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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Reviewed by Michael A. Verney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The Prize of History: USS Monitor Prize-Money Claims

USS Monitor Officers (USN Photo)

USS Monitor Officers (USN Photo)

By Bill Edwards-Bodmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Goff Ballentine (1825-1915)

John Goff Ballentine (1825-1915)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Legati ad Defendendam Libertatem – USS John Warner Commissioned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Winds and Following Seas on your missions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one was different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Dudley Knox NH 48459

Captain Dudley W. Knox, USN (NH 48459)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NHF Membership Spotlight: Meriwether Ball

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

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

By Matthew Eng

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

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

Meriwether Ball: Lemonade from Lemons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meriwether Ball, 2000.

Meriwether Ball, 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is Naval History Important?

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

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

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

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

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

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An Early Warning in the Morning: The 2 July Navy Yard Incident

150702-N-ED767-103 WASHINGTON (July 2, 2015) Police officers walk past the Washington Navy Yard on M Street in response to a possible active shooter at the Navy Yard. (Oscar Sosa)

WASHINGTON (July 2, 2015) Police officers walk past the Washington Navy Yard on M Street in response to a possible active shooter at the Navy Yard. (Oscar Sosa)

By Matthew T. Eng

It was an early morning for me. Since the NHF moved into its temporary office location near the 11th and O St. entrance at the Washington Navy Yard, things had been quiet. The calm serenity of cubicle life seemed to fit me. Early mornings were for catching up with emails and writing copy on a number of blog stories I had in the backburner. I knew the day would be extra quiet, as it was the last day of work before the 4th of July holiday weekend. As a former government employee, I can attest to the idea that the day before a three-day weekend often stretched to four if possible.

As I sipped my coffee and mulled over some work items, I heard three dings on my cell phone in rapid succession. The time was 7:36am. It seemed a little early for a text message. With my wife on her way to work on the metro at that time, I highly doubted she needed me for anything. I looked over to my phone and saw it was a mass text email from the Navy. Odd. The first text messages received were almost cryptic. I learned from my experience going through several bad relationships that an all caps text message is never good:

Shelter in Place.


I walked over to Dr. Winkler, the only other NHF staff member yesterday morning, and inquired about the message. “It might be something with the weather,” he said to me. With all of the spontaneous thunderstorms in the area over the past week, the situation seemed likely. Then we started to hear the sirens. We looked at each other worryingly. We both looked our email inbox and saw what we feared. We were in a lockdown.

More sirens. Then came more text messages, several of which came from colleagues across the base asking if this was in fact real.

By the time I answered a few of them, Dave and I heard a knock on the door. A sailor from the NHHC front office upstairs directed us to the second floor where the rest of the buildings employees were located for the remainder of the situation. We dropped what we were doing and headed upstairs. At this point it all seemed real. We dropped what we were doing and joined the rest of the pre-holiday holdouts inside the Naval History and Heritage Command front office.

With so many people attempting to notify loved ones, cell phone coverage was spotty at best inside the room. I took a second to look around at the faces of the men and women crammed inside the office space with us. Some exhibited worry, while others showed the kind of calm resolved I attempted to paint on my face. After I reached my wife and family, I took to my phone to get some news. We all did. I overheard a lot of talk about the “last time this happened,” as there were several veterans of the 2013 incident. Eventually, the news started drifting in. The reports did not good. We could not see anything from our tiny building in the corner of the yard. The only thing that gave us any indication that we were in a serious situation was the sound of sirens and helicopters flying overhead. The sirens were constant.

News agencies began taking to social media. Reports were frequent, all of which had something different to say about the situation. The conversations that began when we first assembled slowly died off. We were not in prayer. We were all looking at our phones. We were looking for information. As the Digital Content Developer of the Foundation, I knew it would be best to monitor the situation as best as I could. Anything to occupy my mind was better than sitting there doing nothing.

shooting scare
At first there were reports of an active gunman. Nothing confirmed.

REFRESH the page.

Then there were reports of TWO gunmen inside the building. Nothing confirmed.

REFRESH the page.

I receive a text message around 8:30am of a confirmed shooter. Confirmed. Unconfirmed. Anxiety. Frustration.

REFRESH the page.

My fingers moved as fast as they could. The reports spread around the Internet reminded me of the fragile nature of social media and its power to inform and misinform the masses, whether it be intentional or not.

We stretched into the third hour of the lockdown. Roads were closed. We managed to stream CNN and saw M Street completely blocked with law enforcement and homeland security vehicles. Nothing confirmed still. Reports of confirmations an hour ago were now recanted. What was happening on the other side of the base? I sat there baffled. Which was it? Confirmed or unconfirmed. Were there two shooters or one? Was this all a false alarm? Two hours into the lockdown, nothing was firm as far as news information was concerned. The only thing we could rely on was that we were safe and secure inside our building. We only hope that courtesy was extended to everyone else at the Navy Yard.

I sat on a step leading up to a landing of cubicles in their front office and began to think about the situation I was in. All the page refreshing and texting took a toll on my slowly draining cell phone battery. Unfortunately, nobody in the room had a power cord for my phone model and my own was back downstairs in no man’s land. Either way, it was a good time to reflect.

This was the first time that I could literally see myself in headline news. I was there in the middle of it, albeit the very edge of the Washington Navy Yard. But I was there. It WAS happening. Certainly this scenario ran through my head almost two years ago when I came to interview for the position at the Foundation. I never thought it could happen again. I sat there on that step and thought about the times in the Navy’s history where these events had occurred. What if there were text message alerts to the men and women stationed at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th?   It’s easy to pontificate in today’s information age. History is what it was for its time period, plain and simple. I continued to occupy my mind

IMG_2724Eventually, it seemed that all the news outlets were singing the same tune. False Alarm. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Around 11:00, several of the surrounding buildings to ours began to release employees. Two NHHC employees who were locked inside the Dunkin Donuts across 11th street from us came in bearing gifts. I gratefully munched on my donut and waited patiently to go back to my office.

We received the official all clear at 12:03pm. In a time frame of four and a half hours, local police and law enforcement assessed and managed a potentially fatal situation. As it was, it all seemed a big misunderstanding. According to the official report, a call was placed at 7:29am for the possible sound of a gunshot near NAVSEA’s Building 197, the scene of the 2013 tragic shooting. After several hours of thorough searching, no evidence of a shooting or injured individuals were discovered. The only complications to the investigations were the reports of the Associated Press of two individuals jumping the fence of the Navy Yard around 9:20am. As DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier stated in the press conference, the various law enforcement agencies were “very well-prepared” for the situation. WNY employees are lucky to have avoided another situation, but are equally lucky to have such a well-prepared and effective force at the ready to protect us. The first responders and sailors who took control yesterday morning truly exemplify honor, courage, and commitment. BZ to you all.

Special thanks to the men and women of the Naval History and Heritage Command who hunkered down with Dave and I for a few hours on a Thursday morning, and for their sailors who took to protocol immediately.

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BOOK REVIEW – Defiant: The American POWs Who Endured Hanoi’s Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned

51NJoI4Z7UL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_By Alvin Townley, Thomas Dunne Books and St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY (2014)

Reviewed by Captain Robert J. Naughton, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Defiant is an extremely accurate depiction of the miserable existence prisoners of the North Viet Nam (NVN) endured during the US war in Viet Nam. I know his description is accurate because I was held prisoner in NVN prison camps in and around Hanoi for almost six years, from May 1967 to March 1973. By choosing the 11 men held in the Hanoi prison camp called Alcatraz, Townley documents the worst of the worst torture and living conditions inflicted on the captured US airmen. The reader will learn about NVN short term torture methods of beatings and trussing a man up with ropes in way that pulls his joints apart but do not kill. The “Alcatraz 11” suffered many longer-term torture hardships from living conditions that defy the NVN claims of humane treatment of POWs. These men and others spent years in solitary confinement, months in leg stocks and tight hand cuffs, years in tiny cells without circulation and sunlight as well as constant harassment at quizzes (interrogations). A surprising revelation is the little known reason why American POWs were tortured. One would expect interrogation by captors to gain military information and intelligence that might aid the war effort. But that was not the case in NVN. The camp authority tortured to gain anti-war propaganda, confessions of war crimes, good treatment statements, betrayal of fellow POWs and, sometimes, just to be cruel.

Defiant provides insight into the motivational factors and resistance methods these men used to survive. Adherence to the spirit of the Code of Conduct as well as not letting your fellow POW down were constant driving forces for these men. Mutual support for each other became an attitude that permeated the NVN prisoner’s system. It was not unusual for one POW to risk torture in order to help a fellow yank. That support came in the form of having someone to say it is OK to make a confession when you can’t take the torture anymore, having someone to cry with when you feel low, having someone to make you laugh or having someone to pray with when all seems lost.

This book will give you a glimpse into the outstanding leadership demonstrated by the POW senior officers and CAG (Carrier Air Group Commander) Jim Stockdale in particular. Jim’s BACK US policy represents the best qualities of institutional values. Any CEO would be proud to have divined similar organizational rules. His BACK US acronym stood for:

Don’t Bow before cameras – avoid meeting foreign delegations

Stay off the Air-avoid talking on the camp radio

Keep Communications going-support each other and resist propaganda

Don’t Kiss them good bye-no good treatment statements when we go home-conveyed we are going home

And Unity before Self-also connotes we represent the United States

This policy was concise, memorable, spoke volumes about our mission. The policy stated the ideal and was a practical guide for conduct while we were imprisoned. And thanks to the internal communications effort every POW knew this policy and 99% of them tried to live by CAG’s guidance.

The book paints a little understood concept of prison camps. Namely “Who is controlling the camp? Is it the prisoners or the camp authority?” This struggle is the main reason there was an Alcatraz camp. Every test the POWs faced could be reduced to this conflict. Can the camp authority control your mind and will, or are you going to resist with all your strength? I’ll let the reader decide whose resolve prevailed.

A highlight of the book is the portrayal of the plight and strength of the POW’s wives. They suffered from their husband’s separation and from some of the ill-conceived policies of the US government. My wife raised our three boys by herself from ages one, two and three until I came home when the boys were eight, nine and ten. She did not know I was alive for two and one half years until I got to write a letter in December 1969. US policy changes that brought pressure on NVN were a direct result of the wives insistence that the truth be told. My wife was part of the movement to enlist support for our cause and headed a group called Iowans Care. She gave a lot of speeches around Iowa where she lived while I was in NVN. She was part of the National League but never held national office. I am proud of her actions as a wife, mother and spokesperson for our cause. Primarily due to the public awareness program of these brave women, the American populace demanded answers. This attitude hit the NVN government where it hurt because they thought they were fighting a propaganda war. But the wives turned the tables on them. These brave women did more than stand and wait.

Alvin Townley has done a remarkable job in portraying many aspects of the POW’s situation and capturing his resolve to return with honor. He has given a well-researched look into the hearts and minds of these men and their wives. Defiant will educate the serious military history student and the curious citizen. I believe it will also be an inspiration to many.


Captain Naughton served 26 years in the Navy including three commanding officer billets (VA 83, VA174 and NAS Dallas.)  After retiring from the Navy he spent 15 years with NASA running the Aircraft Operations at Johnson Space Center.


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BOOK REVIEW – Empire, Technology, and Seapower: Royal Navy Crisis in the Age of Palmerston

Fuller_Empire Technology and SeapowerBy Howard J. Fuller, Routledge, New York, NY (2013)

Reviewed by John T. Kuehn, Ph.D.

Howard Fuller’s work here has insights for naval thinkers and strategists today. It is a clearly revisionist work and he occasionally overstates his case particularly in the first “part” of the book. There are four parts encompassing an impressive thirty chapters plus a conclusion and introduction. However, it is a case that needs overstating, as Howard demonstrates.

In short, he challenges the idea of a confident Pax Britannica in the 19th Century based on British dominance at sea. Instead he posits, through the personality of the British politician Lord Palmerston, a façade of sea power covering over a kind of strategic angst, deeply felt and ingrained in the policies of the period. To some degree he is building, unintentionally perhaps, on the earlier three volume maritime meta-history of Peter Padfield that peeled back multiple layers to expose a far more complicated narrative of the relationship between maritime power, representative democracy, and the rise of market capitalism. Howard quotes fellow naval historian Jan Ruger to capture this relationship in his conclusions:

There is a curious relationship between the rise of this public stage and the decline of strategic influence and power. The weaker one’s own position seemed, the more intensive did the muscle-flexing, the projecting of empire and power, become. (246)

It is no accident that Fuller intends his readers (in English) to apply the object lesson provided by this book to the current American foreign and defense policy behaviors.

Fuller breaks his overall argument into four parts, thematic rather than chronological.   The first part consists of eight short, hard-hitting chapters that challenge both the efficacy, and the narrative of the efficacy, of the Royal Navy (RN) and Palmerston’s diplomacy of the period. The second part takes on the idea of the RN’s efficacy in more detail, looking at the Crimean and American Civil Wars against the back-drop of Anglo-French “balance of power.” (xi) Part III returns to the larger themes of strategy, grand strategy even, challenging Britain’s adoption of a policy of “Splendid Isolation” as something contingent rather than over-determined. (173) In Fuller’s view, was this policy decision really a matter of choice or was it a matter urgent necessity given the weakness of Britain’s position? Finally, the last part of the book consists of four short “chapters” and an equally short conclusion that returns to the idea of Britain as “paper tiger” rather than an “iron lion.” (xiii, 207) As Fuller plows through this rather cumbersome argumentative architecture, he not only challenges the notion of British Maritime Supremacy during this period (and after), but the entire notion of the efficacy of “command of the sea” itself. (249)

Returning to Part I, Fuller builds on his earlier work in Clad in Iron (2008), which one suspects led him onto the trail of what he now considers a false narrative of British Maritime triumph and confidence. In that book and here, Fuller describes the challenges faced by the RN that undermined the already shaky confidence of its leaders. He especially focuses on the up and coming commercial powerhouse of the United States, which chose an “anti-access” strategy of ironclad monitors to counter-balance the RN’s reputed superiority in its littoral waters. However, before getting to this and other “threats” that contributed to a British “uncertainty” in its sea power, he takes on the historiography of British maritime dominance in the 19th Century. His first, and most frequent, target is fellow naval historian Andrew Lambert, whom he practically accuses of historical malpractice in Part I of the book.

Again, Fuller overstates a case that needs overstating. This is because history and the collective attitudes about it are really a set of narratives, often not agreed upon, some more popular and widespread, others less in the limelight. The idea of the Pax Britannica and the rise of Britain to a secure maritime dominance is a very old and strong narrative indeed, old by modern standards, beginning with A.T. Mahan’s work in the late 19th Century. The problem as this reviewer sees it is that after the end of the Soviet-U.S. Cold War in 1989-1991 the public, such as it was interested in these matters, took a break from history, including maritime history.   When 9/11 brought history screaming back into people’s lives, maritime history remained the preserve of a special few naval historians and established narratives, when read, remained largely unchallenged in the larger public arena. However, with the rise of the People’s Republic of China this “holiday,” too, has ended. The problem is that the public, and many of the elites, have returned to the existing dominant narratives, which much new scholarship (like Fuller’s) has challenged. Fuller’s book is not so much for the public, as it is for historians and intellectuals, who must come to grip with its arguments and then go out revise what needs revising so that we may all move forward on as firm a base as possible. Fuller quotes, ironically, Andrew Lambert: “ ‘…a thorough understanding of the past is the best hope for the future.’ Exactly.” (33) Readers who wish to know why would do well to read this book.

The biggest drawback to the study is that it is a demanding read, even for a scholar.   Some scholars relish this sort of thing, but most people do not. One of my own rules states “never test the readers’ patience”—and this reviewer found both his concentration and patience tested. Part of the problem with Fuller’s approach has to do with the topic. It is a complex topic with a complex explanation. Fuller might have better “packaged” his narrative and arguments by combining some of the chapters and then providing tentative or initial conclusions, summaries and transitional language between the chapters. Too, he often uses asides to obscure events, assuming his reader is thoroughly informed of them. For example, his discussion of the capsize of the HMS Captain in 1870, (243) in his conclusions no less, was opaque to this reviewer, who had to research the event separately because of a lack of knowledge and no detailed discussion of the incident beyond its emphasis of the supporting argument that technology seemed to be leaving the Royal Navy, and thus Britain, in its wake.

That said, the applications to the United States supposed “maritime dominance” today and the strategy of the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy of China in response make this book very relevant—but non-specialists may find the analogy too much work. Therefore, because of the book’s often dense text, I recommend this book primarily for naval historians and strategists. They will find it a challenging, but ultimately rewarding, read.


Dr. John T. Kuehn is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008), A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014), and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011. His latest book is Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns (2015, Praeger).

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BOOK REVIEW – 21st Century Sims

Armstrong_21st Centuary SimsEdited by Benjamin F. Armstrong, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

In the evolution of the United States Navy from a small regional force to a capable global power between the later nineteenth century and the First World War, there are two Naval strategists that rank at the top: Admirals Alfred Thayer Mahan and William Sowden Sims.

Mahan called for the United States to follow Britain’s lead in constructing a modern fleet worthy of global strategy, whereas Sims stressed a climate of professionalism and open-minded thinking where effectiveness was measured foremost in combat performance, especially in effective gunnery. Both men also counted Theodore Roosevelt as a patron; unsurprising due to his interest in reforms and naval matters. Both naval officers are also enjoying a resurgence of interest in the last few years due to the centennials of the Great White Fleet and First World War, which saw the United States deploy a modern fleet in a global scale. Their resurgence is also thanks in no small part to Naval Officer and historian Benjamin Armstrong who has published compact volumes on both men; this being the second. Armstrong’s volume features several writings from the Admiral between 1906 and 1934. The final piece from a former subordinate dates from 1937, a year after Sims’ death.

Admiral William S. Sims is best remembered for turning the US Navy into a competent gunnery force. He also served as the senior Naval Officer in Europe during the First World War. Sims was as a product of the evolution of the US Navy throughout the nineteenth century. The American military was a step-child to that of her former colonial overlord Great Britain. This was advantageous for the Sea Services, as the Royal Navy and Marines were thoroughly professional forces. From the very beginning, the US Navy would be a much more professional organization than the militia-based Army. The nineteenth century would illustrate that while the Army might get funding; the Navy would often do more with less. The War of 1812 had illustrated that to effect; yet the century had seen very little real change, as the Spanish-American War showed. While the US Navy had demolished Spanish squadrons efficiently with a minimum of casualties, her gunnery was quite deficient. Had she faced a better foe at Manila Bay, Commodore Dewey’s force might have been shattered.

The Royal Navy faced much the same issue, albeit on a grand scale. On duty with the Asiatic Station, young Lieutenant Sims met Royal Navy Captain Percy Scott who was doing his utmost to improve the gunnery of the fleet that still ruled the waves. Early in Scott’s career he had been informed that “The chief things required in a man-of-war are smart men aloft, cleanliness of the ship, the men’s bedding and the boats. Her gunnery is quite a secondary thing.” This attitude had not changed in the ensuing decades. Sims had found a kindred spirit. When his letters to Washington on Scott’s gunnery improvements were ignored, the junior officer took an unprecedented step: he wrote a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt. As a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and military reformer, Roosevelt had Sims recalled to Washington, promoted to Lieutenant Commander and appointed as the US Navy’s head of target practice. The US Navy soon matched British levels of gunnery, and then surpassed them. Sims’ career was on the rise, and his name was now circulated in corridors of power.

Not everyone in the naval or political hierarchy was an ally, however. The first chapter, “Professional Debate and Military Innovation” relates Sims’ debate with retired Admiral Alfred T. Mahan over the need for all-big gun capital ships, “Dreadnoughts.” Using the recent Japanese victory over Russia at the Battle of Tsushima (referred to as the Battle of the Japan Sea), Sims noted that, had American vessels been present at the battle, they would have been outmatched by the (British-designed) Japanese fleet. The second chapter, “a Proper Military Mindset” describes the type of officer that the Navy would require for service in the World War that the United States was soon to join. He recommended that training and professionalism was the key to distance the Navy from the era of “wooden ships and iron men.”

The third chapter “Preparing for Command and Preparing for War” begins the period when Sims had taken over at the Naval War College, and he relates how the Navy readied itself for the coming conflict by using Navy-Army football rivalry. For success “Efficient Material, Adequate Knowledge and Adequate Mental Training” are key to any chance of victory. In regards to individual officers, all “should be given the opportunity, either at the War College, or in War College Extensions, to study the art and practice of war.” Naval education beyond the Naval Academy and/or ROTC was paramount.

Chapters four and five, “The Forces of the Status Quo”, and “The Peace Dividend and the Professional,” respectively deal with the realities of drawing-down a military force when peace breaks out. The Washington Naval Conference added an extra element to this by restricting forces in the (vain) hope that it would prevent future wars of the Great War’s scale. As a gunnery officer, Sims was especially worried over the decade-long cessation of capital ship production, and the fact that his Navy still had no battle cruisers. There is some irony here in that while the two battle-cruisers in question, Lexington and Saratoga, would not join the fleet as designed, the resulting naval treaty opened a loophole in regards to aircraft carriers. The two large vessels would be converted into fleet carriers and help shape the war-winning strategy in the Pacific a generation later.

Chapter six, “A Century Old Promotion System,” calls for the updating of the method by which Naval officers earn promotions. Instead of simply using time in rank, a combination of merit and a board system should determine these rank increases. The method he describes would be adopted over the ensuing decades. The final chapter, “Mentorship from a Century Ago” uses the reminiscences of long-time colleague Captain Harry Baldridge to show how Sims shaped the Navy, and inspired those who would wield it in future conflicts.

This is a fine book overall. The major criticism that I have is that there are no illustrations; which would have been helpful to track the evolution of Sims and his Navy. 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 at Quincy College in Quincy, Massachusetts.  

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BOOK REVIEW – 21st Century Ellis

Friendman_21st Century EllisEdited By B.A. Friedman, Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Nathan Albright

As part of the Naval Institute Press’ 21st Century series on notable naval thinkers, this book provides much of the body of work written by Marine Lieutenant Colonel “Pete” Ellis. Shortly after the Spanish-American War, Ellis enlisted with the Marines, and quickly rose through hard work and ambition from an enlisted private to a commissioned officer. With extensive experience as an adjunct for higher-ranking officers, he was eventually given a chance to study at the Naval War College. Later as an adjunct for the 4th Marine Brigade in World War I, he ran the brigade for its nominal commander. His postwar duty until his death was mostly overseas. His influential mentors included Marine Commandant William Biddle, his successor George Barnett, and noted Marine leader General John A. Lejeune. Despite his short life, his writings as a student in the Naval War College, as well as in in the Marine Corps Gazette, and his long essay Advanced Base Operations In Micronesia have been collected and lightly edited by B.A. Friedman in order to make them more accessible to contemporary readers.

This proves to be a short but essential work for those who are interested in the transition of Marines from snipers on-board naval ships to an amphibious assault force. As it happens, Ellis had experience in both aspects of the Marine mission. He gave insightful analysis about everything he witnessed, drawing parallels between the German prepared defenses in World War I and the sorts of defenses that could be made on various Pacific atolls, where the United States would defeat Japan in an island-hopping campaign. These insights turned Ellis into one of the 20th century’s most spectacular prophets. Ellis’ thinking was detailed enough that he was able to correctly predict the amount of Marines that it would take to seize a small island in the Pacific, an off-hand comment that betrays a mind of incredible depth and acuity.

In less than 150 pages, this book contains a biographical sketch of Ellis’ life, a substantial portion of all he wrote that has remained, including many of his student papers at the Naval War College, and a comment on his legacy and contemporary importance. To his credit, Friedman does not whitewash Ellis. This selection includes some of Ellis’ frankly racist comments about the Japanese and Pacific Islanders. Additionally, the book is blunt about Ellis’ struggle with PTSD in the aftermath of the horrors of World War I and also his ultimately unsuccessful battle with alcoholism that ended in a suspicious alcohol-induced death in the Japanese ruled Pacific Islands mandate that would become the battleground he prepared the United States for through his skillful analysis. Recognizing these flaws, though, does not in any way diminish the almost inconceivable practical intellect that Ellis brought to the Marine Corps and its mission. Ellis’ thoughts were wide-ranging and profound. Among his substantial achievements was the role he had in pointing the Marines towards developing unparalleled expertise in amphibious assault that would secure the survival and reputation of the Marine Corps during a time of transition. His observant eye and ability to synthesize his observations and experience and his ability to distill these thoughts into blunt, straightforward, and sound recommendations make him a continued guide for the conflicts and threats envisioned by contemporary military strategists.

Among the more striking aspects of Ellis’ thought was his encyclopedic knowledge of the multifarious aspects of military experience. His grasp of strategy, operations, and tactics allowed him to carve out for the Marines a useful purpose and provide the blueprint for American victory against Japan. He pondered the placement and logistical requirements of bases, analyzed anti-guerrilla tactics not only for military effectiveness but also for the morale of American troops and the front of the hearts and minds of the local population. He examined the importance of diplomacy in dealing with coalitions and also challenges involving combined arms. He had a sophisticated understanding of human as well as geographical terrain and its influence on the conduct of warfare, and provided insights that would have greatly helped American conduct in Vietnam and Iraq, among other places. Although he was clearly a man of his time when it came to racial views, and his exasperated comments about American and local politics, as well as his conception of technology, his writing was clearly far beyond its time in terms of its thoughtfulness and its combination of a wide range of military factors subordinated to clearly defined mission objectives.

This volume should make the task of reading Ellis’ profound strategic and operational thinking far easier for students and researchers of naval history and thought as well as intellectually inclined Marine and naval officers. In bringing the unjustly neglected writings of “Pete” Ellis in a single accessible and concise volume, Friedman makes Ellis’ thinking come alive again to prove its worth in our contemporary geopolitical situation, especially in the Pacific. While the editor thoughtfully places Ellis in the context of thinkers such as Mahan, Corbett, and Clausewitz, his work should also serve to give Ellis his proper place as a notable military thinker. It is not unreasonable to expect that this book will help make Ellis a required reading for Marines wishing to gain a greater understanding of service history as well as operational thinking and behavior towards local inhabitants during military campaigns. The lessons provided in this book remain in use, and the book will be of interest far beyond the Marine Corps to the wider naval historical audience as a whole both for its historical and for its strategic value.

A frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews, Nathan Albright lives in Portland, Oregon.

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BOOK REVIEW – Surprised at Being Alive: An Accidental Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam and Beyond

51WxcTa+HIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_By Robert E. Curtis, Casemate Publishers, (2014)

Reviewed by Thomas Ostrom

In his 24 years in the service, Major Robert F. Curtis flew helicopters for the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Kentucky National Guard. Curtis flew in the United States, Britain (with the Royal Navy), Norway, and Vietnam from shore bases and the rolling decks of naval vessels.

Major Curtis did basic training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. He was a Warrant Officer Candidate at Ft. Wolters, Texas in 1969 and later flew a CH-47C in Vietnam in 1971. His Vietnam missions included delivering fuel and water in hanging bladders beneath the helicopter to American camps, enduring battle damage to his helicopter windshield, carrying artillery ammunition to fortified bases, gunship patrols, and flying over a fire support base in northern South Vietnam in landing zones that had been cleared with napalm bombs.

Curtis flew wooden and steel bladed rotor-wing helicopters, including the OH-13E, Chinook, Sea King, Sea Knight, and other models. Curtis explained the complex technologies and skill involved in helicopter aviation, and attributed good training, professional colleagues (including mechanics), and “luck and superstition” that kept him alive. Fifty of his aviator colleagues died in accidents and combat. More than 40% of the U.S. helicopters sent to Vietnam met destruction in accidents and combat.

The author’s time in Vietnam was action packed, flying over the DMZ, the Laotian border and Khe Sanh. During his time there, he heard NVA radar and radio signals, dodged enemy ordnance, and survived an enemy round through the helo windshield. Curtis also described the blood wounds he received when his Chinook and crew were shot down and the helicopter rescue that followed.

The danger of flying the aerodynamically complex helicopters in all kinds of rapid changing weather conditions and varied topographies required courage and skill. Curtis flew training, transportation, supply, and combat missions in climate regions from the Southeast Asian tropics to the storms, highlands, and ice of the Arctic.

Curtis exhibited drive, determination, eclectic interests and intelligence in life that included earning a BA degree from the University of Kentucky, Master’s Degree from Webster University, and duty at the Naval Air Systems Command in Washington, D.C. Major Curtis completed his distinguished career with 23 Air Medals, a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Flying Cross.

Because this reviewer has written books about United States Coast Guard missions in the Polar Arctic, Greenland, and on Bering Sea patrols during World War II, I was interested in his descriptions of the challenges then Captain Curtis faced in Arctic Norway in January-March of 1984-1985.

Curtis described his time as a U.S. exchange officer in Britain, flying on and off British ships in the North Sea, and the hazardous weather of northern Europe. The descriptions of aircraft icing, snow-blind flying, locating a ship landing deck in icy fog and snow, watching gauges and calculating fuel supplies, flying West into the prevailing Westerly winds over the North Sea in trips back to the United Kingdom, were frightening to read about, let alone experience. The author reminisced about his aviator colleagues who died in their helos in combat, bad weather, and accidents.

As a Washington bureaucrat, Curtis had occasion to visit the Vietnam Memorial in 1989. Curtis became emotional as he located the names of deceased colleagues. “My Vietnam War friends on the wall,” Curtis concluded, “are still in their late teens, twenties…and thirties…and are still alive in my mind, just like they were in 1971.”

In 1992, Major Curtis retired from the military, “…surprised to still be alive.”


Thomas P. Ostrom, former member of the USCGR, and author of several USCG histories that include joint missions with the other U.S. Armed Forces.

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BOOK REVIEW – Matthew Fontaine Maury, Father of Oceanography: A Biography, 1806-1873

Grady_Matthew Fontaine MauryBy John Grady, McFarland, Jefferson, NC (2015)

Reviewed by Ingo Heidbrink, Ph.D.

While Matthew Fontaine Maury is without a doubt well known among historians of science and in particular historians of oceanography, the general public might not know his name. Many naval historians will not have a real idea about the man who is often credited as the “Father of Oceanography.” John Grady’s new biography of Maury not only helps provide Maury with well-deserved recognition as a leading oceanographer of the 19th century and an American and Confederate naval officer, but also as a publicist and advocate for the Confederate cause. He is the man behind the idea to re-settle the slaves of the South to the Brazilian Amazon region. He was also a private person who experienced a number of ups and downs throughout his life.

With most facts about Maury’s life already included in earlier biographies, notably those published in the 1960s, Grady’s main achievement is not so much unearthing new details about Maury, but combining existing details into a coherent story. Maury followed his scientific and professional visions and ideas throughout his whole life despite of a number of substantial setbacks, obstacles and disappointments. He also used the media in a way easily comparable to today’s blogging and use of social media. In doing so, Grady helps today’s readers understand that scientists of the 19th century could be equally interested in influencing the public opinion as some scientists of today, regardless if you agree with the idea of a scientist as a public advocate for certain political causes. While some of Maury’s ideas might seem today up to a certain degree bizarre, like for example his idea of re-settling slaves to the Amazon, Grady puts them into a contemporary context and more importantly, tells the story that these ideas never distracted Maury from his main idea to combine the knowledge of all seafarers into a body of knowledge on oceanographic topics available to all seafarers, or to use modern terminology to develop a method of crowd-sourced oceanography. Besides these achievements, Grady successfully manages to bring a historical person again to life with his book never becoming a dry scholarly read, but always remaining a book that has all the qualities of a good read. It is a book you would also read for its qualities as a well-written story even if you might not be interested in the history of oceanography.

The substantial bibliography included in Grady’s book does not only easily demonstrate that the book is based on solid research and knowledge of the wider historical framework, but is also a most helpful tool for anybody interested in naval history and/or history of oceanography during the 19th century. You might have wished for some more illustrations, in particular of the various charts produced by Maury over his whole career, reproductions of his scientific works, etc. Given the fact that the book is available for a reasonable price, this does not limit the positive impression of the book at all. Providing an index would have substantially improved the quality and usability of the book as a scholarly publication.

In the end, Grady’s new biography on Matthew Fontaine Maury, one of the most important marine scientists of the 19th century, needs to be recommended to all readers either interested in the history of science, the nexus between the navy and oceanographic research, or even only the maritime aspects of the Civil War.

Without any doubt, Grady needs to be credited for bringing one of the most interesting naval officers of the 19th century back to center-stage and for writing a book that is simply an enjoyable read.


Dr. Heidbrink is a maritime history professor at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Ship of the Line: A History in Ship Models

Lavery_The Ship of the LineBy Brian Lavery. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, Yorkshire, U.K. (2014)

Reviewed by John R. Satterfield, DBA

This slim, nicely illustrated volume by Brian Lavery, Curator Emeritus of the U.K.’s National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and one of the world’s most respected naval historians, describes the evolution of the ship of the line in the age of sail.

Since this epoch of naval history is not second nature to most (a sin in the eyes of this reviewer), some explanation is probably in order.

War at sea is as old as human kind. Ancient societies with access to oceans competed for control of maritime trade routes and developed warships to gain and maintain that control. The Battle of Salamis, fought in the 5th century BCE near Athens between the Greek city states and the Persian Empire was the largest naval engagement ever fought in terms of lives lost. Both sides used a type of galley known as triremes, long, narrow-beamed vessels with tiers or oarsmen who rowed in unison to propel the ship, equipped with a ram on the prow, into the enemy. Crewmen on the trireme’s main deck fought like infantry once in contact with enemy vessels. Large fleets of opposing ships fought in melees.

This mode of fighting continued for two millennia. The last major battle fought between rowed galleys was in 1571 at Lepanto, just 100 miles from Salamis in the Gulf of Corninth. Fought between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire, the battle involved cannon fire as well as small arms and larger ships, known as galleasses, that carried cannons mounted broadside as well as fore and aft. Improvements in casting technology and material greatly improved cannon reliability and enabled far larger and heavier weapons, signaling the galley’s demise as a viable combat platform.

English warship development reflected the Mediterranean approach. In addition to galleys, other English naval vessels often were converted cogs, broad-beamed and flat-bottomed, with a single mast and square-rigged sail used for maritime transport. They carried troops across the Channel during the 100 Years War and added cannons in the 15th century. By the early 16th century, the advent of the gun port ended the restriction of cannons mounted fore and aft, and larger warships, capable of carrying dozens of guns and propelled by square-rigged sails on multiple masts, came to the fore. The Mary Rose, raised from the Solent near Portsmouth and on display in that city’s Historical Dockyards, carried about 90 guns at the time of her sinking in 1545.

Even with guns installed broadside, however, the battle line tactic, with ships sailing in line ahead and firing guns in sequence at an enemy fleet, frequently at ranges of a quarter mile or less, would not be codified in formal fighting instructions until the mid-17th century during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Thereafter, the Royal Navy adhered so stringently to the battle line that Vice Admiral John Byng was executed by firing squad in 1757 for failing to direct his fleet to close successfully with the French off Minorca. With improvements in signals (transmitted by flag hoists), commanders gained flexibility in fleet disposition and officers, Horatio Nelson most notably, won major victories by departing from the line of battle tactic and taking full advantage of individual circumstances during engagements.

Ship models, the real focus of Lavery’s book, were indispensable tools in the development of naval architecture from the 16th through the early 19th centuries. They served two important purposes; as ship design and planning became more sophisticated, models assisted shipwrights in the manufacturing process in government and commercial dockyards, both of which produced naval ships. In addition, models helped members of Parliament, who often were reluctant to provide funding for ship orders known as Establishments over the years, to understand what their appropriations were purchasing and how more advanced hull designs improved maneuverability and fighting capabilities.

These requirements resulted in extraordinarily detailed – and beautiful – models, many of which, known as “Navy Board” models deliberately omitted planking so observers could study the structures of hulls. Other models were constructed from solid blocks of wood or fully planked over accurately rendered frames. In some cases, combinations of these techniques are utilized.

The book feature a number of full-color photos of the models Lavery’s history describes. Many of the early models remained property of the Royal Family or the Admiralty, and nearly all of these are now on display in museums and libraries around the U.K. In one case, however, a wealthy American railroad executive, Henry Huddleston Rogers, purchased a large private collection owned by Charles Sergison, a naval administrator who served the Royal Navy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, a generation after Samuel Pepys. That collection, with many other models, now resides in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis. The museum completed a major renovation in 2009, and is open to the public.

Although it’s a bit pricey, The Ship of the Line will please anyone interested in the history of classic warships.


Dr. Satterfield teaches military history and proudly displays a fully rigged model of HMS Victory at home.

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