Special - The New Navy Prepares for War: The U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 1910-19

By A. Denis Clift

The political situation in Europe was darkening, with the major European nations investing heavily in larger, stronger navies. Proceedings articles focused sharply on the challenge. In 1910, Captain John Hood looked to possible future war, writing that America’s new fleet required fresh organization and tactics. Authors called for more training afloat and better training for flag officers. In his 1911 article “ Naval Power ,” Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske detailed the foreign investment and growth, as well as the sea-power needs facing the U.S. Navy and the nation.

In his 1913 prize essay “ The Greatest Need of the Atlantic Fleet ,” Lieutenant Commander Harry E. Yarnell, the future four-star, wrote that no other navy surpassed the offensive power of the new Atlantic Fleet. That said, he continued, the fleet had problems everywhere, from administration to manning, training, schedule of employment, and supporting yards, problems that need to be fixed if it were to prevail in battle.

Training and organization received close scrutiny. In 1910, Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce followed up on his 1874 article with fresh criticism of the Navy’s lack of conscription, the failure of U.S. public education, the need for industrial training schools for the Navy and industry, and the need to train apprentice seamen on board ship. In the next quarterly issue, he assessed his former command, the Naval War College (then in its 27th year), its contributions to educating officers in the art of war, and the invaluable contributions of Alfred Thayer Mahan.

The following year, Luce proceeded to lambast the Navy for abolishing the Board of Navy Commissioners and noted that Congress had not substituted another office. “We have fashioned the instrument—the fleet; but failed to provide the power to wield it as an instrument of war,” he wrote. If this would be a visionary look through the mists of time to the creation of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Captain F. K. Hill had a vision of the future National Security Council system with an article he wrote in 1912. The naval officer, he stated, in this “great and growing country,” should have a knowledge of world politics and national policies. The nation’s statesmen, in turn, who control the steps preceding and subsequent to war, should coordinate and work in harmony with the two military branches.

There were more articles on personnel, training, and the establishment of the postgraduate department of the Naval Academy. Other issues were addressed such as preparedness and the Navy Yards, and the building of the new Panama Canal and its strategic implications. In 1913, Navy Engineer R. E. Bakenhus published “ The Panama Canal ,” detailing the enormous engineering involved and the planned modus operandi. Other articles examined the canal’s terminal facilities, its place in international law, issues of neutrality, and the need to fortify it.

Proceedings looked to young authors, U.S. and foreign, for information on the thinking and advances in other navies and the lessons to be learned from overseas conflicts. In his 1910 honorable-mention prize essay “ The Naval Strategy of the Russo-Japanese War ,” Lieutenant Lynn Cotton wrote on the causes of that war and the strategies employed. In a tour de force, Marine Lieutenant W. T. Hoadley translated hundreds of pages of the Japanese general staff’s official report on the war, which Proceedings published in 1914 and 1915 with charts and tactical diagrams: “The Battle of the Sea of Japan,” “ The Battle of the Yellow Sea ,” “Operations Around Port Arthur, Part I,” “Operations Around Port Arthur, Part II,” and “Operations Around Port Arthur, Part II, Including the Eighth Attack.” In 1911 and 1912, Italian Navy Lieutenant Romeo Bernotti published a multipart study of naval tactics for the employment of ships in battle, adding to U.S. understanding of current thinking in European fleets.

While this was the era of the dreadnought, Proceedings authors were also writing on new dimensions of sea power above and below the surface of the waves. In December 1912, Lieutenant Chester W. Nimitz, a 1905 Naval Academy graduate fresh from submarine command, published “ Military Value and Tactics of Modern Submarines ,” including detailed foldout profiles of two new submarine types. Nimitz had high expectations for the submarine’s future role. While recognizing that the battleship was more mobile for the moment, he opined, “leaving out the factor of mobility, which for submarine craft of the future will advance more rapidly than for surface craft, we find the submarine craft rank equally well, if not better than surface craft.” Commander Yates Sterling would build authoritatively on Nimitz’s thesis in his 1917 article “ The Submarine ,” describing the development and deployment of new, more capable classes of submarines during the decade, and the growing place in the Navy of submarine development, strategy, tactics, and operations as well as the need for bigger submarines to carry out missions such as blockade and war against merchant vessels and warships.

Looking skyward, two of naval aviation’s most famous pioneers, Captain W. Irving Chambers and Lieutenant R. C. Saufley, would draw back the curtain on the opening of the era of Navy air. In his richly illustrated 40-page March 1911 article “ Aviation and Aeroplanes ,” Chambers documented the rapidly changing world of aviation and the U.S. Navy’s entry into it: Eugene Ely’s flight from the USS Birmingham , J. A. W. McCurdy’s record flight across the Florida Straits, landings and launches from the USS Pennsylvania , the development of hydro-aeroplanes, what had been accomplished, and what lay ahead. In December 1912, Chambers published a second article, “ Aviation Today and the Necessity for a National Aerodynamic Laboratory .”

In 1914, 1915, and 1916, Naval Aviator Number 14, Lieutenant Saufley, published four Proceedings articles:

• “ Naval Aviation, Its Value and Its Needs ,” urging the nation to support Navy air;

• “ The Work Ahead of Naval Aviation ,” on the importance of the scouting role, with illustrative diagrams, and again, the call for more money;

• “Seaplanes: Types Needed in the Navy,” on the different types of aircraft and their missions;

• “ Aeroplane Accidents: Causes and Remedies ,” on the need to study the problems, with accidents by no means unavoidable, and the different factors involved: air conditions, material, and personal error.

With these contributions as part of his enduring legacy, Lieutenant Saufley would tragically die in an air accident in 1916.

The decade saw excellent histories documenting the Navy’s heritage. “ William B. Cushing ,” by Charles W. Stewart, published in two parts in 1912, traced the life of Lieutenant Cushing and the fame he achieved in sinking the Confederate ironclad Albermarle and featured a concluding autobiographic section by Cushing on his war experiences. “A Diary of the Blockade of 1863,” published in 1918, presented the war diary of 20-year-old Charles A. Post. In February 1918, Commander W. T. Cluverius gave his first-person account of the explosion on board the ill-fated USS Maine in his remembrances “ A Midshipman on the Maine .”

Proceedings made some important changes during 1910-19. In 1914, it switched from a quarterly to a bimonthly journal. In 1917, it switched again from bimonthly to monthly. With more issues, there was increased timeliness. The May 1917 issue included a full-page photograph of President Woodrow Wilson delivering his Declaration of War address to the Congress on 6 April 1917.

In January 1916, Proceedings carried a tip-in, front-page announcement of a new special essay contest in addition to the annual prize essay contest. Walter Lippincott of Philadelphia was offering a prize of $1,000 for the best essay on the subject of “Large vs. A Greater Number of Small Battleships.” There would be 54 entries, and Lieutenant Commander Thomas Lee Johnson’s winning essay, published in the July-August issue, stated firmly that national policy demanded large battleships.

There would be memorial tributes to Mahan and Dewey. In February 1919, Rear Admiral Fiske, in “ The United States Naval Institute ,” took a look at the Institute’s role over 45 years, its good works and their importance, and issued a call for more writing and support. In the November 1919 issue, Lieutenant Commander Holloway H. Frost published a detailed description and analysis of the Battle of Jutland , the first in his series on the battle.

With the Great War over, there were articles on the United States’ pivotal role in it, and on the problems of personnel drawdowns and resources moving away from the Navy. In his March 1919 essay “ What Steps in Organization and Training Should Be Taken to Maintain and Increase the Efficiency of the Navy at the Close of the Present War ,” Rear Admiral A. C. Dillingham wrote on the lessons to be learned: the importance of sea power, preparedness, sharp strategic intention, a well-balanced Navy, good personnel, single command, coordination of operations, and coordination of policy-makers and the force—principles of leadership, organization, and operations that could as easily be published in 2014.

Mr. Clift is the U.S. Naval Institute’s vice president for planning and operations and president emeritus of the National Intelligence University. A naval officer from 1958–62, he served in the administrations of 11 successive U.S. Presidents. From 1963–66, he was editor-in-chief of Proceedings .


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