Archive for the 'meet the author' Tag

9781591148555Meet the Author continues this week with a discussion on leadership with Stephen Taaffe, author of Commanding Lincoln’s Navy.

What inspired you to write Commanding Lincoln’s Navy: Union Naval Leadership During the Civil War?

Commanding Lincoln’s Navy is my fourth book. The first two were over campaigns, which meant that I had to research and write about lots of different aspects of warfare – strategy, tactics, logistics, intelligence, personnel, morale, etc. I liked some of these things, but found others tedious. There may be people out there who are really fascinated by logistics, but I’m not one of them. A few years later I had an epiphany that I should write about what interests me the most: command structures. Years of reading military history and working in academia led me to ask why some people were appointed to important and responsible positions even when they were sometimes manifestly unsuited for such posts. In my third book, Commanding the Army of the Potomac, I analyzed who was assigned to corps command and why. I found the material interesting and enlightening, so I figured I would continue the line of thought by looking at the Navy’s command structure during the Civil War. In this case, I wanted to explain who got to lead the various Union Navy squadrons and why.

I should also note a more sordid motivation. Researching the Union Navy’s command structures involved examining what people thought of each other, so I got to read lots of salacious gossip about naval officers. This way I could indulge my more sinful nature under the guise of legitimate scholarship.

What are some of the leadership lessons learned that are applicable today?

Since human nature never changes, many of the lessons from the Civil War era in gaining and exercising command remain applicable today. For one thing, connections matter. Almost every officer I examined who achieved squadron command had some powerful patron lobbying for, supporting, or encouraging him. John Dahlgren’s friendship with Abraham Lincoln, for example, played a role in his appointment to lead the South Atlantic Squadron. However, connections are never enough. Officers without talent might attain an important post, but the pressures of command usually expose their weaknesses, and then all the connections in the world won’t matter. This is especially true as a war progresses and winning becomes more important than anything else.

It might seem commonsensical, but I was also struck by the fact that successful commanders such as David Farragut and David Porter were not necessarily the most intelligent, connected, or likeable men. Instead, they tended to be practical officers who were more interested in results than in, say, who gets the credit, military theory, personal pride, etc. They also understood that success is often not a matter of figuring out what to do, but rather of getting the job done. This requires self-discipline, single-mindedness, and moral courage. For example, both Samuel Frances Du Pont and John Dahlgren knew that they needed to steam into Charleston harbor to shut it down, but neither man mustered the moral courage required to take action and risk failure. They instead made lots of excuses for their inaction. On the other hand, David Farragut understood that he could not seize New Orleans until he ran his ships past the forts defending the city, but he was willing to do so even though he knew full well that failure would end his naval career. To be sure, there were some big differences between Charleston and New Orleans, but Farragut recognized that obstacles must be overcome, not rationalized.

How does this book fill a void in Navy historiography?

There are plenty of books on various Civil War campaigns in which the Navy participated, but no one has examined the selection and sometimes removal of the Navy’s various squadron commanders. Some of these men, such as David Farragut and David Porter, are well-known to Civil War buffs and the subject of various biographies, but others are not. Nevertheless, naval officers such as Theodorus Bailey, Henry Bell, and Samuel Francis Du Pont are equally important toward understanding the Navy’s role in the conflict.

For this book, what were some of your more insightful resources?

The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion was of course enormously helpful. Much of the correspondence is routine and mundane, but every now and then I found some interesting tidbits about various personalities. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles’ published diary was also useful, as was the correspondence of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox. In order to attain information that officers might be reluctant to place in an official report, Fox encouraged officers to write to him unofficially. Finally, I benefited from the collections of some of the squadron commanders, especially Samuel Francis Du Pont, Henry Bell, John Dahlgren, and Theodorus Bailey.

Who should read Commanding Lincoln’s Navy?

I’ve got kids in private school, so anyone who can beg, borrow, or steal the requisite cash ought to own Commanding Lincoln’s Navy. Actually, I wrote the book for both Civil War scholars and buffs. I hope that I uncovered some new material and had a few original insights that scholars might appreciate, but I also believe that anyone with a passing interest in the Civil War will enjoy a book about the men who waged the Union Navy’s war.

trnavaldiplomacyIt was a real honor for me to interview CDR. Jerry Hendrix about his new book, Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy: The U.S. Navy and the Birth of the American Century. CDR. Hendrix is a role model for all aspiring scholar-warriors being that he is one of a handful of USN line officers with PhDs. He is in great company: two other officers that hold PhDs are Adm. Jim Stavridis and the new U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Patrick Walsh.

Could you provide a short synopsis of the book?

Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy is my attempt to marry up twin historical themes of Rooseveltian history: TR as a Diplomat, and TR as a Navalist. In doing so I believe I arrive at a new understanding (at least new to me, and I have read about everything I can lay my hands on the topic) of Roosevelt’s key role in establishing the United States as the major power of the 20th Century. To illuminate his actions, I begin and end the book with an examination of the Great White Fleet, which many consider the ultimate example of his “Big Stick” diplomacy, but sandwich in between case studies of his handling of the Venezuelan Crisis of 1902-03, his role in Panama’s Independence Movement, the role of the naval services in the famous Perdicaris Affair of 1904, and why TR chose to hold the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War at a Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. In the end, I believe I shed new light on the sophisticated nature of Roosevelt’s diplomacy, the extent of his dependence upon the naval services, and do serious harm to the war-mongering, bellicose image that most people carry around of the first President Roosevelt.

What are some of the lessons learned from Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy that are important today?

TR advocated for a semi-permanent, coherent foreign policy that can be passed from administration to administration, regardless of political party. I believe that this is something that our political leaders today are working to get back to. Also, TR demonstrated repeatedly a deft appreciation for the scalability of response that naval forces can provide to policy makers. If you want one ship’s worth of coercive diplomacy, that is all you have to show, if you need another, bring it from over the horizon, and if you need to land a ground force, you have Marines. This is a simple example, but TR knew where his fleet was at all times and could call upon it when he needed it. Lastly, TR came to understand that military power comes with limits. With naval power there is a growing tension the farther you attempt to project power landward. He came to understand this and applied his experience to limit his attempts at influencing events so that his military reach did not exceed his diplomatic grasp.

What were some of your more insightful resources?

The logbooks containing the ciphered and unciphered communications from the Secretary of the Navy to the fleet that are stored at the National Archives were fantastic. They really demonstrated how much day to day interest TR showed towards the Navy and Marine Corps. Also, his papers and Admiral of the Navy George Dewey’s papers at the Library of Congress were amazing in showing the minute by minute unfolding of events. L astly, there were some letters that the Dewey family donated to the Naval Archives at the Navy Yard that were instrumental in reaching a new understanding of some of the events.

Who should read Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy?

I am hesitant to say, but I think mid-grade naval officers would find it insightful and come to a new understanding of how the modern Navy came to be. Admiral Stavridis, who very generously reviewed the book, recommended that all national security professionals take a look at it, so I think I would just leave it at that.

What advice do you have for fellow line officers pursuing PHDs?

Learn to live on four hours of sleep a night! No, really, I enjoyed the challenge. I wrote most of my original doctoral dissertation at sea so that the effort would have a minimal impact on my family (beyond the research). I found this to be an ideal environment to just get into the material and crank out the words. The best advice, though, for people pursuing a PhD is to pick a dissertation topic that really fascinates you and you are confident that it will continue to fascinate you, because you are going to spend the next 3-7 years of your life focused on this topic. Most people who get to all-but-dissertation (ABD) status with their PhD and just cannot finish the product and get the degree, find themselves in this jam because they cannot maintain their interest and energy in the topic. I was fortunate in that I picked a topic that I still find interesting to this day.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only that I think, given the increasing complexity of the world and the United States essential role in international stability, that it is increasingly important that naval professionals take to read, think, and write. Our profession and our nation depend upon it.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 4 Comments

shield of dreamsWith missile defense being in the news last week , I thought my e-interview with Professor Stephen J. Cimbala, author of Shield of Dreams: Missile Defense and U.S.-Russian Nuclear Strategy, might be of interest. Please note this e-interview was conducted prior to the recent U.S. decision on missile defense for both Poland and the Czech Republic.

You begin Shield of Dreams by laying out the strategic framework of the Russian-US nuclear relationship. What are the overarching foreign policy goals of both the United States and Russia?

The Obama administration has said that it wants to “reboot” the U.S. relationship with Russia. This will be easier said than done. Russia has a list of discontents with U.S. policy that carry forward from disagreements between the two states under George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. These points of contention include NATO enlargement, U.S. missile defenses in Europe, U.S. departure from the ABM Treaty, the war in Iraq, and, most recently in 2008, Russia’s war with Georgia. On the other hand, the Obama and Medvedev administrations have some potential areas of cooperation and convergent, if not identical, interest: defeating the Taliban and containing jihadism in Afghanistan and Pakistan; achieving a new strategic nuclear arms reduction agreeement to replace START I; and, managing the problem of nuclear nonproliferation in Iran and North Korea by use of diplomacy instead of force.

Who should read Shield of Dreams?

Shield of Dreams is an attempt to return to the “tradition” of national security policy studies that laid the foundation for arguments about deterrence and arms control during the early years of the Cold War. In those studies, policy analysis was combined with strategic theory and empirical measurement to create insights about the rationale for choice among competing national security objectives, weapons technologies, arms control proposals, and so forth. RAND was the first of a number of public policy related think tanks that developed out of this activity, and it also spread into government decision making during and after the 1960s. In turn, this work laid the foundation for Pentagon advances in state of the art thinking about strategy and the art of war: for example, in the creation of the Office of Net Assessment and the widespread respect for its long standing director, Dr. Andrew Marshall, and in the creation of the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for seeding futuristic research into technology. I call this self conscious trellis of national security studies in and out of the government the “Wohlstetter system” after famed RAND consultant and analyst Albert Wohlstetter. After the end of the Cold War, however, interest in deterrence and nuclear weapons declined except for the professional arms control community, and the U.S. prompt victory in the Gulf war of 1991 was thought to have ushered in an era of U.S. supremacy in smart, advanced technology, conventional weapons that would leave nuclear weapons in the dustbin of history. History now has its revenge: fears of nuclear proliferation and of the possible spread of nuclear weapons to terrorists are reminders of the fact that nuclear danger has not gone away, and in some ways, is worse. As President Obama said in Prague on April 5: although the threat of global nuclear war has receded, the threat of nuclear use has actually increased.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Within the missile defense technology community, future controversy will involve mission priorities and the question of versatility and “requisite variety” among candidate technologies. Some will argue, for example, that the U.S. should focus on protecting its allies from theater or shorter range missiles by using portable and rapidly deployable antimissile defenses – instead of the current emphasis on protecting the U.S. homeland from rogue attacks or accidental launches. For the former mission, protecting of allies against imminent land or sea based missile attacks, smarter defenses might use UAVs that loiter over certain areas of interest, detect imminent threats, and fire hit to kill kinetic weapons or more advanced weapons to disable attackers. For the latter mission, protection of the U.S. or allied homelands, cost effectiveness does not favor the current mainstay of the U.S. global missile defense system: the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. It is easily overwhelmed by attack strategies designed to confuse the defense or by larger numbers of attackers. In addition, it has a mixed record of success in tests thus far.

The U.S. Air Force and Space Command want to redefine the entire context for military planning by establishing U.S. aerospace dominance as a primary national security objective. This would deny to potential enemies the use of space for hostile purposes, including ASAT attacks on U.S. satellites that support communications, navigation, reconnaissance and surveillance and other C4ISTAR missions. U.S. space supremacy in the 21st century is, according to some airpower theorists, the “high ground” for future success in war and deterrence. If the U.S. were to adopt this perspective on the aerospace medium, it could reconceptualize the role of missile defenses within a larger framework of aerospace denial (to enemies) and maximum aerospace exploitation (for the U.S. and its allies). Air and space based missile defenses would have priority compared to ground and sea based systems, and the United States might move from the “military use” of space for supporting missions to actual deployment of weapons in space and the carrying out of combat missions in space. These missions could include antimissile defenses based on non-nuclear principles and located on satellites or other space based platforms, with capabilities for interspace or space-to-earth strikes. The U.S. arms control community and some members of Congress will almost certainly object to plans for such a robust military use of space, however.

It was 59 years ago today that North Korea invaded South Korea so it is only fitting that I e-interview Dr. Edward J. Marolda about the U.S. Navy’s role in the Korean War.

What inspired you to first produce booklets commemorating the Korean War and then later compiling them into The U.S. Navy and the Korean War?

One of my primary objectives during my time at Naval Historical Center (now Naval History and Heritage Command) was to stimulate interest in the vital history of the U.S. Navy in the Cold War era. As head of the Contemporary History Branch and then as Senior Historian, I sought to generate works on this period. We began and completed multi-page books on the USN in the Cold War but I anticipated a need for shorter studies during the 50th anniversary of the Korean War from 2000-2003. With the funding assistance of the DOD Korean War Commemoration Committee and the Naval Historical Foundation, we enlisted authors for the booklets and when produced distributed them to numerous commemoration groups and naval activities nationwide. To reach another key audience (the members of the Naval Institute) I then partnered with the USNI and the NHF to produce the book, which I am pleased to say has generated lots of positive comment.

Who were your contributors on this important project?

In addition to the organizations mentioned above, the most important contributors to the project were the individual authors, some of the finest naval historians around, including the late Tom Buell, Joe Alexander, Dick Knott, Tom Cutler, Curtis Utz, Bernie Nalty, and Malcomb (Kip) Muir.

What was the Navy’s role in the Korean War?

Withouth the USN, the UN coalition would not have been able to fight in Korea. Within a few weeks of the North Korean invasion, US, UK, and ROK naval units were driving North Korean naval forces from the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan; sea control was never in question after that. The Navy’s Military Sea Transportation Service rushed troop reinforcements into South Korea that prevented loss of the peninsula. At the same time carrier-based Navy, Marine, and British aviation forces bombed the North Korean capital at Pyongyang, bombarded the enemy’s supply lines leading to Pusan, and provided UN ground forces with close air support. In addition to the masterful amphibious assault at Inchon which changed the power equation in mid-1950, the threat of other amphibious operations throughout the war compelled Mao and Kim to keep powerful forces away from the front line at the 38th parallel. Naval air both shore and carrier-based was critical to the 1st Marine Division’s successful fight to the sea from Chosin Reservoir (in the process badly beating up several PLA armies). Moreover, the fleet successfully withdrew 91,000 troops and their equipment (and 100,000 refugees) from Hungnam to South Korea and they were soon in the fight again. Naval bombardmente from BBs and other combatants denied the enemy free use of his own coastlines.

How did maritime power keep the first “limited war” of the Cold War era confined to Korea?

With the “neutralization” of the Straits of Taiwan by the Seventh Fleet at the outset of the war and carrier task force sweeps along the China coast throughout the war, Washington made it clear to Bejing that any attempt to widen the war beyong Korea would put China’s coastal cities and industries at great risk. The Soviets were equally concerned about the vulnerability of their remote Far Eastern holdings.

What projects are you working on now?

A few years ago (while I worked at the NHC) in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War (one could pick several dates for that, but I chose 1965) in 2015, I inaugurated a new commemorative booklet series. With invaluable assistance of the Naval Historical Foundation, I enlisted distinguished authors to write individual booklets on the following topics: coastal operations, riverine operations, Operation Rolling Thunder, Operation Linebacker, POWs, naval leaders of the Vietnam War, sealift and logistic support, intelligence, Seabees and naval construction, and special operations. As a consultant to the NHHC, I am continuing work on the project as coeditor with Sandra Doyle, the NHHC’s Publications Editor. We hope to have 14 booklets completed by 2015. Soon the first two booklets in the series will be published; The Approaching Storm: Conflict in Asia, 1945-1965 (Marolda) and Nixon’s Trident: Naval Operations in Vietnam, 1968-1973 (John Sherwood).

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I continue to believe there is much more we all can do to preserve and interpret the Navy’s vital contribution to the nation’s success in the the Cold War. In addition to the Vietnam booklet series, the NHHC and the NHF are embarked on a major project, completing a Cold War Gallery to the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

part two of a two part series

more of my e-interview with Christopher Yung, author of Gators of Neptune.

What are some of the lessons learned, relearned and unlearned from Operation Neptune?

One of the lessons learned from Operation Neptune was the importance of inter-agency cooperation. No other operation in the Second World War involved so much coordination and cooperation between different branches of government. In the case of Neptune, the war ministries and branches of the military had to cooperate with ministries of transportation, coastal command (the British Coast Guard), to name a few. Another major lesson learned was the effectiveness of pre-loading merchant ships with supplies needed for a major ground operation, then sending those merchant ships to ports captured by the Allies after the amphibious assault. The concept of Maritime Prepositioned Ships was effectively replicated and used for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

There were several relearned lessons from Neptune as well. The importance of air supremacy for the conduct of amphibious operations. For the British, the importance of tactical surprise was also reaffirmed with the successful outcome of Operation Neptune. Most of the major lessons obtained between the disastrous Gallipoli operation and the early amphibious operations of the Second World War were also reaffirmed: the importance of a clear chain of command with everyone knowing what their roles/jobs were; the importance of loading the ships in order of priority for what the ground troops will need ashore; the importance of having some kind of naval bombardment precede the assault; the importance of the role of aircraft in the operation; and the division of labor between the Navy and the Army were all lessons reaffirmed.

The most intriguing aspect of the lessons taken away from Neptune, were those lessons which had to be un-learned, particularly by the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy had learned in the Central Pacific that successful amphibious assaults required long bombardments to destroy the hardened defenses like bunkers. The Neptune planners decided that they did not have that kind of luxury in time. To take too long to attack the coastal defenses of Normandy would have sacrificed tactical surprise and the ultimate result would have been that the Allies would have lost the “build up” race with the Germans. That is, the Germans would have reacted with panzer divisions and would have raced to build up their forces to push the invaders back into the sea. The U.S. Navy had to un-learn this lesson and take a risk with a shortened bombardment of the coastal defenses.

Another lesson that had to be un-learned was the idea of giving tactical control to the amphibious flag ship running the operation. In the Central Pacific, the U.S. Navy and the Marines had discovered that giving control of the aircraft supporting the operation to a staff on one of the Navy flag ships worked well for such operations as Tarawa and those following it. Such an arrangement would not have worked well for the navies in Neptune. First, aircraft were in support of many other missions beyond support to the amphibious task force. Aircraft were flying interdiction missions deep into France and were attacking V-1 launch sites and other enemy targets. Second, neither the Royal Navy or U.S. Navy had a flag ship which could control thousands of aircraft. Finally, these aircraft were taking off and landing from hundreds of air fields across southern England. It simply made more sense to have control of aircraft centralized at an Allied Air Force headquarters.

Who should read Gators of Neptune?

Gators of Neptune would immediately appeal to those interested in the Second World War, particularly its amphibious campaigns. I go into great detail over how amphibious doctrine was developed in the war and how it was then applied to the Normandy landings. The book will also appeal to those interested in understanding how Overlord and Neptune were planned. Although the title focuses on naval amphibious planning, I go into great detail over how the entire Overlord plan was thought through and developed. Finally, the book is also a primer on leadership, and how to tackle an enormous planning challenge like Neptune. The Navy personnel who took this on had immense pressures on them, and I found it instructional how some of these personalities dealt with the pressure. Let’s say some did better than others. In fact, one of the naval planners suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the experience and later committed suicide.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The only thing I would add to what has already been said, is that I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing this book. I wrote this book with the reader in mind. For every page that I wrote I asked myself, would I be interested in reading this book? Would this point that I am making be as informative to the layman as well as the naval warfare expert? The other thing that I focused on was accuracy. A subject as immense as Operation Neptune and Overlord takes on a bit of the aura of legend and myth. I needed to make sure that everything I wrote was as thoroughly researched as I could make it. You’ll see from the back of the book, with all of the primary sources that I used that I took that objective very seriously.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

Tomorrow marks the 65th anniversary of D-Day. The planning for the amphibious assault phase of the liberation of France was codenamed OPERATION NEPTUNE thus the title for Christopher Yung’s Gators of Neptune: Naval Amphibious Planning for the Normandy Invasion. Gators of Neptune is simply the best one out there about the planning for OPERATION NEPTUNE. I think you will agree.

first of a two-part series

What inspired you to write Gators of Neptune?

At the time that I was inspired to write Gators of Neptune, I was then a senior analyst working for the Commander, Amphibious Group Two (then a two star Navy command which was the senior amphibious command in the Atlantic Fleet). While on that assignment I was dispatched to a meeting at the building which housed U.S. Navy Carrier Group Four which was the command responsible for training and evaluating carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups. While waiting for that meeting to begin I admired the artwork in the CARGRU 4 building. That artwork depicted the Navy at Normandy-landing craft heading toward Omaha Beach; soldiers climbing down the rope ladders into landing craft; destroyers and battle ships firing at targets on the beach. Right then and there, it suddenly occurred to me that the amount of planning that went into that operation must have been enormous. I had only been at PHIBGRU 2 for a few months when this epiphany struck me, but even with the short amount of time that I had been working with the amphibious navy, I still saw the immense amount of effort that it took to plan a Marine Corps landing of a reinforced battalion or a regiment. What must it have taken to plan an operation involving multiple British and American corps? It was then that I decided to look into researching the naval amphibious planning for the D-Day landings.

Can you tell us a little about Operation Neptune?

Operation Neptune is the amphibious assault portion of the better known Operation Overlord, the Allied operation to invade northwestern Europe and defeat Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It took approximately 3 years to plan, went through several versions of the plan, and was planned by numerous staffs both English and American. The planners learned a great deal from other amphibious operations of the Second World War, and even took lessons from prior to World War 2. The British like to argue that the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942 in which thousands of Canadian troops were either wounded or killed on the coast of France provided the best direct lessons for the Neptune planners. There are also obvious lessons taken from the amphibious assaults that took place in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. I argue in the book, additionally, that the Allies took note of the lessons of the Pacific War, but rejected some of them as not applicable to the situation in Normandy. The eventual operation involved over 4,000 vessels including landing craft and ships, surface combatants, ferries, and merchant ships. Over 10,000 aircraft were involved in air operations related to Neptune, and in the end the assault involved 5 divisions with 2 follow up divisions landed on D-Day.

What were some of the obstacles confronted by the naval planners?

The most immediate obstacles confronting the naval planners were the naval threats posed by the German Navy. The German U-boat, the Kriegsmarines most lethal weapon throughout the Second World War, still posed a formidable threat to the operation. Forty plus U-boats were stationed in the vicinity of the operation and had been standing by to attack the invasion fleet when the Allied landings began. The Germans had also laid thousands of mines in the English Channel, on the beaches, in the shallow water off the beaches, and attached to obstacles off the Normandy beaches. The Allies had to figure out how to neutralize this threat. This was made doubly difficult since the direction of the tide changed in mid-channel, which complicated the job of the minesweeper. The Allies had to take into account that tricky detail. Finally, as far as naval threats were concerned, the German navy still possessed fast torpedo boats or E-boats, destroyers and patrol craft which could prove deadly to the invasion force. In fact, several of these E-boats penetrated English defenses in April 1944, attacked and sank/damaged three LSTs and killed over 700 soldiers and sailors.

Beyond the immediate naval threats confronting the naval planners, the German Luftwaffe still posed a significant threat to the invasion. The formidable coastal defenses erected by the German Seventh Army under Rommel’s supervision also had to be dealt with by naval gunfire and air bombardment.

Finally, there were challenges confronting the naval planners that had nothing to do with the threats posed by the Allies’ opponents. To name but one such challenge, the challenge of tracking all of the ships going to France, offloading their cargo, and then returning to ports which were organized enough to manage the reloading and proper scheduling of the coming and going vessels was a port management challenge beyond compare.

to be continued tomorrow…

The attack on the USS Stark, the largest naval battle since WW II, tanker escorts, etc are topics of my e-interview with Harold Lee Wise, author of Inside the Danger Zone: The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf, 1987-1988.

What inspired you to write Inside the Danger Zone?

The book grew from my masters thesis. As I researched these events and talked to veterans, it became clear that there was an important story to be told and one that had been overlooked. I saw an opportunity for a book, but the veterans themselves were the ones who really inspired me to write it. Many of them told me that no one had ever asked them about these events. I thought they deserved to be heard. I tried to tell their stories, and the story of the United States in the Persian Gulf at that time, in an entertaining and exciting manner.

The operations and incidents described in the book include the Iraqi missile attack on USS Stark, firefights between U.S. Special Forces and Iranian gunboats, attacks on Iranian warships and oil platforms, the seizure of an Iranian minelayer, and USS Samuel B. Roberts hitting a mine. Iranian missile and gunboat attacks damaged American and allied ships while the mine campaign threatened shipping of all nations. The tense situation eventually resulted in Operation Praying Mantis, America’s largest sea-air battle since World War II, a one-day showdown between U.S. forces and the most feared ships of the Iranian navy.

What do you feel are some of the lessons learned from May 1987 through July 1988?

There were many lessons learned during this period. One important thing is that this period was the proving ground for a new generation of high-tech weapons, most of which worked well with the notable exception of the tragic Vincennes incident. There were several “firsts” for the U.S. military including the first missile exchange between ships and the first use of satellite communication to relay decisions from the White House during combat. The Navy learned many lessons about damage control and ship design from Stark and Samuel B. Roberts. During this period, the military had to adapt to unexpected and dangerous threats, such as mines and armed speedboats, while also dealing with the unique difficulties of operating a large force in the Persian Gulf region for the first time. These lessons served the United States well in later years.

In the bigger picture, the entire period was a welcome change from what had been a long string of U.S. military failures in the region. Many of the diplomatic relationships that exist today were built in this time and the basic framework of U.S. relations to the Middle East took shape. It was a turning point in U.S. global strategy. Besides being the first tentative step toward a lasting military entanglement in the Persian Gulf region, this deployment was by far the largest for the U.S. military in the time between the Vietnam War and Desert Shield.

Have any of these lessons been since forgotten and are in danger of being re-learned the hard way today?

Because of the countries involved, the geographic area, and the continuing importance of oil, these operations should be thoroughly studied. Thankfully, the U.S. military has done a fine job in building on the lessons learned in that period. Many of the tactics and strategies that were important then could be valid in a future conflict and not only in the Persian Gulf. One lesson that should not be forgotten is that low-tech weapons are effective in naval warfare. Small boats attacking merchants is one example that has been in the headlines of late. That was a common problem in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War; only the attackers were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and not pirates. Protecting merchant ships, especially oil tankers, from these small boats was a primary goal of the U.S. Navy in the Gulf back then. The Navy used a combination of ships and special boat units operating from mobile sea bases. These mobile sea bases are just one of several interesting aspects of that time.

Can you tell us a little bit about Operation Praying Mantis?

Operation Praying Mantis was a one-day running battle between the United States and Iran that took place on 18 April 1988. The operation was intended as retaliation for the mining of Samuel B. Roberts. The end result was two Iranian frigates sunk or disabled, one Iranian guided missile boat sunk, two Iranian oil platforms (used as command and control bases) destroyed, and several armed speedboats sunk. For the United States, Operation Praying Mantis was a success on multiple levels. For the U.S. military, it was the largest engagement of any kind since the Vietnam War. There were no embarrassing equipment failures or costly lapses in judgment and U.S. intelligence, using both human and technological assets, was one step ahead of Iran all day. After all of the failures in the region, and overall for that matter since Vietnam, it was a day when nearly everything went right for the U.S. military. There are a few mysteries involved as well. Praying Mantis is the topic of the longest chapter in the book.

Who should read Inside the Danger Zone?

Anyone interested in recent naval history, Middle East history, or those who like a good adventure story will enjoy the book. It is intended to be accessible for a general audience. It focuses on the experiences and viewpoints of the officers and crew who served in the Persian Gulf while presenting background information and economic and political context to put the events in perspective. One reviewer said it read like a Clancy novel, but was “even better.” I’ll let the readers be the judge of that, but I hope anyone who reads it enjoys it. The web site with more info and photos is

Today marks the 64th anniversary of Germany’s surrender in World War II so it is only fitting I e-interviewed Howard Grier about his book, Hitler, Dönitz, and the Baltic Sea: The Third Reich’s Last Hope, 1944-1945.

What inspired you to write Hitler, Dönitz, and the Baltic Sea?

Very little has been written on the northern sector of the Eastern Front, aside from the siege of Leningrad. I was also curious why half a million German troops remained in Latvia’s Courland Peninsula after Allied forces had entered Germany from both the east and the west.

What are some of the lingering questions about the Third Reich’s final months that you answer in your book?

There are two main questions I try to answer. I believe that a common misconception about the final period of the war is that the Germans had no strategy. The popular conception of Hitler in the final years of the war is that of a deranged Führer who stubbornly demanded the defense of every foot of ground on all fronts, and ordered hopeless attacks with nonexistent divisions. To suggest that Hitler had a rational plan to win the war flies in the face of accepted interpretation. Yet just because a plan does not succeed does not mean that no plan existed. We now know that it failed, but Hitler was still trying to win the war even in 1945. His goal was to hold out until new weapons which he thought would be decisive became operational.

The second question concerns Hitler’s choice of Admiral Dönitz as his successor. Hitler did not appoint Dönitz simply by default or because he was an honorable soldier suitable to make peace, as is often suggested, but because Dönitz had proven himself to be one of Hitler’s most loyal and ideologically reliable followers. Dönitz supported Hitler’s strategy of fighting to the end, and provided Hitler with a chance to turn the tide again in Germany’s favor by reviving the U-boat war.

Why was the Baltic theater important to the Germans?

The Baltic had enormous significance to the German war effort for military, diplomatic, and economic reasons. Economically, control of the Baltic facilitated deliveries of Finnish nickel and Swedish iron ore. Domination of the Baltic also assured the Germans of a secure link to provide assistance to Finland, which Hitler hoped to keep as an ally in the war against the Soviets. Furthermore, the Germans required Finnish cooperation to maintain the mine barrages and anti-submarine nets essential to blockade Russia’s Baltic Fleet within the Gulf of Finland.

The military significance of the Baltic was first and foremost that it served as the navy’s submarine testing and training area. After the collapse of the U-boat war in the spring of 1943 the Germans hoped to regain the initiative in the Battle of the Atlantic with new models of technologically advanced submarines. But before these new submarines could be brought into action, they had to undergo trials and their crews had to be trained, which for geographic reasons was possible only in the eastern Baltic. Norway’s retention was also essential, because it remained the only suitable location from which to launch the new U-boat war following the loss of Germany’s naval bases in France in the summer of 1944.

Throughout 1944, as the Red Army steadily drove Army Group North back to the west, Dönitz increasingly urged the defense of the Baltic coast in the interest of naval strategy. The results were not what either Hitler or Dönitz envisioned. Between October 1944 and March 1945, over a million German soldiers were cut off from land contact with the rest of the front in coastal regions of Latvia, Lithuania, and eastern Germany. An additional 350,000 troops sat idle in Norway until Germany’s capitulation in May 1945.

Can you tell us about the Germans’ Type XXI submarine?

The Type XXI submarine was a vast improvement over existing U-boats. An offensive weapon with war-winning potential, the Type XXI was a true submarine rather than a submersible, and its speed and ability to remain underwater indefinitely rendered contemporary Allied antisubmarine tactics ineffective. The Type XXI could maintain submerged speeds of 18 knots for an hour and a half, and 12-14 knots for 10 hours; existing U-boats traveled, at best, at 6 knots for 45 minutes. This increased speed was a significant advantage, because most Allied convoys sailed at speeds of 6-9 knots. The XXIs also had a “silent running” motor, thicker hull (better to withstand depth charges), and the ability to dive deeper. Improved listening and location devices enabled the new submarines to attack without surfacing or having to use their periscope. With a fleet of these new U-boats, Dönitz intended to starve Britain into submission and halt the shipment of American troops and supplies to Europe. All he required was the time to test these new submarines and train their crews in the eastern Baltic. In the end only two Type XXIs set out in search of Allies vessels in the final week of the war, but neither spotted a target before war’s end. Allied bombing, design flaws, and shortages of materials and workers delayed their operational readiness.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In the course of my research, I unexpectedly came to believe that the common depiction of General Ferdinand Schörner was not entirely accurate. Of all German army generals, Schörner probably has the worst reputation. He is usually portrayed as an insanely brutal man who owed his rapid promotion to fanatical adherence to National Socialism and sycophantic devotion to Hitler. Schörner’s military abilities have been considered negligible at best. His notoriety stems mainly from the execution of numerous soldiers in the war’s final months. I believe that Schörner’s portrayal as a brutal commander and fanatical Nazi is accurate, but depictions of him as a toady and an untalented military leader are off the mark. Schörner was a skillful tactician who repeatedly disobeyed Hitler’s orders not to retreat, yet Hitler never relieved him of command because he realized that Schörner was loyal to him personally. Schörner’s willingness to defy Hitler when he believed the situation warranted it and his tactical skill deserve recognition. I have recently begun a long term project on Schörner’s military career.

Finally, I want to express my thanks to Naval Institute Press. The people there have been extremely helpful at every stage of the publication process.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 1 Comment

I like innovators so it was only natural that I “e-interview” John Kuehn, Assistant Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and author of Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy.

What was the General Board and how did it contribute to the defeat of the Japanese Navy?

The General Board of the Navy was established by Secretary of the Navy John D. Long with General Order 544 on March 13, 1900. It was composed of senior naval officers, mostly flag rank and captain level, although it included at various times more junior Navy and Marine Corps officers. The Secretary for the Board was usually a commander or lieutenant commander of particular promise (Robert Ghormley and Thomas Kinkaid were secretaries of the General Board as junior officers). The General Board, officially only advisory in nature, effectively served as a naval general staff until the creation of the position and staff for the Chief of Naval Operations in 1915. After that point it still had oversight of naval strategy and for most of its life remained the ultimate authority on fleet design to match the policy ends of the Secretary. Because of its authoritative influence on ship design it can be regarded as the author and father of the fleet that went to war with the Japanese in 1941. It was disestablished shortly after the “Revolt of the Admirals” in 1950 at the instigation of the second Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson.

What widely viewed views about the Washington Naval Treaty do you dispel in Agents of Innovation?

The biggest myth is that the Washington Naval Treaty had a uniformly negative effect on naval innovation and design (this myth propagated by S.E. Morison). As the book attempts to show (and my dissertation in far more detail), the Treaty had the impact-especially through Article XIX, what I call the fortification clause-in spurring the Navy to build the blueprint (if not most of the ships and systems) for a nearly land-base independent power projection fleet in order to execute a step by step island hopping campaign to retake the Philippines and then strangle Japan economically. This was the pre-war Orange Plan which goes hand in hand with the Treaty in shaping the design of the fleet. Another view I attempt to dispel is that of the battleship admirals versus the air admirals…this view is too narrow. The admirals all shared a common sea power ideology and were really “fleet” admiral. What I found remarkable was the relative homogeneity of the their views rather than stark differences. The notion that the Navy as an institution did not properly value air power in the interwar period is simply not true.

How did the General Board link the treaty system with innovation in the design of the fleet?

The Navy published, right after the Washington Treaty, its first ever “U.S. Naval Policy 1922,” a remarkable document which it distributed in handbill form throughout the fleet to acquaint everyone with the how the Washington Naval Treaty linked to the fleet. This document is Appendix 2 in my book and shows in great detail how the “U.S. Naval Policy [is] Based on Treaty for Limitation of Naval Armament.” This document was written by the General Board and designed to be good for ten years, with annual reviews.

What were some of the innovative modernization programs and initiatives that the U.S. Navy was forced to implement as a result of the Washington Naval Treaty?

The book looks specifically at three programs: battleship modernization (using the reconstruction clause of the Washington Naval Treaty), the mobile base plan of War Plan Orange (especially the floating dry dock program which became an especially dear project to the General Board), and how the Treaty reflected innovation in naval aviation through the flying deck cruiser initiative. It could have addressed a number of other issues as well-but that would have made for a much longer book. This year one of my students completed a master thesis on the General Board’s role in the design of fleet submarines and its positive effect on the design and evolution that lead to the production of the Gato-class boats. These submarines were highly successful in conducting unrestricted submarine warfare in World War II. All of these positive developments included the General Board as a sort of “final clearing house” and occurred within and in part because of the constraints of the Washington Naval Treaty.

What are the lessons learned from Agents of Innovation for today’s 21st Century Navy?

The U.S. Navy is basically in an interwar period right now-the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite what the pundits might say, are land-centric with the Navy in a supporting role. Our command of the sea for these operations is not in jeopardy. Although not constrained by a naval arms limitation treaty per se, we are constrained by budgets and a very uncertain security environment. So I think if naval officers want to understand the dynamics of building a fleet in an uncertain environment during peacetime and with declining budgets, then the interwar period and the General Board’s collaborative and collegial approach have much to teach us. The General Board had one advantage over us, they clearly identified the threat as Japan…which made war plans and design simpler (although not necessarily easy-see Clausewitz Book I chapter 7 on friction). The threat is nebulous…and dependent on policy. The old Mahanian solution of building against the most capable foreign navy does not work today because the U.S. Navy is clearly the most capable navy on the face of the earth right now, it wasn’t that way in 1919. In some sense our challenge is much greater than the General Board faced, but I think their basic approach, as reflected in my book, had much wisdom in it.

Who should read Agents of Innovation?

The same people to whom I would recommend On War by Carl von Clausewitz, anyone interested in the national defense of the United States-ie. all concerned U.S. citizens. The United States is essentially a continental island which relies overwhelmingly on maritime trade-islands need navies for their defense. This is just Mahan 101. National defense is everybody’s business, not just wonks/retired officers like me who teach at war colleges. At the very minimum field grade /lieutenant commanders and higher military professionals and national level politicians and policy makers, and those who aspire to be such, should read this book.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss my work and my book. It is not the last word on the General Board and the interwar navy. The books of Thomas and Trent Hone, Norman Friedman, Mark Mandeles, Edward Miller, Williamson Murray, and Allan Millett and others also provide wonderful viewpoints on this critical period. There remains much research to be done.

Read widely and deeply, its less hazardous than learning the hard the way in the real world.

This is submarine week on Meet the Author so it is only appropriate that I interview Gannon McHale about life as an enlisted sailor on a fast attack submarine during the 1960s.

What inspired you to write Stealth Boat: Fighting the Cold War in a Fast-Attack Submarine?

The inspiration for the book actually came from a shipmate, who suggested that I “write down all those old sea stories.” As an actor I have been in the storytelling business for thirty years, and storytelling was a big part of my childhood. I thought that perhaps the time had come for someone to recall life aboard a submarine as seen through the eyes of an enlisted man. Submarine sailors love sea stories and I believed that my approach might inspire other men who served aboard boats to recall their own experiences.

What was it like being an enlisted man onboard the USS Sturgeon (SSN-637) in the late 1960’s?

Much has been written about the late 1960’s as one of the most divisive periods in our nation’s history. The country was nearly torn apart by the Vietnam War and it caused a great deal of heartache in families nationwide. The almost universal “support the troops” sentiment of today was definitely not the norm. The Selective Service Act was in place and all young men who reached the age of 19 were required to serve two years active duty in the military. Many young men fled the country to avoid being drafted. Others faked medical and psychological ailments to avoid service in what they deemed an unnecessary and immoral war. I and many of my colleagues enlisted in the Navy specifically to avoid being drafted for service in Southeast Asia. However, we were not going to shirk from our responsibilities, burn our draft cards or go to Canada. We decided to be proactive about our military experience and we ended up in the submarine service where the “Cold War” required us to do things that were just as dangerous as being sent into combat.

Who should read Stealth Boat?

Everyone who has ever served aboard a submarine and anyone who is curious about the experience should read this book. I tried to recreate the day-today camaraderie that is unique to the submarine service, and I hope that it will inspire those men who served on boats to recall their own experiences. I also hoped that it would “open a door” and shed some light on what has been, until recently, a highly classified part of our nation’s history. The Submarine Service contribution to winning the Cold War cannot be overestimated.

How did your time in the Navy prepare you for Broadway and regional theatres across the world?

I had no idea when I was in the Navy that I would end up in Show Business. However, the friendships that I developed aboard the USS STURGEON have been a part of my life ever since, and the training and experience I gained as a submariner helped give me the strength and determination necessary to survive in a highly competitive and often capricious business environment.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

From the book……”My four years in the Unites States Navy coincided with one of the most interesting periods in the history of the Submarine Force, the ascendance of nuclear submarines and the decline of the diesel-electric boats. In the beginning of my service I reported aboard the newest commissioned nuclear powered attack submarine in the fleet and subsequently made her first three patrols. At the end I made a patrol aboard one of the oldest diesel-electric boats in the fleet before she was decommissioned and stricken from the list. I am very happy that I served aboard both vessels. The first was the future in the present tense, and the other was the past. As the “future” Sturgeon was the major, defining experience of my life and, as the “past,” Dogfish gave me perspective, a tangible sense of submarine history, and completed my immersion into a mystique that only those men who have served on submarines can ever truly comprehend.”

I was very fortunate to serve on a great boat with great men, some of the finest I have ever met. I truly believe that the Submarine Service provided me with not only the first and, perhaps, finest adventure of my life, but the experience and the friendships of a lifetime. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments
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