NHF Facilitates Donations Ahead of This Year’s POW/MIA Day Remembrance

Mrs. Rosemary Coskey at Hoa Lo Prison. She is wearing the bracelet recently donated to the National Museum of the United States Navy (Photo courtesy Rosemary Coskey)

Mrs. Rosemary Coskey at Hoa Lo Prison. She is wearing the bracelet recently donated to the National Museum of the United States Navy (Photo courtesy Rosemary Coskey)


Today marks America’s observance of the National POW/MIA Recognition Day. It is a day to remember those service members who were either prisoners of war (POW) or are still missing in action (MIA). It is also a day to acknowledge the suffering and sacrifices made by POW/MIA families, some of whom
are still waiting for answers about their loved ones.

Retired Navy Captain and former Vietnam POW Ken L. Coskey remains a central figure in the storied history of this Foundation. This year marks the 43rd anniversary of the return of Captain Coskey and nearly 600 other Vietnam POWs to the United States from their long captivity in Southeast Asia. Then-Commander Coskey was shot down in his A-6A Intruder over North Vietnam near the city of Vinh on 6 September 1968. He spent the next four and a half years at the Hỏa Lò Prison, better known as the “Hanoi Hilton” by its occupants. He would go on to finish his career in the Navy in 1982, and served as the Executive Director of the Foundation from 1987 to 1999. He passed away in 2013.

Captain Coskey’s wife, Rosemary Coskey, remains an active participant and member of the Foundation, sponsoring prizes for naval history at each year’s National History Day Award ceremony. In February of this year, she wrote about her emotional and moving experiences on our blog about touring Vietnam and Hỏa Lò Prison in honor of her late husband:

“It’s hard to describe the feeling you get visiting the cells and seeing the displays.  The prison was built in 1896 by the French and most of the focus is on Vietnamese prisoners and their treatment.  But eventually the visitor comes to the spaces devoted to prisoners held during the “American” War.  I had read about and was prepared for the communist propaganda that describes how well the POWs were treated and how content they were—able to practice their religion freely, attend church services, celebrate Christmas, decorate a Christmas tree, receive gifts from home, play chess and basketball, etc.  Indeed, there were photographs and a video playing on a flat screen TV, backing back up their claims.  Of course, we know better but it is their museum after all, not ours.  Visitors should prepare themselves, but that’s another subject.”

holmes-bracelet-2

Coskey bracelet donated by Mr. Holmes (NHF Photo)


The Ken Coskey POW bracelet she wore during her trip was recently donated to the National Museum of the United States Navy with the help of the Naval Historical Foundation for future display. NHF also helped facilitate another donation of a Ken Coskey bracelet to the Palm Springs Aviation Museum in California for their Vietnam POW/MIA Memorial Bracelet Display. The bracelet was donated by Mr. William T. Holmes of Fairmont, WV. Visit the page for their POW/MIA Display at the Palm Springs Aviation Museum HERE.

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My Experiences with the First Group of Female Officers Assigned to Shipboard Duty

USS Puget Sound (AD-38) under way in the Straits of Juan De Fuca during her initial shakedown cruise in March 1968. (NAVSOURCE)

USS Puget Sound (AD-38) underway in the Straits of Juan De Fuca during her initial shakedown cruise in March 1968. (NAVSOURCE)


By Captain George W. Stewart, USN (Ret.)

Author’s Preface: When reading this post, bear in mind that we are discussing the conditions that existed in 1979-1981. I recognize that there have been many developments since that time.

In October 1978, the Navy launched a “Women in Ships” program which provided for the assignment of women to noncombatant ships, such as destroyer and submarine tenders, oceanographic and research vessels – based on a court ruling that overturned statutes that had forbidden women from serving aboard ships. The initial program consisted of 55 officers and 375 enlisted personnel assigned to 21 ships. This post describes my experiences with one of the first groups of woman officers assigned to shipboard duty.  Women were not allowed to serve on combatant ships until 1994.

In 1978, the Navy promoted me to the grade of captain.  The following year, I received a letter from the Bureau of Personnel informing me that I had screened for major command.  After some negotiations with my detailer and my wife, I agreed to assignment as the commanding officer of the USS Puget Sound (AD 38), a destroyer tender. At the time, the ship was stationed in Norfolk, VA.  However, the Navy then informed me that the ship planned to go over to Gaeta, Italy, in June 1980, to relieve the cruiser USS Albany (CG 10) as the flagship for the Sixth Fleet commander and his staff.

Destroyer tenders (AD) were large ships designed to provide a variety of services for up to four destroyer-type ships tied up alongside. These included repair and maintenance, temporary berthing, medical, dental, and a variety of other services. All destroyer tenders are no longer in service.

I assumed command on 24 August 1979. At the time, the ship had approximately 50 officers and over 1,100 personnel on board. Our woman officer contingent consisted of only four officers who lived in staterooms located in a common passageway aft of my cabin.  Two additional female officers came aboard before we left the ship in June 1981. We planned to receive 100 enlisted women shortly after I left. But all I had time to do was set aside and prepare a berthing space for them.

Fortunately, Puget Sound had plenty of excess berthing facilities. The ship had originally had a single 5″/38 gun mount located on the forward part of the ship that came off because of the Women in Ships program.

I spent the first few weeks interviewing all of our officers, male and female. In the process, some things became apparent to me. It was vital that the women not be viewed as “poster girls.” We should hold them to the same standards as male officers of the same rank and experience. None of the women officers had (yet) been assigned to any collateral duties, virtually all of which (earlier) were assigned to a single male ensign. I directed my executive officer to change this policy to create equity among the officer complement.

The four women officers were assigned to different departments: supply, deck, engineering, and administrative. Each presented various issues which are worth mentioning on a case by case basis.

  1. The officer assigned to supply had the same billet as any male Supply Corps officer of her specialty would have been. At various times, she served as Disbursing Officer and Food Services Officer.
  2. The female Third Division Officer was in charge of the spaces, decks, and equipment in the after part of the ship. She became our first woman and one of the first in the Navy to qualify as an Officer of the Deck (OOD). Later she served as operations officer and navigator.
  3. The Engineering Officer had no formal engineering training, so we sent her to basic engineering school up in Newport, Rhode Island. She later became my Damage Control Assistant (DCA).
  4. Our only female lieutenant initially served as an administrative First Division Officer. After about two months she was reassigned as Administrative Officer, which gave her department head status.

At the time, I assumed command of the ship when she underwent an overhaul at the Horne Brothers Shipyard in Newport News. After a brief sea trial, we entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a four-month flagship conversion after which we had to undergo refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We finally set sail for Gaeta in May 1980.

Five Female Officers Ready to Serve Aboard Navy Ships, including Ensign Brest aboard USS Puget Sound (The Reading Eagle, 2 November 1978)

Five Female Officers Ready to Serve Aboard Navy Ships, including Ensign Brest (second to left) aboard USS Puget Sound (The Reading Eagle, 2 November 1978)

One of my earliest encounters with our Third Division Officer was when I conducted an inspection of her sailor’s berthing compartment and found awful living conditions, with toilets backed up and bunks in disarray. It turned out that part of the problem was the fact that she was reluctant to enter the compartment to conduct an inspection because there may have been sailors taking showers. I told her to set up a time for daily inspections with the compartment cleaner who would ensure that everyone in the compartment was covered.

Shortly after that, we discovered that she had a knack for standing bridge watches and our Operations Officers billet was vacant. So I assigned her duties as the Operations Officer and Navigator and qualified her as an Officer of the Deck (OOD) underway, one of the first women to be eligible for this role in the Navy. One day, I discovered that she had to stand on a box to see over the bridge wings. When I asked her how tall she was, she said, “My physical exam record says that I am 5’4.” That was obviously not accurate, but I did not let her lack of height have an impact on her qualifications. One minor problem that I had was the fact that she was (sometimes) a distraction to foreign harbor pilots who had never seen a woman officer before.

One time when we were conducting a family cruise over in Italy, my wife came up to me and said, “All that is up there on the bridge driving this great big ship is that little girl.” I responded that the “little girl” was very responsible and I knew and trusted that she would call me if she encountered any difficulties.  My response probably got my wife even more alarmed because many people thought of airline pilots and ship drivers as “steely-eyed supermen.” Obviously, she knew that I was not one of them as she was familiar with all of my faults.

Our Damage Control Assistant (DCA), Ensign Elizabeth Bres, faced entirely different issues. We had just had to fire her male predecessor for a variety of reasons and were about to go down to Guantanamo Bay for refresher training where a DCA had to play a big part. Along with the requirement to correctly set a material condition, we would be required to perform a large number of drills. Fortunately, one of our repair department officers had served as an officer in charge of the firefighting school in Norfolk, so I assigned him the responsibility for training her for her new assignment.

Bres had a unique style of management which involved a great sense of humor. She required her subordinates to refer to her as “Ma.” One time while she was debriefing me on her day’s activities the lights went out during engineering casualty control exercises. She said “I can’t think of any nicer place to be than with the captain in the dark. My response was “Out, Out.” Both of us were only kidding. She and her sailors performed superbly during the training period. We could not have asked for better accomplishment.

My detailer informed me that he had sent me one Lieutenant for assignment as our first lieutenant. The detailer gave me an impossible assignment, as the young woman had no previous sea duty. It was a critical billet that would be required to oversee the flagship transition, which would prove to be a real challenge later on. In the end, she became my Administrative Officer, which gave her department head status. She proved to be a valuable resource in that capacity.

Ensign Elizabeth Bres tours the destroyer tender USS Puget Sound in November 1, 1978. Bres was one of the first group of women officers to be assigned duty on Navy ships. (NHHC Photo/James L. Leuci, ITCM, USN (Ret.))

Ensign Elizabeth Bres tours the destroyer tender USS Puget Sound on November 1, 1978. Bres was one of the first group of women officers to be assigned duty on Navy ships. (NHHC Photo/James L. Leuci, ITCM, USN (Ret.))

Note that I have not mentioned any instances of sexual harassment or fraternization associated with our ship’s woman officer program. I cannot say that it ever occurred, but nothing was ever brought to my attention.

In May 1980, we finally headed over to Gaeta, Italy where we became the Sixth Fleet Flagship. We relieved the cruiser Albany (CG 10) as the Sixth Fleet flagship on 28 May 1980. From there our responsibilities became much more complicated as we had to accommodate the Commander Sixth Fleet and his staff – including approximately 200 additional male personnel and we had to move from port to port around the Mediterranean about every two weeks. Our women officers made their share of contributions to these transitions.

A few other items are worth mentioning here. My mother and grandmother had raised me always to hold the door for women when they passed through it.  This presented a bit of a dilemma. I finally solved it by agreeing that I would hold open the door for them when we were in civilian clothes, and they would hold it for me when we were in uniform.

One day we were holding a cookout on the flight deck. As I proceeded aft, I heard a lot of yelling going on. What was going on was the ladies’ division of the arm wrestling championship. It turned out that they were unable to utilize the table that the guys had used because they were not tall enough. So they sprawled out on the deck. The other officers were just poking fun at each other however our Admin Officer was just trying to prove that she could beat the others at arm wrestling. She might have been able to compete in one of the men’s divisions.

At one time we had a sailor restricted to the ship awaiting an administrative discharge. One evening, he went up and sat in the Admiral’s helicopter. He pulled a distress marker off the bulkhead and managed to set it off. The helo was fitted with a VIP kit that included carpeting which caught fire. Our firefighting party under the direction of the DCA came through beautifully, and there was no damage to the ship.

We were subject to periodic visits from the human goals officer from Naples. I received a very nasty letter from her boss about the attitudes of our women officers who she claimed had all been given “special privileges” which was untrue. I believe that she just could not adapt to the idea that they were full team members. The DCA one day (always kidding) stated: “Captain if you are not nice to me I will tell her (the human goals officer) on you.”

A few lessons learned that still apply today:

  1. Female officers should be required to perform the same duties as a male officer of their experience and pay grade.
  2. They require adequate training to perform the duties associated with their billets.
  3. They should not be regarded as “Poster Girls” and given no special privileges.
  4. They will be accepted by the male officers once they had proven themselves as productive team members.
  5. They should perform their share of collateral duties.
  6. They would bear full responsibility for the performance of their subordinates.
  7. The same rules apply to both male and female officers.

As a final item, I have been in touch with our former Administrative Officer of 35 years ago by email in recent years. I told her (her name is Portia Baird) that she was welcome to refer to me as “George” in her emails. Here was her reply:

“Well if you don’t want me to call you “Captain,” then I must call you ‘George.’ Whereas the title may be unnecessary now, it is a sign of respect. I have always respected you as a man and a Naval Officer; so bear with me if I continue to use the honorific [. . .] And thank you for your service and the role model you represented to us all very green and scared female surface ship drivers.”

I consider this to be one of the highest compliments that I have ever received. And I believe all of my experiences with the program to have been positive.


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.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Battle of Jutland

9781473841857-uk-300By Geoffrey Bennett (originally published B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, UK 1964), Pan & Sword Books Ltd. Barnsley, UK (2015)

Reviewed by Tim McGrath

Few historians, on land or sea, can match the depth and breadth of the work of Captain Geoffrey Bennett. As a Royal Navy officer who served Great Britain in war and peacetime, his life would be an interesting read. By the end of his life, he was internationally renowned for his writings on both world wars, Lord Nelson, Trafalgar, and a series of novels enjoyed by adult and child alike.

Being in the midst of the World War I Centennial, Bennett’s The Battle of Jutland has been reissued by Pen & Sword Books Ltd.  The largest naval battle of “The Great War” has been written about extensively, but rarely by an author with a Distinguished Service Cross of his own.

The battle itself is well known to armchair and actual historians: how the Kaiser’s Vice-Admiral, Reinhard Scheer, commanding the German High Seas Fleet, hoped to lure –and defeat – Great Britain’s Admiral Sir John Jellicoe’s Great Fleet. A victory by Scheer would not only enable the German Navy to expand its influence from the North Sea to the Atlantic, but embarrass the greatest naval power than on earth and, perhaps, scuttle the century-old belief that Britannia still “ruled the waves.” In a two-day fight off Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula, 250 battleships, battlecruisers, destroyers, and other navy vessels fought a bloody engagement that left a host of questions for historians and naval commanders to debate ever since.

Captain Bennett’s narrative is a compelling combination of statistics, background development, chronological layout, and character study. His third chapter, “Der Tag,” opens with Admiral Beatty’s remark to  his king, George V, “We were haunted by the fear that possibly ‘the day’ may never come.” Then, over the next 32 pages, Bennett coolly describes “the day’s” fearful clash of battle cruisers, pausing in his narration to inform the reader of the inaccuracy of long-range naval guns at that time. It is a masterly twist; pages later, when the mighty German battlecruiser Lützow’s gunners find their mark, the resulting carnage becomes all the more shocking.

Captain Bennett takes us onward into battle, adding vignettes reminiscent of a Tuchman or McCullough, from a German official comparing Scheer’s tactics to Nelson’s at Trafalgar to a British light cruiser’s report that even the ship’s mascot, a black kitten, “did its duty nobly.” His descriptions of battle, such as “ghost-like columns of water thrown up by heavy enemy shells,” work in the reader’s imagination like a movie camera. As he tracks the two fleets in their nighttime maneuvering, Bennett succeeds in taking his reader right along, wearing both German and British uniforms. His detail is unerring, his storytelling compelling.

The last chapter, Who Won? weighs the claim of both sides before coming to its not-too-surprising conclusion. Appendices list the ships and commanders of both fleets, as well as The Harper Record’s essay on the battle. Maps serve as a handy resource to turn to as the conflict unfolds, but it is the photographs Captain Bennett chose that add to his tale, particularly those from the battle, and a magnificent one of Jellicoe, moving resolutely forward aboard ship, seemingly to walk right out of the picture.

In an essay on writing history, Barbara Tuchman recalled advice from a professor: “Will the reader turn the page?” Fifty-two years ago, Captain Bennett wrote quite a page-turner with The Battle of Jutland. It still is.

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Tim McGrath, author of Give Me a Fast Ship, has earned the John Barry Book Award prize from the New York Navy League Council.

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BOOK REVIEW – Ice Station Nautilus

3330_001 copyBy Rick Campbell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY (2016)

Reviewed by William H. White

A gripping, action-packed novel that is just plausible enough to be pulled from the headlines of today’s paper. Commander Campbell, a former submariner, knows his submarines and the technology they use to fulfill their assignments; his apparent knowledge, whether first-hand or not, of the Arctic and under-ice operations seems deep and helps make his tale all the more credible. At the same time, his technical savvy detracts at times from his story.

His use of technical jargon and naval anagrams, abbreviations, and repetitive operational commands make the reader want to shout out, “Roger that! Enough with the jargon; we got it!” But on it goes throughout the book. While I recognize that I was provided an “advance, uncorrected proof,” there were quite a few errors – not the missing punctuation or typo errors one might expect shortly before publication, but the use of wrong words and improper tenses; example: “grinded” vs “ground.” I hope they are corrected by one of the excellent editors at St. Martin’s Press as that type of issue seems to jump off the page at a reader.

A further issue I had with his tale involves SEAL Team swimmers wearing wetsuits while exiting a submarine under the ice in the Arctic. I would think drysuits would have been more appropriate in the 29-degree water.

The story involves a collision between the US and Russian submarines under the icecap, the subsequent rescue operation by both countries, and includes several sub-plots involving nefarious Russian military types trying to sabotage both their ship and the American one as well as the American rescue effort. It is credible in that there have been issues in the past between Soviet and US subs resulting in tragedy when one skipper or another gets a bit too aggressive.

The story – at least the part taking place on the icecap – puts one in the mind of the 1963 Alistair MacClean story, Ice Station Zebra, updated to today’s technology. Nonetheless, it is a fast read, a page turner filled with one disaster after another. Campbell’s ability to conjure up new life-threatening situations is seemingly endless and makes the reader wonder with each new scenario, “What’s next for these poor guys stuck under the ice?” And it appears that the rescue teams on the ice will fair little better.

Sadly, Commander Campbell is more wrapped up in delivering a rip-snorting story than he is in developing his characters; I found that I cared little about them and found them mostly indistinguishable one from another (gender notwithstanding). There seemed little effort spent in creating more than cardboard cutouts to carry out the actions designed to advance the story.

While Ice Station Nautilus was a fun and fast read, it could have been much more. I think Commander Campbell has provided a thriller which will satisfy many aficionados of the action-adventure genre.

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White is an accomplished fictional writer of the early 19th century and member of the Foundation’s Holloway Society.

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BOOK REVIEW – World War II As Seen Through the Eyes of United States Navy Cruisers

WWII CruisersBy Senior Chief George J. Chambers, U.S. Navy (Retired), Heritage Books, Berwyn Heights (2015)

Reviewed by Captain Howard R. Portnoy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

George J. Chambers, the author of this book, served twenty years in the US Navy, retiring as a Senior Chief Firecontrolman in 1970. During his naval career, he served aboard five destroyer type ships and a destroyer tender. He is the author of three books, one about his naval service and two on the histories of ships on which he served.

World War II As Seen Through the Eyes of United States Navy Cruisers, was published in two paperback volumes, covers over 990 pages and is priced at $70.00. Subtitled An Integrated, Chronological History of Cruiser Operations during the War Against the Axis Powers 1939-1945, it details the roles played by the eighty-two heavy and light cruisers and two battlecruisers of the U.S. Navy in World War II. These ships saw action in both the Pacific and Atlantic- European theaters of operations and fought in all but two American major sea engagements. Combat claimed seven heavy and three light cruisers, and twenty-three other heavy and thirty-three other light cruisers were damaged.

In the preface, the author states that his book “is not a “scholarly work” in the sense that ‘facts’ are not always cited or referenced. Changes to original accounts recorded at the time, or shortly after that, of events described are kept to a minimum.

The author divided the book into six main chapters, the first covering the period from World War I to the 7th of December 1941. The second covered the immediate period after Pearl Harbor, with the last four chapter each covering a year from 1942 through 1945.

I believe the fifty-page first chapter which covered the twenty-year period from the end of World War I to Pearl Harbor is of marginal value. While it briefly discussed ‘factors’ that ‘had a major influence on cruisers and their crews in coming years,’ it does not spell out what the effects were. The chapter included among the factors listed, the U.S. society, the federal budget and Japan’s mandated Pacific islands; but not the Washington and London Naval Conferences, which had significant and direct impact on cruiser design and capabilities. This chapter also contains forty-three pages of details of routine ship deployments and visits as well all command changes in the cruiser force from 1923 to 1941.

The narrative in the next five chapters comprises about 90% of the text. These chapters integrate day-by-day cruiser actions with those of other ship types. Each chapter has six operational theaters. The operational theaters are: Atlantic/European, Mediterranean, Aleutians, Netherland East Indies/Solomon Islands, Pacific, and South East Pacific. Since each operational theater is organized chronologically, the result is twenty-five separate sub-chapters which follow each other sequentially. (Five sub-chapters are not included because of a lack of activity in a particular year). This format makes for a somewhat jumbled narrative and impacts continuity adversely. Treatment of primary battles is satisfactory, but the minute-to-minute focus and the integration of ships other than cruisers in the narrative sometimes result in having too much information to process.

This majority of the sources cited in the narrative are individual cruiser action reports, war diaries, command histories, and deck logs. For the most part, those documents provided the author sufficient information to develop the combat scenarios that are the heart of the book. Unfortunately, they also contain numerous administrative items and extraneous details of minor or routine events not germane to the combat narrative; many of which are inserted into the text by the author. Examples include changes in cruiser command, ship movements of no combat relevance, the sighting of floating mines, visits of VIPs and media personalities, and shipboard drills. Also, I think there is excessive coverage of task organization assignments and changes, which slows the narrative and adds little value. I found numerous inconsistencies and omissions in these listings. Problems are exacerbated by a confusing system of indicating dates in the text. In the chronological narratives, the month is identified only once, and this is done only at the first entry for that month. Also, since the date is not entered at the top of each page when a particular entry is found, the reader must scroll through preceding paragraphs to determine the month of that entry. Further, dates are not used in the Table of Contents, but rather a particular battle or campaign. The result is that many minor events having nothing to do with that battle or campaign are included in that section.

As for the bibliography, it appears adequate. However, there are some other archival collections, government and military collections, and books that could have been of considerable value to the author, both in providing information and identifying additional sources worthy of examination. Since the book’s coverage of Houston’s  involvement in the Java Sea and Sunda Strait battles is rather limited and based on secondary sources only, I believe James D. Hornfischer’s classic Ship of Ghosts: the Story of the USS Houston, not included in the bibliography, could have helped considerably on both accounts. However, if the desire is not to revise or update the narrative, I can understand why retroactive revision or update may not be sought.

Regarding the notes, they are relatively few considering the size of the narrative and few of these add significant information or insight. In those instances, mostly in the 1944-1945 chapters where extensive excerpts from action reports or war diaries are quoted, the particular report is not identified, and therefore it cannot be located and checked by future researchers.  Where a source is unidentified but also not an action report or war diary, I believe it most likely to be either Robert J. Cressman’s “The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II” or one of the eight-volume “Dictionary of American Fighting Ships” published by the Naval History Division.

The index was designed to list every page that mentions a specific ship, person, or operational unit. Here too, I found errors and omissions. Finally, the absence of maps showing locations mentioned in the text and charts of ship tracks during major battles is a shortcoming that severely degrades the narrative.

In summary, both Mr. Chambers and his wife, who spent countless hours at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at College Park MD, worked very hard to extract the raw data and compile it into a readable and coherent narrative. They are to be commended for their efforts. However, in my mind, the book has some deficiencies. There are major problems with the format and organization of the book, much irrelevant or extraneous material, some errors and omissions in the text and index, is in need of a good editor, and the cost is too high for the general reader or naval buff. Finally, I am not convinced that a book focusing on cruisers is an appropriate place one to describe major fleet actions involving significant numbers of other type ships.

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Captain Portnoy retired from the U.S. Navy after thirty years of service, He commanded a diesel submarine and served in two other subs, a battleship, an aircraft carrier, and a destroyer. Ashore he filled intelligence and politico-military billets.  After retirement, he worked for several defense contractors in the Washington D.C. area.

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BOOK REVIEW – End of Empire – 100 Days in 1945 that Changed Asia and the World

end of empireBy David P. Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa, NIAS Press, Copenhagen, Denmark (2016)

Reviewed by Charles H Bogart

The hundred days that this book is concerned with are the days between 5 August and 12 November 1945. The book begins on 5 August 1945, as this is the day the U.S. dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima. This bombing put into motion a chain of events that changed the political and economic face of the countries bordering the Asian Pacific Rim.

This book is a publication of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) based at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. The governments of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden fund NIAS.

The book starts with an introductory chapter that provides an overview of World War II along the Asian Pacific Rim. The next section gives a quick summary of the 1945 political and military situation within the following twelve countries: Japan, Korea, Manchuria, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, Indochina, Thailand, Burma, Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These first two chapters set the stage for the heart of the book, a day-by-day accounting of events taking place within this region. While most Westerners consider 2nd of September, 1945, as the day World War II ended in the Pacific; the reality is that fighting did not stop on that date within the above twelve countries. Japan had, during its occupation of these countries, set up puppet governments filled by indigenous people who, having tasted power, were not about to quietly turn administration of their country back to a pre-war colonial government after Japan’s surrender. Fighting thus broke out between the indigenous peoples and their former colonial masters, groups of various political ideologies seeking control of their country, and between groups with ethnic and religious diversity. In many cases, the fighting experienced in these twelve countries following the surrender of Japan is more intense than the fight that took place when the Japanese conquered them.

For each of the days between 5th of August and 12th November, 1945, the editors have entered one or more facts about political and military events taking place within one of the twelve countries. Most dates also have a one or two-column entry that explores in greater detail a person or event listed under that date. The text is supported by photographs and illustrations that are unfamiliar to most Americans. The book closes with an overview chapter reporting on the happenings in these twelve Asian Pacific Rim countries during the period 1946-1950.

This book is a great introductory look at the forces that over the past 70 years have shaped the current political, economic, and social outlook of the countries of the Asian Pacific Rim. Anyone who is interested in the Asian Pacific Rim countries should read this book.

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Charles Bogart is a frequent contributor to NHBR.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War

Battle of the AtlanticBy Jonathan Dimbleby, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2016)

Reviewed by Captain J. F. “Bookie” Boland, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

The long campaign between the Western Allies and Germany’s U-boat force during the Second World War is the subject of Jonathan Dimbleby’s new book, The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War. The central argument presented is that this battle was the war’s decisive campaign within the European Theater. The book contains a well-crafted and engaging narrative that drives home the point that the Allies could not have won the great land battles which stretched across Europe, the Mediterranean, and North Africa without the defeat of the U-boats. Dimbleby, a superb writer, has skillfully woven together the actions and motives of senior political and military leaders with the experiences of individual sailors, merchant seamen, airmen, and civilians on both sides of this titanic struggle. His accomplishment is a most valuable addition to the extensive historiography of the Battle of the Atlantic.

In this meticulous and balanced account of the Atlantic Campaign, the author addressed all of its principal events and complex factors. The stunning scope of the “tonnage war” is portrayed regarding geography and strategy, along with perspectives of the individuals who fought and were affected by its many variations. The author’s extensive use of first-person accounts has created a far richer tableau than one typically finds in books on the war in the Atlantic, making for a compelling narrative.  In addition to insights on Winston Churchill’s deep-seated fear of the U-boat threat and Franklin Roosevelt’s strong desire to aid Great Britain while sustaining a policy of neutrality, the world of a Lancashire homemaker struggling with rationing, food scarcity, and tragic news from the battlefronts are all introduced to the read,er. The effects of pre-war decisions such as Admiral Erich Raeder’s emphasis on creating a traditional battle fleet for the Kriegsmarine rather than an expanded U-boat force, or Great Britain’s unpreparedness for the second Battle of the Atlantic, are explained through the successes and failures imposed on both sides of the conflict during its early phases. Later, he addresses the complex framework from which the competing sides of the campaign operate. The frustrations of Admiral Karl Dӧnitz, commander of the U-boat force, over competition for resources, unmet demands for support from the Luftwaffe, and the diversion of his submarines from the critical convoy routes are fully explored. While on the Allied side, an in-depth assessment addresses their struggle to achieve a satisfactory balance among the requirements for escort ships, patrol aircraft, weapons, sensors, crew proficiency, and the desperate need for merchant shipping. The blending of these strategic factors with the grim individual experiences of civilians and the battle’s participants on, under, and above the Atlantic is one of this book’s many strengths.

Although the author’s focus extends far beyond tactical details, the reader will still find an in-depth exploration of the key convoy battles that mark the ebb and flow of the Atlantic campaign, along with their near and long-term effects on the Allies’ eventual victory over the U-boats. Another distinct quality is the author’s rich portrayal of the interconnectedness of events unfolding in the Atlantic with the Red Army’s desperate defense of the Motherland in 1941 and 1942, the Western Allies’ Mediterranean campaigns in 1942 and 1943, and the growing British and U.S. Combined Strategic Bombing campaign. His point that victory in the Atlantic is the essential foundation for all of the Allies’ efforts against Germany is supported by a series of incisive analyses that begin with the survival of Great Britain in 1940 and extend to the opening of the Second Front at Normandy in 1944. Also, the author provides a comprehensive array of assessments of the key organizational conflicts that bedeviled both the Allied and Axis Powers. Of particular significance is the chapter titled ‘The Battle of the Air’ which provides a fresh and comprehensive examination of the Western Allies’ failure to maximize their employment of patrol aircraft in 1941 and 1942.

Reading The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War is a rewarding experience on multiple levels. Within a brilliant narrative, the complete story of World War II’s longest campaign is told from the perspectives of the senior leaders down to the individuals who fought the countless grueling battles that determined its outcome. The book also succinctly addresses the complex network of factors that ultimately led to the decisive defeat of the U-boats and established the importance of that victory to the ultimate success of the Allied Powers. With this important new book, Jonathan Dimbleby has restored the Battle of the Atlantic to its proper place in the history of the war in Europe.

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Captain J. F. “Bookie” Boland, USN (Ret.) is an adjunct history instruction at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.

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BOOK REVIEW – In Pursuit of the Essex; Mad For Glory

Mad for Glory_PursuitReviewed by John Grady

David Porter remains one of the most fascinating personalities in the early American Navy.  His quickly written, often self-serving but surprisingly candid Journal about his wartime activities in the Pacific set a standard for naval writing that remains informative and clear. It was also highly popular at the time,  fanned by the second war with Great Britain and the administration of President James Madison’s need for heroes to douse the secessionist movement in New England and obliterate the memory of Washington burning.

Porter introduced a generation of Americans to a world far removed from their frames of reference and, in a way, paved the way for Massachusetts-based whalers to dominate the trade in the years after the War of 1812. What he wrote about the islanders he encountered and the restive Chileans and their nascent revolt against Spain seems condescending now but was eye-opening than to Americans. He was appealing to the reading audience of his time — interested in what was novel in the natural [whales including an enormous white one, “turtle turning, etc.”] and social [what houses looked like, work habits, sexual behavior, etc.] worlds.

Hughes and Booth, drawing heavily on Porter’s writing — with their caveats about his image-polishing, foe-bashing — capture this very well.  Porter’s two-volume Journal of a Cruise Made in the Pacific Ocean, by Captain David Porter in the United States Frigate Essex, in the Years, 1812, 1813, and 1814, available free online through Google books, remains a treasure trove for anyone interested in the Navy in the early Republic.   

Like the Royal Navy’s Captain James Cook, whose journals of his voyages of exploration were treasured in Great Britain and hailed as part of the  enlightenment across Europe, Porter’s encounters with the indigenous peoples, particularly in the Marquesas, are now seen in a far darker light, particularly in Booth’s Mad for Glory. He became a god-like figure in that society.

After all, Porter brought Western-style continuous, technologically advanced [cannons, etc.] “hard” war to the islands. It was a lesson his senior lieutenant John Downes applied to pirates and their families in Sumatra many years later. That change meant the destruction of all of an enemy’s crops and villages, not the hit-and-run raids of another tribe’s livestock. Cook’s “first contacts” and those by whalers and merchantmen seem mild by comparison.

His Civil War flag officer son, David Dixon Porter, in his Memoir, did his part in the late 19th century to ensure his father remained on a tall pedestal in the modern mind.

Hughes intended In Pursuit of the Essex for a more academically-inclined audience, but both books capture the rawness and daring of Porter to “wink” at his orders to fight in a small squadron in the South Atlantic.  Porter clearly had in mind a dash for glory in the faraway Pacific, even though he had never rounded Cape Horn and would have no support. Even before he left port, he had  “amongst his books and charts in the great cabin of George Anson’s A Voyage Round the World and maps of the Galapagos Islands made by James Colnett in 1793.” Anson was a senior admiral in the Royal Navy.

This reviewer found Hughes’ work’s greatest strength in his depiction of Captain James Hillyar of the Royal Navy who eventually cornered Porter and his small flotilla of captured British whalers off Valparaiso, Chile. “Although prone to bouts of temper and a believer in the benefits of the lash, as a committed Evangelical he forbade swearing and strict observation of the Sabbath was part of the Phoebe’s unbending  routine.”

Hughes’ narrative is a side-by-side contrast between Hillyar’s two-ship squadron and Porter’s commerce-raiding and claiming territories for President James Madison. Hillyar was on a two-pronged mission — get rid of Porter and seize the American fur trading outpost Astoria on the Columbia River. He felt the pressure from the Admiralty, British diplomats and merchants abroad to succeed at both.

What happened after Porter’s defeat off the Chilean coast to both men and their crews is a story in itself that Hughes captures well in the Epilogue.  Porter quickly received $30,000 in advance prize money to be divided among his officers and crews; the surviving officers were in line for promotion; he was hailed as a naval hero of the first rank and went on to fight the British invaders on land in their attack on Washington and Baltimore.

Hillyar was “made a companion of the Order of the Bath in June 1815 along with 500 other navy and army officers, no official celebrations were held.”  As for prize money, the Admiralty moved with glacial speed. It was a ho-hum matter to Whitehall and Greenwich.

Booth wrote Mad for Glory for a general audience. It is fast-paced, as almost any book about Porter, must be.

What this reviewer found particularly interesting was his depiction of Joel Poinsett, one of the wandering envoys, scientists, spies, that Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Madison turned loose on South America than in a state of chaos, sometimes rebellion. The Napoleonic wars ravaged the Iberian Peninsula, Madrid’s control of affairs from trading to defense an ocean away in the case of Argentina and even further away in the cases of Chile and Peru wasn’t slipping; it was shredding.

Poinsett, working on his own and without a word of communications between him and the Madison administration, decided to involve himself in the Chilean revolution — not as a civilian bystander or even an abettor but as an active participant.

“So well did he do his work [in Argentina in this reference], so thoroughly did he compromise relations between the junto [the de facto rulers of Buenos Aires and its surroundings] and the British that the name of Poinsett was known and reviled in London, as well as Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.”  By the time, he was through in Chile, across the Andes from Argentina, Lima and Santiago were places where his name “was known and reviled” by Royalists and some revolutionaries.

Booth deftly describes the ins and outs of the political, social and military turbulence that rocked Chile from the months before Porter arrived off its coast to the immediate years following and how this related to the coming showdown between the Royal and the United States navies that Porter would lose.

As a footnote to the times Booth describes, Poinsett’s role in American naval history stretches across another 20 years or so.  Because the cliques in the Navy battled each other for years over how to conduct a scientific and naval exploration of the Antarctic and the Pacific Coast and secretaries dithered, President Martin Van Buren to a man he could trust to get the exploration under way.  As Secretary of War under Van Buren, he named Lieutenant Charles Wilkes to command the Great South Seas Exploring Expedition, the Navy’s first truly comprehensive scientific and naval expedition in the manner of Cook’s.

Booth and Hughes are the two latest authors to work in a 21st century Porter Renaissance. For example, David Long’s Nothing Too Daring, a Biography of David Porter was reissued by the Naval Institute Press in 2014, and George Daughan’s  The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the U.S.S. Essex was published a year earlier.

There likely will be more.

Porter remains a fascinating personality — his American career and exploits in the Mediterranean and Pacific, as head of the Mexican navy and in the employ of the Ottomans — will continue to attract new biographers and historians.

More will follow Booth and Hughes.

To Purchase Mad for Glory:

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To Purchase In Pursuit of the Essex:

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John Grady is the author of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Father of Oceanography: A Biography, 1806-1873. He has contributed to Naval History, the Civil War Monitor’s Front Line series, the New York Times Disunion series and the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Sesquicentennial blog on the Civil War.

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BOOK REVIEW – Apache Over Libya

12390By Will Laidlaw, Pen and Sword, South Yorkshire (2016)

Reviewed by Adam Kline

Lt. Col. Will Laidlaw, who served as commander of the UK’s 656 attack helicopter squadron during NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, personally flew night strike missions in from the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean. From June to August, his unit’s Apache helicopters fired 99 Hellfire missiles, 4,800 rounds of 30mm cannon, and 16 rockets at a variety of regime targets. His book, Apache Over Libya, offers a window into the UK’s maritime helicopter operations in Libya and a gripping combat narrative.

Ocean was already in the region conducting a planned training exercise for seaborne Apaches when Laidlaw received orders on May 23 to support NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. Previously in training, he encountered some challenges in adapting a land-based helicopter for maritime operations. Unlike helicopters designed specifically for maritime work, the Apache’s narrow undercarriage and high center of gravity were not ideal. Apaches also lacked a folding tail and automatically-folding rotors, making it difficult and very time-consuming to move them around Ocean. Most frighteningly, the Apache quickly sinks if forced to ditch in water, and escape is difficult for pilots heavily laden with survival gear. Nevertheless, pilots and sailors rose to the various challenges and devised solutions as necessary; for instance, they successfully reduced the blade-removal time from over an hour to 25 minutes.

Billed as an intensification of the campaign against the Gaddafi regime, the Apache deployment aimed to put psychological pressure on regime leaders and troops – in military parlance, creating a “cognitive effect” (37). On June 4, Laidlaw and a wingman flew the first of 22 missions against a radar antenna and a vehicle checkpoint, purposefully targeting equipment rather than soldiers. Survivors of this attack and subsequent ones soon spread the word about the Apaches. Gaddafi’s forces eventually learned to flee from the Apaches and save themselves rather than try to fight. The Apaches did on occasion kill regime troops in self-defense, but Laidlaw provides no body count. Apache Over Libya offers a profoundly unromantic view of war: one of the long stretches of exhausting work and preparation, fraught with moments of intense, high-risk combat.

The coalition lost no pilots or aircraft to enemy action through months of combat, but helicopter sorties were still highly hazardous. Much of Libya’s air defense network was ground down by coalition airpower, but potential threats remained. While NATO jets mostly destroyed strategic SAMs like the SA-5 had in March, Gaddafi loyalists repurposed their radars to target Laidlaw’s Apaches. The speed and altitude of jets provided them with a modicum of safety, but helicopters flying at 100 feet were in the range of anti-aircraft artillery such as the ZSU 23-4, shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, and even high-caliber machine guns mounted on technicals. The most feared weapons were SA-24 missiles; three of which the Apaches narrowly defeated with countermeasures. Laidlaw’s mental calculations following the first SA-24 attack convey the dangers that he faced, and tough decisions he made are one of the most compelling parts of the book.

While Laidlaw entitled his book Apache Over Libya, a more accurate title might have been, Apaches Over Libya. Laidlaw never flew the Libyan skies alone; he always had a wingman by his side, watching for a variety of hazards. Besides the Apache pilots’ courage, a defining theme of the book is the effectiveness of the cohesive, skilled team that Laidlaw assembled. “The only thing that looked after an Apache was another Apache,” he writes (167). Camaraderie extended across nationalities too. One memorable display of teamwork was during a raid on Khamis Gaddafi’s Al Maya Barracks; the Apaches collaborated with an American Predator UAV to destroy four hidden T-72 tanks.

The book also has a subtle undercurrent of frustration: with superiors who canceled missions, criticized the relatively small numbers of sorties flown. He also questioned the value of maritime Apache operations; with politicians who cut funding or focused on the intervention’s costs, and with media outlets which misread the situation. An additional source of anger was the coalition’s obsession with tactical jets, which received more fanfare but were far less vulnerable than the Apaches. Laidlaw is also irritated by what NATO’s excessive focus on risk reduction, target verification, and collateral damage limitation (which sometimes canceled missions). After surviving the worst that Gaddafi could hurl at the helicopters, Laidlaw writes that his team’s confidence outstripped NATO’s continued caution. Aggravation grew as they canceled more missions in August. With the rebels gaining ground, the new, fluid frontlines were difficult for coalition intelligence to follow, and so dynamic sorties were difficult to approve.

While Laidlaw does not contend that the Apaches played a decisive, war-winning role in the combat; he notes that they flew only 1.5% of all NATO sorties.  He emphasizes the attacks’ psychological impact on Libyan forces. All in all, Apache Over Libya is an engaging account of the Libyan intervention that provides a firsthand perspective of aerial warfare, as well as a view of the challenges overcome along the way. Laidlaw’s book, a significant contribution towards the literature on Apache operations and NATO’s Libyan campaign, is the most compelling memoir of the war published to date.

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Adam Kline, an intern at the Naval Heritage and History Command, is a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. His research article “Secret Weapons, Forgotten Sacrifices: Scientific R & D in World War II” (with Robyn Dexter) was published in the National Archives’ Prologue Magazine (Spring 2016).

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BOOK REVIEW – The Sea Mark: Captain John Smith’s Voyage to New England

The Sea MarkBy Russel M. Lawson, University Press of New England, Lebanon (2015)

Reviewed by Warren Riess, Ph.D.

This book has the feel of two different works. One is John Smith in the last two decades of his life. The other is a detailed description of his 1614 voyage to North America. Lawson works the two together, the latter sandwiched within the first, but in two distinct styles. It works and will be an interesting read for people wanting to know more about John Smith and those wanting some interesting history about the coast of the Gulf of Maine.

In the first two chapters, Lawson presents general and specific background material leading to Smith’s 1614 voyage to Monhegan Island. The next seven chapters are a detailed narration of Smith’s journey along the coast, from what is now called Penobscot Bay to Cape Cod—exploring, mapping, and recording information about the people, flora, and fauna he found along the way. In the final three chapters, Lawson relates and comments about Smith’s many trials during his last fifteen years to begin a colony in what he named New England and recorded his life in various publications.

For a historian, Lawson’s contribution is his analysis of Smith’s personality based on Smith’s writing and milieu. Lawson presents sound reasoning for Smith’s decisions and attitudes. These are both found in the first and last sections of the book. Some of that has been written before, but not presented this way with Lawson’s understanding. In the rest of the book, there is not much new for someone well-read in Elizabethan English or Maritime History. Many publications include Smith and his contemporaries’ historical works.

People cruising the Gulf of Maine coast should be quite interested in this book. Lawson takes the reader on Smith’s explorations of the bays, rivers, capes, and coves from the Penobscot to Cape Cod. About each place, he combines what Smith wrote with a little information from other sources so that modern visitors will appreciate more the history and geography of each location.

There is not much in the book for people interested in naval history unless they are also cruising the coast of northern New England.

My only problems with the book are with the author’s style (always just a matter of opinion), choice of illustrations, and a few controversial maritime aspects.

Lawson uses more than a hundred quotes from Smith’s works interlaced with the author’s narrative; retaining the original spelling, etc.  As a reader, even one who knows the material, I found this annoyingly distracting.

Similarly, when following Smith’s explorations the author most often included information about each spot before and after Smith was there. That included various names for each place. When writing about a place in his narrative, Lawson sometimes used the Indian, at times Smith’s, and sometimes the modern name. It was a bit confusing, even for someone who has lived and worked along this same coast for decades, because some of Smith’s place names are now other locations along the coast.

Most of the illustrations are good, but many NOAA charts are complete modern charts reduced to 5 x 6 ½ inches. One cannot read the text on them, see which island or river is which, and there are no additional arrows or circles to help the reader. They are mostly unhelpful to the book.

With so much factual material it is impossible to get everything perfect, and I do not like to knit-pick, but reviewers need to point out problems and questions that were obvious to them. The author may be correct with these, from sources unknown to me, but I do question them:

Smith wrote in A Description of New England that the craft he used to navigate the coast was “a small boat.” Lawson mostly referred to Smith’s exploration vessel as a shallop, twice as “ship” and sometimes “small shallop.” A shallop was a large, heavy open boat. It wasn’t a small boat or ship. Smith was a prolific writer in the 1620s and may have used the term shallop when retelling the story in his later years. However, he well knew the difference and used “a small boat” in his first rendition.

As far as I know, the Norse in North America used knarrer (knarrs), which were oceanic merchantman not, as the author relates, their Viking raiding ships. Related to this, Smith’s encountering Indians sailing a Basque shallop was not evidence that the Basques had been that far south. Bourque and Whitehead have made convincing arguments that these were eastern “Tarrentine” Indian middlemen, merchants if you will, who traded along the coast between the Europeans who came in the summers to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the tribes along the shores of the Gulf of Maine.*

At the end of chapter three the author attempts to explain Smith’s quote about his summer exploration “by an hour glasse of three months” as Smith’s describing his method, in the small boat, of determining where he was along the coast. I found it an unconvincing explanation. I read Smith’s quote as his way of writing something like, “in exactly three months.”

Whether or not these questions are faults, they are minuscule parts of the book. Lawson has created a useful addition to the literature of John Smith. I do recommend the book to anyone who is cruising the coast of northern New England and to any person who already has read some of John Smith’s published works or some of the standard works on Smith.

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*Bourque. B. J. and R H. Whitehead, 1985, Tarrentines and the Introduction of European Trade Goods in the Gulf of Maine, Ethnohistory 32.327-341.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border

3342_001 copyBy Christopher Phillips, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2016)

Reviewed by Thomas P. Ostrom

University of Cincinnati history professor Christopher Phillips wrote a different assessment of the complex cultural and political factors in the Border States before, during, and after the Civil War of 1861-1865.

Phillips challenges historical interpretations that paint the Border States of the old West, whether slave states or non-slave free states, as uniformly pro-Union and homogeneously supportive of President Lincoln’s wartime policies against the Confederate States of America. The author contends the wartime Border States of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and one could add Iowa, were not uniformly pro-Union, anti-South, and anti-slavery. Slaves and indentured blacks were held in bondage north of the Ohio River.

The complex causal factors of the war, Phillips contends, include slavery, and other political, socio-economic, moral, and geographic (regional and sectional) differences. Those disputes extended throughout the Old West and Trans-Mississippi West, and into the riverine and tributary areas of the Ohio, Mississippi, Cumberland, Tennessee and Missouri Rivers where pro and anti-slavery antagonists and slave owners supported the Union and Confederacy.

Phillips defines geographic factors as primary “cultural,” but physical geography (climate, topography, landforms) and economic geography also influenced regional perspectives. The author challenges the reader with interesting definitions of regional and historical geography, delineating conceptions of the historical and geographic “West,” and the characteristics of the “Border” states in the middle of the nation that replicated the “North” and South” due to human migration patterns.

Militias and state troops clashed; civilians took sides, often violently; Confederate forces invaded and found support in the Border States; President Lincoln sent Union troops to the Border States to quell violence and secessionist sympathies. Union forces, civilian law enforcement authorities, and contesting civilian groups suffered capture, casualties, and court trials.

“Peace Democrats,” and pro-South and anti-war “Copperheads,” clashed with Republicans over the Union war effort. Dissenters aided the Confederate cause, and favored ending the war, and letting the Confederate States of America secede, with the Federal recognition of CSA sovereignty. Many Northerners sympathized with the Southern secession and states rights assertions that caused the war. Divided churches, vulnerable Pacifist Quakers, Shakers and “Free Negroes” added to the volatile mix.

This book reviewer was introduced to the unique historical hypothesis of Wisconsin historian Frederick Jackson Turner, whose influential Frontier Thesis and Western Expansion ideas were published between 1893-1930 that explained his concept of American exceptionalism. The theory was based on the settlement patterns Turner perceived from the East to the West migration of Euro-Americans through the different and challenging cultural and physical regions (sections) of the United States.

Turner described how sectional differences contributed to the Civil War. Phillips recalled that some historians concluded Turner’s sectionalism emphasis was simplistic and ignored cultural elements later emphasized by sociologists.

However, other historians and geographers, this reviewer included, contend that Turner’s sectional thesis was a sophisticated historical and geographical analysis of regional differences and issues.

Phillips explains how the Border States drew into slavery, abolition, and secession debates from the 1850s to the outbreak of the war. He also discussed how national and state elections exacerbated conflicts. Clashes between pro-Confederate and pro-Union civilians and soldiers; disputes between supporters and opponents of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation; and how the war influenced that vast geographic realm then and now.

As a former college instructor of history, anthropology, and geography, I much appreciated the author’s eclectic applications of regional geography to historical understanding. Phillips consulted extensive primary and secondary sources, including newspapers, biographies, documents, and historical society collections.

The author’s interpretations are scholarly, readable, and compelling. This is illustrated in the following passage: “Most historians hold that the Ohio River was a clearly defined and static demographic and political boundary between the North and South and, by its distinctive cultures, an extension of the Mason-Dixon Line developed decades after the famed surveyors completed their work in 1764. Once settled, the new states west of the Appalachians formed a fixed boundary between freedom and slavery, extending the border that inevitably produced the war.” Professor Phillips contends, “None of these beliefs is accurate,” and devotes the balance of his book to explain why.

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Tom Ostrom is a retired college instructor of history, geography, and anthropology. He has written books on U.S. Coast Guard history, covering join USCG-U.S. Navy missions and cooperation.

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BOOK REVIEW – The CSS Albemarle and William Cushing: The Remarkable Confederate Ironclad and the Union Officer Who Sank It

CSS AlbemarleBy Jim Stempel, McFarland and Co., Publishers, Jefferson, NC (2011)

Reviewed by Robert P. Largess

Writing years after the Civil War, Gideon Welles remarked of William B. Cushing: “…the great chief of the American Navy, Farragut…said to me that while no navy had braver or better officers than ours, young Cushing was the hero of the War.” Jim Stempel’s book makes it clear that the statement was very nearly the simple truth; there was no one like Cushing. Once the whole nation knew his name; today his difficult, almost suicidal, and technically sophisticated exploit of sinking a Confederate ironclad with a steam launch using a spar torpedo is still known, perhaps, to students of naval and Civil War history. This attack was just the most famous of many daring and dramatic actions,  particularly gunboat and small boat raids and reconnaissance on the waters of the sounds behind North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras, and up the many shallow rivers that flow into them. Cushing was only 18 years old when his wartime career in the U.S. Navy began. He quickly proved himself a master of small unit tactics and leadership. He was enterprising, ingenious, and utterly fearless.

While being a master’s mate on the Minnesota, he discovered for the first time the “wild pleasure and excitement” of battle – the true Viking spirit during the bombardment of the Confederate fortifications guarding Hatteras Inlet. On many occasions, while leading his sailors afoot and ashore, he encountered large enemy forces – once Confederate cavalry.  He instantly ordered his men to attack, only to have his opponents turn tail and run. Well – “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace”; the real enemy of men in battle is confusion, not cowardice. Cushing had gifts which kept such actions from being rash or foolhardy. He had the sure presence of mind and eternal tactical judgment. Another secret weapon Cashing possessed was a thorough understanding of shoal-water seamanship. For example, during the attack on Ft. Fisher on the Cape Fear River, as a captain of a Union vessel, he sounded and buoyed a channel past the fort in his gig, under heavy fire. He also had remarkable endurance and stamina. On one raid he went 68 hours without sleep, in a boat or fighting ashore. Another quality he possessed was his relationship with his men. He was sympathetic and warm, but always definite and decisive; as a result, his men responded, as men usually do, to real leadership. For instance, on two occasions he asked his crew for a few volunteers, only to have them all step forward as one man. Finally, he had the technical expertise to develop the plan for attacking the Albemarle and mastering the intricacies of the spar torpedo created by John L. Lay (later to invent the wire guided self-propelled Lay torpedo).

Listing Cushing’s exploits thus may make him seem superhuman, but Stempel makes him real and human by letting him speak in his own clear and straightforward words. He does the same for many others involved, Cushing’s men, superiors, Confederate opponents, and civilian bystanders, which gives his book a compelling, vivid immediacy. Cushing certainly did not lack talented (and articulate) enemies, particularly the young naval constructor Gilbert Elliott. Elliot built Albemarle in a corn field over two years of battling bureaucratic bumbling and obstruction, and Commander James Cook, who took her into action against the squadron of Union gunboats that controlled the North Carolina sounds.

Stempel also gives proper credit to Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory for the strategy of building ironclad “rams”. They were simple in design, in most respects easy to construct, and did not require the sophisticated engineering of Ericson’s monitors. They proved formidable opponents – sometimes. A single ram could checkmate an entire squadron of heavily armed wooden warships, until the antidote, a Union ironclad, appeared. Even then, confined to the harbor, the ram could provide a powerful deterrent to an attack on its base. The problem was completing them in time to forestall a Union waterborne assault. In his classic Iron Afloat, William Still says that perhaps fifty rams were laid down or contracted for, with only 22 completed. Furthermore, only a few of these appeared on the scene early enough to seriously threaten Union forces. In other words, the chief construction bottlenecks were the supply of iron for armor and decent engines before they completed a monitor.

Although they contracted Albemarle for the fall of 1862, it took nearly a year to accumulate the iron she needed, in the form of railroad rails, and another year to roll them into armor plate in Richmond and transport this back to the ship. In early 1864, anticipating Grant’s move on Richmond, Lee urged an effort to retake North Carolina’s ports and sounds, opening a potential supply route to Richmond and his army. But the support of the Albemarle was essential. On April 17, General Robert Hoke attacked the Roanoke River port of Plymouth at the same time as the Albemarle started down the river, with workmen still bolting on her armor. On the 19th, Albemarle attacked the two Union gunboats guarding Plymouth; the Union commander had linked his ships together with cables, hoping to catch and immobilize the ram between them where they could batter her at point-blank range. But Cooke avoided the trap, rammed and sank one gunboat, and severely beat up the other, which fled. Then Albemarle turned its guns on the Union troops defending Plymouth, bombarding them from the rear while the Confederate Army attacked from the front until they broke. As Still says “Thus ended one of the most successful combined operations conducted by Confederate forces during the War. Without question, the decisive factor was the presence of the Albemarle.”

The Confederates hoped Albemarle could similarly support their attack on New Berne, but this would require her to leave the Roanoke and enter and cross the sounds, where the Union squadron of seven wooden but heavily armed gunboats waited for her. On May 5 Albemarle met them at the mouth of the Roanoke where they fought a spirited and aggressive battle to stop her. They rammed her, pounded her with their heavy guns for hours, tried to use a spar torpedo and foul her screws with a net. One of the rare pitched naval battles of the Civil War which did not end in a complete Union victory, it is one of the high points of the book. Albemarle beat up her opponents badly, but slowly the battering found out her weak spots. One of her two guns was smashed, draft to her boilers fell as her smokestack was riddled, her steering gear was damaged. Had she been rendered defenseless, immobile, or both, she very possibly could have been captured; Cooke could not take the risk, and she limped back to Plymouth, abandoning the New Berne attack.

But she remained the key to holding Plymouth; hence the necessity for Cushing’s near-suicidal mission to take her out, another high point of the story – but I’ll leave that to the reader.  This book is a dramatic and thought-provoking read. The book is thoroughly researched and devoid of any errors other than a few irritating misspellings (like “ordinance” for “ordnance”).  This book calls to mind many interesting parallels from naval history – the penetration of the anchorage of the Tirpitz by midget submarines comes to mind – but this would only have been a distraction from the book’s proper subject. And that is Cushing and the phenomenon of leadership. Indeed, the author’s brief description of Cushing’s brother’s death at Gettysburg is a much more appropriate digression. (He was one of the artillerists who stopped Pickett’s Charge.)  Leadership; in war, or any other kind of trouble, nothing can replace it. Indeed a strong measure of it can make up for many other deficiencies. But what is it? Where does it come from? When seasoned older men, Gideon Welles, Gustavus Fox, even Lincoln himself, first met Cushing, they plainly saw him as a gifted and talented young man – good officer material. Others, like Admiral Porter, saw a reckless daredevil of a boy. But they all had no idea of what he was accomplished.

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Robert P. Largess is the author of “USS Albacore; Forerunner of the Future” and articles on the USS Triton, SS United States, the origin of the towed sonar array, and the history of Lighter-Than-Air.

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Who Was John Gwinn?

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167 years ago this Labor Day weekend, U.S. Navy Captain John Gwinn died and was buried–for the first time! His third burial came 85 years ago in Arlington National Cemetery, marked by this benign headstone. Who was he and what was the story behind his grave-hopping odyssey? Stay tuned to the Naval Historical Foundation as we untangle this mystery in coming months.

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PACOM Visits Cold War Gallery for MPA Aircraft Dedication

Admiral Harry Harris, PACOM, Admiral Bill Moran, VCNO (both Maritime Patrol Aviators), and model project coordinator Captain Ted Bronson, USN (Ret.) stand before the newly placed P-8A Poseidon Model (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)

Captain Mike Boyle, Captain Ted Bronson, USN (Ret.) and Admiral Harris Harris, PACOM, stand before the newly placed P-8A Poseidon Model (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)


By Matthew T. Eng

United States Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., USN, joined Naval Historical Foundation Chairman Admiral William J. Fallon, USN (Ret.), and a small group of distinguished guests this past Tuesday for a dedication of a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) display case, including a P-8A Poseidon model, at the National Museum of the United States Navy’s (NMUSN) Cold War Gallery. Others in attendance included Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Bill Moran and Captain Fred Smith, USN (Ret.) of the Boeing Company, whose gracious donations paid for the display case that housed the five models currently on display.

The Naval Historical Foundation made a commitment to the Navy a decade ago to build exhibits highlighting Cold War-era aircraft inside NMUSN’s Cold War Gallery. Former AD6/A4/A7 attack pilot and NHF Volunteer Captain Ted “Cash” Bronson, USN (Ret.) arranged for model sponsorships from prominent naval aviators like Jim Flatley, Jerry Miller, Tom Hudner, Larry Chambers, Ken Mattingly, and Neil Armstrong. In all, 44 models are currently on display inside the Cold War Gallery, including models of the planes piloted by the four Naval Aviators awarded the Medal of Honor.

Admiral Fallon weighed in on the importance of these planes in the history of the U.S. Navy during the presentation, noting that these aircraft were “absolutely essential to the successful outcome of the Cold War.”

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The models in the MPA case are as follows:

  • P2V-5 Neptune sponsored by RADM P.D. Smith depicting a VP-26 aircraft circa 1965.
  • P-3A Orion sponsored by ADM Harry B. Harris depicting a VP-6 aircraft circa 1972 in honor of RADM G.W. MacKay.
  • P5M Marlin sponsored by RADM Jesse J. Hernandez depicting a VP-46 aircraft circa 1960.
  • PBY-5A Catalina sponsored by Mr. Fred G. Sanders depicting a VP-33 aircraft circa 1944 in memory of ENS Donald E. Smith.
  • P-8A Poseidon sponsored by CAPT Ted Bronson depicting a VP-16 aircraft circa 2014 in honor of ADM Harris

All of the aircraft were constructed and personalized by LCDR Michael “Psycho” McLeod, USN (Ret.), a former F/A-18 pilot and current Delta Airlines captain. Like all of the other models on display inside the Cold War Gallery he worked on, McLeod made sure each detail for the models was as accurate as possible. He went so far as to visit P-8 squadrons in Jacksonville, FL, in order to get all of the antennas properly set on the Poseidon model. He even met with some of the plane sponsors just to make sure every iota of detail was noted. As Captain Bronson noted in his introduction to Admiral Harris, “there are even ejection seats inside the models!”

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Special thanks to Monnee Cottman and the National Museum of the United States Navy for coordinating this story.

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Knox-Class Frigates in the 1970s (Part II)

By Captain George W. Stewart, USN (Ret.)

As discussed in the previous post in this series, my detailer informed me in 1971 that my next assignment would be as Officer in Charge of something called a Fleet Introduction Team (FIT) at the Avondale Shipyard where USS Blakely (DE 1072), my previous ship, was built. The FIT team’s purpose was to guide the nucleus crews of the remaining 14 Knox-class frigates under construction at the shipyard through the pre-commissioning process. The detailer gave me a contact at OPNAV in Washington that could provide me with more information on the assignment. The OPNAV contact said he would mail me a copy of my new charter. In the process, he informed me that when they had set up the working group that established the FIT team, they had specified that the Officer in Charge would get command of the last ship in the program. There was no way that I could turn that down. So my family and I set out from Charleston, South Carolina, to New Orleans, Louisiana.

First, a bit of geography. We were headquarted at the Naval Support Activity (NSA) on the West Bank of the Mississippi River across the river from downtown New Orleans. The ships were built at Avondale Shipyard in Westwego, upriver from the city on the West Bank. It was about a twenty-minute drive from the NSA to the shipyard. Since I would be spending the majority of my time at the NSA, it was obviously to our advantage to live nearby. So, we rented a two story house in Algiers, only about a mile from the NSA. It was a very convenient location and I was usually able to come home for lunch.

As mentioned in the previous article, the Knox-class constituted the largest single U.S. naval shipbuilding program since World War II. The ships were intended to serve as convoy escorts originally referred to as Destroyer Escorts (DE). In 1975, the ships were re-designated as Frigates (FF). The ships were the subject of a considerable amount of controversy because of their single screws and single 5-inch guns. But they became very effective anti-submarine warfare platforms with the addition of passive towed array sonars and helicopters. Forty-six ships of the class were scheduled. The first ship of the class, USS Knox (DE 1052), entered service in 1969. The ships were built at Todd & Lockheed Shipyards in Seattle, WA, Todd Shipyard in San Pedro, CA, and Avondale Shipyards, LA. My previous ship, USS Blakely (DE 1072), was the fifth ship of the class. For economy, the Navy decided to build the last fifteen ships of the class (DE 1078 through 1097) at Avondale. The last ship in the series, DE 1097, was scheduled for delivery in 1974. At the time I took over the FIT Team in 1971, it was not yet named.

I was scheduled for briefings In Washington, Newport, and San Diego prior to reporting for my new FIT team assignment. It was my first visit to the Pentagon during my career where I was given a copy of my OPNAV (issued by the Chief of Naval Operations) charter. It said to organize a team of about 30 officers and men at the shipyard. Our assignment was to provide continuity, liaison, on-site training, administrative, and supply support to the nucleus crews of the Knox-class ships under construction at Avondale.

Our immediate boss would be the Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Force Atlantic (COMCRUDESLANT) in Newport, Rhode Island. On paper, I reported to a rear admiral. But in practice, I actually reported to the new construction program officer, a lieutenant commander in the engineering section of that staff. I must confess that being in charge of my own operation with my nearest boss in Newport sounded pretty attractive to me. My title was officer-in-charge, but I would essentially function as a commanding officer.

I found out that the team was already in place and functioning, headed by the prospective commanding officer (PCO) of USS Cook (DE 1083), then under construction. The plan was for him to turn the operation over to me after I reported in. We had an extension office right next to the building ways at Avondale Shipyards where we conducted our waterfront operations. That was where the bulk of the FIT team consisting of about 15 senior enlisted ratings would operate under the direction of our engineering and weapons officers. Their job was to conduct one-on-one training on Knox-class ship operations with the ships nucleus crewmembers.

Picture1Avondale had a unique production line method. They built five ships at a time, side by side. Their construction climaxed with a sideways launch into the Mississippi River, accompanied by a giant splash. As a ship was launched, the others would be moved to the next position and a new one would be started. Each ship took about one year from keel-laying to launch. It would be another ten or eleven months to complete and deliver the ships to the navy.

The first step upon arrival in New Orleans in the summer of 1971 was to call upon the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, 8th Naval District (SUPSHIP 8). He oversaw construction of the ships and administered the shipbuilding contract with Avondale. His immediate boss was the Ship Acquisition Program Manager (SHAPM) also a captain based at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington.

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(Courtesy George Stewart)


At the time, the nucleus crews consisted of six officers, including the prospective commanding officer (PCO), engineering, weapons, and supply officers, twelve chief petty officers, and fifteen enlisted men. They received their orders approximately four months prior to the ship’s commissioning.  Up until that time, the nucleus crews had been required to find their own way through the pre-commissioning process.  It was about a ten-week cycle from the time that the ship’s crew reported until sail away and we had a lot to accomplish during that period. With very able assistance from my supply officer, LCDR Bill Riddell, we would have the ships administrative and supply offices set up and functioning with all necessary publications in place at our Naval Support Activity office. I maintained regular contact with the detailers at the Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS). As soon as a PCO had been identified, I would contact him and provide him with an outline of what to expect. I made it a practice to meet him at the airport and take him first to his office at the NSA and then to the apartment complex the Navy rented for the crew’s use. My first week with him was quite intense. It included some classroom sessions to explain the shipbuilding organization and upcoming schedule, taking him over to meet the SUPSHIP and his staff, and then taking him on a complete tour of the ship. None of the thirteen PCOs that I worked with had ever served on a Knox-class ship, so my background as XO of Blakely and experience with 1200 psi engineering systems proved quite valuable.

About two weeks after the arrival of the PCO, it would be time for builder’s trial. This was a three-day operation involving getting underway for the first time, steaming down the Mississippi River out to the Gulf of Mexico (about 50 miles), putting the ship through its paces, and then returning to port. The ship was operated entirely by the shipyard’s trial crew. We were just along as observers. I functioned as the COMCRUDESLANT representative and wrote up a report upon completion of the trial. I found it a great learning experience and I figured that it would be good preparation for command of the last ship. But there would be some bumps in the road before that would happen.

About a month later, it was time for the acceptance trial when the SUPSHIPS would present the ship to the Board of Inspection & Survey (INSURV). The agenda was essentially a repeat of the builder’s trial. But this time, the ship would be observed by the INSURV inspectors who wrote up discrepancies that had to be adjudicated by the SHAPM before the ship could be delivered. In a worst case scenario, the INSURV Board might reject the ship entirely and require a retrial. So there was a lot riding on the outcome.

Our first acceptance trial would be aboard the USS McCandless (DE 1084) in December 1971.  We assembled in the wardroom waiting for the President of the Board of Inspection and Survey (PRESINSURV) and his team of inspectors to arrive. I was aware that PRESINSURV was Rear Admiral J.D. Bulkeley, “P.T.  Boat Bulkeley,” who as a young lieutenant had evacuated General MacArthur from the Philippines during World War II and earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his wartime heroism. He was quite well known in the navy and was nearly as much of a national icon as Admiral Rickover. It was the first time that I had ever met him. All of us were quite intimidated by him at the time.  But for me at least, that was all to change about ten years later when he became my boss during my last five years on active duty. The McCandless acceptance trial did not go very well.  Upon completion of the acceptance trial, RADM Bulkeley rejected the ship and called for a retrial. I was not displeased because the ship did have some significant deficiencies.

On the home front, life in New Orleans was like living in another country. Things were very different down there. We arrived right in the middle of a political campaign and there were signs all over the place. The politicians all seemed to have names like Bubba, Taddy, and Speedy. However, Mardi Gras proved to be a lot of fun. We attended a number of parades in downtown New Orleans and a couple of them went right by our house. I can still remember my wife diving to catch beads that were being thrown down from the floats. We accumulated quite a collection. The navy provided us with season tickets to the New Orleans Saints who were not very good back then. But we were only paying what was effectively a dollar per game including free transportation to Tulane Stadium. The most prominent player on the Saints at the time was Archie Manning.

The job itself was going quite well. My three principal assistants, LCDR Dave Klinkhammer (engineering), LCDR Bill Riddell (supply), and CWO John Sheirling (weapons), were a great help. After a couple of ships crews had gone through our program, we had our act together pretty well and our program was becoming a big hit. It was obvious to everybody that a FIT Team was the way to go. Prior to our arrival, the ships crews had to figure out for themselves what to do and there had been a good deal of floundering around. By contrast, we had things pretty well laid out for them when they arrived.  The PCOs were showing their appreciation by a steady stream of letters of appreciation to my boss as they departed.

I mentioned earlier that when I took the assignment, I was told that it was intended to lead to the command of the last Knox-class ship to come off the building ways. Before being assigned to the command of a naval vessel, they required an officer to be selected by a formal screening board composed of a group of senior officers in Washington, DC. The 1972 board convened in February, and I discovered that I had failed selection. This was definitely a significant career setback and it would be the precursor of a running soap opera that would last for the next two years.

That spring, I was visited by my titular boss, Rear Admiral Thomas Wechsler, COMCRUDESLANT from Newport R I. He expressed strong support for my program and indicated that he would attempt to use his influence to assist me on the next go around.

I was enjoying the assignment. It had little direction from the outside and it was nice to have my bosses many miles away in Newport. But I was quite fastidious when it came to keeping them informed by telephone. I got to spend quite a bit of time on the ships and I went out on all of the sea trials where I acted as the COMCRUDESLANT representative. I got into all areas on the ships. As I went along, I was becoming the navy’s reigning expert on the Knox-class ships. I only hoped that it would eventually lead somewhere career-wise.

We ended up supporting the nucleus crew of the last fourteen ships of the class that entered service between 1971 and 1974. Bear in mind that all of these ships were originally designated as destroyer escorts (DE) and were re-designated by CNO as frigates (FF) in 1975. These included:

  • USS McCandless (DE 1074)
  • USS Donald B. Beary (DE 1075)
  • USS Brewton (DE 1076)
  • USS Kirk (DE 1077)
  • USS Barbey (DE 1088)
  • USS Jesse L. Brown (DE 1089)
  • USS Ainsworth (DE 1090)
  • USS Miller (DE 1091)
  • USS Thomas C. Hart (DE 1092)
  • USS Capodanno (DE 1093)
  • USS Pharris (DE 1094)
  • USS Truett (DE 1095)
  • USS Valdez (DE 1096)
  • USS Moinester (DE 1097)

Some dramatic things were about to happen on the job.  As previously mentioned, I was normally assigned as the COMCRUDESLANT representative on the builders and acceptance trials and one of my assignments was to write a message to my boss summarizing the results of the trial. On three successive trials, we experienced ruptured boiler tubes. On two of these occasions, I was in the fire room next to the boilers when this occurred. Although nobody was injured, this was a serious situation. I did not like to be standing next to a 1200 psi boiler when parts started breaking, so I made a comment in my summary report that this was the third occurrence and something needed to be done. The results proved to be rather dramatic as a board of investigation from NAVSEA promptly arrived in town to look at the situation. Within a week, SUPSHIPS had been fired. I certainly did not intend anything like this to happen. Despite some initial difficulties with him, things had pretty well settled out by then and I did not bear any ill will toward him.

By now we were up to DE 1093 and it was the tenth ship to go through our FIT program. We had received letters of appreciation from just about every PCO that had passed through over the previous two years. But the future was still a bit uncertain because I failed selection for command again in 1973.

By December 1972, the last ship of the class, DE 1097, acquired a name (USS Moinester), but a PCO had not been named for it. We decided to attend the launching which took place in May 1973. But we had to leave before the ceremony when we found out that my sons had an altercation that resulted in a window being punched out in our house. Fortunately, neither was hurt. But we missed the launching. So 1973 came to a close. There was a lot of uncertainty with what 1974 would bring. Stay tuned. If this sounds like a soap opera, it came close to being one.

In January 1974, I received a letter from BUPERS. Much to my relief, it informed me that I had been screened for command. In April, I received my official orders as the PCO of the USS Moinester (DE 1097). The ship was due for commissioning in November. Its home port would be Norfolk, Virginia.

Robert W. Moinester (NAVSOURCE)

Robert W. Moinester (NAVSOURCE)

The USS Moinester (DE 1097) was named for Lieutenant jg Robert W. Moinester, a naval officer killed at age 24 in 1968 in Hue, South Vietnam during the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese forces. After an investigation, I discovered that he was from Lynbrook, Long Island, New York. His mother, Gertrude, was the ships sponsor having broken the traditional bottle across the bow when the ship was launched in May of 1973.

Obviously, my first action would be to contact Robert’s parents, Gertrude and Bob Moinester. When I asked them who they would like for a commissioning ceremony speaker, they mentioned their local congressman. I asked them if they would like New York Senator James Buckley instead and they said that would be even better if I could pull it off. When I contacted the Navy Bureau of Public Affairs, the reply was in the affirmative. We were all delighted. I was required to attend a 3 week PCO course in Newport. So my family and I decided to go ahead and make the move to the Norfolk area, where the ship would be homeported.

I had to be back in New Orleans in June 1974, when the nucleus crew would be reporting. It consisted of six officers and 27 enlisted personnel. They would be trained by my FIT team, which would then be disbanded. The balance crew consisting of about 220 personnel would be assembled in July by the prospective executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ted Fijak at the Naval Station in Norfolk.

The builders and acceptance trials both went very well. Before you knew it, the ship was ready for delivery. We sailed from Avondale on 14 October 1974. The ship was operated by the shipyard’s crew during the trip to Norfolk. In order to keep crew costs down by minimizing underway time, the builder normally made the delivery trip at 25 knots. This had backfired on USS Blakely when the ship ran down a sailboat. Fortunately, we arrived at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, without incident on 17 October where we would undergo a three-month fitting-out availability (FOA), the balance crew would be reporting, and the commissioning ceremony would be held in November. On arrival, the SUPSHIP representative gave me a Form DD 250 to sign. It was the receipt for material which was “One Destroyer Escort.” It was all in my hands now. I still have the form posted on the wall in my home.

The commissioning ceremony was held on 2 November 1974 at a pier downstream from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. There are some days in a person’s life when everything goes wrong. But there are also days where everything goes right. This was one of these days.

The commissioning went beautifully. My boss, RADM Wentworth, read the Navy Department orders and declared us to be in commission at which point we hoisted the ensign, jack, and commissioning pennant, I read my orders and assumed command of the ship. The crew then went aboard. Senator Buckley gave his speech. I then turned the podium over to the ship’s sponsor, Gertrude Moinester, and she made a very nice speech in which she declared that she considered herself to be “the mother of the ship.” The ceremony had to be considered successful in all respects and everyone enjoyed themselves very much. It had been an absolutely great day and it symbolized for me personally the motto found on our ship’s crest (designed by the wife of one of my FIT Team members) “The Sea is My Life.”

 USS Moinester (DE 1097) (NAVSOURCE)

USS Moinester (DE 1097) (NAVSOURCE)


Prior to getting underway for the first time, it was necessary to take certain ship handling characteristics peculiar to the Knox-class ships into account. A very valuable resource was a book entitled Ship Handling the DE 1052 Class. It was written by Cdr. S.D. Landersman, the commissioning commanding officer of USS Hepburn (DE 1055), under whom I had served as a department head aboard USS England (DLG 22) when he was the XO. Some of the significant issues that had to be addressed included:

  • The ships had large, 26-ton bow mounted sonar domes that were 20 ft. in diameter and protruded out laterally and ahead of the stem of the ship. It was absolutely vital that these not be dented or scraped in any manner, particularly in later years when these domes were back-fitted with acoustically transparent rubber “windows” that made the domes even more “tender”.
  • Each ship had only a single screw and rudder. While they responded well to ahead bells because of the propeller discharge against the rudder, they had very poor response to astern bells and the stern would invariably fall off to port.
  • For the above reasons port side landings and starboard side landings had to be approached very differently.
  • The ships had an unusual anchor configuration. They had an 8000 lb. “keel anchor” that dropped unseen from the centerline keel behind the sonar dome. There was also a 4000 lb. “lightweight Danforth style anchor” that was mounted near the bow on the port side of the main deck forecastle.
  • Because the sonar dome was leading the way anywhere the ship transited, increasing the navigational draft of the ship to at least 25 feet. I always required that any channel we passed through had a minimum depth of water of 30 feet.

The most significant decision that had to be made when entering or leaving port was what use to make of the tugs. That all depended totally upon the circumstances. In general, it was necessary to use pilot and tugs whenever we were unfamiliar with the port and in the case of our home port of Norfolk, there were cross currents in the Elizabeth River. In Norfolk, we normally landed bow out and starboard side to while making use of a docking pilot and one or two tugs. We found it useful to drop the port bow anchor on the way into the pier.  This allowed us to get underway without assistance by using the anchor to pull the bow out from the pier.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Our first underway period took place in January 1975. After a few days of around the clock steaming pier side in order to get the “feel of the ship” we proceeded up the York River to the Naval Weapons Station at Yorktown, VA for our initial weapons loadout. The evolution went quite smoothly. From there, it was off for a very intensive two-month period that included a Weapons System Accuracy Test (WSAT) at Port Everglades, Fla, shakedown training at the American Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO), naval gunfire support qualification at Vieques, and a port visit to Port Au Prince, Haiti. Our shakedown training included a wide variety of exercises. We found that we could we could accomplish most of our daily getting underway and landing evolutions which were mostly starboard side to, with assistance from a pusher boat without needing a pilot or tugs.

Our most memorable experience during this period occurred when we were conducting gunnery exercises with an aircraft towing a target far behind it on a wire. We were heading due east off the south coast of Cuba. All live firing was to be to the south away from the island.  After the “cease fire” call at the end of one firing run, the MK 68 gun director officer stated that he had a round still loaded in the gun barrel. This was a fairly common occurrence in the rapid fire, automatically loaded guns, and he requested permission to clear the barrel by firing through the muzzle in a safe direction. However as was standard routine up to that point at GTMO, the director continued to track the aircraft to the north on its way home. When I gave permission to fire that one round, the gun suddenly swung around to the north to align with the director and launched a 5” shell in the general direction of the Cuban mainland. My officer of the deck reported a splash in the water well short of land and I breathed a sigh of relief. I then proceeded to go stark raving mad and began screaming at the director officer and the weapons officer (then LT Charles T. Creekman). It turned out that the gunners mate in the gun mount had closed a switch that caused the gun to align with the director before firing the gun, the normal process when firing at a target but NOT when clearing the barrel!  Fortunately, no harm had been done and I calmed down. GTMO changed the exercise procedures for future such firing exercises.

We finished our Operational Readiness Examination at the end of Shakedown Training with an overall grade of 91 out of 100: an “excellent” rating which aptly described our first sustained operational period. We returned home in late March 1975. In April we passed our first Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (OPPE).

In May 1975, we entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a three-month post-shakedown availability (PSA). On completion of PSA, the major event was the installation of the AN/SQR 18 Tactical Towed Array System (TACTAS). This gave us a passive sonar capability by way of a long cable fitted with numerous hydrophones and attached to our SQR 35 variable depth sonar towed body or “fish” – which permitted us to stream the array up to 600 feet deep for best acoustic performance. The towed array’s purpose was to detect submarines at long ranges by listening for the broadband and discrete tonal frequencies emitted by the submarines propulsion system.

In August we formed a new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) squadron (DESRON 10) with the following members:

  • USS Moinester (FF1097) – Flagship – With TACTAS and helo
  • USS Connole (FF 1056) – with TACTAS and helo
  • USS Voge (FF 1047)- with ASW Tactical Data System (ASWTDS) and helo
  • USS Koelsch (FF 1049) – with ASWTDS and helo
  • USS McCloy (FF 1038) – with SQR 15 TASS (towed array sonar system), a critical angle towed array, much longer than our TACTAS but not as easily maneuverable as our array.

Each ship, with the exception of McCloy, was fitted with a LAMPS Mk. 1 Seasprite (SH-2) helicopter along with an appropriate aviation support detachment. The helicopters were an essential part of the ASW team. On occasion, we conducted ASW exercises in company with a P-3 ASW aircraft and US submarines (SSN) in direct support.

From that point on in the succeeding months leading up to deployment, our primary function was the technical and operational evaluation of our new equipment and conduct of ASW exercises. Our first stop was at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) range, which was located in the Bahamas. The tests went quite well and we were ready for more exercises.

When I entered the navy in 1956 a big concern was that the Soviets had developed submarines that could outrun our destroyers and destroyer escorts. It soon became obvious that this problem could be overcome through the use of passive sonar detection and tracking. If a submarine tried to go fast to evade, it would light up the ocean and our helicopter would easily keep up with it. At the time this was a significant development in ASW.

As we were now the flagship of the ASW Squadron we had to provide accommodations for our squadron commander, Captain Don Cannell, COMDESRON 10 and his staff. The next few months remained very busy as they included more ASW exercises, an operational evaluation (OPEVAL), a nuclear weapons acceptance inspection (NWAI), our second successful OPPE, naval gunfire support (NGFS) qualifications, and a variety of other activities as we completed a Caribbean exercise (CARIBBEX 2-76) as our final evolution before deployment .

In April 1976, the ASW Squadron deployed to the Mediterranean as a group where we would serve as a unit of the Sixth Fleet. After INCHOP at Rota, Spain we conducted another ASW exercise and then had our first tender availability in Naples, Italy in May. From there we proceeded to the Ionian Sea for more ASW exercises with the USS America carrier task group before mooring in June in Brindisi, Italy.

I was due for rotation in June. My relief, Commander Haig Alemian, arrived by helicopter and the change of command took place at sea on 23 June 1976 after which I was transferred ashore by helicopter. From there I went up to Rome, where I met my family for a tour of Europe.

CDR Alemian actually grew up in the next town to me in Massachusetts. He made a very good impression on everybody. Tragically, he was killed about a year later while still in command of Moinester during the ship’s second deployment in a car crash outside Naples en route to a planning meeting for an upcoming exercise.

This concludes my personal experiences with USS Moinester. However, I still had plenty of connections to the Knox-class ships including the conduct of numerous inspections as a member of the Propulsion Examining Board between 1996 and 1999. When you added up the Knox-class ships that I had either served on or conducted inspections aboard it came out to 25 of the 46-ship class. I was very happy with the performance of all of the people I served with during that period.

In 1991, Moinester was re-designated as a training frigate (FFT) and assigned to reserve training duties in Norfolk. All of the Knox-class frigates were decommissioned between 1991 and 1994. Thirty of the ships were sold or transferred to foreign navies. Moinester is apparently still in service in the Egyptian navy as the frigate Rashid (F966) and USS Jesse Brown (FF 1089) is still serving as the frigate Domyat (F961). Both ships have been in service for over 40 years.

Note that Moinester was the last conventionally-powered combatant ship to enter service in the US Navy powered by oil-fired boilers and steam turbines. All subsequent surface combatants have been powered by gas turbines. The Knox-class frigates were succeeded by the 71 ships of the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG 7)-class, the first of which entered service in 1977. All ships of this class have now been decommissioned, although 24 are still serving in foreign navies. We hope to follow this posting with one dealing with the Perry class ships.

Avondale shipyard has been closed since 2015 due to lack of business and it is listed for sale on the market.

As can be seen in the following illustration from a 1980s Navy Times feature, Moinester continued to be a leader in all phases of ASW development and was the recipient of numerous awards over the years.

(Navy Times)

(Navy Times)




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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