SeaWaves Magazine’s “2013 Best Book of the Year Award”
NASOH'S 2012 "John Lyman Book Award - HONORABLE MENTION - for Best U.S. Naval History"
Named a "Notable Naval Book of 2012" by Proceedings Magazine
Drawing heavily on previously unknown sources, Robert Shenk offers a revealing portrait of America’s small Black Sea Fleet in the years following World War I. Home-ported in Constantinople, navy ships sped to the Crimea to help evacuate some 150,000 White Russians, and then coordinated the grain shipments that ended a terrible Russian famine. The fleet’s successes in evacuating nearly 200,000 ethnic Armenian and Greek refugees from Smyrna and in rescuing tens of thousands from mainland Turkey are also detailed in full. Shenk’s incisive depiction of Admiral Mark Bristol as both head of U.S. naval forces and America’s chief diplomat in the region—William Leahy, Thomas Kinkaid, Julian Wheeler, and diplomat Allen Dulles served under him—help to make this book the first-ever comprehensive account of a vital, but little-known naval undertaking.
Robert Shenk, a widely published professor of English at the University of New Orleans, is a retired captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He lives in Mandeville, LA.
~Praise for America's Black Sea Fleet ~
"This book is as much about diplomacy as it is about naval activities. Over all, America's Black Sea Fleet contributes knowledge about the Navy during a time and place that few historians have chosen to investigate. It shows how much more an American naval fleet commander can do than simply prepare his ships for battle."
— The Daybook
"Literary scholar and retired naval officer Shenk tells a vivid tale of a forgotten and very grim chapter in the history of the U.S. Navy and of the world in general....A good book."
— The NYMAS Review
“Shenk, though not a naval historian by training, gives us an extremely well-researched and engagingly written volume. The author makes excellent use of many primary sources, in particular the Mark Bristol papers, which are held in the Library of Congress, and letters written by many of the officers and men of the fleet. The work also contains several excellent maps that are essential to Shenk's narrative…I recommend the work as it provides some excellent insights into the conditions in Asia Minor after WWI. It is, however, not a traditional naval history.”
"This is a very informative and yet disturbing book on post-World War I events that still resound today, coloring political, religious, and social interactions within the Mideast. Anyone wishing to understand the political, religious, and social tensions that permeate the lands bordering on the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea would not go wrong by reading this book. This also is an excellent book providing vivid case studies about what the duty of an American military commanding officer is within a situation in which all civil law and order has broken down and pure anarchism prevails."
— The Journal of America's Military Past
“Students of this ongoing controversy will find this to be an exceptionally useful addition to the literature.”
— Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
“Author Robert Shenk has done a superb job of casting a penetrating spotlight on this little-known enterprise…This is a first-ever book that chronicles a very interesting little-known Naval undertaking that, in falling through the cracks of contemporary history, makes you realize that somehow our Navy was always there when needed.”
— Sea Classics
“Bob has gone to great lengths gathering and selecting interesting details and stories. Using crew lists and other references he located relatives of the officers and men and obtained copies of letters and diaries written at the time. This not only provides a contemporaneous account but also a very personal and presumably unbiased story. He has also digested written reports from other sources, such as the writings of John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway and the autobiographies of notables such as Rear Admiral Dan Gallery, Admiral William Leahy and CIA op Allen Dulles. Chapter 9 is devoted to ‘Shipboard Life.’ Throughout Bob gives attention to the daily life of the crew. The Admiral in charge made sure each of his ships got a chance to visit Egypt and Beirut for R & R. Liberty in Constantinople was at times good, particularly after the Russian refugees began arriving. There is the strange story of the storekeeper who thought a pig would make a good mascot. It barely got around by moving along the seams where the steel deck plates overlapped, until one day it went overboard. Throughout the book there are many interesting stories, as well as disturbing ones that remind one that the area of the Mideast continues to experience endless conflict.”
— Hubbard Herald Newsletter, USS Harry E. Hubbard (DD-748), Feburary 2013
“America’s Black Sea Fleet is a highly readable account…This book will be of interest to students of American naval history, and readers interested in a troubled, exotic and endlessly fascinating part of the world.”
— Defense Media Network
“I wrote the dust-jacket promotion blurb for this book where I suggested this book be considered for the CNO’s reading list – for good reasons – this book provides a historical account of the post-World War I history where revolutionary and nationalistic forces are rising to fill the voids left by the toppled Russian Monarchy and collapsed Ottoman Empire.”
— Naval Historical Foundation
“Meticulously researched, extraordinarily detailed study, ideal for naval history shelves yet accessible to readers of all backgrounds. Highly recommended, especially for public and college library collections.”
— Midwest Book Review, January 2013
“This book is an instant candidate for the CNO’s recommended reading list! Robert Shenk’s well-crafted narrative depicting the extensive yet nearly unknown U.S. Navy involvement the Black Sea region following the World War I is textbook material for Service Schools and universities here and abroad studying Military Operations Other than War (MOOW). Given recent crises in the Balkans and the Middle East having nationalistic and religious overtones, this book provides a classic case study on the appropriateness of intervention. Shenk’s compelling stories about naval operations in ‘peace time’ conditions are timeless and serve to remind why naval forces are such a vital component to national power.”
—David F. Winkler, author of Cold War at Sea: High-Seas Confrontation Between the United States and the Soviet Union
“America’s Black Sea Fleet is most interesting, readable, and impressively researched. It tells the story of a little known episode of American naval history. It should appeal to both those interested in naval history as well as those fascinated by Near Eastern history, and even Russian history.”
—William N. Still Jr., author of American Sea Power in the Old World: The United States Navy in European and Near Eastern Waters, 1865-1917
“America’s Black Sea Fleet will be a revelation to most who open its pages. In the turbulent aftermath of the First World War, an American admiral commanding a fleet composed mostly of destroyers is also de facto ambassador to the dissolving Ottoman Empire. The exodus of White Russians from the northern end of the Black Sea fills Constantinople with aristocratic tea-room waitresses and princely musicians and gardeners. From the point of view of American sailors based there it is a fabulous party town. Meanwhile, though, huge numbers of Armenians and Greeks meet horrendous fates as Turkish forces insist they must disappear from Turkish soil. Anchored offshore from Smyrna, American and other allied sailors watch as the city burns and desperate women and children crowd the quay. While giving new perspective on the still-contentious issue of Turkish treatment of minority populations, Shenk raises questions about the role of external power in local and regional conflicts. His clear style, eye for telling detail, and meticulous research create a fascinating narrative; he brings to life a time and place for which ‘colorful’ is far too pale a word.”
—C. Herbert Gilliland, author of Voyage to a Thousand Cares