages resulted from a shortage of available sailors not a reluctance to volunteer. Impressment was a tool used to secure trained mariners. The Quota Act was more generally successful than generally credited.

The Myth of the Press Gang is groundbreaking. Darcy overturns long-held assumptions about the Royal Navy. His assertions are backed by impressive research. It is a book any serious student of the period will want to – and needs – to read.


A scholar of the Age of Sail, Mark Lardas is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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