During my years as Chief of Naval Operations, 1978–1982, I had the great privilege and pleasure of serving concurrently as President of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Board of Control. By then, the Institute’s flagship journal Proceedings had just entered its second century of publication.
While, I must confess, I would occasionally rankle at some of the outspoken criticism of the authors in its pages, I had a much deeper, profound admiration for the Proceedings’ positive impact and its growing, enduring contributions to the advancement and strength of the Navy and sea power.
I applaud the Institute’s decision to digitize the entire 141 years of the Proceedings ensuring that this repository, a true treasure trove of history and of tactical and strategic thinking, is safeguarded, preserved, and—most important—readily accessible to this generation and those who will follow in the years and decades to come.
The Proceedings first appeared in 1874, shortly after a group of 15 naval and Marine Corps officers met at the U.S. Naval Academy to establish an independent forum to exchange, debate, and disseminate ideas aimed at advancing the naval profession, and preserving our naval heritage. This was a time of great hardship for the Navy. With the Civil War over, the ships of the fleet had almost totally disappeared. Those that remained were obsolete. Career and promotion opportunities were little more than nil to none.
Based on my review of the first issues published 1874–1879, it is clear that the Proceedings and its authors were determined to right the ship and set a new course. They were focused with sound ideas, a feeling of vigor, and with no time to waste.
In volume One, Number One, the very first issue, the highly experienced Captain Stephen B. Luce, who later became the first President of the Naval War College, wrote on “The Manning of Our Navy and Mercantile Marine,” arguing for a system of apprentice training in the Navy and merchant marine. Sixty percent of our enlisted men were foreigners at the time. In 1875 and 1876, the Congress acted on Luce’s recommendations with legislation establishing the first state maritime school in New York, and authorizing the enlistment of 750 naval apprentices.
The first year saw articles spanning issues of importance to the future Navy: armaments of our ships of war, the operation of compound steam engines, improved marine compasses, the need for and importance of an interoceanic canal joining the Atlantic and Pacific. Commodore Foxhall Parker, one of the Institute’s founders, wrote on the manifold lessons learned during fleet maneuvers just completed in the Bay of Florida—the need to operate the fleet as a fleet, not as divided independent attachments. He also published a history on the historic importance of the actions of Lieutenant John L. Worden as captain of the Monitor in the fight with the Merrimac, the first battle of the ironclads.
In 1875 – 1876, the Proceedings’ authors pontificated and debated, with articles on the velocity of the wind, the complexity of submarine telegraph laying, and the importance of sanitary science and practice aboard U.S. warships. In an imaginative, thought-provoking essay, Lieutenant T.B.M. Mason looked to hypothetical future 1880 and 1906 naval battles, the first resulting in battle loss and disaster because of an unready, obsolescent fleet, and the second, with new ships, weapons and tactics leading to victory.
As Proceedings authors pressed for a new generation of warships with improved armament and weapons in 1877, Lieutenant Edward W. Very wrote on the Navy’s first steps toward rifled ordnance, and Lieutenant Duncan Kennedy published on “The Converted Eight-Inch M.L. Rifle.” In his superb article “Fleets of the World,” expounding on the importance of sea power, Captain Luce presented a study of grand tactics, or tactics of battle, and elementary tactics, or tactics of instruction, starting with the Greeks and Phoenicians, and running forward through the eras of oars, sail, and steam.
In 1878, Naval Academy Professor Charles E. Monroe would publish on his research on explosives. This would lead to a future essays and a periodic column by Monroe on U.S. and foreign explosives developments that would run in the Proceedings for decades—he was determined that all in the naval profession must understand foreign advances in explosives, of such importance to future warfare. Lieutenant J.G. Soley hammered a key issue in his article “On a Proposed Type of Cruiser for the United States Navy.” He reminded of the success of our new ships in the War of 1812. He underlined the Navy’s current shipbuilding idleness. He reviewed the latest classes of cruisers of the rapid type built by Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia. He then set forth in great detail the design of his proposed new class of cruiser. Pretty gutsy of a Lieutenant, wouldn’t you say? But, after all, that’s what Proceedings is all about.
In 1879, Commander Alfred Thayer Mahan appeared in the Proceedings with an extensive prize-winning essay on naval education, covering virtually all aspects of officer education and qualities, of which he asserted the pre-eminence of moral force. Lieutenant T.B. M. Mason at the risk, in his words, of devoting too much attention to ‘soldiering’ wrote “On the Employment of Boat Guns as Light Artillery for Landing Parties.
I was impressed by the way Rear Admiral Daniel Ammen in his essay “The Purpose of a Navy and the Best Methods of Rendering it Efficient,” raised debate on the Nation’s naval policy another notch. People think the war’s over, that we no longer need a Navy, he wrote, But, he continued, here is why we need a Navy in peacetime – to be prepared for defense and aggression, to combat piracy, to carry out expeditions such as Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan, to survey distant regions, to carry out at-sea training, to have a Navy that is ready and prepared for combat. ‘A Navy that is ready and prepared for combat’—those words have such a familiar ring thinking back to my years commanding our forces in the Pacific following Vietnam, contending with the hollow force problems we had, lack of maintenance and readiness funds, and an anti-Vietnam ethos that had engulfed the American public.
I encourage all Institute members to take the opportunity to read at least some of these 1870s articles now that they are available in digitized form. These Proceedings authors were shaping the new Navy; they were driving innovation and change. They were establishing the Naval Institute’s role as a pre-eminent thought leader.