THE MUTINY AT INVERGORDON. By Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Edwards, R. N. (Retired). London: Putnam & Company, Ltd. 10s.6d. Reviewed by Rear Admiral S. S. Robison, U. S. Navy (Retired).
This volume—though not as well arranged as could be desired and containing many inferences not capable of proof—- nevertheless is of great interest to all naval officers.
Valuable administrative lessons can be drawn from its pages.
The author, Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Edwards (retired), served in the Royal Navy from 1920 to 1932. He reviews the state of discipline in the Navy from the time of the Armistice in 1918, to 1937, with special attention to events culminating in the Invergordon Mutiny.
Efficiency and general contentment in the British Navy at the end of the World War were in sharp contrast to the rise of Bolshevism in Russia and the general mutinous revolutionary breakdown of discipline in the German High Seas Fleet.
The author seeks to show that the fires of world unrest reached the lower decks of British men-of-war, first by way of contact with Bolshevists in the White Sea campaign (1918-19), and later through subversive influences centering in British naval dockyards, principally Devonport- These fires were occasionally fanned into flame by what seems to the reviewer-" though not entirely to the author—totally inadequate causes.
A list of outbreaks, with the author s assigned reason for each, follows:
- June, 1919. Crew of H.M.S. Cicala refused to proceed up Dwina River because ship had had more than her share of advanced (dangerous) gunboat duty. Quelled by threat to sink Cicala by gunfire from her sister-ships. During campaign Bolshevists had broadcast messages at frequent intervals calling on British sailors to join cause of “freedom of proletariat.”
- September and October, 1919, much discontent on ships assigned to duty in Baltic against Bolshevists.
Refusals to coal ship, breaking leave, and desertions from ships at Devonport.
Mutiny on Vindictive at Copenhagen. Cause- cancellation of leave because of bad weather.
Mutiny on Delhi and mine sweepers in Baltic against further hostilities.
- April 29, 1921. Mutiny among Fleet Reservists on strike duty at Portsmouth. Looted building, hoisted “red flag.” Cause: not willing act against fellow workers on strike. Replace by regulars.
- 1926. Mutiny on Vindictive at Portsmouth’ Cause: strict enforcement of uniform regulations.
- 1928. Insubordination among officers of Royal Oak. “Showed that disaffection existed among a small minority of officers.” at n Mutiny on submarine tender Lucia at Devonport. Cause: cleaning and painting of ship on Sunday after coaling, and no liberty given, in order to sail on time. Quelled by arrest of 30 mutineers.
(7) September 13-16, 1931. Mutiny at Invergordon. Concerted action by 11 ships of the Atlantic Fleet, battleship Rodney “directing ship.” Cause: “pay cuts.” Quelled by dispersal ships to home ports, Courts of Inquiry, and punishment of ringleaders.
(8) Crew of the Delhi in Canadian waters on reading in U. S. newspapers of the Invergordon mutiny refused further duty, but later obeyed orders of the Commander in Chief.
(9) 1 December 24, 1931, at Falkland Islands, Mutiny on Durban. Cause: failure to remove or punish men who threatened mutiny at Portsmouth in September.
From 1931, readjustment of unwise pay cuts and other steps reversed the tide of disintegration, and although minor breaches occurred, a steady improvement took place throughout the service and the author believes the traditional high standard of discipline in the British Navy to be completely restored.
But what of the underlying conditions which kept the men on edge for 13 years? In 1918, the Navy was war-weary after four years of ·tense effort. Though many men-of-war were tied up with only caretakers or skeleton crews on board and officers and men given ample leave, recuperation did not result. Small pay of enlisted men, compared with high war wages on shore, for women as well as men, came to the front and caused discontent which was not allayed by doubling base pay for seamen and ordinary seamen (February, 1919); nor by war gratuities (compare our “adjusted compensation" agitation and bonus laws, long after the war).
The Russian campaign and subsequent happenings put and kept men on edge. Details are given by the author. Only a few headings can be given here.
Washington Treaty, 1922.
Base pay for new enlistments reduced, 1925.
Navy no longer secure career, even for best officers and men.
London Treaty, 1930.
Non-uniform drastic pay cuts, September, 1931.
Conclusion; inept administration. With more considerate and consistent treatment by Admiralty and Parliament, men would have withstood persistent socialistic and communistic propaganda which reached its highest point in July, 1931, as the Norfolk and Dorsetshire were leaving the Kiel Canal after the first post-war friendly visit. An enormous scarlet banner was displayed on the canal bank, bearing this message, “Sailors and marines! Turn your guns on your officers! Now is the time!”
Our own temporary (economy) pay cuts of 1933-34 were straight percentage cuts.
Admiralties can still ponder with benefit the old song voicing the complaint of the victors of Quiberon,
Ere Hawke did bang Mounseer Conflang You gave us beef and beer.
Now Mounseer’s beat, we’ve naught to eat,
Since you have naught to fear.
SEWALL SHIPS OF STEEL. By Mark W. Hennessy. Augusta, Maine. Kennebec Journal Press. 1937. $10.
Reviewed by Harlan Trott
Mark Hennessy’s history is dedicated to the memory of those who built, managed, and sailed the Sewalls’ ships of steel. It is due largely to his skill and enterprise that we have preserved this history while it is still fresh in the minds of some who helped to make it. Human documentation is the richest kind of history, and this weighty record of the Sewall windjammers is constructed keel, plate, and rivet of that precious stuff.
Fortunately tradition is strong in the Sewalls’ descendants. They kept all the sea letters of their grand skippers. These teem with the salty realism of fast runs and slow; of amazing feats of old-fashioned marline-spike sailorizing; of fire and storm, and fierce steam competition that plagued them to the end.
Doubtless many a naval officer now risen to flag rank recalls in the days of his youth the big Sewall down-easters which years ago used to “fix” coal cargoes on the American east coast or in England for Mare Island and the naval coaling stations out east. Dirigo, British-fabricated, but Bath-built; Erskine M. Phelps, Edward Sewall, Arthur Sewall, William P. Frye, the adopted Clydebanker, Kenilworth—their names still evoke dim memories among men who knew them in their prime.
And the captains, too; they were a race apart. Joe Sewall, a Bowdoin College diamond in a Cape Horn setting; Bath’s indomitable Jim Murphy, in a way, dean of that great company of captains; Will Taylor of Kenilworth, who went back to the farm in Wiscasset with a case of mate trouble; Richard Quick, irrepressible captain of the Edward Sewall, surely the greatest Roman of them all; Gaffrey of the Edward Sewall’s white sister, the Arthur, of strange doom. These are a few of the sterling portraits that emerge self- drawn from the sea letters trickling home to Front Street in those last lean years of sail.
Mark Hennessy has carved out this monumental record of our steel-age windjammers with a devoutly understanding hand. Having sensed the self-revealing characterizations inherent in the complete correspondence between the Sewalls and their captains, the author directs things from the wings. He lets his actors stand on their own stout sea legs. He lets them speak for themselves. His literary technique is best judged by the finished canvas rather than in the separate brush strokes. In this respect, the total effect is altogether satisfying.
As a history, it is naturally narrower in scope than Arthur Clark’s classic of the clipper era. Nor is it as general as Matthews’ and Lubbock’s works which deal with the Sewall fleet and its contemporaries. Mr. Hennessy is a trail blazer. B>s Sewall history justifies the feeling that the story of the long reign of the square-rigged type we call the “down-easters” might well be retold in this substantial way.
The most obvious drawback in fitting the Hennessy pattern to the subject as a whole is that the marine researchist could never hope to have his material handed to him in a trunk. If the Houghton heirs of the Chapman and Flint descendants, to mention a couple of Kennebec contemporaries, or Searsport families, have pre' served any such historical treasure as that laid up by the Sewall family successors) then the future historian’s task is half done. A few old dusty ship paintings* half-models, log books, and customs house records are the usual ingredients. They are at best a poor substitute for the complete chronological record such as the Sewalls preserved. That is why Mark Hennessy’s work may always remain unchallenged in its field.
THE VOYAGE OF FORGOTTEN MEN- By Frank Thiess. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company. 41S pages- 1937. $3.50.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Cyril Morand, U. S. Naval Reserve
In view of the drastic clarification Imperial Japan’s real aims and direct methods in Eastern Asia today, digestion of Frank Thiess’ Voyage of Forgotten an able analysis of the Russo-Japanese War with particular reference to the tragic voyage of the Russian Baltic Squadrons to the Far East in 1904-05, is timely and informative.
If resigned to the traditional story of an incompetent commander, of an unwieldy, jittery expedition that amused the world in the “Dogger Bank incident,” revision of no small dimension is in order. Instead one finds a dogged, patriotic command, deserted by its government, parted by bureaucrats and grafters, the butt of every self-appointed critic, beset on every side by other than the nominal enemy, sustained by the iron will of their leader Rozhestvensky and a mystical, Russian patriotism and fatalism; carrying on without hope to their appointment destruction. Ten thousand martyrs, Hess calls them, “who had not been taught to win, and knew only how to die.”
One may read how they badgered, coaxed, and conjured an ill-assorted bulk of 45 ships—new and half completed, old tactically worse than useless—more than 20,000 miles, over two thirds of the earth to meet the Japanese, fresh from their bases and refitted, to go down to a defeat that does them only honor.
With great simplicity and power Thiess, a Russian-born Swede, relates the march of the fleet to its destiny with clear implications of the portentous events to follow; not the loss of so many ships and so many sailors but of the impending end of the old order, the destruction of Holy Russia. In Rozhestvensky’s return home, from his Japanese prison to Moscow, the increasing crowds that surged about his train all across Russia, in the tumultuous welcome accorded him everywhere by the people, may be clearly discerned those ramblings against St. Petersburg and the old order that culminated in a Kerensky and, finally, in a Trotsky and Lenin.
Beginning with the Port Arthur campaign Thiess dwells on the early naval engagements, probing the Russian paralysis of command until the arrival of Makaroff, and his loss, fatal to Russia. His splendid exposition of Japanese methods and strategy gives sober prophecy to the tactics which we witness today.
Heavy damage to the Japanese ships in ae Port Arthur engagements, never officially admitted, and which was disclosed only years later, is highly interesting in the control of war news for popular consumption and in view of the reported destruction of the battleship Nagato off the China coast last November, claimed by the Chinese but never officially confirmed.
In a story of epic adventure Thiess presents an able analysis in the spheres of politics, strategy, and tactics that in this writer’s opinion is well worth study.
Under the more fitting if less spectacular title, Tsushima, the work has already appeared in Sweden and Germany and is being published in Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Hungarian, and Italian.
WEST POINT TODAY. By Kendall
Banning, the Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York. $2.50.
This is a very comprehensive summary of the United States Military Academy. How well it reflects life at West Point, this reviewer does not know, for he has never been there. But it explains many mystic and amusing references to the institution he has heard spoken among his fellows. It appears to ring true—and certainly it rings clearly and pleasantly of the spirit of that institution, a spirit to which all of us, graduates and nongraduates alike, are indebted. From the mass of information contained, one might think it quite likely that even a recent graduate would like to have a copy of it, if only to hand to some questioner, for surely 99 per cent of all the answers can be found within its covers. It may be read with profit by aspirants to appointment. They will know what they are getting into, and be able to determine, with some degree of exactness, whether they can “take it.” They can test their muscles and their brain cells against the listed minimum standards, and perhaps master, in advance of entrance, some of the extracurricular requirements in memory training, and the jargon of the locale.—Field Artillery Journal, November-December.