Naval Disaster in Newfoundland

THE WRECKAGE OF THE U.S. NAVY SUPPLY ship Pollux lies aground off the Newfoundland coast, where it foundered in a storm February 18 with many lives lost. The U.S. destroyer Truxtun was wrecked near the same spot during the storm. (AP Wirephoto/NHHC Collection)

THE WRECKAGE OF THE U.S. NAVY SUPPLY ship Pollux lies aground off the Newfoundland coast, where it foundered in a storm February 18 with many lives lost. The U.S. destroyer Truxtun was wrecked near the same spot during the storm. (AP Wirephoto/NHHC Collection)

By Captain George Stewart, USN (Ret.)

This post provides a description of the events surrounding the loss of USS Truxtun (DD 229) and USS Pollux (AKS 2) by grounding off the coast of Newfoundland in February 1942. Because over 200 lives were lost, it is considered to be one of the worst disasters in Naval history. The information contained in this post was obtained from a number of sources including NAVSOURCE, DANFS, Theodore Roscoe’s Tin Cans, and a variety of online web sites.

In order to fully understand the circumstances surrounding the event, it is first necessary to look at it from an overall historical perspective. By 1939, major world events had taken place. Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war in response. Meanwhile in the Atlantic, German commerce raiders began operating. This resulted in the establishment of a neutrality patrol in the Atlantic. In 1940 Great Britain and the United States signed the Destroyers for Bases agreement. That same year, Germany began unrestricted U-Boat warfare. It was decided at that time to establish naval bases at Casco Bay, Maine, and Argentia, Newfoundland. These sites were chosen because of their proximity to convoy routes.

The Argentia base was located at the north end of Placentia Bay on the southern coast of Newfoundland. It was commissioned in July 1941. The base included both naval facilities and an airfield.

The three ships involved in the incident were the USS Truxtun (DD 229), USS Pollux (AKS 2), and USS Wilkes (DD 441). A brief description of each ship follows:

Pictured L to R, USS Truxtun (DD 229), USS Pollux (AKS 2), and USS Wilkes (DD 441)

Pictured top to bottom, USS Truxtun (DD 229), USS Pollux (AKS 2), and USS Wilkes (DD 441)

USS Truxtun (DD 229) was a Clemson-class destroyer. It was one of 156 ships of the class that were commissioned between 1919 and 1922. A number of ships of the class served in World War II. They were frequently referred to as “four pipers”. Most of Truxtun’s service prior to War II was in the Pacific. The ship was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet in 1939 where it performed patrol and convoy escort duties. At the time of the grounding, the ship’s crew consisted of 156 personnel.

USS Pollux (AKS 2) was originally built as a standard Maritime Commission Design C-2 type cargo ship. It was launched in 1939 and acquired by the US Navy for conversion into a general stores ship. It was commissioned in May 1941. It served with the Atlantic Fleet on regular provisioning cruises. Its normal crew complement was 159 personnel. However, it was carrying 74 additional personnel on its trip to Argentia for a total of 233.

USS Wilkes (DD 441) was a Gleaves-class destroyer. It was commissioned in April 1941. At the time, it was one of the Navy’s most modern and technically advanced destroyers. For this reason, it was often assigned flagship duties when operating in convoy. The Gleaves-class was the last of the of the raised forecastle “step deck” type destroyers.  Wilkes served in the Atlantic until 1944 when it was transferred to the Pacific. It was decommissioned in 1946. Its normal complement was 239 personnel.

In February 1942, Pollux departed Casco Bay, Maine, along with Wilkes and Truxtun who were assigned as convoy escorts. The ship was carrying a cargo of bombs, radio equipment, aircraft engines, and other supplies for delivery to the naval base at Argentia. Wilkes was acting as the convoy flagship. As the ship approached Newfoundland, a severe winter storm developed and visibility was reduced to near zero and the ships were unable to effectively obtain radio direction finder bearings. It appears that the ships were driven northward of their plotted track. This led to the groundings on 18 February 1942.

In order to completely understand the following events it is necessary to understand the geography of the south coast of Newfoundland.

Placentia Bay is located in the Southeast part of Newfoundland, It is bounded by the Avalon Peninsula to the East and the Burin Peninsula to the West. Argentia is on the East side of the bay, about 70 miles to the north of open water. The disaster actually took place on the southwest side of the Burin Peninsula after the ships got lost In the storm and failed to make their right turn to go up the bay to Argentia. As can be seen in the following photo, this is a very bad place to run aground because the area has a rocky coast and is bounded by high cliffs, making rescue very difficult.

(Image courtesy Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Govt.)

(Image courtesy Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Govt.)

The groundings actually took place at about 4 AM on 18 February 1942 within minutes of each other. Truxtun grounded at Chambers Cove near the town of St Lawrence. The area is bounded by cliffs as much as 400 feet high. Pollux grounded about 1.5 miles to port of Truxtun at Lawn Point near the small fishing village of Lawn. The cliffs in this area are about 250 feet high.  As soon as the word got out of the grounding, the local villagers organized rescue efforts. Unfortunately, the only effective method for recovering survivors was by lowering ropes and dragging them up the cliffs before the tide came up. Because of the difficult surf and the bitter weather, loss of life was high on both Truxtun and Pollux.

Truxtun broke up almost immediately upon grounding. Out of the crew of 156, only 46 crew members survived and 110 were lost.  The survivors were rescued by residents of the nearby mining town of St Lawrence. They were picked up by the Navy the next day.

Pollux ran aground shortly after Truxtun. As soon as he realized that the ship was aground, the Commanding Officer ordered full speed ahead in order to keep the ship from sliding back and sinking into deep water. Some of the crew attempted to swim ashore via swim lines without success because the lines became oil soaked. Finally, lines with a boatswain’s chair were rigged to a ledge and the remaining crew members were conveyed ashore by that method where they were trapped on an icy cliff until rescuers arrived from the town of St. Lawrence. The ship broke up shortly thereafter. Out of the crew of 233 personnel, there were 140 survivors with 93 personnel lost.

The high cliffs of Argentia Bay (USN Photo/Natl. Archives/Image # 80-G-K-13566)

The high cliffs of Argentia Bay (USN Photo/Natl. Archives/Image # 80-G-K-13566)

Wilkes’ fate was very different. The ship actually ran aground slightly before Truxtun and Pollux. Fortunately, only its front portion ran aground. The ship was able to break free and back out to sea without casualties by moving personnel and cargo aft. Due to the seas, there was little they could do to help the survivors. Wilkes later proceeded to Argentia where she remained for six days prior to proceeding to Boston for repairs.

Out of a total of 389 personnel aboard Truxtun and Pollux, there were 203 casualties and 186 survivors. This made it the largest single casualty experienced by the US Navy in World War II up until that date. It remains among the worst in naval history.

Newspaper headline, Tuscaloosa News, March 25, 1942

Newspaper headline, Tuscaloosa News, March 25, 1942

A great deal of credit goes to the tireless, efficient, and in some cases heroic efforts of the shore side people of the towns of St Lawrence and Lawn on the Burin Peninsula. Without these efforts, the number of casualties would have been much higher.

The Naval Station at Argentia was decommissioned in 1973 and the land was transferred to the Canadian government in 1975. The last US Navy personnel left the area in 1994.

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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BOOK REVIEW – The German and the Austrian Navies: Vol. I and II (Second Edition)


Reviewed by Captain Winn Price, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired)

A couple of years ago, I reviewed the first edition of Marc Nonnenkamp’s two volume set, The German and the Austrian Navies. In my previous review, I highlighted many admirable qualities of these two volumes: 1) The comprehensive coverage of every ship that served in the navies of Germanic speaking peoples. 2) Ships planned but never built 3) Ships captured by the Germans and placed into service with their navy 4) Forty page essay on the German’s Operation Sealion, the planned assault on England. 5) Appendices listing additional sources – books and websites.

The larger issues that gave me concern – the lack of a ship index in a reference book and the paucity of ships’ photos (especially in color) have been rectified nicely. The reader will be especially drawn to the color paintings by the late marine artist Gunther Todt. In summation of the positives, the 2nd Edition is a clear upgrade. It is much friendlier to the researcher and more interesting to the casual reader who enjoys ships photos and excellent paintings.

I would like to end this update review here, dwelling on the substantial improvements that the author has made. Alas, I would be shirking my duty. One of my previous complaints seems to persist – errors and omissions. I have no expertise in the subject matter, but I do have some isolated familiarity.

For example, when serving as CIC officer on the Tattnall (DDG 19), my wonderful crew of radarmen hosted their opposite numbers from the visiting sister-ship Lutjens in a beach party in Mayport in 1970. Wisely the Americans brought the food and the Germans the beer. So I looked up this BIW built German DDG. The text reports she is armed with “…40 surface-to-surface missiles, 2 surface-to-air missiles (SAM)…” The magazine for the Mark 13 launcher holds 40 SAMs. I don’t know what the mention of 2 SSMs is in reference to. The description goes on to credit Lutjens with main propulsion diesels (incorrect) and four boilers.

In my previous review, I mentioned my interest in three 19th century German warships that were present for the 1889 Samoan cyclone – Olga, Adler and Eber. The first two ships were easily found thanks to the new index. The third, Eber, does not seem to be included based on the index. The gunboat Eber (1903) in the index (pg. 183) is not the one lost in Samoa. I assume her class is missing from the text.

If the preceding errors were the sum total, then I would be carping over a small sample. The problem is that I want to rely on this reference, but I am hesitant. I just do not know the extent, if any, of additional errors. In summary, this is a substantially improved edition courtesy of the author’s hard work driven by a love for German history and her warships, but marred, perhaps only slightly, by nagging doubts of accuracy.


Captain Winn Price is a writer of naval historic fiction.

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BOOK REVIEW – Cushing’s Coup: The True Story of How Lt. Col. James Cushing and His Filipino Guerrillas Captured Japan’s Plan Z and Changed the Course of the Pacific War

Cushings CoupBy Dirk Barreveld, Casement Publishers, Havertown, PA (2015)

Reviewed by Nathan Albright

Every once in a while there is a book about a forgotten or neglected aspect of World War II history that makes a reader wonder why this story has not been turned into a movie.  Cushing’s Coup is one of those books, managing not only to tell the story of how Cushing’s daring and independent spirit as a guerrilla leader on Cebu during World War II sought to preserve both the well-being of the local population during occupation, but also managed to provide the Allied forces with detailed plans about the Japanese military in 1944 that greatly influenced the dispositions of the American fleets in the Battles of the Philippine Sea as well as Leyte Gulf. It also led General Douglas McArthur to push the timetable of his return to the Philippines two months earlier. As the author notes, his leadership and his intelligence gathering was worthy of the Medal of Honor, and it is unjust that the location of his grave is unknown and that his heroism is largely unknown today. Of course, if this book is widely read, memory of his deeds is likely to increase.

The book does more than detail this incident, although it serves as the inspiration of the book.  Rather, Barreveld manages to place Cushing’s actions as a local guerrilla commander in a larger context that examines the American imperial presence in the Philippines, the importance of the Philippines for its natural resources as well as for its control of vital shipping lines for Japan, the power of the native oligarchy in the Philippines that to this day has hindered a more just political and economic order, and the lure of mining in the Philippines that led James Cushing and at least two of his brothers to travel there during the interwar period. Barreveld also manages to examine Cushing’s behavior with regards to Plan Z in the larger context of guerrilla activities in the period between 1941 and 1945, and the achievement of the Cebu guerrillas under his command, including their ability to avoid infiltration by the Japanese and their impressive record in battle and in raids against the Japanese occupying forces.

One of the most compelling aspects of this book, and what makes it a likely source material for a gripping war movie, is the descriptive nature of various elements of the story of Cushing’s resistance against Japan and the travel of Plan Z in absolute secrecy on both sides.  After a dramatic plane crash leaves some high-ranking Japanese officials as captives of the local guerrillas, a massive crackdown by Japan’s occupying forces follows, and the absence of timely communication with Allied commanders leads Cushing to exchange prisoners for a release of military pressure on the local population. Meanwhile, some uncoded Japanese documents are found on the beach. Once their value is realized, they were shipped to Australia via submarine with everything being done in the highest level of secrecy. Likewise, the behavior of the guerrillas as well as the Japanese authorities in Tokyo to the surviving prisoners in the aftermath of their capture, and the treatment of local dignitaries by the Japanese, is of a gripping nature that would be likely to be of interest to those who have read books like Captured:  The Forgotten Men Of Guam, Unbroken, or King Rat, as portraying various aspects of the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere and how it acted towards those under its misrule.

The book also manages to provide detail of the command infrastructure of the various guerrilla groups, and how there was a great deal of political rivalry and infighting among them.  The tardy recognition of Cushing’s leadership by Allied command hindered the logistical efforts of the guerrillas in Cebu, forcing them to be more resourceful in acquiring supplies from Japanese occupation forces in the absence of local capabilities in manufacturing their own munitions, and also hindering promotions and recognition of the achievements of the Cebu guerrillas. The political infighting on the side of the Allies, including the lure of betrayal, which was avoided by sound intelligence work, is one of the more intriguing elements of the story, demonstrating that issues of command for guerrilla operations is seldom smooth and depends on a great deal of diplomatic action as well as the ability to maintain communications with cells in occupied territory, no easy task.

Ultimately, this book serves several functions.  For one, it reveals the serendipitous discovery and savvy exploitation of the intelligence coup of the naval plans of the Imperial Japanese Navy for 1944, demonstrating the importance of intelligence to the prosecution of the Allied effort during the Pacific War, and how that intelligence depended on little-known and poorly remembered people on the ground like Lt. Col. James Cushing and his local guerrillas of Cebu. Also of great interest, besides the value of this work in the larger place of World War II historiography, is the attention paid to areas of political, diplomatic, and logistical skill, a vivid portrayal of the difficulties of guerrilla and anti-insurgent combat, and also the difficulties faced by war heroes in being remembered when their service has taken place in what are now post-colonial regimes.  In providing a record of the heroism of a forgotten man, this book serves to enlighten its readers about a man as well as the place and time in which he operated, all of which are insufficiently known even by those who are avid readers of World War II history.


Nathan Albright resides in Portland, Oregon.

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BOOK REVIEW – Big Gun Battles: Warship Duels of the Second World War

Stern_Big Gun BattlesBy Robert C. Stern, Seaforth Publishing, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley, South Yorkshire England, (2015)

Reviewed by Ed Calouro

Robert C. Stern has added yet another authoritative work to his long list of titles about naval warfare written over the past thirty years. Having examined submarines, destroyers, aircraft carriers, kamikazes, and the U.S. Navy in Europe, among others, Stern set his sights on big-gun, World War II naval actions.

A major dilemma was deciding which battles to include or exclude. Stern used broad categories to make his determinations. The actions must be the most important and interesting naval gun battles. They must demonstrate how changes in technology led to an increased ability to destroy enemy warships by gunfire. The battles should have influenced the course of the war; yet the author also favored less well-known engagements.

Stern evaluated seven chronological periods starting with “The Curtain Rises (August 1939-June 1940)” and ends in October 1944. The commerce raiding cruise of the Panzerschiffe (pocket battleship) Graf Spee, the Battles of the River Plate, Denmark Strait, North Cape, Surigao Strait, and others are analyzed. The last three were subjects of full length books reviewed here. Lesser known engagements include the Battle of Punta Stilo (9 July 1940), the Action off Cape Spada (19 July 1940), and the Battle of Balikpapan (23-24 January 1942).

There is no getting around technical terms. Stern largely deals with these well in his introduction and does not bog the reader down with naval jargon. The novice is exposed to the Ford Range-keeper, Argo Clock, Dreyer Table, stereoscopic vs. coincidence rangefinders, and synthetic vs. analytic systems for finding firing solutions. They underscore a major point:  these technological innovations – most especially radar – had a “profound impact well before the end of the war”     (p. XVII).

Helpful and illuminating observations are provided. There is a “Who Shot Well” section at the end of the River Plate battle and similar after action analyses. The author addresses why German shooting was often accurate:  gunnery optics, doctrine, and training gave them “a decided advantage at long-range” (pp. 82-83), though one wishes there was more elaboration.  The reader learns why, despite the improvements in gunnery, the rate of hits in general in World War II was often two percent or less. It was interesting to learn HMS Hood had no immune zone against Bismarck’s 15-inch shells and that the heavy cruiser Prince Eugen’s 8-inch/60 caliber guns outranged Hood’s 15-inch/42 caliber weapons.  Stern provides several nuggets of interesting and applicable information.

One can question the battles chosen. Stern analyzed the Battle of Denmark Strait, but dealt with the sinking of the Bismarck succinctly. Given the author’s assertions that the naval long rifle was not the best weapon to sink a large, well-built enemy ship at close range (see the Battle of North Cape and attempts to sink the Yamashiro at Surigao Strait), an analysis of the Rodney and King George V’s attempt to sink the Bismarck would have been interesting. One also wonders why the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (November 1942) was not evaluated.

A good case is presented asserting that technological advancements resulted in improved gunfire by 1944. On 28 June 1940, it took five Royal Navy cruisers almost an hour, using 85 percent of their ammunition, to sink one Italian destroyer, capable of only 25 knots. The RN here “displayed far more enthusiasm than skill in gunnery” (p. 39). The author demonstrated how naval gunfire progressed from “art to science,” (pp. 225-226) but does not make a totally convincing case. Earlier, Stern wrote: “Ships were hit or missed more by luck than intent and sometimes the ship that was hit was not the intended target” (p. 202). There is a brief (less than one full page), “Afterword” wherein Stern reasserts his major findings. Readers would benefit from a longer analysis synthesizing the many assertions put forth here. More pages devoted to a final summary and conclusion section would have been helpful.

The writing is crisp, clear, and comprehensible. Errors are few and insignificant, testimony to this veteran author and his copy editor. One example:  the range of West Virginia’s target did not drop from 24,000 yards at 0349 to 2,800 yards at 0352-10 (p. 208).  It was 22,800 yards.

The 148 pictures contribute mightily to the success of this book. Images of scorched gun barrels and battle damage have a more telling effect than words. Ample charts, maps, and drawings are useful. This volume is firmly grounded in primary sources, most notably, After Action and Admiralty reports. The explanatory footnotes provide a wealth of additional information. Though not necessarily for the neophyte, this book is a handy addition for serious students of World War II naval history.


Ed Calouro is an adjunct instructor in the History Department at Rhode Island College.


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BOOK REVIEW – Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd

airpower rebornEdited by John Andreas Olsen, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Colonel Curt Marsh, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)

Airpower Reborn is an excellent update on strategic concepts and theory with an emphasis on airpower’s strategic usefulness. Although this book is a part of a new History of Military Aviation series edited by Paul J. Springer, the other books in this series are not listed (Possibly this is the first in the series). The book is primarily a compilation of articles discussing the evolution and development of strategic thought concerning the use of airpower. Emphasis is given to the more recent development of air strategy by John Boyd and John A. Warden III.

The articles (or chapters) go beyond just airpower strategy and addresses the greater topic of national strategy for any major conflict.  The unique status of air power is that it provides capabilities that transcend the land or army centric constructs of the classical strategists like Clausewitz.  The articles posit that airpower’s modern capabilities to provide responsive, flexible and precision weapons effects require new perspectives on developing and implementing strategies.  Anyone familiar with airpower theories will recall that the early proponents of airpower have promised wonderful revolutionary results since the first use of airpower in World War I.  The extravagant claims of such proponents as Jan Smuts, Giulio Douhet, Hugh Trenchard, Billy Mitchell and others famously oversold the capability of airpower to single handedly win wars.  According to the editor for the book’s articles, the full capabilities of airpower finally came of age in Operation Desert Storm (1991) after disappointing for so many years.

John Boyd developed the construct of the OODA Loop as a concept of strategic decision making.  OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.  A common application of this is “rapid OODA looping” or quickly working through the OODA loop process in order to think and act faster than your opponent.  The author of the chapter on Boyd and the OODA loop presents it as much more complex and insightful than this simplified “rapid” concept.  He goes through a very thorough academic discussion on how the OODA loop decision making process was founded upon applied concepts from Post Modernism, Cognitive Sciences and Organizational Theory (open and closed systems).  This particular chapter is a bit of an academic slog with one section titled “Neo-Darwinism, Evolutionary Epistemology, and Military Strategy” (In one sentence, he uses the word “zeitgeist” twice!). Regardless, it is an interesting review of modern organizational thought and science which is applied to methods of warfare designed to defeat an opponent through organizational and/or psychological collapse.

John A. Warden III’s chapter titled “Smart Strategy, Smart Airpower” discusses his concepts of airpower leading up to Operation Desert Storm and its application in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion of Iraq.  Warden was one of the key strategists for both operations including the “Shock and Awe” air campaign.  He addresses Centers of Gravity and the Five Rings Model (Leadership, Processes, Infrastructure, Population and Field Forces).  He also makes a great case for having an “Exit Strategy” before you ever start a war.  His point here is to understand what end-state you desire before engaging in conflict, and to evaluate how successfully it may be achieved (A concept not very well applied to either Iraq or Afghanistan!).

This book is an excellent addition to your library for those who enjoy strategic analysis and theory.  It should be required reading (as it may already be) at all of our service War Colleges.  On a personal note, my one struggle with strategic theory is considering how to apply these concepts to our current conflicts such as with defeating ISIS.  I do believe we can develop a winning strategy, but as usual the primary constraint is the political leadership.  Regardless, professional military leaders need to be fully equipped to think through strategic concepts and be able to develop useful strategies for success against any opponent.  Promoting winning strategies to the political class is a different issue but a skill that our senior military leaders must apply.  The strategic use of airpower offers new avenues for success in warfare that the old land centric concepts of Clausewitz could never imagine.


Colonel Marsh is a naval aviator and frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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BOOK REVIEW – Long Night of the Tankers: Hitler’s War Against Caribbean Oil

Long Night of the TankersBy David J. Bercuson and Holger H. Herwig, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (2014)

Reviewed by Diana L. Ahmad, Ph.D.

All the action in World War II did not take place in Europe, North Africa, or the Pacific.  David J. Bercuson and Holger H. Herwig thoroughly explained how Hitler’s Kreigsmarine endangered the course of the war for the Allied forces by sending its “gray sharks” to the Caribbean to sink any vessels they encountered, particularly those carrying crude oil and bauxite. Using war diaries, first-hand accounts, and primary materials from the German Federal Military Archives and the Deutsches U-Boot Museum, Long Night of the Tankers provides an exciting look at the submarines that caused so much fear and destruction in the North American theater.

Concentrating on the period between the United States entry into the war in December 1941 and 1943 and covering Operation New Land (“Neuland”), the authors explained the differing strategies of the leaders of the German Navy, Admirals Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz.  Raeder wanted the submarines to destroy the oil refineries and tank farms in, for example, Aruba, while Dönitz wanted a “tonnage war” and permitted his U-boat captains to sink any vessels they thought carried materiel that could aid the enemy. Ultimately, the German submarines sought victims from the Panama Canal to the east coast of Brazil and beyond.

To achieve the goals of Dönitz, the U-boat commanders understood the importance of surprise attacks. The downside to the numerous attacks on Allied shipping between February and March 1942 was that the Allies increased their defenses against the U-boats. Ultimately, the Allies developed better systems to detect the presence of the German submarines and had aircraft with lights attached to their underbellies that could shine on the submarines as the U-boats surfaced during the nights to permit fresh air to flow into the vessels and to recharge their batteries.

The Caribbean became a key theater of war because of the minerals and oil in the region.  Aruba, Curaçao, and Trinidad refined the largest amount of oil in the world and their facilities proved particularly important because of the 100-octane aviation gasoline they produced and so necessary for the British air force. In addition to the oil and gasoline, tankers also carried, for example, bauxite, tungsten, nickel, platinum, copper, and tin, minerals necessary for the production of war materiel, especially aluminum needed for the building of ships and planes.

The majority of the book concerns itself with the day-to-day operations of the German vessels, their commanders, and crew, and goes into great detail on the battle scenarios that the U-boats encountered. On occasion, the inside temperatures of the vessels reached 40° Celsius with 100% humidity. When damaged by Allied attacks, the lights went out and the head spilled, causing even normally unpleasant conditions to quickly deteriorate. Concentrating on the operations of Albrecht Achilles, Werner Hartenstein, and Jürgen von Rosenstiel, as well as a few others, the authors explained the U-boat operations with a wonderful mix of military action and personality. As in the film “Das Boot,” the reader comes to see the officers and crew as more than just the enemy.

As the submarines had limited amounts of fuel and torpedoes, their time in the Caribbean proved limited and they needed to make the long return journey to the French coastal harbor at Lorient. While there, Admiral Dönitz greeted the victorious submarine commanders with medals and shore leave or reprimands for those commanders not aggressive enough against the Allies.

The questions that arise from the book are brief and include what happened to all the unexploded torpedoes and bombs in the Caribbean and what was the environmental impact of the attacks on the tankers? Why did the German Navy continue to give the U-boats often ineffective “eels” (torpedoes)?  As the Allies continued to improve their defenses against the German attacks, why did the German military fail to counter the Allied improvements? The book also provides a wonderful glossary, bibliographical essay, and photographs. There is only one small detraction in the work; the authors occasionally used clichés that could have been avoided, such as “freshly baked,” “pissed off,” and “born leader.” That aside, this is an excellent book, well worth reading.


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

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BOOK REVIEW – General Henry Lockwood of Delaware; Shipmate of Melville, Co-builder of the Naval Academy, Civil War Commander

HEnry Lockwood of DelawareBy Lloyd J. Matthews, University of Delaware Press, Newark, DE (2014)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

Those who watch the annual Army-Navy football game and be not a bit awestruck by the competing corps of cadets and midshipmen might not realize that these two friendly rival institutions have an interesting connection. Henry Lockwood was an alumnus of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, who then went on to help found the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and served on its faculty for over two decades. That alone would mark him as a remarkable man of the 19th century; but his service to the nation and connections to other notable political, military and reformist-minded individuals lead the reader to someone more. Neither Henry Lockwood nor his equally prodigious elder brother John, are well-known individuals in popular history. Lloyd Matthews has set out to amend this. In many ways, this volume is a labor of love to bring the Lockwood brothers to a notoriety that they deserve.

While he was the younger brother, Henry Lockwood is the main subject of Matthew’s volume; although John Lockwood appears throughout as their lives intersected. The elder brother is covered in the final two chapters, as well. With their mother’s death at a young age, the siblings were primarily raised by their father, Colonel William Lockwood, though their maternal grandfather Manlove Hayes was also a strong paternal influence. William Lockwood would prove to be a professional inspiration to both of his sons. Serving as a midshipman and militiaman for Delaware during the War of 1812, his long service to the state would see him raised to a Colonelcy of the Fifth Regiment, and when his younger received his brigadier general’s star, it doubtless filled him with pride (and maybe a bit of jealousy). While the father served primarily the Maryland Armed Forces, the sons would seek federal service. Henry Lockwood was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York; graduating with the class of 1836, and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in Artillery. His first (and only unit) was the Second Artillery Regiment, which had weathered the British bombardment at Fort McHenry.  He served for just over one year, but that would be one of long-term importance. The Second Seminole War was a costly, dirty affair; and must have been a shock going from learning about fighting wars by the book, to seeing an unconventional conflict up close. His Civil War record would illustrate that he learned both methods very well; and quite quickly.

After his initial military service, Lockwood resigned his commission and spent four years as a farmer in Illinois. His elder brother John indicated that his schooling military experience might be better spent elsewhere. John was serving as an assistant surgeon in the Navy, and suggested that branch of service might have opportunities for the younger sibling. John was correct in this regard, for Henry would dedicate more than two decades to the junior service. The first part of this naval service would be as a professor on board the frigate USS United States flagship of the Navy’s Pacific Squadron. The United States was a storied vessel. Stephen Decatur had captained her during the War of 1812; defeating His Majesty’s frigate Macedonian, and she would serve in one way or another for nearly seven decades. Under Captain Thomas ap Catesby Jones, the vessel would crisscross the great ocean protecting and enforcing American interests.

The most dramatic example of this was the seizure of the Mexican town of Monterey under the mistaken belief that the United States and Mexico were at war. (Catesby Jones was just a few years premature). While embarrassing for all concerned in the short-term, most careers would not be affected, or would prosper. This was true of Catesby Jones and Lockwood. His time on the United States would be exceedingly important for three major reasons. The first was that his exemplary service on board (including leading one of the landing parties into Monterey) would make his name a familiar one on naval circles. The same would be true for his brother. His time as a floating professor of Midshipmen led him to believe that a more traditional educational approach, akin to his own alma mater be embraced by the Navy. Finally, it is important, because Lockwood was immortalized by a lowly seaman on board. This was none other than Herman Melville, who put Lockwood (with some modifications) into his novel White-Jacket. One of the issues Melville remarks on in this work is the Navy’s use of flogging as a means of punishment. Within a decade this practice would be ended via Congressional action, thanks in no small part to Melville and his good friend who was the most vocal uniformed opponent to flogging, none other than Naval Surgeon John Lockwood. Whether or not Lockwood knew of this caricature Matthews is unsure of.

The greater part of this volume deals with Lockwood’s efforts to create a naval equivalent to West Point; and his military service during the Civil War. The effort to make this happen might be the most important in Lockwood’s long career. While still friendly rivals to this day, there was no love lost between the Departments of War and Navy during the nineteenth century. The American military was a step-child of its former colonial overlord Great British. This was advantageous for the Sea Services, as the Royal Navy and Marines were thoroughly professional forces. The performance of the US Army in the American Revolution and War of 1812 was in many ways lackluster. Attempts to fight the war cheaply by relying on a militia meant that both conflicts nearly took disastrous turns. The War of 1812, especially the burning of Washington, D.C. and the White House had shown that the nation’s defense would require a more professional force. The Navy and Marines had acquitted themselves well, and the Army would spend the greater part of the ensuing century to bring itself up to par. While the militia system would be retired, the “volunteers” that replaced it was the same problem under a different name. The Mexican War allowed the U.S. Army to gain experience against a lesser opponent.

From the very beginning, the U.S. Navy would be a much more professional organization than the militia-based Army. The nineteenth century would illustrate that while the Army might get the funding; the Navy would often do more with less. The one area that the Army led the way in was in its officer corps education. Like its British forebear, junior officers would now be taught at college institutions rather than the Navies’ on-the-job training of midshipmen. Founded during Thomas Jefferson’s first term in office; the United States Military Academy at West Point seems an unlikely action by America’s third President. Known for his desire to shrink the size of the government as a whole; and especially the military, creating a federally funded school to staff a large professional military does not seem to fit in with the policies of a President who believed that the nation’s defense would be handled by state militias; but the USMA was envisioned as something far different from what it became. Heavily inspired by the École Polytechnique; founded in Paris in 1794, Jefferson saw West Point as an institution that could provide an excellent education to upstanding young men who would focus on the enlightened subjects of Science, Engineering and Cartography. While new graduates would initially serve as junior officers in the US Army, the Army’s small size in relation with the militia meant these men would eventually turn to service as militia officers, civic leaders and follow in the footsteps of men like Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Zebulon Pike. This explains how Lockwood could leave military service after only one-quarter of the time that it took to commission him.  It would also potentially rival institutions like Harvard, Yale and Columbia which lay in the still heavily Federalist Northeast. In the wake of the militia’s disastrous performance in the War of 1812, and the growing call for a more professional military force by men such as Winfield Scott and Jacob Brown, West Point would need to reflect these changes; which took place after Sylvanus Thayer took over the position of Superintendent in 1817. His predecessor Alden Partridge actually left the service to found the first private military academy in Norwich, Vermont in 1819. Whereas Thayer and his successors would strive to model an officer corps for an evolving professional force; Partridge and his successors would retain something of the Jeffersonian ideal of a short-term citizen officer. Lockwood’s matriculation overlapped that of Thayer’s time in office; so the influence was there. Lockwood was not alone in his fight (his old Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones was part of the review board that expanded the old Naval Training Schools into the modern incarnation of a Naval Academy), but his efforts and long tenure on the faculty mark him out for special attention. His brother John was also a founding faculty member.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Lockwood’s home state of Delaware (as well as the neighboring state of Maryland) chose to remain in the Union, despite slavery being legal. Commissioned Brigadier General of Delaware volunteers, Lockwood would bloodlessly pacify what Matthews calls the “Delmarva” Peninsula. There were counties bordering the Chesapeake in the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Despite the latter state’s secession into the Confederacy there was very little violence during the occupation. Lockwood’s ability to do this with a small force meant that additional units could be deployed to the front line. Brigadier General Lockwood did see fighting service. His independent brigade was part of the defense of “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg, and saw action at Cold Harbor, where Lockwood was relieved of his command (unjustly as Matthews defends quite effectively) by former subordinate Gouveneur Warren.

The last three chapters focus on the General’s later years as well as a more thorough look at his brother John’s professional and personal life.

This is a fine book. There are only three slight criticisms. All of the photos are at the end of the book, as opposed to the chapters on Lockwood’s formative years, and his later years. This might have helped with the impact of certain family members; especially his father. The other issue is in regards to Lockwood’s alma mater, and that of Sylvanus Thayer. I am writing this less than a mile from Thayer’s birthplace (Matthew’s volume has a bookmark from the Thayer Public Library sticking out of it); and while the old general did help transform West Point into a true military academy, he did not begin its status as an engineering institution. This was part of Jefferson’s original design for it. Arguably the most important action of Sylvanus Thayer’s stint as West Point Superintendent was to bring Dennis Hart Mahan onto the faculty as Professor of Military Science and Engineering Methodology.  Ironically, Mahan’s son Alfred Thayer Mahan was a midshipman at Annapolis under Lockwood, and the younger Mahan unfairly mocked him for his stuttering. Many of the textbooks that Mahan required had the phrase “Translated from the French” on their title pages. His term came to an end in 1871, the same year France suffered defeat at the hands of Prussia. The campaigns of Napoleon and the writings of the Swiss staff officer Antoine-Henri Jomini were studied in detail; leading to the comment that officers in the Civil War charged into battle with a sword in one hand, and Jomini in the other. Finally, Matthews ignores the white elephant in the room that inspired most nations during the nineteenth century to create fully accredited Naval Academies: the Industrial Revolution. While it would be used as a building material for some time; as the century wore on, it was becoming glaringly apparent that the age of “Wooden ships and Iron men” was being replaced by the age of “Complicated Steam-driven ships and literate men”. I highly recommend the volume to anyone interested in the evolution of the modern US Navy, and Naval affairs in general.


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




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BOOK REVIEW – Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor

Target TokyoBy James M. Scott, W.W. Norton & Company, New York (2015)

Reviewed by John R. Satterfield, DBA

In the spring of 1992 at my local airport, two B-25 bombers landed and taxied to the FBO to refuel. I found out that they were headed to Washington, DC, for a low-level flight down the Mall to honor Jimmy Doolittle and the Tokyo Raiders on the 50th anniversary of that extraordinary mission.  Doolittle was still with us, 95 at the time, and attended the event, a measure of the nation’s gratitude for an act so audacious and unmistakably heroic that it immediately assumed iconic standing in U.S. military history, retaining that prominence ever since and still a point of shared pride for the U.S. Navy.

Hundreds of books and articles have covered the raid in infinitesimal detail, but this new volume, meticulously researched and documented, brings everything together in style.

Author James M. Scott, a former journalist and Nieman Fellow at Harvard, captures the reader early and maintains suspense even though the outcome is well known.  Although Target Tokyo is filled with facts and encyclopedic in scope, it is a pleasure to read and hard to put down, despite its nearly 500-page length.

The raid was World War II’s truly combined operation from the start. The Navy conceived, helped to plan and then trained a group of all-volunteer Army Air Forces crews to handle takeoffs from a carrier deck. The raid itself involved two Navy aircraft carriers and a small armada of warships with orders to steam close enough to Japan to launch 16 modified B-25B Mitchell medium bombers from the flight deck of Hornet, on its first Pacific deployment, to attack Tokyo and nearby cities.

After detection by Japanese fishing trawlers serving as picket vessels, Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, naval commander of the operation, ordered Lt. Col. Doolittle, a reserve officer recalled to active duty and an aviation legend in his own right, to take off, although the fleet was 750 miles, nearly 200 miles farther than planned, from Japan.  The early takeoff in poor weather and high winds, guaranteed that the aircraft had insufficient fuel to land safely at Chinese airfields.

All the raiders dropped their bombs, and Scott documents their damage plane by plane.  Not surprisingly, because of Tokyo’s densely packed population and sprawl, much of the destruction and many of the casualties were civilian, a fact ignored by Americans and emphasized by the Japanese.

The impact of the raid had enormous implication for World War II. It cemented the Japanese Navy’s desire to extend the Empire’s defensive perimeter and take Midway, a move that turned out to be the disaster that began Japan’s inexorable Pacific retreat. Just as important was Japan’s vengeance on China for harboring the Americans. Japanese forces tortured, raped and killed thousands of Chinese civilians for nothing more than living in areas through which the Raiders passed during their escapes. Many towns in the vast coastal region that helped the aircrews were left in ashes.

Only one raider managed to land by diverting, against orders, to Vladivostok in the neutral Soviet Union. The crew was interned for over a year, enduring sub-zero winter temperatures and subsistence diets until they were smuggled across the Iranian border to freedom. The other fifteen aircraft crashed in China. Most crews bailed out, but a couple attempted to ditch near the shore, causing serious injuries to several crew members.

Overall, mission personnel were lucky. Of the 80 crewmen, three were killed, one when his parachute failed to open and two by drowning when their plane ditched. The Japanese captured eight crew members who suffered unspeakable torture and abuse from their captors. Three would be executed by firing squad and one died from starvation. The remaining four weighed less than 100 lbs. when liberated, and one of them suffered such violent delusions that medical authorities had to place him in a straightjacket. The remaining crewmen, one of whom lost a leg because of his injuries, survived and eventually came home.

Doolittle himself thought the mission was a failure because he had to bail out of his aircraft and assumed all others had crashed the same way.  Sitting by the wreckage of his bomber, he said he expected a court-martial and demotion on his return.  His flight engineer, Sgt. Paul Leonard, disagreed. “They’re going to make you a general and give you the Medal of Honor,” Leonard argued. He was right.

After returning to the U.S., Doolittle skipped a grade and was promoted immediately to brigadier general. In the Oval Office, President Roosevelt pinned the Medal of Honor on his uniform as his wife, flown from her California home, looked on. Doolittle went on to become the Army’s only reserve four-star general, commanding the 8th Air Force in Europe. He passed away in 1993, aged 96. Thirteen of the 80 Doolittle raiders, including the prescient Paul Leonard, were killed in action in World War II. The surviving 60 fliers celebrated their achievement at annual reunions, and most enjoyed many such gatherings, living to ripe old ages.  At this writing, two Raiders remain – Doolittle’s copilot, Dick Cole, who will be 100 years old on September 7, and David Thatcher, 94 on July 31, who helped to save injured crew members from his ditched aircraft, Ruptured Duck.

Target Tokyo is a delight, capturing the epic character of the raid, and more importantly, the 80 brave men who carried it out.


Dr. Satterfield teaches military history and writes about military affairs and weapon systems.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Myth of the Press Gang: Volunteers, Impressment, and the Naval Manpower Problem in the Eighteenth Century

myth of the press gangBy J. Ross Dancy, Boydell Press Woodbridge, Suffolk, England (2015)

Reviewed by Mark Lardas

If you rely on nautical fiction or even some histories (John Masefield’a among them), you might believe the Royal Navy of the Age of Fighting Sail was mainly composed of impressed men, with many – if not most – conscripts being landsmen. The Myth of the Press Gang: Volunteers, Impressment, and the Naval Manpower Problem in the Eighteenth Century, by J. Ross Dancy challenges that view.

This book may be the first statistical study of Royal Navy manning in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Dancy goes to primary sources, examining muster books from 81 Royal Navy warships – three ships per year for nine years. Split between ships-of-the-line, frigates, and sloops of war, his survey spanned the French Wars of Revolution – 1793 through 1801.

The resulting database listed 27,174 men. Around 250,000 total men served in the Royal Navy over that span; Darcy examined a statistically significant fraction of the Royal Navy’s manpower.

His results are startling. Twentieth century historians assert at least 50% of the Royal Navy’s seamen were impressed, with estimates running as high as 80%. Darcy’s results reveal the actual total never exceeded 30% over the period studied. Generally less than 20% of the Royal Navy’s annual manpower intake came from impressed men. The vast majority of impressed men were mariners.  Only 16% were landsman.

Darcy unveils these statistics in the first two chapters: “British Naval Administration” and “Manning Statistics.” “British Naval Administration” examines how the Royal Navy’s administrators handled the problem of manning the Royal Navy. It covers a period from 1660 to the start of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793. In “Manning Statistics,” Darcy looks at who made up the wartime crews of the Royal Navy’s ships by examining their backgrounds, ages, experience, and places of origins. His studies disclose seafaring to be a young man’s game. Two-thirds were under 30, and over half under 25. The muster books also reveal where the men came from – whether they were turned over (previously enlisted), volunteers, unknown, or Quota Act volunteers. Most landsmen who served were volunteers. At least 90% volunteered, and most were young; under 25.

The next three chapters, “Volunteers,” “Impressment,” and “The Quota Acts,” examine each source of manpower individually. Darcy examines who volunteered and why.  He looks at who was impressed and how the Impressment Service worked. He also looks at the Quota Acts, and how they added men to the Royal Navy.

In the process, his statistics demolish many long-held myths.  The Royal Navy proved popular both for experienced mariners and unskilled landsmen. It was seen as an opportunity for advancement. Manpower shortages resulted from a shortage of available sailors not a reluctance to volunteer. Impressment was a tool used to secure trained mariners. The Quota Act was more generally successful than generally credited.

The Myth of the Press Gang is groundbreaking. Darcy overturns long-held assumptions about the Royal Navy. His assertions are backed by impressive research. It is a book any serious student of the period will want to – and needs – to read.


A scholar of the Age of Sail, Mark Lardas is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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

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

Reviewed by James P. Delgado. Ph.D.

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

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

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

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


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

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An American Inferno over Vietnam: Violent Skies Symposium Recap

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

– Inferno, Canto XXXIV (Dante Alighieri)

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

Rear Admrial Robert Shumaker, USN

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

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

Goodbye My Sweetheart, Hello Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating the Violent Skies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Constant War

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

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

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

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

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

Preserving the Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    

October 5, 2015

Media Contact: Sarah Maguire
 (703) 649-2781

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

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

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

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

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Historical “Murderer’s Row” Photograph at Ulithi Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Shipping in the Famous “Murderers’ Row” Photograph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.33.14 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.41.17 PM

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

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

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Death and Rebirth: 2015 McMullen Naval History Symposium Recap

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

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


By Matthew T. Eng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IJNH Update: The Way Ahead

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

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


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

DGUTS: Don’t Give Up the Ship

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Conversation with Knox Award Winners

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

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

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

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

1. When did you choose to write naval history?


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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