Notable Naval Books of 1995

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

Whether one sees these words as consistent or merely redundant, there is a recurring and important theme here. There are many strengths to this wondrous concept we have christened "democracy," but all are quickly nullified without the essential element of freedom of expression. That freedom has given us an open forum in which to hammer out the principles and great ideas that have made the United States of America the most accomplished nation in the history of the world. But if this forum is to be a real "engine of change," if we are to reap the many benefits that it brings, we must also be willing to listen to the voices of dissent and recognize that criticism can be a great asset when met with an open mind. It is a wise man who re lies on the support of others to rate his ideas, but it is a wiser man who also relies upon the criticisms of others as a test of his ideas.

In our quest for "notable" books we must not only search for those works that celebrate our achievements but also seek out those that scrutinize and criticize. As noted in earlier "Notable Naval Books" articles, we are not bound to agree or disagree, but it is essential that we use such criticisms as a "mirror in which to reflect upon ourselves and our practices."

This year's notable naval books include a number of works that tread down controversial path s. Some of these are constructively critical, while others are tainted with the bias of personal agendas. Some pose important questions, while others propose provocative answers. But all are noteworthy because they challenge us to look at ourselves through different lenses, to gain insight through the eyes of others.

Probably the most controversial naval book to appear this past year is Gregory L. Vistica's Fall From Glory: The Men who Sank the U. S. Navy. The book's dust jacket describes Vistica's work as "a searing expose of the arrogance and corruption that have pervaded the U.S. Navy for over a decade." These are "fightin' words" to those who have worn the blue and gold, but they do not necessarily negate the importance of the issues they call to question. Perhaps the words "corruption" and "arrogance" reflect a bias on the part of the author, but there may also be real food for thought in a book that confronts the reader with such issues as the explosion aboard the battleship Iowa (BB-61), the accidental destruction of a commercial Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes (CG-49), the "Tail hook" scandal, and the various problems at the U.S. Naval Academy. These incidents, and the way in which they were handled in the aftermath, are matters that command the attention of anyone who truly cares about the U.S. Navy. Whether to find fresh insights into these painful but significant events or merely to "know thine enemy," it is imperative that we resist the temptation to dismiss a book such as this without a careful evaluation.

The Nightingale's Song by Robert Timberg also brings to light some issues we might prefer to ignore, but it is an important work that in the words of reviewer David Poyer "deserves to be read, discussed, and pondered." Focusing upon five men—John Poindexter, Bud McFarlane, John McCain, James Webb, and Oliver North—who eventually rose to highly influential positions in the U.S. government, this unusual book ties these diverse men together by their common experiences at the Naval Academy, in the Vietnam war, and in their service to President Ronald Reagan. Poyer writes that "what is most valuable in this book is Timberg's careful piecing together of motivation for each actor, and his musing on the interaction of personality and chance that ultimately creates history."

A key element of the books mentioned so far is the question of ethics. A timely and cogent discussion of this important component of military honor and effectiveness is provided by James H. Toner in his True Faith and Allegiance: The Burden of Military Ethics. Recognizing that nearly every military decision has an ethical component and providing a self-test to determine the ethical solution to virtually any situation, Professor Toner has produced a worthwhile treatise on this topic that is important not only to the military, but to our society as a whole.

Controversy about the Navy is not a uniquely modern phenomenon. Captain Edward L. Beach takes on an old but not forgotten battle in his Scapegoats: A Defense of Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor. He argues persuasively that it was a matter of political expediency that led to the firing of these senior officers charged with the defense of Hawaii when Japanese aircraft appeared on 7 December 1941. While this book has succeeded in renewing Congressional interest in the alleged culpability of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short in the Pearl Harbor disaster, this impressive juxtaposition of political and military factors mayor may not achieve its intended purpose of exonerating these "scapegoats." Nevertheless, it offers an impassioned plea for justice that raises a number of important issues and serves as a valuable historical lesson.

Just as World War II began in controversy, so did it end. Codename Downfall: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan—and Why Truman Had to Drop the A-Bomb by Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar is a careful and revealing study of the plans to invade Japan that ultimately delves into one of the hottest topics of the war. While there will never be consensus on the matter, this logical analysis of the fateful decision to unleash the fury of atomic weaponry—brought about chiefly because the alternative was even more unthinkable—is skillful and intriguing. Polmar and Allen have contributed significantly to the debate and provide a fresh look at a watershed event that occurred a half-century ago but still haunts us today.

A view of World War II from a slightly different angle is found in the six-volume War With Japan, a reprint of the British history of that great struggle provided by the Naval Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence. Written after the war, this is an objective, detailed account accompanied by a wealth of maps and informative tables.

One of the early battles of World War II, often overlooked because of its relatively small scale when compared to the later engagements is the heroic struggle for Wake Island. Robert J. Cressman in his A Magnificent Fight: The Battle for Wake Island, tells that inspiring story in a manner that not only serves as an appropriate memorial but sheds new light on the historical facts. In his quest for a thorough account, Cressman explored Japanese as well as American materials. The result is a fresh look at a struggle that stands in good stead with the traditions established centuries before by a noble band of Spartan warriors in a pass called Thermopylae.

Just as Wake Island is an often overlooked battle of World War II, so Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid is an often overlooked, yet vital human component of the victory in the Pacific. Great biographies of Nimitz, Halsey, Burke, Spruance, and King have been written by the Likes of E.B. Potter and Thomas B. Buell, but Kinkaid has been, until now, the forgotten admiral. This commander of the fleets that retook the Aleutians and carried MacArthur back to the Philippines has been remembered in many history books and on a San Diego naval base street sign with his name misspelled. Accomplished historian and World War II naval aviator Gerald E. Wheeler has, at long last, given us an excellent biography in his Kinkaid of the Seventh Fleet: A Biography of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, U.S. Navy.

One of the foremost historians of amphibious operations, Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, focuses on another of the many battles in the Pacific in his Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Six thousand men died in three days of vicious fighting in an area no larger than that occupied by the Pentagon and its parking lots when U.S. forces assaulted the tiny Pacific atoll. The story of this savage battle has been told many times before, but never with the same attention to detail and powerful writing style of Colonel Alexander, who successfully captures the drama of the conflict and the human dime ns ion of the struggle, while providing new insight into the Japanese view and a fresh look at the controversies surrounding this early Pacific War assault. Three years of research went into his comprehensive and revealing account, resulting in a balanced assessment without sacrificing appropriate recognition of the courage and determination of the Marines who fought, died, and triumphed there.

Former Chairman of the History Department at the U.S. Naval Academy and well-known author Craig L. Symonds has teamed up once again with cartographer William J. Clipson to produce a reference work that goes well beyond the scope of World War II. The Naval Institute Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy couples detailed maps with an informative and well-written narrative to capture the facts and the essence of U.S. naval history. Symonds and Clipson have collaborated before to create excellent battlefield atlases of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Gettysburg campaign. Their tradition of excellence is maintained in this latest work. From the earliest days of the Continental Navy to the modem Navy's participation in Operation Desert Storm, individual battles and campaigns are graphically, analytically, and descriptively depicted. Seventy photographs accompany more than 90 maps to highlight the important moments in American naval history.

Quite a few of this year's Notable Naval Books, appropriately enough, focus on ships. Destroyers are the subject of Michael C. Poner's Electronic Grey hounds: The Spruance-Class Destroyers

and Robert F. Sumrall's Sumner-Gearing-Class Destroyers. While the ships described in these two books are by definition the same, they are worlds apart. The Sumner-Gearing class were among the last of the more traditional World War II-vintage tincans while the Spruance- class ships are products of the highly technological Navy, where electrons are as vital as fuel oil. Both books explore the development of their ships and describe their importance, both operationally and technologically.

Aircraft carriers are the subject of City at Sea by Vice Admiral Yogi Kaufman and his son Steve. Spectacular photography is combined with an informative narrative in the tradition established by this father-son team's last book, Sharks of Steel. More than a celebration of air operations, this aesthetically masterful book also goes into the skin of the ship to explore the other worlds are integral parts of these floating "cities."

Paul Stillwell's Battleship Missouri: An Illustrated History joins the other Stillwell books on the battleships New Jersey and Arizona as a historical and photographic tribute to this great seagoing behemoth. The narrative includes a half-century of history with a wealth of human interest stories. The large number of photographs, illustrations, and line drawings offer high-quality visual appeal that readers have come to expect from Stillwell.

Nautilus: The Story of Man Under the Sea by Roy Davies, a companion volume to the television series airing on the new History Channel, is a well-illustrated, finely written account that tells the dramatic story of man's conquest of the oceans' depths. Beginning with the work of the early (and often eccentric) pioneers of the late 19th century and continuing to modern times when great man-made leviathans patrol the dark recesses of the aqueous void, military and scientific achievements share the limelight in this intriguing and awe-inspiring account. The account is frequently told in the words of the men who invented or worked on the wondrous machines that dared face the unique challenges of inner space.

The glory enjoyed by modern warships could not be were it not for the lifelines provided by the fleet oilers that have plied the oceans of the world for the better part of this century. Their story is recounted in Thomas Wildenberg's Gray Steel and Black Oil: Fast Tankers and Replenishment at Sea in the U.S. Navy, 1912-1992. Since the early days of World War I, the logistical support provided by these essential elements of sea power have kept the warships on station. This account tells their long-overlooked story.

One of the great repositories of information on ships, The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World now joins the information revolution by appearing in CD-ROM format. This long-valued reference work has been enhanced by the wonders of the personal computer. Included are user-friendly menus with onscreen help, a powerful search capability, printing capabilities, and an audio pronunciation guide that spans thirteen languages.

Also new to the publishing world is a notable new series focusing on the many aspects of special warfare. With a growing list of titles spanning the various armed services, The Naval Institute Special Warfare Series takes readers into that clandestine world where "SEALs" and "Green Berets" are more than mere animals and items of clothing. Series editor Mark Gatlin has put together an impressive list of titles that reflect both the high drama and the military significance of these unique operations.

Two fictional works have made the list of notables this year. Normandy by Vice Admiral William P. Mack joins his other riveting novels that have brought World War II operations to life, and Tom Camp bell's The Old Man's Trail is written from an unusual viewpoint. Inspired by a real-life interview with a North Vietnamese prisoner who described his ordeal of traveling down the Ho Chi Minh Trail under arduous living conditions and a deluge of American bombs, this novel is an unusual attempt by an author to see his war through the eyes of the enemy. Fast-paced, gripping, and thought-provoking, this is fiction on the edge of reality, ecumenical and myth-shattering in its presentation, impressive in its literary value.

Many of the Notable Naval Books of 1995 are the histories, reference works, and literary contributions that usually make up the list, but the presence of several works that focus upon the moral aspects of the naval services reflects the troubled waters we are currently navigating.

In the Spring of 1990 a letter appeared in the local Annapolis newspaper in response to the many articles and editorials that for days had been decrying a number of problems then being experienced by the Naval Academy. That letter, written by a retiring naval officer fiercely loyal to the Academy, called not for the muting of criticism, but in stead said: "I welcome that scrutiny because in order for an institution to remain great it must never become complacent. Greatness can be momentarily achieved by a single act, but it can be sustained only by a continuous willingness to self-examine and re-evaluate. There is no dishonor in having weaknesses, only in ignoring them." Those words ring true today. The books that are probing into the moral fiber of the Navy and the nation as a whole signify not only that we have problems but that we have real hope of solutions as well. Let us continue to self-examine and reevaluate so that we might sustain the unquestioned greatness we have enjoyed.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler contributes frequently to Proceedings and Naval History.


Battleship Missouri: An Illustrated History . Paul Stillwell. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 450 pp. App. Illus. Ind. Notes. Photos. $55 .00 ($44.00).

City at Sea . VAdm. Yogi Kaufman, USN (Ret). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. 163 pp. Photos. $45 .00 ($36.00).

Codename Downfall: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan and Why Truman Had to Drop the A-Bomb . Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1995.351 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. Tables. $25.00 ($22.05).

Electronic Greyhounds: The Spruance- Class Destroyers .Capt. Michael C. Potter, SC, USN (Ret). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 285 pp. App. Gloss. Ill. Ind. Notes. Photos. Tab. $55.00 ($44.00).

Fall From Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy . Gregory L. Vistica. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1995. 390 pp. Ind. Notes. Photos. $27.50 ($24.75).

Gray Steel and Black Oil: Fast Tankers and Replenishment at Sea in the U.S. Navy, 1912-1992 . Thomas Wildenberg, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 224 pp. Illus. Photos. Tables. $39.95 ($31.96).

Kinkaid of the Seventh Fleet: A Biography of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, U.S. Navy . Gerald E. Wheeler. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1995. 548 pp. Bib. Gloss. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $37.95 ($30.36).

A Magnificent Fight: The Battle for Wake Island. Robert J. Cressman. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 259 pp. App. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $31.95 ($25.56).

The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World . A. D. Baker III. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. 1053 pp. Abb. Ind. Photos. Tab. $495.00 ($396.00) CD-ROM, $160.00 ($ 128.00) Hardcover.

The Naval Institute Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy . Craig L. Symonds. Cartography by William J. Clipson. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 250 pp. Illus. Ind. Maps. Photos. $39.95 ($31.96).

The Naval Institute Special Warfare Series . A series of books on the black art of special warfare in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and more. A more complete list of titles and prices can be found in the Naval Institute Press Spring 1996 catalogue.

Nautilus: The Story of Man Under the Sea . Roy Davies Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.240 pp. Bib. Illus. Photos. $35.00 ($28.00).

The Nightingale's Song . Robert Timberg. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1995. 579 pp. Bib. Ind. Notes. Photos. $27.50 ($24.75).

Normandy . V Adm. William P. Mack. Baltimore, MD: Nautical and Aviation Publishing, 1995. 253 pp. $22.95 ($21.80).

The Old Man's Trail . Tom Campbell, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 256 pp. $25.95 ($20.76).

Scapegoats: A Defense of Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor . Capt. Edward L. Beach, USN (Ret). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 185 pp. Ind. Photos. Ref. $26.95 ($21.56).

Sumner-Gearing- Class Destroyers . Robert F. Sumrall. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Notes. Photos. $59.95 ($47.96).

True Faith and Allegiance: The Burden of Military Ethics . James H. Toner. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1995. 202 pp. Bib. Ind. Notes. $25.00 ($23.75).

Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa . Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. 352 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $29.96 ($23.96).

War With Japan . A six volume series from the Naval Historical Branch of the British Ministry of Defence. From HMSO Publications Centre, London, U.K. £ 190. Tel: 011-44-171-873-9090.


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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