Notable Naval Books of 1989

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy

For a more detailed examination of the development of contemporary U. S. naval strategy, one should read Michael A. Palmer's Origins of the Maritime Strategy: American Naval Strategy in the First Postwar Decade, which provides insight into the Navy's adjustment to the emerging bipolar power structure. To understand these formative years is to be better equipped for making the essential transitions in naval strategy necessitated by today's changing world picture. Palmer's work, deemed significant enough to inaugurate the Naval Historical Center's new series, Contributions to Naval History, has also earned the confidence of the U.S. Naval Institute and will be reprinted under separate cover by the Naval Institute Press sometime in the corning year.

Another contribution to the history of maritime strategy that offers suggestions for the future is History and the Sea: Essays on Maritime Strategies by Clark G. Reynolds , a former history professor at the U.S. Naval and Merchant Marine Academies and author of several important works on naval history and strategy. Reynolds focuses upon the strategic uses of the sea by the United States, but also includes incisive examinations of the maritime experiences of Imperial Japan and Czarist and Soviet Russia. He acknowledges the largely unsung contributions of Admiral Ernest J. King and General Douglas MacArthur to U.S. maritime strategy and offers ideas on the applications of history to future strategy.

Based more upon technological than political changes is John Keegan's The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare. By focusing upon four milestone naval battles in history (Trafalgar, Jutland, Midway, and the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II), Keegan recounts how changing technology and the individual commanders involved irrevocably altered the course of naval warfare. In a final chapter, he concludes that "command of the sea in the future unquestionably lies beneath rather than upon the surface." Despite some apparent technical errors (see John L. Byron, pp. 83-84, December 1989 Proceedings), this work is a notable contribution to the ongoing debate about current and future maritime strategy and tactics and is significant because of its widespread audience drawn by the popular Keegan.

Technology is the subject of another notable naval history book. Retired Rear Admiral R.W. King has compiled Naval Engineering and American Sea Power, a series of cogent and well-written essays that surveys the evolution and revolutions in propulsion, weapons, electronics, and naval architecture. Under such chapter titles as "The Rise of American Naval Power (1819-1913)," "The Roosevelt Resurgence (1933-1941)," and "The Six-Hundred Ship Navy and Merchant Marine Doldrums (1981-1988)," the impressively qualified authors deliver a comprehensive account of this lesser-known side of naval history.

Returning to an era when technological development moved more slowly, Brian Lavery's beautifully illustrated Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, 1793-1815 , is virtually encyclopedic and solidly authentic in its coverage of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic period. Personal accounts of men who were there sometimes stand in sharp contrast to the romanticized fictional accounts of the period, and Lavery's research has uncovered and clarified many aspects of life in the Royal Navy that were previously ignored. This is an important reference document for historians of the period and a highly readable and eye-opening account for the general reader.

Every year's list of notable naval books has included at least one World War II title. This 50th anniversary of the beginning of that war is certainly no exception. Two works do the seemingly impossible by fitting this global event of epic proportions into comprehensible single volumes. Martin Gilbert's The Second World War: A Complete History and John Keegan's The Second World War are similar in scope but different in approach. Gilbert's book follows a more comprehensive, chronological order, whereas Keegan opts for a more thematic presentation and, like his other successful works in military history, focuses upon several battles representative of the larger theaters of war.

Restoring some reality to World War II is Paul Fussell's Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. Contending that since its climactic end, World War II "has been sanitized and romanticized almost beyond recognition by the sentimental, the loony patriotic, the ignorant, and the bloodthirsty," Fussell attempts to depict the war as the "savage, insensate affair" that it was.

Other books capture some of the war's reality in more personal manners—the memoir of a naval aviator flying F4U Corsairs from the Solomons, The Jolly Rogers: The Story of Tom Blackburn and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17, and Torpedo Junction, the story of the six-month-long attack on merchant ships in U.S. coastal waters in 1942. Each brings to life relatively small but important corners of the war. Tom Blackburn's Jolly Rogers is a highly personalized recollection by one of the Pacific War's more successful squadron commanders, while Torpedo Junction, by Homer H. Hickham, Jr., is a highly readable and authentic story that uses the Coast Guard cutter Dione to represent the small force of often obsolete warships that combated German U-boats off of the North Carolina coast. Both books are important additions to the ever-growing chronicle of World War II.

Representing the hotter aspects of the Cold War are several notable works, ranging from Korea in 1950 to the battle for Grenada in 1983. Retreat Hell! We're Just Attacking in Another Direction by Jim Wilson is a retelling-called "harrowing…definitive and moving" by Kirkus Reviews— ofthe 1st Marines battling seven well-armed Chinese regiments and Arctic weather conditions at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Wilson traveled more than 5,000 miles to interview the veterans of that heroic struggle and created an account that military historian Clay Blair (author of The Forgotten War: America in Korea 1950- 1953 [Times Books, 1988]) describes as keeping "the battlefield under tight control and the story moving non-stop."

Perhaps the most unpopular and least understood aspect of the Cold War is Vietnam, but, as two books remind us, in the midst of all the controversy and misunderstanding, individual courage was not a lost commodity. Everett Alvarez, Jr., and Anthony Pitch's Chained Eagle and The Bridge at Dong Ha by John Grider Miller are true stories that testify to the awesome capabilities of the human spirit under extreme duress. In August 1964, Lieutenant (junior grade) Alvarez was shot down in North Vietnam. He was the first American pilot to become a prisoner of war and his ordeal was to last until the end of the war—eight-and-one-half years! Chained Eagle is his story, including the loneliness of his first year without seeing or hearing another American, the physical trials of brutal torture, and the mental anguish of learning on Christmas Day 1971 that his wife was divorcing him. The Bridge at Dong Ha recounts the incredible story of Marine Captain John Ripley, who held at bay a major North Vietnamese tank invasion during the 1972 Easter Offensive by destroying, at great risk to himself, a bridge critical to the enemy's advancement. Had this story been written as fiction it would have never been published, because it would be deemed too unbelievable.

Until the recent intervention in Panama, the largest military operation since Vietnam was the invasion of Grenada in fall of 1983, and Mark Adkin analyzes that operation in Urgent Fury: The Battle for Grenada. Adkin, a retired British infantry officer serving at the time of the invasion with the Barbados Defence Force, was closely involved with the Caribbean contingents in the planning and execution of the intervention. While military officers certainly will not enjoy all of Adkins's observations, they should read the book, for not only is it a thorough account of a chapter in U.S. military history, but it offers a thought-provoking critique of the modem U.S. armed forces. It is an important work.

A less glamorous but terribly significant aspect of the Cold War is found in the realm of nuclear technology, and no individual typifies that more than Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. One can find an insider's view of Rickover's nuclear propulsion program in Rickover and the Nuclear Navy: The Discipline of Technology by Francis Duncan, an Atomic Energy Commission historian assigned to the admiral's office from 1974 until Rickover's 1982 retirement. Duncan had free access to files, documents, and personnel at every level and the result is a thorough record of the program and additional insight into Rickover the man.

Works of fiction have recently been included in the notable naval books because the reading public's interest in Cold War literature was stimulated by the early efforts of Tom Clancy and Stephen Coonts. It is therefore fitting that both of these authors once again be recognized. In Clear and Present Danger Clancy abandons his usual Soviet nemesis to focus upon a new and very contemporary enemy: the drug cartel operating out of Medellin, Colombia. Coonts's The Minotaur resurrects naval aviators Jake Grafton and "Toad" Tarkington and pits them against formidable Pentagon spies and the establishment in an exciting tale that former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman describes as combining "espionage, murder, romance, white-knuckle flying, and political intrigue" in "the most interesting and believable plot yet."

Of the same genre is Red Phoenix by Larry Bond (Tom Clancy's collaborator on Red Storm Rising), a "what-if" scenario full of secret agents, brinkmanship politics, and heavy combat, in which U.S. and South Korean soldiers make a startling discovery along the demilitarized zone that has repercussions as far away as Washington, D.C., Beijing, and the Kremlin.

Fiction and fact are artfully blended in an anthology full of midshipmen and admiral s, gales and doldrums, fishing expeditions and naval engagements. Edited by retired Royal Navy Captain John O. Coote, The Norton Book of the Sea contains excerpts of works by Herman Wouk, Rudyard Kipling, Rachel Carson, Samuel Eliot Morison, and Tom Clancy, among many others. It is, according to the Times Literary Supplement, "an excellent compendium, full of experiences which the reader can vicariously enjoy without even beginning to raise an anchor."

Always indispensable to a list of notable naval books are the reference titles, headed by the venerable Jane's Fighting Ships, but this year joined by several welcome newcomers. Norman Friedman's The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems lists and describes the surface, air, and submarine weapon systems of all the world's navies, including not only guns, missiles, mines, and torpedoes, but also the sensors and command systems used to deliver them on target. This encyclopedia-like guide is comprehensive and well illustrated and the author will update it biennially (in alternate years with The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World). John Jordan provides a detailed look at Soviet submarines in Soviet Submarines 1945 to the Present. The book includes a wealth of technical and operational data accompanied by an excellent array of illustrations. Finally, filling a significant reference void, is William B. Cogar's first volume of Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy 1862-1900, an excellent historical tool with personal facts, ranks achieved, and a chronological summary of the career of each of the 211 individuals listed.

Also notable this year are important works that have been resurrected from that dreaded obscurity feared by all authors and bibliophiles: "out-of-print." The Naval Institute reprinted three notable works: John D. Alden's The American Steel Navy: A Photographic History of the U.S. Navy from the Introduction of the Steel Hull in 1883 to the Cruise of the Great White Fleet, 1907-1909; Alden's Flush Decks and Four Pipes, a lavishly illustrated history of the flush-deck destroyer from its debut in 1917 until its demise in the World War II years; and Guardians of the Sea: History of the United States Coast Guard, 1915 to the Present by Robert Erwin Johnson.

At this time when we look to the future with uncertainty and hope, when we must choose where to go and decide how to get there. We can find some of the tools in these notable books; others must be fashioned from our imaginations. But no matter which path we take, it will be better traveled by those with knowledge, and it is through books, notable naval and otherwise, that knowledge is preserved and most effectively transmitted.

 

The American Steel Navy: A Photographic History of the U.S. Navy from the Introduction of the Steel Hull in 1863 to the Cruise of the Great White Fleet, 1907-1909 . Commander John D. Alden, USN (Ret.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 395 pp. Photos. Illus. Tables. Bib. Ind. $49.50 ($39.60).

The Bridge at Dong Ha . John Grider Miller. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 200 pp. $16.95 ($13.56).

Chained Eagle . Everett Alvarez, Jr., and Anthony Pitch. New York: Donald I. Fine, Inc., 1989. 308 pp. Photos. Illus. $ 18.95 ($17.05).

Clear and Present Danger . Tom Clancy. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1989. 656 pp. $19.75 ($17.77).

Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy: Volume I, 1862-1900 . William B. Cogar. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 256 pp. Photos. Bib. $36.95 ($29.56).

Flush Decks and Four Pipes . Commander John D. Alden, USN (Ret.). Annapolis , MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 107 pp. Photos. Tables. Figs. Bib. $29.95 ($23.96).

Guardians of the Sea: History of the United States Coast Guard 1915 to the Present . Robert Erwin Johnson. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 424 pp. Illus. Bib. Ind. $45.00 ($36.00).

History and the Sea: Essays on Maritime Strategies . Clark G. Reynolds. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.232 pp. Notes. Ind. $24.95 ($22.45).

Jane's Fighting Ships 1989-90: Ninety-second Edition . Captain Richard Sharpe, Royal Navy, editor. Arlington, VA: Jane's Information Group, 1989. 826 pp. Photos. Illus. Tables. Ind. $170.00 ($153.00).

The Jolly Rogers: The Story of Tom Blackburn and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17. Tom Blackburn. New York: Orion Books, 1989. 288 pp. Photos. Append. Gloss. Bib. $22.95 ($26.65).

The Minotaur . Stephen Coonts. New York: Doubleday, 1989. 436 pp. $19.95 ($17.95).

Naval Engineering and American Sea Power . Admiral R.W. King, USN (Ret.), editor. Baltimore, MD: Nautical and Aviation Publishing, 1989. 487 pp. Photos. Illus. Maps. Figs. Append. Gloss. Notes. Bib. Ind. $29.95 ($26.95).

The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems . Norman Friedman. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 640 pp. Photos. mus. Ind. $89.95 ($71.96).

Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, 1793-1815 . Brian Lavery. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 352 pp. Illus. Maps. Append. Notes. Bib. Ind. $44.95 ($35.96).

Norton Book of the Sea . John O. Coote, editor. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989.406 pp. Bib. Ind. $22.50 ($20.25).

Origins of the Maritime Strategy: American Naval Strategy in the First Postwar Decade . Michael A. Palmer. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, 1988. 129 pp. Photos. Map. Append. Gloss. Notes. Bib. Ind. $7.50 ($6.75) paper.

The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare . John Keegan. New York: Viking, 1989. 270 pp. Photos. Gloss. Bib. $21.95.

Red Phoenix . Larry Bond. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1989. 588 pp. Maps. Gloss. $19.95 ($17.95).

Retreat Hell! We're Just Attacking in Another Direction . Jim Wilson. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1989.349 pp. Photos. Maps. $19.95 ($17.95).

Rickover and the Nuclear Navy: The Discipline of Technology . Francis Duncan. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 374 pp. Photos. Append. Key . Notes. Bib. Ind. $28.95 ($23.16).

Sea power and Strategy . Colin S. Gray and Roger W. Barnett, editors. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press , 1989. 416 pp. Illus. Notes. Bib. Ind. $37.95 ($30.36).

The Second World War . John Keegan. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. Photos. Ind. $24.95.

The Second World War: A Complete History . Martin Gilbert. New York: Henry Holt and Col, Inc., 1989. 846 pp. Photos. Maps. Bib. Ind. $29.95 ($26.95).

Soviet Submarines 1945 to the Present . John Jordan. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1989. 192 pp. Photos. Maps. Illus. Bib. Order directly from publisher: Artillery House, Artillery Row, London SWIP IRT.

Torpedo Junction: U-Boat War off America's East Coast, 1942 . Homer H. Hickham, Jr. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. 367 pp. Photos. Maps. Tables. Append. Notes. Bib. Ind. $26.95 ($21.56).

Urgent Fury: The Battle for Grenada . Mark Adkin. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books. 1989. 391 pp. Photos. Maps. Key. Append. Notes. Bib. Ind. $24.95 ($22.45).

Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War . Paul Fussell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. $19.95 ($17.95).

 

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of 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, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

More by this Author

BROWN WATER, BLACK BERETS
The men of the U.S. Navy's brown-water force played a vital but often overlooked role in the... Read More
BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF
The last great naval battle of World War II, Leyte Gulf also is remembered as the biggest naval... Read More
DUTTON'S NAUTICAL NAVIGATION, 15TH EDITION
As paper navigational charts are replaced by vector images on computer screens, magnetic compasses... Read More
A SAILOR'S HISTORY OF THE U.S. NAVY
Also Available in an Audio Edition from Audible via Amazon Essential reading as part of the Chief... Read More

Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More

 
 

Conferences and Events

2014 U.S. Naval Institute History Conference

Wed, 2014-10-01

The 2014 Naval History Conference is hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the U.S. Naval Academywith support from The William M...

Defense Forum Washington 2014

Newseum - Knight Conference Center

2015 WEST Conference

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership