Notable Naval Books of 1984

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U. S. Navy

Jack Tars and Commodores recounts the story of a fledgling America fighting three wars in the first quarter century of its life against the Barbary states, France, and Great Britain. The wars themselves pale in comparison with the dimensions of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or World Wars I and II, but the cast of participants, headed by the likes of Decatur, Truxtun, Hull, Preble, and Perry, is no less than stellar in quality. The complex politics of the era are presented with unusual clarity, the battle accounts ring with vicarious reality, and the portrayal of life at sea for both officer and enlisted is at once informative and fascinating. Well-documented yet dynamically written, Jack Tars and Commodores is a worthy sequel to Fowler's successful previous work, Rebels Under Sail (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1979).

Nearly a century later, America cast off the chains of isolationism and entered the world arena as colony turned empire when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor. In The Spanish War, O'Toole has uncovered new information about the mysterious mission of the Maine and about a covert intelligence network in Cuba in a detailed, documented, and exciting account of America's shortest and most popular war. This comprehensive account of a little-known but significant period in our history reads like good fiction.

World War I: Known primarily for trench warfare and the dawn of aerial combat, World War I was also the scene of naval warfare on a grand scale. In that "war to end all wars," the first truly long-range, big-gun engagements took place, tactical radio communications made their debut, and aircraft and submarines established themselves in the naval scenario. James Goldrick's The King's Ships Were at Sea: The War in the North Sea, August 1914-February 1915 and The Great War at Sea 1914-1918 by Richard Hough, shed new light on this important era in naval history. The former concentrates on the first six months of the conflict, August 1914-February 1915, while the latter encompasses the entire war. Both books are characterized by the inclusion of newly researched materials which provide fresh perspective and insight.

The Kings Ships Were at Sea is a candid and objective account of the early sea battles. The successes, failures, and lessons learned by both sides are carefully recounted so as to make the book valuable not only as an historical record but as an analytical work as well. Goldrick, a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy, devotes considerable attention to the reactions of the British and German naval officers of that era to technological advances, discussing both their inherent advantages and tactical and strategic problems. Goldrick relates those reactions to contemporary naval officers who are likewise facing major technological developments in naval warfare.

The Great War at Sea 1914-1918 begins with an account of the launching of the famous HMS Dreadnought (actually the ninth British ship to have borne the name) in 1906, and ends with the surrender of Germany's "160 submarines, ten battleships, six battle-cruisers and a proportionate number of cruisers and destroyers" to the 370-ship Grand Fleet of Britain's Admiral Sir David Beatty "ten days after the armies had ceased fighting." The more popularly known aspects of the naval war, such as the Battle of Jutland and the U-boat campaigns are covered in vivid detail, but the real strength of the book lies in its coverage of the lesser-known, but nonetheless significant, aspects of the war at sea. The events taking place in the Dardanelles, South Atlantic, and Mediterranean, the entry of U. S. battleships into the war, and the "biggest act of self-immolation in naval history" (in which the German High Seas Fleet scuttled itself in Scapa Flow) are but a sampling of the many facets of this naval war included in Richard Hough's book.

World War II: Not since Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day (Popular Library, Inc., 1975) first appeared two decades ago has the D-Day invasion been so masterfully studied as in Overlord: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Max Hastings and Decision at Normandy by Carlo D'Este. Both books make extensive use of information not available to Ryan at the time of his publication, and both can be classed as controversial because of their attacks on traditionally accepted facts about the allied invasion.

Overlord's heavy reliance on interviews with officers and men from both sides of the conflict is the major strength of this work. Although the traditional view that the Normandy invasion was a great success cannot be refuted, Hastings challenges the degree of that success by carefully analyzing the performance of the German Army and by challenging the long-accepted superiority of Allied air support. The author has captured the enormity of the operation, yet preserved the individual viewpoint through participant interviews.

Decision in Normandy is broader in scope than Overlord and consequently is a larger work. The focus here is on the controversy surrounding Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery and his strategy. Nigel Hamilton, Montgomery's biographer, has said this book "will keep historians arguing for a decade."

Both Overlord and Decision in Normandy are significant in that neither book wastes a lot of good print on things that have been covered and recovered before; the emphasis in both works is on what's new to be learned and understood about this momentous naval endeavor.

Turning from the European theater to the war in the Pacific, Stephen Howarth has produced a riveting and awe-inspiring account of the 50-year history of the Imperial Japanese Navy in The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun: The Drama of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1895-1945 . The story recounts the meteoric rise of the Imperial Navy from virtual nonexistence to becoming the world's third-greatest navy in less than half a century and culminates in World War II when Japan reached its brief apex of power just before it's final and total defeat.

Tarawa by Charles T. Gregg is the story of the first amphibious landing against a heavily defended beach since Gallipoli in 1915. Simultaneously capturing the horror and the glory of this important assault, Gregg reveals how this "stepping stone" in the Pacific campaign was won at the cost of more than 8,000 lives. He reveals the horrendous errors committed yet puts them in the perspective of their importance as valuable (albeit tragically expensive) lessons learned for critical, future battles.

A Special Valor: The U. S . Marines and the Pacific War by Richard Wheeler is a general history of the U. S. Marines in the Pacific campaign. Wheeler covers the heroic loss of Wake Island to an overwhelmingly superior Japanese force, the easy landing but subsequently bloody inland battle of Guadalcanal, the costly landing at Tarawa Atoll, the stubborn Japanese defense from the caves of Guam, and the arduous victories over forces on the heavily defended islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The stories of Bougainville, Saipan, Eniwetok, and Kwajalein are also included. Japanese suicide boats, Marine air support, and the two historic flag-raisings on Iwo Jima are but a few of the many facets of this remarkable book. Supplemented by numerous photographs, official maps, and a text drawn extensively from official action reports, from captured Japanese documents, and from the first-hand accounts of Marines and journalists, Wheeler, a Marine veteran, has written a readable history covering every World War II Pacific battle in which the Marines fought.

Vietnam: A silence regarding the subject of the Vietnam War prevailed for nearly a decade after the end of the conflict. Although the experience was far from forgotten, the topic was conspicuously absent from literary and journalistic endeavors, the entertainment media, and polite conversation. In the late 1970s, a small trickle of publications began appearing. The successes of Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War (Ballantine Books, Inc., 1978) and James Webb's Fields of Fire (Bantam Books, Inc., 1979) proved that the self-imposed limitation was not to be eternal.

The trickle was augmented in the 1980s by works of critical commentary like Norman Podhoretz's Why We Were in Vietnam (S&S Press, 1982) and On Strategy (Presidio Press, 1983) by Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. And now, during the past year, the trickle has grown to a torrent. The prevailing distaste for recalling bitter memories has given way to a thirst for knowledge and encouraged a growing list of titles that range from fact to fiction, scholarly treatise to oral history, cheap pulp to potential classic.

The titles selected for this list are not without their biases. The controversy which surrounded that war is still a highly emotional debate.

One of the most significant books to appear in 1984 was Vietnam: A History by former war correspondent Stanley Karnow. Although the book unquestionably stands firmly on its own merits, its significance is enhanced by its integral relationship with the 13-part, Emmy award-winning television series, "Vietnam: A Television History," broadcast on PBS. The book, like the television series, relies heavily on interviews with participants from all sides of the war including American government officials, Viet Cong cadre, U. S. servicemen, and Premier Pham Van Dong of now-communist Vietnam. The tone is relatively unbiased, and the coverage spans the centuries since Vietnam's birth with a primary emphasis on the 1945-75 era.

Myra MacPherson's Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation presents a different view of the war by concentrating on its legacy rather than on its causes or its conduct. MacPherson's book is a superlative work based on more than 500 interviews that explores the outward ramifications and the inner feelings of those who lived through the Vietnam experience. She recounts the stories of veterans who have never been able to escape the horrific memories of their participation, and of those who have built upon their war experiences to make a better life for themselves; of the draft resisters still fighting for idealistic causes today, and the draft avoiders unwilling to have their names appended to the recording of their deeds because of the subsequent realization that their actions were motivated by selfish concerns rather than the ideals that they hid behind; and even of two brothers who served in the same platoon in Vietnam and yet came back with very different feelings about the war.

The spectrum of thought, feeling, and experience is broad, and the writing is characterized by a sensitivity that merges the cold statistics of reality with the warmth and importance of human emotion. Long Time Passing is for the living what the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is for those who made the ultimate sacrifice: a monument to human endeavor under difficult circumstances. The book has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and for the 1984 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the current events category.

The one aspect of the Vietnam war that has not been ignored over the years is the American prisoner-of-war experience. Approximately 50 separate titles by and about POWs have appeared since their return in 1973. In Love and War: The Story of a F amity's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years by Jim and Sybil Stockdale is the story of Admiral Stockdale's seven and one half year imprisonment as told in alternating chapters by the admiral and his wife. This unusual approach affords the reader an opportunity to witness the tribulations simultaneously endured by both POW and spouse. This book provides insight into the personality of a man who not only survived being a POW, but who won the Medal of Honor while doing it.

Vietnam as History: Ten Years After the Paris Peace Accords, edited by Peter Braestrup, is the documentary result of a gathering of over 50 Vietnam historians and analysts at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in January 1983. Participants included Stanley Karnow, Bui Diem (former Ambassador of the Republic of Vietnam), and Douglas Pike (director of the Indochina Studies Program of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California), among others. Some of the conclusions drawn by this aggregation of scholars, veterans, journalists, and diplomats are startling. Contrasting heavily with assertions maintained during the war years and often referred to even today when comparing the Vietnam war with current situations in Central America and the Middle East, the consensus of the conference participants was that the Vietnam war was not "immoral," that television coverage of the war did not have a major impact on U. S. public opinion, and that Hanoi was not, in fact, waging a "people's war" in South Vietnam.

Based on the dramatic accounts of marines who were there as well as on extensive documentary research, Battle for Hue: Tet 1968 , captures the fears, frustrations, and courage of the men who participated in the intense house-to-house fighting in this unique battle of the Vietnam war. The author, Keith William Nolan, was only three years old when this battle was waged, but he has written its history with a fervor and maturity that belies his youth and lack of first-hand experience. Battle for Hue is a stirring and important account that depicts an unusual kind of urban combat in what was considered a predominantly jungle war.

Controversy is nothing new to the Vietnam war, but the battle that has recently emerged between General William C. Westmoreland and the CBS television network has broached a new realm of conflict. The $120 million libel suit is more than simply "A Matter of Honor," as Don Kowet's title suggests. It is a question involving the latitude, liabilities, and limitations of television journalism which will probably be finally answered by the Supreme Court.

Kowet, who won the Society of Professional Journalists' Distinguished Service A ward for his article on this subject published in TV Guide, presents the full, inside story of the CBS documentary in which General Westmoreland was accused of deliberately misleading the White House by doctoring enemy troop-strength figures. Shedding light on many of the personalities involved, investigating the allegations made by CBS, and addressing the legal and ethical issues surrounding the rights and responsibilities of a free press, A Matter of Honor: General William C. Westmoreland Versus CBS stands out as essential background to what promises to be a court-battle of constitutional proportions.

The U. S. Marine Corps: In addition to Tarawa, A Special Valor, and Battle for Hue, there is a fourth notable book of special interest to the Marine Corps. First to Fight: An Inside View of the U. S. Marine Corps by Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, U. S. Marine Corps (Retired) is more than mere history or another account of one man's battle experiences. It is an analysis which captures the essence of the Corps and defines what it is that makes this fighting force unique in the company of all the armed forces of the world.

Relying on his own experiences in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, "Brute" Krulak blends personal viewpoint, humor, and candor with historical fact to paint a dramatic yet unquestionably authentic portrait of the service to which he devoted 35 years of his life. The spectrum is broad, ranging from battlefield tactics to political strategy, and the opinions, although often controversial, are strong and credible.

The Soviet Navy: Bryan Ranft and Geoffrey Till, both notable British maritime specialists, have collaborated to produce The Sea in Soviet Strategy, a well-documented assessment of the Soviet Union as a world sea power. Through a knowledgeable interpretation of the Soviet Navy's own writings, a detailed study of the mission capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses of their ships, submarines , and aircraft, and a careful analysis of their exercises and patterns of deployment, the authors have created a work that no serious student of the Soviet Union can afford to overlook. Although scholarly in content, the presentation is neither stifling nor pedantic. Those familiar with the writings of Sokolovskiy, Grechko, and Gorshkov will be quite comfortable with this reading, yet the neophyte to Soviet strategic study will find the treatment clear and unassuming. The inclusion of more than 40 rare and specially selected photographs enhances the overall effectiveness. The discussion of possible future roles of the Soviet Navy, as well as a thought-provoking assessment of its current strategy make this treatise an important contribution to Western thinking on Soviet affairs.

Perhaps its most refreshing aspect is the non-dogmatic approach which characterizes The Sea in Soviet Strategy. Evidence is presented, patterns suggested, predictions offered, but throughout the work, readers are assisted in forming their own conclusions rather than being cajoled, persuaded, or brow-beaten with ideologies, as is so often the case with works of this nature.

Certainly less important in an academic sense, but no less intriguing, is the Naval Institute Press's first publication of original fiction, entitled The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy. The stage for this novel is set with the discovery, through various intelligence methods, that the Soviet Navy is engaged in an all-out hunt for one of its own submarines. The importance of the defection and potential acquisition of massive Soviet materiel and personnel is quickly realized by the United States, and this fascinating story is underway. The pace is fast and the premise is thoroughly engaging.

Ships and Aircraft: No publishing year could be considered complete without the appearance of the books which provide current and historical data on the ships and aircraft of the world's navies. As in previous years, the latest editions of the venerable Jane's Fighting Ships 1984-85 and Combat Fleets of the World 1984-85: Their Ships, Aircraft, and Armament are notable as important reference documents. These are the books that virtually no one reads cover-to-cover, and yet they are the ones referred to more regularly than any of the other books previously mentioned.

Norman Polmar's The Ships and Aircraft of the U. S. Fleet, 13th Edition focuses on the U. S. Navy, and consequently its coverage is more detailed than that of Jane's and Combat Fleets. These three naval encyclopedias may appear redundant in their content, but no serious students of naval affairs would consider their research complete without consulting all three books. Each work is unique and provides commentaries by their respective editors that are insightful and catechizing. In U. S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History, Norman Friedman traces the history of cruisers from their earliest days when they were first classified by their role of independent "cruising" rather than by their size or firepower capabilities, to the present day controversies over a clear distinction between cruisers and destroyers as ship types and their political versus tactical deployment. Concentrating on the design of cruisers rather than on their operations, the book is replete with drawings and photographs that enhance the appreciation of a ship which is neither destroyer nor battleship, but which has often had to function as both.

The notable books of 1984 span a wide range of interests, and yet, with the exception of the three reference books on ships and aircraft and the two dealing with the Soviet Navy, all are historical in nature.

In the words of naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan: "The study of history lies at the foundation of all sound military conclusions and practice." Yet his words might well be tempered by those of British historian Sir Julian Corbett, who said, "The value of history in the art of war is not only to elucidate the resemblance of past and present, but also their essential differences."

Heeding the advice of these two scholars, it is clear that the study of history is vital for the lessons it provides on the errors of the past. And yet, the temptation to see each new situation as merely an exact repetition of some past event is an ever-present hazard of such study. There are lessons to be learned from the victories of World War II, the failures of Vietnam, and the cogent observations of General Krulak. But the advancement of technology and its attendant evolution of the human mind and spirit make every lesson from the past suspect as to its applicability to the present, or to the future.

Noting the proliferation of World War II books in "Notable Naval Books of 1982," (January 1983, Proceedings) Professor Craig L. Symonds wrote, "By donning blinders that limit our vision to the 1940s, we run a serious risk of contracting a new kind of tunnel vision." His point is well taken. The new literary perspectives on the World Wars and on our earlier history are certainly both interesting and healthy. And the increase in literature on Vietnam is long overdue. But the fear of history repeating itself must never overshadow the realization that every situation is unique and therefore every forthcoming strategy must likewise be unique in direction and orientation.

 

Battle for Hue: Tet 1968 . Keith William Nolan. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1983. 201 pp. Maps. Photos. Bib. Ind. $14.95 ($13.45).

Combat Fleets of the World 1984-85: Their Ships, Aircraft, and Armament . Jean Labayle Couhat, Editor. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984. 1,035 pp. Illus. Ind. Tables. $84.95 ($67.96).

Decision in Normandy . Carlo D'Este. New York: E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1983. 555 pp. Illus. Append . Index. $22.50 ($20.25).

The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun: The Drama of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1895-1945 . Stephen Howarth. New York: Scribner, 1983. 448 pp. Illus. Bib. Ind. Maps. $19.95 ($17.95).

First to Fight: An Inside View of the U. S. Marine Corps . Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, USMC (Ret.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984. 252 pp. Illus. Ind. $18.95 ($15.16).

The Great War at Sea 1914-1918 . Richard Hough. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. 353 pp. Illus. Maps. Notes. Ind. $25.00 ($20.00).

The Hunt for Red October . Tom Clancy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984. 387 pp. $14.95 ($11.96).

In Love and War: The Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years . Jim & Sybil Stockdale. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. 472 pp. Illus. Append. Notes. Index. $17.95 ($14.36).

Jack Tars & Commodores: The American Navy 1783-1815 . William M. Fowler, Jr., Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984. 318 pp. Illus. Bib. Notes. Ind. Maps. Append. $19.95 ($17.95).

Jane's Fighting Ships 1984-85 . Capt. John Moore, RN (Ret.), Editor. Boston, MA: Jane's Publishing Co., 1984. 792 pp. Illus. Ind. $125.00 ($112.50).

The King's Ships Were at Sea: The War in the North Sea, August 1914-February 1915 . Lt. James Goldrick, RAN. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984. 356 pp. Illus. Bib. Ind. $23 .95 ($19.16).

Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation . Myra MacPherson. New York: Doubleday, 1984. 663 pp. Gloss. Notes. Ind. $19.95 ($17.95).

A Matter of Honor: General William C. Westmoreland Versus CBS . Don Kowet. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1984. 317 pp. Ind. $16.95 ($15.25).

Overlord: D-Day, June 6, 1944 . Max Hastings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984. 368 pp. Illus. Notes. Append. Bib. Ind. $17.95 ($14.36).

The Sea in Soviet Strategy . Bryan Ranft and Geoffrey Till. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1983. 240 pp. Illus. Bib. Ind. Tables. $21.95 ($17.56).

The Ships and Aircraft of the U. S. Fleet, 13th Edition . Norman Polmar. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984. 576 pp. mus. Bib. Tables. Ind. $29.95 ($23.96).

The Spanish War: An American Epic, 1898 . G. J. A. O'Toole. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. 447 pp. mus. Bib. Notes. Ind. $19.95 ($17.95).

A Special Valor: The U. S. Marines and the Pacific War . Richard Wheeler. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1983. 466 pp. mus. Bib. Ind. Maps. $24.95 ($19.96).

Tarawa . Charles T. Gregg. New York: Stein and Day, 1984. 198 pp. mus. Bib. Ind. Maps. Append. $18 .95 ($17.05).

U. S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History . Norman Friedman. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984. 496 pp. Illus. Tables. Notes. Ind. $46.95 ($37.56).

Vietnam: A History . Stanley Kamow. New York: The Viking Press, 1983. 750 pp. Illus. Notes. Ind. $20.00 ($16.00).

Vietnam as History: Ten Years After the Paris Peace Accords . Peter Braestrup, Editor. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1984. 180 pp. Bib. Maps. Append. Tables. $16.75 ($15.07) (hardcover) $8.75 ($7.87) (paper).

 

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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