Notable Naval Books of 1991

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

The whole of U.S. naval history is addressed in Stephen Howarth's To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy, 1775- 1991. A degree of objectivity is included in this work since Howarth is British, and it effectively couples an analysis of operations, policy, and strategy with insights into the individuals and specific events that have brought the U.S. Navy from its humble, commerce-raiding origins to its current status as a world-class sea power. Perhaps this work is best described by the publisher, whose promotional material aptly calls it "global in scope but always human in scale."

Two of 1991's notables focus on the early days of American naval history. Former executive editor of Time-Life Books and author of a dozen books on maritime history, A. B. C. Whipple offers To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines. And former holder of the Secretary of the Navy's Research Chair at the Naval Historical Center, Christopher McKee, focuses on the creation of the officer corps in his A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815 .

Whipple's book recounts an almost forgotten period in U.S. history, when the fledgling nation was challenged by the Barbary states of North Africa, and when some of the problems faced by President Thomas Jefferson were strikingly similar to those faced by his White House successors in the 1980s and 1990s. Such terms as "freedom of the seas" and "arms for hostages" have an ironic ring in these pages and lend credence to the Mahanian maxim regarding the utility of sedulously studying history.

McKee brings to life not only the familiar figures of this period, like William Bainbridge and Thomas Truxtun, but also some lesser-known (or in some cases, unknown) names, such as captains Alexander Murray and Hugh G. Campbell, who were demanding teachers of and inspiring models for young officers in the formative years of the officer corps, and Thomas Turner, the Navy's accountant who effectively fought fraud and the misappropriation of funds. In these days when education and economics are upstaging the more traditional concerns of foreign policy and preparation for war, such men's contributions take on new significance.

The remainder of this year's historical works deal with events in the turbulent 20th century, beginning with War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1987-1945 by Edward S. Miller. At a time when the nation faces the prospect of rethinking its strategy in a much-changed world, a look back at how U.S. strategy was developed, modified, and ultimately implemented seems particularly appropriate. That process is cogently recounted in this book, which former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman describes as "an excellent account of the most successful war planning in this century by an author worthy of the task."  Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William J. Crowe, Jr., writes that War Plan Orange is "a must read for historians, strategists, military planners, and students."

A key figure in U.S. preparations for global war is the subject of Clark G. Reynolds's new book, Admiral John H. Towers: The Struggle for Naval Air Supremacy . Towers was one of the founding fathers of U.S. naval aviation. He was the third U.S. naval officer to earn his wings, and in later years he commanded the USS Langley (CV-1), the first U.S. aircraft carrier. But it was in the eleventh hour before World War II, as mastermind (in close concert with President Franklin D. Roosevelt) of the mobilization of aviation forces for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and in four decades of service as the acknowledged leader of the Navy's air arm, that Towers made his most significant contributions. This and his many other achievements are preserved for posterity as only Clark Reynolds can do.

Another important biography to appear this past year was Merrill L. Bartlett's Lejeune: A Marine's Life, 1869-1942 . Doing justice to all of the important and varied aspects of this icon of Marine Corps history is no simple task, but Bartlett has risen to the occasion and produced a superior biography. He reveals the human being behind this godlike figure of the Corps, whose name appears on a major Marine base and on buildings at both the U.S. Naval Academy and Virginia Military Institute. Yet, in doing so, Bartlett only strengthens the foundations of the legend.

Both Towers and Lejeune significantly affected the conduct of World War II and therefore the world. World War II is arguably the pivotal event of the 20th century and unquestionably one of the most significant occurrences in the whole of world history. It is little wonder that an unending stream of books about the war has flowed forth since its end, and now, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of that cataclysmic event, that steady flow is becoming a torrent. Seven of the Notable Naval Books this year embrace various aspects of that multifaceted war.

Two of the more sweeping treatments are found in Dan van der Vat's The Pacific Campaign World War II: The U.S. Japanese Naval War 1941-1945 and Corelli Barnett's Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War. The former is a concise, analytical history of the U.S.-Japanese naval, war in the Pacific, with contentions about the causes of the conflict and criticisms of some of the key figures that will stimulate rebuttals and debate in some quarters and become gospel in others.

Barnett's work is a history of the Royal Navy in World War II described by British Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin of Greenwich as "authoritative, meticulously researched, and stirring." Barnett's approach to this comprehensive and very readable account is best captured in his preface, where he explains that the book is "first and foremost the story of the ships' companies…in their service from the first day to the last of a six-year war. It is a study of how duty, discipline, comradeship, and a quenchless sense of humor prevailed over extremes of hardship, and triumphed over fear even among the worst of hazards. It describes how these qualities, allied to superb seamanship and a Nelsonian readiness to engage the enemy more closely, brought the Royal Navy through the most dangerous crisis in its history and rewarded it with victory."

One important participant in World War II survived only a few minutes into the war but was to become an important symbol of American resolve in the coming struggle for victory. Paul Stillwell has detailed her history in Battleship Arizona: An Illustrated History. With the same unabashed love of battleships and impressive research that made his previous book on the USS New Jersey (BB-62) so successful, Stillwell brings one of the nation's foremost monuments to life by not only recounting the Arizona's little-known operational history prior to that fateful December morning in 1941, but also by examining the men who crewed and commanded her.

In David Kahn's Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German V-Boat Codes, 1939-1943 , the focus shifts to the naval war in the Atlantic, where breaking the German cryptologic codes was a significant factor in the Allied victory over the German submarine menace. Kahn's work is an artful blend of the strategic, technological, and operational aspects of this intelligence triumph which many have argued was decisive in the Battle of the Atlantic. His treatment is both instructive and thought provoking, yet he never ignores the dramatic element that makes this a fascinating tale of cerebral combat.

The role of cryptology is spotlighted in a major event in the Pacific as well. Using the information gleaned from broken Japanese codes, U.S. fighters were able in April 1943 to intercept and shoot down a Japanese aircraft containing the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto—a blow to the Imperial Japanese Navy from which it never fully recovered. This highly controversial mission is revealed in detail in Lightning Over Bougainville: The Yamamoto Mission Reconsidered by R. Cargill Hall, whose extensive research incorporates relevant interviews, including one with the pilot of the plane that accompanied Yamamoto's at the time of the attack.

Specific campaigns of the Pacific War are addressed in Peleliu: Tragic Triumph by Bill D. Ross and Bougainville: The Forgotten Campaign 1943-1945 by Harry A. Gailey. Peleliu was predicted to fall within days but took weeks instead, resulting in some of the highest casualties of the Pacific War. The Japanese troops outnumbered the assaulting Marines, and their defensive fortifications were nearly impenetrable. Most troubling, however, is that, in retrospect, it is apparent that the campaign need never have been conducted at all. All of this—and a great deal more—is included in a book that Pulitzer Prize-winning Keyes Beach, a combat correspondent at Tarawa, Saipan, and Iwo Jima, calls "a book that should have been written years ago, especially by an author like Bill D. Ross…"

Bougainville, northernmost of the Solomon Islands, was the scene of a protracted campaign that lasted nearly two years during which a unique combination of Allied forces struggled on land and at sea with a formidable and determined enemy. Unlike Peleliu, it was a campaign of great strategic importance and was also the first campaign in which black troops played a combat role. Gailey's extensively researched and well-written account revives this nearly forgotten component of the Pacific War.

Following World War II, one of the most harrowing moments in the ensuing Cold War was the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles in Cuba. In Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dino A. Brugioni sheds new light as an eyewitness. As a longtime senior intelligence official, Brugioni was called on to supervise the preparation of all aerial reconnaissance photographs and briefing notes for the CIA during the crisis. This book is the result of that direct participation and ten years of massive research, including extensive interviews with other participants. Former CIA Director Richard Helms predicts that Eyeball to Eyeball "will undoubtedly become the definitive work on the role of photo interpretation during the Cuban Missile Crisis."

Proceedings contributor and retired naval surface officer Joseph F. Bouchard also reviews the Cuban Missile Crisis in Command in Crisis, along with three other important Cold War-era events: the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis and the two Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973. This work is a scholarly assessment of the U.S. military command system's control of naval operations in times of international crisis, and Bouchard, by using these four case studies as his models, analyzes the problems inherent in the use of naval power to project influence at the scene of a confrontation. The result is an important contribution to the ongoing study of strategic thinking and an eye-opening assessment of four relatively recent historical events.

Another chapter in the Cold War began in Southeast Asia in the aftermath of World War II, when the French tried to reestablish their colonial control in the region. Drawing upon recently published French-language sources, The French Navy in Indochina: Riverine and Coastal Forces, 1945-54 by Charles W. Koburger, Jr., explores one aspect of the resulting war. Many of the craft and tactics employed and the problems encountered were similar to those of the U.S. Navy in its follow-on struggle in the region, and there are lessons here for would-be planners of limited conflicts.

Another aspect of the Vietnam War is studied in Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh, a joint effort by professional historian and author John Prados and a veteran of the campaign, Ray W. Stubbe. The result is a comprehensive account that effectively blends the documentary with the personal narrative to tell the whole story of this central battle as it was conducted by the Marines on the scene and from the White House.

A war of a different sort—the recent struggle in the Persian Gulf between U.N. forces and the outlaw, Saddam Hussein—has generated an amazing number of titles for so recent an event. Four of these are particularly notable. James Blackwell's Thunder in the Desert: The Strategy and Tactics of the Persian Gulf War and Norman Friedman's Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait are both comprehensive and insightful analyses. Retired Army Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, in his collective review of 11 books about the Gulf War, writes of Blackwell's work, "If I were to get only one book on the Gulf War, this would be it." And retired Army Colonel Harry Summers writes that Friedman's book "puts Desert Storm in historical context and makes the victory understandable."

The latter is no small praise, for Colonel Summers himself has produced one of the notable books on the Gulf War. His On Strategy II: A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War follows in the tradition of his highly acclaimed previous work on the Vietnam War, On Strategy, and he brings the same cogent analysis and provocative challenges to this new work. One of the better works to appear on the Gulf War was produced by the U.S. government itself. The Secretary of Defense's paper, Conduct of the Persian Gulf Conflict: An Interim Report to Congress, answers 27 questions as required by public law, and those answers provided give valuable insight into the conduct of the war.

Several other Notable Naval Books were produced under the auspices of the federal government, a refreshing trend in light of many government agencies being criticized for not offering needed leadership. Published by National Defense University Press, Joint Warfare of the U.S. Armed Forces is a symbiotic look at the employment of the nation's military forces that finally moves beyond traditional lip service and takes an important (and long-overdue) first step toward genuine joint planning and conduct of war.

Also emanating from the halls of government are two new titles in the Naval Historical Center's "Contributions to Naval History" series. Building America's Submarines, 1914-1940 by Gary E. Weir is an important look at the problems and successes encountered in a major weapons acquisition program, providing lessons relevant to those processes still going on today. "Damn the Torpedoes": A Short History of U.S. Naval Mine Countermeasures, 1777-1991 by Tamara Moser Melia recounts the U.S. Navy's longstanding attempts to neutralize the threat of enemy mines. As U.S. forces still continue to sweep these mechanical denizens of the deep from the waters off Kuwait, the relevance of such an account is readily apparent.

Despite the importance of learning from history, as advocated by Mahan, such lessons are meaningless unless they are used to plan the future. That goal is achieved by Harlan K. Ullman, whose In Harm's Way: American Seapower and the 21st Century serves up plentiful food for thought about the future development and employment of naval forces. Captain Peter M. Swartz, U.S. Navy, Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, writes that this book "went from being a radical tract (when drafted), to a controversial essay (when published), to the conventional wisdom (when read today)."

An important ingredient to planning of any sort is relevant data, and that is provided at least in part by notable reference works. The latest edition of Jane's Fighting Ships is a perennial selection for the list of Notable Naval Books, and every other year The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World appears and claims its rightful spot on the list. Starting in 1990, a newcomer appeared and joined the list of notables—Norman Friedman's The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems. Like its companion guide, Combat Fleets, this valuable reference work is updated and published biennially, and this year's edition has expanded its coverage of airborne sensors, weapons, and countermeasures and added data on the integrated computer hardware and software that serve naval weapons.

In the many thousands of pages that make up this year's Notable Naval Books, one cannot expect to find a specific prescription for the future. But it is reasonable to assume that herein the raw material for an informed decision-making process does exist. When Alfred Thayer Mahan took pen in hand and changed world strategic thinking over a century ago, he was facing a revolution in technology. Today we are facing a revolution in the world order that will have no less an impact. Yet we must heed Mahan's warning that "it is the property of ordinary men, in times of danger, to see difficulties more clearly than advantages, and to shrink from steps that involve risk." We must not permit ourselves to shrink from the necessity for planning and for action because of uncertainty. Armed with the knowledge preserved in these and other notable works, the future becomes less formidable and our way more clear. The future becomes not adversity but opportunity.


Admiral John H. Towers: The Struggle for Naval Air Supremacy . Clark G. Reynolds. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991. 676 pp. Bib. Ind. Notes. Photos. $37.95 ($30.36).

Battleship Arizona: An Illustrated History . Paul Stillwell. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991. 480 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Notes. Photos. $48.95 ($39.16).

Bougainville: The Forgotten Campaign 1943-1945 . Harry A. Gailey. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1991 . 237 pp. Bib. Gloss. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $27 .00 ($24.30).

Building America's Submarines, 1914-1940 . Gary E. Weir. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1991. 166 pp. Append. Bib. Gloss. Ind. Notes. Photos. $10.00 paper.

Command in Crisis . Joseph F. Bouchard. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. 325 pp. Bib. Ind. Notes. $45.00 ($40.50).

Conduct of the Persian Gulf Conflict: An Interim Report to Congress . Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991. 262 pp. Append. Maps. Order from: GPO/Dept. SSMC/Washington, DC 20401.

"Damn the Torpedoes": A Short History of U.S. Naval Mine Countermeasures, 1777-1991 . Tamara Moser Melia. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1991. 20'9 pp. Bib. Figs. Gloss. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $10.00 paper.

Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait . Norman Friedman. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991. 435 pp. Append. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $24.95 ($19.96) hardcover; $18.95 ($15.16) paper.

Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War . Correlli Barnett. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1991. 1,052 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $39.95 ($35.95).

Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis . Dino A. Brugioni. New York: Random Housel Annapolis, MD, Naval Institute Press, 1991. 622 pp. Ind. Notes. Photos. $35.00. ($28.00).

The French Navy in Indochina: Riverine and Coastal Forces, 1945-54 . Charles W. Koburger, Jr. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1991. 160 pp. Append. Bib. Gloss. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. Tables. $39.95 ($35.95).

A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815. Christopher McKee. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991. 640 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Notes. $48.95 ($39.16).

The Influence of History on Mahan . John B. Hattendorf, editor. Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1991. 208 pp. Illus. Notes. Photos. $8.00 (plus shipping & handling) paper.

In Harm's Way: American Seapower and the 21st Century . Harlan K. Ullman. Silver Spring, MD: Bartleby Press, 1991. 271 pp. Append. Figs. Tables. $16.50 ($14.85) paper.

Jane's Fighting Ships 1991-92 (Ninety-fourth edition) . Captain Richard Sharpe, Royal Navy (Ret.), editor. Arlington, V A: Jane's Information Group, 1991. 842 pp. Illus. Ind. Photos. Tables. $210.00 ($189.00).

Joint Warfare of the U.S. Armed Forces . Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1991. 79 pp. $2.50.

Lejeune: A Marine's Life, 1869-1942 . Merrill L. Bartlett. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. 240 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. 240 pp. $24.95 ($22.45).

Lightning Over Bougainville: The Yamamoto Mission Reconsidered . R. Cargill Hall. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. 220 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Photos. $21.95 ($19.75).

Mahan on Naval Strategy . John B. Hattendorf, editor. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991. 432 pp. Illus. Ind. $32.95 ($26.36).

The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems 1991/92 . Norman Friedman. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991. 928 pp. Append. Illus. Ind. Photos. $120.00 ($96.00).

On Strategy II: A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War . Col. Harry G. Summers, Jr., USA (Ret.). New York: Dell Publishing, 1992.302 pp. Append. Ind. Maps. Notes. $4.99 paper.

The Pacific Campaign World War II: The U.S.-Japanese Naval War 1941-1945 . Dan van der Vat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. 430 pp. Bib. Ind. Maps. Photos. $30.00 ($27.00).

Peleliu: Tragic Triumph . Bill D. Ross. New York: Random House, 1991. 381 pp. Bib. Ind. Maps. Photos. $21.50 ($19.35).

Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939-1943 . David Kahn. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. 337 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $24.95 ($22.45).

Thunder in the Desert: The Strategy and Tactics of the Persian Gulf War. James Blackwell. New York: Bantam Books, 1991. 274 pp. Ind. Maps. $12.50 paper.

To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy, 1775-1991 . Stephen Howarth. New York: Random House, 1991. 620 pp. Bib. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $25.00 ($22.50).

To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines . A. B. C. Whipple. New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1991. 357 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Notes. $23.00 ($20.70).

Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh . John Prados and Ray W. Stubbe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. 551 pp. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $29.95 ($26.95) paper.

War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 . Edward S. Miller. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991. 544 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Photos. $34.95 ($27.96).


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.

More by this Author

The men of the U.S. Navy's brown-water force played a vital but often overlooked role in the... Read More
The last great naval battle of World War II, Leyte Gulf also is remembered as the biggest naval... Read More
As paper navigational charts are replaced by vector images on computer screens, magnetic compasses... Read More
Also Available in an Audio Edition from Audible via Amazon Essential reading as part of the Chief... Read More
Just as Thomas Cutler's The Bluejacket's Manual serves as the standard introduction and... Read More
From the days of oars and coal-fired engines to the computerized era of the twenty-first century,... Read More
Most Americans know little about their Navy and learning about it can be daunting. But this... Read More

Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More
Videotape Interview
10:00am, “Veterans Oral Histories Series,” American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington,... Read More


Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Tue, 2016-08-09

  You are cordially invited to Maritime Security Dialogue A discussion with General Robert B. Neller, USMC Commandant, U.S....

2016 Naval History Conference

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

View All

From the Press

Meet the Authors & Book Signing

Fri, 2016-08-05

Guest Speaker

Mon, 2016-08-08

CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN

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