BOOK REVIEW – Nelson’s Victory: 250 Years of War and Peace

Lavery_Nelsons VictoryBy Brian Lavery, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD (2015)

Reviewed by Mark Lardas

Dozens of books have been written about HMS Victory. Why another one? Nelson’s Victory: 250 Years of War and Peace, by Brian Lavery, offers two very good reasons. The first is the author. If any historian could be described as the dean of British sailing-era writers, Brian Lavery is a chief contender.

The second?  This year marks the 250th anniversary of Victory’s launching. A ship marking its quarter-millennium, even a scow, deserves some attention. But Victory is distinguished for achievements other than age. It represented an apogee in the development of the first-rate ship of the line, and had a distinguished history, even prior to Trafalgar. That history is frequently neglected. Most books on Victory focus on the few months of its career when it served as Horatio Nelson’s flagship during the Trafalgar Campaign, as does much artwork depicting Victory, and virtually all of the models.

Trafalgar plays a role in Nelson’s Victory, but forms only a part of Lavery’s story. Lavery follows the entire career of Victory, from the point its construction was authorized to the present. He places its story in the context of the times in which it existed. From 1765 through 1805, Lavery alternates between Victory and Nelson, following the careers of each until they merge at Trafalgar. This provides the background for the period in which the ship-of-the-line dominated the seas.

While Lavery spend half the book on the events leading up to Trafalgar, and perhaps twenty-five pages on the battle itself, a third of the book is devoted to Victory’s post-Trafalgar career. This includes the remaining ten years of the Napoleonic Wars where Victory served as flagship in the Baltic. He also spends time on Victory’s history over the two centuries after Waterloo.

The result is a fascinating history of naval architecture during the age of the wooden warship. 

Early chapters reveal the different faces of Victory during the Wars of American Revolution and the Wars of French Revolution, from 1770 to 1800. As Lavery shows, the ship looked much different prior to the great repair of 1800-1803 that gave Victory its Trafalgar appearance.

Lavery also traces Victory’s changes in appearance following Trafalgar. Victory, then still a major unit of the Royal Navy, was given a Seppings round bow in 1814, dramatically altering its appearance, an appearance it maintained over a century. Lavery presents the ship’s gradual transformation from a fighting warship to a ceremonial vessel and museum ship during the nineteenth century.

Nelson’s Victory is filled with color illustrations, many from the period. These highlight both the appearance of the ship and the times in which it sailed. Model-makers will find the illustrations useful, and may even be inspired to build a version of Victory outside its Trafalgar period. Wargamers will find the book only marginally useful, but an interesting overview. Nelson’s Victory is an excellent general history of the ship, one those interested in the period will find interesting. 


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

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BOOK REVIEW – Warships of the Great War Era: A History in Ship Models

Hobbs_Warships of the Great War EraDavid Hobbs, Seaforth Publishing, Barnsly, England (2014)

Reviewed by Michael Wynd

Esteemed naval historian David Hobbs has authored a very valuable publication on the warships of the First World War using ship models from the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. This is part of a series of publications using ship models to offer detail in a way that models only they can. As a historian working in a museum, I can personally attest to the value of having a ship model as a reference when researching ship and technical histories. Having a 3D model is exceedingly useful when compared to 2D photographs, plans, or drawings.

This publication focuses on the warships of the First World War using both builder’s models and those made by private individuals. The chapters cover battleships, battlecruisers, cruisers, destroyers and submarines. There is a chapter on Q-ships, CMBs, minesweepers, gunboats and ship’s boats. Finally, there is a chapter on merchant shipping, which includes hospital ships.

This is also a technical publication and is a very valuable addition to a research collection. In each chapter, there are technical aspects of the class of vessels illustrated using models. Subject areas include superstructure of battleships, guns and gun mountings, stowage of ship’s boats, minesweeping equipment, and features of destroyers and light cruisers.

Throughout, there are sharp and detailed colour images of the ship models supported by the succinct and authoritative text. This is a very accessible work for both the novice and expert on aspects of warship design in the First World War. It is an essential reference work for research purposes and should be part of any naval library’s collection.

I commend David Hobbs for a fine publication that is an addition to the history of warship design and a valuable addition to the historiography of the First World War at sea.


Reviewed by Michael Wynd, Researcher National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy – Devonport Auckland New Zealand

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BOOK REVIEW – United States Coast Guard Leaders and Missions 1790 to Present

united states coast guard leadersBy Thomas P. Ostrom and John J. Galluzo, McFarland, Jefferson, NC (2015)

Reviewed by Charles H Bogart

This is the third in an excellent series of books written by Thomas Ostrom on the United States Coast Guard. The first two books of the series, The United States Coast Guard and National Defense and The United States Coast Guard in World War II, were operational histories. This book focuses on the administrative history of the Coast Guard and its predecessor services. The authors take time in the beginning of the book to introduce the reader on the history of the four services from which the Coast Guard was formed; U. S. Revenue Marine, U. S. Revenue Cutter Service, U. S. Lighthouse Service, and U. S. Life-Saving Service. The U.S. Coast Guard as its own entity was created by an Act of Congress on 25 January 1915. 

The authors start the book with a history of how the four services that to form the Coast Guard evolved administratively from their founding until their merger into the U.S. Coast Guard. Within the book, we meet the heads of these services and learn the challenges that faced them in carrying out their congressionally mandated mission. The heart and soul of the book, however, centers on the Coast Guard. The administrative history of the Coast Guard is divided into ten chapters with each chapter centering on a change in Coast Guard mission requirements. We thus have chapters on World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Rum Running, Homeland Security, Natural Disasters, and Indication.   

Within each chapter, we meet the then Commandant of the Coast Guard. The authors provide a short biographical sketch for each Commandant and then explain the challenges they faced. The authors do a nice job of explaining the trials and tribulations that the Coast Guard has experienced over the years and some of the problems this has created. Due to text space limitations, the authors ignore many of the hard decisions that the Coast Guard had to make over the years, due to inadequate funding, as to which missions it should emphasis and which missions had to do more work with fewer resources.

Overall, the authors have produced a wonderful introductory look at the Coast Guard in the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. The Coast Guard remains the smallest of the United States armed services, but its mission emphasis since the end of World War II has grown from just operations on the United States inland waterways and the coastal waters to conducting maritime missions worldwide. Whereas in 1950 Coast Guard operations revolved around enforcing maritime safety regulations, conducting search and rescue operations, and undertaking custom regulation enforcement in U.S. waters, these traditional missions in 2015 are but a small part of the Coast Guard charter.

While much has been written about the transformation of the U.S. Defense Department and its four component armed services since World War II, little has been written about how the Coast Guard has adjustment to today’s world.  The authors lay the ground work for a graduate student to build a penetrating study of the administrative evolution of U.S. Coast Guard from its 1915 founding to 2015. This book is a great introduction into the lives of the men who have shaped today’s U.S. Coast Guard.


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

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BOOK REVIEW – We are Sinking, Send Help!

we are sinking send helpBy Commander David D. Bruhn, U.S.Navy (Retired), Heritage Books, Berwyn Heights, MD (2015)

Reviewed by David Kronenfeld

We are Sinking, Send Help! presents readers with a well laid out chronology of US Navy salvage vessels and their contributions to the African, Mediterranean and European theaters of battle during World War II. Commander Bruhn carries the reader from the beaches of North Africa to the harbors of Italy and France where salvage crews and vessels of the US Navy rescued and repaired stricken landing craft and ships damaged during landing operations. This is an often overlooked area of naval history. It is especially interesting in light of recent headlines concerning the salvage and scrapping of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, as well as the sinking of the Chinese Yangtze river cruise ship Eastern Star. Apart from a few minor quibbles, Commander Bruhn does a fantastic job relating the important role this arm of the Navy played in the taking of Africa, Italy and France.

Readers of maritime history will enjoy picking up a copy. Books on subjects this obscure often err on the academic side, making them unapproachable to mainstream audiences. Bruhn maintains the delicate balance between providing the facts, figures, statistics and footnotes necessary for a reference work while making the material highly readable and entertaining. Across fifteen chapters, Bruhn walks the reader through every major engagement while also highlighting vessel specifications and the post-war duties played by the US Navy’s salvage service. One particular strength of the work is that each chapter can be read as a stand-alone “story” without highly specialized knowledge or having read every prior chapter. Bruhn’s decision to highlight Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks’ passing association with the Navy’s salvage vessels was a good one and is an entertaining diversion from the main focus of the book.

Two minor quibbles with Bruhn’s approach: several chapters contained a slight repetition of vignettes and some of the tables would have been more appropriately located in the appendices. Although not a beach read, the book is well researched, tightly written and edited and highly informative. For the history aficionado looking for a highly engaging read on unusual subject matter or for the student of naval history needing a readable compendium of reference material, this is an excellent choice.


David Kronenfeld is Associate General Counsel at Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. and maintains the blog

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BOOK REVIEW – The Ship That Wouldn’t Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho and a World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea

The Ship That Wouldn't DieBy Don Keith, Penguin Group, New York, NY (2015)

Reviewed by Michael F. Solecki

During the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, the Japanese sank Neosho and her escort Sims. A sidebar of the battle until recently, the sinking of these two ships developed into a fascinating story of survival and heroism. I am happy to see that this fascinating story has finally become more of interest. Neosho was a fleet-oiler (AO 23) with a Japanese sounding name that is actually an Osage (Native American Tribe) word meaning “clear-water,” named for a Kansas tributary of the Arkansas River. The ship, a 553-foot Cimarron-class oiler with a tank capacity of approximately 150,000 barrels (42g/bbl.) and a crew compliment of 293 officers and enlisted. An “AO” is what sailors affectionately call a “fast-attack” oiler, as she was armed with four 5” dual-purpose guns and four 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon for defensive purposes. The Sims (DD 409), the lead of the class, a 338-foot, single stack destroyer, with a crew compliment 252 officers and enlisted, was named for Vice Admiral William Sowden Sims (USNA 1880).

Keith begins the story at Pearl Harbor where Neosho, the center piece of this amazing yarn, began its “wartime” service on December 7, 1941. She was flying “baker,” (off-loading fuel) at her Ford Island manifold-berth adjacent “battleship row” when the Japanese Naval Air Force attacked. Though not directly related to the main story, Keith uses the tenacity of their actions to identify the crew and their skipper, Captain John Spinning Phillips (USNA 1917) early in the chronology. Sims of Destroyer Squadron TWO, on that “Day of Infamy” was assigned to escort the carrier Yorktown (CV 5) as part of Task Force 17 (TF-17) under Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher (USNA 1906) from its base in Norfolk, Virginia to Pearl Harbor, HI. Sims’ skipper was newly appointed Lieutenant Commander Wilford M. Hyman (USNA 1924).

By May of 1942, TF-17 with newly assigned Neosho was on station in the Coral Sea ordered to prevent Admiral Chuichi Hara’s 5th Carrier Division (IJN-5CD) from carrying out Operation MO, the reinforcement of Port Moresby. TF-17 was a tough job for an oiler. Fletcher,  always concerned with his ships running out of fuel in the middle of a fight, required constant fuel top-offs for his fleet. On May 7, the eve of battle, Fletcher reluctantly ordered the Neosho to complete top-off duties and move about two-hundred miles away from the main body and wait until called. Sims, having mechanical reliability issues, was sent as escort.

Early that day, a rookie IJN-5CD pilot spotted the two ships and reported them as a carrier and cruiser (not an uncommon mistake).  The excited Japanese responded by sending a group of planes to attack the two American ships. The author gives a fair account of what the Japanese were thinking and doing during this period on the timeline. Here is where the real story begins.

The battle was ferocious. The Sims went down relatively fast and unexpected with all officers and all but 14 of her now adrift enlisted crew. The author does not intend to slight this part of the story however; minimal factual information is available about the sinking. The author makes a valiant attempt to explain why the Sims went down as she did. He also tracks the wayward survivors until their rescue. The Neosho on the other hand had a different fate.

Technical details of what was going on with the ship itself were not lost in the human story. Keith emphasizes the importance of the actions performed to keep as much of the ship as possible above water as well as the bravery of the men who had to act on them. An early misunderstood order to abandon ship by part of the crew led to men and life boats and rafts in the water. A problem with the Navy’s official Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to “abandon ship” is brought to the surface during this incident resulting in changes to the SOP.  The adventure experienced by the part of the adrift crew that abandoned the ship as well as those who did not is the bulk of the story and described in great detail; again relying on personal accounts and Keith’s gift to turn a yarn.

Contradictory to other material I have read of this incident, Keith made me feel as though I was watching it in real time, not just reading data. In spite of the complexity of the surviving crew members, he adequately coordinated the timeline with the main battle while remaining focused on the crux of the story. The battle that ensued against nature is well presented; eye witness quotes, novelized explanations and personal thoughts keep it interesting. As a historian I have difficulty with “perspective” when using personal accounts as they tend to be skewed toward sensationalism, good or bad. It appears the author took that into consideration when reiterating. I highly recommend reading the “Author’s Notes” first as it explains the author’s attitude toward the reader and intent behind his literary method. Though a few vintage photographs of the ships and crew members would have been nice the work is worth the price of admission for the serious historian as well as those who just like a good yarn.


Michael F. Solecki, is an independent naval historian, holds a Master of Arts in Military History degree from Norwich University and a U.S. Naval and NOAA veteran where he acquired, processed and disseminated environmental intelligence for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Anti-submarine and Anti-Aircraft Warfare. Beside his current civilian job with the U.S. Government, he performs technical peer reviews for several publishers of U.S. and Japanese naval history.

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BOOK REVIEW – The U.S. Naval Institute On Naval Tactics

usni naval tacticsEdited By Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.), Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Nathan Albright

According to the introduction of this book, wheel books were originally a highly individualized and abbreviated way for inexperienced officers to gain insight vicariously through the writings of others and for more seasoned officers to have a useful reference for matters of importance. This book serves as a more standardized wheel book concerning the issue of tactics. Since the U.S. Navy has not been involved in ship-to-ship combat on any large scale for a long time, this book does well to provide at least some sort of institutionalized instruction on this vital matter for its intended audience, namely officers in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines.  Skillfully edited by retired naval Captain Wayne Hughes, Jr., this book is perhaps too large to fit into most pockets, but it is small enough at 200 pages that it should both meet the demands of busy officers and also whet the appetite of readers for the larger works these excerpts come from.

In terms of its material, the book’s focus on tactics allows for wide-ranging examinations of what is considered within its purview.  For example, it includes excerpts on a proposed naval peacekeeping effort between Greece and Turkey to avert the risk of full-scale war, an exploration into the anti-ship missile capability both in a fictional Cold War scenario as well as the Israel’s real experience during the Yom Kippur War, and a British naval officer’s discussion of the naval tactics of the Falklands War.  Other excerpts explore the hazards of ship-to-ship combat in the Civil War for Lt. William Cushing, and the importance of courage in the face of inevitable difficulties and severe risks.  Other excerpts look at the issue of amphibious assaults, both from the perspective of the U.S. Marines and their changed purposes in the interwar period (thanks to the writings and thinking of people like Ellis and Lejune, among others) as well as the prospects for successful amphibious defense based on lessons from the period after Gallipoli, when modern amphibious assaults under enemy fire became more frequently practiced.

In terms of its tone, the different excerpts vary considerably. Some of the writings within this book explicitly seek to mine the experiences of the past for lessons to the future. This is particularly appropriate, since actual combat experience is infrequent in recent decades.  Still others seek to conduct mental experiments concerning the behavior of potential adversaries for the U.S. Navy and Marines that would require effective countermeasures on our part. Among the more notable conclusions that follow from some of these writings is the need for less expensive and smaller ships to serve vital tactical roles in potentially risky foreign endeavors, an area where America has tended not to do well in recent decades, but an area of considerable importance in an age of retrenchment and sequestration in military budgets.

Although there is no substitute for practice, this book offers a compact but broadly useful guide to naval tactics with a wide historical perspective, as well as thoughtful integration of tactical concerns with issues of strategy and logistics that can provide useful material for thought and reflection for serious-minded naval officers. In its judicious use of available historical material as well as in the thought experiments it proposes, in its combination of familiar and more obscure materials, and in its helpful introductions to the abridged material it contains, this book manages to succeed in providing a guide to the underserved issue of naval tactics that ought to serve its readers well, and to increase interest in future guides on different subjects.


Nathan Albright lives in Portland, OR

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BOOK REVIEW – With Sails Whitening Every Sea

white sailors whtening every seaBy Brian Rouleau Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY (2014) 

Reviewed by Andrew C. A. Jampoler 

In early June 1867 Samuel Clemens, together with some sixty-five other passengers, sailed in SS Quaker City (late USS Quaker City, during 1861-65 the paddle wheel steamer had participated in the Union’s blockade of the Confederacy) from New York City.  Their immediate destination was the Azores, the first stop on a months’ long luxury cruise to the Mediterranean and Black Seas that Clemens’ alter ego, Mark Twain, soon made famous in his best-selling book, The Innocents Abroad.  First published in 1869, the book has never since been out of print.

Quaker City’s cruise, as it turns out, was interesting for another reason. In With Sails Whitening Every Sea, Brian Rouleau tells us that it was the first time in history that American tourists abroad outnumbered American seamen afloat or in port in distant places. Until the 1870s, merchant sailors represented the young United States abroad much more than did the young republic’s tiny diplomatic establishment or handful of deployed navy ships. 

Through their letters and reports, sailors interpreted foreign people, places, and events to friends and family at home, and (for good or ill, largely ill in Rouleau’s description) by their actions and behavior abroad, they fixed an impression of the United States in the minds of citizens of the distant places of the world. Moreover, ships’ crews constituted much of an informal, global waterfront economy that saw local products, produce, and women exchanged in port for whatever trade goods underpaid sailors managed to collect from their sea chests or filch from their ships.

As Rouleau writes, merchant sailors, whalers, sealers, and navy men were the agents of manifest destiny at sea, a neglected maritime parallel to the great thrust on horseback, in wagons, and eventually by rail across the American continent (all the while dispossessing natives and seizing open space) that was the essence of nineteenth century American history. Not until late in the century did diplomats and other landsmen manage to wrest a place at center stage in American foreign relations—a transition accelerated by the shrinking American merchant marine and the collapse of the whaling industry.

These observations in the background, Rouleau (A junior faculty member in Texas A&M’s history department; this book was his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania five years ago) uses a half-dozen short chapters “to incorporate oceanic encounters into our understanding of the experience of manifest destiny in the nineteenth century,” focusing attention on the forecastle sailor and away from ships’ officers and supercargoes, who generally enjoy pride of place in maritime history.

Each of Rouleau’s chapters reads almost as a stand-alone essay (two have been), illuminating an aspect of the history without much of the connective tissue between one and another that would make for easy reading.  Still, what he has to say is always interesting and occasionally fascinating (who knew that U.S. Navy crews staged minstrel shows on ships in Tokyo Bay for the entertainment of their presumably uncomprehending Japanese hosts).

Rouleau is no romantic. What emerges from his scholarly inspection of sailors’ life at sea and liberty ashore in the nineteenth century, and the prejudices they carried with them isn’t pretty. It is, however, well-sourced and persuasive.  As his extensive notes reveal, Rouleau’s scholarship is thorough, drawing on memoirs, newspapers and periodicals, journals, government records and files,  and private and official correspondence. 

With Sails Whitening Every Sea is an unusual, insightful blend of social and maritime history.  I recommend it enthusiastically to anyone interested in either.


Captain Jampoler was a director with the Naval Historical Foundation and has published with the Naval Institute Press.

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BOOK REVIEW – Dreadnought: The Ship That Changed the World

Parkinson_DreadnoughtBy Roger Parkinson. I. B. Tauris and Co, England (2015)

Reviewed by John V. Scholes, MD

HMS Dreadnought and the history of the all big gun battleships and battlecruisers that became known collectively as dreadnoughts is a subject that has been addressed from several aspects. In works on the design and characteristics of battleships (and battlecruisers), such as R. A. Burt’s British Battleships of World War One, HMS Dreadnought and dreadnoughts are discussed primarily from what may be termed a “technical” aspect, with emphasis on technological developments and their impact on battleship design and characteristics. In works dealing with the historical origins of World War I, such as Robert K. Massie’s work, also titled Dreadnought, HMS Dreadnought and dreadnoughts are discussed primarily from the aspect of their political impact and effect on international relations, with emphasis on the Anglo-German naval arms race.

In his preface, author Roger Parkinson states: “Any contemporary analysis, especially one at the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, requires a range and depth not often attempted before.”  In Dreadnought: The Ship That Changed the World, HMS Dreadnought and dreadnoughts are historically analyzed from multiple aspects, including technical, political and international relations, national policy and especially naval policy aspects, to produce a comprehensive, multifaceted evaluation of their origin, characteristics, and impact on world history. Concentrating on a longer period than most other analyses (from 1889 to 1922), the time frame of this analysis is also expanded in some areas to include the period from the advent of ironclads or even the age of sail. Additionally, although the book is necessarily centered on the United Kingdom and the British Navy and their rivals Germany and the Kaiserliche Marine, other European and non-European navies that built dreadnoughts receive significant coverage.

In discussing the technical aspects of Dreadnought and her origins, a background review of the development of the armored warship from the earliest ironclads to the pre-dreadnought battleships immediately preceding Dreadnought and a brief summary of developments in gunnery fire control is provided. The development of most of the technologies of Dreadnought during the pre-dreadnought era is emphasized, with Dreadnought being described as “evolutionary” as well as “revolutionary”. In discussing dreadnought battlecruisers, emphasis is similarly placed on the origin of the battlecruiser from the pre-dreadnought armored cruiser. A later chapter describes the dreadnoughts further technological evolution through World War I, from the earliest dreadnoughts to the super-dreadnoughts (unusually defined as dreadnoughts with superfiring turrets rather than those with guns larger than 12-inches).

Naval policy is the central focus of the historical analysis of the political, national policy, and international relations aspects of HMS Dreadnought and dreadnoughts that forms the largest portion of the book. British naval policy is necessarily central and its evolution is first traced from the unwritten conventions dating from the age of sail to the parliamentary legislation of the Naval Defense Act of 1889. The role of technical developments, reforms, etc in the evolution of British naval policy up to and during World War I and the development of war plans, culminating in the concept of distant blockade, are examined, with particular reference to dreadnoughts. The dominant role that naval policy came to play in national policy (termed “navalism”) in Britain and in other nations is linked to the historical impact of the dreadnoughts. Similarly, the development of the German Navy is traced from a small coast defence force as part of the German Army to the world’s second most powerful navy at the onset of World War I. Again, naval policy became codified by legislation in the German Naval Laws of 1898 and 1900.

International developments, with shifting alliances and the rise of Germany from naval insignificance to Britain’s primary naval rival and, ultimately, adversary, are seen through their impact on naval policy in the dreadnought (and pre-dreadnought) era. The naval policy of other nations possessing significant navies is also discussed, though in less detail. A later chapter describes the worldwide dreadnought arms race that gripped navies and nations within and beyond Europe in “dreadnought mania” that came to determine naval and national policies to an extraordinary degree.

The leading role played by the colorful and controversial “Jackie” Fisher in both the creation of Dreadnought and in the British Navy and British naval policy of the era is extensively discussed. Fisher’s ideas and policies and those of his opponents and critics are examined, particularly as regards dreadnoughts and naval policy and war plans. This discussion reveals a level of interplay between serving naval officers, politics, society and the press that often had a remarkable impact on the British Navy and naval policy.

The key role of Tirpitz and Kaiser Wilhelm II in the development of German naval policy, the Kaiserliche Marine and German dreadnoughts is similarly discussed. Again, the remarkable influence of these two personalities and their relationships with politics and the press is revealed.

The final two chapters provide a brief naval history of World War I up to Jutland and from Jutland to the Washington Naval Treaty. The role of British and German dreadnoughts is examined and the dreadnought is evaluated as a weapons system, including as a strategic weapon and deterrent. The book closes with a short discussion of the Washington Naval Treaty and its origins. The most likely areas for further discussion and potential controversy are found in the analyses and conclusions in these chapters.

The book is extensively footnoted, with a comprehensive bibliography. A minor criticism is the small size of the figures based on Brassey’s Naval Annual. The only minor error noted is that the four British battleships planned in 1921 were designed for 18-inch guns, rather than the stated 16-inch guns (these were planned for the four 1921 battlecruisers).

While this book is not recommended for the reader seeking a swashbuckling tale that reads like a novel (the style is academic and may be found rather dry by some), Roger Parkinson succeeds admirably in achieving a comprehensive multifaceted academic historical analysis of Dreadnought and dreadnoughts for the period up to 1922. For those wanting a historical analysis that goes beyond most others in its breadth and depth, particularly with regard to naval policy, Parkinson’s Dreadnought can be highly recommended.


Dr. Scholes is a member of the Naval Historical Foundation.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Battle for Britain: Interservice Rivalry between the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, 1909-40

The Battle for BritainBy Anthony J. Cumming, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Rear Admiral W. J. Holland, Jr. USN (Ret)

Subtitled Interservice Rivalry between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, 1909-1940, Cumming takes up the cudgel he previously wielded in The Royal Navy and the Battle of Britain to beat Air Marshall Hugh “Boom” Trenchard and his successors smartly about the head and shoulders. Though Trenchard had been retired for almost ten years before the beginning of World War II, his dedication to Douhet’s vision of aerial bombardment as the future of warfare left the Royal Air Force philosophically dedicated to strategic bombing and woefully unprepared to defend the British Isles against the Luftwaffe or to support the ground forces in Europe or the Libyan desert.

The actual political conflicts between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy are not very well described. Much of what is known in the American press as “interservice bickering” is left unexplained. But relating how a dedicated idealist can maneuver the political processes and manipulate public opinion through deft and repeated publicity to create an organization to meet his perceptions is very clear. Trenchard dedicated whatever resources he could obtain, money, time, personnel and installations, toward a single end – and air force dedicated to the bomber offensive. Only the direct intervention of civilian leadership at the Air Ministry saved the Fighter Command of the RAF. The tug between the RN and the RAF for control of aircraft at sea is too little covered for those interested in the political scramble for control of the air. How the Naval Air Service succumbed to RAF control is not described nor is its resurrection as the Fleet Air Arm. And the fight between RAF leaders and the Navy over the size and employment of the Coastal Command is unfortunately ignored.

The book describes the inter-war period operations of aircraft interdiction to maintain order in the Middle East areas in some detail. There is not much discussion of the RAF’s persistent allegations that airplanes doomed ships; Trenchard’s proposition on defending Singapore using bombers alone is not mentioned. But Cumming brings the training of pilots under close scrutiny. Noting that bomber pilots needed only to fly straight and level while pilot training in general aimed at air shows- both resulting in no advance in tactics and leading to erroneous formations on land and in the sky. Slogans versus analysis were the stuff of the uniformed leadership though the courage of the individual pilots and the skills of the civilian aircraft industry are subjects of repeated praise. Notable was the markedly superior performance of the Czech and Polish fighter pilots in the air war of 1940-1942: several times superior to those of the RAF.

The book ends with a succinct description of the naval war in the Mediterranean in 1940 – 1941. Cumming is generous in his descriptions of the Fairey Swordfish. Ungainly, slow, a biplane covered mostly in fabric, these aircraft were armed with a torpedo that worked – even in the shallow water of a harbor. The resulting victory at Taranto (three battleships on the bottom) did not permanently cripple the Italian Fleet but the technique for modifying the torpedo with wooden fins and a nose lanyard to keep it from diving would be used by the Japanese with deadly effect at Pearl Harbor. This chapter covers a sea war little noticed in most histories. For those who mistake the Italian Navy’s abilities with Mussolini’s posturing can gain an appreciation of how both sides carried on in the face of difficulties. The stranding of otherwise powerful ships of the Regia Marina for want of fuel is a stark lesson in the importance of logistics. The book is worth reading for these last two chapters alone.


Rear Admiral Holland is a director on the board of the Naval Historical Foundation.

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BOOK REVIEW – True Yankees: The South Seas and the Discovery of American Identity

True YankeesBy Dane Anthony Morrison, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD (2014)

Reviewed by Michael A. Verney

In True Yankees, Morrison chronicles how voyages in the old China trade and across the Indian and Pacific Oceans between 1783 and 1844 helped define what it meant to be an American, and clarified the nation’s hierarchical relationship with other peoples.  On the stage of the South Seas and especially in the streets and roadsteads of southern China, Americans encountered two sets of “others” against whom they could fashion a sense of self: first the expatriate European mercantile community in Canton and Whampoa, and secondly “barbaric” Chinese, South Asian, Indonesian, and Oceanian natives (p. xviii).  Of the two, roving Americans viewed the former as the most important, for only they had the power to admit the United States into the ranks of civilized nations (pp. 13-14). 

Morrison divides his story into two parts, one for the first generation of national Americans who voyaged in the South Seas, and another for the second.  Each chapter uses a particular character to illustrate the mechanics of and key evolutions in national identity and maturity.  Morrison’s historical actors were middle-class private citizens engaged in or otherwise related to the business of foreign commerce. They travelled widely across the globe in the early republic, and they left behind rich records of their overseas activities and impressions, whether in published accounts of their voyages or in journals and diaries that were meant to be shared with fellow mariners, friends, and family (pp. 66 and 77-78).  A prolific public press and national print culture allowed all Americans live through their sea-going careers vicariously (p. xiii).  Morrison claims that his characters’ status as ordinary people makes them more exemplary than famous figures like Commodore David Porter of the War of 1812 or Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842.  Nevertheless, Morrison includes both of these characters briefly in several short interludes as examples of seismic shifts in how Americans interacted with the world (pp. xv-xvii).     

Despite the similarities between Morrison’s characters, the milieu and outlook of each generation were starkly different.  The book’s historical actors in Part I, including China-trade pioneer Samuel Shaw and the sealers-turned-explorers Amasa Delano and Edmund Fanning, developed a national identity that was humble, cosmopolitan, tolerant, and inquisitive.  They were also highly self-conscious, constantly on the lookout for signals that Europeans on the global stage would give them the same gestures of respect that Europeans expected of each other (pp. 13-14).  Lastly, these characters were as ambitious for themselves as for their country, aspiring to economic competency and even gentility.  Delano and Fanning, in particular, saw themselves as Yankee versions of more famous and aristocratic European explorers, including James Cook and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (pp. 91, 107, and 109).  The establishment of the American China trade under Shaw in 1784-1785 and the private explorations of Delano and Fanning in the South Seas, Morrison argues, helped the United States gain admission into the community of civilized and commercial nations and craft a unique American identity.

Morrison’s second generation of “true Yankees” contrasts sharply with his first.  Part II of the book examines the overseas careers of Harriet Low, a young woman from Salem who accompanied her uncle and aunt for a commercial residence in Canton, and Robert Bennett Forbes, a Yankee China trader of the 1820s and 1830s who witnessed the coming of the First Opium War from the “golden ghetto” of the Western merchants’ community at Canton.  Both individuals typified larger evolutions in the American sense of self and the place of the United States in world affairs.  If the first generation celebrated tolerance and Enlightenment humanism and had helped lead the country into the ranks of civilized nations through a prosperous East Indies trade, the second generation rested on their predecessor’s laurels with confident arrogance (pp. 194-195).  As citizens of a country now recognized by Europeans as a civilized nation, Low and Forbes indulged in racist views of indigenes in China and the South Seas (pp. 151-152).  They especially denigrated those natives who resisted or put obstacles in the way of liberal commercial principles, as they accused the Chinese of doing in the lead-up to the Opium War.  This period is an especially important illustrative moment for Morrison because of the Anglo-American cooperation against the common enemy of Qing China, which both Britons and Americans viewed as barbarous, tyrannical, and anti-modern (pp. 209-210).  Like John Quincy Adams, they cheered as British forces chastised an upstart people and re-established white Euroamerican commercial hegemony in the East Indies and South China Seas. 

True Yankees is an insightful, well-documented, and immensely significant work for the field of early American history.  Morrison challenges an old historiographical tradition going back to Frederick Jackson Turner and beyond that the experience of the continental frontier made for a unique American identity.  In contrast, Morrison contends that the “fundamental American experience during the formative years of the new nation was lived on the waters that led to China, India, and Java” (p. xviii).  He portrays the early United States as Janus-faced, looking both to the “Eastern frontier” of the world’s oceans and to the terrestrial and riparian West (p. 109).  He argues that Americans paid at least as much attention (if not more) to the former as to the latter in the early Republic (p. xvii).  After all, it was largely at sea and in the globe’s great trading emporiums that the novel republic’s independence and legitimacy could be tested.  The oceanic sphere was also a stage on which Americans could interact with European and global peoples and so nourish a sense of themselves as a sovereign and distinct people. 

Morrison’s study has other laudable features as well.  The author’s frequent parallels between the oceanic and terrestrial experiences of American expansionism are helpful in illuminating a larger context.  These additions remind readers that, in D. W. Meinig’s words, the story of American expansion is not simply of a “westward movement by a government and people across the continent,” but of a “powerful outward movement, putting pressure on the borderlands to the north and south as well as thrusting westward, and ranging out to sea to place islands and coastlands near and far under American commercial, cultural, demographic, and political influence.”  In addition, Morrison’s generational approach is highly useful, demonstrating how quickly the openness of the Revolutionary generation devolved into the superciliousness of the Jacksonians.  True Yankees demonstrates that the repercussions of the transition from enlightened republicanism to xenophobic liberalism can be traced as far away as the factories of Canton and the islands of the South Pacific. 

This reviewer’s only regret is that the author did not include a third character in Part II, preferably someone who visited the same South Seas locales as Delano and Fanning.  This would have extended his analysis of the second generation of Americans beyond China and would have balanced both parts of the book.  This wish aside, True Yankees is an excellent and highly important study.  Most of all, Morrison shows that although the United States had indeed become a full partner in community of civilized nations by the signing of the Treaty of Wangxi in 1844, it was not the country that men like Shaw, Delano, and Fanning had hoped to build. 


Michael Verney is a doctoral student in the History Department at the University of New Hampshire.  His dissertation, ‘“Our Field of Fame’: Naval Exploration and Empire in the Early American Republic, 1815-1860,” examines the global exploring expeditions dispatched by the U.S. Navy before the Civil War. 

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The Prize of History: USS Monitor Prize-Money Claims

USS Monitor Officers (USN Photo)

USS Monitor Officers (USN Photo)

By Bill Edwards-Bodmer

The events during the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8 and 9, 1862 are well-known.  From an objective viewpoint, the battle was tactically a draw.  Neither ship was disabled to the point of being unable to continue the fight.  A misinterpretation of each other’s movements caused both ships to withdraw.  Beginning in the 1870s, however, the Monitor’s officers and crew wouldn’t remember events in quite this way.  The sailors fashioned their own memory of the battle in an attempt to collect prize money. This clever use of memory fit into larger patterns of events occurring in American society and politics at the time.

The crux of the Monitor crew’s claim centered on whether or not the Virginia was disabled in battle to the point of not being serviceable as an effective fighting warship.  In his original 1874 petition to Congress submitted on behalf of his former officers and crewmen, John Worden stated categorically that the Monitor “succeeded in defeating his adversary and driving her back to Norfolk, in a condition so absolutely crippled and disabled that she was not afterwards fit for active or efficient service.” 1   In light of the Monitor’s service to the nation, Worden argued, the crew of the ironclad should be awarded prize money equal to the value of CSS Virginia, which equated to approximately $200,000 at the time.

There would have been nothing unusual about Worden’s efforts to secure prize money for his crew—such claims were common in the nineteenth century U.S. Navy during times of war—except for the fact that the Virginia was neither permanently disabled nor destroyed as a direct result of the fight with the Monitor.  If fact, statements from the immediate aftermath of the battle illustrates that the Virginia was not thought to have been put out of commission, and was, indeed, still viewed as a serious threat after her clash with the Monitor.

The day after the battle, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox, who was at Fort Monroe and witnessed the battle, wrote to Alban Stimers, chief engineer aboard Monitor, urging him to keep the ship for another encounter with the Virginia, as it was Fox’s “impression that the Merrimac is not much injured.” In a statement that sheds light on the Monitor’s generally ineffective fire, Fox urged Stimers to “fire a little lower next time.” 2

USS Monitor vs. CSS Virginia, 9 March 1862  Painting by Rear Admiral John W. Schmidt, USN(Retired), 1967-68, located at the Marine Midland National Bank, Troy, New York.  Courtesy of the Marine Midland National Bank.  U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

USS Monitor vs. CSS Virginia, 9 March 1862 Painting by Rear Admiral John W. Schmidt, USN(Retired), 1967-68, located at the Marine Midland National Bank, Troy, New York. Courtesy of the Marine Midland National Bank. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Two days after the Battle of Hampton Roads, Monitor paymaster William Keeler wrote to his wife, “Our steam is kept up day & night & a most vigilant watch is maintained that our old foe do not attack us unawares.” 3

Throughout the spring of 1862, the Virginia continued to loom as a serious threat to the Union war effort.  Monitor crewman George Geer wrote in late March that “people down here have a dreadful fear of the Merrimack…” 4   This is after the Virginia was supposed to have been rendered disabled and in sinking condition by the Monitor during the battle.  When the Confederate ironclad steamed out of Norfolk towards Federal forces near Fort Monroe later in April, Keeler described Virginia as a “huge gladiator just entering the vast watery arena of the amphitheater.” To Keeler, the Confederate ship was a “formidable looking thing.” 5   This is certainly not the description of warship that had been disabled and whipped.  By the end of April, then, it was clear that the Virginia was not destroyed and had not been permanently disabled by the Monitor.  Just a few weeks later, though, the Virginia was finally destroyed: not by Union forces, but by the ship’s own crew.

In the years after the Civil War ended, the outcome of the Battle of Hampton Roads seemed to be mostly settled and confined to history.  However, Worden’s petition to Congress in 1874 ignited a debate over who “won” the famous duel of the ironclads. After some debate, Worden’s 1874 petition was not acted upon. The matter was taken up again in 1882 by the House Committee on Naval Affairs.  On January 9, 1882, John Robert Thomas, Republican representative from Illinois and former captain in the Union army, submitted a report that urged the passing of a bill to award prize money to the Monitor crew.  Thomas’ report relied on four key pieces of evidence to support the awarding of prize money to the Monitor crew: 1) Worden’s original petition from 1874; 2) a list of twenty-one previous cases where a ship’s crew was awarded prize money; 3) former Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles’ 1862 annual report; and 4) testimony from James Byers, a tug boat captain who claimed to have witnessed the battle and to have seen the Virginia up-close afterwards.

The examples of previous cases where prize money was awarded would have been a solid precedent for the crew’s claims, except for the fact that in each of the cases listed the U.S. vessel either captured or destroyed the enemy vessel. 6   The Monitor did neither.  Instead, Thomas argued that the damage inflicted on the Virginia during the battle prevented her from coming out to do battle again and directly caused Confederate forces to destroy the Virginia two months later.

The most damning piece of evidence Thomas seemed to rely on was the testimony of tug boat captain James Byers.  In his sworn statement, Byers claimed to have witnessed the battle from his boat in Hampton Roads. At the end of the conflict, Byers stated that the Virginia “came back into the river badly disabled, and almost in a sinking condition.” 7   Byers then made the incredible claim that on the next day he was allowed on board the Virginia and claimed the Confederate ship was badly crippled and in no condition for further fighting. If this were true, why did Fox tell Stimers to aim “a little lower” next time.  One also has to ask why a Confederate naval officer in a time of war would let a northern civilian stuck behind enemy lines board his ship to make a “personal examination?”

Thomas’ report goes on to exaggerate the power of the Virginia and repeats fears that the rebel ship would lift the blockade and attack cities along the east coast: “Our whole fleet of wooden ships, and probably our whole sea-coast, would have been at the mercy of a terrible assailant.”  Only the Monitor prevented this dooms-day scenario from unfolding to a terrible conclusion.  At the end of his report, Thomas stated defiantly that “the Merrimac was undoubtedly destroyed as a result of her encounter with the Monitor.8

Although the 1882 bill stalled, the matter was taken up again in 1884.  Eugene Hale, Republican representative from Maine, reintroduced Thomas’ report from 1882 to the House Committee on Naval Affairs.  This time, Committee Chairman John Ballentine, a Democratic representative from Tennessee, submitted a counter-report that disputed the claims made by Thomas and Hale.  Ballentine, who also happened to be a former Confederate colonel, provided as evidence portions of Virginia commander Franklin Buchanan’s report of the battle, as well as war-time dispatches and statements from Union officials.

John Goff Ballentine (1825-1915)

John Goff Ballentine (1825-1915)

One of the most intriguing pieces of evidence Ballentine provided is the battle report from G.J. Van Brunt, who commanded the Minnesota at the time.  Van Brunt stated that “For some time…the rebels concentrated their whole battery upon the tower and pilothouse of the Monitor, and soon after the latter stood down for Fortress Monroe.” 9   According to Ballentine, in an interesting turn of events, it was not the Virginia but rather the Monitor who fled the battlefield.  With the addition of Ballentine’s report, the collision of opposing memories of a single event is apparent.  Ballentine’s report, which was that of the Democratic majority, also signaled the end of the debate: the Monitor crew’s request for prize money was not approved.

By the time of the prize-money episode, military service pension issues were becoming a major force in American politics. Those congressmen who favored awarding prize money were Republicans, while those who opposed it were Democrats.  The most vocal proponent of prize money was a Union veteran, while the most prominent opponent was a Confederate veteran.  This pattern aligns itself with the overall political pattern of Republicans supporting more liberal pension programs and Democrats opposing any expansion of benefits. 10   The mid-1880s also saw Democrats gaining ground in almost every level of government.  It is in this political environment, one that was unfavorable to pensions or other forms of government support, that the debate over prize money must be seen.

The Monitor crew made their claims before Congress during a time of frustration for all pension applicants. The prize-money episode must be seen in the context of this environment, in which many veterans were applying for pension support and being rejected.  Since early pension claims were approved or denied based on disability as a direct result of war-time service, most the officers and crew of the Union ironclad experienced difficulty gaining approval.  The Monitor crew, for the most part, was largely protected in battle and was not directly exposed to the forces that caused pension-eligible disability, that is, enemy fire.  Did the Monitor crew, in this period before universal service pensions, attempt to collect prize money because most of them were not eligible for pension support?  The circumstances surrounding their claims make such a scenario plausible.

The efforts of the Monitor crew to collect prize money also illustrate how many Union veterans were conscious of how the war was portrayed and were anxious to promote an absolute and nationalist view of the conflict. 11   The account of the Battle of Hampton Roads described in the reports favoring prize money left no room for doubt as to the differences between Federal and Confederate forces and who was right and who was wrong.  If the battle was described as a draw, with no clear-cut winner, how could the Monitor have saved the Union and be awarded prize money?  The crew’s shaping of memory fit into a nationalistic view of the war and served a practical purpose as evidence of actions deserving of prize money.

By the late nineteenth century, memory of the Civil War had penetrated and infused American society and politics.  The Monitor crew’s claims for prize money illustrate how Civil War memory could be employed in an attempt to secure concrete material gains.  By the time of the Monitor claims, however, the war for most Americans was becoming heavily romanticized.  In the eyes of many Union veterans and their Republican supporters, the Monitor saved the nation at the Battle of Hampton Roads.  At the same time, however, the Virginia had to be destroyed to fit into this nationalistic and patriotic narrative.  This is precisely where we see history and memory collide; with the construction of such black and white narratives where good invariably triumphs over evil.  As a shining force of good, the Monitor had to emerge from the smoke of battle with its foe vanquished and victory complete.  Only then could the Union ironclad, in the minds of its crew and congressional backers, establish itself on the right side of history.

1410450459258Bill currently works as IT Trainer at Slover Library in Norfolk, VA. Before coming to Slover, Bill worked at Old Dominion University and The Mariners’ Museum Library. He has also taught United States history at ODU and Tidewater Community College. Bill received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees, both in History, from Old Dominion University.

  1. John Worden, Memorial to Congress in behalf of the officers and crew of the United States Steamer Monitor, praying for a grant in the nature of prize money for damage done to the Merrimac, (1874).
  2. Gustavus V. Fox to Alban C. Stimers, March 10, 1862, USS Monitor Collection Associated Records: MS390, The Mariners’ Museum Library, Newport News, VA.  Fox was also apparently aware that the Virginia’s armor did not extend to her lower hull.
  3. William F. Keeler to Anna Keeler, March 13, 1862 in Robert W. Daly, ed., Aboard the USS Monitor: 1862, The Letters of Acting Paymaster William Frederick Keeler, U.S. Navy to his Wife, Anna. (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1964).
  4. George Geer to Martha Geer, March 24, 1862, George Geer Papers.
  5. William F. Keeler to Anna Keeler, April 11, 1862, Aboard the USS Monitor, 73.
  6. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Prize-money to Officers and Crew of the United States Steamer Monitor, report prepared by John Robert Thomas, 47th Cong., 1st sess., 1882, 4-6.
  7. James Byers, Sworn Statement of November 1874, in House Committee on Naval Affairs, Prize-money to Officers and Crew of the United States Steamer Monitor, report prepared by John Robert Thomas, 47th Cong., 1st sess., 1882, 7.
  8. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Prize-money to Officers and Crew of the United States Steamer Monitor, report prepared by John Robert Thomas, 47th Cong., 1st sess., 1882, 8.
  9. G.J. Van Brunt, Battle Report, in House Committee on Naval Affairs, Officers and Crew of the United States Steamer Monitor, report prepared by John Goff Ballentine, 48th Cong., 1st sess., 1884, 8.
  10. Theda Skocpol, “America’s First Social Security System,” in Larry M. Logue and Michael Barton, eds., The Civil War Veteran: A Historical Reader, (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 186.
  11. Ibid, 365.

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Legati ad Defendendam Libertatem – USS John Warner Commissioned

USS John Warner is "brought to life" by the ship sponsor during a commissioning ceremony held at Naval Station Norfolk this past Saturday (Photo by Todd Creekman/NHF/Released)

USS John Warner is “brought to life” by the ship sponsor during a commissioning ceremony held at Naval Station Norfolk this past Saturday (Photo by Todd Creekman/NHF/Released)

The newest addition to the U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet is a formidable one. At 377 feet in length, the newest Virginia-class submarine gives the kind of multi-mission flexibility necessary for a strong and adaptable submarine force operating in today’s dangerous waters around the world. For good reason, the U.S. Navy officially heralds it as “the most modern and sophisticated attack submarine world.” As a testament to this, the ship is projected to operate for thirty-three years without stopping to refuel. That particular characteristic sounds strikingly similar to the ship’s namesake, Senator John Warner – a man who never seemed to stop serving his country. This past weekend, thousands came to Norfolk, VA to honor the former Senator, Navy Sailor, and Marine for the commissioning of USS John Warner (SSN 785). It is the first submarine of the Virginia-class to be named for an individual. The Navy’s next ship to break the mold, USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 795), was recently announced here at the Washington Navy Yard in January.

NHF staff members were on hand on Friday night for a special Chairman’s Reception at the picturesque Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in Downtown Norfolk. The event, sponsored by the Navy League of Hampton Roads Commissioning Committee, centered around the ship’s namesake and his wife and ship sponsor, Mrs. Jeanne Warner. During the course of the evening on Friday, several awards, plaques, commemorative photographs, and paintings were given to the men and women involved in the construction and operation of John Warner. All on hand were delighted to honor a man whose service and sacrifice dated back to the Second World War.

It was also a special evening for the Naval Historical Foundation. Captain Creekman, USN (Ret.), NHF Executive Director, had the distinct pleasure of presenting the former Senator with an authentic 1975 Navy Jack to be signed and hoisted during the commissioning ceremonies the following day.

1975 Navy Jack signed by Holloway, Greenert, Mabus, Richardson, DeMars, and Middendorf (Photo by NHF/Matthew Eng/Released)

1975 Navy Jack signed by Holloway, Greenert, Mabus, DeMars, Richardson, and Middendorf (Photo by NHF/Matthew Eng/Released)

The Navy Jack presented to Senator Warner to sign was undoubtedly unique. Warner’s signature was the last of a series of signatures by individuals whose connection to the Navy was either current or directly related to Warner’s time as SECNAV and Virginia state Senator. From (L) to (R), the signatures are as follows:

  • Admiral James L. Holloway III, Chief of Naval Operations (1974-1978)
  • Jonathan W. Greenert, 30th and current CNO
  • Ray Mabus, 75th and current Secretary of the Navy
  • Bruce DeMars, Director, Naval Reactors (1988-1996)
  • John M. Richardson, current Director, Navy Reactors and nominated to become the next CNO
  • J. Wiliam Middendorf II, 62nd Secretary of Navy (1974-1977)

While Warner was the Secretary of the Navy, he authorized then Under Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf II to design a Navy Jack to mark the 1975 bicentennial of the United States. The result was the current Navy Jack (better known as the “First Navy Jack”), which, after the 1975-76 Navy and national bicentennial, is now flown on every U.S. Navy ship since 2002.

After the Senator’s signature, the flag was turned over to Commander D.B. Caldwell, Commanding Officer of USS John Warner, to be hoisted at the bow of SSN 785 during the commissioning ceremony the following day.

The Saturday commissioning ceremony was hot and humid. Thousands of friends, family, and general public braved the heat to witness Senator Warner’s namesake proceed “on a mission to defend freedom.”

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Some speakers took time to reflect on the former Senator’s time in the US Senate, while others highlighted his short but influential time in the military. The keynote speaker, current CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenert, praised the Navy’s newest piece of advanced weaponry, calling her “the latest incarnation of American sea power” and a “strategic asset for this country.” Warner himself wanted to be brief, but managed to wax philosophical to the crew of the ship, giving them a stern command for such a vessel that bears his name:

“Defend the sea lanes of the world which are the very arteries of international commerce. Manned by our submarines, our surface ships, and naval aircraft, we are carefully working to keep those sea lanes open – not just for us but for all.”

Just before the ship was customarily “brought to life” by the ship’s sponsor, the signed Jack was hoisted on the bow of the vessel for the excited crowd to view, as the ship was formally placed in commission by the CNO.

USS John Warner will join Submarine Squadron 6 (COMSUBRON Six) with other Virginia-class submarines and Los Angeles-class submarines. The submarine was delivered both under budget and ahead of schedule. It’s homeport will be in Norfolk, VA.

Fair Winds and Following Seas on your missions.

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Cary S. Lindley, Jr.: A “Can Do” Sailor

Promotional shot of Cary Lindley, Jr. and his group of Judo Instructors, 1944 (Photo courtesy Cary Lindley Family)

Has there ever been a better photo that best explains “We Build, We Fight?” Promotional shot of Cary Lindley, Jr. and his group of Judo Instructors, 1944. Lindley is to the right of the photograph. (Photo courtesy Cary Lindley Family)

In early December of last year, we received an email query from a gentleman named Todd Eskew asking for information about his great uncle’s unit he served with as a Seabee during the Second World War. According to Eskew, all that he knew of him was that he served in the Navy during wartime and was once a Judu instructor while in.

For many families of deceased veterans, it is a common question to ask historical institutions what they did and where they did it. So often we find that service members of the World War II-era do not share their stories with their family members. Whether you believe the saying that these men and women were of the “Greatest Generation,” their stories are crucial to our collective understanding of one of the United States’ most trying periods in its short history.

The only thing he had of his great uncle were pictures. This is the usual route most queries go: pictures are disseminated and analyzed, and we provide the historical background of that image and the sailors/ships/conflict/etc. tied to it. No problem. Even a name and a few pictures will lead to some sort of discovery. With the Navy Department Library close by and a team of dedicated naval historians literally within my reach, I knew I would be able to find out something involving Lindley or his Seabee Battalion during World War II.

This one was different.

NHF historian Dr. Dave Winkler forwarded me a few images from Eskew of his great uncle. When I first saw the images of him and his group of instructors, I literally did not believe was real.

Cary Lindley, Jr. (Image courtesy Cary Lindley Family)

Cary Lindley, Jr. (Image courtesy Cary Lindley Family)

If you are like me, you shudder when people misuse the word “literally.” Here is the definitive proof that I LITERALLY did not think the photo was authentic.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 12.32.23 PMCould this be some Hollywood production or propaganda stunt put on by the Office of War Information? It looked like something out of the Alpha caste in Huxley’s Brave New World. As it turned out, the photos were official U.S. Navy photos taken in Rhode Island during WWII. I was immediately interested in finding out more information.

Eventually, Eskew put us in touch with his cousin and Lindley, Jr.’s son, also named Cary Lindley. He followed up briefly with me, providing a number of candid photos of Lindley and his unit training during the war. His son seemed generally interested in what his father did during his time in the Navy.

“I hope you can pull his military record and trace down where he was actually stationed. None of the pictures are of combat, and it’s possible he never fought while he was assigned to the 35th Special U.S. Naval Construction Battalion.”

Thanks to the Navy Department Library and the Naval History and Heritage Command, a few snippets of information surfaced. Unfortunately, not all ships or units are created equal. There is no “Raiders of the Lost Ark” vault where detailed information on every unit or man served or fought during the war. That being said, the custodians of history like NHHC do an excellent job preserving the information available for the preservation of future generations. Alongside the information provided by his son (discharge papers, etc.), we were able to construct a simple narrative on Lindley and his service.

Cary Lindley, Jr. and the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion

Cary Lindley, Jr. was born 30 April 1918 in Houston, Texas. Like many serviceman at the time, he held a civilian job prior to the outbreak of hostilities. At the time of his enlistment, Lindley was listed as a salesman for the Port Houston Iron Works, a small shipbuilder started in the 1930s on the west side of the basin at the Houston Ship Channel. He lived on N. Main Street in Houston, now incorporated into the 13-mile Red Line that runs like a spine through the center of the bustling Texas city.

Lindley enlisted on the 8 August and was entered in service on 29 September 1942. According to his son, the new recruit trained as a Seabee at Camp Endicott in Davisville, Rhode Island. Camp Endicott served as the main home and training center for U.S. Navy Seabees. Beginning in 1942, Endicott trained. According to records of the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center, the “vast training camp” provided “more than 100,000 men of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions, better known as “Seabee,’ with construction training during World War II.”  The Seabees were also given extensive training in machine gun, anti-aircraft, and automatic weapons. Others, like Lindley, trained in hand-to-hand combat and Judo.

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While training at Endicott, a number of photos highlighting Lindley and his fellow Judo instructors were taken. “These photos are the one’s the sailors took during their off time,” his son said. “They give a nice insight to the enjoyable time the men had together, when not training, working, or faced with fighting the enemy.” At one point, the Judo instructors provided  a demonstration for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (formerly the short lived King of England, Edward VIII). On particular photo taken of the Judo instructors was particularly interesting to Lindley’s family. The image provides insight into the impressive stamina and training performed by servicemen at the time:

“One particular picture that I have sent you is of  [Sp (A) 2/c] J.K. Wrenshall.  It stated on the back of the picture that he completed 3,000 sit-ups in 2hrs. 36 min.  It also stated Mr. Wrenshall had a pulse rate of 112 bpm, and 5 min. later his pulse rate was listed as 88 bpm.  Shortly after his pulse rate had dropped to 78.. Those notes were so fascinating, to find that they were concerned about his heart rate after doing so many sit- ups.”

Lindley eventually completed training and reported to the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion [35th CB (sp)], formed in August 1944 at Endicott. Two months later, 35th CB CO LCDR Boyd was ordered to transfer the men across the country to Port Hueneme, California, on 25 October 1944. One month later in December, they arrived at their final destination, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where they stayed until the end of the war. For the majority of their time there, they were attached to the 20th Marine Regiment on Oahu near the picturesque area known as Iroquois Point. Other seabees attached to the 35th CB (sp) worked at an encampment near the Red Hill Underground Fuel storage facility. To the credit of the men in the company, the Red Hill site was named a historic ciil engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1995.

One company of the 35th (sp) comprised of three officers and approximately 180 men was detached on 30 July 1945 for operations on the island of Kaui. They quickly finished the job and were back in Hawaii by 1 August. There is no indication from the records that Lindley was one of the men that took part in the brief excursion.

At its height in November 1944, the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion had 1,059 officers and men. By the time the war ended, most of the men in the Battalion like Lindley were honorably discharged. By October 1945, only 930 men remained. Cary left the Navy as a Boatswain’s Mate, First Class when he was honorably discharged on 18 October 1945 at Camp Wallace, TX. The 35th CB (sp) remained active until March 1946 when it was inactivated with only 17 officers and 565 sailors attached to it.

Cary would later marry JoAnn Robinson after the war on Christmas Eve 1948. According to his son, Cary Lindley traded a Seabee shovel for the nuclear family:

“He led a quiet life, surrounded by his family and friends.Cary and JoAnn had two children together, Karen and Cary III. He was a salesman for Schuman Auto Supplies, and traveled throughout the state of Texas. He loved the great outdoors and went fishing, hunting, and horseback riding every chance he could. His two children loved their dad, and spent as much time with him as possible.”    

Unfortunately, he passed away prematurely from a heart attack on the same day fifteen years later while he and his son were hunting. “I just find it strange that these important events are all on Dec. 24th,” his son said in an email.

In our own small way, this brief discussion on Lindley and his time with the 35th Special Naval Construction Battalion will provide a historical document and testimony to the wartime life of a quiet man who greatly contributed to the war effort.

Thank you for your father, Cary. He exemplified honor, courage, and commitment with a “Can Do” attitude worthy of the Seabee name.

Cary Samuel Lindley, Jr.
April 30, 1918 – December 24, 1963
Boatswain’s Mate 1/c
United States Navy

A special thanks to Cary Lindley, Todd Eskew, and the Navy Department Library/NHHC for providing information for this post.

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Knox History Prize Awardees to be Honored at McMullen Naval History Symposium

Captain Dudley Knox NH 48459

Captain Dudley W. Knox, USN (NH 48459)

It is with great pleasure that we announce our next three recipients of the Commodore Dudley W. Knox Naval History Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Dean Allard, Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan and LCDR Thomas J. Cutler, USN (Ret.). The Knox Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes an individual for a lifetime body of work in the field of U.S. naval history. Dr. Allard, Dr. Hagan, and LCDR Cutler will receive their award at a special ceremony during the Friday banquet at this year’s McMullen Naval Academy Symposium. Previous recipients received their awards at the 2013 McMullen Naval Academy Symposium and 10th Maritime Heritage Conference. The following are brief biographies of this year’s recipients, which recognize their lifelong contributions to the preservation and commemoration of naval history:

Dr. Dean C. Allard has had an impressive career at the Naval Historical Center (now the Naval History and Heritage Command, or NHHC) that has spanned nearly forty years. After joining the Navy in 1955 as an officer from Dartmouth’s NROTC Unit, he served for three years on active duty and before its completion was transferred to serve on Rear Admiral Ernest J. Eller’s staff at the Naval Historical Center. Coming off of active duty he was assigned as the head of the Operational Archives Branch as a civilian and served in that position for more than 30 years, earning his M.A. degree from Georgetown University and Ph.D. from George Washington University. Allard went on to work as Senior Historian and eventually Director of Naval History, staunchly supporting the Center’s publication program and reviving the Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Committee. Additionally, he oversaw the development of the Contemporary History Branch of the Naval Historical Center. He has participated in several professional societies and has been awarded the North American Society for Oceanic History’s K. Jack Bauer Award, the USS Constitution Museum’s Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Distinguished Service, and the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award.

Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan has spent 33 of his 45 years of teaching as a professor of history and strategy at the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, and the Naval War College. His debut in the field of naval history was in 1973 when he published his dissertation, American Gunboat Diplomacy and the Old Navy, 1877-1889. He has since written and published 7 books, 19 book chapters, 11 articles, and 25 encyclopedia entries on naval and military history as author, co-author, editor, and co-editor. Of particular note is his book This People’s Navy: The Making of American Sea Power (1991), which was regarded by former Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman, Jr. as “easily the best one-volume history of the Navy yet written.” Currently he is hard at work on a book on U.S. national strategy from 1890 to 1921. Hagan and his works are known internationally; he will be presenting at the Portuguese Naval Academy’s Naval History Conference in Lisbon this fall. He has served as Archivist and Director of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum and remains Professor and Museum Director Emeritus. He has received the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award, and multiple research grants.

LCDR (Ret.) Thomas J. Cutler is one of the most prolific authors in the history of the Naval Institute Press in terms of sold books. He has written and published a multitude of books and articles regarding naval history, including Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam (1988), Dutton’s Nautical Navigation, 15th Edition (2003), A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy (2004), and several editions of The Bluejacket’s Manual. During his nine years of service at the Naval Academy as both the Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship and Navigation Department and the Associate Chairman of the History Department, he received the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education. He is currently the Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College, as well as the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute. Cutler has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at several events and with multiple organizations. He has received the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award.

To register for this year’s McMullen Naval Academy Symposium, including the Friday Banquet sponsored by the Naval Historical Foundation, go to the link HERE. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. David Winkler at

The Knox Prize is named for Commodore Dudley Wright Knox (21 June 1877 – 11 June 1960). A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval War College, Knox had a distinguished career as a naval officer with service in the Spanish American War, Boxer Rebellion, Great White Fleet, and World War I. But it was his abilities as a historian, librarian, and archivist that earned him respect and admiration amongst his peers and later generations.

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NHF Membership Spotlight: Meriwether Ball

Meriwether Ball at the June Annual Meeting at the Washington Navy Yard, DC (Photo by the author)

Meriwether Ball at the June Annual Meeting at the Washington Navy Yard, DC (Photo by the author)

By Matthew Eng

NHF Membership Spotlight
is a new segment for the Naval Historical Foundation blog where we showcase our loyal members. It’s important that we let our members know that they are as integral a part of naval history as the ships and sailors that continue to protect and serve today. If you are interested in becoming the next individual of our Membership Spotlight, please email Matthew Eng, NHF Digital Content Developer, at

Our first Membership Spotlight is for Mrs. Meriwether Ball, a recent member of the Foundation who took time out of her busy schedule to travel up to Washington from Portsmouth to attend the Annual Meeting this year. She became a member in May 2015.

Meriwether Ball: Lemonade from Lemons

Meriwether always knew how to make the best of a situation. She got some of that trait from her family’s experience in the U.S. Navy. Some of it came from her own time in the Naval Reserve in the late nineties. The Navy prides itself on honor, courage, and commitment. The same goes for Meriwether Ball, in good times and bad. She has always been one to make lemonade from lemons in her personal and professional life.

O. Talmadge Spence & Willette Spence (mother), Washington, D.C. Late 1945.

O. Talmadge Spence & Willette Spence (mother), Washington, D.C. Late 1945.

Meriwether grew up in the small NW DC suburb of Takoma Park, MD. She admitted that her childhood there was challenging. “DC was very stressful in the sixties and seventies,” she stated in her interview. Although the “Azalea City” grew to become a hotbed of social and political activism during that time, racial tension and economic disparities endemic to the greater DC metro area persisted. Traveling into the city was no different. Some of that social rigidity extended to the local military during a time when the public’s displeasure of America’s involvement in foreign wars reached fever pitch:

“I can recall seeing many uniformed sailors, soldiers and Marines being harassed the streets of D.C. on our countless journeys downtown during those war years. It had a huge heartbreaking impact on me and my childhood friends.”

Meriwether’s family history involved sea service long before she joined the Navy. In fact, Meriwether’s story begins with the Navy. Her parents met when her father was estimating contracts for the Hampton Roads-area naval bases and facilities as a mechanical engineer for Thurston’s Engineering in the 1950s and 1960s. Her parents briefly lived in Philadelphia before her father settled in as an Economist with the Department of Labor here in Washington, DC.

Her uncle, Dr. O. Talmadge Spence, was a petty officer assigned to USS Indianapolis during the Second World War. According to Meriwether, he was pulled off the ship for duty “literally moments before she sailed to her heartbreaking destiny.” He wrote a well-received short book, Saved by a Substitute, about his wartime experiences and the deep religious faith that came as a result of his “ merciful providence.” He was actively involved in the survivor’s association until his death in 2000.

Her family history was one of the deciding factors for her to serve herself. Meriwether entered the Navy Reserve in 1999 at 35 years old. To put it plainly, she was not your typical enlistee. Not only was she above the usual age of enlistment in the Navy, she was also a single mother with several years of experience in the field of journalism and writing. She enlisted as non-commissioned Public Affairs Officer (E-4). Weekends were spent out of the Quincy, MA and Newport RI USNR offices.

Meriwether Ball, 2000.

Meriwether Ball, 2000.

During her time in, she experienced everything from the daily activities aboard the carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) to “learning the incredible work the Navy does in Reykjavík, Iceland.” Unfortunately, an unforeseen circumstance involving round-the-clock medical care for her sick child did not meet the requirements of weekend drill. Family came first. She left the Navy with a General Under Honorable Conditions discharge, a decision she was contented to have made for her son. Although things did not work out as originally planned, she remembers her time in fondly years later. “Serving was a too-short yet pivotal season of my life.”

She came out the Navy a changed woman. Her brief career in the service helped with her other personal and professional pursuits as a writer and journalist.To Meriwether, the Navy was never a roadblock to her career – it served as a crucial stepping stone. “I learned that life takes unwanted turns at times,” said Meriwether. “I needed to learn to make lemonade from lemons.” It didn’t long for Meriwether to churn it out by the gallon.

Back in the civilian world, Meriwether continue to write feature stories as a correspondent for Associated Press-member newspapers in central Massachusetts and coastal Virginia where she lived with her son. Soon, her career in journalism and time in the military to intersect. “It created a call on my heart that I could not ignore then, nor now,” she said. Part of that defining moment came after reading a heartbreaking story published in the Marine Corps Times about former Marine Sergeant Major Michael Curtin, whose remains were found at Ground Zero after 9/11. Curtin, a Sergeant in the NYPD, died while attempting to rescue victims trapped in the World Trade Center. When I read it,” she said, “I marched the hardwood floors of my Massachusetts home with tears flowing like rainwater. This is my license!” It was. It was time for Meriwether to once again trust her instincts.

Using the support and guidance of her Uncle, a Marine Corps Captain, Meriwether began interacting with a local USMC Reserve Unit in town (3rd Battalion, 25th Marines). She began to write stories about the Marine Corps to local newspapers. Two months later, she developed, designed, and launched an online news outlet called Corps Stories. She remains the President and CEO to this day. Now a billion-readers-on, the 501 (c)3 organization remains a respected news source on Marine Corps matters. According to InternetLiveStates and Alexa web analytics, is in the top one percent of websites.

Meriwether is currently exploring a newfound love of being a book author. She felt the need to write about the extraordinary Marines and corpsmen she spent many years profiling. Most important, she wanted her new writing venture to specifically look at their home regions. Naturally, she focused in Virginia where she currently resides. The book series was both ambitious and intoxicating. “Dreaming up a 50-book series was the last thing I needed to add to my plate,” she admitted, “but like most calls on our hearts, it would not be ignored.” The first of three books on the subject, Puller Chronicles, discusses some amazing information about revered Marine Lewis “Chesty” Puller and his explorations into faith and family. She has also written a book about her experiences dealing with childhood-borne Post Traumatic Stress called Leaving Takoma Park under the pseudonym Eliza Goodwin. Both books are available on Amazon. Her upcoming original series Great Marines is expected to become available in mid-autumn of this year.

It is in this environment that Meriwether came to know about the Naval Historical Foundation. As a prospective member and budding author, she developed her interest in NHF after reading an edition of our monthly Naval History Book Reviews. As somebody who knows the value of time, she found that the relevancy of the Foundation to her own life and the personal care taken by staff members to her needs was a welcome surprise. “It was important that I would not feel lost in the shuffle,” she said.

Why is Naval History Important?

This is the question we will ask every NHF Member profiled in this series. It is important for members, readers, and prospective members to understand why these men and women help preserve naval history on a daily basis.

The Foundation’s member base included many extremely successful Navy officers and enlisted personnel. Not only by achieving high rank, but also by engaging in other passions and having those pursuits be of great importance to their community. So I personally am more connected those stories of Navy service than of event history.

What successes I have achieved by founding and maintaining CorpsStories, or by authoring books, which may inspire, has occurred only by my receiving great guidance. There are many young enterprising people in the Naval community who care deeply about the gains made by those who came before. Having my confidential advisors and Board members respond to my shaky questions and fearful dreams with stout support has made very tangible, unique visions come to be reality.

The NHF offers the wisdom of its supporters for our Navy’s current and future members. Additionally, former sailors and retirees, like me, are welcomed so graciously it’s very easy to feel useful and appreciated. At my first formal occasion, the annual member’s luncheon held at the Washington Navy Yard, not only was I incredibly impressed by the museum displays, but also my novice and armchair thoughts were welcomed. It does not get any better than that!

Special thanks to Meriwether for interviewing with me for this story. Semper Fi!

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