Our Introduction to the Knox-Class Frigates in the 1970s

This paper discuses life on USS Knox-class frigates in the 1970s. It is a follow on to a previous article entitled “Post World War II Destroyer Escorts.” Much of the information was obtained by my personal experiences aboard ships of the class which include:

  • Commissioning Executive Officer USS Blakely (DE 1072)
  • Officer in Charge, Fleet Introduction Team, Avondale, Westwego, Louisiana
  • Commissioning Commanding Officer, USS Moinester (DE 1097) – The last ship of the class
  • Numerous inspections of ships of the class as a member of the LANTFLT Propulsion Examining Board and Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV)

Captain Charles T. Creekman, Executive Director of the Naval Historical Foundation, served under me as weapons officer on the commissioning crew of the USS Moinester and later had command of the Knox-class frigate USS W.S. SIMS (FF 1059).

USS W. S. Sims (DE 1059), post-1980 hull refit (NAVSOURCE)

USS W. S. Sims (DE 1059), post-1980 hull refit (NAVSOURCE)

These were the last of the US Navy ships designated as Destroyer Escorts (DE).  All ships of the class were designated as Frigates (FF) in 1975. The 46 ships of the Knox-class were the largest, last, and most numerous of the US Navy’s post war ASW escorts. Originally they were intended to be a follow on to the Garcia (DE 1040) and Brooke (DEG 1)-class ships. However because of the problems described in the previous article with the pressure fired boilers on those ships, it was found necessary to go back to conventional 1200 psi D type boilers on the Knox-class ships. This required an increase of approximately 24 feet in ship length. This proved to be a good decision. The ships were the last US Navy surface combatants built with conventional steam power plants.

A list of the major ship characteristics follows:

  • Length – 438 ft.
  • Beam – 46 ft. 9 in
  • Draft – 24 ft. 9 in
  • Full Load Displacement – 4260 tons
  • Propulsion – Steam turbine – Single Screw – 35,000 SHP
  • Boilers – two 1200 psi D type
  • Sustained Speed – 27 knots
  • Complement – 17 officers, 240 enlisted
  • The ships were fitted with fin stabilizers.
  • Radar – AN/SPS 10 Surface Search, AN/SPS 40 Air Search
  • Sonar – AN/SQS 26 Bow Mounted, AN/ SQS 35 Variable Depth Sonar (VDS), augmented with AN/ SQR 18 Tactical Towed Array System on the 35 ships of the class that had VDS installed.
  • Aircraft – One SH-2 Seasprite Mk1 LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System) helicopter
  • Armament
    • One MK 42 5”/54 caliber gun mount
    • Anti-submarine rockets (ASROC) & Harpoon anti-ship missiles fired from an 8 cell ASROC launcher located on the forecastle aft of the gun mount
    • Mk 46 torpedoes in two dual tube launchers located amidships
    • Sea Sparrow Basic Point Defense Missile System (BPDMS) on the fantail of 31 ships of the class, later replaced by Phalanx Close In Weapons System (CIWS). installed aboard all 46 ships of the class.

The VDS and TACTAS were located in a compartment in the stern of the vessel. Their streaming access through stern doors  and the CIWS, flight deck, and helicopter hangar can be clearly seen in the following photo:

1 September 1988: Off Hampton Roads, Va. - A stern view of Aylwin underway as it leaves Naval Station, Norfolk, Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-SN-90-06084 from the DVIC)

1 September 1988: Off Hampton Roads, Va. – A stern view of Aylwin underway as it leaves Naval Station, Norfolk, Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-SN-90-06084 from the DVIC)

The design of the engineering plants followed conventional naval practices. No attempt was made to significantly increase the level of automation above that found aboard previous US Navy 1200 psi ships. As a result no major engineering problems comparable to those experienced aboard the Garcia & Brooke-class ships were experienced on the Knox-class ships.

The electrical plant consisted of three 750 kW steam driven turbo-generators located side by side in Auxiliary Room #1. There was also a 750 kW diesel generator located in the after part of the ship which could be used as either a ship service or emergency generator. It was driven by a pair of diesel engines in tandem, one forward and one aft of the generator.

All major machinery plant control functions were performed from air conditioned control rooms. One of these that was located adjacent to the Auxiliary Room was called “Electrical Central”. The main switchboards were located in this space.  There were also air conditioned control rooms located on the upper levels of the fire room and engine room.

The ships were fitted with Prairie Masker noise reduction systems in order to minimize the noise transmitted from their machinery to the water and thereby reduce their detectability by submarines. The system consisted of a compressor that delivered high volumes of low pressure air at approximately 25 psi to four vertical belts along the underwater hull where it was discharged to the water through perforations in order to dampen out transmitted noise. The air was also supplied to perforations in the propeller trailing edges by way of a passage in the shafting for the same purpose. These systems proved to be very effective in service.

The keel for the lead ship of the class, USS Knox (DE 1052), was laid in October 1965 and the ship was commissioned on 12 April 1969. The first 25 ships of the class (DE 1052-1077) were built in four different shipyards. However the remaining 21 ships (DE 1078- 1097) were all built in a production line at Avondale Shipyard, near New Orleans, LA in order to save costs. The last ship of the class, USS Moinester (DE 1097) was commissioned in 1974. All of the ships had been decommissioned by 1994. However 31 ships of the class were sold or leased to foreign navies where some are still in service.

At Avondale the ships were built side by side in a production line which consisted of five building ways. The keel was laid on the inboard side of the line and the hulls were gradually moved sideways through the various positions culminating in a side launch into the Mississippi River as shown in the following photo:

21 October 1972: Westwego, La. - The USS Capodanno (DE 1093) is side launched at the Main Yard of Avondale Shipyards (NAVSOURCE)

21 October 1972: Westwego, La. – The USS Capodanno (DE 1093) is side launched at the Main Yard of Avondale Shipyards (NAVSOURCE)

At the time that the ships were designed they were subject to criticism because of their single screw, insufficient speed to keep up with the carrier battle groups, and their lack of armament with only a single 5” gun, They were frequently referred to as “McNamara’s Folly”. However for a variety of reasons they actually became effective ASW platforms once in service.

Next I will discuss my own personal experiences with the Knox class frigates. As previously discussed, they included three back to back tours between 1970 and 1976 as well as a number of ship inspections.

In early 1970 I received orders to be the commissioning executive officer of the USS Blakely (DE 1072), a Knox-class DE that was under construction at Avondale. The ship was scheduled to be home ported in Charleston, South Carolina. It would be delivered to the navy in June 1970 and commissioned in July. At that time we had been stationed in California for the previous 5 years. My family and I drove across country to our destination which was actually in Newport, Rhode Island. I proceeded to report in to the Fleet Training Center in Newport for duty on the pre commissioning crew in April 1970. The prospective commanding officer, chief engineer, weapons, and supply officer along with about 20 senior crew members would form what was referred to as the “nucleus crew” at the shipyard where they would oversee the last stages of construction and become familiar with their ship. My job was to assemble and organize what was called the “balance crew” consisting of about 200 personnel in Newport. I was assisted by the prospective operations officer. I had never met my new CO, but it was important that we establish contact and keep him informed as to what was going on throughout the pre commissioning period which proved to be relatively uneventful and soon it was time to relocate to Charleston. So we packed up the car and headed south.  Shortly after arrival we found a home for rent in a development west of the Ashley River. It took some time for us to get used to the high heat and humidity. But Charleston proved to be a very pleasant place to live.

In 1970 there was plenty of military presence in the town. This was primarily due to the fact that Representative Mendel Rivers was the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. A large air force base was co-located with the commercial airport and new C-5A cargo transports could often be seen overhead. The Charleston Naval Base was located just up river from the city on the Cooper River. Just up river from the base was the Charleston Naval Shipyard and further up river in Goose Creek was a Naval Weapons Stations where Polaris Missiles were stored. The naval base was home to the Atlantic Fleet Mine Force, as well as a number of destroyers, frigates, and submarines. My last previous visit to Charleston had been in 1959 when I attended minesweeping school.

I found temporary office space in the Naval Shipyard immediately adjacent to the old building ways where my old Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) school ship, the USS Charleston was built in 1935. It turned out that there was a large model of the Charleston right outside the shipyard commander’s office. It has since been relocated to MMA where it remains on display.

Blakely was due to arrive at the shipyard on 2 July. Since the ship would not be turned over to the Navy until after arrival, it was operated by the builder’s trial crew on the delivery trip. Their practice was to make the transit from the Gulf of Mexico at a speed of over 25 knots.  An unfortunate incident occurred during the trip when the ship ran down a sailboat off the Coast of Florida. Fortunately there were no fatalities. However the boat was a total loss.  When Blakely hove in sight coming up the river, the jack staff was bent over in a U shape and there were scars remaining on the bow. But nevertheless it was an inspiring sight and my crew was very excited about going aboard and taking charge of a brand new ship. After the ship docked, I went up the gangway. My new CO Commander Frank Carelli was waiting on the quarterdeck.

The commissioning ceremony was held on18 July 1970. The sponsor who had christened the ship was the granddaughter of Vice Admiral Charles Blakely for whom the ship was named . The principal speaker was Rear Admiral James Holloway, who in 1974 would become the Chief of Naval Operations. Upon completion of the commissioning ceremony we entered the Charleston Naval Shipyard for an 8 week Fitting Out Availability (FOA).

A photo of Blakely while underway follows:

1 February 1991: At sea - A port beam view of Blakely underway underway off the coast of Newport, R.I. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-ST-91-05242 from the DVIC)

1 February 1991: At sea – A port beam view of Blakely underway underway off the coast of Newport, R.I. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-ST-91-05242 from the DVIC)

Upon completion of the FOA we were towed down to the Naval Station piers to join the fleet. From there it was off for our first sea trial. As executive officer, I doubled as navigator. I was also the Officer of the Deck at General Quarters. I was very happy to have these additional duties because I had not really driven a ship since my tour as executive officer on a minesweeper in 1960 and I need to get back into it. There are lots of twists and turns in the Cooper River. But our CO was familiar with the channel because of his experience in command of a minesweeper based in Charleston and we had no difficulty as the channel was well marked. After a couple of sea trials, we headed south for our first assignment which was shakedown training. We would be gone from home for about six weeks. .Our first stop was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. where we were wined and dined by the local chapter of the Navy League. From there we headed to the Tongue of the Ocean, off Andros Island in the Bahamas for weapons system accuracy tests (WSAT). This was the first time we got to fire the ship’s weapons. The next stop would be Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) for shakedown training.  Unlike many naval officers, I thoroughly enjoyed going to GTMO. It was a great place to learn how to operate the ship without the prying eyes of admirals or commodores. We performed every type of exercise you could think of including chasing submarines, gunnery shoots, engineering drills, towing exercises, fueling at sea, etc. We came into port and tied up to a pier each night. Both the CO & I were a bit leery about handling the ship around a pier at the beginning. Neither one of us had any real experience handling a single screw ship and Blakely had a large bow mounted sonar dome that could be easily damaged by striking the dock. In our home port of Charleston we had to use tugs because of strong cross currents in the Cooper River. But under the conditions that exist in GTMO, we found that we could do very nicely with only minor assistance required from a pusher boat. This experience was to stand me in good stead in later years.

Shakedown training for a ship of this type was normally four weeks long.  You were allowed one port visit on a weekend mid way through the training cycle. We chose Port au Prince, Haiti. I had been there once before in 1955 during an MMA training cruise. Haiti has some wonderful scenery and, if properly developed, it could have become a major tourist destination. But it has always been hindered by bad government and abysmal poverty. The training period ended without incident. We though that we would be going to Vieques Island near Puerto Rico for live shore bombardment qualifications next. But, much to our chagrin, we had failed to file the necessary messages, so we had to head back to Charleston. Enroute we passed close to San Salvador Island, where Columbus first set foot in the New World.

The next hurdle was to go through Final Contract Trial (FCT) with the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV Board). From there we were scheduled to enter the Charleston Naval Shipyard for a three month Post Shakedown Availability (PSA). Then came the bad news. The PSA would be at least six months in length for two reasons. 1. Installation of a new Basic Point Defense Missile System (BPDMS), 2. Over 100 high pressure steam system welds had to be redone. This was to cause us a lot of frustration. None of us wanted to spend the bulk of our tour in the shipyard. But we had no choice. While we were in the shipyard we underwent a conversion from Navy Special Fuel Oil (NSFO) marine distillate fuel (DFM). At the time, this conversion was happening throughout the fleet.

I was selected for the grade of Commander.  That was a big relief. We felt like we were home free at that point. But a lot more was to happen during the remainder of my naval career.

We were due to go to sea to work out the bugs in our new BPDMS system. We also intended to complete our naval gunfire support qualification, this time at Culebra which was part of the Vieques Naval Gun Fire Support (NGFS) complex.

I was due for rotation in September 1971. Prior to going out to sea, I contacted my detailer. He informed me that my new assignment would be as Officer in Charge of something called a Fleet Introduction Team (FIT) at the Avondale Shipyard. Prior to going out to sea, He informed me that my new assignment would be as Officer in Charge of something called a Fleet Introduction Team (FIT) at the Avondale Shipyard where Blakely had been built. The FIT team’s purpose would be to guide the nucleus crews of the Knox-class frigates that were under construction at the shipyard through the pre-commissioning process. He gave me a contact at OPNAV in Washington that he indicated could provide me with more information on the assignment. That individual said that he would mail me a copy of my new charter. In the process, he informed me that when they had set up the working group that established the FIT team, they had specified that the Officer in Charge would get command of the last ship in the program. That sounded interesting to me.

Blakely was scheduled to go on a Northern European Cruise in September 1971. But I would miss out on that. On our return to Charleston after our stint at Culebra, my relief was waiting for us on the pier. Blakely would serve for another twenty years before being decommissioned in 1991 and scrapped in 2000.

Further adventures with the Knox-class frigates will be described in a subsequent article.

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

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Production still from "Hell Below" television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Reviewed by Dr. David Winkler

Read our PART I review here.

The second episode of the new Smithsonian series on undersea warfare during World War II continued with the devastating efforts of the Kriegsmarine U-boat fleet as the United States entered the war following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Growing up in Northern New Jersey, we vacationed at Seaside Heights later of “Jersey Shore” fame. Located on a barrier island, I recall locals telling of the war and witnessing ships being sunk off the coast. Indeed, I was told a submarine actually entered Barnegat Bay to attack shipping.

This episode, interestingly titled “Hitler’s Revenge” (revenge for what?) reaffirms the stories that I was told of a young boy about the toll taken on allied shipping after America entered the war. Shortly after the American entry into the war, Admiral Karl Doenitz receives approval from Adolf Hitler to send five Type IX boats to the Canadian-American seaboard to stalk allied shipping. The Type IX boats were an upgrade of the Type VII boats as the had the “legs” to transit the Atlantic and spend time on station.

In this episode, the narrative focused on the exploits of Reinhart Hardegen who commanded U-123 which successfully sunk eight merchant ships mostly in the vicinity of New York during this initial phase of Operation Paukenschtag (Drumbeat.)

Watching the ease of how the Germans eventually accounted for some 700 ships during the early months of the war is quite the head-scratcher given that the United States had seen German U-Boats in action for two years before its entry and had already suffered from German torpedo hits. As the program pointed out, the Americans anticipated the arrival of the Germans thanks to broken codes and signal direction finding capabilities. Why was it that the resources simply not in place at the time? The Naval Reserve had been fully mobilized by mid-1941. Where were they? Perhaps, in retrospect, that destroyers for bases deal that sent the British 50 American old destroyers in exchange for basing rights was not a good deal for the U.S. Two partial explanations were that the U.S. had concerns in the Pacific with even fears of a Japanese attack on the West Coast. Then it was noted that the Americans used many of its combat vessels to escort troop carriers to Britain, voiding their use along the coast.
Again the program intersperses reenactors with period footage to good effect. It’s noted that in many of the scenes, the actors portraying Doenitz, King, and other naval admirals are just gazing intently. If they were given fictional sentences to speak, it would detract from the historical accuracy that the series is attempting to maintain.
This week Norman Friedman joined the international ensemble of highly qualified talking heads that appeared throughout the program. His observations are always insightful and I look forward to hearing him talk next week when the episode discusses the American submarine campaign against the Japanese Empire – the topic that is in Friedman’s wheelhouse!

New episodes of Hell Below will air Sundays at 9 PM/ET on the Smithsonian Channel from 24 July to 21 August. Look for the other reviews here at NavyHistory.org. Go to the official Smithsonian website to view the episode guide.

Dr. David Winkler is the Historian and Director of Programs at the Naval Historical Foundation.

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Post-World War II Destroyer Escorts

USS RUDDEROW (DE-224) off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 15 July 1944. (NHHC/Natl Archives Photo # 19-N-69262)

USS RUDDEROW (DE-224) off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 15 July 1944. (NHHC/Natl Archives Photo # 19-N-69262)

By Captain George Stewart, USN (Ret.)

r>Destroyer Escort (DE) was the original US Navy classification for ships designed with endurance to escort mid-ocean convoys of merchant ships. During World War II their missions evolved into vital parts of hunter-killer groups where in combination with escort carriers (CVE) they were to play a significant role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic. The designation Destroyer Escort (DE) continuously applied to many post-war designs up until 1975 when they redesignated as frigates (FF) at the direction of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). Their primary functions were to defend against aircraft and detect, pursue, and attack submarines. The ships reached speeds ranging between 21 and 24 knots, therefore, they were unable to keep up with the fast carrier battle groups. However this speed was more than adequate for anti-submarine patrols, and the ships had a tighter turning radius than the fleet destroyers.

The original design was in response to a request from the United Kingdom under the Lend-Lease Act, which passed into law in March 1941. The UK asked the US to design, build, and supply an escort vessel that was suitable for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) in deep open ocean operations. The US came up with a design they referred to as the British Destroyer Escort (BDE). A little-known fact was that the first five ships of the class (DE 1, 2, 3, 4, and 12,) were transferred directly to the UK with this designation where they became the Captain-class Frigates. These ships, built at the Boston Navy Yard, all entered service in early 1943. The first ship to enter US Naval service as a DE was USS Evarts (DE 5) which entered service in April 1943. Over the next three years over 500 of these ships were built with 440 remaining in US service and a total of 78 transferred to the UK where they would serve as the Captain-class Frigates.  During the war, 95 DEs were converted into high-speed transports (APD).



There were six different ship classes built under this program. A significant difference between the ship classes was the use of four different propulsion systems which included:

  • Evarts & Cannon-classes: Diesel-Electric (GMT and DET) 6000 SHP – 144 ships
  • Buckley & Rudderow-classes: Steam Turbo-Electric (TE and TEV) 12,000 SHP – 124 ships
  • Edsall-class: Geared Fairbanks-Morse Diesel – (FMR) – 6000 SHP -85 ships
  • John C. Butler-class: (WGT) Westinghouse Geared Turbine, 12,000 SHP – 87 ships

In general, these ships all had similar hull characteristics. As a result of lessons learned with the first at 289.5 feet. Evarts-class ships, all of the remaining ships had 306 ft. lengths. Design displacement varied between 1430 and 1740 tons. In general, the steam powered ships (TE, TEV, and WGT) has designed speeds of 23 to 24 knots while the diesel powered ships (GMT, DET, and FMR) rated at 21 knots. On the other side of the coin, the diesel powered ships had high maintenance requirements and were subject to breakdowns. Another significant difference was that the main gun batteries on the Rudderow and John C. Butler-classes consisted of a pair of 5”/38 mounts while the earlier ship classes had three 3”/50 mounts.

The hunter-killer groups played a significant role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic. There has been a tendency to overlook their importance because the groups were no longer needed and most of the escort carriers were decommissioned because they could not handle more modern jet aircraft.  The remaining DEs were assigned to reserve training; anti-submarine coastal patrols and radar picket duties.  At least four turbo-electric drive ships came outfitted with amidships cable reels allowing them to serve as floating power stations. A separate article entitled “Going Ashore: Naval Ship to Shore Power for Humanitarian Services” described them. In the mid-1950s, twelve ships were converted into radar picket vessels (DERs) where they operated in conjunction with 16 Guardian-class radar picket ships (YAGR) which were converted from Liberty ships. Their mission was to extend the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line on both coasts. A total of 43 of the ships transferred to foreign navies under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program.

By the mid-1960s, most of the World War II DEs had been decommissioned. The last one to remain in active service was the Rudderow-class USS Parle (DE 708)  with was decommissioned in July 1970. Two ships are still in museum service: the USS Slater (DE 766) in Albany, NY and the USS Stewart (DE 238) in Galveston, Texas.

USS Parle (DE 708) The last in service (via NAVSOURCE)

USS Parle (DE 708) The last in service (via NAVSOURCE)

The first post-World War II escort ships built for the US Navy were the Dealey (DE 1006)-class destroyer escorts. These ships were only slightly larger than their predecessors. They had only a single screw driven by a geared steam turbine rated at 20,000 SHP. This addition gave them a design speed of 25 knots. They ship included twin three-inch guns, ASW rockets, and six depth charge launchers. The ships had a large bow mounted SQS 23 sonar dome and they had hangars and landing pads for drone anti-submarine helicopters (DASH). The 13 ships of the class entered service between 1954 and 1958. Unfortunately, the DASH helicopters proved to be very unreliable, and this contributed to the limited life of the class. All had been decommissioned by 1973. There were also four ships of the Claud Jones (DE 1033)-class that was essentially diesel powered versions of the Dealey-class ships. Four diesel engines driving a single screw rated at 9240 SHP propelled Dealey-class ships, which gave them a rated speed of 21-22 knots. These ships entered service between 1956 and 1959 and they only had limited service lives for the same reasons as their predecessors. All had been decommissioned by 1974.



The second generation of the post- World War II escorts was the Bronstein-class ships. These are considered by some to be developmental ships. They were substantially larger than all of their predecessors. However, only two ships of the class were built. The USS Bronstein (DE 1037) and the USS McCloy (DE 1038) entered service in 1963. They were re–designated as frigates (FF) in 1975. Both ships were decommissioned in 1990 and sold to the Mexican Navy. Garcia-class frigates succeeded them and were the last ships designed to handle the DASH drone helicopters, which by then had proven to be a failure due to their unreliability.


USS Garcia (via NAVSOURCE)

The Garcia (DE 1040)-class ships were a larger follow-on version of the two Bronstein-class ships. They incorporated some upgrades over the previous ship classes including the capability to accommodate the manned SH-2 LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System) helicopters. The ships were considerably larger than any of their predecessors being 414.5 ft. in length. The sing screw ships came equipped with large SQS 26 bow mounted sonar domes and fin stabilizers. Their armament consisted of a pair of single 5”/38 gun mounts, ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rockets) MK 32, and MK 37 torpedoes. The 11 ships of the class commissioned between 1964 and 1968 and they served up into the late 1980s. One ship of the class, the USS Glover (AGDE 1) commissioned as a research and development ship. There were six additional ships of the Brooke (DEG 1)-class which was virtually identical to the Garcia-class ships with the exception that they carried the Tarter Guided  Missile system, which replaced the after 5”/38 gun mount. Both ship types had 35,000 SHP single screw steam turbine plants which gave them a design speed of 27 knots. A feature peculiar to both classes was that they came with pressure-fired boilers which supplied steam at a design pressure of 1200 psi and a temperature of 950 Deg. F. These boilers fitted with supercharger units which consisted of a gas turbine which operated on exhaust gas driving an axial flow compressor which supplied combustion air to the boiler furnace at pressures up to approximately 70 psi. The superchargers fitted with auxiliary steam turbines were required to be used at low firing rates. The boilers were cylindrical in shape and equipped with top mounted burners. They took up far less space than conventional boilers of the same rating. Nevertheless, they were plagued with numerous problems due to reliability, logistics, and training and were never used on any subsequent ship classes. The follow on Knox (DE 1052)-class ships came fitted with conventional boilers. All of the Garcia and Brooke-class ships redesignated as Frigates (FF) in 1975.

In general, it can be stated the most significant problems encountered with all of the post-war designs up until this time were a failure of the DASH helicopter systems and difficulties with the pressure-fired boilers. The Knox (DE 1052)-class ships were a follow-on design which incorporated many of the lessons learned discussed in this paper. The purpose of this post was to review the factors that led up to the conception of the Knox-class ships. The Knox-class ships themselves will receive mention in depth in a later article. The 46 ships of the class constituted the largest group of ships commissioned in the post-World War era as Destroyer Escorts.

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

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Hell Below (PART I) REVIEW: The Wolfpack

Production still from "Hell Below" television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Reviewed by Matthew T. Eng

If war is hell, then undersea warfare during the Second World War must be at its centermost point.

Smithsonian Channel’s new series Hell Below bring viewers an up-close look at the grit, stale air, and darkness characteristic of undersea warfare during the Second World War. Submariners on both sides of the conflict endured hardships and miserable conditions for cause and country, making their wartime patrols a new style of horror beneath the waves.  The six-episode program developed by Parallax Film Productions in Vancouver aired its first episode, “The Wolfpack,” last night. The episode was a perfect introduction to the deadly chess game played by the Axis and Allied navies throughout the harrowing Battle of the Atlantic.

According to the Parallax Film Production website, filming for the series began last year. The production team wanted to keep the documentary as authentic as possible, and as such recorded many of the show’s segments on WWII-era warships. They shot interior and exterior scenes of the American submarine USS Cod in Cleveland, Ohio, German U-boat U-995 in Laboe, Germany, and HMCS Sackville, a Flower-class corvette, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. These specialized shots helped bring about a dramatic realism often lacking in many historical series today. Because of the cramped conditions, many interior shots were shot with a handheld camera. Viewers can almost smell the oil and sweat in the clothes of the sailors as they are seen running through cramped corridors. The dark ambiance and stunning contrasts between light and dark would satisfy any fan of Frank Miller’s cinematography. Warfare is never pleasant, and the reenactors portrayed in this episode gives viewers a chilling reminder of what submariners endured.

The real Otto Kretschmer (wikimedia commons)

The real Otto Kretschmer (wikimedia commons)

The episode centered around German U-boat Ace Kapitänleutnant Otto Kretschmer and his storied career as the commanding officer of U-99, a type VIIB U-boat and workhouse of the Kriegsmarine. Despite his limited career during the war, Kretschmer became the most successful U-boat commander of the Second World War, sinking 47 ships and over a quarter million tons of Allied war materiel. There is no mistaking why one naval historian on the program referred to Kretschmer’s “killer instinct” when it came to offensive submarine warfare: the tenacious leader believed in a “one shot, one ship” methodology. He and U-99 often stayed right to that guiding principle and raked in multiple kills in nearly all of her eight wartime patrols.

The series opens with the story of Kretschmer and U-99 on a solo mission south of Ireland on 8 July 1940. That evening, U-99 attacked ships of convoy HX 53, sinking the British merchant ship Humber Arm. It only took a short time for the hunter to become the hunted. In response to the attack, Royal Navy vessels attacked the submarine with depth charges, a primitive yet lethal device of anti-submarine warfare. The Flower-class corvettes, converted from commercial whale catchers, were dispatched to the sole purpose of sinking U-boats like Kretschmer’s. Each concussive blast beneath the water meant life or death for the German crew. The show’s producers did a masterful job telegraphing the pregnant moment for viewers. With little else to do in the water, the only viable option for U-99 was to ride the attack out. As the program pointed out, Kretschmer had a problem: the batteries keeping the ship powered underwater ran on limited time they already so desperately needed. Low on oxygen and out of options, Kretschmer remained calm and collected for his crew until they resurfaced nearly 12 hours later with no enemy fleet in sight. In all, 127 depth charges were dropped on U-99 by the HX53 escorts, with the ship coming out of it unscathed. His quit wit and calmness under pressure made him a name within the German Navy seemingly overnight.

German leadership back in Berlin knew their navy could not withstand this offensive onslaught alone, so Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz decided to devise a new offensive strategy called “the Wolfpack,” where many U-boats banded together to strike convoys “like a vast driftnet of submarines.” With the fall of France, submarine bases in Lorient, Brest, St. Nazaire, and La Pallice made the disbursement of Wolfpacks even easier and most cost effective for fuel, leaving more time to hunt. The tactic proved immediately useful. Alongside his rival Joachim Schepke and U-100, German submariners managed to wreak havoc in the Atlantic in the late summer and early fall of 1940. At the end of September, Kretschmer and Schepke attacked convoy HX-72 headed for Liverpool. U-99 remarkably snuck through the convoy undetected on the surface. The impressive CGI graphics helped viewers understand just how bold and remarkable a strategy this was for the period. As one historian pundit explained, ASW technology of the day (ASDIC) was only beneficial for ships sailing beneath the waves, not on its surface. This new and daring tactic allowed Kretschmer to sink and destroy three ships from HX-72 with relative ease. His rival Schepke defeated seven during the engagement. The same surface submarine action was accomplished a month later against SC-7. The Wolfpack managed to sink twenty ships totaling nearly 80,000 gross register tons. Both U-boat commanders returned to Germany as national heroes. In a world at war, Kretschmer and Schepke were celebrities du jour in the Reich. With France in the hands of the Axis and the British Isles standing alone solely dependent on the convoys for supplies and war materiel, the situation seemed bleak for the Allies.

Production still from "Hell Below" television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Royal Navy officials were desperate to find any way to stop the steady flow of convoy losses. Seeing the U-boat as a fundamental threat to the overall war effort, Britain decided to take vessels off the coast of the country and assign them to attack German submarines. They also began equipping some of their ships, including the Flower-class corvettes synonymous with the hunter-killer motif, with unidirectional radar capable of detecting enemy vessels below the waves or on the surface. The Royal Navy also had Captain Donald MacIntyre, a young and dogged surface warfare officer intent on killing U-boats as his sole purpose. By the time Kretschmer and Schepke were receiving accolades in Germany, MacIntyre was given the responsibility of becoming Senior Officer Escort (SOE). MacIntyre’s first action as SOE and his newly organized escort group would become one of the most famous U-boat battles of the Second World War.

Kretschmer and Schepke returned to the Wolfpack in February 1941 to search out new convoy targets. In March, they came across the North Atlantic convoy HX-112, including MacIntyre and his ship HMS Walker. Once again, U-99 sailed through the convoys defenses to attack, sinking four tankers and a freighter. Unfortunately for U-100, they were discovered by HMS Vanoc and was subsequently rammed and lost, killing Schepke and most of her crew in the process.

Walker and MacIntyre were able to spot U-99 using new radar technology and proceeded to depth charge it profusely. The attack forced Kretschmer to bring the ship to the surface where his crew surrendered, ending a reign of terror unprecedented in undersea warfare history. The loss of U-100 and capture of U-99’s crew became one of the most significant early victories for the British Navy in the war effort; one that gave them a better understanding of what would be required to quiet the demons from the hell below the Atlantic.

Smithsonian’s presentation of the story was well rounded, methodical, and kept the viewer both informed and entertained. The information included was enough to educate uninformed viewers without belittling the already informed. The episode’s actors, specifically the main character of Kretschmer, were expertly portrayed. He was also believable as that character, something often lacking in most period war documentaries. Thankfully, the production team was wise to shoot many of the scenes inside the submarine for authenticity.

With its unique blend of robust historical analysis, believable reenactors, biting contemporary footage, and stunning modern graphics, Hell Below is likely to become your favorite historical program of the summer. Ditch the garage sale pickers, ancient aliens, and storage shed hagglers this summer and enjoy a real historical program exploring the heroic tales of submariners and their war underneath the waves of World War II.

New episodes of Hell Below will air Sundays at 9 PM/ET on the Smithsonian Channel from 24 July to 21 August. Look for the other reviews here at NavyHistory.org. Go to the official Smithsonian website to view the episode guide.

Matthew T. Eng is the Digital Content Developer at the Naval Historical Foundation. He also serves as the Digital Editor of the International Journal of Naval History and webmaster for the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy. 

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Sharing Naval History: Students Learn African American Heritage in Hampton City Schools

Ship's officers and crew on the foredeck, 1864-65. Photographed by Matthew Brady. Note 100-pounder Parrott rifled gun on a pivot carriage; men wearing white flat hats with the ship's name on the hat ribbon; foremast and yard; anti-boarding netting; and capstan. The original negative is # 111-B-469 in the National Archives. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Ship’s officers and crew on the foredeck, 1864-65. Photographed by Matthew Brady. Note 100-pounder Parrott rifled gun on a pivot carriage; men wearing white flat hats with the ship’s name on the hat ribbon; foremast and yard; anti-boarding netting; and capstan. The original negative is # 111-B-469 in the National Archives. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

You never know where you find naval history. A recent email exchange that began through our social media outlets led to some interesting information one of our Facebook fans was kind enough to share about her family and professional ties to naval history.  

Guest Post By Pam Neilson

Alexander Leslie Winterbottom (Father) and Alexander Leslie Bower (Great-grandfather)

Alexander Leslie Winterbottom (Father) and Alexander Leslie Bower (Great-grandfather)

During my childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s, my father, Alexander Leslie Winterbottom, told me about the history that was not taught in schools.  One part of that history was the service of black Americans in every war the United States has fought.  As a young adult, I learned that my paternal great-grandfather, Alexander Leslie Bower, had served in the Union Navy from 1864 – 1865 as a landsman aboard USS Mendota.  In researching the USS Mendota, I learned that the Union Navy, unlike the Army, was integrated prior to and during the Civil War.  In fact, some of the most experienced sailors at the outbreak of war were black.

Years later, I became the teacher librarian at an elementary school with a large minority population.  Part of the fifth grade history curriculum was the Civil War.  The fifth grade teachers asked if I would create a Civil War research project for their students to complete during their library instructional time.  In planning this unit, I looked for topics that would interest my students.  The three topics I decided upon were blacks in the Union Navy, Fort Pocahontas (manned by white and U.S.C.T. who defeated Confederate cavalry) and Edward Ratcliff (a local U.S.C.T. who earned the Medal of Honor).

The Project 

Each class was divided into six groups of 4 students.  Two different groups researched each topic.  The completed project was a PowerPoint presentation that included four facts and four pictures.  The four web sites that the students used were:

The four web sites contained enough facts and pictures for the students to complete their presentations.  In addition, the PowerPoint program enabled them to add visual effects, sounds like gunfire and music to add interest to their presentations.

Each group presented their PowerPoint project to the class then I saved each class’ projects to a flash drive provided by the teacher.   The teacher in turn saved her class’ projects on the flash drives of each student so they could be viewed at home.  Parental response was very positive.

Pam Neilson was born and raised in Whitestone, NYC.  She earned an undergraduate degree in history/education at Muhlenberg College where she graduated cum laude with honors in history.  She received a master’s degree in library science from C.W.Post College.  For 25 years, Pam was an elementary teacher librarian at Forrest Elementary School in Hampton, VA. She is a mother of two children and grandmother of seven.  My hobbies are reading, travelling, the American Revolution, and the Civil War.

Do you have a personal story about naval history you would like to share? Please email Matthew T. Eng at meng@navyhistory.org and help us share your naval history.

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National History Day 2016 Recap: Fiery Exchanges and Glass Ceilings


Ken Coskey Naval History Prize is announced during National History Day 2016 (Photo by NHF/Matthew Eng/Released)

It is always refreshing to see young adults learning and interpreting history with passion and dedication. With so much emphasis on science and technology in our school systems today, one might wonder if a fire for the liberal arts still burns in our country’s young minds. In no place is that fire burning brighter than at the annual National History Day academic competition at the University of Maryland in College Park. Thousands of middle and high school contestants and families from around the world came together for a riveting awards ceremony at the close of the event on 18 June.

The event is the culmination of a busy week for these young scholars. Students in middle and high school showcase their history projects, ranging from a variety of topics and presentations, to a group of expert judges. Awards are given according to type of presentation and subject matter, including naval history.

Naval Historical Foundation staff member Matthew Eng attended this year’s event to help hand out the Captain Kenneth Coskey Naval History Prize. The prize is named for the late Captain Ken Coskey, a Vietnam War combat aviator and Prisoner of War, and former Executive Director of the Naval Historical Foundation. Rosemary Coskey, wife of Captain Coskey, presented the award and generous $1,000 cash prizes to the junior and senior division winners. Thanks to the Coskey family’s generosity, awards were given to both high school and middle school representatives for the best naval history projects in their category. Captain Coskey was a longtime supporter of National History Day up until his death in 2013.

Junior Division Winner – Cassi Taylor (Mobile, AL)

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Junior Division Winner Cassi Taylor and Rosemary Coskey (Photo by NHF/Matthew Eng/Released)

The Junior Division Award was given to Cassi Taylor of Mobile, AL, for her Junior Individual Website titled “Exploring the CSS Alabama: Encounters of the Confederate Raider and the Fiery Exchange with the Kearsarge.” For Cassi, a naval topic was a “natural choice.” She used her location along the Gulf Coast as inspiration for her NHD Project. “The Gulf Coast area has an important place in our nation’s history, particularly that of the Civil War,” Cassi said in an email interview. “I love to learn about my hometown.” Interestingly enough, the Gulf Coast brought up the research topic of Semmes and his encounter with Kearsarge, all the way across the ocean off Cherbourg, France:

“As I was preparing my project in 2015 on the Battle of Mobile Bay, I realized that many residents believe Admiral Semmes was part of that Battle instead of a separate effort.  I knew early on that I would like to start 2016 with this topic and see where the research would lead.”

Cassi wanted to know more about Raphael Semmes and why he was “so notorious” in the eyes of many in the Union. Research and an urge to discover more about history is what makes the National History Day competition great. According to Cassi, “one thing led to another,” and soon she discovered just how complicated a character the intrepid Semmes was. Her research led her discovering more about Semmes as well as the arduous Alabama claims process. Her hard work is clearly evident on her website.

Thankfully, her website is available to view online, hosted by Weebly. As a lifelong student of history who now builds and updates websites, the work is verifiably impressive. Cassi’s work is cohesive, thorough, and well written. Her visual biography of Semmes includes poignant quotes, as well as a small section visually highlighting Semmes’ legacy in Mobile and beyond. What is more impressive is her outlook on history and historical scholarship in relation to naval history:

“History, and in this case, naval history, is our story.  It’s why we are where we are, and influences where we go in the future.  The saying goes that history often repeats itself, and while it usually doesn’t repeat exactly, the characteristics are so similar that we can really learn about what mistakes not to make again…if we pay attention.”

Cassi will attend Baker High School next year in the 9th grade. She hopes to return to National History Day in the senior division next year.

Senior Division Winner – Allie Tubbs (Johnston, IA

Senior Division Winner Allie Tubbs and Rosemary Coskey (Photo by NHF/Matthew Eng/Released)

Senior Division Winner Allie Tubbs and Rosemary Coskey (Photo by NHF/Matthew Eng/Released)

Allie Tubbs of Johnston, IA, is no stranger to National History Day.

She is a seasoned veteran in National History Day’s Junior level competition, specifically in the individual performance category where she shines. In 2014, Tubbs won the Junior Individual Performance category with her presentation titled, “Lou Hoover’s ‘Tempest in a Teapot’: Changing African American’s Rights and First Lady’s Responsibilities.” This past year, she won second place for “Jacobus tenBroek: A Leader with a Vision of Equality for the Blind and a Legacy of Constitutional Equality for All.” Her performance this year on the topic of Grace Hopper (“Grace Hopper Dared to Explore Computer Coding, Encounter the Glass Ceiling, and Exchange Intellectual Concepts”) helped her earn a sixth place finish in the Senior Division, and most importantly, this year’s Coskey Prize for Naval History.

Allie heard about Grace Hopper after reading several women’s history books while looking for a topic for this year’s theme of “Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange.” “When I heard of this year’s theme,” she said, “I immediately thought of Grace Hopper.” Over the course of the project’s rigorous demand for research, rehearsing, and study, Hopper became an inspiration to Tubbs. She further discussed why Hopper why she fit into NHD’s theme:

“Grace Hopper explored computer code when it was just being invented. In a male-dominated math field, Hopper became well respected for her hard work and intelligence. Hopper exchanged not only programming ideas but created communication between the vastly growing computer users at a time when many hardware pioneers were looking to patent every new idea.”

Like RADM Hopper, Allie identified with her hard work and dedication. It shows. This is the third year in a row that Tubbs walked away with an award from NHD. We can only expect the same next year. Her outlook on history echoed Taylor’s sentiment of hope and cautious understanding – two things the world desperately needs instilled in young minds today.

“All history is important to create an understanding for the future. Being able to know about many aspects of the past allows you to interact in an intellectual setting appropriately. You are able to form opinions on current events based on what history has taught us. Without the knowledge of the past we are doomed to repeat ourselves.”

The Naval Historical Foundation is looking forward to next year’s amazing projects! A special thank you to the families of Cassi Taylor and Allie Tubbs for coordinating the online interviews included in this piece. Best of luck to both of you in the future.

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BOOK REVIEW – Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945

very special intelligenceBy Patrick Beesly, Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, UK (2015)

Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb, Ph.D.

In June 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Patrick Beesly joined the Royal Navy as a Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) officer, became a Sub-Lieutenant (Special Branch), and was appointed to the Naval Intelligence Division (NID 2) in the section concentrating on France, Spain, and the Benelux countries. He subsequently became an Assistant to Lieutenant Commander (later Vice Admiral) Sir Norman Denning in the Operations Intelligence Centre, OIC in July 1940. Beesly’s initial assignment dealt with the activities of armed merchant raiders, but from 1941 until the end of the war with Germany, he worked on submarine tracking as Deputy to Commander Rodger Winn. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and acted as Intelligence Officer to the Commander in Chief, Germany, at Flesburg and Minden.

Former British Royal Air Force (RAF) officer Frederick W. Winterbotham’s popular, unauthorized account The Ultra Secret: The Inside Story of Operation Ultra, Bletchley Park and Enigma (Orion Books Ltd, and Harper and Row, 1974) was the first to disclose the Allied success in breaking the German high command ciphers during World War II, and ushered in a new facet of historical investigation — the study of intelligence and its impact on military operations and international politics. Although mainly focusing on the distribution of intelligence (it was his task as a Group Captain during the war), it had been written from memory and shown by subsequent authors, who had access to official archival records, to contain inaccuracies. Since then, many World War II archival documents have been declassified and become available at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration or NARA (Record Group 457) and the British Public Records Office (Classes ADM, DEF, and HW).

As an RAF officer, Winterbotham was not in a position that permitted his access to the actual activities carried out at the Royal Navy’s OIC, but his book would open a flood gate of subsequent publications. Among these was Beesly’s authorized “insider” writings that appeared in three articles in The Naval Review, subsequently collected and enhanced in Very Special Intelligence (Hamish Hamilton Ltd, 1977), which sought to set the record straight, corrected errors, and provided documentation (given the materials declassified and available to him at that time).  The Operational Intelligence Centre was the “nerve center” of the British Admiralty in World War II, and dedicated to collecting, analyzing and disseminating information from all possible sources which would illuminate on the intentions and movements of German Kriegsmarine (naval and maritime forces).  The term “Very Special Intelligence” referred to the decrypted German messages intercepted and decoded at the Code and Cypher Centre located north of London at Bletchley Park. The Kriegsmarine, unlike the Luftwaffe, regularly changed code keys and even by war’s end, some naval cyphers were remained undecrypted.

This “new” edition of Very Special Intelligence (Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, UK, 2015) is valuable, in the main, because of a 13-page “Introduction” by naval historian W. J. R. Gardner and 22-page “Afterword” by cryptographic historian Ralph Erskine.  They update Beesly’s original narrative and augment his 1974 text and expand the “Bibliography” to 104 entries.  Beesly (27 June 1913-16 August 1986) passed away nearly thirty years earlier and Gardner and Erskine’s more recent contributions were written in 2000 when the present volume was initially published as a reprint with the two new essays (Greenhill Books, 2000). Beesly also wrote Very Special Admiral: The Life of Admiral J. H. Godfrey CB (Hamish Hamilton, 1980) and Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914-1918 (Hamish Hamilton, 1982). W. J. R. (Jock) Gardner is a historian in the Naval Historical Branch of Naval Staff of the Ministry of Defence where he has worked since 1994 following a naval career, specializing in antisubmarine warfare and intelligence. His interests are 20th century naval history and intelligence, and Gardner’s books include Decoding History: The Battle of Atlantic and Ultra (US Naval Institute Press, 2000) and The Evacuation from Dunkirk: ‘Operation Dynamo’, 26 May-June 1940 (Routledge, 2000).  Erskine and Michael Smith have written Action This Day: Bletchley Park, new ed. (Bantam, 2002) and most recently The Bletchley Park Codebreakers (Biteback, 2011).

In the “Introduction,” Gardner discusses three types of postwar historical volumes: 1) official histories of the events, 2) reminiscences of the participants, and 3) literature written from a background of considerable knowledge.  The first is exemplified by Stephen. W. Roskill’s The War at Sea, 3 vols.(HMSO, 1961) which deliberately omitted Ultra; the second by Ladislaw Fargo’s The Tenth Fleet (Obolensky, 1962), and Donald McLachan’s Room 39: Naval Intelligence in Action (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1968), and Winterbotham’s 1974 book; and the third by Beesly’s volume, F. H. Hinsley’s multi-volume British Intelligence in the Second World War (HMSO and Cambridge University Press,1979-1990), and David Kahn’s Seizing the Enigma (Houghton Mifflin, 1991). Gardner also comments that Beesly himself noted that because of Cold War security reasons, some of the most significant and useful OIC material did not survive into the postwar era. Correctly, Gardner noted that Beesly focuses on the Battle of the Atlantic and not the Mediterranean, Far East, or Pacific theaters of war.

Beesly begins with a chapter “Astute men” which is an overview of World War I naval intelligence when Room 40, a top secret British unit made significant strides in decoding German codes and war plans but was unable to put these findings into operational use. The Battle of Jutland is the classic example of this flaw; he elaborates this story in his 1982 book.  The initial twelve months in 1939-1940 were “lean times” for Allied codebreaking but significant strides were made from October 1940 to May 1941.  Beesly documents actions against the U-boats, but one of the more significant stories about the daring German plan – and British failure to intercept – is getting Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen from Brest, France through the English Channel to Germany in 1942. The sinking of the Bismarck and Operation Paukenschlag (Drumbeat) are likewise recounted as is the story of Convoy PQ 17.  Some activities in the Indian Ocean are recounted, and the demise of Scharnhorst and Tirpitz are detailed.  The Battle of the Atlantic and its climax (January-May 1943 and June-December 1943) and Dönitz’ final attempts with the U-boats are recounted.

The “Epilogue” focuses on a number of important issues: 1) accounting for U-boats (every one of the 1,170 built from 1935-1945 have been accounted for and documented); 2) the importance of intelligence team efforts; and 3) the Admiralty. Beesly notes that the OIC acted as part of a highly coordinated maritime effort with Bletchley Park, Bomber Command, the Joint Intelligence Committee, and Special Operations Executive (SOE).  [Sidebar: The latter is the considered within Sir William Samuel Stephenson’s The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (Fromm International, 1999), see: Charles C. Kolb, H-NET REVIEWS/H-DIPLO (Diplomatic History), an electronic book review, 17 pp.  Published on 3 December 1999. www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=3623 .]  In the Admiralty, Erskine details the operational functions and responsibilities of the OIC, the organization and composition of the Board of Admiralty and its responsibilities and relationships to the Naval Staff regarding ship allocations, and the Bomber, Fighter, and Coastal commands and the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.

Erskine’s “Afterword: Codebreaking in the Battle of the Atlantic” reviews topics such as Ultra and the role of Bletchley Park’s cryptanalysis and Hensley’s important history before focusing on breaking the Kriegsmarine Naval Enigma (an explanation of the Enigma cypher machine, the valuable contributions of the Polish cryptologists, Alan Turing, and Gordon Welchman). Other SIGINT is also reviewed: HF-DF stations, TINA, AFH, American efforts in breaking Enigma (ECM MK II better known as SIGABA), and German success in February 1942 in breaking US Naval Cypher No. 3 dealing with convoy traffic. He also discusses Cyphers No. 4 and No. 5, and American contributions to SIGINT, notably the Purple cypher machine and breaking the Japanese JN-25 code.  German cypher security and their failures in codebreaking are attributed to their uncoordinated and fragmented efforts (p. 284).

In spite of its age and the two augmentations in 2000, this very well-written volume remains a classic in cryptologic history and the naval war during WW II.


Dr. Kolb is now an independent scholar (National Endowment for the Humanities, Ret.).


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BOOK REVIEW – THE PIRATE KING: The Incredible Story of the Real Captain Morgan

the pirate kingBy Graham A. Thomas, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, NY (2015)

Reviewed by William H. White

Henry Morgan was a “pirate” (the author used “pirate,” “buccaneer,” and “privateer” virtually interchangeably) whose rampages in the Caribbean and on the Spanish Main were the stuff of legends. Many authors, both contemporary to Morgan and modern, have written copious tales of buccaneers in the Caribbean, and more particularly, Henry Morgan. Thomas has rehashed most of them, offering little new or particularly insightful in this volume. It appeared to me that he did little research of his own, using (and crediting) others for their efforts to that end. I find the use of secondary and tertiary sources in a non-fiction account fraught with issues, some of which become perilous to the credibility of the author. From the bibliography, it would seem that the only primary source material investigated was available “on line,” specifically, British History Online, which Thomas credits in his acknowledgments. For the rest, Thomas used the previous books by Dudley Pope, Steven Talty, and Terry Breverton. One contemporary (to Morgan) writer, Alexander Esquemiling (also shown as “John”), is quoted often, while less often we see reference to a book (1740) by Charles Leslie, A New History of Jamaica.

The story of Henry Morgan is one that deserves more than a rehash of previous works. He was a larger than life character in the 17th century Caribbean and, it could be said, responsible for Jamaica remaining in British control. (While currently independent, Jamaica is still decidedly wearing her British heritage.) Morgan was loyal to his king, focused on the survival of Jamaica in the face of Spanish, French, and even Dutch threats, and, while surely lining his own coffers with plundered booty, always paid the mandated fair share to the Crown and the governor of Jamaica. He would have been not a pirate, but a privateer, always sailing under a commission or letter of marque from the governor, and always against the enemies of Jamaica. While one of the writers of contemporary accounts (Esquemiling) accused Morgan of barbarous acts of torture on prisoners, Thomas discounts them as an effort to discredit Morgan by someone not quite an admirer of the man. In point of fact, Thomas points out that Esquemeling, who sailed as surgeon on some of Morgan’s adventures, is known to have exaggerated these acts of barbarism. That observation comes from Dudley Pope, on whom Thomas relies most heavily for his information, opinions, and observations.

While Graham Thomas is known for his military non-fiction, much of it is centered on World War II and British aviation. He has two other books on pirates, one on Capt, Kidd and one on the pirates of Africa. These “pirate-oriented” efforts could perhaps explain his often labelling Morgan as a pirate. He is further not totally conversant with the nomenclature of the sea and ships, frequently mentioning “large guns” and “small guns” without reference to their size i.e. “sixteen pounders,” or “four pounders.”

Where Thomas does shine, however, is in the later chapters when Sir Henry “swallows the anchor” and assumes the role of lieutenant governor and governor of Jamaica, though he gives short shrift to Morgan’s knighthood, offering only a passing mention of it. Political rivalry has Morgan sent to England as a prisoner, but he ends up with a knighthood and assignment as lieutenant governor. His take on the political rivalries, back-stabbing, and pandering to the Crown are excellent, giving the reader a keen insight to the competition for recognition so distant from the “mother country.” Weak political sycophants are Morgan’s main rivals, and he “eats them alive” for the most part. Continual changes in the relationships between England and Spain, France, and the Dutch kept one constantly alert and untrusting when a foreign flagged ship hove into view from the lookout at Port Royal. Any treaties that were executed had to travel for several months before they could be implemented in Jamaica, and often were already out of date. Small wonder Morgan maintained his fleet of buccaneers in Port Royal; they were often the only protection the island had.

While a strong editor would have been of much help to this effort, likely removing such repetitive phrases as “we’ll look more closely into that in later chapters,” some of the contradictions, and some largely tautological instances, Thomas has produced a generally readable, though not terribly revealing, treatise on Sir Henry Morgan and his tenure in Jamaica. I, for one, would have enjoyed learning a bit about how Morgan came to be a leader of the “Brethren of the Coast.” All in all, I can only recommend this book to a reader with no previous knowledge of the subject.

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White wrote this from his enclave at West Bay, Grand Cayman. An accomplished author of early 19th century historical fiction, his works can be found on www.seafiction.net .

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BOOK REVIEW – The Path to War – U.S. Marine Corps Operations in Southeast Asia 1961 to 1965

the path to warBy Col. George R. Hofmann Jr. USMC (Ret.), Marine Corps History Division, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC (2014)

Reviewed by Charles Bogart

The title of this publication is somewhat misleading, as the author actually covers the period 1954 to 1965 within the pages of this book. It covers both political and military matters of that era relating to Southeast Asia and the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps first became involved in Southeast Asia in October 1954 when Marine advisors were assigned to the newly formed South Vietnamese Marine Corps. The first commitment of a Marine unit to Southeast Asia took place between March and October 1961 when 300 Marines from Marine Airbase Squadron 16 (MABS-16) were deployed to Udorn, Thailand, to support Air America helicopter operations.

Col. Hofmann centers his discussion of events in Southeast Asia around the topics of political and military actions in South Vietnam and their effect on the rest of the region. The first half of the book is concerned with the development and deployments of the South Vietnam Marine Corps and the involvement of individual Marines and Marine units in their support. The author within the above context explores what led to USMC units being deployed to South Vietnam’s I Corps area. Col. Hofmann also explores the Marine Corps unpreparedness to conduct counter insurgent operations and the changes in doctrine and training the Corps had to undertook to meet this challenge.

The story of the 1961 deployment of MABS-16 to Thailand to provide maintenance support to Air America’s Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse helicopters is well told. Col. Hofmann not only tells the story of what the men of MABS-16 accomplished in support of Air America, but the interaction between the U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Defense concerning the activities of MABS-15 within Thailand.

Deployment of Marine Corps units to South Vietnam is covered in the last half of the book. Col Hofmann in telling this story starts his account in April 1962 when HMM-362 with its Sikorsky UH-34D helicopters deployed to Vietnam and ends it in March 1965 with the amphibious landing of Battalion Landing Team 3/9 on the beaches north of Da Nang, South Vietnam. This story of the deployment of Marine units to Vietnam is set within the political and military situation evolving in Vietnam and the world. This tale covers both administrative and combat actions undertaken by the Marines in Vietnam.

The contents of this book are supported by a great collection of black and white photographs and colored maps. The story told will appeal to both the historian and the casual reader.


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

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BOOK REVIEW – The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St. John

great siege of MaltaBy Bruce Ware Allen, ForeEdge: An Imprint of the University Press of New England, NH, (2015)

Reviewed by Robert P. Largess

On May 18, 1565, a Turkish fleet of 193 ships arrived off the arid, searing hot island of Malta, at the crossroads of the Mediterranean between Africa and Sicily. Its target was the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, the last surviving remnant of the international orders of knighthood born during the Crusades. Over the centuries, the Knights had evolved from caring for the sick, to defending pilgrims, to a naval force, the most consistent and effective opponent to Ottoman Turkish control of the Med – and to the piracy of the North African corsairs, endemic over twelve centuries. The Turks expected a walkover. Their force, estimated at 35,000 to 48,000, included 15,000 Spahis and Janissaries – crack Ottoman imperial troops, the rest being corsairs and volunteers, Jihadis from around the Muslim world. Opposing them were 500 Knights, 2500 professional soldiers in their employ, and 3,000 men of the Maltese people, behind the walls of a handful of fortified positions. There they resisted bitterly throughout the summer, hoping for relief by a Spanish force being assembled in Sicily. Meanwhile, all of Europe held its breath; as Queen Elizabeth of England said: “If the Turks should prevail against the Isle of Malta, it is uncertain what might follow to the rest of Christendom.”

This battle had the potential to be a sweeping turning point of history away from the course we know – like Gettysburg or Midway. Instead, the Knights won, and this represented the high water mark of centuries of steady Turkish expansion that swallowed up the Eastern Roman empire and Europe from Greece to Hungary, reaching its climax under Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire’s greatest Sultan, who ruled from 1520 to 1566.  Bruce Allen’s “The Great Siege of Malta” tells, and tells brilliantly, how this victory was achieved. Allen is an independent scholar, and the book is a labor of love of many years. It is also a remarkable piece of scholarship, using original sources and modern scholarship in Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and translations from Turkish and Arabic. He uses this knowledge to create a rich tapestry of the times, the place, the day-to-day development of the battle, the experience of the men involved. He does justice to the courage and sacrifice of both sides, and makes the situation so vivid and real one can taste it. Above all he gives a very perceptive and persuasive sense of what the leaders on both sides were planning and thinking during the battle, their tactics and leadership in this contest of wills. This is truly fine writing and fine history.

Of course, nothing is more conducive to great history than great sources. This was a highly literate age and numerous contemporary accounts are extant, in particular the personal journal of the siege by Francesco Balbi da Coreggio, soldier and participant, and the knights’ official historian of the siege, Giacomo Bosio. Ernle Bradford’s excellent “The Great Siege; Malta 1565” (1961) is based on his translation of Balbi, but Allen casts his net wider for sources and scholarship. The chief interest for the military historian is the question of how this particular magic trick is done, that of winning a defensive battle against apparently hopeless odds. A large part of the answer lies with the leadership and determination of Jean de Vallette, Grand Master of the Knights.

At the beginning, the Turks seemed to have everything in their favor, numbers, unlimited supplies, seasoned leaders, freedom of maneuver, and the tactical initiative. Spain was unlikely to intervene unless the Turks visibly faltered. And yet the Knights won – but how? They endured the heaviest artillery bombardment thus far in history (130,000 cannonballs) which reduced the walls of their forts to rubble, and endured repeated mass assaults. Yet they cost the Turks perhaps 35,000 casualties. (Turkish archives indicate 10,000 of the officially listed Turkish army troops – Spahis and Janissaries – were lost.) This is versus the loss of about 150 Knights, 800 of their soldiers, and about 2000 of the people of Malta. The Turks made some errors, but no individually disastrous ones. So what advantages did he Knights have? Essentially two things: themselves and a strong defensive position. The Knights were hardened by a lifetime as professional fighting men, sworn brothers defending their religion, fighting for the existence of their 542-year old Order. They were also, unlike the Turks, heavily armored. And Malta’s Grand Harbor was blocked by the small Fort St. Elmo, weak and flawed in design, but supported by forts St. Michael and St. Angelo further inside the harbor. St. Elmo had to be taken first, but the assaults on its walls had to be made under the covering fire of the heavy guns of St. Angelo. And essentially these men were motivated by something – call it the spirit of the last ditch defense – where there is absolutely no choice but to hold, endure, fight, and die if need be, buying time and perhaps life for your cause and your comrades.

An illuminating example of how leadership is an essential element in this situation is Allen’s description of the handling of an appeal from St. Elmo in the final stages of its reduction. Its defenders explained that its fall was inevitable, and begged to be allowed to abandon it and retreat to St. Angelo where they could fight on. De Vallette had to make it plain to them that what he needed was for them to buy as much time and Turkish casualties as they could – in short, to fight and die to the last man. He did so, in one of the most powerful moments of the book.

The Turks, of course, could afford to be prodigal with lives, and were. Repeated failures only increased their prodigality, as assault after assault and stratagem after stratagem failed, and they grew desperate to win before the summer campaigning season ran out. Sometimes the attacker has vast resources to expend, but wasting them on failure makes defeat into a disaster.  Military history provides many interesting parallels, for example the North Vietnamese assaults on the South Vietnamese strong points of Hue, Kontum, and An Loc during their 1972 Easter Offensive. This was a concerted effort to topple the S. Vietnamese government, and the loss of these positions would have made S. Vietnam strategically indefensible. The North assembled a massive force of infantry, artillery and armor – 200,000 men, the largest military offensive since the Chinese invasion of Korea in 1950 – to overwhelm the small and more poorly equipped garrisons of these positions. But during their armor and human-wave infantry assaults, the North Vietnamese were concentrated targets for US air power and naval gunfire, which cost them ruinous losses – much like the Turks at St. Elmo. Meanwhile the South Vietnamese troops held on, except at Quang Tri; it was the quality of their leadership that made the difference. The North lost over 100,000 casualties (plus about 750 tanks) versus about 35,000 for the South; like the Turks, the North was prepared to expend lives on massive scale to win, but failure turned these losses into a disaster, the beginning of a year of military and political setbacks. Of course, the North Vietnamese themselves held out, endured, rebuilt their forces, and came back three years later when the political situation had shifted in their favor. Suleiman the Magnificent likewise intended to return to Malta, but died in 1566, and under his less competent son Selim, the offensive was never renewed, and the balance of power shifted to the modernizing West, with its new mastery of oceanic trade and exploration.

It is the privilege of the reviewer to lecture the author on how to make a good book even better; and I think this one could benefit from a bit more explanation of some specific technical areas, such as infantry tactics in the pike-and-matchlock age, galleys and their tactics, and principles of fortification (in particular why the design of St. Elmo was flawed). The author talks about these things in the context of his narrative, but an occasional digression of a couple of brief analytical paragraphs to make these things clear would be useful to the newcomer to 16th century warfare. I personally also think the book would benefit from a few pages that explicitly answer the questions of: “Who were these Turks? And why were they so much to be feared?” A phenomenon in history, these tough and warlike nomads from the Central Asian steppe, recent converts to Islam, flooded into the declining Arab world around 1000 AD and revitalized its efficiency and aggression. Their target was the Eastern Roman Empire, which had resisted Arab aggression for centuries, and by the 12th century they had taken Anatolia (the Crusades were intended to resist this), and in 1354 they crossed into Europe, and quickly conquered much of the Balkans, reducing Byzantium to little more than the city of Constantinople itself – still a great metropolis and powerful fortress. But in 1453, the Turks used the new weapon of powerful artillery to breach its great walls, bringing some 2300 years of Roman history to an end. This was followed by Suleiman’s conquest of Serbia and Hungary and unsuccessful sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1532. This check in central Europe and his success in driving the Knights from their earlier stronghold at Rhodes in 1522 led him to expand into the Mediterranean with naval support for the resurgent North African corsairs – as well as fighting the Portuguese for control of the Indian Ocean and invading Christian Ethiopia, Persia, and the Caucasus.

By the 1500’s, the Ottoman Empire was geographically vast, containing 20 to 30 million people, and waging a true world war against its fragmented opponents. It represented a remarkable combination of a largely European successor state to the Byzantine Empire, plus the Islamic Caliphate established by Mohammed’s successors stretching from Morocco to Mesopotamia. Its genius lay in developing unique institutions to simultaneously conquer and exploit its European subjects, while establishing its influence and authority over the Muslim world. Key to its organization for war and expansion was the institution of the Sultanate itself, which provided a centralized, undivided, and absolute military command.  It had many unusual features, such as the “devshirme” or child tax, which obliged all Christian households in the Empire to contribute a son at ten-year intervals. These boys became slaves of the Sultan and were taken to Constantinople to be trained as soldiers – the Janissaries – or educated to fill most positions up to the highest in his government.

What would the fate of Europe had been, if Malta and/or Vienna had fallen, followed by the invasion of central Europe, Italy, and still-Muslim southern Spain (which revolted with Ottoman support in 1568). A united Christendom, fighting with its back to the wall? Not likely; the probable result would have been a divided and dependent Europe, its cultural Renaissance and oceanic expansion short-circuited by the struggle for survival. Mr. Allen tells us how France had already begun its long anti-Hapsburg alliance with Turkey in 1525, cooperating with them in military operations and permitting a corsair fleet to base at Marseille and Toulon in 1543-1544, from which it raided Spain and Italy. Well – the first rule of politics is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and who they are is less important than who looks like winning.

This book offers many excellent things: it’s a gripping read, and its scholarship opens a window onto a fascinating world. It provides deep insights into the nature of war and battle – or perhaps one should say into human nature – as well as providing some very thought-provoking parallels with today’s geopolitical situation. Highly recommended to all readers.


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

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BOOK REVIEW – The Battle of Lake Champlain: A “Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory”

Lake ChamplainBy John H. Schroeder, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK (2015)

Reviewed by Diana L. Ahmad, Ph.D.

Like the Korean Conflict, the War of 1812 is often glanced over in many American history survey courses, which is too bad because one of the most significant naval battles in American history occurred near the end of the war on Lake Champlain. John H. Schroeder provides a wonderful, thorough, and easily read volume on the significance of the battle fought just off Plattsburgh, New York’s shores in September 1814. Offering far more than a description of the blow-by-blow conflict between United States Navy Commander Thomas Macdonough’s four warships and ten gunboats and Royal Navy Captain George Downie’s four warships and eleven gunboats, Schroeder deftly demonstrates the importance of the battle and its impact on the negotiations at Ghent, Belgium. Using archival materials and excellent primary sources, the author also looked at the classic histories of the War of 1812, including Reginald Horsman’s The War of 1812 (1969).  The book contains excellent illustrations, four detailed maps, and a table of the naval squadrons at the battle.

Putting the battle into the broader context of the British-American conflict, the author explained how the British hoped to win concessions from the United States, such as redrawing the border between the United States and Canada and a buffer between the Americans and the Native Americans loyal to the British. Particularly excellent is the balance that the author used in his approach to writing military history. Schroeder divided the book into the diplomatic and political reasons for the conflict, the military strategies used by the two sides during the war, and an account of the naval battle at Cumberland Bay. Schroeder did not ignore the army side of the conflict and well described the efforts of Brigadier General Alexander Macomb’s 1,800 man army against Sir George Prevost and the 8,000 members of his group, including 2,600 men who had fought with the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon.

While the naval battle lasted only two and a half hours and involved Macdonough winding his flagship, Saratoga, Schroeder explained the strengths of the commanders and the vessels for both navies that fought on September 11. The British commanders in the Navy and Army largely had superior qualifications to the young and relatively inexperienced men who commanded the American Army and Navy. Schroeder explained that the Americans won because of both skill and luck. For example, while both Captain Downie and Commander Macdonough had served in their respective navies since the 1790s, Downie’s experience included commands during the war with Napoleon, while Macdonough had never commanded in a battle prior to Lake Champlain, although he had served in the Barbary Wars and in the Quasi-War. Macdonough and Macomb got along well and cooperated with one another, as demonstrated when Macomb sent some of his men to help crew Macdonough’s undermanned vessels. On the other side, Prevost and Downie had only met briefly before Downie took command of the British squadron just before the battle and neither assisted the other prior to the conflict. Downie’s HMS Confiance carried 37 guns, including 27 24-pound long guns that functioned best at a range of more than 1,000 yards, while Macdonough’s USS Saratoga carried only 26 guns with only 8 of them being 24-pounders. While the British had greater firepower, Macdonough’s group had the advantage because he forced Downie to fight at close range as the Americans had lined up their ships close to Plattsburgh’s shore in Cumberland Bay, making Downie’s 24-pounders ineffective.  In another turn of bad luck for the British, Captain Downie died instantly just after the start of the battle when a shot from Macdonough’s flagship knocked a British gun off its carriage hitting Downie. After that, the British officers failed to act in a unified fashion in their attacks on the U.S. Navy. While the conflict also involved a land assault on Plattsburgh, Prevost had poorly planned for the battle and choose to retreat as soon as he heard of the Royal Navy’s defeat.

The results of the battle took only a few days to get to New York City and Boston, but four weeks to travel to London and five to Ghent. The American victory restored confidence in Madison’s administration, kept New England in the United States, and brought great praise to Macdonough and Macomb. In Ghent, the British negotiators had expected a total victory, but upon hearing of the loss at Lake Champlain, the British quickly dropped demands for redrawing the United States/Canada borders, as well as dropping the idea of an Indian buffer zone. Even though American losses continued after the Battle of Lake Champlain and Plattsburgh, Macdonough’s victory was the turning point in the war and ultimately in American history.

Schroeder convincingly argued that the United States Navy and Army cooperated better, fought better, and communicated better than their counterparts resulting in a significant victory for the United States. People interested in naval history will be well rewarded for reading this book.


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

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BOOK REVIEW – Operation Neptune

Operation NeptuneBy Craig L. Symonds, Oxford University Press, New York (2014)

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

Professor Symonds has done it again! This splendid book starts with the assertion, “During World War II, a dearth of shipping was the key logistical constraint in Allied decision making and because of it, the most important Anglo-American decisions of the war were less a product of what they wanted to do than of what they could do.”  From there, he justifies his proposition describing the strategic debates and tactical operations that led to the Normandy invasion in June 1944. He makes the case that the LSTs were the most important ships of the war; detailing occasions in which assignment and allocations of these vessels were a major subject in conferences of heads of state.

Symonds begins his history sketching the European war before Pearl Harbor then continues with increasing details until the fall of Cherbourg in July 1944. Two facets of his easy to read narrative stand out – people and ships. No historian since Samuel Eliot Morison exhibits as competent a grasp of the sea and operations on it. His profiles of individuals from admirals to boatswain’s mates are depictions of character and personality. Those who have served at sea can easily recognize and appreciate the personalities and foibles of the main characters in this under-recorded aspect of World War II.

Most exciting are his detailed descriptions of the not well known destroyers’ action at Omaha Beach. With the landing force pinned below the cliffs, two destroyers independently closed the beach to open direct fire on the German positions. Sensing the crisis, their squadron commander led five others into shallows to hammer German fortifications, to open the beach exits and to rescue the landing force. Here were ships operating at good speed with no more than a foot or two of water under keel while firing every gun, including some small arms. This chapter alone is worth many times the price of the book and will inspire every seaman who reads it.

Professor Symonds continues his highly regarded career as a recorder of American naval history. Operation Neptune is his best yet and belongs in the library of every veteran of the Navy, Coast Guard and merchant service.


Rear Admiral Holland is a former Vice President with the Naval Historical Foundation.


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BOOK REVIEW – Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov: World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond

Into the Lions MouthBy Larry Loftus, Penquin, New York, NY, (2016)

Reviewed by Martin J. Bollinger

Lawyer and author Larry Loftis accomplishes three things in his new book Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov: World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond. He does an excellent job in documenting – virtually day by day — the activities of double-agent Duŝan Popov in World War II, the center of the legendary TRICYCLE network of supposed German spies really working for Britain. Loftis accomplishes this via the outstanding integration of memoirs and archival material. Second, he advances the view that Popov was the role model for James Bond. He builds this case on evidence that, even if well documented with archival sources, in the end inevitably remains circumstantial. Thus, he ably reaffirms Popov position on the list of individuals (at least 15 by one count) who are claimed to have served as inspiration for Ian Fleming’s character of James Bond. Third, and of specific interest to naval historians, he renews an argument introduced in the 1980s about Popov, German intelligence, missed warnings and Pearl Harbor.

In this third area he provides near-definitive evidence of two major findings. The first, demonstrated with impressive use of archival sources, is that agent Popov provided information that the Germans were interested in Pearl Harbor to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in August 1941. This centers on a questionnaire from the German Abwehr, about one-third of which involves a request for intelligence regarding the defenses (including against torpedo attack) at Pearl Harbor. His second finding, again backed by impressive evidence, is that Hoover neglected to send this intelligence on to FDR or other officials, for whatever reason. These arguments have been raised before, as Loftis himself clearly indicates, but this latest work is almost certainly the most compelling summary to date.

The naval historian hopes ultimately for additional evidence that, had Hoover forwarded Popov’s evidence of German interest in Pearl Harbor, it might have made a difference in preparing the U.S. for the attack and could have shaped the outcome of events in 1941. Of course, it is dangerous to try to prove any counterfactual, and perhaps wisely Loftis does not go there. Instead, Loftis implies, but does not state, that this information, nine months after the successful British attack at Taranto in November 1940, would have sufficed to alert the U.S. Navy to the danger of an impending Japanese attack.

Loftis has prepared the ground for others to deepen this line of inquiry. For example, the U.S. Navy was well aware of the attack at Taranto and implications for Pearl Harbor but generally believed in error that the shallow waters at Pearl Harbor ruled out such an attack there. Would the Popov information have changed that view? At the time, the Japanese consulate in Honolulu was able to gather much of the intelligence requested on the questionnaire on its own by direct observation, and indeed was busy doing so. Would this German questionnaire itself force the Americans to conclude that the Japanese were suddenly keen to gather information on Pearl Harbor? U.S. analysts and leaders certainly were aware of the potential for conflict with the Japanese, but didn’t put Pearl Harbor high on the list of targets. Would this questionnaire have redirected their attention, or were similar intelligence inquiries being directed against the Philippines, Australia, India, Guam or other potential targets?

Stylistically, the book is a pleasant and interesting read, though one filled with tremendous detail that some will skip over. This reader wished the author would not switch back and forth continuously between code names (e.g., DREADNOUGHT), first names (Ivo) and last names (Popov) when identifying the many players in the book, often done within the same paragraph. It forces the reader to cycle back and forth between the content and the very helpful guide to “who’s who” provided at the front. Finally, regardless of whether an error originates in the source material or with the author, a correction in the footnotes would be appreciated. For example, HMS Queen Elizabeth was a battleship, not a submarine.

In the end, the lack of full resolution by Loftis of the Pearl Harbor issue, which encompasses perhaps only 10% of his book, shouldn’t detract from his broader mission: the excellent integration of primary and archival sources to document ably the workings of the TRICYCLE intelligence network in World War II. It is highly readable book and an excellent introduction into challenges in living the life of a double agent.


Marty Bollinger is the Vice President of the Naval Historical Foundation.

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BOOK REVIEW – Discovering the North-West Passage: The Four-Year Arctic Odyssey of H.M.S. Investigator and the McClure Expedition

Discovering the north-west passageBy Glenn M. Stein, McFarland, Jefferson, NC (2015)

Reviewed by Ingo Heidbrink, Ph.D.

Most people who are only slightly familiar with the history of the high-latitudes will know the story of John Franklin’s Lost Expedition searching for the North-West Passage (1845), as well as of Roald Amundsen’s first transit through the passage during his 1903-1906 expedition with the Gjøa. In comparison to these two well-known expeditions, Robert McClure’s expedition with HMS Investigator (1850-1854) is nearly forgotten, known only to those with a special interest in Arctic history.

Polar historian Glenn M. Stein’s new book Discovering the North-West Passage brings not only the story of McClure’s expedition to the light, but provides a meticulously researched account of the expedition based on a wide variety of primary and secondary sources and highlights that it actually was McClure, not Amundsen, who completed the first transit of the North-West passage. Of course, Amundsen was the first who completed the transit all the way on a ship, while McClure and his men travelled the central section on foot after the loss of HMS Investigator.

While McClure and his men had failed to achieve a complete transit by ship, they established the existence of a North-West Passage during one of their sledge journeys in the late Summer/early Fall of 1850 when they observed a strait between Banks Island and Melville Island. Thus, they provided the needed knowledge that enabled the first successful passage by ship a half a century later.

Stein’s book deserves credit for bringing the story of the McClure expedition to center stage and pointing out that the great names of the heroic age of polar research built their accomplishments on previous knowledge. The history of the Northwest-Passage is much more complex than just Franklin’s Lost Expedition and Amundsen’s success.

One of the largest challenges for any polar historian dealing with the exploration of the Arctic in the Victorian period is the limited number of first-hand accounts. Reconstructing the history of a journey like the HMS Investigator is a major challenge, which Stein mastered extremely well. Beyond providing the factual history of the expedition, his book sheds light on the tensions among crew-members and provides an extremely detailed insight into the microcosm to be found on any expedition ship operating for extended periods of time in remote areas. Organized chronologically, the book provides a readable account of the complex history of the expedition, yet never fails to discuss topics in analytical detail. Stein’s main tool for reaching high scholarly quality and maintaining readability are the appendices that allow him not to overburden his main narrative for the casual reader while providing the details for the scholar.

For example: In Appendix 2, Stein provides an extremely detailed discussion of the few diaries and journals available for research on the McClure expedition, a most useful tool for future polar history research and a best-practice example of how such materials can be successfully integrated into such a research project.

Indeed, some of the seven appendices might be of equal relevance for polar history research than the main text of the book.  For example, Appendix 3 isn’t just the standard crew list to be found in many books about the history of Arctic exploration, but a set of well researched short biographies that allows to reconstruct the social fabric onboard the ship and to understand that some of the conflicts between the members of the crew and McClure actually could be expected even prior to the HMS Investigator even setting sail, in particular when realizing that a small portion of the crew had substantial Arctic experience, while most crewmembers including some of the officers had no Arctic experience at all.

Appendix 5 details the various sled parties and Appendix 7 discusses the history of the creation of the Arctic Medal as a story that is nearly as complex and interesting than the story of the expedition itself – at least for any historian interested in phaleristics.

Published by McFarland, the book is of the usual high technical quality to be expected. A good number of contemporary illustrations will help the casual reader as well as the specialist to get a better grip of the topic and to develop a feeling for polar research during the Victorian era. While there are a number of charts included in the book, mainly contemporary area maps, a map showcasing the whole area and the whole expedition is unfortunately missing. For the reader familiar with the Arctic this might not be a big deal, but for any other reader, such a map would have been a most helpful tool to understand the complex geographic setting of the historical events discussed in the book. Adding such a map should not have required too much effort by the publisher.

Altogether the book is a most welcome addition to the literature about early polar exploration, regardless if for the specialists in the field of polar history or for a naval historian interested in the Arctic activities of the Royal Navy or even for a more casual reader interested in another story besides John Franklin’s lost expedition. In addition, with the North-West Passage as well as other Arctic Routes having gained increased public attention throughout the last years and today even cruise ships transiting through the North-West Passage on a more or less regular base, Stein provides a most welcome and enjoyable historical background story that also needs to be recommended to all those debating the legal status of the Northwest-Passage today.


Dr. Heidbrink teaches at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.


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World War II Fighter Pilot Jack Taylor Dies: Founded World’s Largest Car Leasing Company

By David F. Winkler

The Naval Historical Foundation is saddened to hear of the loss of a friend of naval history last Saturday with news of the passing of Jack Taylor in St. Louis, MO. He was 94.

Jack Taylor as an aviation cadet in the Navy in 1943. Photograph by the U.S. Navy. Courtesy of Jack Taylor. (via mhmvoices.org)

Jack Taylor as an aviation cadet in the Navy in 1943. Photograph by the U.S. Navy. Courtesy of Jack Taylor. (via mhmvoices.org)

One of the legendary and tragic stories to arise from the Battle of Midway was the plight of Torpedo EIGHT. With no fighter escorts, this torpedo plane squadron was mauled by Zero fighters and faced a hail of anti-aircraft fire. No aircraft and only one pilot survived the attack. Three years and three months later, another torpedo plane squadron attempted a similar attack against one of the largest battleships ever built, the Musashi. However, this time the Japanese were not able to bring the brunt of the anti-aircraft defenses against the attackers due to the covering actions of Hellcat fighters swooping down on the superbattleship with guns blazing. Ensign Jack Taylor was one of those fighter pilots who performed not one, but two strafing runs against one of Japan’s most formidable warships. With Taylor and his squadron mates suppressing the Musashi’s anti-aircraft batteries, the torpedo planes and accompanying dive bombers dropped their weapons and hit their mark, sending the superbattleship to the bottom of the Sibuyan Sea.

Taylor’s fighter squadron served as a component of Carrier Air Group FIFTEEN.  When he arrived on the USS Essex as a replacement pilot in late June 1944, the squadron had already distinguished itself in the famed “Marianas Turkey Shoot” splashing sixty-seven of the attacking enemy aircraft. During the remaining months of the deployment, the squadron claimed the destruction of 500 to 600 more aircraft. Twenty-six pilots scored five or more kills, to earn the coveted title of “Ace.” Having credit for two kills, Taylor was not among the twenty-six. However, while only mentioned briefly in Edwin P. Hoyt’s McCampbell’s Heroes: The Story of the U.S. Navy’s Most Celebrated Carrier Fighters of the Pacific War, Taylor’s role is significant as he flew as a wingman to many of the aces, including Group Commander David McCampbell, to insure these pilots could press forward with their attacks without fear of ambush. Consequently, Taylor’s receipt of his two Distinguished Flying Crosses and other citations were well deserved.

On July 9, 2001, I had the opportunity to fly out to St. Louis to interview Mr. Taylor. Having flown in such an elite squadron at a critical time of the war, Taylor’s recollections were most welcomed. In addition, he provides excellent insights about the flight training process that thousands of other aviators experienced. For the transcript of this interview click HERE.

Jack Taylor (via FoxNews)

Jack Taylor (via FoxNews)

The interview was made possible due to Jack’s son Andy Taylor. Thanks to the Taylor’s continued support for the naval history enterprise, the Naval Historical Foundation presented him this year’s NHF Distinguished Service Award at the National Maritime Awards Dinner held last April 21st, at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

While the presentation recognized the company’s generous support to organizations such as the U.S. Naval Institute, the National Museum of Naval Aviation, and the Naval Historical Foundation, the presentation also served as homage to the father Jack.

In his remarks before the presentation, Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, recently retired as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanding officer of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during her 20th deployment, at the opening of Operation Enduring Freedom following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, talked briefly about “the remarkable connection that the Taylor family has with the United States Navy” – a reference to Jack Taylor who flew F6F Hellcat fighters from USS Essex (CV 9) and USS Enterprise (CV 6) during World War II. He eventually named his new car rental company after the Enterprise.

Enterprise Holdings Executive Chairman Andy C. Taylor accepts the NHF Distinguished Service alongside NHF Chairman Admiral William J. Fallon, USN (Ret.), Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, USN (Ret.), and Gary Jobson. (Photo courtesy Joe Rudinec/Rudinec and Associates/Released)

Enterprise Holdings Executive Chairman Andy C. Taylor accepts the NHF Distinguished Service alongside NHF Chairman Admiral William J. Fallon, USN (Ret.), Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, USN (Ret.), and Gary Jobson. (Photo courtesy Joe Rudinec/Rudinec and Associates/Released)

As a tribute to the Taylor family patriarch Jack Taylor’s World War II service, NHF Chairman Admiral William J. Fallon presented Andy and his family with several framed photographs of Enterprise (CV 6). Andy Taylor spoke briefly about the honor of the award. “I am proud to continue my father’s Navy legacy,” he said in his acceptance speech. His final remarks about his father echo the unique way naval history comes together, and continues to enthrall us today: 

“[He originally] named the company Executive, but when we had to change it, and wanted a name that started with “e”, it wasn’t going to sound as good if we used the ship name Essex. He spent more time on Essex, but Enterprise is a better name for a rental car company. We are so glad we did that.”

We at the Naval Historical Foundation concur as we mourn the passing of another veteran from “the Greatest Generation.”

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