Salt, Steel, Sidewinders, Spies, and Sharks
Editor's Note: This year's review is written by
Norman Polmar, well-known naval analyst, consultant, and author. His
byline periodically has appeared in Sea Power since July 1959 (the magazine
was then called Navy). He picks up this task from Col. Brooke Nihart,
USMC (Ret.), who has written the Almanac's bibliographic essay since
the first edition.
A large number of books related to sea power were published during 1999.
Two of the volumes seen by this reviewer merit special attention:
The first is The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal by James W. Grace, who
describes the savage battle in the early morning darkness of 13 November
1942 when U.S. and Japanese battle fleets engaged in a deadly exchange
of gunfire and torpedoes. The forces were unevenly matched: The Japanese
had two battleships (14-inch guns), one light cruiser, and 11 destroyers;
the Americans had two heavy cruisers (8-inch guns), three light cruisers,
and eight destroyers. But the Americans had the advantage of knowing
the Japanese were in the area--and the American ships had radar.
Because of poor tactics, poor leadership, poor ship disposition, and
poor use of radar, however, the battle was a debacle for the U.S. Navy.
When the smoke cleared on the 13th, one Japanese battleship was dead
in the water (and was later sunk by U.S. aircraft), the light cruiser
was sinking, and several Japanese destroyers were damaged.
American losses were two light cruisers sunk, including the Juneau (with
the loss of most of her crew, including the five Sullivan brothers);
four destroyers also were sunk or sinking. The two U.S. heavy cruisers
were severely damaged. Almost a thousand Americans were dead, including
two rear admirals.
Except for Pearl Harbor and Savo Island, it was the worst American naval
defeat of the war. Using both survivor reports and official documents,
Grace has provided a detailed, minute-by-minute report of the savage
battle. His book is a classic of the same type as Battleship Bismarck
(1980) by Baron Burkard von Mullenheim-Rechberg, a survivor of that battleship
who graphically described her destruction.
The second book is John J. Poluhwich's Argonaut: The Submarine Legacy
of Simon Lake, a delightful and long-needed biography. A contemporary
of John P. Holland, Lake was far more innovative in his submarine designs
and concepts, but less adept at dealing with the U.S. Navy bureaucracy.
Heretofore the only useful book on Lake was his long-out-of-print autobiography
Both of these books are highly readable and well illustrated. Interestingly,
neither Grace nor Poluhwich is a "professional" naval historian;
Grace is a retired high school history teacher, Poluhwich a college biology
professor. These are their first books.
SEA POWER AND CONFLICT
The modern U.S. Navy is described in the excellent Around the World
With the U.S. Navy by Bradley Peniston, a reporter for Navy Times. Peniston
visited 36 ships, submarines, and bases, and all five numbered fleets,
to compile his overview of today's Navy. Especially interesting are his
discussions of people: One vignette tells of the men and women who work
on the steel deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln
during operations in the Persian Gulf. High temperatures and low humidity
coupled with the donning of helmets, goggles, and long-sleeved jerseys
all contribute to heat stroke and cramps. Americans are not used to working
in such an environment. Peniston tells how the air transfer officer,
Ens. Jennifer Blakeslee, keeps her tiny office freezer stocked with flavored
ice pops to help refresh her people.
This is a thoroughly readable and enjoyable book. Its only weaknesses
are the small page size (6-by-9 inches) and the paucity of photos--instead
of 15 there should have been about 150.
In Shield and Sword, two leading Navy Department historians, Edward
J. Marolda and Robert J. Schneller Jr., have provided an excellent history
of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps participation in the buildup for the
Gulf War, and of the brief conflict itself. While their book is highly
recommended as a history of the conflict, it also provides the serious
student of the Navy with an objective discussion of the state of today's
Navy, including its problems and shortcomings.
Looking at the British side, Nicholas Lambert has provided a reassessment
of Adm. John (Jackie) Fisher's policies in Sir John Fisher's Naval Revolution.
Adding to recent discussions in this field and bringing keen insight
to the issues (including the personalities involved), Lambert concludes
that Fisher's strategic genius was based on the development of battle
cruisers and submarines, not the Dreadnought battleship. Beyond ships,
Lambert examines the problems of paying for Fisher's new warships and
manning them--both significant factors that often are ignored in discussions
of Fisher's policies.
Another perspective on Fisher and his civilian counterpart in World
War I, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, is found in Geoffrey
Penn's Fisher, Churchill, and the Dardanelles. His book examines the
two strong-willed naval leaders and their impact on the Royal Navy and
the disastrous amphibious campaign to capture the Turkish straits. Lambert
sees Fisher as the more effective leader and certainly the more trusted
of the two by senior naval officers. Some will argue with Lambert's views,
and the debates will continue.
The use of the ships that Fisher and Churchill built, and the overall
Political Influence of Naval Force in History, is addressed by James
Cable, a retired British diplomat and author of several important books
in this field. Cable argues that only navies and aviation can influence
events overseas. Employing naval history throughout the Cold War to prove
his thesis, Cable provides considerable food for thought. His book is
highly recommended--for the general reader as well as the readers of
Among the relatively few significant books about World War II that appeared
in 1999 is The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 19401943 by Jack
Greene and Alessandro Massignani. This is a battle history in which the
authors credit both British and Italian naval commanders with conducting
aggressive operations. The major limitation on Italy's operations was
the shortage of fuel, not backbone. Although there are numerous factual
errors, the overall perspective of this book makes it significant.
Another look at the Vietnam War--America's most controversial conflict--is
taken by veteran military analyst Jeffrey Record in The Wrong War. Attempting
to answer "Why we lost in Vietnam," Record, who served as a
civilian district advisor in the Mekong Delta, lists four reasons: (1)
U.S. civilian and military leaders misunderstood the nature of the conflict;
(2) they overestimated the effect of American firepower on a determined
Asian enemy; (3) they overestimated U.S. domestic political support for
a war of this nature; and (4) South Vietnam was never a politically viable
Record makes a good case for his thesis, although, like virtually all
others who have written on the subject, his sources are overwhelmingly
American. There is little here (or anywhere) on the North Vietnamese
viewpoint. Still, Record's analysis and writing style are outstanding.
SHIPS AND BOATS
Bruce Hampton Franklin's The Buckley-Class Destroyer Escorts is an excellent
history and detailed description of these important warships. There are
photos of all 154 Buckley-class ships, plus "action" shots,
and plans. The detail photos and notes are superb. (And what is your
next book about ships, Mr. Franklin?)
U.S. Battleship Operations in World War I provides a long-needed and
very well-written and well-researched book on the role of these ships
in "The Great War." Author Jerry W. Jones believes that "The
influence of the U.S. battle fleet was indirect, but substantial," a
conclusion that this reviewer would question. A small book (170 pages),
and expensive, it is nonetheless an effective account of the operations
of the Sixth Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet, and the use
of battleships as convoy escorts--and, subsequently, troop ships to return
American troops after the war.
Two accounts of the explosion in the battleship Iowa's No. 2 16-inch
turret on 19 April 1989 reveal the shortcomings in Navy training and
procedures for that mighty ship, and the culpable incompetence, or worse,
in the Navy's handling of the investigation and placing of blame. Very
different in their approach are A Glimpse of Hell, by Charles C. Thompson
II, a journalist, who tells the "full story" of the disaster
that took 47 lives; and Explosion Aboard the Iowa, by Richard L. Schwoebel
of the Sandia National Laboratory, who focuses primarily on the detailed
investigation that belatedly gave the most probable cause of the Iowa
Tom Clancy and his "longtime friend and partner" John D. Gresham
have produced another in their guided-tour series--Carrier. Their book
provides an interesting and detailed look at a modern, nuclear-powered
carrier, its aircraft, weapons, and operations. Illustrated with photos
and superb cutaway drawings, Carrier is highly recommended, although
those who are knowledgeable of the subject will find a few disturbing
errors. The only major shortcoming, though, is the lack of meaningful
discussion about the men and women who sail the carriers.
Another book about a carrier is arguably Robert D. Ballard's best book
about his underwater searches, Return to Midway. This large-page-size,
handsomely illustrated book--published by National Geographic in its
typical lavish style--details the Battle of Midway (4-5 June 1942), the
search for the sunken U.S. carrier Yorktown and the four Japanese carriers,
and Ballard's success in locating and photographing the wreckage of the
The book's photos--both historical (of the battle) and contemporary
(taken underwater by towed cameras)--are remarkable. So, too, are the
several paintings based on the battle and on the underwater search 56
David K. Brown's The Grand Fleet, a book that is very well-written and
well-illustrated (with plans and photos), describes the design and development
of Jackie Fisher's ships and submarines. The large-size book provides
a look at the design and development of British warships from 1906 to
1922 (i.e., from Dreadnought to the Washington Naval Treaty). Brown,
who retired in 1988 as the Royal Navy's deputy chief naval architect,
is an excellent writer and historian. His book is required reading for
those interested in this period of warship development.
Particularly noteworthy to this reviewer are Brown's comparisons of
foreign warship designs, especially the (ill-fated) battle cruiser Hood
with the U.S. battle cruiser Lexington and battleship BB 49, which was
The warships and all others, he describes, have anchors. Betty Nelson
Curryer has provided an appealing, well-written, and heavily illustrated
little volume in Anchors: An Illustrated History. (This reviewer hopes
that she, too, is planning additional works of this kind.)
A study of an older warship, the ironclad New Ironsides, is found in
William H. Roberts' USS New Ironsides in the Civil War. Intended as an
oceangoing ship in contrast to the more famous Monitor, a coastal defense
ship, the New Ironsides and her operations are described in detail. Although
successful, she was overshadowed by the Monitor, both in publicity and
in the Navy Department's estimates of which type of warship was more
important for the post-Civil War fleet.
PT Boats At War, by the author of this review and Samuel Loring Morison,
provides a history of U.S. motor torpedo boat operations, with the key
dates, characteristics, and fate of each PT boat, PTC (submarine chaser),
and PT boat tender built for the U.S. Navy.
Protecting ships against pirates is still a concern in many parts of
the world. In Maritime Terror, Jim Gray and his colleagues have provided
a small (66-page) guide to protecting a ship--be it merchantman, yacht,
or tug--against ubiquitous pirates.
AIRCRAFT AND WEAPONS
During the 1930s several navies experimented with night carrier takeoffs
and landings. But only the U.S. Navy developed and deployed night carrier
air groups during World War II, and also provided night-fighter detachments
to large carriers. Charles H. Brown, a former Marine pilot who helped
developed postwar night-attack tactics, has provided an outstanding history
of U.S. developments and operations in night carrier ops in Dark Sky,
Black Sea, from the experiments in the 1930s, through World War II and
the Korean War, through night/all-weather flying in the Cold War. This
book's many fine points include discussions of equipment and tactics
as well as operations.
Night Fighters Over Korea by the late G.G. (Jerry) O'Rourke is a detailed
exposition of F4U Corsair and F3D Skynight fighters during the Korean
War. F4U night-fliers regularly operated from carriers, but the F3D "Whale" was
too large, awkward, and dangerous (it had a tendency to start fires on
the wooden-deck Essex-class carriers) to roost aboard ship. O'Rourke--whose
work was finished by fellow Navy pilot E.T. (Tim) Wooldridge--details
the aircraft development, tactics, and living conditions for the F4U
and F3D detachments, both aboard ship and ashore, in that conflict.
Both of these books must be considered major contributions to aviation
An interesting overview of air power in the 20th century is John Buckley's
Air Power in the Age of Total War. The author objectively discusses the
successes and failures of air power--in World Wars I and II, and in the
numerous other conflicts of the past half-century. The author's summary
includes a discussion of the conflicts expected in the near future--against
terrorists and guerrillas, among others. Air forces have not adequately
considered these challenges, according to Buckley, a lecturer in war
studies and history at the University of Wolverhampton in England.
Aviation historian Jack Lambert provides a graphic look at World War
II in Atlantic Air War as he presents a fascinating array of aircraft
photos in this small (112-page) work. There are several never-before-published
photos of Allied aircraft hunting U-boats.
A less publicized but longer "campaign" was the Navy's hundreds
of flights in support of U.S. scientific activities in the Antarctic.
From 1955 to 1999, Navy Antarctic Development Squadron (VXE) 6 operated
against the Antarctic "enemies" of wind, cold, and whiteout.
Former VXE-6 pilot Mark A. Hinebaugh describes the operations and people
in the South Pole expeditions in his Flying Upside Down.
The Sidewinder is the most widely used missile in the world and, as
proven in combat by U.S., British, Israeli, and Taiwanese fighters, one
of the most effective. Its origins at the Naval Weapons Center at China
Lake, Calif., are well told by Ron Westrum in Sidewinder. A 23-year veteran
of China Lake, the author provides both the story of the Sidewinder and
an inside look at creative genius at work.
Another aspect of combat aviation is the use of aggressor squadrons
to provide advanced fighter training. Rick Llinares and Chuck Lloyd discuss
and illustrate the five U.S. aggressor units--including Navy and Marine--in
Adversary, an oversize book with stunning photos.
Francis H. Dean has compiled an impressive collection of photos for
America's Navy and Marine Corps Airplanes, but the published work is
of marginal value. More than a thousand photos are included, but the
aircraft are arranged by type (hence the AU-1 Corsair is 70 pages from
the FG-1 Corsair and more than 100 pages from the F4U Corsair), with
aircraft listed in order of designation (hence manufacturers and era
are jumbled). The captions are redundant (and a few are strikingly inaccurate),
reproduction quality is poor, and there is no index--a necessity for
SPIES, SPOOKS, SPONSORS
The past year also was a bountiful one for books on intelligence and
espionage, most of them related to the Cold War. Several significant
books evolved from the Central Intelligence Agency's 1996 conference
that revealed the breadth and depth of the Venona operation, the deciphering
of secret Soviet communications with intelligence agencies in the United
States during and after World War II.
The top book on the list is Venona: The Greatest Secret of the Cold
War, by Nigel West, an intelligence historian and for 10 years a Member
of Parliament. West provides an excellent account of how messages were
decrypted and the breakthroughs that resulted--as well as the failures
to decipher many of the Venona messages. His special perspective and
understanding of the subject reveals many nuances not otherwise known,
and his own follow-up research has identified a number of Soviet agents.
In Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, John Earl Haynes and
Harvey Klehr also provide an excellent account of that "greatest
secret," with emphasis on Soviet espionage penetration of U.S. government
agencies. Beyond such well-known figures as the Rosenbergs, Judith Coplon,
Alger Hiss, and Harry Dexter White, the book records how some 350 other
U.S. citizens or residents collected intelligence for the Soviets.
John A. Walker and his confederates were post-Venona spies who compromised
U.S. military communications for 19 years. Former FBI special agent Robert
W. Hunter describes "the detection, pursuit, and capture" of
Walker in his Spy Hunter. Despite the fact that the "detection" agent
was Walker's disillusioned wife, who called an FBI field office, this
is a valuable book for its discussion of procedures, the events surrounding
Walker's capture, and the trial (with Walker's participation) of his "best
friend" and collaborator Jerry Whitworth.
As one reads the book this question continually comes to mind: Why was
Walker's wife, Barbara, who participated in his espionage, never charged
with a crime?
In addition to using Americans to spy for them, the Soviet Union made
full use of Eastern Bloc intelligence agencies, especially the East German
STASI, the title of a revealing book by John O. Koehler. The STASI was
the largest Eastern Bloc intelligence/police service, with one employee
for every 166 East Germans--plus millions of informers! Koehler describes
the particulars of STASI operations against the East German population
(did anyone read those tens of millions of reports?), penetration of
the West German government, operations against the Western Allies in
Berlin, and the service's collaboration with the KGB.
What should have been a major contribution to intelligence history,
The Sword and the Shield, delivers less than promised. Coauthor Vasili
Mitrokhin worked for almost 30 years in the foreign intelligence archives
of the KGB; he studiously made copies of numerous key documents before
he defected in 1992, and those form the basis for this book. Unfortunately,
there is (too) much in the book of his collaborator Christopher Andrew,
confusing many issues. Nigel West estimates that only 20 percent of the
book is "pure Mitrokhin" and another 20 percent is material
added by British intelligence; the remaining 60 percent is contributed
by British intelligence historian (and history professor) Andrew.
Looking at the other side of the world, Richard H. Shultz Jr., in The
Secret War Against Hanoi, describes--often for the first time in public--various
intelligence and "special" operations against North Vietnam.
Most of the U.S. intelligence officials involved had fought the secret
wars of 19411945, and in many instances attempted to use the same
dirty tricks that were so successful earlier. But, as the U.S. military
leadership learned in the conventional fighting, the war in Vietnam was
very different. The United States fought neither the conventional or
clandestine campaigns very well, and lost both.
More specialized in this field is Frank Holober's Raiders of the China
Coast. During the Korean War the U.S. CIA collaborated with the Nationalist
Chinese intelligence forces, newly established on Taiwan and several
islands just off the China coast, to harass the communist Chinese regime.
A somewhat esoteric volume, Raiders provides many interesting details
about these operations. But Holober, a former CIA officer, also describes
the travails of dealing with the Nationalists--the politics, maneuverings,
and machinations. This is good reading and a valuable look "behind
the scenes." (Among the U.S. participants in these operations was
a young Marine, Robert H. Barrow, who would later become commandant of
the Marine Corps.)
One of the more controversial books of 1999 that must be mentioned is
Robert Stinnett's Day of Deceit. Stinnett believes, after examining hundreds
of decrypts of the Japanese Navy code JN-25, that the code was broken
before the attack on Pearl Harbor and that President Roosevelt had the
intelligence kept from his naval commanders, especially Adm. Husband
E. Kimmel, the fleet commander at Pearl Harbor.
Navy codebreakers, however, recall that less than 15 percent--at most--of
JN-25 was being read before Pearl Harbor, and insist that no message
relating to Pearl Harbor, or to carrier strikes, was ever seen. Stinnett
contends that several key messages were broken before the attack, but
the fact that those messages are marked (on the original) with "JN-25" reveals
that they were broken after the spring of 1942, when that designation
was applied to the code.
Ironically, Stinnett is largely replowing the same ground as James Rusbridger
and Eric Nave in their Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: How Churchill Lured
Roosevelt into World War II (1991). Their theory was thoroughly discredited.
Recently declassified decrypts as well as other material make it clear
that there was no prior knowledge, in Britain or the United States, based
on Allied codebreaking efforts. It seems likely, though, that, even in
the absence of proof of a conspiracy, the conspiracy theories will continue.
Revised editions are rarely reviewed in this annual essay, but the fourth
edition of Jeffrey T. Richelson's The U.S. Intelligence Community is
worthy of comment. Its update of detailed descriptions of U.S. intelligence
agencies, their operations, and techniques make it a valuable handbook
for all persons interested in this subject.
Navy fighter pilot, record-breaking aviator, astronaut, and senator--John
Glenn has collaborated with Nick Taylor to write his autobiography, John
Glenn: A Memoir. Glenn had a distinguished career in the Marine Corps
even before he became the first American to orbit the earth; he had flown
Air Force F-86 Sabres in Korea and broke the transcontinental speed record
in an F8U-1P Crusader.
From his first airplane ride at age eight to becoming the oldest man
to fly in space (at age 77), Glenn's life has been the stuff of legends,
and he has dealt and worked with some of the world's most fascinating
people. Most of the book, however, is about his flying days--in aircraft
and spacecraft--and the people he worked with (and on occasion against).
Very little of the book is about his 24 years in the U.S. Senate.
Another American hero is Edward L. (Ned) Beach, submarine commander
and highly successful novelist. His 1955 novel Run Silent, Run Deep established
his reputation as a great storyteller. Now, in his autobiographic Salt
and Steel, Beach tells about the Navy in which he served. He describes
his submarine service in World War II, his role as aide to Gen. Omar
Bradley when the latter was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his
assignment to be naval aide to President Eisenhower, and his command
of the Triton, the world's largest nuclear-powered submarine when she
circumnavigated the globe, under water, in 1960.
Beach uses Salt and Steel--which is not strictly a biography--to comment,
honestly and most knowledgeably, on the strengths and weaknesses of the
Navy he served so well for so many years. He also uses a few pages to
defend his father, also a distinguished naval author, who was court-martialed
when the ship he commanded, the cruiser Memphis, was driven ashore by
a tidal wave in 1916.
With equal alacrity, Beach also defends the previously mentioned Admiral
Kimmel, who commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet when it lay unprepared for
war at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Whether or not one agrees with
Beach on these (or other) issues, his latest book, like its many predecessors,
is well worth reading.
Another semi-autobiographic work is Tom Clancy and Chuck Horner's Every
Man a Tiger. Horner, a retired Air Force general, commanded the U.S./coalition
air effort during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The first section of
the book describes Horner's early career, important to understanding
how his experiences in the Vietnam War shaped his views of air power.
Clancy and Horner then take on the air campaign in the Gulf War. This
is no rehash of the conflict, but an effort to bring a better understanding
of the role, success, and limitation of air power in that conflict.
While U.S. casualties in the Gulf War were relatively few, many other
Americans died in the undeclared conflicts and crises of the past half
century. Among the casualties was Col. Rich Higgins, a Marine officer
serving as head of United Nations observers in Lebanon. He was kidnapped
by Iranian-backed terrorists, tortured, and murdered. His widow, Marine
Lt. Col. Robin Higgins, tells his story--and hers, in Patriot Dreams,
and also recounts in detail her frustrating efforts to have the United
Nations and U.S. government take the actions needed to free her husband.
Rich Higgins was a hero, both in life and in death.
Cameras play an essential role in military aviation and space activities.
The United States has led the world in the development of the special
cameras used, and in many other aspects of photography. Insisting on
the Impossible, by Victor K. McElheny, is an excellent biography of photographic
pioneer Edwin Land. Holding more patents than any other American save
Thomas A. Edison, Land was responsible for a phenomenal number of photographic,
X-ray, and night-vision devices. Central to this reviewer's interests,
he was responsible for the cameras that enabled the U-2 spyplane to revolutionize
intelligence collection. Those cameras--further improved--were the basis
for subsequent satellite cameras. McElheny provides a valuable account
of this remarkable man.
The men behind the cameras in the Royal Navy are the subjects of Camera
at Sea by Neil Mercer. The book, described as a history of the R.N. photographic
branch from 1919 to 1998, provides a stirring and extremely well-illustrated
history of the branch, in both war (up to the Persian Gulf and Bosnian
conflicts) and peace. The second half of the book (70 pages) is a collection
of color photos of the Royal Navy in action from 1985 through 1998.
Another people book from England is Philip Kaplan's Fighter Pilot. Also
a pictorial history, this book uses a superb collection of color and
black-and-white photos and paintings to take the reader from World War
I biplanes to contemporary missile-armed jet aircraft. Personal interviews,
logbooks, and memorabilia enhance this fine work.
R.G. Smith is internationally known as one of the world's foremost aviation
artists. With aviation writer (and former Navy pilot) Rosario (Zip) Rausa,
Smith has produced his long-awaited autobiography, The Man and His Art.
The modestly brief (but well-written) 15-page narrative tells of his
first career as an engineer with Douglas Aircraft, and then his second
as an aviation artist. The bulk of the book contains almost 150 drawings,
paintings, and sketches, some never before seen by the public.
There were 1,411 commanding officers of German U-boats during World
War II. Authors Rainer Busch and Hans-Joachim Röll, ably assisted
by translator Geoffrey Brooks, have provided a list and short biographies
of these men in German U-Boat Commanders of World War II. These bold
commanders ranged in age from 20 to 62. The English-language publishers--Greenhill
Books (London) and the Naval Institute Press--deserve credit for a major
contribution to the reference literature of the war.
Another submariner is the subject of The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas.
Charles (Swede) Momsen was a submariner and inventor who developed a
variety of underwater breathing devices and submarine escape gear. The
focus for the book is the sinking of the new U.S. submarine Squalus in
1939 and the subsequent rescue of 33 men through use of the McCain rescue
chamber. Momsen was the genius behind the device, writes Maas, and only
by fighting the Navy bureaucracy did he develop a submarine escape and
rescue capability. The opposition to Momsen is somewhat overblown, but
the book makes good reading.
Still another submarine pioneer--in mufti--was the late Dr. Waldo Lyon,
long-time head of the Navy's under-ice research efforts. In Under Ice,
biographer William M. Leary provides an admirable account of the U.S.
Navy's Arctic operations and the individual most responsible for their
success. Beyond his scientific prowess, Lyon was an advocate for more
nuclear submarines--if they could operate under ice. In his final years,
as Leary reports, he lamented the drastic reduction in the number of
When the U.S. cruiser Indianapolis was torpedoed on 30 July 1945 she
sank within two minutes. It was three days before a Navy aircraft sighted
the survivors. During those three terrible days sharks attacked almost
continually. Only 318 men were picked up by rescuers. Sharks killed hundreds
in one of the largest such massacres recorded in modern times. That story
is skillfully told in Thomas B. Allen's The Shark Almanac, a comprehensive
overview of the biology, history, and diversity of sharks and their cousins,
the skates and rays. Allen's book includes many items of particular interest
to naval readers, among them how odd sharks called cookie-cutters tried
to feed on U.S. submarines, and the frustrating history of Navy-inspired
attempts to develop shark repellent. He also reveals the name that shark
researchers, seeking knowledge about shark vision, gave the yellow color
of lifejackets: "yum-yum yellow."
A black enlisted man's view of the wartime U.S. Navy is well told in
Better Than Good by Adolph W. Newton and Winston Eldridge. Newton served
aboard ship during World War II and, despite racial discrimination, came
to love the Navy.
Almost one hundred years earlier, Acting Volunteer Ensign John W. Grattan
served in the Navy as a clerk with the North Atlantic Blockading Squad-ron.
Assigned to two Union admirals from 1863 to 1865, his memoirs--Under
the Blue Pennant--make fascinating reading. The book is enhanced by the
introduction, editing, and notes of Robert J. Schneller Jr.
The oldest U.S. navy yard, largely neglected in print since Taylor Peck's
Round-Shot to Rockets (1949), is remembered on its 200th anniversary
by Edward J. Marolda in The Washington Navy Yard. This compact 112-page
illustrated history is very well done, and packed with fascinating information
about the multitude of activities at the yard, its many distinguished
visitors, and its workers.
Where the Fleet Begins is a history of the David Taylor Model Basin
and Research Center. Rodney P. Carlisle has traced the internationally
renowned facility from 1898, when it was built to replace a model basin
at the Washington Navy Yard, to the present. While the book lacks depth
in several key areas, its 661 pages are a valuable summary of the development
and principal activities of the facility.
Fortress Europe by J.E. Kaufmann and R.M. Jurga, discusses European
fortifications of World War II, both before and after Germany's victories
at the beginning of that conflict. Despite the lack of sources--and photos
that are too small--this is an important and comprehensive contribution
to the history of World War II and a helpful reference work in an area
that is often mentioned, but rarely examined.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, always articulate and perceptive,
presents another inside look at the political decisions that have affected
the U.S. position in the world--and U.S. military forces--in Years of
Renewal, the third and concluding volume of his memoirs. His 1,151 pages
cover, among other topics, the Mayaguez crisis, the real start of strategic
arms talks with the Soviet Union, the "opening" to China, several
Middle East wars and crises, the final collapse of South Vietnam, and
scores of other events--and the people, (including Kissinger himself,
of course) who shaped them, and the modern world. Although to some extent
self-serving, this is an invaluable work.
Fans of Captain Jack Aubrey, rejoice! Patrick O'Brian has given readers
yet another Aubrey book, Blue at the Mizzen. In this novel "Jack" risks
all in a single-ship night raid against the Spanish capital of Peru.
The adventure--and sailing lessons--never stop in this fast-paced volume.
Mizzen brings the series to an even score of books--plus the companion
atlas and a lexicon. This reviewer, however, still prefers the Horatio
Hornblower of the late C.S. Forester. O'Brian's writing is crisp, clear,
and engrossing, but his hero Aubrey is too perfect--he excels as seaman,
navigator, strategist, musician, and swimmer. Hornblower, often awkward
and fighting to survive in the rarefied social structure above him, is
much more believable.
Both Aubrey and Hornblower should beat to quarters, though, because
a new rival has sailed into view. Veteran destroyer officer and novelist
William P. Mack has joined the fray with Captain Kilburnie. In this novel
of the Nelsonian era, Mack tells of one of the first Scots to become
a captain in the Royal Navy. The action comes fast and furious (as it
did in Mack's six novels about WWII destroyer actions).
Mack's writing skills are well established; Capt. Kilburnie demonstrates
the admiral's flexibility.
The controversial and talented Army combat veteran David Hackworth also
has written another novel, The Price of Honor. The hero is Capt. Sandy
Caine, a Green Beret who, between adventures, reveals to his (female)
traveling companion the details about his father's death in Vietnam--under
questionable circumstances. Caine's relationship with his traveling companion
is luridly described, but doesn't detract from the narrative. Hackworth
is at his best, though, in describing combat and in attacking politicians
and defense contractors in Washington, the targets of most of his writing,
both fact and fiction.
Hackworth's bottom line: A democracy needs dedicated warriors to survive.
Author's Note: While the harvest of books has been plentiful, too many
of those on the 1999 list display careless editing and a lack of attention
to technical or military detail. For example, The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
alternates between "it" and "she" as a pronoun for
ships; in Explosion Aboard the Iowa there is frequent reference to a
key "Government" Accounting Agency report--but it is the General
Accounting Office; A Glimpse of Hell is inundated with statements and
terminology that demonstrate a basic lack of knowledge of naval matters;
and the list continues. Readers paying the relatively high prices that
publishers charge these days are entitled to a much higher quality of
product, especially from those publishers that specialize in military/naval/aviation