Book Reviews

Hitler's U-Boat War is a massive undertaking on which Clay Blair has been working for nine years, using official records from both sides—including the British Admiralty records, the war diary of Admiral Karl Donitz (Commander-in-Chief of the U-Boats throughout the war), new material on the penetration of Allied naval codes by the Germans, and the patrol reports of the U-Boats themselves.

Blair takes a significantly different view of the U-Boat war from that previously published in respected naval histories. He believes that the overall impact of the U-Boat campaign, with regard to the final outcome of the war, has been greatly overblown. He includes some persuasive statistics to show that the vast capability of the U.S. industrial base to produce ships and other war materials on an unprecedented scale, combined with the powerful antisubmarine warfare (ASW) program of the Allies, simply overwhelmed the U-Boat effort to shut down the supply line between the United States and Britain.

He admits that the impact of the U-Boat campaign on what Winston Churchill called the Battle of the Atlantic was enormous. The necessity of conveying, the huge requirements for escorts and ASW aircraft, the loss of ships and men—all were grave matters that required vast commitments of men and resources and significantly changed the broad strategy of the war. Nevertheless, he states, England never suffered from shortages of oil and supplies serious enough to threaten defeat for the Allies. The total shipping tonnage available to the Allies always was maintained at a satisfactory level, and more than 951 of the oil, equipment, and other supplies shipped from the United States to England arrived safely.

In the meantime, the U-Boats and their men were paying a heavy price. It has long been known that Admiral Donitz's conviction that he had to control the U-Boats from the beach resulted in continuing transmissions from his boats which soon were accurately located by radio direction finding equipment, with dire results to the U-Boats. But Blair also makes it clear that the U-Boat campaign suffered from several other serious handicaps. Admiral Donitz never had the number of submarines he needed to wage a decisive campaign. The continuing political struggle with the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht over priorities for money and material halted truly adequate U-Boat construction until the Allied ASW capability had grown to the point where it was too late. Further, the U-Boat hulls, engines, and torpedoes were nowhere near as good as we have been led to believe by earlier histories.

Hitler was an unwittingly good friend to the Allies. Knowing almost nothing about submarine strategy or tactics, he kept ordering Donitz to divert large portions of his already inadequate force for such totally unsuitable missions as defending against invasions of Norway, (largely imaginary), helping Rommel in the Mediterranean, and conveying German surface ships or other submarines in difficulty. Donitz's perfectly valid statements that the boats would be more advantageously employed in the North Atlantic and along the North American coast were usually overridden by Hitler.

Also, the vaunted German technical world let the U-Boats down badly. By the end of 1942, the U-Boats still had no radar and they had been assured wrongly by their technical people that neither the Allied planes nor escorts could carry useful radar. This was a particular handicap since the Donitz wolf pack concept was far more effective when the attacks were conducted on the surface at night. In the night surface attack, however, the lack of radar was a grave disadvantage in shooting torpedoes. The U-Boats had to make a rough estimate of target course and speed by eye. Also, working into an escorted convoy at night without radar is a very dicey business at best, and probably resulted in shots from longer than ideal range. These factors doubtless combined to explain the inordinately low percentage of hits obtained by the U-Boats throughout the campaigns—a percentage lower than the U.S. submarines attained in the war against Japan.

Blair brings some of the U-Boat aces such as Gunther Prien, Otto Krethschmer, Herbert Schultze, and Erich Topp to life so well that despite our feelings about the cause for which they fought, we find ourselves sad to see them killed or, on the other hand, relieved to see them assigned safety ashore to higher command.

For history buffs who have been waiting for an accurate and objective recounting of the U-Boat war, this is it. It will be controversial, but it is a "must" addition to the library of every serious student of naval warfare.

Admiral Calvert completed nine war patrols during World War II. He is the author of Surface at the Pole (Annapolis: NIP, 1996), and Silent Running, My Years on a World War II Attack Submarine (New York: Wiley, 1995).


Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam

H.R. McMaster. New York: Harper Collins. 334 pp. Bib. Ind. Notes. Photos. $27.50 ($24.75).

Reviewed by Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, U.S. Army, Retired

Major Herbert R. McMaster, Jr., a 1984 West Point graduate and former commander of Eagle Troop, 2nd Armored Cavalry, during Desert Storm, has written a meticulously researched blockbuster of a book. Its title is accurate; under the subtitle "deceptions and lies" its index holds 21 entries under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and 20 under President Lyndon Johnson—plus five "deceptions" under General Maxwell Taylor, and four under General Earle Wheeler.

The first-cited McNamara deception occurred in December 1963, soon after President Johnson succeeded John Kennedy. Citing the transcript of a Johnson-McNamara telephone conversation in the files of the Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, McMaster writes that ". . . the president worried that he would have to report a cost overrun of $400 million in defense spending for fiscal 1964 . . . [whereupon] McNamara volunteered to underestimate deliberately what moneys were spent for defense and later feign surprise when spending exceeded his department's forecast."

The final Johnson-McNamara deception cited by McMaster occurred as the President and his Secretary of Defense, with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Earle Wheeler present but silent, met with the Senate and House leadership on the evening of 27 July 27 1965 to describe what President Johnson would tell the American people the next day as he announced the deployment of ground forces into Vietnam's countryside. In this meeting "LBJ and McNamara. . . understated by half the one hundred thousand troops that [the commander in Vietnam, General William C.] Westmoreland had requested to arrive in South Vietnam by the end of the year . . . understated the funds they needed by approximately ten billion dollars, and argued that mobilization, from a military perspective, was not only unnecessary but undesirable." (McNamara, who had favored mobilization, now "contended that calling up the reserves would be an inefficient use of a `perishable asset."')

Between these two vignettes McMaster relates the sorry tale of two presidents' disdain for their Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)—Kennedy's stemming from the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Johnson's by natural inclination; of the arrogance of the "best and brightest," the lawyers and systems analyst defense experts with which both surrounded themselves; of the helplessness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—deriving from their parochialism and the inertia of their system—in the face of such confident arrogance; of the creeping gradualism with which first Kennedy, then Johnson, became enmeshed in Vietnam without a realistic appreciation of the nature of the conflict and without a strategic concept; of temporizing half-measures; and of the tragic playing out of decision making that led to the fateful judgment in July 1965 that U.S. fighting men would engage in a fruitless and bootless war of attrition. Says McMaster: "The United States went to war in Vietnam in a manner unique in American history. Vietnam was not forced on the United States by a tidal wave of Cold War ideology. It slunk in on cat's feet."

McMaster has explored newly available archives, some of which, such as those of the JCS Historical Division, he opened up through the Freedom of Information Act. Cross-referencing National Security Council and JCS papers with papers from McGeorge Bundy, George Ball, Walt Rostow, Maxwell Taylor, Earle Wheeler, Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson, and Marine Commandant Wallace Greene, McMaster unfolds a web of deceit.

For example, from the Pentagon Papers he cites Robert McNamara's 16 March 1964 memorandum to the President after he and General Taylor, then-Military Representative of the President, had visited Vietnam. McNamara laid out the concept of "graduated pressure"-the intellectual foundation for further involvement in Vietnam war. Citing the JCS Historical Division account of a meeting between McNamara and the Joint Chiefs on the morning of 14 March and other sources, McMaster describes the vehement objections of the Chiefs to this McNamara notion. General Wheeler, Army Chief of Staff, "put Taylor on notice that he would not be a party to proposals suggesting that American objectives in Vietnam could be achieved 'with mirrors'. [Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis] LeMay wanted a JCS memorandum that outlined their concerns to go directly to the Commander-in-Chief." Then, from General Taylor's papers, McMaster reveals a Taylor memorandum to McNamara later that day that "only superficially" represented the JCS commentary, without mentioning "the Chiefs' reservations concerning the key premises and recommendations of the McNamara paper" and obscuring "their general assessment that McNamara's program would not obtain the desired results." The next day, at a National Security Council meeting with the president, Taylor, the only military person present, "baldly stated that the Chiefs' supported the McNamara report."

In June 1965, McNamara "asked the Joint Staff to develop a list of specific military actions that could be taken in Vietnam, but did not permit the JCS themselves to participate in higher-level discussions concerning policy or strategic options. Indeed, McNamara, with [now JCS Chairman] Wheeler's assistance, kept the other chiefs in the dark, [then] excluded [Wheeler] from substantive deliberations by lying to him about the subject of meetings . . ." McMaster cites transcripts of telephone conversations between McGeorge Bundy and George Ball in which Bundy informed Ball that McNamara had lied to Wheeler to keep the JCS Chairman from attending [a] crucial meeting. ...

Under these conditions, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hamstrung as well by their own inadequacies, didn't have a chance.

In his book The Swordbearers , the British historian Correlli Barnett writes that "War is the great auditor of institutions." So it was with the Vietnam War, which mercilessly audited U.S. military institutions, political/military institutions, and senior individuals within those institutions and found them wanting.

McMaster's book relentlessly describes how, in 1961-65, the war went wrong. It is a disheartening tale. But take comfort from the fact that it was written by a military professional still young enough to have ideals—and read it.

General Cushman served three tours in Vietnam and is a frequent contributor to Proceedings .


Twilight Warriors: Inside the World's Special Forces

Martin C. Arostegui. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997. 308 pp. Ind. $24.95 ($22.45).

Reviewed by Commander T.L. Bosiljevac, U.S. Navy

Martin C. Arostegui's book is one of the few detailing the evolution of modern Special Operations Forces (SOF). Twilight Warriors: Inside the World's Special Forces examines SOF direct-action raiding experiences from World War II to the present, hitting its target repeatedly at point-blank range, but missing the bulls-eye in some important areas.

The author focuses on raid operations, those missions to rescue prisoners and hostages, kill or capture enemy forces, and destroy facilities or equipment. Direct action encompasses the most heart-stopping human elements of small-unit, lightning warfare. No other operations so clearly demonstrate the innovation of small, select teams of highly trained and bold men, led by charismatic and colorful leaders, who brave nearly "Mission Impossible" odds. This type of warfare stirs the deepest emotions. When they deliver, triumph is sweet; when they fail, national embarrassment is written in the next day's headline.

Arostegui opens with World War II direct action. He captures several of the most important officers who made a difference during desperate times. Aaron Banks trained and led an OSS team whose mission was to capture Hitler, and he later founded the U.S. Army's Special Forces. Sam Wilson, also OSS, served as a jungle warrior with Merrill's Marauders and later with the CIA. He was extremely influential during the infancy of U.S. special forces. David Stirling created and led the British Special Air Service (SAS) in North African operations that destroyed more than 400 Axis aircraft on the ground—but was captured and imprisoned for the remainder of the war. Paddy Mayne—Stirling's hot-tempered deputy, who personally accounted for 109 of those aircraft, assumed command of the SAS and employed them brilliantly throughout Europe. By highlighting their beginnings, Arostegui shows how singular charismatic leaders with unorthodox vision created modern special operations forces and their values.

Others soon followed. In the SAS, John Woodhouse established the Selection Course, a concept top SOF units copied as the model for finding the right men for SOF. Peter de la Billiere and Mike Rose both rose through the SAS ranks and helped the unit evolve and adapt to be a continuously relevant national security force for the British, a force of warrior-thinkers and problem solvers. Ulrich Wegner created and led the German GSG-9 counterterrorist force. Christian Prouteau did the same for the French GIGN, followed by Philippe Legorjus and Denis De Favier. Charlie Beckwith and Dick Marcinko, abrasive personalities, yet visionary and creative, fought a resisting, conventional Pentagon.

Conventional leadership has always been quick to dislike the cut of cloth of these early special operations leaders and their units, yet Patton, Montgomery, MacArthur, Rickover, and countless others were just as abrasive and visionary. Larger-than-life men who seemingly put everything on the line and dare great things have always been fascinating.

Arostegui misses the mark widely in identifying other key special operations personalities, however. No mention is made of the men who developed maritime SOF from the Italian and British human torpedomen in World War II to the creation of U.S. Navy SEALs. One of the few SEAL sources used by the author—Ron Yeaw—has his name misspelled throughout. And such special forces legends as Arthur "Bull" Simons, Elliott "Bud" Sydnor, John Singlaub, and Dick Meadows are ignored.

Although the author brings together more special-operations material than any book to date, he misses an opportunity to emphasize the obvious. Two very clear elements are missing. First, almost no mention is made of the many hundreds of direct action operations conducted by the Israelis, some enormously brilliant in their execution. They were clearly valuable to Israel's national strategy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a member of the Sayaret Matkal, the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF's) premier SOF, during a time when the unit was employed heavily. His brother commanded the unit during the Entebbe rescue and was the only IDF soldier killed in that action.

Second, Arostegui details major U.S. employment, but the combined significance of their failures is never established. In the United States, conventional forces always have taken a front seat while SOF was given begrudging attention from the Defense Department after civilian government leadership insisted. Following the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy realized guerrilla insurgencies worldwide were the relevant battlefield. The United States had sound conventional and nuclear capability, not much of which could be applied in the guerrilla environment.

The Pentagon never got the clue. By 1962, Kennedy insisted that the Defense Department fully develop special operations capabilities. That capability was all but decimated in the post-Vietnam drawdown of forces. The attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran in 1980 highlighted how badly we had allowed our special operations joint warfighting to atrophy. It also clearly showed that the majority of the Pentagon leadership clearly lacked the vision to identify the terrorist threat and develop relevant forces to counter it. Even metropolitan police departments saw the need for SWAT units inside the United States before the Pentagon saw the need in the military.

Following the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes, the Europeans got the clue, and Arostegui's book hits that mark. The Europeans developed forces that began winning the war against terrorism as early as the mid-1970s. The Israelis executed the first-ever aircraft takedown at Lod Airport in May 1972; the GIGN a bus takedown in February 1976 in Djibouti; the IDF Entebbe rescue in July 1976; the Mogadishu aircraft takedown by GSG-9 October 1977; and the SAS Iranian embassy assault at Princes Gate in London in May 1980. Gauged by missions attempted and accomplished, Britain, Israel, and France have developed the most effective direct-action forces. The U.S. military was slow to develop SOF. By the time the Iranian hostage crisis began in 1979, the United States was in poor position to react.

The failure of the Iranian hostage raid lost President Carter his reelection bid and only after Congress pressured the Defense Department did it establish measures to better fight terrorism in 1980. The Grenada operation in 1983 did not convince many congressional leaders that special operations forces had been given adequate attention, and by 1986 legislation was passed—by civilian leadership once again—to establish a four-star command to fix problems and maintain a capable special operations forces. Arostegui never ties these key points together.

The clear absence from the book of the prisoner-of-war rescue attempt at Son Tay, North Vietnam, 21 November 1970, is an inexcusable omission; it should have been central to Arostegui's theme. Son Tay is a classic case study. Failure brought national embarrassment to the Nixon administration and stirred another round of protest in Congress at a time we were trying to disengage from the war. The failed Iranian hostage rescue in 1980 brought national embarrassment and doomed a second Carter Administration. Failure in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 by Task Force Ranger to capture the warlord Aideed and the bloody Battle of the Black Sea, 03-04 October, a mission completely ignored in the book, created national embarrassment and a negative attitude toward using U.S. special operations forces for direct action for years to come. More important, it changed the manner of execution of U.S. foreign policy for years to come. These are huge effects and bear identification.

Arostegui's Twilight Warriors is a good read and paints a colorful story about special operations forces on a much wider canvas than has ever been painted before. When special operations forces win direct action operations, national pride swells and politicians and military leaders use them again. But when they fail, they doom themselves to obscure roles, too risky to employ—in every conventional commander's mind, a crapshoot.

Commander Bosiljevac is the Commanding Officer of SEAL Team Four in Little Creek, Virginia.



Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Mon, 2016-06-13

You are cordially invited to: U.S. Coast Guard Update A discussion with: Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, USCG25th Commandant of the U.S...

2016 Naval History Conference

View All

From the Press

Keynote Speaker & Book Signing

Mon, 2016-05-30

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