BOOK REVIEW – Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812

coffins of the braveEdited by Kevin J. Crisman, Texas A&M University Press. College Station, TX (2014)

Reviewed by James P. Delgado. Ph.D.

Large in size and large in scope, Coffins of the Brave is a tour de force.  Published in 2014 to coincide with the bicentennial of the end of the War of 1812, this 415-page opus reflects decades of serious scholarship, extensive field work (which means a great deal of intensive diving, underwater excavation, and documentation), and the coalescing of thought around the topic of more than a war on the water. This is a thoughtful treatise about the ships of that war, built for its campaigns on the lakes. The lakes were a critical theater of the war, and while history books are replete with accounts of the battles, and of personalities like Oliver Hazard Perry, there is much that has never been mined. As editor and author Crisman notes, “significant elements of the story are missing, many of which never made it to the documentary record in the first place.” (p. 354). Into those gaps steps archaeology – not only as practiced in the field, under water or on beaches and mudflats, but also in the laboratory. This book chronicles more than a century of ship finds in the lakes, ranging from accidental finds to centennial fervor leading to the raising the rebuilding of Perry’s Niagara, to more modern archaeological projects.

Kevin Crisman is eminently qualified as the editor and as author of much of this book.  Associate Professor in the Nautical Archaeology Graduate Program at Texas A&M University and director of the University’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation, Crisman has pursued the subject for decades. His hands-on work in the field has been followed by years of study at Texas A&M, where he has meticulously reconstructed the ships of the War of 1812 on paper, through ship models, and through detailed analysis of every aspect of the ships and the artifacts found with them. Among the co-authors are a select number of Crisman’s graduate students as well as colleagues in the field, all of whom write with authority and ease about the logistics of assembling a fleet in the wilderness where none existed before, and about the ships themselves.

They write about the campaigns, the battles, and the experience of life and death on these warships, both British and American. Walter Rybka, for example, offers the unique perspective of being the master of Niagara, the rebuilt warship that he now commands, and the insights gained from working and handling this historic brig. He also writes of the experiments in firing carronades into accurately built sections of Niagara’s hull. The descriptions and images quickly show how the wooden walls of the era became deadly sprays of splinters and chunks of wood that killed and maimed below and on the decks. Archaeologists Jonathan Moore, Christopher Amer, Kenneth Cassavoy, Christopher Sabick, LeeAnne Gordon, Sara Hoskins, Erich Heinold, Eric Emery and Erika Washburn provide detailed insights into the wrecks and projects they have excavated, documented and studied, including detailed work in some cases on wrecks pulled from the water years ago as relics but never truly understood until these scholars turned their attention to them. Arthur Cohn, dean of Lake Champlain underwater archaeology and founder of its maritime museum, rounds out the team of writers when with Crisman, tackles the naval archaeology of the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay.

Coffins of the Brave is exceptionally and extensively illustrated, with historic images and numerous photographs and drawings, many of them Crisman’s exquisite work. There are also sections with color images. Serious, detailed, and compelling, this is a hard book to put down once you start to read through it.  It is an essential addition to any library dedicated not only to the War of 1812, or the lakes, but also for those who love naval history, archaeology, and learning more about the physical record of the past adds much to our understanding of now only what happened, but what the human experience was like, and gives us insight into the lives of those who went before us.


Dr. Delgado is the Director of Maritime Heritage in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C.

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An American Inferno over Vietnam: Violent Skies Symposium Recap

“To the fair world: and heedless of repose
We climb’d, he first, I following his steps,
Till on our view the beautiful lights of Heaven
Dawn’d through a circular opening in the cave:
Thence issuing we again beheld the stars.”

– Inferno, Canto XXXIV (Dante Alighieri)

They were your friends and neighbors in your hometown. They were your family: a father, a brother, or a son. They answered the call and gave an oath to protect the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic. They trained hard and learned fast on their feet. They earned their wings and flew military machines of warfare into harm’s way. The followed orders at the mercy of policymakers thousands of miles away in Washington. They grew tired and frustrated over the conduct of the war. They remained steadfast for their brothers in arms.

Rear Admrial Robert Shumaker, USN

Rear Admrial Robert Shumaker, USN (Ret.) and Author Taylor Kiland during their panel “POW Resistance in the Early Years.” (Photo by Matt Eng/NHF/Released)

They lost friends and comrades. They ate a steady diet of cabbage soup and were relentlessly tortured by an enemy they didn’t understand. In the end, those who survived through it came home to continue their careers or rotate into civilian life with little fanfare or celebration during one the most tense and politically charged times in U.S. history. Some never came home the same. Others are still there, still unaccounted for a half century later. Their names alongside 58,195 of their brothers and sisters are now inscribed on a dark granite facade here in the heart of our nation’s Capitol. “It’s design was meant to be like a dagger into the heart of the American people,” said Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund President and CEO Jim Knotts during the symposium’s closing reception and banquet.

Goodbye My Sweetheart, Hello Vietnam

Who were the enemies? Who did we lose and why did we lose them? Those questions remain  because war IS hell, and the men and women who went through it were much like Dante in the Inferno, venturing into the deep places where the sun is silent.

Attendees converse in the atrium of Marshall Hall at National Defense University, our gracious event hosts.

Attendees converse in the atrium of Marshall Hall at National Defense University, our gracious event hosts. (Photo by Matt Eng/NHF/Released)

These were some of the realities faced by countless individuals involved in the air war over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict. From the early 1960s through the evacuation in 1975, airmen and aviators of the United States Army, United States Coast Guard, United States Air Force, United States Marine Corps, and United States Navy traveled to the jungles of Vietnam and its surrounding countries to wage war over their violent skies. Scholars, students, and veterans came to National Defense University in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss the wounds left from the air war to see how well they have healed fifty years later. The conference was co-hosted and coordinated by five military non profit historical organizations (Army Historical Foundation, Air Force Historical Foundation, Foundation for Coast Guard History, Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and Naval Historical Foundation) located here in the Washington, D.C. area. Members of each branch, both active duty and retired, comprised a strong core to the nearly one hundred and fifty registered attendees to the symposium.

The Vietnam War is awkwardly placed in United States history. The conflict is far enough away to be considered a historical event by most scholars, yet simultaneously close enough to have many surviving veterans alive today who fought through it. Veteran stories continue to add to the developing narrative of conflicts fought by courageous men and women throughout the history of the United States. Yet in no other time has a protracted conflict been as contested and ambiguously decided as the quagmire in Vietnam. These individuals, many of whom are now decades removed from military service, courageously put themselves back into the cockpit once again for the benefit of historical research and reflection. One can only imagine the number of heavy hearts there were in each session as the symposium progressed.

Because the number of Vietnam veterans are beginning to dwindle, it is more important than ever to hear their side of the Cold War’s hottest conflict. The Violent Skies co-hosts wanted to ensure that Vietnam veterans received equal billing to academic historians and scholars who presented papers. It was comforting to see such a unique balance between combat veterans, military historians, and up and coming scholars. One of the highlights of the entire symposium was hearing the personal reminisces of former POW Rear Admiral Robert Shumaker, USN (Ret.), a resident of the Hanoi Hilton and member of the famous “Alcatraz 11.” Author Taylor Kiland’s discussion of her book Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton added extra weight and a sobering credibility to the panel itself. The war may be over, but the discussion is only beginning during these commemorative years. Each veteran that attended was given a special pin provided by the Vietnam War Commemoration as a small thanks to their service and sacrifice.

Navigating the Violent Skies

Major General George W. "Nordie" Norwood, USAF (Ret.) and Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, USN (Ret.) share some lighthearted laughs during the opening plenary session on Thursday morning (Photo by Matthew Eng/NHF/Released)

Major General George W. “Nordie” Norwood, USAF (Ret.) and Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, USN (Ret.) share some lighthearted laughs during the opening plenary session on Thursday morning (Photo by Matthew Eng/NHF/Released)

What made the skies violent? Why give the symposium such a jarring title?

These questions were discussed in the opening plenary to the conference on Thursday morning.   NDU professor Dr. Mark Clodfelter gave a riveting and passionate overview to the entire air war and the myriad operations conducted over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. According to Clodfelter, the air war increased exponentially after the Tet offensive in 1968 because the war itself became more conventional in the wake of the strategic failure of Operation Rolling Thunder, the massive aerial bombardment campaign waged from March 1965 until November 1968. Policymakers in Washington struggled to find a more effective way to wage the air war. This resulted in an unfortunate increase in air losses in the war’s pivotal years between 1968 and 1972. Rivalries between military branches added to the mix and confusion in the fog of war. Politics and military operations became like oil and water, and many of those aviators who flew during Vietnam paid the price. By the end of the war in 1975, the United States military lost nearly 10,000 aircraft and helicopters. Thousands of men perished in combat, became Prisoners of War, or are still missing in action today.

A multi-service veterans panel to the plenary offered commentary to Dr. Clodfelter’s weighty discussion. Any misgivings about the symposium’s title were immediately squashed by the panel of senior service retired officers. As retired Army Major General and former Chief of Army Aviation Carl McNair said in the opening Plenary, the title was apt to the realities faced by aviators through the conflict in Southeast Asia:

“Our skies were violent [. . .] they really were. They were just as ferocious as you say they were.”

Major General George W. “Nordie” Norwood, USAF (Ret.) and former NHF President Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, USN (Ret.) offered additional commentary to Dr. Clodfelter’s presentation. Both men reflected on the utility of air power, noting the transition from interdiction, and strike escort to a hunter-killer mentality. It seemed remarkable that any kind of cooperation occurred between aviators given the lack of central command over the air war itself. As Vice Admiral Dunn noted, “we got our share of excitement, no matter where the flew.” Unlike historians studying the war today, Major General Norwood made sure to detail how their war “was in real time,” and thusly did not benefit from the historical perspective of those who recount and study it today.

All three agreed that the entire conflict itself was ultimately about doing their job and working hard to make sure “the guy flying next to you or with you had as good a shot of getting home as (they) did.” That proved to be a reality reserved only for the fortunate, as Admiral Dunn commented on one panel later that afternoon. During one particular operation, his wing man during a particular mission took a direct hit. Major General McNair also provided several instances where men in the back seat of his helicopter died in transit to safety.

A Constant War

Independent Researcher Tin Nguyen gave a very well received presentation on changing perceptions of the Ia Drang Valley battle

Independent Researcher Tin Nguyen gave a very well received presentation on changing perceptions of the Ia Drang Valley battle. (Photo by Matt Eng/NHF/Released)

Panel presentations were broken up into four concurrent sessions over the two-day period. Sessions were presented chronologically between the Johnson Years (Thursday) and Nixon presidency and evacuation (Friday). Topics on combat operations included everything from Navy RA 5 Reconnaissance and OV-10 Bronco aircraft use for counterinsurgency to the massive firepower of the Air Force B-52 throughout Southeast Asia. Rotary wing operations of the United States Army were also thoroughly discussed by both active duty and retired Vietnam veterans. Conversations amongst scholars and veterans, albeit tense at times, was beneficial to the ongoing dialog of the air war. For may veterans, it was as if the war itself had seeped into their skin, and the symposium served as a way for them to “sweat it out” amongst friends and colleagues.

Several panels highlighted a different take to the conventionally-held, combative side of the air war. Discussions about the aeromedical evacuation, Navy/Coast Guard search and rescue, psychological operations, chemical defoliation, air evacuation, and the impact of the air war on the home front were also covered.

The final plenary session reminded attendees of the harsh realities continually faced by those either living or left behind the combat zone. Discussion in the appropriately titled “Left Behind: The Air War Never Ended” plenary session was arguably some of the most beneficial and meaningful of the entire symposium. You could visibly see some who attended the session uncomfortably shift in their chairs during Legacies of War founder Channapha Khamvongsa’s presentation on the millions of pounds of unexploded ordnance still located inside Laos today. Stanley Brown, a colleague of Channapha’s at the Department of State, detailed the various ways they are working inside the country to make it safe and secure once again for their populace. Finally, Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Kelly’s discussion of the ongoing efforts of the newly formed POW/MIA Accounting Agency gave hope to eventually recovering all those who deserve to come home after their last full measure of devotion to a country that never completely understood how or why the war became so violent for so long.

Preserving the Conversation

Naval History and Heritage Command Historian Dr. John Sherwood offers his take on the mining of Haiphong Harbor during the Friday afternoon Plenary Sessions (Photo by Matt Eng/NHF/Released)

Naval History and Heritage Command Historian Dr. John Sherwood offers his take on the mining of Haiphong Harbor during the Friday afternoon Plenary Sessions (Photo by Matt Eng/NHF/Released)

Any good symposium will have its attendees asking more questions than when they came. Several attendees noted the difficulty in choosing the most interesting panel or plenary session. In the case of Violent Skies, there were too many to choose from. Attendees familiar with major offensives such as Rolling Thunder, Arc Light, and Linebacker I/II were treated to discussions about equally important (and yet still violent) operations named Ranch Hand, Frequent Wind, Commando Hunt, and Menu. As Dr. Mark Clodfelter noted in the opening plenary, “there was not one single air war over Vietnam, but instead air WARS.”

Others who could not attend last week’s symposium will still benefit from the rich historical research and discussion conducted there. Thanks to Steve Maxner at the Texas Tech Vietnam War Center and Archive, presentations and papers given at the symposium will eventually be stored for posterity on their site. Despite the near herculean efforts by program coordinator and NHF Historian Dr. David Winkler, there are still more topics from each service that still need to be covered. The conversation about the Vietnam air war can continue for future events, leaving open the possibility for more joint symposiums in the future with he five historical non profit organizations. Please stay updated for the availability of the presentations given in the near future.

The diligent work done by each of the planning organizations could not happen without the help of outside sponsors. A special thanks to all of the corporate sponsors and non profit partners for making the Violent Skies Symposium possible: Jelly Belly, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, GE Aviation, Vietnam War Commemoration, Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, USS Midway Museum, Naval Order of the United States, Texas Tech University Vietnam Center and Archive, Foundation for Coast Guard History, HA(L)-3 Seawolf Association, Jimmy Doolittle Center, and Coast Guard Aviation Foundation.

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PRESS RELEASE – Violent Skies Joint Symposium to Close with keynote speaker Jim Knotts, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    

October 5, 2015

Media Contact: Sarah Maguire
 (703) 649-2781

knotts250x375(DUMFRIES, Va.) – The organizers of the Violent Skies: Air War over Vietnam conference being held at National Defense University on October 15-16, 2015 ( are pleased to announce that Mr. Jim Knotts, president and chief executive officer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), is the keynote speaker for Friday evening’s banquet. Knotts’ presentation topic will be “The Wall That Heals and The Legacy of Service.” The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, usually called simply “The Wall,” has enabled the healing of a generation and a nation. It is a tangible symbol of national dialogue regarding a divisive time in our nation’s history. Through The Wall, we remember those who sacrificed all, those who served, those who waited, and those who continue to serve today. After 50 years, we are gaining new perspectives on the Legacy of Service of our Vietnam veterans, from continuing the journey of their own healing to paying it forward to support veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Knotts’s presentation will occur at the closing banquet that will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia on Friday, October 16 at 7pm. The subject is most fitting following the two day symposium sponsored by the five service historical/heritage foundations. Over the two day conference, attendees will be engaged with over 50 presentations on all aspects of an air war that claimed nearly 10,000 American aircraft.

Knotts is an Air Force veteran of the Persian Gulf War and a graduate of the Air Force Academy. He now leads the effort at VVMF to honor the service and sacrifices of Vietnam veterans – those who sacrificed all, those who served, and those who waited for the service members to return – as well as those who serve today. Preserving the legacy of service from generation to generation – from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf War, to Iraq and Afghanistan – is Jim’s personal commitment and a part of the ongoing education efforts of VVMF. During his almost ten years in the Air Force, his career spanned service in the Persian Gulf War, at the headquarters of U.S. Southern Command, and in the Pentagon on the Office of the Secretary of Defense Staff. Jim is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy (B.S.), the University of South Carolina (M.M.C.) and Strayer University (M.B.A)

The registration deadline for the conference is fast approaching on October 13. Those interested in attending visit and register at Media coverage is welcomed.

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Historical “Murderer’s Row” Photograph at Ulithi Update

We have received some updates from a blog post written in July 2012. The original article, “Looking for Assistance on WWII Ship Recognition at Ulithi Atoll,” caught the eye of David Stubblebine, a contributor to the World War II Database. According to Stubblebine, he cross examined several war diaries with a berthing chart of the Ulithi Lagoon in order to get an accurate reading on the hull numbers of those ships berthed at Ulitihi.

The original caption of the photo from the Naval History and Heritage Command website is as follows:

80-G-294131Photo #: 80-G-294131 Murderers’ Row Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Photographed from a USS Ticonderoga plane. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

The picture provided by Stubblebine appears to be wider than the one currently on the NHHC website. Looking at the image, you can see a small caption that reads that this is “actually not Photo 80-G-294131, but one taken just a moment later that shows the ‘Row’ at a slight angle.” Indeed, the image provided by Stubblebine gave a better perspective for photographic researchers.

“I think a couple of evenings comparing Task Force 38 ship rosters with their War Diaries would likely resolve most of this question,” he said in his email to NHF. Thankfully, his diligent work provided some interesting results. Several days later, he provided us with this helpful information that just may have solved the question.

The following is taken straight from the document provided by Mr. Stubblebine. For queries, please email David at

Other Shipping in the Famous “Murderers’ Row” Photograph

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.32.45 PMBy David Stubblebine
September 2015

This question was raised by model makers wanting to build a diorama of the scene depicted in the famous photo of the mighty US fleet taken in Ulithi Lagoon in December 1944. As such, it is not a vital question by any means but it still struck me as an interesting project, a challenging puzzle, so I thought I would give it a lash.

The first question to be resolved was the question of the photo date. The photo was long dated 2 Dec 1944 but has since been officially revised to 8 Dec 1944.
8 Dec 1944 is a pretty good date but the matter still needs some attention. Certainly the photo could not have been taken any earlier than the 8th since the Lexington (CV-16) is seen in the image and she did not arrive until the morning of the 8th. The main body of Essex-class carriers all pulled out early on the 10th so the possibility remains that this photo could have been taken on the 9th. In the big picture [SORRY], a couple of days either way would not matter but in checking the records of ship movements, this day-and-a-half variance was important to keep in mind [SEE BELOW].

I began by taking the 1944 Ulithi Mooring Plan and plotted the positions of the ships known to be in the photograph, the five Essex-class carriers in a row. This allowed me to get a sense of what other berths are visible. Then I built a partial roster of Third Fleet ships from December 1944 and checked their War Diaries, one by one, for their berthing locations on 8 Dec 1944. That allowed me to build up my plot of the berthing positions and the answers began to reveal themselves. In the end,

I think I have a very good handle on about 18 of the ships and a pretty good idea about 2 others.

Actually not Photo 80-G-294131 but one taken just a moment later that shows the “Row” at a slight angle and also shows more of the surrounding shipping

Thus I modified the photo from the previous page into a Legend of the scene:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.33.14 PM

  • The numbers in the ovals are the Berth numbers according to the Mooring Plan.
  • The letters in the squares identify ships that are not in regular berths.

The main row of carriers:
20. USS Wasp (CV-18)
21. USS Yorktown (CV-10) 22. USS Hornet (CV-12)
23. USS Hancock (CV-19) 24. USS Ticonderoga (CV-14)

Behind the main row [LEFT]: 28. USS Langley (CVL-27) 29. USS Lexington (CV-16) 30. USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)

Across the back are the Battleships:
4. USS Washington (BB-56)
5. USS Iowa (BB-61)
6. USS South Dakota (BB-57)
7. USS New Jersey (BB-62)

Beyond the main row of carrier and to the right are the cruisers:
25. USS Santa Fe (CL-60)
13. USS Mobile (CL-63)

14. USS Biloxi (CL-80)
15. USS New Orleans (CA-32)

The Letters:
A. [80% sure] USS Healy (DD-672) This is a Fletcher-class destroyer painted in MS31/21D. There were three in Ulithi at the time, USS Twining (DD-540), USS Stockham (DD-683), and Healy. Healy’s precise location is least certain. Smaller ships shifted berths commonly and without always recording the movements in the War Diaries.
B. [90% sure] USS Cahaba (AO-82) fueled the carriers on 8 Dec 1944.
C. [100% sure] Hospital ship USS Solace (AH-5) anchored at the SW corner of the Seaplane Area
D. [100% sure] Hospital ship USS Samaritan (AH-10) anchored at the SE corner of the Seaplane Area

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.41.17 PM

Excerpt of the Mooring Plan showing the approximate footprint of the photograph.

The absence of the USS Oakland (CL-95) in the photograph anchored in the fairway between
USS Mobile and USS Santa Fe really helps lock down the time of the photo fairly precisely. Oakland would be prominently visible in the photo except on 8 Dec 1944 between 1235 and 1445 hours when she was fueling from the USS Merrimack (AO-37) just out of frame to the south.

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Death and Rebirth: 2015 McMullen Naval History Symposium Recap

Midshipman march outside of a reception held at the Naval Academy Museum at the 2015 McMullen Naval History Symposium.

Midshipman march outside of a reception held at the Naval Academy Museum at the 2015 McMullen Naval History Symposium. (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)


By Matthew T. Eng

In his introduction to the 1995 essay collection Doing Naval History, Naval War College Professor Dr. John B. Hattendorf discussed the (then) current state of naval history. Using information gathered at the 1993 Yale-Naval War College conference, Dr. Hattendorf noted the dangers of moving forward in the field:

“While there were exceptions to the rule, many agreed that much of the work that was being published in the field was both relatively unsophisticated and outdated in its approach, particularly when contrasted to the best work on other themes in current historical research [. . .] While the old naval history may well be food for worms, the substance of naval history should not be lost because of it.“

The argument was not a new one among scholarly and professional circles. Hattendorf noted the need for naval history to “reappear in a new, corrected and amended model, linking it to general history while also improving methods for the specialized study of the subject.”

Unfortunately, that outdated approach remained relatively unchanged throughout the nineties and into the new millennium. Naval history stayed two-dimensional and transparent in intention, form, and purpose. Although great naval history occurred during that time period, very little was showcased to breathe new life into the discipline like other similar fields. People began to notice. In 2011, authors like Captain Alexander Martin, USMCR of the Naval Institute Press blog declared naval history to be “dead.” Although harsh, the self-proclaimed accusation had some shred of truth to it. In his Naval Institute blog article “The Death of Naval History,” Martin stressed the need for individuals at the U.S. Naval Academy, the epicenter of naval lore, to study naval history in order to become better officers and leaders for the future. According to Martin, plebes were learning about American naval history in their senior year instead of in their plebe curriculum. To Martin, the study naval history from the outset of academy life was critical to help transform “a jumble of motivated yet unformed individuals into an amalgam of inspired and unified officers-to-be.”

This rings true for most naval historians today. The method and means of retaining and presenting information, however, has changed completely in recent years. After all, there could be no Renaissance without the Dark Ages. This was clearly evident at this year’s McMullen Naval History Symposium at the United States Naval Academy. Over two-hundred scholars, students, and military personnel attended the two day seminar last week. This year’s symposium built on the success of the previous event held there in 2011, with a bevy of informative topics and lively debate. Naval history today is no longer worm food as suggested by Dr. Hattendorf in 1995, but instead a buffet of new and exciting scholarship.

Naval history today is sleek and sophisticated. Presentations are tightly focused. Subject matter are more cross-disciplinary than ever. The faces in the crowd in the exhibition hall were younger and more frequent in number, making way for a new generation of individuals to carry the torch held by many of the world’s most respected naval historians also in attendance last week. These trends are as exciting as some of the topics discussed over the course of the two-day symposium.

CAPT Andy Jampoler, USN (Ret.), former NHF Board Member, presents his paper on the 1914 European Cruise of USS Tennessee at the Naval Academy Symposium (NHF Photo)

CAPT Andy Jampoler, USN (Ret.), former NHF Board Member, presents his paper on the 1914 European Cruise of USS Tennessee at the Naval Academy Symposium (NHF Photo)

Naval history is no longer simply dealing with ships and sailors. We are seeing the influence of naval history on the environment and geopolitics. Historians ask the tough questions about everything from maritime law to several prominent naval figures’ ties to popular fiction. Who knew that Matthew Fontaine Maury played as big a part in mapping ocean depths as he did in inspiring Jules Verne to write 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?  Several presentations utilized the latest web and computer technologies to engage attendees and bring about a better understanding of the subject material. These are complicated issues and ideas, but as such are well worth exploring in the future. During a luncheon on Thursday, Naval History and Heritage Command Director Sam Cox gave a spirited talk on the state of NHHC and the many innovative ways they using their resources to preserve the Navy’s story. It is truly an amazing time to be writing and studying naval history. I felt fortunate enough to be a fly on the wall this year and drink it in amongst giants in the field.

Among the merriment of catching up with old friends and colleagues, there were some exciting papers and presentations by attendees. As previously stated, several historians used their skills and expertise in other disciplines to create some provocative presentations. Unfortunately, I could not attend all of the sessions I wanted to – there were too many good ones going on! It is a good problem to have in a field in need of energy and excitement. Some of the more interesting papers that I overheard during the conference were:

  • Matthew Fontaine Maury as a scientist and pathfinder, not a Confederate naval officer. (“Matthew Fontaine Maury: Pathfinder,” Jason W. Smith)
  • The role of the “London Flagship” and US-UK Naval Diplomacy during WWI (“Historians in the Headquarters: Admiral William S. Sims and the Intelligence Section of the ‘London Flagship,’ 1917-1919,” CDR David Kohnen, USNR)
  • Civil War Boat Burners in St. Louis form a parallel to Global War on Terror (“Conspiring with the Enemy: Civil War Boat Burners and the Law of War,” Laura June Davis)
  • Using GIS to map the Quasi-War with France (“Geography and Law in the Quasi-War with France,” Abigail Mullen)
  • Mapping German U-boats activity near the Portuguese coastline from WWI (“German U-Boat Operations in the Central Atlantic During WWI,” CAPT Augusto Salgado, CINAV)
  • The early years and growing pains of the Office of Naval Intelligence (“the essence of intelligence work is preparation for war: How ‘Strategy’ Infiltrated the Office of Naval Intelligence, 1882-1889,” CAPT Scott Mobley, USN (Ret.))

Naval history is not dead. We are merely seeing its rebirth.

IJNH Update: The Way Ahead

Dr. Michael Crawford receiving his 2015 Article of the Year Award at the NHF Awards Banquet Friday night. (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)

Dr. Michael Crawford receiving his 2015 Article of the Year Award at the NHF Awards Banquet Friday night. (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)


Several members and invited guests of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Naval History took time out of the conference to meet for a luncheon/strategy session at the USNA Officers’ Club on Friday afternoon. I am excited to report good news for fans of IJNH. Look for a more robust and timely journal in the future. If you presented a paper at the Naval Academy Symposium this year and are interested in publication in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Naval History, please email me at NHHC Senior Historian Dr. Michael Crawford received the 2015 IJNH Article of the Year Award for his article “Taking the Moral High Ground: The United States, Privateering, and Immunity of Private Property at Sea.”

DGUTS: Don’t Give Up the Ship

NHF Chairman Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.) presents the Knox Medal to LCDR Thomas J. Cutler, USN (Ret.) at a banquet held on Friday evening. (NHF Photo by Matthew T. Eng/Released)

NHF Chairman Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.) presents the Knox Medal to LCDR Thomas J. Cutler, USN (Ret.) at a banquet held on Friday evening. (NHF Photo by Matthew T. Eng/Released)


Drs. Dean C. Allard and Kenneth J. Hagan, and LCDR Thomas J. Cutler were honored at a banquet hosted by the Naval Historical Foundation on Friday evening. The awards banquet served as the official close to the McMullen Naval History Symposium (a reception was held at the Naval Academy Museum on Thursday evening). Over one-hundred and twenty conference attendees, close friends, family, and colleagues of the award-winners enjoyed a special evening to honor each recipient’s lifelong commit to the teaching and study of naval history. Dr. Hagan and LCDR Cutler were there to receive the Commodore Dudley W. Knox Lifetime Achievement in Naval History Award (Due to health and scheduling issues, Dr. Dean C. Allard and his family could not attend the banquet). Five previous Knox Award winners (Dr. William Still, Dr. William Dudley, Dr. John B. Hattendorf, Dr. James C. Bradford, and Dr. Harold Langley) also attended the banquet. This is the third year the Naval Historical Foundation has presented the award. The first awards were given at the 2011 McMullen Naval Academy Symposium.

One Naval Historical Foundation board member recently referred to the Knox Award the “Oscars of Naval History.” It surely felt like an awards atmosphere, complete with teary-eyed reflection and lively banter amongst friends. LCDR Cutler got emotional during his acceptance speech after NHF Chairman Admiral Bruce DeMars gave him the award. “It’s a tough job,” Cutler said in reference to doing naval history. “When used properly, it can get you through some tough times.” Cutler is the author of many important works of naval history, including the well-received A Sailor’s History of the United States Navy. Many were reminded by Cutler’s now famous signature to every email he sends out: DGUTS, or Don’t Give Up the Ship. After a life of serving and teaching history, it seems that he has lived up to the saying to its fullest potential.

Albeit humbled by the experience, Dr. Kenneth Hagan’s commentary was dry, witty, and downright comedic. When asked what he would suggest to young naval historians in the field by Dr. David Rosenberg at the evening’s conclusion, he joking said to “study the Army.” Like Cutler, Dr. Hagan taught for several years at the United States Naval Academy. Hagan, best known for his one-volume monograph history of the U.S. Navy, This People’s Navy, urged those in attendance to remain passionately dispassionate in their pursuits:

“Pick a topic which you can be dispassionate about. If you aren’t emotionally involved in how it turns out, you can be more passionate because you can be more subjective.”

For a full transcription of their remarks during Dr. Rosenberg’s roundtable discussion, go to our previous blog post HERE.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions represented in this post are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not necessarily represent those of the Naval Historical Foundation, Naval History and Heritage Command, or  United States Navy, unless explicitly stated. If you have any questions, please contact our Digital Content Developer, Matthew Eng, at

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A Conversation with Knox Award Winners

Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan offers remarks after accepting the Knox Award (NHF Photo by Matthew T. Eng/Released)

Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan offers remarks after accepting the Knox Award (NHF Photo by Matthew T. Eng/Released)

This past Friday, the Naval Historical Foundation held a special banquet honoring the myriad accomplishments of this year’s Commodore Dudley W. Knox in Annapolis, Maryland. The banquet also served as the final event of this year’s McMullen Naval History Symposium. Two of this year’s recipients, LCDR Thomas J. Cutler and Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan, were in attendance on Friday evening to receive the award in front of an energetic crowd of colleagues and family. The third recipient, Dr. Dean C. Allard, unfortunately could not attend due to health issues.

Dr. David A. Rosenberg, Class of 1957 Distinguished Chair of Naval Heritage at the United States Naval Academy, led a reflective roundtable discussion with Dr. Hagan and LCDR Cutler about their experiences working in naval history. The following are excerpts of each of their responses to Dr. Rosenberg’s introspective questions:

1. When did you choose to write naval history?


“I had little choice. My mentor at Claremont Graduate School, Charles Campbell, did 19th century America. I asked (him) what the Navy was doing as an instrument of foreign policy throughout much of the 19th century, and he said there had not been a great deal written about that, and therefore I began my research on my dissertation for my dissertation on the Navy of 1877 to 1887.”


“I guess if you believe in destiny, you might look back to when I was a child growing up in Baltimore. We used to play make believe games as kids in those days [ . . . ] we played cowboys and indians, etc. When we played war, everybody would pick a rank of what they wanted to be. Some would be a Sergeant or a Captain. I’m not making this up…even though we were doing land warfare in the alleys of Baltimore, I chose to be a Lieutenant Commander. The only regret i have was that I didn’t choose Admiral back then.

The Navy is a tough job, but it can be a wonderful job. There are challenges.  Sometimes when those things would start to get me down I would remember reading biography of John Paul Jones and I would think, “if they could do it, I can, too.” it was that kind of thing. Thats why history is so important. It’s a leadership tool and an inspirational tool. Qhen used properly, it can get you through some tough times.”

2. What impact did the US Naval Academy have on your teaching of naval history. Did it change, especially since you were both naval officers?


“Being a naval officer in the history department as a reservist was in some ways difficult. There were a large number of civilians at the time that I came there who had not served at all. I sensed some degree of apprehension and resentment because I was straddling two fences. I eventually chose one fence.

I always felt that I was very happy to have been in the Navy while teaching. I think that the midshipman appreciated. I know I felt more comfortable with the midshipman because of my naval service. I suspect that I was less comfortable with the civilians. When I came there, Ned Potter was still there with the veterans of WWII. That raised another dilemma – the seapower course when I arrived in 1973 was still about the Navy in the Pacific in WWII. Twelve of sixteen weeks were devoted to it.

I wanted to teach broader aspects of the Navy like the gunboat navy, bureaucratic infighting, and foreign policy. So, Jim Bradford and I changed the course to become an American naval heritage course. I felt more comfortable doing that because I was in the Navy.”


“Coming to the Naval Academy was incredible for me. It solidified why history mattered to me. To come into the history department and stand beside people like him (Hagan) was important. I learned a great deal by rubbing elbows with these historians; these professionals who really knew their stuff. It was inspirational, and it was edifying. On the other side of the podium was the midshipman. There, I felt like there was a responsibility. I understood the importance of history and doing that tough job, and I wanted to convey that to them as well. and I tried very hard to do that.

You don’t cover the material. You inspire them to cover the material. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

3. You both have written significant one-volume histories of the United States Navy. Are there any areas that you think should be better covered that you didn’t have the opportunity to cover?


“The politics of the Navy in the interwar Navy, or the Navy outside of great battles.”


“When I wrote a sailors history – its about SAILORS, and more specifically – to recognize the role of the enlisted sailor – its important to recognize that the sailors are the backbone of the Navy, and I tried to bring that out in a Sailor’s History of the United States Navy.”

4. What would you say to future generations to inspire them in the field?


“The main thing is to read. That’s so easy to say, but it’s all about reading. How did I learn to write? I read. You understand how people write.”


“My advice: study the Army (laughter). Pick a topic that which you can be dispassionate. If you can write something with which you can be dispassionate, because you aren’t emotionally involved in how it turns out, you can be more passionate because you can be more subject. This is why I am sticking with 1890-1921. The only thing I will do with Alfred Thayer Mahan is ignore him.

I would also urge to write naval history in an environment or period in which you are familiar. You can’t put events into context. Know the field, know the period. and pick a period where you are not emotionally committed so you would not skew your interpretation.”

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Life Member Presents Paper at ICMH in China

Dr. Marolda speaking at ICMH Conference in Beijing, China

Dr. Marolda speaking at ICMH Conference in Beijing, China

Dr. Edward J. Marolda, a life member of the Naval Historical Foundation, participated in the annual Congress of the International Commission of Military History (ICMH) held in Beijing, China, during the first week of September. The theme of the conference, hosted by the Chinese Commission of Military History, was World War II and the Development of Warfare in the 20th Century. In keeping with that theme, Dr. Marolda presented a paper entitled “The Influence of Allied Air and Sea Power on Japanese Operations, 1944-1945.” The essay focused on Allied submarine, mining, and land- and sea-based air operations to close China’s ports to Japanese shipping and interdict the sea lanes to Southeast Asia, from which Japan obtained fuel and other vital resources for its armed forces and wartime economy. Submarine, mining, and air operations also completed the isolation of the Home Islands and wreaked devastation on Japan’s remaining war industries in the last months of the war. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with a Soviet declaration of war, precluded the need for a costly invasion and compelled Emperor Hirohito to sue for peace. But it was the years of effort by Allied air, naval, and ground forces to isolate the Home Islands from vital war-making resources that brought about the demise of the Empire of Japan.

Delegates from 35 African, Asian, European, and North and South American countries, including 13 members of the U.S. Commission of Military History, took part in the Congress. Representatives spoke on such topics as China’s resistance to Japanese aggression, the Battle of Crete, the Belgian military contribution to the British Campaign in Africa, Ireland’s international relations in World War II, Portugal’s neutrality, Brazilian ground operations in Italy, radar development, digital tools for teaching World War II history at West Point, and Allied wartime bases in the Arabian Gulf.

The gracious Chinese hosts enhanced the intellectual stimulation of the conference by facilitating visits to Beijing’s Aviation Museum, Military Museum, National Museum, the Forbidden City, the Emperor’s summer palace, the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, and other culturally and politically relevant sites. A highlight of these excursions was attendance of an athletic and colorful  “Legend of Kung Fu” performance in Beijing’s Red Theater.

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In Just Two Simple Paragraphs


By Stewart Milstein
Universal Ship Cancellation Society

It is a simple penny postcard without a return address. It was mailed on Nov 8, 1939 and bears a USS Guam (PR-3) cancel with the location Wanhsein between the killer bars. The card is addressed to Helen Bloomer of Eagle Rock, CA (A neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles). The message is typewritten which led me to believe that the sender was either a yeoman or a radioman aboard the ship. USCS member Lloyd Ferrell is a genealogy researcher par excellence. Lloyd researched the Bloomer family and could find no record of anyone by this name serving in the US Navy in the 1930s. It is Lloyd’s believe that the letter may have been written by a civilian friend of Helen Bloomer travelling in China. The card was accepted and cancelled aboard USS Guam. The card was carried downstream and mailed in a US Navy mail bag to the United States. The penny rate was sufficient postage for this type of mail. Lloyd and I can only speculate as to how two travelers in China happen to come across an English keyboard typewriter. It is possible that it was written by a Guam crewman who was a friend of the Bloomers.

Transcription (spelling and punctuation is original to document):

guam-2Well well Helen –

Here we are again but this time you find us many miles further up the Yangtze. Away up in Szechuen Province where the bandits and the ‘reds’ are doing their best to chase the poor little chinese out of their homes. We are standing by to see that they do not chase our missionaries too hard and see that they do not bother our little oil company the Standard Oil Company.

And my my do I see an airplane flying overhead with a mark on it saying “made in Eagle Rock, California? I always thought that California raised and made only oranges and raisins and very pretty girls.

Wanhsien is half way between Ichang and Chungking in the midst of some very high mountains. There is nothing here except chinese and a lot of them. Opium flourishes here and the sailors eat tangerines and persimmons. Goodby (same one as before…

In the first paragraph the author states where he is and why the US Navy was there. The sailors were in China to protect US missionaries; a cause near and dear to many Americans who believed that the US had an “obligation” to bring Christianity to the heathens. The protection of US economic interests in the guise or protecting “…our little oil company the Standard Oil Company” is a classic example of dollar diplomacy. The “reds” are Mao Tse Tung’s communist forces. The bandits may have been in the employ of the local warlord. This paragraph is one of the best descriptions of imperialism that I have ever read.

The last paragraph notes the large local population and calls attention to the opium issue. Opium had been introduced into China by the British who had a negative balance of trade with China since the Chinese insisted on payment in silver for tea. The British sale of opium, grown in India, was designed to create a demand for opium the sale of which would balance the cost of the tea. China and England fought the Opium War in 1842. One of the results of the war was the British got right to sell opium in China. The writer of the postcard was commenting on an issue that was almost 100 years old at the time that he wrote about it.

Underway on the Yangtze River in 1932 Photo from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Image courtesy Navsource)

Underway on the Yangtze River in 1932
Photo from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Image courtesy Navsource)

I wish I had this cover in my possession when I was teaching high school American History as this writer has summed up the Yangtze River Patrol, as a part of US foreign policy in the 1930s, as succinctly as anything I have ever read.

USS Guam underwent a name change on Jan 23, 1941, and became USS Wake. According to the USCS Catalog of US Naval Postmarks, the ship ”surrendered after futile efforts to scuttle at Shanghai on Dec 8, 1941, the only Navy vessel to surrender to the enemy in WW II…Named Tatara by Japan. Reacquired after WW II and transferred to China in 1945 as Tai Yuan. Captured by the Communist Chinese in 1949.”

NHF Member STEWART MILSTEIN is a Director of the Universal Ship Cancellation Society, where he also serves as the Sales Circuit Manager.

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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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