Fletcher Grades Spruance
Captain Howard C. Cohen, JAGC, USNR (Ret.)
In “Grading Midway’s Commanders” (June, pp. 14–19), Jonathan Parshall undertook an assessment of the leadership of the six most important admirals overseeing and undertaking the Battle of Midway. Among those, of course, were Rear Admirals Frank Jack Fletcher (overall U.S. commander and in Task Force 17) and his subordinate, Rear Admiral Spruance, in Task Force 16.
But how did Fletcher grade Spruance in the after-action fitness report? The report, among other memorabilia, adorns a wall of the office of the President of the Naval War College. In the FITREP, Fletcher gave Spruance the highest grades in judgment, initiative, moral courage, cooperation, loyalty, perseverance, reactions in emergencies, and industry. But the reporting senior gave only the second highest grades (though still very high indeed) in intelligence, force, leadership, endurance, and military bearing (and neatness of person and dress).
Narrative comments, however, are more telling. In one block, Fletcher wrote: “An outstanding flag officer who has proved his capabilities in action. Has only come under my personal observation and command at the battle of Midway but his actions on that occasion leave no doubt as to his character and ability.”
Those Killer Boats
Captain Green’s excellent article on the K-boats (“Operation Hardtack’s Hard-Luck Target Sub,” June, pp. 42–47) provided an unprecedented public look at that submarine class’s curious design. While only three K-boats were built, at one point “several hundred” were planned.
A 1940s Navy analysis indicated that at least 25 to 70 surface ships would be required on station per hundred nautical miles of barrier to pose more than a negligible threat to snorkeling submarines. In comparison, three to five hunter-killer submarines (SSKs) per hundred miles could be expected to detect practically all of the transiting submarines. Thus, the Navy’s 1948 SSK proposal to meet the then-perceived threat of 2,000 modern Soviet submarines in the 1960s called for 970 killer boats! This number included SSKs in transit to and from patrol areas, undergoing overhaul, and being rearmed.
To produce that many, plus other diesel-electric submarines and the prototype nuclear submarines, several yards would be involved in the K-boat program, some of which were not traditional submarine yards. In an effort to mature the K-boat design before it was turned over to those non-submarine shipyards, the K-1 was ordered from the privately owned Electric Boat yard (Groton, Connecticut), while the K-2 and K-3 were ordered from the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Proposals to build some of this trio at the New York Shipbuilding yard in Camden, New Jersey, did not work out.
Further construction of the K-1 class was delayed until the first submarines were evaluated in fleet operations. As an interim step, seven fleet boats of the Gato (SS-212) class were converted to an SSK configuration, their principal feature being installation of the large BQR-4 sonar and special sound-isolation mountings provided for their auxiliary and main machinery. These large SSKs proved to be highly effective hunter-killers for their time, being superior in performance and habitability in comparison to the small K-boats. More fleet boat/SSK conversions were planned, but not undertaken because of the use of nuclear-powered submarines for the hunter-killer role.
Again, Captain Green’s article is a major contribution to the history of U.S. submarines.
The Browns’ Saratoga
James G. Brown
The article “The Forgotten ‘Saras’” in the June issue of Naval History (pp. 12–13) is most interesting. It is good to see Naval History continue to publish stories of the exploits and details of the privateers that represented the bulk of this nation’s commerce raiders during the Revolution and the War of 1812.
The War of 1812 privateer Saratoga was built by New York City shipbuilders Adam and Noah Brown; construction took only 28 days from keel-laying to launch on 25 July 1812. This performance helped establish the brothers’ reputation for speedy construction and led to other work, including jobs from the U.S. Navy. The Saratoga measured 100 feet on deck, 83 feet on the keel, and had a beam of 24 feet.
To get a better idea of the costs involved in building and operating a privateer, a group of letters to Congress pertaining to duties on prizes provides some detail. Duties put a hefty dent in the operating profits of privateers. In a letter pertaining to this issue, the total cost of building and outfitting the Saratoga ready to sail is stated to have been $40,000.
A breakdown of the various costs and expenses for the Brown-built privateer General Armstrong is available in another letter. This ship was similar in dimensions to the Saratoga and went down the ways in the Brown yard shortly after the Saratoga, in mid-September 1812. The cost of the vessel and armament was $28,000, other outfitting costs and supplies were $12,221, and commissions on purchases added another $2,011, for a total of $42,232. It is clear that building and owning a privateer was an expensive enterprise and the return on investment was always uncertain.
Finally, it should be noted that Noah Brown also built one of the “other” Saratogas—the 26-gun corvette USS Saratoga—on Lake Champlain in 1814. The Browns were a big part of the stories of both ships.
The Importance of Flags
Robert S. Royer
I read with interest Lieutenant Commander Cutler’s article “Flag Bag” in the June issue (p. 6). It brought to mind the display of naval flags and pennants at the Navy Memorial in our nation’s capital. The memorial has five flagpoles with the appearance of sailing masts from old ships-of-the-line.
One would think this would present an opportunity to display the Navy’s rich history through the tapestry of its flag heritage. However, this is not the case. The masts display a hodgepodge of flags with not even a nod to flag tradition and etiquette. Unfortunately, the flags and pennants are flown incorrectly and not in conformance with naval tradition or regulation.
As Lieutenant Commander Cutler’s article so eloquently points out, naval tradition and the continued use of what some might consider historic relics has a rightful place in the modern Navy.