- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

Ronald H. Spector's At War At Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century (Viking, $29.95, 463 pages, illus.) is a unique perspective, written by a peerless historian. Mr. Spector has been a professional historian at the U.S. Army's Center for Military History, was chief of U.S. Naval History, and is a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He has written seminal works on the Vietnam War and is the author of the best single-volume history of World War II in the Pacific: "Eagle Against the Sun." Mr. Spector's reputation is so solid one would buy this book based solely on the author's name, without seeing a review. "At War At Sea" is outstanding history and, most importantly, it emphasizes people.
Service chiefs assert people are the most important resource in their armed force they do so because it is true. Mr. Spector underscores that point. His work does not slight technology but is not technologically deterministic. He does not snub strategy and tactics, but those are not his emphases. He writes about the social and psychological elements in combat at sea. Land warfare has its Carl von Clausewitz and Ardant du Picq, but Mr. Spector is the first to plumb the human depths for naval combat, performing brilliantly.
He answers key questions: What kind of people were recruited by navies? How were they trained? What was expected of them in the machine age? Were they effective as fighters? How good were the leaders of navies in the 20th century? Why did sailors remain in a career that was uncomfortable, isolated, demanding, often arduous, frequently unforgiving, and repeatedly dangerous? Employing case studies from the Russo-Japanese War in 1904/5 through the Vietnam War and beyond, Mr. Spector answers these questions.
Adm. Heihachiro Togo, in the Battle of the Tsushima Strait, captured or destroyed 31 of the 38 Russian ships that opposed him, including all the battleships. The Japanese lost fewer than 120 dead and about 600 wounded. The Russians lost about 5,000 dead, and 6,000 captured and only God knows how many wounded. Julian Corbett, the British naval historian called Tsushima "the most decisive and complete naval victory in history." Mr. Spector argues decisively that the major factor in the Japanese victory was the human element. The Japanese sailors were better educated, better trained, more hardy, more skilled, more capable sailors. The casualty ratio was 48 to 1 at Tsushima, and the Japanese men who were qualified to exploit the new technology of the 21st century made the colossal difference.
Mr. Spector details the Battle of Jutland in 1916 after contrasting the British navy personnel practices with those of the Germans. Jutland was a titanic battle: more than 250 warships including almost 60 dreadnoughts, and more than 100,000 men. The British lost more ships and men than did the Germans, but after the smoke cleared, the German fleet was still bottled up in port behind its mine barrier (remaining there for the rest of the war), and strategically the battle failed to advance the German cause. Mr. Spector quotes a contemporary: "the German fleet has assaulted its jailor but is still in jail."
The critical element in the British victory was "the human element." The British had better leadership and sounder command and control on its side. British gunners were usually better trained and organized, and because of their greater experience had better battle judgment. In this specific case, the British officers were awful, but the German leadership much more so.
Mr. Spector takes us through the major naval battles of World War II from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the fight in the Coral Sea, the combat around Midway Island (in both battles the adversary's ships never came in contact, the first such major sea confrontations in history, the damage being done solely by aircraft), the Solomon Islands, and Leyte. He demonstrates the often painful growth in U.S. capability, until the Japanese navy was swept from the Pacific. This is a must read.

Another essential book is Edward J. Marolda's and Robert J. Schneller, Jr.'s Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Naval Institute Press, $36.95, 517 pages, illus). The Navy has been much slower getting its analysis of the 1990/1991 Gulf War to press than the other services and, therefore, that part of the story regrettably has been unknown. No more. "Shield and Sword" is an outstanding analysis of the U.S. States Navy's contribution to the most lopsided military victory in the history of warfare. The authors are very critical of many aspects of the Navy's conduct of the war and the Navy, and the maritime service will benefit if it heeds the advice of these two veteran historians.
The authors, for example, are critical of the Navy for not recognizing the essentiality of joint operations, and for deliberately not putting ashore at the U.S Central Command Headquarters an appropriate number of people qualified in both naval and air operations (especially the latter). The initial Navy commander deliberately stayed at sea during his tenure, and also continued to maintain control over Seventh Fleet operations very far from the Persian Gulf. The authors complain:
"Enactment of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation in 1986 increased the operational control by theater commanders … but the Navy resisted any weakening of its traditional autonomy… . Especially with regard to the Central Command, the Navy was not interested in long-term, fixed joint relationships… . [The Navy] kept the low-ranking and understaffed Commander Naval Forces, Central Command in Hawaii, far removed from both the Persian Gulf and CENTCOM Headquarters in Tampa, Florida."
Because the Navy was underrepresented at Central Command's headquarters, it played practically no role in war planning and, as the authors say, "was not fully attuned to [Gen. Norman] Schwarzkopf's philosophy of command and his views with regard to conflict in the CENTRCOM theater. [This] lessened the [Navys] readiness to respond to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait." The Navy, moreover, was woefully unprepared for mine operations, and had been for many years. The inadequate anti-mine operations during Desert Storm were embarrassing.
The authors, however, also demonstrate the enormous contribution the Navy made to the military victory. First, the tight blockade of Iraq. Second, the Navy's execution of the elaborate deception campaign that caused Saddam Hussein to keep a major part of his force out of the land battle because the Iraqi leaders were convinced there was going to be a major amphibious assault. Third, Naval air power significantly augmented U.S. Air Force air forces, and the authors provide great detail here. Finally, the Navy ensured that the Saudi Arabian ports were free from attack by Iraqi naval forces from the beginning of Desert Storm to the end of Desert Shield. An aspect of the Gulf War too often taken for granted. This too is an indispensable book.

Alan Gropman is the chairman of the Grand Strategy Department at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.


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