Standard Seamanship for the Merchant Service. By Felix Riesenberg, C. E. 2d edition. New York: D- Van Nostrand Co., Inc. 942 pages. 627 illustrations. 1936. $7.50.
Reviewed by Captain Robert H. Wright Commanding SS. City of Newport News
The task of the reviewer restricted to few words and small space becomes increasingly difficult when attempting to do justice to a book of the type of Standard Seamanship for the Merchant Service, just submitted to the nautical world in its second and revised edition by Captain Felix Riesenberg.
The work is so professionally and engrossingly interesting, so correct in principle and information, so embracing of every phase of up-to-date merchant ship construction and operation, that one can but marvel at the practical and first-hand knowledge contained within its pages.
Chapters on the seamanlike art of splicing and knotmaking, the bending and reefing of sails, the standing and running gear of various classes of ships, the methods of staying and wearing a sailing vessel, and the handling of the modern steamer when anchoring or mooring, are carefully written, and may be summarized by that name beloved of the square- rigged seaman, “sailorizing.” The discussions of the various purchases and rigs so essential to the safe handling of cargo and heavy lifts, and concerning which the younger steamer officer is sometimes somewhat hazy, are especially useful and constructive.
Those chapters devoted to various types of boats, their build, care, handling, sails, rigs, and motors, are particularly valuable in these days of huge passenger lists and big crews, the great majority of which (by reason of multiple ratings and duties) are not sailormen, and whose efforts at boat drills and exercise are often painful to witness. It is one of the misfortunes of the Merchant Marine that schedules, competition, and rush do not permit the proper training of seamen in boat work, as is not the case with their brethren of the naval and Coast Guard services. Hydrographic notes, the important laws of storms, weather, oceanology, and the duties of the Master and his Executive Officer, are all described, as well as watch keeping and its exacting duties in merchant ships, where work is plentiful and personnel reduced to the lowest possible minimum.
The use and explanation of the various aids to navigation, of the delicate instruments of our time such as the gyrocompass, the radio direction finder, the fathometer, and the stabilizer, and a summary and description of the newest and latest fire-fighting and life-saving “gadgets,” which recent legislation insists upon, may be assimilated with profit by the uninformed. That portion covering shipmaster’s business and International Maritime Law is well written.
And of the author Felix Riesenberg, it may be truthfully said, the good work a man does lives after him. Raised as he was in an era of “wooden ships and iron men,” when the beautiful square-rigger was entering upon the last phase of her competitive struggle for existence, a man to whom the terms garboard strake, gammoning, and skysail yard were synonymous with daily life, he realized and accepted the inevitable and the quick transition from sail to steam which took place in the eighties and nineties. His career has exemplified the necessity of moving with one’s times, and, becoming conversant with the endless modern trend toward improvement in ships and the scientifically up-to-date methods of navigation, ship construction, and operation, his several published treatises followed. Just as during his long and successful command of the Newport, his example and training were absorbed by the impressionable and receptive characters of her cadets (many of whom today command and officer our finest merchant ships) so in like manner has his name become known as seaman, commander, and author.
Shipowner and operator, the shipmaster, officers of all grades both deck and engine-room, and the youth studying and striving to improve his rating and position, may well turn to Captain Riesenberg’s book, using it as a medium for informative instruction.
Ships of the World’s Battle-Fleets, $1.50; Waterline Ship Models, $1.50; House Flags and Funnels of British and Foreign Shipping Companies, $2.50. By Pay Lieutenant E. C. Talbot-Booth, R.N.R. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company. 1937.
Reviewed by Commander W. M. Quigley, U. S. Navy
In the plates and text of these three books, Lieutenant Talbot-Booth has displayed that love of ships which should be inherent in all seamen. In Ships of the World’s Battlefleets one finds Jane’s Fighting Ships in miniature, the text dealing with the major characteristics of the capital ships and heavy cruisers of the navies of the major powers. In the notes describing the peculiar characteristics of various classes of ships, the author shows a thorough knowledge of the constant modifications made necessary in order that all men-of-war conform as far as possible with “this year’s model.” In dwelling on beauty or the lack of it in ships of the battle fleets, it is possible that the author overstresses a desirable feature which is the least essential in a man-of-war. Beauty in them should conform to the quality expressed in “handsome is as handsome does.” No man-of-war, however fair her lines may be, can display them to best advantage when in the act of capsizing!
The error in caption on page 12 in which the British battle cruisers Renown and Repulse are confused with the Exeter class of heavy cruisers is one which will not mislead the initiated.
Waterline Ship Models gives the structural characteristics, details of superstructure, equipage, and rigging of numerous merchantmen sailing under the British flag. In it may be found the ways and means of constructing waterline models of these ships, set forth in a manner which will urge the least patient of men to look for tools and to search the local lumber yard for satin walnut. Since model builders belong to an international brotherhood, it is doubtful if the limiting of the depicted plans to the British Merchant Marine will act as a deterrent. In any case, grace and beauty must be conceded to the great majority of British liners. The book will afford pleasure and instruction to man or boy.
In House Flags and Funnels of British and Foreign Shipping Companies can be found the stack markings and house flags of the principal shipping lines of the world, portrayed in the usual manner. In addition to this information an innovation is introduced in the form of colored silhouettes of the larger liners and cargo ships of all nations. These silhouettes include intricacies of superstructure and rigging.
On account of the frequencies of corporate changes in steamship lines in the form of amalgamations, changes of name, and the like, inaccuracies are apt to occur. Such inaccuracies are noted among the United States ships in which the Panama-Pacific line is shown as the American and the United States line as the Roosevelt.
The Texas Navy. By Jim Dan Hill. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 224 pages with maps. 1937. $2.50.
Reviewed by Rear Admiral S. S. Robison, U. S. Navy (Retired)
As a Texan, and as an officer—first of the Navy, then of the Merchant Marine, and now of the Army Reserves—Colonel Hill approaches and pursues his subject with confidence, zest, and ability, employing straightforward and forceful language. He says that “contrary to the commonly held opinion, the majority of first settlers came to Texas by way of the sea,” not overland, and that Mexico sent most of her troops by sea and supplied them by the same route, instead of marching over the arid country south of the Rio Grande. He attacks as a myth the widely held belief that Texas was annexed to the United States for the benefit of the slave-holding interests of the South, and demonstrates the important, if not decisive, role of the Texan naval force in achieving and maintaining independence.
Encouraged by the Mexican government, which decreed free entry for goods of every class for seven years from September, 1823, immigrants and supplies of all kinds came to Texan ports in American bottoms from New Orleans and Mobile. Exports of lumber, wool, and cotton followed the reverse routes. Another decree opened Texan trade to foreign ships until 1834, but forbade immigration after 1830, and from 1827 tonnage dues of $2.12 per ton were to be assessed on each foreign vessel at every Mexican port entered. From that time, “Texans had tariff, trade, and maritime grievances quite comparable to those of the thirteen colonies” which caused our Revolution.
With this background, the author brings successively on the stage the principal characters and events in all the phases of intrigue, petitions, revolts, and engagements on sea and land which culminated in the establishment of the Lone Star Republic and its annexation to the United States. He shows that the first armed resistance was against oppressive customs collections in the ports of entry in Galveston Bay. He pictures the actions of the tiny armed schooners Austin, Waterwitch and Red Rover and the larger Brazoria capturing vessels loaded with provisions for the government forts and then capturing the forts themselves and the custom-house.
The attempt of the government begining in 1834 to re-establish control led to the severe engagement between Stephen Austin’s armed schooner, San Felipe and the Mexican Correo de Mejico in September, 1835. Colonel Hill says “. . . the clash between the San Felipe and Correo was a naval engagement in significance—in fact, the opening shot of the Texan struggle for independence.”
After that events moved rapidly. A provisional state government with Governor Smith was established in November and one of its first acts was to appoint a Naval Affairs Committee and make provision for a state navy and the issuance of letters of marque, thus following the example of the colonies during our own Revolution. Four months later, March 1, 1836, came the Declaration of Independence, with President ad interim Burnet. In the meantime the State Navy schooners Invincible, Brutus, Liberty, and Independence gained control of the sea, captured Santa Anna’s supply ships, used their cargoes to supply much needed rations to Houston’s troops, and forced the remnants of the Mexican army, after the battle of San Jacinto, to retreat overland.
The War of Independence on land was practically over, and the Navy went to the United States for refit. Neutrality laws were blandly ignored over violent Mexican protests.
Before the close of Houston’s first term as governor, November, 1836, to 1838, the Liberty was sold, the Independence captured, the Brutus and Invincible wrecked on Galveston Bar; but not before the last two had made a cruise to Yucatan during June and July, 1837, (accompanied by the Secretary of the Navy, Fisher, in person), made some prizes and hoisted the Lone Star flag on Cozumel.
Colonel Hill throughout the book treats Governor Houston’s actions, during both his first and his second term, with marked disfavor. Houston supported the impeachment of his Secretary of the Navy and the court-martial of Commodore Thompson on their return from Yucatan. The Navy was reduced to two lieutenants, two midshipmen, a doctor, two pursers, and two seamen. However, President Lamar, who succeeded Houston in 1838, was convinced of the value of and the necessity for a navy, and immediately upon his inauguration took active steps to buy the Zavala, to have built in Baltimore the 22-gun corvette Austin, 16-gun brigs Wharton and Archer, and the 8-gun schooners San Bernard, San Antonio, and the San Jacinto.
Lamar appointed as commodore of his small fleet Lieutenant Edwin Moore of the U. S. Navy, who resigned to take command of the Texan force, which at its maximum strength carried 50 commissioned officers of all grades and 44 midshipmen.
The history of the Navy under Commodore Moore is given with all the detail and interesting incidents that Colonel Hill’s careful research permits, and ends with a violent clash between Houston and his commodore, resulting in the court-martial of Moore on charges (preferred by his commander in chief) of willful neglect of duty, misapplication of money, disobedience of orders, contempt and defiance of the laws and authority of the country, treason, and murder. The Commodore was acquitted on all counts except disobedience of orders.
The Texas Navy is a valuable historical volume which must be read to be properly appreciated!
Thumb-Nail Review of New Books
The Annual (year book) of the German Navy, 1937. By Rear Admiral (Ret.) Gadow. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel. 95 photographs.
Sets forth the tasks, organization, and duties of the navy. Especially interesting are the comments on naval agreements and on foreign navies. The Annual (year book) of the German Air Forces, 1937. By Dr. Kurbs, Captain (E) Air Ministry. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel. 92 photographs.
An excellent survey of the type, organization, and service of the German Air Force.
The Annual (year book) of the German Army. By Major Walter Jost. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel. 120 photographs.
A valuable reference handbook giving an outline of the army and its tasks, also pertinent comment on foreign forces.
German Auxiliary Cruisers, Cruiser Warfare, Vol. Ill, Marine Archives. By Vice Admiral von Manthey (Ret.). Berlin: E. S. Mittler & Sohn. An official history of this phase of the war which brings out many details that have up to now been but little known.