Monitor’s Coat: A Rare Find in Conservation

DSC_4024

By Matthew T. Eng

I have never been more happy to arrive early to an event in my entire life. 

There have been several great talks and panels at the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference this week in Norfolk. Too many, in fact, to mention in a single blog post. Being a fan and enthusiast of the Civil War navies, however, I gravitated towards panel presentations focusing on ironclad ships and commerce raiders. Given the recent news this summer that the Monitor Center Wet Lab had reopened, I wanted to make sure to check out the Thursday panel on USS Monitor. The panel covered every conceivable aspect of the ship, from its influence in mainstream consumer culture (Wonderfully done by the intrepid Dr. Anna Holloway) to the way we can it provides for creative and meaningful relationships with the community at large (Dave Alberg). The most interesting presentation, however, came from Dave Krop, Director of the Monitor Center. Dave talked about a variety of ongoing projects and conservation techniques his team in the lab are currently conducting on Monitor artifacts both large and small. The most interesting artifact he mentioned was a double-breasted sack coat discovered inside the turret. According to Krop, the coat was recovered in pieces in 2002 by NOAA. At first, the piece looked like a wet mass on the floor of the turret. Their meticulous conservation has drastically changed that in recent years. Dave was happy to report to attendees that the coat is finally out of the treatment process. With help from funding, the center’s ultimate goal is to have the coat completely conserved and displayed in Newport News.

Friday’s talks on the “Civil War at Sea” were also excellent. I am happy to report on all fronts that Civil War naval history is alive and well. Feeling content with my fix for Civil War naval knowledge, I gathered my things yesterday afternoon for the 10th MHC evening reception across the water in Newport News. Looking to avoid the rush from Friday traffic on the busy interstates of Hampton Roads, I opted to leave Norfolk much earlier than anticipated. I haven’t been away from the area long enough to forget how bad it can get at rush hour.

DSC_4031Boy, am I glad I left when I did. As one of the first guests to arrive, I had my own private audience to chat with three Monitor Center staff members already there: Dave Krop, Will Hoffman, and Kate Sullivan. After spending a few minutes of chatting about the conference, Dave and his crew invited me to a private viewing of the Monitor sailor’s coat. Naturally, I jumped on the opportunity. One short elevator ride later, I was up in the conservation lab, staring down at a near-perfect specimen of material culture largely unseen for the last 150 years.

The coat is absolutely stunning in person. The colors seem vibrant and alive, as if you just picked the coat out of the closet to wear. It is remarkable how together it looks. I have some clothes that look worse for wear than the Monitor coat!

It is always to a treat to listen and learn history. Seeing it up close in front of your face, however, is a different animal altogether.They have done a truly remarkable job keeping such a delicate artifact intact and well-preserved over a decade after it came out of the water. You can see every nuance and detail from the buttons. The buttons were found next to the coat because the cotton fiber holding them to the coat degraded in the ocean water.

Button Detail on the Coat.

Button Detail on the Coat.


The coat was privately produced and modified for military service. The material is likely composed of a fine, merino-like wool. Looking at the artifact as a whole on their table, there is a lot to be said about quality craftsmanship – much of it stayed together underwater. The team at the lab said the jacket is approximately 85 percent complete. They also found footwear and other personal clothing items near where the jacket was found.

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These dedicated men and women working on this ongoing project are a shining example of why the Monitor is still relevant today. From this one artifact, you can now ask a hundred new questions. Who was its owner. Why was it modified? What is the significance of the buttons? The list goes on. It amazes me to think how one ship can continually change and alter how we think about naval warfare and its preservation for years to come. With continued help and support, Dave and his team can continue making great advanced in their field for the betterment of all those who wish to see their proud naval heritage preserved for generations to come. That’s an ironclad promise we’d all like to keep.

Go to their blog HERE for more updates and information on their continuing projects and partnerships with NOAA.

A special thanks to Dave Krop, Will Hoffman, and Kate Sullivan for giving me a special treat to an already spectacular evening at the Mariners’ Museum.

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Winchester, VA: A Hub of Naval History?

ADM Richard E. Byrd and Igloo, Winchester, VA

ADM Richard E. Byrd and Igloo, Winchester, VA


By Matthew T. Eng

I wanted to be a bit spontaneous yesterday. I decided to skip the throng of crowds in Baltimore’s Bicentennial of the Star-Spangled Banner (Our friends at NHHC had it covered) and spent the day in Winchester, VA. The sleepy, historic town was just over an hour away. It would be the perfect place for my wife and I to get out of the city and clear our heads. I put on some Patsy Cline and headed down I-66 towards the Shenandoah Valley.

We arrived a shade under an hour and a half. To my surprise, parking was free there on the weekends. We picked a spot on the street near Winchester’s Judicial Center and started making our way towards the nearby historic district. As we walked away from our parking spot, I noticed a statue off in the distance in front of the building. It looked oddly familiar. I told my wife to wait a second while I did a little bit of detective work. Sure enough, I realized why it looked so familiar once I got closer:

ADM Byrd Statue (Matthew Eng Photo/Released) and Admiral Byrd with Igloo (NHHC Photo)

ADM Byrd Statue (Matthew Eng Photo/Released) and Admiral Byrd with Igloo (NHHC Photo)


As it turns out, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, famous naval explorer of the Antarctic, was born in Winchester. His boyhood home was only a few blocks away The Byrd statue depicts the famous photograph of the explorer with his dog “Igloo” during his first Antarctic Expedition in 1930. A transcript of the 1997 dedication ceremony found online revealed that the statue was built “entirely by contributions, large and small, from members of the community, friends, neighbors, and admirers.” Then Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton. Dalton had much to say about the “lion of a man” that became one of the most decorated naval officers in U.S. Navy history:

“He was a man who loved a challenge. He was a man of firsts. The first to fly over the North Pole. The first to fly over the South Pole. The first to explore and map the vast continent of Antarctica. Amazing feats . . . and especially so, given our reliance today on the wonders of navigation now available to us, like the global positioning system. Admiral Byrd had no such tools available . . . he called upon his courage almost exclusively, to achieve the firsts that began out search for those marvelous tools we use today. His was a special breed of courage.”  (Remarks of Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton, Winchester, VA, 14 July 1997)

Admiral Byrd is honored in other ways around in Frederick County. Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School, opened in 2005, is named in his honor. According to their site, several letters and pictures from his incredible career are on display at the school. The school mascot is the “Husky,” which I found to be a fitting tribute to the man and his love for dogs.

Antique Store Finds in Winchester!

Antique Store Finds in Winchester!

We walked into a nearby antique store in the historic district to search for anything interesting for my house. The day had no agenda – why not? I briefly talked to an employee about the Byrd statue. He knew a great deal about the statue and the history behind it. The gentlemen told me that Byrd was also a descendent of Englishman John Rolfe and Pocahontas. Byrd’s thirst for exploration and adventure was in his bloodline.

The antique store looked more like a museum of Americana, bookended between the turn-of-the-century and the 1970s. While there, I managed to find two interesting pieces of naval history: A 1946 edition of Your Navy (NAVPERS 10600) and a rare children’s copy of Don Winslow of the Navy, published in 1940. More on these later.

There are several other famous naval figures from Winchester. RADM Louis M. Noulton, interwar Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, was born in Winchester in 1869. Commodore John H. Aulick, War of 1812 hero and Midshipman prize master of HMS Boxer after her engagement with Enterprise in 1813, was also born in Winchester in 1787.

(Image Credit: NAVSOURCE)

Commodore Aulick (Image Credit: NAVSOURCE)


I left Winchester with a huge smile on my face. Who knew there would be so much naval history in a small town inside the Shenandoah Valley? It goes to show you that you can find naval history just about anywhere.

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A lot of Growing Up to Do After 9/11: 13 Years Later

NORFOLK (Jan. 24, 2014) An officer aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24) bows his head during the invocation of the dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the ship's 9/11 Tribute Room in honor of all those who died in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. One hundred and twenty-five military service members and civilians lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

NORFOLK (Jan. 24, 2014) An officer aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24) bows his head during the invocation of the dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the ship’s 9/11 Tribute Room in honor of all those who died in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. One hundred and twenty-five military service members and civilians lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)


By Matthew Eng

I was 17 years old in 2001. My worldview did not extend beyond the confines of my immediate friends and family. Although I was a Senior in high school, I still had a lot of growing up to do. A lot of that experience happened on the morning of September 11th. Like others around the country, I watched in horror as my narrow scope of the world shattered, opening my eyes to the harsh realities of an America at war.

I had lived in Hampton Roads my entire life. Naturally, everybody knew somebody who is in the military – friends, neighbors, or family. Every resident of Hampton Roads knows what jet noise sounds like. After years of conditioning, the sound becomes soothing. I remember seeing the hub of activity Norfolk was during Operation Desert Storm. This was different. It was even different than the response from the attack on USS Cole, home-ported in Norfolk. There was more of a frenzy. The following week, it was hard not to hear lunchtime conversation around you talking about enlisting and joining up. I didn’t think much of it back then. I think about it almost every day now. I can imagine the buzz of fervor was much the same around the United States in December 1941. Or in February 1898. Or April 1861.

A girl places a flower beneath a row of flags during a 9/11 ceremony in Norfolk, Va. The City of Norfolk hosted an all-day healing and remembrance ceremony at Town Point Park to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stuart Phillips/Released)

A girl places a flower beneath a row of flags during a 9/11 ceremony in Norfolk, Va. The City of Norfolk hosted an all-day healing and remembrance ceremony at Town Point Park to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stuart Phillips/Released)

I graduated in 2002 and went off to college. Many of my classmates went off to join the military. I am grateful for every one of those individuals who answered the call of duty – past, present, and future. Some of those classmates went off to the Middle East. Some came back unscathed, while others returned with injuries both on the inside and outside.

Historically, it hasn’t been that long since the attacks. Watching the footage still evokes emotion. It seems like it was yesterday. Watching older films with the iconic NYC backdrop always make note of the Twin Towers in the distance.

Enemy attacks on the United States are still very well in the memory and minds of the American public. We are only a shade over 70 years since Pearl Harbor, and are currently commemorating the bicentennial anniversary of the British attack on our nation’s capitol, typified by this weekend’s “Star-Spangled” events in Baltimore.

I am 30 years old now. I STILL have a lot of growing up to do. The world has a lot of growing up to do. I can sleep safe knowing that our men and women of the United States Navy are keeping the watch, making sure the aging process for both goes as smooth as possible. Take a second today and thank your fellow service members who answered the call, and honor those who gave their fullest measure of devotion on the morning of September 11th and beyond.

Do you have a story about your experiences with 9/11? Share it here or on our Facebook page. 

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Black Shoe Dog at Sea: Wiley and the USS Stephen W. Groves

It’s no secret that everybody loves dogs. A recent post on our Facebook site led us to discover the interesting story behind a rare ship’s mascot aboard USS Stephen W. Groves on her final deployment.
 

Wiley aboard Stephen W. Groves, 2011

Wiley aboard Stephen W. Groves, 2011


By Matthew T. Eng

You can’t deny that we like to keep things on a tight schedule.

Each Tuesday, NHF posts content on our social media pages highlighting where the history of the United States Navy and popular culture has connected over the years (#NavyHistoryinPopularCulture). On Thursdays, better known as “TBT: Past vs. Present,” we bridge connections of naval history from the Navy of yesterday and today. Using thematic concepts and images from our Navy’s illustrious history, our fans choose which instance from past or present they feel is best suited to the question. Would you rather go on a Navy exploring expedition with Captain Charles Wilkes or Admiral Richard Byrd? Our fans decided they would prefer to chill out with Admiral Byrd in the Antarctic. Perhaps everyone is a little tired of the oppressive heat right now!

“His selfless and loyal service provided fellow Sailors with fond memories of life back at home, a much-appreciated boost in morale and the occasional reminder to smile.”

With workflow resembling a small skyscraper on my desk, I needed a quick idea to post on our social media pages for last week’s edition of  “TBT: Past vs. Present.” I checked the time on my phone, which has a picture of my wife and dog on the home screen. That’s it! What about dogs and the Navy? I know there is a plethora of information on the internet where dogs became ship mascots in times of peace and war. Most of those images stop around the end of the Second World War. What about the present day? I contacted Laura Orr at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum to see if she had any pictures that might relate to the subject. She sent me an adorable picture of a cute Jack Russell/Shih Tzu mix dressed up in service blues. I thought the image was a perfect portrayal of the “present,” and quickly included the image on the post.

Image Credit: Matthew Rick

Image Credit: Matthew Rick


When I first saw the picture, I assumed the pup was dressed up and brought aboard for photos before the ship left for deployment. The only description I had was, “Wiley aboard USS Stephen W. Groves, 2011.” Within an hour, the comment section on our feed started to unravel the story. As it turns out, Wiley is a real “salty dog!” The story behind the ship’s last deployment is as interesting as Wiley’s service to the Navy. Thanks in large part to the information and images provided by Commander Matthew Rick and LT Aubra Thomas, Wiley’s story can now become true naval history.

Petty Officer Second Class Dog Wiley Jarvis Thomas in his dress whites for homecoming in July 2011. (Photo Credit: Matthew Rick)

Petty Officer Second Class Dog Wiley Jarvis Thomas in his dress whites for homecoming in July 2011. (Photo Credit: Matthew Rick)

Commander Matthew Rick must be a big fan of dogs. Prior to her final deployment to the African coast in 2011, the Stephen W. Groves CO explained the history behind ship mascots to his shipmates. According to LT Thomas, she and several Junior Officers hatched a plan to resurrect the tradition. They collectively “came up with a proposal for CDR Rick, stating how noteworthy a mascot could be on a ship nowadays.” CDR Rick endorsed the idea. Thomas adopted Wiley and medically screened him with the Veterinarian. Fit for duty, Wiley was ready for his new adventure.

Seaman Wiley Jarvis Thomas departed with USS Stephen W. Groves in January 2011 for a six-month deployment in the 6th Fleet AoR. Her previous deployments during her thirty-year history took the ship on various counter drug, anti-piracy, and humanitarian missions around the world.

P02 Wiley Thomas, USN (Ret.)

P02 Wiley Thomas, USN (Ret.)

Wiley’s first (and only) deployment gave him a taste of life few other dogs living today can say they lived. Yet Wiley made up for his smaller “sea legs” in no time. During the deployment, Wiley circumnavigated Africa, seeing exotic ports and countries along the continent’s coastline. Wiley was aboard the ship throughout various counter-piracy operations. He provided the sailors with much-needed amusement and relief during those tense times. Thomas explains:

“His selfless and loyal service provided fellow Sailors with fond memories of life back at home, a much-appreciated boost in morale and the occasional reminder to smile.  Wiley remained ever vigilant and would come wagging to the rescue if someone was having a bad day.  He understood his duties and performed them with the utmost devotion!!”

Wiley returned to Florida in July 2011. He left the ship a “seasoned and salty” Petty Officer 2nd Class. He is currently enjoying his retirement with the Thomas family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That does not mean he plans to rest easy. Now four years old, Wiley continues to enrich the lives of others. Wiley hopes to extend a helping paw in his retirement years as a therapy dog at the local VA hospital. Although his ship is now decommissioned, I am sure his memories still gravitate to his time at sea. Thanks for keeping the watch, Wiley.

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Have you deployed on a ship with a ship mascot? Let us know in the comment section or email at meng@navyhistory.org.

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John Paul Jones and Oliver Hazard Perry are “Baddass?” We Knew All Along

Screenshot via Cracked.com Facebook Site

Screenshot via Cracked.com Facebook Site


By Matthew Eng

It is a rare and beautiful thing when naval history is highlighted in popular culture. According to a recent story by a popular social media site, naval history is alive and well.

Social media outlets outside the realm of naval history will occasionally publish content relevant to the history of the United States Navy. For better or worse, students and enthusiasts of the subject cannot help but crack a smile that information once held so close to the vest is now blasted to millions of people everyday. Cracked.com, the website and social media faction to the popular magazine of the same name, put out an article yesterday on the Internet extolling the heroic “trash talk” of some of histories greatest warriors. The article, titled “The 10 Greatest Uses of Trash Talk in the History of War,” makes no illusion that the half-history/half-humor list is about (warning – mild language):

“Yet history records some baddass trash talk that would put Schwarzenegger to shame, some spoken in dire circumstances. Of course, it takes a certain type of badass.”

By all accounts, the amount of historical research and knowledge presented is respectable. The article mentions everyone from King Leonidas to Joan of Arc. Included in the list historical situations were two of the most famous events in the history of the United States Navy: John Paul Jones’s fight with the Serapis and Oliver Hazard Perry’s exploits at the Battle of Lake Erie.

#7 John Paul Jones

Original Image - Wikimedia Commons

Original Image – Wikimedia Commons


The list discusses Captain John Paul Jones’s extraordinary fight with the HMS Serapis during the Battle of Flamborough Head. Unfortunately, the sites are linked to Wikipedia and not a historical site. The brief text included in the article describes Jones’s decision to ram the Serapis in an all-out act of heroism and desperation. During this, he utters his now famous line; the kind of trash talk any true patriot loves to hear over and over again:

“I have not yet begun to fight!”

The outcome?  The Bonhomme Richard was lost (and still trying to be found today), but the intrepid leader commanded the Serapis to nearby Amsterdam on a victory cruise. It is the kind of situation where legends are made from, clearly evident by some of the humorous captions included with the images, which are borderline meme-worthy:

Screenshot via Cracked.com

Hey – at least they attributed the Naval History and Heritage Command! Screenshot via Cracked.com


#6: Oliver Hazard Perry

The next piece of “trash talk” included in the list was Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous “We have met the nemey and they are ours” quote from the Battle of Lake Erie. The author begins the situation by saying that Perry was “the type of man that Cracked lists were invented for, starting with his impossibly ballsy name.” There is no arguing there. Looking through the description, the author of the article had as much fun talking about the physical description of Perry than describing the story behind the line itself:

Screenshot via Cracked.com

Screenshot via Cracked.com


The author eventually discusses how Perry’s daring decisions led to a decisive victory against the British fleet at Lake Erie. He includes enough history in there to both fascinate and entertain and educate. Are there pieces missing to the story? Certainly. That does not mean that men like Perry should not get their due and proper, now two centuries later.

Anybody that says history cannot be fun and relevant should read these articles (likely with a grain of salt). For many fans of naval history – this is all old news. Countless books and scholarly articles discuss the daring heroics of two of the United States Navy’s most iconic sailors. Even so, others had a hard time placing a finger on these two men:

Screenshot via Cracked.com Facebook Site

Screenshot via Cracked.com Facebook Site


Unfortunately, John Paul Jones is often misunderstood for the bass player of Led Zeppelin. These misconceptions are not reserved for Cracked alone. According to Urban Dictionary, a web-based dictionary, the fourth definition of John Paul Jones lists the Father of the U.S. Navy as “some navy guy:”

Screenshot via Urban Dictionary

Screenshot via Urban Dictionary


Of course, many of us know John Paul Jones as a daring sailor who helped secure our nation’s independence. Despite what social media says, he will always be that way. That’s not to say Led Zeppelin isn’t great either.

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BOOK REVIEW – Ready Seapower: a History of the U.S. Seventh Fleet

Marolda, Ready-Seapower1By Edward J. Marolda, Naval History & Heritage Command, Washington, DC (2012)

Reviewed by Paul W. Murphey, Ph.D., CDR, CHC, USN (Retired)

Ready Seapower is an attractive book. Its coffee table format and design make it appealing for guests to flip through and comment on. The large selection of well-chosen pictures and illustrations fit well with the text. Each chapter has a special inset that usually highlights a ship, often an aircraft carrier or flagship of the Seventh Fleet. These can very easily stand up on their own. Persons who played a prominent role in Seventh Fleet history and operations are treated with respect and admiration.  The author worthily acknowledges the contributions of the distinguished core of naval historians to which he belongs. It is an altogether pleasure to hold in one’s hands and read.

The book encompasses the life and work of the Seventh Fleet from its inception in World War II (1943) up to its involvement in peace and war from its homeport in Yokosuka, Japan through 2010. The author, Edward Marolda, is noted for his extensive knowledge and writing on the role of the United States Navy in Asia and the Pacific. While other historians could also have done well with the task, Marolda has the background and insights to make this an engrossing story of one of the Navy’s most vital elements.

Each chapter begins with a concise statement of what follows in each chapter, ending with an equally concise summary conclusion. Persons, events, and places are all woven together in a seamless story. The author is at pains to vividly demonstrate the vital role the Seventh Fleet has played in times of war, including World War II, the Korean Conflict, the war in Vietnam, and the Gulf War. Marolda also highlights the role of the Seventh Fleet in lesser conflicts, particularly in the Far East, such as Operation Paul Bunyan in Korea and the difficult engagements against terrorism and piracy.

The Seventh Fleet helped maintain peace by serving as a type of American ambassador of goodwill. This was accomplished not only in extensive far-flung humanitarian efforts, but also in overt diplomatic missions as well, particularly with China. Seventh Fleet units participate in more than a hundred exercises each year, many of them with other nations such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and more recently, India. This serves as evidence of the Seventh Fleet’s place in multinational cooperation. They are commited to maintaining open sea-lanes for commerce and protecting national interests as well as the safety and security of its allies. The Seventh Fleet has often been the lead partner in performing the delicate dance with Chia.

Histories can be written in many ways. If the author wrote for other historians or naval scholars, he would have provided the documentation requisite to that task. This is not, however, a book for that audience. Therefore, the citations are more general than specific. An author is acknowledged as the source of a quoted statement, but the actual work in which that citation appears is not given. While this is adequate for its purpose, I would have liked the citations as endnotes.

Dr. Marolda was able to spend some time in face-to-face interviews with key players in the Seventh Fleet, enhancing the book’s authenticity. He is an accomplished and skilled historian familiar with the records essential for writing such a history and bringing records to life through personal acquaintances with those making that history.

Since most of my naval career was spent on Seventh Fleet ships, I found the book especially meaningful. I began active duty with Destroyer Squadron Fifteen and was on the Lockwood (FF 1064) for Operation Paul Bunyan. I was back in Japan years later on Midway (CV 41) when we deployed to the Indian Ocean and then back again when Midway got underway set sail for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The faces and places the author presents are among my most cherished memories of naval life.

There is one minor caveat I have. The Index, which I expect was done by a research assistant (or software program) rather than the author, omits a reference to Midway, although I counted seventeen citations including the marvelous inset highlighting Midway on page 85. Otherwise, the book does what it sets out to do in commendable fashion: making knowledge of the Seventh Fleet available to a wide and hopefully more appreciative readership.

BuyOnAmazon

After over 15 years on active duty, Murphey has retired to the Pacific Northwest.

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BOOK REVIEW – Legends in Sail

Engvig_Olaf_Legends in SailBy Olaf T. Engvig, Themo Publishing, Los Angeles, CA (2013)

Reviewed by Mark Lardas

Norway has a long maritime tradition. While it is still among the world’s major shipping nations, it used sailing vessels much later than the rest of the world. Regardless, much of its recent maritime heritage is largely unknown outside Norway. Part of the problem is a dearth of English-language works on the subject. Primary sources are mainly in Norwegian, a language spoken by approximately six million people with relatively few scholars. Legends in Sail, by Olaf T. Engvig, attempts to correct this lapse. Written by a Norwegian maritime historian, the book was published in both English and native language editions. The book’s introductory chapter presents Norwegian maritime history from the Viking era to the present.

It then dives into the heart of the story:  biographies of nine noteworthy Norwegian sailing vessels. Three were Arctic exploration ships: Gjøa, Fram, and Maud. Four were sail training vessels: Statsraad Erichsen, Christiana, Transatlantic, and Christian Radich. Two were sailing cargo ships: Lancing and Lindgard. These ships were launched between 1858 and 1937. Engvig spends a chapter on the history of each ship, its significance, and its fate. Engvig provides an outstanding collection of black and white photographs, color photographs, paintings, and drawings to illustrate each chapter.

Although he is no Joseph Conrad, Engvig’s English version is clear, albeit a tad stolid. His facts are solid, and the story is engaging. The events related are stirring, yet there is a bleak similarity in many of the tales. Outstanding achievements during the dying days of sail are followed by obsolescence, neglect, and oblivion. Only three of the ships presented still exist. Only Christian Radich still sails. Gjøa and Fram are museum ships housed ashore. Maud was wrecked. The remaining were scrapped, including one ship restored by supporters and donated to a museum for preservation only to be sold for scrap immediately afterwards.

Engvig’s book reveals how much of Norway’s sail heritage (and the poor preservation of its heritage) was due to Norwegian poverty before petroleum dollars converted Norway from Europe’s poorest nation to its richest. Norway’s men became sailors because of limited opportunities ashore. Norway continued operating sailing vessels after most others went to steam because sailing ships were cheaper to buy and operate. Norway continued sail training because it needed sailors to man these remaining sailing ships. Ultimately, poverty led to the lack of preservation of the sailing ships. None of this detracts from the majesty of the sailing ship or the accomplishments of Norway’s merchant marine. Engvig tells a direct tale of the end of the sailing era, one those interested in that subject will want to read.

Purchase Legends in Sail HERE.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush

Igler, David_The Great OceanBy David Igler, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2013)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

Professor David Igler recently won the North American Society for Oceanic History John Lyman Book award for the category of U.S. Maritime History, and rightly so. The Great Ocean is a tale of the interaction between different Pacific cultures from around 1770 to 1850. While the initial temptation of this period might be to look at it from an American viewpoint (from a colony on the verge of independence to a world economic power), the author goes for a grander scale. While the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Columbian Exchange are well known for the exchange of goods, services, and ideas, there was an equally important and lesser known interplay in the larger Pacific Ocean. Professor Igler has ably set out to redress this lack of attention.

“The Great Ocean” was coined by a Prussian-educated French aristocrat named Adelbert von Chamisso. The aristocrat sailed on the Russian vessel Rurik, whose mission was to discover a Pacific-based Northwest Passage from 1815-1818. In his Remarks and Opinions of the Naturalist of the Expedition, he called for the retirement of the terms “Pacific Ocean” and “South Sea.” Instead, von Chamisso argues that “The Great Ocean” is a far more accurate term due to the scale and complexity of the area. These complexities are covered in six chapters and a conclusion.  “Seas of Commerce” focuses on the changing maritime trade, especially the prime players from the later eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries.

While there had been important maritime avenues beforehand, such as the Spanish silver fleets and Dutch East Indian Company, the later eighteenth century saw the British East India Company (EIC) ascendant. After the Napoleonic Wars, however, her former colony, the United States, began to push the EIC out of the China trade, assisted by Continental powers hoping to recover from those same wars. In desperation, British merchants turned to the forced importation of opium.

“Disease, Sex and Indigenous Depopulation” looks at the devastating effects that disease spread through sickness and sexual contact had on communities around the Pacific. Many of these diseases, such as Syphilis or Gonorrhea, affected multiple generations, or prevented them due to sterility. It became a horrific “gift that kept on giving.” “Hostages and Captives” deals with the reality that most first-contact situations (or successive interactions, for that matter) led to hostage-taking and permanent “gunboat diplomacy.” “The Great Hunt” chronicles the wholesale slaughter of Sea Otters, Seals and Gray Whales. The first two were nearly driven extinct for their valuable pelts. The latter was prized for the high quality “sperm oil” in the first few decades of the Industrial Revolution for the maintenance of machinery. The Petroleum Revolution that followed would have equally important economic effects.

“Naturalists and Natives in the Great Ocean” looks at some of the “Scientifics” that went on expeditions, both trade and exploration. The aforementioned Adelbert von Chamisso was one such “Scientific,” and probably the one who had the most long-term view of the changes being wrought upon the area by European and American mariners. “Assembling the Pacific” recounts the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. While initially associated with the flaws of the expedition’s commander, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who was court-martialed upon the fleet’s return to New York.

One of the “Scientifics” on board, James Dwight Dana, would leave a legacy far beyond the original scope of the expedition’s parameters. Dana was the first person to assemble all the pieces discussing how the Pacific region came about. Like Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, he was able to use preexisting theories to create a more complete picture. In his “Origin of the Grand Outline Features of the Earth,” he was able to formulate theories on the creation and decline of volcanic ranges without the advantage of sonar. The latter was based on his cornerstone embrace of erosion over time, while he dubbed the former “a grand volcanic border” (now referred to as the “Ring of Fire”) that surrounded the Pacific.

Both concepts also alluded to an earth much older than hereto believed, especially when partnered with Darwin’s contemporary research. The conclusion, titled “When East Became West,” illustrates how the Pacific Worlds had changed since Cook’s voyage. The Gold and Silver Rushes and the Petroleum Revolution led to new maritime realities, as would the opening of Chinese and Japanese ports. Steam ships would make the Pacific (and by extension the world) a smaller place.

This is an excellent book overall. The major criticism that I have is that the only map is not very detailed. This is especially glaring when trying to track different voyages. All criticism aside, I recommend the book to anyone interested in Nautical History or Exploration. Just make sure that you have an atlas within arm’s reach.

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

 

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BOOK REVIEW – Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific

Lord_Carnes_Rebalancing US ForcesEdited By Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2014)

Reviewed by Nathan Albright

For those readers who have an interest in reading the plans of the U.S. Navy in addressing the complicated concerns of logistics, tactical and strategic concerns, and funding issues for operations in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as a case for efforts towards sea basing, this is a book that contains a detailed and nuanced analysis. Readers with a high tolerance for three and five letter acronyms and jargon will find a wealth of information about American capabilities in the Pacific and Indian Ocean basins, as well as the threat to forward bases in Japan and Taiwan.

At a slim 216 pages of written material (followed by an index), this book includes eight essays on a bevy of concerns for the Navy in the Asia-Pacific region, written by a variety of contributors from both academia as well as high-ranking officers from the United States, Great Britain, and Australia. This also includes a substantial body of contributors from the Naval War College. After an introduction discussing the reasons behind the publication, there are essays about everything from the role of Guam in Pacific defense to the complicated strategic situation for American security at Diego Garcia. Taken individually, these essays provide a snapshot focus on different areas of interest in a large and complicated region of contemporary and likely future importance for American security.

Each of the essays has a similar approach.  All essays include a historical analysis of American involvement with that particular nation or region (as well as the involvement of other relevant naval forces), current threats or opportunities, and future (and likely) strategic concerns with other powers.  Despite the variety of contributors and approaches, there are some consistent threads that run through this work.  One of those threads relates to the relative importance of treaty relationships (five of which are in the Asia-Pacific region:  Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand), and the fact that Singapore, a non-treaty relationship appears more important to American security than either the Philippines or Thailand in the long term.  Another thread is the vulnerability of American bases in the region to the vicissitudes of local politics or to threats from Chinese (and to a lesser extent, North Korean) ballistic missiles.  There is also a consistent thread of tradeoffs between strategic and tactical flexibility as well as cost and safety.

Given all of these concerns, the comparative lack of political difficulties in Guam and Diego Garcia (because Guam is an internal territory where the military is popular and because Diego Garcia is ruled by a very close ally with no civilian population), as well as Singapore (which has shown a willingness to pay for its own bases and made them available to our littoral ships there), make them appealing for both political and economic reasons.  For these reasons, the last essay makes a cautious but clear appeal for the United States to consider developing sea bases that will be less vulnerable to Chinese attack than fixed-point land bases in territories where local political concerns may threaten the presence or activity of American forces.  In stark contrast to China, India is seen as a potential partner to the United States in helping to protect the security of the Indian Ocean because of common interests and common threats (again, mainly China).

Taken as a whole, it is clear that the people responsible for researching this work have taken a great deal of time and effort in presenting a strong case for a specific suite of actions in the Asia-Pacific region.  These actions emphasize the vulnerability of bases to military and political concerns, a strong concern for logistics (including the need to control costs because of American political realities), and also a thoughtful regard for the diplomatic and military issues that the United States faces now and in the future.  Although there is no top-secret information to be found here (except insofar as this book talks about intelligence regarding the potential capabilities of China,), this is clearly a work that is designed to reflect the goals of the Navy and to influence those decision makers who have concerns in this part of the world.  It manages to update the thinking and approach of Mahan in contemporary language dealing with contemporary concerns with an eye towards the next few decades as well.  As a thoughtful and persuasive work, it deserves attention by military as well as civilian audiences. It serves to make a public case for supporting the goals of the Navy by politicians both in the United States and in allied nations by seeking to reduce our vulnerabilities to local political pressure or military attack while also building the naval infrastructure necessary to ensure freedom of action for military action or disaster relief and uphold American security interests in a volatile part of the world.

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Nathan Albright lives in Portland, Oregon, and has also lived in Thailand.

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BOOK REVIEW – War Letters 1914-1918, Vol. 2: From a Midshipman at Sea with the Royal Navy During the First World War

PhilipcoverEdited by Mark Tanner, Self Published, (2013)

Reviewed by Capt. Winn Price, USNR (Ret.)

In 1911, 13 year-old Philip M. de Carteret received an appointment to the Royal Naval College in Osborne. His letters form the second of nine volumes, each compiling the letters of nine servicemen with two characteristics in common. All served during the First World War. None came home. No doubt each set of letters is poignant. I read letter after exuberant letter, sharing the fortunes and misfortunes of his early career. All the while, knowing that the letters would suddenly end brought a peculiar sadness and vague mourning 98 years after his death. Philip died aboard the battle cruiser H.M.S. Queen Mary amidst the Battle of Jutland.

Mark Tanner’s value-added is not the prose. That was provided by the century-old correspondence of a teenage naval cadet and his family. Rather, Tanner’s notes illuminate the letters, which might be less intelligible to us since we are not contemporaries of Philip de Carteret. We might be an American reader at risk of becoming cross-threaded by our common language.

Philip’s letters start in the fall of 1914 while he is serving on HMS Canopus, a pre-dreadnaught escorting two colliers to resupply RADM Cradock’s force off Chile. Before reaching the Royal Navy’s Pacific Station, the Germans under RADM Graf von Spee make short work of Monmouth and Good Hope in the disaster that was the Battle of Coronel, the opening World War I fleet action. “They were sunk with all hands. We were all frightfully sick at missing the action,” writes a naïve cadet to his father.

The letters follow his course from the Battle of the Falklands (1914) when Philip’s pre-dreadnaught is deliberately grounded in the harbor. Despite this, the ship still gets its first licks with her 12” battery. The next letters arrive home in Jersey with “postmarks” from Malta and the Dardanelles. Amidst the prolonged standoff at the straits, Philip writes his father that swim call often follows the inevitable game of deck hockey.

Nearly all of the cadet’s letters were addressed to his father or his brother Guy. No doubt this provided an intermediary censor as not to bring on an attack of vapors to the women folk. An exception to this was a 1915 Christmas letter to his grandmother. The letter unfortunately gave no indication that a war was underway. He opens the letter with a note of gratitude for her gift of one pound for Christmas, acknowledging that he will be challenged to spend it until his next visit to Malta.

In May of 1915, the campaign at the Dardanelles drew to a close. Canopus returned to England. After a period of leave, Philip joins the gunroom of HMS Queen Mary. In late May, he writes his last letter before Queen Mary left Roysth, Scotland, never to return.

The letters that form the core of this ebook are relatively few in number. Many of the letters from home undoubtedly went to rest on the bed of the North Sea.

War Letters 1914-1918, Vol. 2: P. Malet de Carteret offers the reader a series of verbal snapshots of gunroom life aboard two battleships from the perspective of a young man. If Philip lived, he might have become better known as a senior officer in the next conflagration at sea. Although it takes little time to read, it is easy to access on Amazon.com. During this centennial year, this work provides an extensive archive of WWI references for the professional who desires to pay tribute to those who fought the war to end all wars.

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Winn Price has been researching the first Navy secret code developed in 1887 by Cdr. Hubbard and four newly commissioned classmates from ’85, including Ens. Coontz. The code permitted the navy to use Western Union for communications with shore bases and deployed ships visiting ports.

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BOOK REVIEW – Render Harmless

Liebman_Marc_Render HarmlessBy Marc Liebman, Fireship Press Tucson, (2014)

Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart

This is the second book in the author’s Lt. Josh Haman USN series. The first book, Big Mother 40, was set in Vietnam. In that book, Lt. Haman was a USN helicopter pilot.  Lt Haman is once again the central character in Render Harmless. The book is set in 1973, while Lt. Haman is serving as an exchange pilot with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Many Americans have unfortunately forgotten that the 1970’s was an era of terrorist attacks upon the United States, Israel, and NATO members by a number of terrorist organizations. These terrorist groups ranged from the far right to the far left, but most were supported either indirectly by the Soviet Union or directly by the East German government.

The main antagonist in Render Harmless is a terrorist group that calls itself the “Red Hand.” The members of this organization are former members of the Nazi Party who are seeking to form The Fourth Reich. Their political agenda calls for the use of improvised explosive devices to sow fear among West Germans and cause them to lose faith in their present government. While the main targets of these bombs are Americans and Jews, the perpetuators quickly justify the fact that these attacks kill innocent German bystanders. German inncoents are part of the price German society must bear for achieving a greater good, a Germany free of foreigners and people of Jewish descent. With this accomplished, Germany would once again reign as a military, economic, and political powerhouse dominating the world scene.

When the West German government law enforcement agencies proved incapable of stopping members of the Red Hand from carrying out terrorist attacks, Navy Seal Team Six is given orders to use any means necessary to render the Red Hand harmless. The story takes place during height of the Cold War, and the author captures the fact that within the Cold War a dirty hot war was being fought where innocent people were killed in order to bring about a group’s desired change in society. This was an unconventional war in which the adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” rang true. Within the story, the reader confronts the fact that terrorist groups with totally different agendas can and do band together to attack a common enemy. Thus, part of the central theme in the story is the Communist Party supporting a Nazi movement they hope will destabilize NATO.

The author crafts a reasonable story of why a resurgent Nazi movement is born in Germany and how it attracts the support of Arab extremist and the East German government. In turn, the author provides an excellent explanation as to why the resurgent Nazi movement is willing to work hand in glove with the East German Communist government and vice versa. Both sides are sure that they are in control of the current political scene and that they will be able to crush the other side once their overall goal is achieved.

The tale of how the perpetuators are discovered and tracked to their lair is reasonable. However, the manner in which the “bad guys” are taken out crosses the line from reality to James Bond spy story. Nevertheless, the story line flows freely, carrying the reader along at a nice pace. Particularly interesting is how the political fallout from the smashing of the terrorist plot plays out among all the contenders within the affair. In the closing scene, both sides total their loses and wins. Based upon this calculation, they reward or punish their players in this deadly game.

The book is a great read with just the right amount of solid historical background to make the story believable to those who lived through the Cold War. Treat yourself to a nice weekend read and purchase a copy of this book. I am looking forward to the next book on the adventures of Lt. Josh Haman.

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Charles H. Bogart is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Republic Afloat

1342_001By Matthew Taylor Raffety, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL (2013)

Review by Sam Craghead

With the rise of the American merchant fleet to a position rivaling that of Great Britain, the lives of American seamen (from the end of the American evolution to the beginning of the Civil War) sparks great topical interest. Coming to the forefront of this phenomenon was the identity of Americans as individuals entitled to the rights of citizens of a nation.

From the Colonial Period to the Civil War, Americans went to sea in trade ships carrying goods across the globe. Whaling ships penetrated the vast seas from the tropics to the Polar Regions. U.S. Navy ships, flying their new nation’s flag, explored and charted expeditions aiding the country’s seaborne commerce.  American seamen confronted issues ranging from serving on unsafe ships to personal abuses from those in command.

Personal honor was woven into disputes held by individual men, officers and seamen collectively, and society at large. Disputes were not just decided by the Judiciary, which required those concerned to be in court. They were also handled within the Consulates located in cities and countries outside U. S. boundaries (There would be 282 Consular Offices by 1860).  Although most Consuls lacked legal training and experience, they proffered sailors a place to air their grievances, secure shelter, obtain documentation of their American citizenship (undefined until the Fourteenth Amendment was added in 1868 to the U. S. Constitution), and generally receive a helping hand in foreign environs.

Matthew Taylor Raffety’s scholarly work will benefit those with an interest in the law and American history, especially those focused on the early maritime life of the American Republic.

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Sam Craghead is a Marketing Outreach Specialist and Public Relations Manager at the Museum of the Confederacy.

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BOOK REVIEW – The British Raid on Essex: The Forgotten Battle of the War of 1812

Roberts_Jerry_British Raid on EssexBy Jerry Roberts, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT (2014)

Reviewed by David Curtis Skaggs, Ph.D, COL USAR (Ret.)

On the night of April 7, 1814, Cmdr. Richard Coote and a party of 136 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines began a raid over the bar at the mouth of the Connecticut River and rowed up six miles to the village of Pettipaug (in 1820 the town renamed itself “Essex”).  Museum executive Jerry Roberts has compiled an interesting narrative of this incident discussing the myths and realities surrounding it in detail.

Arguing that the British raid on Essex was “the forgotten battle” in s “forgotten war,” Roberts exaggerates the uniqueness of this “battle” (there was little fighting) when numerous engagements, stretching from the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake Bay and from Maine to Georgia, are equally “forgotten” and bloodier.  Nonetheless, the Pettipaug raid constitutes an interesting chapter in the blockade of Connecticut’s shoreline, beginning after Capt. Stephen Decatur’s squadron was chased into New London, Connecticut, on June 1, 1813

One has to admire the audacity and sangfroid with which Commander Coote executed to set fire to twenty-seven American ships and stocks in Pettipaug harbor.  It was the largest single loss of American vessels in the War of 1812.  As Roberts notes, the economic impact of the raid on Pettipaug was disastrous to the local economy.  Only eight of the twenty-seven vessels destroyed were either armed or presented a threat as privateers.  Why destroy the others?  Some may have been used to lay “torpedoes” (mines) against blockading British vessels in Long Island Sound. This does not appear to have been Coote’s primary objective.

Roberts does not explore the broader British political raiding objective of discouraging the American public from continuing the war.  As a strategy, it failed in the Chesapeake and seems to have done the same in the anti-war state of Connecticut. This was demonstrated by the resistance to the raid on Stonington a few months later.  The absence of local resistance at Pettipaug embarrassed many in the state. It nonetheless saved the town because the British refrained from destroying private property not considered militarily useful when local militia did not engage their forces.

Coote’s resoluteness and coolness during the return to sea is particularly interesting, meriting the accolades of anyone who admires daring leaders and successful military exploits.  The depth of detail and analysis exhibited by Roberts is admirable.  The book’s principal limitation is its narrowness of focus.  But he has succeeded in his principal objective to relate the circumstances behind Essex’s annual celebration of the event, which was too often called by the locals “losers’ day.”  Wesleyan University Press merits considerable praise for the lavish, often colored, illustrations.  The maps are extraordinary.

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David Curtis Skaggs is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel who is currently a professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University.

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BOOK REVIEW – South Pacific Cauldron: World War II’s Great Forgotten Battlegrounds

Rems_Alan_South Pacific CauldronBy Alan Rems, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2014)

Reviewed by John R. Satterfield, DBA

Although an amateur historian, author Rems has produced a very professional volume.  His book is the only recent one-volume account of World War II’s Southwest Pacific Theater that treats its numerous campaigns, both comprehensively and chronologically. This is valuable for general readers who focus on Guadalcanal, Marine Corps operations, and naval engagements. As the first Pacific offensive, Guadalcanal deserves attention. Guadalcanal was the opening link in a long and brutal chain of difficult amphibious operations and island battles fought bitterly until war’s end.

In fewer than 250 pages, Rems summarizes the theater’s activities from the January 1942 Japanese capture of Rabaul harbor on New Britain to that garrison’s capitulation in September 1945 after Japan’s surrender. He cannot consequently provide the voluminous detail of campaign accounts seen in Richard Frank’s Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle (1990).  Nevertheless, the author offers enough material to paint a compelling picture of action in an area encompassing the Philippines, Dutch East Indies (except Sumatra), Borneo, Australia, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the western Solomon Islands. Counting the Philippine defense in 1941-42, the Allies conducted twelve campaigns and twenty-one major battles on land, sea, and air in this region. This covered more than 11 million square miles of some of the most forbidding climate and terrain ever encountered by man.

Rems’ study rests on thorough reviews of theater records and archives, including U.S. Army, Army Air Forces, Navy and Marine Corps histories. He also uses sources from the Australian and New Zealand Armies and the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Air Forces and Navies.  His bibliography lists numerous campaign and unit histories, memoirs, biographies and other topical books, online sources, and periodicals.  From these references, he has gleaned the pertinent facts to build his narrative and include his own assessments of the strategic and tactical decisions of leaders and the actions of units and the heroism of many individuals whose names are unjustly forgotten today.  Suffice it to say, the American and Allied soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, including such units as the Fiji Infantry Regiment and Papuan and New Guinea Infantry Battalions (Fijian and New Guinea troops fought throughout the theater) and other indigenous irregular forces, displayed exceptional courage, valor, and tenacity throughout the war. The book is filled with the exploits of troops who routinely sacrificed their lives; their families compensated with Medals of Honor or Victoria Crosses when relatives would gladly have relinquished such recognition to have them back safely home.

Rem also discloses interesting facts about military leaders and campaigns that adds texture to his history. These episodes include the suicide of MajGen Charles D. Barrett, originally listed as an accidental death, after his commander, ADM William F. Halsey, decided to relieve him as commander of the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC).

Another often ignored issue is the combat testing and racially biased assessment of African American troops from the segregated 93rd Division that fought Japanese forces on Bougainville. While these troops performed unevenly at best, they were not significantly worse than other white units new to battle. The War Department decided, despite mitigating evidence from the field, to remove many black troops from combat and to place those who remained under the authority of white officers.  This and other injustices led to desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948.

Finally (and most importantly), Rems devotes the book’s last four chapters to the needless fighting on Bougainville and New Britain that occurred long after the war had passed on.  The great Japanese base at Rabaul was bypassed, isolated and rendered impotent by 1944. Nevertheless, theater commander Douglas MacArthur assigned Australian Forces to these areas with orders to neutralize still large and capable Japanese garrisons even though previously assigned American troops had essentially declared a truce to avoid casualties.  The Australian commander, Thomas W. Blamey, an arrogant, irascible and politically well-connected soldier who quickly promoted to general in World War I, ordered aggressive attacks against the Japanese even though these actions had no strategic impact on the Pacific war. One Australian historian suggests that everyone understood the combat was “futile and unnecessary.” The unpopular Blamey was relieved after the Japanese surrender but promoted ceremonially to Field Marshall, the first and only Australian to attain that rank, a year before he died.  The cost of Blamey’s directive was casualties — 569 dead Australian troops in combat, 21 noncombat deaths and 1,712 wounded on Bougainville and New Britain. Japan lost more than 8.700 troops in battle, with nearly 10,000 to other causes in this campaign.

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Overall, Rems has produced an admirable book, a nicely rendered introduction and summary of the South Pacific theater of World War II that gives the combatants a measure of recognition they richly deserve.

Dr.  Satterfield teaches military history and served as a naval intelligence officer.  

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BOOK REVIEW – The Liberty Incident Revealed: The Definitive Account of the 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship

liberty incidentBy A. Jay Cristol, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2013)

Reviewed by Stephen Phillips

On June 8, 1967, Israeli air and naval forces engaged in the Arab-Israeli Six Day War      attacked USS Liberty (AGTR 5), killing 34 and wounding 171 Americans. The incident immediately caused a conflagration of controversy. Most accusations assert premeditation. Some suggest that the attack intended to prevent the surveillance ship from collecting information on Israeli activity. Others assert that President Johnson approved the action or assisted in the cover up.  In The Liberty Incident Revealed, author A. Jay Cristol shows how the event was a tragic accident, not the cold-blooded murder of neutrals, using compelling evidence at the strategic, operational, and tactical level. He also addresses each of the Liberty conspiracies, showing how these theories, and in some cases the theorists, are full of holes.

Cristol begins by describing Liberty‘s role as a SIGNINT collector, or “spy” ship in laymen’s terms, and the supposition by Israeli ground forces that she was an Egyptian destroyer responsible for shelling Israeli ground forces in El Arish. The largest section of the book is an analysis of the event.

The U.S. was Israel’s most powerful ally in 1967. Any assertion that Israeli forces intended to attack Liberty must be balanced against the strategic damage that would ensue. What could be so important? Operationally, if Israel decided to risk its relationship with the United States, the attack would have to be well planned. The attack could likely come at night, for example. Instead, the event seems to be ad hoc, reactive rather than proactive. The three gunboats and two sections of aircraft responding were less than ideal. Even if engaging Liberty were opportunistic, to meet its supposed intent the attack would have been pressed, and Liberty would be sunk. Instead, upon one pilot’s recognition that the hull designation – ‘GTR’ – was in Roman, not Arabic writing, the engagement ceased and Search and Rescue helicopters were sent to offer assistance. Finally, any premeditated attack would be tactically very different, likely employing cover of night and a very different mix of forces. In fact, one of the most convincing pieces of evidence is that the Israeli Navy initially calculated Liberty was steaming at 31 kts. Thus, clearly in pursuit of an Egyptian destroyer, they called for air support to assist. Cristol suggests rivalry between the Israeli Air Force and Navy was so great, if the Navy knew Liberty, a large, slow vessel, was the target, they would have engaged her alone.

It is clear that much work went into this manuscript. Cristol’s research is thorough. His analysis is sound. There is much more to his study than presented in this review, including archival research, first person interviews, and material obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Although the topic lends itself to prose reminiscent of an insurance report or court document, Cristol’s writing is comfortable for any reader interested in the subject. Anyone interested in sea service, historical case studies, or simply a good read should pick up The Liberty Incident Revealed.

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Stephen Phillips served in the U.S. Navy as a surface warfare officer and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician. He is the author of The Recipient’s Son, a novel about the U.S. Naval Academy published by the Naval Institute Press.

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