The venerable Scottish historian, Thomas Carlyle, wrote that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." The study of naval history often ratifies Carlyle's assertion because military service frequently catapults individuals into key positions of responsibility and authority. This year's selection of notable naval books, while representing a diversity of topics and interests, is dominated by biography. A number of the selections are traditional biographies in the formal sense, written about high-ranking officers whose positions and actions combined to bear on world events, while others are accounts of significant events which have been largely influenced by the deeds of individuals.
Biography last dominated the "Notables" in 1981, when the selections included an autobiographical account of war experiences by the renowned author William Manchester and biographies of retired U. S. Navy Admiral Thomas C. Hart and Royal Navy Admirals David Beatty and Lord Louis Mountbatten. Now in 1985, Lord Mountbatten again appears in a new biography, Mountbatten, by Philip Ziegler. This new account of the life of Britain's "last warrior prince" is nearly twice the size of its 1981 predecessor. It details, with great accuracy and readability, the story-book life of the great-grandson of Queen Victoria who became First Sea Lord of Great Britain (a position from which his father had been fired in 1916). Rarely does a figure in military history blend the appeal and dash of a playboy-idol with the competence of a warrior-strategist. But Mountbatten achieved this and more.
In World War II, he shared the title of Supreme Allied Commander with Eisenhower and MacArthur and, in so doing, added more than a quarter of a million Americans to his command. His service as last Viceroy and first Governor-General of India was marked by personal conviction and courageous determination. This massive work is more than a mere historical document; it serves also as a monument to a martyred man and to the last significant vestiges of monarchy in the Western world.
No less colorful, but in a more rough than regal manner, is the life of Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey. E. B. Potter, highly acclaimed biographer of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and professor emeritus at the U. S. Naval Academy, has written a balanced, complete account appropriately entitled Bull Halsey. Thomas B. Buell, the biographer of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, writes:
"Ned Potter has cleared the decks of the journalistic hyperbole normally associated with 'the Bull' and has produced what historical records have deserved: a fair and accurate telling of who Halsey was and why he became a naval hero."
Admiral Halsey, like Admiral Mountbatten, has been written about before, but Professor Potter's account is distinguished not only by his proven abilities as a biographer, but by the fact that Halsey's family granted him full access to the Admiral's private memoirs. Halsey, whose ancestry includes a privateer turned buccaneer, was once told by Genera! Douglas MacArthur: "When you leave the Pacific, Bill, it becomes just another damned ocean!" Bull Halsey will undoubtedly be the standard biography of this controversial combat leader.
Another five-star admiral's professional life is detailed in Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy by Henry H. Adams. Leahy, who coincidentally went to sea as a midshipman under the guidance of Lieutenant William F. Halsey (Bull's father), served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal chief of staff and as chairman of the newly established Joint Chiefs of Staff during World War II. Overshadowed by the more public Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's special assistant, Leahy never received the fame commensurate with his contribution and his status as one of the most powerful men in Washington during those critical years.
Professor Adams excavates the varied details of Leahy's role from behind the scenes of the Roosevelt presidency and reveals a man of great character and exceptional competence. He credits Leahy not only with enjoying Roosevelt's complete trust, but with playing a crucial role in the efficient turnover of government to President Harry S. Truman upon Roosevelt's death. This is no small task in any case, but it was particularly complex because of the extraordinary tenure of President Roosevelt. Witness to Power not only ensures a rightful place in history for Fleet Admiral Leahy, it also serves as an important historical document on the Roosevelt administration and America's role in World War II.
Two new books, focusing on events decades apart, embody different expressions of a common theme: high-level management (or mismanagement) of the military. With a not-so-coincidental publication date of 7 December, And I Was There by Navy Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton , et al., sheds new light on the Pearl Harbor attack and other events of World War II. Admiral Layton, who died just before the publication of his book, broke his silence and revealed what he knew about wartime intelligence after he was released from the restraints of security classification. He was particularly qualified to do so since he served as a naval intelligence officer on Admiral Nimitz' staff charged with "keeping the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet informed about Japan's strategic objectives, capabilities, and intended operations." Nimitz once said of then-Commander Layton: "As my intelligence officer [he is] more valuable to me than any division of cruisers." Admiral Layton served in that capacity from 7 December 1940 until the war's end.
This uniquely internal observation reveals many new facts and facets of World War II intelligence operations for the first time, but the revelations which gave this book its most stunning impact center around the grievous errors committed by the U. S. high command in the early days of the war. Admiral Layton writes: "Like the fatal curse of a Greek tragedy, it seems that Washington was doomed to ignore, misinterpret, or not relay the vital warnings that could have saved the Pacific Fleet."
The second book of similar theme is Edward N. Luttwak's The Pentagon and the Art of War. This current analysis of the American military's roles and responsibilities in Iran, Beirut, and Grenada raises some hard, but intensely important, questions about the manner in which our defense establishment is run. While criticism in this area is in no short supply, this work is unique in that it comes from an avowed "hawk" who advocates increased defense spending and believes in an unyielding defense strategy. Luttwak contends that "the circumstances of our defeat in Vietnam were sufficiently ambiguous to deny the nation the benefit of a well-understood military failure." He further charges that, "because the senior officers in charge were not forced into retirement after their failure in Vietnam but were instead promoted to the very highest commands, there could be no earnest reappraisal of the war." Consequently, Luttwak asserts that we are denied "the customary reward of defeat"—the lessons learned.
Citing the failure of the Iranian hostage rescue mission and a number of serious problems encountered in Beirut and Grenada, the author argues convincingly that the defense establishment has gleaned little or nothing from what should be the Vietnam lessons. The solutions he proposes, while worthy of serious consideration, will stimulate heated opposition. However, the importance of this book lies not so much in his proposed solutions as in the serious questions requiring serious answers that this book will generate. Such discussions may help depolarize the military reform debate and may even stimulate a healthy introspection from within the defense establishment.
Noting the shortcomings of America's high-level military establishment as recounted in these books by Admiral Layton and Luttwak, Voltaire's philosophical admonition that "history never repeats itself, man always does" seems ominously vindicated. However, the true strength of democracy lies not in error-free performance, but in the capacity to review openly such performance with an ever-constant eye toward improvement. More books like these may yet prove Voltaire wrong.
In contrast to the often painful task of reviewing past shortcomings is the sense of pride that is spawned by accounts of individual courage, competence, and success. Such accounts are found in abundance in two books dealing with the Marine Corps: Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor by Bill D. Ross and The Easter Offensive: The Last American Advisors, Vietnam, 1972 by retired U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Colonel G. H. Turley.
The 36-day assault on Iwo Jima is recorded in vivid detail in Iwo Jima. It is a story of staggering statistics: 6,821 American and nearly 20,000 Japanese dead; an account of heroism under fire: of the 353 Medals of Honor awarded in all of World War II, 27 were earned at Iwo Jima; and a study in leadership, strategy, tactics, logistics, and human nature. Edward Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly Press, writes, "I am shocked, moved, and deeply impressed by the determined courage, the humor, and the heartfelt loss Ross has woven together in his admirable narrative." Mr. Ross, who was a 23-year-old Marine sergeant and combat correspondent on Iwo Jima, received the 1984 Award of Merit by the U. S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association for this landmark book.
The Easter Offensive is an account from a different war—one America did not win. Yet it is no less a treatise on individual valor or battlefield victories. It is the story of the 1972 all-out North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam. By a strange string of events, then-Lieutenant Turley, initially a part of a mere fact-finding mission, found himself the senior advisor in Military Region I in South Vietnam when the invasion began. Without the blessing or even the understanding of the high command in Saigon, he took charge of the rapidly deteriorating situation and began calling in U. S. air and naval gunfire strikes on the advancing enemy.
In the midst of near-chaos, Turley and a handful of American advisors with their South Vietnamese counterparts played crucial roles in the defense of South Vietnam. A highlight of this exciting, well-written work is the chapter entitled, "Action at the Dong Ha Bridge" in which two American advisors destroy the bridge and disrupt the advance of North Vietnamese tanks into the southern provinces. This is an account of incredible courage that even Hollywood screenwriters could not surpass, and it serves as a welcome beacon through the fog of a tragic war.
From a historical perspective, 1985 was a banner year for analysis. The Root by Eric Hammel, tells the story of the U. S. Marine peacekeeping force that maintained an American presence in Beirut, Lebanon, from August 1982 to February 1984. Hammel interviewed approximately 200 enlisted men and officers to reconstruct events as the Marines themselves saw them. The Root (the Marines' nickname for Beirut) explains what led to the insertion of the Marine Amphibious Units, what they experienced on a day-to-day basis, and what eventually led to their withdrawal. It also chronicles the details of the 23 October 1983 bombing which took 241 American lives. While the book does not explore all of the political aspects of the force's presence in Lebanon, and therefore will not serve as the final word on the subject, it is an important document, recounting the participants' views of a controversial, but significant, chapter in the history of the U. S. Marine Corps.
The 1982 ten-week-long war between British and Argentine forces in the Falklands is recaptured by one of its principal participants in No Picnic, by Julian Thompson. The book describes specifically the role played by the British No. 3 Commando Brigade. General Thompson commanded that brigade throughout the conflict, and his rendition of the events is graphic but understated. Many aspects of the war receive attention but, as General Thompson writes in his preface, "the men in my Brigade were special, and this book concentrates unashamedly on their story."
A commander from an earlier era tells his story in U-Boat Commander, by Peter Cremer. This late 1984 entry recalls the Battle of the Atlantic from the viewpoint of a German submarine captain. Out of the 820 German submarines that participated in World War II, only 39 survived at war's end. The average life expectancy of a German submariner after 1943 was less than 50 days, yet Cremer somehow surmounted these odds and lived to write this book. He relies in part upon his own recollections but also documents his story using recently released archival information. Cremer has produced an exciting war story and, moreover, a detailed and intimate account of life on board a German submarine.
Another valuable aspect of this book is Cremer's insider's view of Admiral Karl Donitz, head of the German navy and Hitler's successor. Cremer was assigned to Donitz' personal staff while recuperating from wounds and then, at war's end, he served as commanding officer of the admiral's security battalion. His fascinating career and detailed account of Untersee-Waffe operations make this book an important historical document as well as an excellent autobiographical account of war at sea.
The American war in the Pacific is presented in a new single volume narrative entitled Eagle Against the Sun by Ronald H. Spector. Hailed in the New York Times Book Review as "the best book by far on this subject," the work is based upon British, American, and Japanese documents (some of them recently declassified) and the memoirs of numerous politicians, scholars, and military men. Professor Spector, a military historian with an impressive list of credentials and published works, has captured the essence of America's 44-month war with Japan. He contends that many of the decisions that were made were not the result of strategic thought, but were frequently driven by interservice and even international struggles over available assets. He builds a strong case that Japan's fatal error was not so much in the loss of the Battle of Midway, but rather in the abandonment of its offensive strategy after that defeat. Professor Spector's nine-year labor has produced a salient addition to the ever-burgeoning body of World War II literature.
Literature focusing on the Vietnam War is also burgeoning, but there is, however, a conspicuous void. Very little has been written about the U. S. Navy's role in that conflict. The Naval Historical Center in Washington, D. C., has been working for years on a three-volume series to fill the gap, but, to date, only one volume has been published, with the second due sometime in 1986, and the third (which concentrates on the post-1965 period, when American involvement was greatest) due years from now. As an interim measure, the Center has produced A Short History of the United States Navy and the Southeast Asian Conflict by Edward J. Marolda and G. Wesley Pryce, III. This concise work proffers a broad overview and includes "the Navy's role in riverine and coastal warfare, counterinsurgency, civic action, and advisory duty, as well as the service's more well-known carrier air strike, amphibious, and naval gunfire support operations."
Finally, two historical works have particular relevance and appeal in this day of resurrected interest in the battleship. One is the latest in the Norman Friedman series on ship types, U. S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History, and the other is the third and final volume in a study of World War II capital ships, entitled Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War IIby William H. Garzke, Jr. and Robert O. Dulin, Jr. U. S. Battleships is the first book to cover the entire spectrum of American dreadnought development from its infancy to the present—a period spanning an entire century. A leading authority on U. S. warships, Friedman's comprehensive work is based largely on formerly classified Navy records and includes research into official battle damage reports that provide useful data in analyzing the various battleship designs. Designs proposed but never built are also included. As with all books in this design series, detailed scale outboard and plan views of the various classes are included along with numerous previously unpublished photographs.
Battleships: is a technical history of German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese battleships and battlecruisers. The legendary Bismarck, the gigantic Yamato and Musashi, and many lesser known ships, including those planned but not built, are included in this distinctive work. Plan views, paintings, and photographs enhance the wealth of technical and historical data.
Outside the realm of naval history, 1985 produced two books which deal with two separate areas of naval warfare: Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering by Robert L. Shaw and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) by retired Royal Navy Rear Admiral J. R. Hill. The latter is a concise guide to ASW prepared specifically for the general reader. Anti-Submarine Warfare opens with the historical background of submarine and ASW operations, including the technological evolution of platform, sensor, and weapon development, and then provides nontechnical explanations of modem capabilities in light of the Soviet submarine threat.
Fighter Combat attacks the history, theory, and mechanics of aerial tactics by drawing on firsthand accounts of actual engagements, quotes from more than 250 authorities on the subject, and the author's experience as a veteran fighter pilot and aeronautical engineer. The theory and doctrine of maneuvering and weapons employment are discussed and presented with nearly 150 detailed illustrations. Fighter sweeps, point and area defense, escort tactics, single and multiple aircraft considerations, and radar intercept techniques are all included in timeless detail. It was long believed that a book like Fighter Combat could not be written because of the many variables and unpredictable factors involved, but the appearance of this innovative and pragmatic book has quieted skeptics and laid this argument to rest.
Professors Paolo E. Coletta and K. Jack Bauer have filled a void in naval reference works and yet have not focused on men, ships, aircraft, or weapons. Their unique two-volume book is devoted to United States Navy and Marine Corps Bases, one volume for domestic bases, the other for overseas. Arranged in an encyclopedic format, the entries are written by noted naval historians and highlight the bases' significance and provide data on geographic location, establishment dates, and, where applicable, closing dates.
No discussion of notable naval books would be complete without mentioning new editions of already established venerables of naval publishing. Jane's Fighting Ships 1984-85 continues Jane's long tradition of compiling current data on the world's navies, and Dutton's Navigation and Piloting by Elbert S. Maloney, now in an updated 14th edition, remains a classic.
Each of the notable books mentioned is individually a significant and worthwhile work, but collectively, once again, an obvious pattern emerges. History—World War II history in particular—dominates. While one would be hard-pressed to overestimate the value of historical reflection, perhaps an appeal is in order for a little less hindsight and a bit more intuitive foresight. The lessons of history are invaluable if applied cautiously but they are meaningless unless applied to the present and future. While recognizing that "war is too costly for the strategist to learn his trade through trial and error," the preface to the Proceedings March 1985 History Supplement reminds that "He must come to understand the art of strategy through the study of what has worked and what has failed for other practitioners of his art…The present-day Proceedings is unalterably committed to today and tomorrow." This should also be the commitment and challenge to all who study, write, and care about naval matters.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To prevent any misunderstandings regarding conflicts of interest, we are unable to include The Battle to Save The Houston (Naval Institute Press, 1985) as a Notable Naval Book because the author, John Grider Miller, recently joined the Proceedings staff as our new managing editor. Failure to recognize his book, however, would be an injustice to you, our readers, and to him. It is a World War II adventure story of epic proportions that Admiral Arleigh Burke calls, "A story of what men can do with heroic effort, unwavering perseverance, and knowledge when impossible things need to be done."
"And I Was There": Pearl Harbor and Midway-Breaking the Secrets. RAdm. Edwin T. Layton, USN (Ret.), et al. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1985. 587 pp. Illus. Maps. Notes. Bib. Ind. $19.95 ($17.95).
Anti-Submarine Warfare. RAdm. J. R. Hill, RN (Ret.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985. 112 pp. Illus. Bib. $11.95 ($9.56).
Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II. William H. Garzke, Jr. and Robert O. Dulin, Jr. Annapolis , MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985. 408 pp. Photos. Illus. Append. Bib. $39.95 ($31.96).
Bull Halsey. E. B. Potter. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985. 352 pp. Illus. Bib. Notes. Ind. Maps. $19.95 ($15.96).
Dutton's Navigation & Piloting: Fourteenth Edition. Elbert S. Maloney. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985. 640 pp. Illus. Ind. Charts. Append. Tables. $32.95 ($26.36).
Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. Ronald H. Spector. New York: The Free Press).985. 589 pp. Illus. Notes. Ind. $24.00 ($21.60).
The Easter Offensive: The Last American Advisors, Vietnam, 1972. Col. G. H. Turley, USMCR (Ret.). Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1985. 387 pp. Illus. Notes. Ind. Maps. Append. $18.95 ($17.05).
Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering. Robert L. Shaw. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985. 432 pp. Illus. Bib. Ind. Append. Approx. $28.95 ($23.16).
Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor. Bill D. Ross. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1985. 376 pp. Illus. Bib. Ind. $22.50 ($18.00).
Jane's Fighting Ships 1985-86. Capt. John Moore, RN (Ret.), Editor. New York: Jane's Publishing Inc., 1985. 816 pp. Gloss. Illus. Ind. $125.00 ($112.50).
Mountbatten: A Biography. Philip Ziegler. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.784 pp. Notes. Ind. Maps. Charts. Illus. $24.95 ($22.45).
No Picnic: 3 Commando Brigade in the South Atlantic 1982. Julian Thompson. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1985.201 pp. Illus. Notes. Ind. Maps. $24.95 ($22.45).
The Pentagon and the Art of War: The Question of Military Reform. Edward N. Luttwak. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. 340 pp. Notes. Append. Tables. $17.45 ($15.70).
The Root: The Marines in Beirut August 1982-February 1984. Eric Hammel. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovitch, 1985. 426 pp. Illus. Gloss. Bib. Ind. Maps. Append. $19.95 ($17.95).
A Short History of the United States Navy and the Southeast Asian Conflict 1950-1975. Edward J. Marolda and G. Wesley Price, III. Washington , DC: Naval Historical Center, 1984. 131 pp. Bib. Append. (No charge. Order directly from the Naval Historical Center, Building 57, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC 20374.)
U-Boat Commander: A Periscope View of the Battle of the Atlantic. Peter Cremer. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984. 244 pp. Append. Bib. Ind. Illus. $14.95 ($11.96).
U. S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History. Norman Friedman, et al. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985. 512 pp. Photos. Illus. Append. Ind. $46.95 ($37.56).
United States Navy and Marine Corps Bases, Domestic. Paolo E. Coletta, Editor. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. 459 pp. Ind. Append. $95.00 ($85.50).
United States Navy and Marine Corps Bases, Overseas. Paolo E. Coletta, Editor. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. 459 pp. Ind. Append. $75.00 ($67.50).
Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy. Henry H. Adams. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985. 366 pp. Illus. Notes. Append. $22.95 ($18.36).