On 22 March, thousands of curious observers crowded the shoreline near Portsmouth, England, to see a display of U.S. naval might. The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) was making a port call.
Almost a century and a half earlier, a U.S. Navy ship similarly wowed the Portsmouth locals—as well as British government and Royal Navy dignitaries. But while the sheer size of the “TR” led one spectator to comment, “It’s a bit like watching a floating town arrive off the coast,” in 1866 it was the “very grand” effect of the monitor Miantonomoh’s tremendous 15-inch guns firing that most impressed observers.
That demonstration of U.S. naval strength in the strategic heart of British sea power—depicted in Patrick O’Brien’s cover painting—is the opening scene in Howard Fuller’s article “From Hampton Roads to Spithead.” In it, the author follows the trajectory of the U.S. ironclad navy, which reached its apex off Portsmouth a year after the Civil War ended.
But Fuller doesn’t just chronicle ships built and battles fought. Instead, he analyzes the Navy’s ironclad—specifically monitor—program from an international as well as domestic perspective. For Americans used to viewing the war in a purely American context, his conclusions are eye-opening.
While British sea power figures in Fuller’s article, it also plays a part in two other stories in this issue. Michael Hull’s “The Royal Navy’s ‘Old Ark’” traces the brief but momentous World War II history of HMS Ark Royal, which played a key part in bringing down the German battleship Bismarck.
“Sailor, Prisoner, Captain, Spy” by Ensign Samuel Oat-Judge meanwhile profiles American Nathaniel Fanning, who took on the Royal Navy and hunted down British merchantmen during the Revolutionary War. The article earned third prize in the 2014 Naval History Essay Contest, which was cosponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the William M. Wood Foundation.
For information about the 2015 Naval History Essay Contest, turn to page 57 or visit www.usni.org/nhessay. This year’s topic is “The Challenge: Marine Corps Actions Shaping History,” and the first-prize essay will be published in the November/December issue of Naval History.
“There is so much to be told in the rich history of our Navy.” That’s how my cousin (once removed), retired Rear Admiral Robert B. Fulton, concluded a note to me shortly after I became editor-in-chief of Naval History, and over the subsequent ten years I’ve found his statement to be abundantly true.
Admiral Fulton, who passed away at age 104 on 18 February in Collierville, Tennessee, certainly helped contribute to that history’s richness. Graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1932, he served in cruisers and a destroyer before earning an MS in marine engineering from MIT. His role as assistant engineering officer in the Houston (CA-30) at the February 1942 Battle of Sunda Strait is recounted in James Hornfischer’s book Ship of Ghosts. After the cruiser was hit by multiple torpedoes and the crew ordered to abandon ship, Fulton somehow made his way topside from the forward engine room. Captured on Java shortly thereafter, he spent the balance of World War II as a POW in Japan.
Undaunted, after the conflict he served at the Boston and Norfolk naval shipyards as well as on the staff of the Atlantic Fleet commander-in-chief before assuming command of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1959. The admiral retired from the Navy in 1968 and moved to Memphis, where he helped start up the State Technical Institute, led a division there offering degrees in engineering, and was active in community affairs.
A Naval Institute member, Admiral Fulton was fortunate enough to remain clearheaded to the end. When interviewed for a December 2014 “Naval History News” item about the status of the Houston’s wreckage, he emphatically stated: “To me it’s a tomb of my friends and shipmates. I just want to see it left alone.” The admiral’s remains are scheduled to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on 17 April.
Richard G. Latture