Notable Naval Books of 1990

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

In Crisis Papers, Paine suggested at the end of the American Revolution that "the numerous and complicated dangers we have suffered or escaped, the eminence we now stand on, and the vast prospect before us, must all conspire to impress us with contemplation." In those moments, strikingly similar to our own, he urged a familiar course of action: "Let us look back on the scenes we have passed, and learn from experience what is yet to be done."

Heeding that advice, several of this year's notable books are important works of history. One in particular, which looks upon the whole of American naval history, is Kenneth J. Hagan's This People's Navy: The Making of American Sea Power. As a U.S. Naval Academy history professor, museum director, and archivist,

Hagan has written what former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman describes as "easily the best one-volume history of the U.S. Navy yet written." But what makes this well-written account especially significant is that Lehman, in his Washington Post review, not only lauds it as "a history of the ideas and politics that built the ships, and the men who directed them to distant waters," he also challenges it for "editorializing" when Hagan's assessments vary from his own (which, for the record, Lehman accomplishes in a humorously effective manner that neither diminishes his praise for the book nor lessens his own credibility). It is precisely this kind of debate that is essential to the formulation of future policy and strategy. Writing history that stimulates thought rather than merely recounts events is no doubt what Paine had in mind when he urged contemplation "on the scenes we have passed."

Further illuminating the factors that have affected the U.S. Navy's course through history is James C. Bradford's latest volume in his "Maker's of the American Naval Tradition" series, Admirals of the New Steel Navy. Covering the period 1880-1930, this collection of essays by prominent naval historians, like its companion volumes, brings together current American scholarship and the historical contributions of many of the U. S. Navy's most important naval officers. Included are the intellectual giants Stephen B. Luce and Alfred Thayer Mahan; Spanish American War heroes Sampson, Dewey, and Schley; William S. Sims, mastermind of World War I; and various others of equal stature.

One famous American admiral who will surely appear in the next volume of Bradford's series is the redoubtable Arleigh Burke. E. B. Potter, professor emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of Nimitz and Bull Halsey, has turned his attention to this virtual icon of naval history who thrilled the nation with his exploits in World War II and went on to serve an unprecedented three terms as Chief of Naval Operations in a time when the U.S. Navy was making the transition into the nuclear age. Retired Vice Admiral William P. Mack writes of Potter's biography: "Throughout the book, the character of one of the most famous naval officers of this century shines forth; boldness, aggressiveness, performance in combat—all are the essence of Arleigh Burke." And author Tom Clancy states: "Arleigh Burke is the Navy's last great warrior chief from World War II. Ned Potter has produced a book wholly worthy of its subject. Superb personal and military history."

World War II has occupied a sizable portion of "Notable Naval Books" since this feature began, and this is understandable considering the dimensions and importance of that conflict. But this year, when many of the world's nations once again went to war—where we frequently hear national leaders compared with Adolf Hitler, warnings of the dangers of appeasement, discussion of the merits of air power, and rallying cries for the troops in the field—it is especially appropriate that we look back to that time of near-universal conflict.

Justin F. Gleichauf's Unsung Sailors sheds long-overdue light on an element of the nation's war effort that has received little attention. Nearly 145,000 Americans served in the Naval Armed Guard as gunners, radio operators, signalmen, and medics aboard some 6,000 merchant ships that kept the vital arteries of supply flowing to the massive war effort in all theaters. Based on interviews with more than 100 veterans of this little-known service, Gleichauf has not only recorded an important aspect of history, he has captured the essence of life on board these ships where painful tedium was relieved by unwanted terror.

Serving as a companion volume to his oral history of the Pacific war, John T. Mason, Jr., now gives us The Atlantic War Remembered, a fascinating collection of firsthand accounts from the men and women who contributed in various but vital ways. The development of radar, the increased roles of women, heroism at the landings in Sicily, reporting the news from the D-Day invasion, and battling bedbugs at Yalta are but a few of the many topics brought to life in this sometimes humorous, often inspiring, collection.

Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, by Richard B. Frank, will likely live up to its subtitle. It is a monumental work that Publisher's Weekly evaluates as "highly readable" and "first-rate military history." Ten years in the writing, this 800-page treatment relies on hundreds of sources, including official Japanese Defense Agency accounts, recently declassified U.S. radio intelligence, and the thoughts and emotions of both Japanese and American veterans to create what is surely the most comprehensive account of this pivotal Pacific campaign.

Two of this year's notables deal with German submarine operations in World War II. In Operation Drumbeat, Michael Gannon details the story of U-boat attacks along the American coast in the early days of the war. Author Thomas Fleming (Time and Tide) describes it as "an absolutely stunning book [that] should startle everyone who thinks there is nothing more to be said about World War II." Among the startling revelations is the U.S. Navy's incompetence during those harrowing days when enemy forces prowled dangerously close to American shores and ravaged American shipping almost at will.

The second book, U-Boat Ace by Jordan Vause, is a biographical account of Wolfgang Lüth, whose accomplishments include sinking 48 Allied vessels and becoming the youngest full captain in the Kreigsmarine (German Navy). Unlike his famed counterpart, Otto Kretschmer, Lüth has remained obscure outside of Germany until now. Vause found little helpful material in the German archives but was able to track down some of Lüth's crewmen and fellow U-boat commanders. The result is a revealing account of an enigmatic commander who was often ruthless yet earned the devotion of the men who served under him.

A little-known aspect of naval history is effectively brought forward in Mud, Muscle, and Miracles: Marine Salvage in the United States Navy, by Navy Captain C. A. Bartholomew, who was killed in a diving accident soon after the book's publication. Until the mid-1800s, ships that were sunk or had gone aground were considered lost forever. But with the advent of steam power and the increased abilities of men to work underwater, marine salvage became an important arm of the Navy. From inspecting the wreckage of the USS Maine at the bottom of Havana harbor to the recovery of debris from the space shuttle Challenger, this comprehensive account fills a void by telling the story of a branch of the Navy that has long made important contributions both to national defense and to the maritime industry.

Appearing concurrently with the salvage arm of the Navy were the armored cruisers and battleships that were to play crucial roles in deciding the course of world affairs. Ian Marshall's Armored Ships captures both the history and imagery of these glorious ships that controlled the seas during the age of imperialism. Beautiful watercolor paintings and pencil sketches accompany an informative narrative that spans the decades from the Crimean War to the early days of World War II when these ships gave special meaning to the word "capital."

Another era of naval history is revived in meticulous, exciting detail in Brian Lavery's Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation 1793-1815 . This fresh approach not only provides an accurate, encyclopedic depiction of the Royal Navy, it also dispels many of the popular myths about Nelson's navy. From signalling tables to pay scales, ordnance descriptions to sleeping facilities, Marine rank devices to recruitment techniques, this book covers the important and the obscure in such a way that the reader is virtually transported to the wooden decks of Nelson's fleet.

Recently opened papers at Ohio State University were the source of a work that has at last gotten past the problems of writing an objective account of Admiral Richard Byrd's first expedition to Antarctica. Beyond the Barrier, by Eugene Rodgers, reveals the man behind the legend and tells a true story that rivals fiction in its adventure and human drama. Without discrediting the success of the expedition or Byrd's leadership, this book paints a less-saintly image of the man and gives a more honest rendition of the problems encountered by this historic venture.

Two exceptionally practical books round out this year's list of notables. In Retiring from Military Service: A Commonsense Guide, K. C. Jacobsen uses humor and an abundance of pragmatism to help the military man or woman make what for many is a traumatic transition. Although this guide is full of standard advice about job-changing—resume writing, successful interview techniques, contract negotiations, for example—its most valuable contribution is in helping the reader through the psychological adjustments of military retirement. It does so superbly.

The other is Robert Shenk's Guide to Naval Writing. This is deck-plate level, hands-on training designed for the officer or senior enlisted person who must write messages, fitness reports, award recommendations, or any of the other unique challenges of the military pen. Full of sound advice and excellent examples, this book will anger only those of us who wish it had been around when we were learning to write the hard way.

These "Notable Naval Books of 1990" will help us plan the future, learn from the past, and better live in the present. The large number of histories offers solace in these precarious times by reminding us that we, as a nation, have rallied in the face of danger and uncertainty before and will most certainly do so again. The criticisms of individuals and of institutions we find in some of these works serve not to do harm but to broaden our experience. And, of equal importance, the candor found in these books, and the rebuttals that some will stimulate, remind us that freedom of expression is alive and well even in these trying times.


Admiral Arleigh Burke: A Biography . E. B. Potter. New York: Random House, 1990. 494 pp. Bib. Fig. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. ISBN: CB-5. $24.95 ($19.96).

Admirals of the New Steel Navy: Makers of the American Naval Tradition 1880-1930 . James C. Bradford, editor. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 427 pp. Bib. Illus. Ind. Notes. Photos. ISBN: 003-3. $39.95 ($31.96).

Armored Ships . Ian Marshall. Charlottesville, VA: Howell Press, 1990. 180 pp. Bib. Colored Plates. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes . ISBN: CX-9. $39.95 ($31.96).

The Atlantic War Remembered . John T. Mason, Jr., editor. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 480 pp. Append. Bib. Gloss. Ind. Maps. Photos. ISBN: 523-X. $34.95 ($27.96).

Beyond the Barrier . Eugene Rodgers. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 354 pp. Bib. Ind. Notes. Photos. ISBN: 022-X. $24.95 ($ 19 .96).

The Future of Sea Power . Eric Grove. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 280 pp. Fig. Gloss. Ind. Notes. Tables. ISBN: 249-4. $27.95 ($22.36).

Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle . Richard B. Frank. New York: Random House, 1990. 800 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. Tables. $34.95 ($31.45).

Guide to Naval Writing . Robert Shenk. Annapolis , MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 355 pp. Fig. Gloss. Ind. ISBN: 438-1. $22.95 ($18.36) paper.

Jane's Fighting Ships 1990-91 (Ninety-third edition) . Captain Richard Sharpe, Royal Navy, editor. Arlington , VA: Jane's Information Group, 1990. 849 pp. Illus. Ind. Photos. Tables. $185.00 ($166.50).

Mud, Muscle, and Miracles: Marine Salvage in the United States Navy . Captain C. A. Bartholomew, U.S. Navy. Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 1990. 505 pp. Append. Bib. Fig. Illus. Ind. Maps. Photos. Tables. $32.00 ($28.80).

The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World 1990/91:Their Ships, Aircraft, and Armament . Bernard Prezelin, editor (English language edition by A. D. Baker III). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 1,040 pp. Gloss. Illus. Ind. Photos. ISBN: 250-8. $120.00 ($96.00).

Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation 1793-1815 . Brian Lavery. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 352 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Maps. Photos. Tables. ISBN: 258-3. $44.95 ($35.96).

Operation Drumbeat: The Dramatic True Story of Germany's First U-boat Attacks along the American Coast in World War II . Michael Gannon. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1990. 490 pp. Append. Bib. Gloss. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $24.95 ($22.45).

Retiring from Military Service: A Commonsense Guide . Captain K. C. Jacobsen, U.S. Navy (Retired). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 297 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. ISBN: 207-9. $22.95 ($18.36).

This People's Navy: The Making of American Sea Power . Kenneth J. Hagan. New York: The Free Press, 1991. 434 pp. Bib. Illus. Ind. Photos. ISBN: VH-8. $27.95 ($22.36).

U-Boat Ace: The Story of Wolfgang Lüth . Jordan Vause. Annapolis , MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 235 pp. Bib. Gloss. Ind. Notes. Photos. ISBN: 666-X. $24.95 ($19.96).

Unsung Sailors: The Naval Armed Guard in World War II . Justin F. Gleichauf. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 432 pp. Bib. Ind. Notes. Photos. ISBN: 770-4. $29.95 ($23.96).


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.

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