For months after Bunker Hill, the Revolutionary War on land was almost entirely static. The British hold on Boston depended on a steady supply of food, wood, and war materiel for their troops and the loyalist civilians who sought shelter there. The Americans sought to blockade the British to force their army to leave or to come out for a repeat of the Bunker Hill battle. With their land routes to Boston blocked by the Americans, British supplies could arrive only by ship, and those ships could be interdicted only by armed ships.
Thus, General Washington, a planter and frontier soldier who had been to sea only once (although early in life he aspired to become a midshipman in the Royal Navy), on his own authority decided to arm some Massachusetts schooners to seize British merchant ships on the sea approaches to Boston.
Despite the book's title, Washington's motley little armada was not "secret," except initially from Congress. Nor was it legitimately a "navy," since it was officered and manned by Soldiers from Massachusetts regiments, and Washington created it without Congress' prior knowledge or approval. However, it was Washington's strategic vision that brought the revolutionaries' navy into being. Despite initial disappointments over delays, bungled assignments, and wrongful captures, his schooners proved immensely helpful to the patriot cause.
Washington knew little about ships or the local men who would outfit and officer them. Indeed, those democratically inclined New Englanders caused him "plague trouble & vexation," since ship carpenters refused to work on Sundays, and the Sailors were prone to refuse to sail if they were not ready. Creating an appropriate prize system to incentivize commanders and their crews he could accomplish by fiat, but the paperwork adjudicating prizes almost drove Washington crazy. Nevertheless, he managed to choose the right men to bring his Lilliputian navy into being, and each capture weakened the British and helped the Americans. Ultimately, Washington's cockleshell navy captured 38 British vessels and played a role in forcing the British out of Boston. No capture was more important than the schooner Lee's seizure of the Nancy with her cargo of 2,000 muskets, 7,000 cannonballs, and wagonloads of gunpowder, just in time to relieve the Americans' desperate shortage of powder and munitions.
Nelson, who has written a dozen novels of naval historical fiction and the well-regarded naval history Benedict Arnold's Navy , delivers his story in a clear and animated style. While careful in his judgments, he has a knack for turning a phrase. His own sailing experience and deep understanding of the period resonate from the pages, such as where he describes the feel of the wind on a certain tack off Cape Ann, the rigging of the Beverly schooners, or the corporate mentality of sailors in the late 18th century. This is a fine book, a good read, and a welcome contribution to the naval literature of the Revolutionary War.
Hide and Seek: The Untold Story of Cold War Naval Espionage
Peter A. Huchthausen and Alexandre Sheldon-Duplaix. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. 432 pp. Illus. Notes. Index. $30.
Reviewed by John Prados
Hide and Seek is a study of naval intelligence during the Cold War, which is an enormously ambitious subject. There are several basic military histories of the Cold War, but none zero in on the contributions of naval intelligence. The authors are quite right to try and fill that gap. The story unfolds chronologically, beginning with a chapter on the Cold War adversaries, once allies, racing to grab their shares of German technology at the end of World War II. The narrative continues through the spy wars, the Cuban Missile crisis, the wars in Korea and Vietnam and conflicts in the Middle East, and finally covers the intelligence revolution of the 1980s. Both authors were participants-Huchthausen in the U.S. Navy and Sheldon—Duplaix in the French—in some of the events they seek to illuminate. Both are well-equipped to handle the subjects on which they write.
Although the authors are correct to pursue this subject, their reach exceeds their grasp. Hide and Seek contains good material on the work of naval attaches (Huchthausen served as one) and interesting vignettes based on the experience of both authors. The attach e material and the wide coverage of surface intelligence collectors on both U.S. and Soviet sides are the book's best features. Hide and Seek also delivers some finely tuned pieces, such as its accounts of collecting data on Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile tests, intelligence activity surrounding the loss of Soviet submarine K-129 in the Pacific in 1968, and its handling of the Swedish submarine incidents of the 1980s. But on the whole, the work is uneven.
In the K-129 episode, for example, the CIA recovery mission using the Glomar Explorer is barely mentioned. There is coverage of military intelligence interest in flying saucers, but none on the Holystone Program, arguably a key operational and intelligence project. Coverage of the 1968 USS Pueblo crisis is sparse, except in connection with the John Walker spy ring case. The authors evaluate this Soviet success as possibly more significant than that of the Allied code-breakers against the Germans during World War II.
Coverage of the 1967 USS Liberty incident, in which Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats attacked a U.S. technical research ship north of the Sinai Peninsula during the Six-Day War, also will not satisfy many veterans, in particular the survivors of the attack. Other authors do better on the Navy's human intelligence program (Task Force 157) and on its submarine reconnaissance missions.
In some instances, Hide and Seek reports events in passing, only to drop them with no detail, such as when it claims that the South Vietnamese Navy attacked Soviet intelligence trawlers. The book also wastes valuable space on Cold War diplomatic or general security issues such as the Strategic Defense Initiative or the 1983 downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. But the book's most glaring fault is that it contains very little discussion of naval intelligence analysis and so fails to relate any of the extensive intelligence collection to concrete aspects of force or operational planning, technological development, or warship design. Thus the reader finds little from which to draw conclusions as to the actual contribution of naval spying to the Cold War. There is a book in that, but Hide and Seek is not it.
A Tale of Two Subs: An Untold Story of World War II, Two Sister Ships, and Extraordinary Heroism
Jonathan J. McCullough. New York/Boston: Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group USA, 2008. 284 pp. Illus. $26.99
Reviewed by Colonel Bruce F. Meyers, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Its title might imply that this is just another wartime submarine story. But this well-written, thoroughly researched volume contains far more than an ordinary submarine narrative; in it, McCullough elucidates the critical need of enemy intelligence for a successful submarine campaign. Under the superb leadership of Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood—"ComSubPac"—great efforts had been taken to ensure that our Pacific Fleet subs were well-trained, well-stocked, and properly equipped. Our submarine forces were, at the start of World War II, proven to have been given less in the quality and reliability of their torpedoes. Critical to success was the training of all hands. Every crewman and officer on our fleet submarines had to know their duties thoroughly and be able to perform them in absolute darkness. Submariners had to position their subs along travelled sea lanes, lying-to off distant ports. Night ops were the norm because of vulnerability of being spotted.
McCullough skillfully weaves the intelligence acquisition on Japanese shipping and naval units. The Japanese naval code JN-25 becomes the centerpiece of this story-within-a-story. A Tale of Two Subs demonstrates the significance of breaking the Japanese code. Other authors have provided cursory descriptions of these successes in cryptography. McCullough goes into detail in the actual development, which later helped in winning the Battle of Midway and amphibious operations in the Solomon Islands.
But the guts of the book tells the story of two sister subs—the Sculpin and the Sailfish , both built in Portsmouth, which later joined in Cavite in the Asiatic submarine squadron.
Their fates became intertwined with the sinking of the USS Squalus in May 1939, during test dives off New London. The Sculpin , sister-sub to the Squalus , was the first boat to get to the sunken submarine, helping rescue 32 survivors. This was the first use of Commander Charles "Swede" Momsen's submarine rescue chamber, which attached to the weather-deck of the sunken sub. The Squalus was raised, refurbished, and renamed the USS Sailfish for return to the fleet.
On 18 November, 1943, the Sculpin was patrolling north of Truk. Operating independently, she tracked a small convoy throughout the night. The sub's dawn attack on a freighter stirred the convoy—a cruiser, the Yamaguma , and five destroyers. Promptly attacked, the Sculpin crash-dived to 250 feet, receiving a series of very effective depth charges. Severely damaged, taking water in all compartments, she dove to 400 feet and then was forced to surface. Depth gauges, destroyed by the depth charges, contributed to her broaching. The sub was immediately taken under fire and "Abandon ship" ordered as the crew scuttled the boat.
On board were her skipper, Captain Fred Connaway, and their commodore, Lieutenant Commander John Phillip Cromwell. Cromwell had been in the crypto pool at Pearl. He understood that if he were taken prisoner and tortured, he was at risk of endangering the security of the Allies' entire Pacific campaign. He purposely remained in the control room, bravely giving his life as the Sculpin sank.
Forty-one survivors were picked up and later divided into two groups on board the Japanese escort carriers Unyo and Chuyo . Enroute from Truk to Japan, the Chuyo was attacked by the Sailfish . It was every submariner's dream to sink a carrier. The Sailfish , unaware that the Sculpin 's survivors were locked in the brig on Chuyo , torpedoed the carrier—a first for Pacific submarines!—eventually sinking her after the third strike. One Sculpin petty officer survived and returned to duty after repatriation. Lieutenant Commander Cromwell was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic sacrifice.
From this reviewer's experience serving on five submarines, the author's depth-charging descriptions following torpedo attacks are not only well-written, they are as authentic as could be achieved from such traumatic experience. In A Tale of Two Subs , McCullough gives us a gripping, telling account of submarine life.
Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare
Sam Willis. Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 2008. 272 pp. Maps. Illus. Bib. Index. $60.
Reviewed by Wade G. Dudley
To interpret the tactics of the late Age of Sail, it is necessary to develop an understanding of the complexity of the sailing warship—but this is only a beginning. To comprehend naval warfare in the 18th century it's also useful to have a grasp of oceanography, geography, mathematics, the period's situational politics and social mores, and a glimpse into the mindsets of the individuals practicing command and their subordinates. Sam Willis, an accomplished maritime historian, archaeologist, and occasional sailor of square-rig vessels, challenges readers to gain this knowledge in his recently published volume that focuses on many of those very factors, quite admirably.
In this superbly researched book, Willis examines in detail subjects ranging from chase and escape to the 18th century's problems with station keeping and communications. His personal experience with square-riggers supplements the words (drawn from admiralty records, court-martial records, memoirs, and period literature, among other sources) of those who sailed and fought in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In particular, his chapters on the much-misunderstood weather gage, and the effects and repair of damage, are possibly the best treatments of those topics in print.
Willis severely drubs a number of commonly held misconceptions. For example: A good commander always sought to claim the weather gage (that is, to attack with his fleet between the wind and the enemy). The major advantage seems obvious, as the attacker controls the rate of closure. However, as Willis explains, the weather gage held so many disadvantages that period analysts, such as John Clerk, questioned the wisdom of seeking it; while the French author De Grenier sought to explain away the fixation of admirals with acquiring the weather gage as a holdover of galley warfare. Another commonly held misconception is that France trained its gunners to aim at the enemies' rigging, while the Royal Navy hammered its opponents' hulls. Willis' research reveals no such doctrine among the French, and damage results seem to verify his findings.
Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century contains high-quality maps, many excellent illustrations, and an essential glossary, all which give a better understanding of Willis's arguments. This is not, however, a book for the novice—Brian Lavery's Nelson's Navy (Naval Institute Press, 2000) or even John Harland's Seamanship (Naval Institute Press, 1984) fit that bill nicely. But Willis' book is necessary reading for those of us who occasionally write about the world of wooden walls and iron men. I suspect that it would be even more meaningful if we could spend more time on the replica warships that now plow the waves.
Sadly, few working square-riggers, such as the brig Niagara out of Erie, Pennsylvania, exist today, and those that do have very few slots for crew and passengers. Few of us may have the opportunity to serve as crew or observer on a square-rigged vessel. Even then, in material and techniques of construction (as well as legally mandated safety features), operating vessels do not exactly compare with those of the late Age of Sail, and fleets such as those will not exist again for our educational benefit. Fortunately, all of us now have access to Sam Willis' excellent book.