Category Archives: History

Naval and maritime history section.

Giant Dragons Puffing Smoke: Understanding Japan’s Pacific War Strategy

By Lieutenant Commander Daniel T. Murphy, USN

Introduction

“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”1 – Bluto Blutarksy, Animal House, 1978.

Most Americans know that it was Japan, not Germany that treacherously attacked the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A smaller percentage of people are aware of the fact that it was the United States, not Japan that fired the first shots of the war on that day. The destroyer USS WARD was patrolling near the entrance to Pearl Harbor when the minesweeper USS CONDOR reported a periscope at 0342. A PBY patrol plane placed a smoke marker on the location. WARD conducted a surface attack with guns, followed up with depth charges, and reported the sub sunk. The midget sub sunk by WARD was discovered by a University of Hawaii research submersible on August 28, 2002.2 

It is true that WARD’s attack was a minor component in the bigger context of the Pearl Harbor attack. And, it does not materially change the fact that Japan was the belligerent on that day. But for sixty years, WARD’s story was de-emphasized in the historical commentary. Was WARD’s attack de-emphasized because it didn’t enhance the commentary of Japanese treachery?  Or, was it because we did not have material evidence of the attack until the sub was located in 2002?  Either way, it’s a minor detail, right?   

Perhaps. The problem is that some of the “less-minor” strategic components of the story of the Pacific War have been de-emphasized as well. Because we (the United States) were the victors in the war, we have owned the historic narrative of the war. Our version of the Pacific War became the version of the Pacific War. “Vae Victis” (Woe to the vanquished).3

Our convenient and succinct story of the Pacific War was that Japan was hell-bent on conquest in the South Pacific. The United States only wanted peace. They raped Nanking. We initiated an oil embargo. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto crossed the Pacific with his carrier fleet and treacherously destroyed our battle fleet at Pearl Harbor. It is a convenient and succinct story, repeated by millions of soldiers, sailors, and citizens during the war and in the years after the war. But it is an incomplete narrative. Here are some less simple and less convenient ingredients in the story:

  1. Tokyo was executing a grand strategy that the United States had suggested to them. Japan was an aggressive state because, for quite a few years, we had encouraged them to be aggressive.
  2. For Japan, their naval war against the U.S. was a sideshow in a much bigger conflict on the Asian continent. In today’s U.S. military nomenclature, Japan’s Pacific operations would be called “ancillary” operations.
  3. If Tokyo had stayed true to its original Mahanian-based naval doctrine, Japan could possibly have defeated the United States in the Pacific War. Or, they could have at least achieved their political objectives.

Giant Dragons Puffing Smoke

Contrary to their representation in war-era and post-war-era film and media, Japan was not hell-bent on conquest simply because they were evil. Japan was seeking to build an empire in Asia because that is what the United States had encouraged and trained them to do.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Japanese ports were closed to all but a few Dutch and Chinese traders. On July 8, 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with a squadron of U.S. Navy vessels led by the USS POWHATAN. Perry’s “giant dragons puffing smoke” (steam ships) were intended to terrify. And in 1854, the United States and Japan signed a treaty agreeing that the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate would be opened to U.S. vessels to purchase coal and other supplies.4 For the U.S. it was a Mahanian play. The new coaling stations would enable our Navy to project seapower and protect our commercial sea lanes into the Asian continent. Japan would be America’s stepping stone to China, and the new ports would be especially useful for the American whaling fleet. In 1872, retired U.S. General Charles LeGendre traveled to Tokyo and first suggested to the Japanese that they should have their own Asian “Monroe Doctrine.” In the following years, LeGendre acted as a trusted advisor to Tokyo, encouraging the Japanese to take Taiwan and instigate the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. When Japan defeated Russia in the 1904-1905 war to extend Tokyo’s territories on the mainland, American magazine articles explained “Why We Favour Japan in the Present War” and “Russia stands for reaction and Japan for progress.”  U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt felt an excited tingle for the Japanese victory. He told his friend Japanese Baron Kentaro Kaneko, “This is the greatest phenomenon the world has ever seen . . . I grew so excited that I myself became almost like a Japanese, and I could not attend to official duties.”5 

When Japan invaded and took over Korea in 1910, U.S. foreign minister to Korea Horace Allen cabled to Washington that Tokyo had become Korea’s “rightful and natural overlord.”6 Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of State John Hay, “The Japs have played our game because they have played the game of civilized mankind . . . We may be of genuine service . . . in preventing interference to rob her of the fruits of her victory.”7 And in a letter to Vice President Taft he wrote, “I heartily agree with the Japanese terms of peace, insofar as they include Japan having control of Korea.”8

LeGendre’s Monroe Doctrine conversation with Tokyo continued thirty years later by Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in 1905. Taft travelled to Tokyo to push the Monroe Doctrine idea with the Meiji emperor. Roosevelt pushed the idea with Japanese envoy Baron Kaneko Kentaro in Washington – “Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization . . . All the Asiatic nations are now faced with the urgent necessity of adjusting themselves to the present age. Japan should be their natural leader in that process, and their protector during the transition stage, much as the United States assumed the leadership of the American continent many years ago, and by means of the Monroe Doctrine, preserved the Latin American nations from European interference, while they were maturing their independence.”The American president had invited Tokyo to dominate her Asian neighbors. The U.S. had awakened a sleeping dragon to guard America’s open door to the Chinese continent. The dragon went on a fifteen-year fire-breathing shooting spree. And in 1940, Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka argued, “If the United States could rely upon the Monroe Doctrine to support its preeminent position in the Western Hemisphere in order to sustain American economic stability and prosperity, why could not Japan do the same with an Asian Monroe Doctrine?”10

Ancillary Lines

In the years leading up to 1941, while Japan certainly recognized the United States as a potential enemy, Tokyo’s number one foreign policy priority was China. An American military analyst named Hector Bywater wrote a fascinating book in 1925 about a fictional war between Japan and the United States touched off by a land dispute in China. Bywater said Japan’s “capitalists and merchants enjoyed a virtual monopoly in Southern Manchuria, besides holding a controlling interest in the mines, railways, and industries of Eastern Inner Mongolia…Even the coal and iron mines of the Yangtse Valley were exploited to a large extent by Japanese nationals…Without Chinese minerals her industrial machine could not be kept going; it required to be fed with a constant supply of the coal, iron, copper and tin from the mines of Shansi, Shantung and Manchuria.” Thus, for Japan, it was “essential that China should remain disunited and impotent.”11 

Commodore Perry had gone to Tokyo with the idea of creating a stepping-stone to China. The assumption was that China would remain an “open door” to all nations. However, by the 1920s it was becoming clear that America had awakened a sleeping dragon. As Japan expanded her presence in Manchuria through 1932 and Mongolia through 1937, the U.S. and European governments worried that Tokyo was taking control of the open door. Without permission from Tokyo, the Japanese Army leaders initiated the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, which would eventually require thirty-six Japanese Army divisions. Stories of atrocities circulated around the globe, including the massacre of a quarter million Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers in Nanking in 1937. The U.S. and Europe were running out of patience with Tokyo.

In the fight against the Japanese Army, Chinese forces imported arms and fuel through French Indochina, via the Sino-Vietnamese Railway. To sever China’s supply line, Japan invaded French Indochina in September 1940. In response, in 1940, the U.S. stopped selling oil to Japan. Japan had been reliant on the United States for more than eighty percent of its oil. The embargo would force Tokyo to decide between withdrawing from Indochina (a U.S. pre-condition) and negotiating or finding oil elsewhere. Ultimately, Japan determined to take the Dutch East Indies by force for its oil and rubber. The Netherlands had been defeated by Nazi Germany in May 1940, and was powerless to react. Tokyo expected the U.S. to respond with force, and therefore prepared for war.

Thus, to continue to fight their primary war over minerals, foodstuffs, and other natural resources on the Asian mainland, Japan was forced to initiate a secondary war (A series of secondary operations that today’s U.S. planners would call “ancillary lines” 12) against the U.S. to secure the new energy resources in the Dutch East Indies and the rest of its Asian conquests. China remained the primary adversary. The U.S fleet would become the secondary adversary. Protecting those ancillary lines meant denying the U.S.’s ability to stage operations against those lines. Thus, Tokyo adopted its perimeter defense strategy which required the invasion and fortification of island chains from the Kurile Islands in the north through the Philippines and all the way south to New Guinea.13 In other words, the strategy was to protect the new resource areas by occupying the islands adjacent to those areas and in the sea lines between those areas and the home islands. In the geometry of war, Japan would have the advantage of short, more easily re-enforceable lines of operations (LOOs), and the U.S. would have the disadvantage of longer, vulnerable LOOs. Ultimately however, the U.S. was able to negate that advantage through fleet size and sea control that consistently crept west.        

Map demonstrating the extent of Japanese occupation and axis of American attack in 1943. (The National WWII Museum)    

Mahan With a Dash of Clausewitz

The Russo-Japanese War ended in 1905 with Tokyo feeling slighted. Japan had defeated Russia on land and at sea, and had helped secure the open door for itself and for the West to the “teeming Yangtze Valley.”14 But while Roosevelt and other European leaders said positive things about the Japanese victory, they pressured Tokyo to accept a negotiated settlement with Russia that did not include a war indemnity. Roosevelt’s honorary Aryans15 felt humiliated. Relations between the U.S. and Japan would grow worse. In 1906, struggling to deal with a wave of Japanese immigration into San Francisco, the San Francisco school board segregated Japanese students. Tokyo cried foul. American journalists wrote about a “yellow peril.” And in 1907, Roosevelt sent Admiral Dewey and the Great White Fleet around the world to wave the big stick. Japan viewed Dewey’s cruise as a direct threat. California then passed an alien land law in 1913 prohibiting “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning agricultural land that caused the U.S.-Japanese relationship to degrade further. By 1916, Japan’s naval operations chief stated, “The nation with who a clash of arms is most likely in the near future is the United States.”16     

As the U.S. Navy became probable adversary number one, Tokyo began thinking in terms of Mahanian doctrine. From 1904 through 1930, naval strategist Ogasawara Naganari taught Mahanian concepts at Japan’s Naval War College. Akiyama Saneyuki, the “father of modern Japanese naval strategy” visited Mahan twice in New York, and incorporated his principles into Japan’s Naval Battle Instructions of 1910. Akiyama created Japan’s strategy of “interceptive operations” which would consist of the Japanese fleet lying in wait for the American fleet to reach Japan’s home waters and then “engaging in a Mahanian encounter.”17 Kato Kanji served as president of the Naval War College in 1920, Second Fleet Commander (1923-1924), Combined Fleet Commander (1926-1928), Chief of the Naval General Staff (1930) and Supreme Military Councilor (1930-1935). He used Mahanian doctrine as the basis to justify the naval budget and the expansion of the fleet.18

Japan embraced a Mahanian doctrine to counter the U.S. because they had proven the doctrine against Russia. At the Battle of Tsushima, on the 27th and 28th of May 1905, the Japanese Navy annihilated the Russian Navy, sinking thirty-five of thirty-eight ships, killing 5,000 sailors and taking more than 7,000 prisoners. Japan lost only 110 sailors.19 Between 1908 and 1911, the Japanese Navy conducted studies and war games focusing specifically on a conflict with the U.S. fleet as the adversary. Japan would capture Luzon Island in the Philippines, defeat U.S. forces there, and occupy Manila. They would lie in wait for the American battle fleet to cross the Pacific. When the U.S. fleet approached home waters, they would be annihilated in a decisive battle west of the Bonins, as the Russians had been annihilated at Tsushima. Japan would have the strategic advantage with their short interior lines of operation to their home islands. This was the interceptive operational strategy that the Japanese Navy would maintain through 1941 and beyond.20

After Germany was defeated in the First World War, Japan occupied Germany’s possessions in the South Pacific – the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. Accordingly, Tokyo’s new General Plan for Strategy in 1918 pushed the planned decisive engagement with the U.S. fleet eastward. The Tsushima replay would now occur somewhere west of the Marshalls.21 But the greater challenge for Tokyo was the buildup of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific. It was an arms race that the U.S. did not really want, and that Japan could not really afford. In 1922, Japan signed the Five Power Naval Treaty at the Washington Conference and agreed to a 6:10 capital ship ratio with the United States.

The extended island possessions plus the 6:10 capital ship constraint caused Tokyo to add an additional ingredient to their interception operations strategy. The 6:10 ratio meant that the Japanese fleet could not take on the U.S. fleet equally in a Mahanian battle without first cutting the U.S. fleet down to a fightable size. In Bywater’s fictional tale, Japan detonated an explosive-laden merchant ship to collapse the Panama Canal so that America’s Atlantic and Pacific fleets could not join forces.22 In the real world, to create parity, Japan again looked back at the Battle of Tsushima, and opted to inject a Clausewitzian ingredient into the Mahanian recipe.

In April 1904, Rear Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky took a considerable portion of Russia’s Baltic fleet on an 18,000-mile journey to fight the Japanese Navy in the Pacific. Rozhestvensky’s passage was filled with what Clausewitz would call frictional events.23 Things went bad early when an intelligence failure in the North Sea caused the Russian fleet to mistakenly open fire on a British fishing fleet. In response, British, French, and Portuguese ports were closed to the Russian fleet for the majority of their passage. They were forced to re-coal in the open ocean or in anchorages along the way. The lack of supplies, lack of shore leave, irregular mail delivery, and the heat of the tropics took a further toll on the equipment and crews – “Malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis, boils, mental derangement, prickly heat, fungoid infections of the ear, wrought havoc”24 in the fleet. Like how Napoleon’s and Hitler’s land forces suffered the effects of attrition (Clausewitz’s friction) in their marches to the east, Rozhestvensky’s fleet suffered similar effects of attrition in its passage to the east. Rozhestvensky’s degraded fleet was then wiped out in the great Mahanian battle on 27-28 May 1905.

To make up for the 6:10 capital ship disadvantage against the United States, Tokyo opted to create similar conditions of friction for the U.S. fleet. Japan’s new attrition doctrine would focus on submarines, cruisers, destroyers, torpedoes, and land-based and ship-based aircraft that would gradually degrade the U.S. fleet as it transited west across the Pacific. After the American fleet had been cut down to a more equitable size, the Japanese battle fleet would come forth to deliver the Mahanian coup de grace.25 

Thus, after the Washington Conference, the Japanese Navy began building large, high-speed fleet submarines. By the early 1930s, Tokyo was building 2,200-ton 23-knot submarines. Admiral Suetsugo said, “The decisive battle would entirely depend on our attrition [submarine] strategy.”26 In addition to the submarine enhancements, light cruisers and destroyers were re-organized into torpedo squadrons and trained for night attacks.27 New cruiser and destroyer designs (Yubari, Furutaka, Myoko, Takao, Mogami and Fubuki) were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s along with a new Type 93 oxygen torpedo that had a range of 40,000 meters and a speed of 36 knots.28 Japan constructed the 30,000-ton (Akagi) and 38,200-ton (Kaga) carriers in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the carrier-based Type 94 “Susie” bomber and the land-based Type 96 “Nell” bomber. By December 1941, Japan’s navy had ten carriers and 3,300 aircraft, all intended to be used in the interception-attrition strategy against the U.S. fleet.29 The Mahanian coupe de grace would now be delivered by the new 64,000-ton Yamato-class battleships, which would use the greater range of their 18-inch guns to destroy the U.S. battle fleet from afar.30 

Mismanaging the Trinity

A Mahanian strategy with a dash of Clausewitz could possibly have worked. Naval War College professor Brad Lee explained Japan’s interception-attrition strategy in terms of Clausewitz’s trinity. First, a naval victory against the U.S. fleet would degrade the U.S.’s ability to project military power in the Asia-Pacific region. Second, the defeat would affect public option in the United States, and “cripple America’s will to keep fighting.”31 The American people would settle on isolationism, or at least demand a Europe-first strategy. Third, the defeat would drive a wedge between the American president (Roosevelt) and the Congress, and degrade government consensus for a war in the Pacific. In the end, Tokyo hoped to be left alone to consolidate its gains in Asia.32

The Trinitarian strategy made sense. However, in 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto added a final ingredient to the mix that changed the equation. Yamamoto did not want to allow the United States to trade space for time. He knew that invading the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and Singapore would draw an American naval response. But what if the U.S. opted to delay their response for a year or two until their fleet was sufficiently augmented by its new shipbuilding programs? Like Napoleon and Hitler, Yamamoto wanted to fight the decisive battle earlier, rather than later, while he held numerical superiority in the Pacific. Thus, in 1941, he added the Pearl Harbor operation to the operational mix.

In the end, the Pearl Harbor attack did temporarily degrade America’s ability to project power in the Pacific (the military dimension of Clausewitz’s trinity). But the attack had the opposite of Yamamoto’s intended effects on the people and governmental dimensions. On December 8th, the American people demanded war. The U.S. president asked for a declaration of war and demanded unconditional surrender. The House of Representatives voted 388 to 1, and the Senate voted 82 to 0 in favor of war against Japan.

Conclusion

“Were we better than the Japanese, or just luckier?”33 – Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz in Midway.

The historical narrative of a war is written by the war’s victor. And that narrative is too often kept simple and convenient. This is something we must keep in our minds as we seek to learn from past conflicts. To learn from the Pacific War, we must beware the cursory narratives of that conflict: That Japan was hell-bent on conquest in Asia for no apparent reason, while we only wanted peace; That the Japanese were sneaky, but we were honorable; That they were wrong and we were right.

Dig a bit deeper into the historical detail, and we see that, while it is true that Japan was an aggressive state hell-bent on conquest, we helped them formulate their strategy and encouraged their imperial designs. If Yamamoto had not added the Pearl Harbor attack to his operational mix, would the American people and the U.S. Congress have opted to fight a major war on faraway shores?

Understanding the wartime strategies of our past adversaries can help us better understand the strategies of today’s adversaries. Again, the challenge is to push beyond cursory. Do we reflect on things we have done in previous decades that could have caused an ally to become an adversary?  Do we consider the fact that an adversary might consider us to be their Priority Two, rather than their Priority One? Do we give our adversaries sufficient credit for employing whole-of-government strategies? How often do we think about how an adversary (or a so-called ally) will seek to inject conditions of friction into our operations?

The Pacific War became inevitable when the United States assumed Japan would come to the negotiating table, rather than choosing war. Japan’s disastrous end became inevitable when they assumed that an attack on U.S. soil would not awaken a giant force, or at least degrade it sufficiently to render it militarily impotent. If the U.S. and Japan had both dug deeper into the strategic landscape, the conflict may have been avoided or de-escalated. Perhaps the U.S. would have realized that there was no chance that Tokyo would negotiate for oil. Perhaps Tokyo would have realized that America’s pivot from isolationism would be fast and terrible.

Daniel T. Murphy is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, currently serving in the Office of Naval Intelligence. In his civilian career he is a full-time professor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and an adjunct faculty member at Northeastern University. Lieutenant Commander Murphy earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, and master’s degrees from Georgetown University and from the National Intelligence University.  

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Government.

References

[1] National Lampoon’s Animal House, directed by John Landis, Universal Pictures, 1978.

[2] “Researchers find 1941 Japanese midget sub off Pearl Harbor,” School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology website, http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/SOEST_News/PressReleases/Japanese%20mini%20sub.htm, (accessed April 11, 2012).

[3] Said by Brennus the Gaul when he sacked Rome in 390 B.C., Livy, in Ab Urbe Condita (Book 5 Sections 34–49).

[4] “Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan,” U.S. Navy Museum website, http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/teach/ends/opening.htm (accessed April 29, 2012).

[5] James Bradley, The Imperial Cruise:  A Secret History of Empire and War New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009), 236.

[6] Bradley, 227.

[7] Bradley, 226.

[8] Bradley, 223.

[9] Bradley, 217.

[10] Bradley, 319.

[11]  Hector Bywater, The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-1933 (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1925), 2.

[12] Milan Vego, Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 2009), IV-64 and 65.

[13] James B. Wood, Japanese Military Strategy in the Pacific War: Was Defeat Inevitable? (Lahnam, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, 24-27.

[14] Sadao Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 15.

[15] Bradley 300-319.

[16] Asada, 52.

[17] Asada, 32.

[18] Asada, 52.

[19] Shannon R. Butler, “Voyage to Tsushima,” Naval History (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute), June 2012, 58.

[20] Asada, 50.

[21] Asada, 55.

[22] Bywater, 22.

[23] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. and eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967) 119.

[24] Butler, 63.

[25] Asada, 103.

[26] Asada, 180.

[27] Yoichi Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations for World War II,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 44, No. 2, Spring 1991, 66.

[28] Hirama, 68.

[29] Hirama, 69-70.

[30] Asada, 205.

[31] Asada, 182.

[32] Brad Lee Lecture.

[33] Midway, directed by Jack Smight, Columbia Pictures, 1976, Henry Fonda playing Admiral Chester Nimitz in the final scene.

Featured Image: (October 21, 1944) IJN battleship Nagato at anchor in Brunei. (colorized by Irootoko Jr.)

ONI and the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922

By LCDR Mark Munson, USN

Introduction

Between November 1921 and February 1922, representatives from nine nations assembled in Washington, D.C. to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific region and naval disarmament.1 The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) played a vital role for the American organizers of the conference by collecting information and publishing intelligence products that supported the U.S. negotiators and enabled them to achieve American diplomatic objectives. While the Conference has a poor historical reputation because it failed to prevent a naval arms race leading up to the Second World War, its more modest achievements provide a case study in successful diplomatic intelligence, with ONI’s support to the negotiating effort demonstrating the importance of intelligence expertise in maritime issues.

A Bold Proposal

When the Harding administration’s Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes opened the Washington Conference by announcing the dramatic reversal of the U.S. Navy’s expansion, which had dated back to the beginning of the turn of the century and accelerated during the First World War, his statement “shocked the delegates by calling for a ten-year naval construction ‘holiday,’ with force ratios fixed at a level of 10-10-6 for the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. This proposal meant scrapping large portions of the American fleet, constructed as part of the 1916 expansion program, and the mid-construction cancellation of all ships funded by the 1918 Navy expansion bill.”2

By announcing a willingness to slash the American fleet, Hughes hoped to use diplomacy at the conference to further U.S. aims in East Asia and Western Pacific, with goals including “naval disarmament; a new security structure that replaced the Anglo-Japanese alliance; and the enshrinement of the Open Door policy into international law.”3 Hughes’ “surprise” proposal stunned even the head of the British delegation, former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, forcing him “to define his country’s policy literally as he sat waiting to reply.”4

Despite being surprised by Hughes’ opening remarks, the U.K quickly saw the conference as an opportunity to realize its own strategic objectives. By the early 1920s, much of the Royal Navy, built during “the burst of warship construction before and during 1914–18, and the limited construction of the 1920s,” was now “obsolete and needed to be replaced.”5 Unlike before the war, when the Royal Navy only had to maintain superiority against the Germans, continued supremacy afloat would require a fleet “equal to that of the Japanese navy plus the next largest European navy.” With a decrease in British shipbuilding capacity eroding its status as the global maritime hegemon, a pause in the naval arms race would help the Royal Navy’s keep its numerical advantage.6

Fusing Intelligence and Diplomacy on Naval Arms

ONI was founded in 1882 and already served as “the main provider of data on foreign fleets” for U.S. policymakers on the eve of the conference.7 Just as with the rest of the U.S. Navy, the First World War had led to a significant expansion of ONI manpower, swelling to 306 reservists and 18 civil servants by 1918.8 ONI’s mission was to collect “political, military, naval, economic, and industrial” information, to “analyze, classify, summarize, and make available” that information, and to disseminate it “systematically throughout the naval service.”9

Following the war however, ONI was quickly reduced to a force of 42 by 1920.10 With funding allocated to the naval attaches providing the bulk of ONI’s reporting which was now “ridiculously small” and insufficient to support diplomatic life abroad, “appointments were often based on personal wealth rather than qualifications.” In spite of this reduced attaché force, however, headquarters was still faced with a “mass of undigested and unclassified material that started to accumulate.”11 Even “the few attaches left after postwar demobilization” were still diligently able to “interview local officials, peruse public papers, and assemble newspaper clippings” in quantities great enough to leave piles of information unexploited.12  ONI’s struggle to perform its core duty of collecting and analyzing data on foreign navies after the war was also exacerbated by its assumption of additional domestic duties including “monitoring subversive activities that alien nationals were planning to undertake on American territory.”13

To support U.S. negotiating efforts at the conference, “ONI was assigned to provide numerous statistics, graphs and charts on the comparative tonnage of the world’s navies.”14 ONI anticipated this tasking, with the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI), Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, having ordered “all attaches to collect local opinion concerning a possible naval limitations conference” to drive analysis in which “ONI staff prepared specifics on foreign naval expenditures, building programs, and existing warships.”15 Commander William W. Galbraith of ONI explained “it is desirable to know, as far in advance as possible, the probable plan of action on the part of the other representatives together with some insights into the instructions given to the delegates by their governments.”16

U.S. Navy attaches swung into action. The former DNI, Rear Admiral Andrew Niblack, then serving as the naval attaché to Great Britain, mailed back press clippings and even met King George V, “but characteristically found the conversation disappointing” as “the Prime Minister is the important factor in the upcoming conference.”17 Despite being close allies during the war, Anglo-American tensions were barely concealed as the conference began. British leaders had wanted a preliminary session before the main event to coordinate diplomatic aims between the two allies, but were left disappointed by U.S. reluctance. The international acclaim that had hailed President Harding from around the global after he announced the conference also irritated British leaders.18

Other ONI-sponsored intelligence collection took place elsewhere in Europe. The attaché in France provided “French disarmament data and photographs of prospective Gallic delegates,” and U.S. Navy personnel in Berlin “polled members of the Inter-Allied Control Commission, discovering a common fear of Japanese militarism.”19

With the conference agenda focused on East Asia, the U.S. Navy and conference negotiators particularly valued intelligence on the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). U.S. naval attaches in Tokyo relied heavily on open source collection, including the English and Japanese-language presses, and the Japanese Navy’s professional publications or speeches by naval officers when available. When possible they “cultivated a variety of personal sources who often supplied valuable information on Japanese naval affairs out of friendship or after consuming too much alcohol,” including “Japanese friends, foreign technical experts, or travelers who might have passed through a sensitive area,” or what they could trade from foreign services such as French or Chinese intelligence.20 Their reporting addressed topics such as “the future of China, Pacific fortifications, naval ratios, and Japanese claims to formerly German territory.”21

American collectors in Tokyo supported the negotiators with “reports by telegram at a rate of over one thousand pages per month,” complementing the efforts of the U.S. ambassador to Japan, who sent the American delegation at the conference a “daily ‘Confidential’ report of Japanese press discussions, analyses of political leaders, and detailed commentaries.”22

The intrepid naval attaches also reported on Japanese politics, an arena in which liberal groups advocating “pacifism, anti-militarism, and support for disarmament” were increasingly active.23 Understanding these fractures in Japanese political life was important, as they would drive “the degree of autonomy” that Admiral Kato Tomosaburo, Japan’s lead negotiator and Navy Minister, would have during the negotiations. After Prime Minister Hara Kei’s assassination “by a right-wing activist” on the eve of conference, U.S. Army intelligence reported to the State Department that “the confused political situation” would leave Kato “essentially operating without significant oversight from Tokyo.”24 This corroborated reporting that U.S. naval attaches had derived from open source information depicting “hardline Japanese naval officers as politically isolated,” therefore limiting their ability to resist “a stronger American position on naval force ratios.”25 

The Japanese battleship Tosa at Nagasaki on 31 July 1922. Designed by Yuzuru Hiraga, Tosa was envisioned as the lead ship of a class of two 39,900-long-ton (40,540 t) ships, but she was canceled the day before Japan signed the Washington Naval Treaty. Tosa was then used for various ordnance tests before being scuttled on 9 February 1925. (Shizuo Fukui/Kure Maritime Museum) [Colorized by Irootoko Jr.]
Despite the large volume of reporting, ONI faced significant difficulties in assembling an accurate assessment of the Japanese Navy. Before the conference, “ONI admitted that it was unable to determine the numbers of vessels which the Japanese were constructing” and its 1920 assessment  “only speculated on how many ships could become available in future years.”26 U.S. Navy intelligence “was often unable to determine the exact tonnage of Japanese vessels” due to deceptive statements by Japan’s navy ministry, but “could not calculate the extent of the misinformation.”27  ONI was faced by qualitative as well as quantitative challenges in its assessments, as it was unaware of Japanese “successes in devising doctrines for employing its vessels” that would prove deadly when applied twenty years later in the Pacific.28

ONI’s reporting and assessments on the Japanese Navy also included some particularly embarrassing examples of how bias can hinder analysis, with racist assumptions often prominent in its products. Delegates to the conference had “unusually high morals for a Japanese” and “unusual reasoning powers for an Oriental.”29  “Widespread inefficiency” in the Japanese fleet was caused by “a lack of mechanical genius,” a “low level of initiative and a corresponding inability to deal with unexpected situations.”30 Any threat posed by future Japanese naval aviation was unlikely according to ONI analysis, as “the Japanese is naturally unfitted for any mechanical pursuit, and for this reason great difficulty has been experienced in training aviators.”31

The Five-Power Treaty signed at the conference formalized the “5:5:3 ratio limit” which restricted total capital ship tonnage for the U.S. and Royal navies to 500,000, Japan to 300,000, and both France and Italy to 175,000 tons. The Treaty was perceived as a success at the time because the Japanese allocation was less than their initial desire for 70 percent of American/British tonnage. It also “recognized the status quo of U.S., British, and Japanese bases in the Pacific,” “secured agreements that reinforced its existing policy in the Pacific, including the Open Door Policy in China and the protection of the Philippines,” and limited “the scope of Japanese imperial expansion as much as possible.”32 

Despite achieving success at the negotiating table, the U.S. did not fully exploit the pause in the naval arms race enabled by the Washington conference. Although the Treaty limited naval expansion by its British ally and potential Japanese rival, “the American Congress consistently refused to spend enough to bring the U.S. Navy up to tonnage parity with the Royal Navy.”33  Despite being allowed by the Treaty to build as many battleships as the cash-strapped Royal Navy, the actual ratio of ships built between the Royal, U.S., and Japanese navies ended up closer to 5-4-3 between the wars.34

The traditional narrative of the Washington Treaty has been that it left the U.S. Navy unprepared for the Second World War.35  Influential mid-century naval thinkers like Samuel Eliot Morison and Dudley Knox argued that the “treaty navy” was “barely prepared for war” in 1941 in terms of fleet size, and that the treaty allowed political leaders to justify neglect of U.S. bases in the Western Pacific like Guam and the Philippines.36

Regardless of whether the Treaty resulted in a small, crippled navy at the start of the Second World War, the efforts of ONI and its attaches “successfully accomplished an important intelligence task,” particularly against Japan, and “reduced uncertainty for American decision makers at a key moment in international relations.”37  ONI’s quantitative work was particularly important, driving negotiations focused on “the comparative tonnage of warships and strengths of navies.” However, even at the time, ONI’s experts cautioned “that relative naval power could not be measured in exact mathematical terms nor equitable naval ratios by simple formulas.”38

Naval intelligence collectors, particularly the attaches in Japan, made use of their language training, applied both “to translate written evidence such as government documents and press sources, as well as to conduct conversations with their hosts” in the course of their daily lives. Information was collected by “visits to naval facilities and dockyards” when possible, “private U.S. citizens, who were either based in Japan or paying temporary visits,” or occasional “intercepts of radio communications.” While clandestine Human or Signals Intelligence collection may have been particularly prized, naval intelligence ultimately collected “95 percent of the information it sought” in Japanese-language open source publications.39

Despite the success ONI’s collection mission achieved against Japan, it was always hindered by “the Japanese government’s stringent restrictions on the activities and movements of foreign intelligence personnel.”40 This “shortage of reliable intelligence” resulted in an overemphasis on quantitative reporting (numbers and tonnage of Japanese Navy ships), at the expense of understanding “operational doctrine and the performance of its equipment.”41 To be fair to those collectors, the Japanese Navy’s “tight veil of secrecy” would have hindered any collection efforts,42 but the emphasis on fleet size and tonnage may have led ONI analysts to underestimate “the Japanese Navy’s determination to achieve supremacy in the western Pacific through qualitative one-upmanship.”43

The aftermath of the conference left ONI with a clear mission and requirements for future intelligence collection and production. Savvy analysts at ONI quickly realized that the Washington conference and a series of successive conferences in Geneva and London aimed at limiting the construction of smaller classes of naval vessels “blinded Americans to the need for continued naval defenses, concluding that ONI must be the vehicle to spread the warning.”44 Their task was to uncover treaty violations, assuming “that all signatories would circumvent the settlement and try to deceive the other powers.”45

Conclusion

ONI support to the conference shows the continued importance of Open Source and Human intelligence (OSINT and HUMINT, respectively), particularly when enabled by expertise in foreign languages. While much of the information that the U.S. Navy’s attaches in Japan collected was openly available, it would have remains uncollected and unexploited if the Navy had not invested in language training for those officers. Even in a digital age where information is freely available over the internet, OSINT collection may still require a properly trained collector to have physical access to freely available data and media.

The U.S. Navy’s main intelligence challenge against its future Japanese foe was not determining how many ships they had, but rather, how to develop a detailed understanding of Japanese naval doctrine and how they planned to fight a future war at sea. While the Treaty made counting the Japanese fleet a straightforward task, Japanese secrecy, a lack of effective HUMINT placement and access (a task almost impossible for the segregated U.S. Navy’s largely all-white officer corps in pre-war Japan), and technological barriers preventing SIGINT collection stopped ONI from achieving “penetrating knowledge” of the Japanese Navy.46

Finally, ONI’s efforts in support of the conference show the importance of expertise in maritime issues to naval intelligence. Ultimately, the U.S. Navy is the only arm of the U.S. government that will always prioritize intelligence on foreign navies and the global maritime system. While maritime intelligence is not always valued by government leaders and the intelligence community as whole, when a situation arises in which maritime expertise is needed by national decision-makers, they will expect naval intelligence to have the answers they need immediately.

The Washington conference may have proved a long-term failure in terms of curtailing the growth of the navies that fought in the Second World War, and a low point in terms of American isolationism and the abandonment of sea power as a national security strategy. For ONI however, it provided an opportunity to apply a variety of intelligence disciplines in support of national diplomatic objectives. 

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval officer assigned to Coastal Riverine Group TWO. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government. 

 References

[1] The U.S., U.K., Japan, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and China participated in the conference. The “Nine-Power Treaty” dealt with the interests of western nations and Japan in China. The treaty addressing naval arms control was the “Five-Power Treaty signed by the U.S., U.K., Japan, France, and Italy. The “Four-Power Treaty” was signed by the U.S., U.K., Japan, and France, replacing the 1902 alliance between the U.K. and Japan, and attempted to accommodate those nations’ interests in East Asia. See “The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922,” Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State, accessed 28 July 2017, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/naval-conference

[2] Eric Setzekorn, “Open Source Information and the Office of Naval Intelligence in Japan, 1905–1920,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 27, (2014): 379.

[3] Paul Welch Behringer, “‘Forewarned Is Forearmed’: Intelligence, Japan’s Siberian Intervention, and the Washington Conference,” The International History Review 38:3 (2016): 368-369.

[4] John Ferris, Issues in British and American Signals Intelligence, 1919-1932 (Fort Meade: NSA Center for Cryptologic History, 2015), 44.

[5] Joseph A. Maiolo, “Anglo-Soviet Naval Armaments Diplomacy Before the Second World War,” English Historical Review 123:501 (2008): 352.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Douglas Ford, “U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Imperial Japanese Fleet During the Washington Treaty Era, c. 1922-36,” The Mariner’s Mirror 93:3 (August 2007): 284.

[8] Wyman H. Packard, A Century of Naval Intelligence (Washington: Department of the Navy, 1996), 13.

[9] Ford, 284.

[10] Packard, 14.

[11] Ford, 284.

[12] Jeffery M. Dorwart, Conflict of Duty: The U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Dilemma, 1919-1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1983), 20.

[13] Ford, 284.

[14] Ibid., 285.

[15] Dorwart, 20.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Erik Goldstein, “The Evolution of British Diplomatic Strategy for the Washington Conference,” in The Washington Conference, 1921-22: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor, ed. Erik Goldstein and John Maurer (Ilford: Frank Cass, 1994), 18-19.

[19] Dorwart, 20.

[20] Setzekorn, 373-374.

[21] Ibid., 377.

[22] Ibid., 380.

[23] Ibid., 378.

[24] Ibid., 379.

[25] Ibid., 369.

[26] Ford, 285.

[27] Ibid., 292.

[28] Ibid., 290.

[29] Dorwart, 20.

[30] Ford, 281.

[31] Ford, 293.

[32] “The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922,” United States Department of State.

[33] Maiolo, 355.

[34] Ferris, 44-45.

[35] Michael Krepon, “Naval Treaties,” Arms Control Wonk, accessed 28 July 2017, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/403364/naval-treaties/.

[36] John Kuehn, “The Influence of Naval Arms Limitation on U.S. Naval Innovation During the Interwar Period, 1921-1937” (PhD diss., Kansas State University, 2007), 17-18.

[37] Setzekorn, 382.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ford, 286.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 281.

[42] Ibid., 285-286.

[43] Maiolo, 375-376.

[44] Dorwart, 22.

[45] Ibid., 24-25.

[46] “Navy Strategy for Achieving Maritime Dominance: 2013-2017,” 7.

Featured Image: Scene at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, December 1923, with guns from scrapped battleships in the foreground. (Wikimedia Commons)

Maintaining Maritime Superiority: Real Lessons from a Quasi-War

By Dave Andre

In the spring of 1798, the United States found itself in an undeclared naval war with France. Known as the Quasi-War, this eighteenth century “half-war” holds valuable lessons for maintaining maritime superiority in the twenty-first century. This tumultuous period is the origin of the modern United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. During this time, the geopolitical situation in Europe was altering the maritime landscape worldwide just as the United States was developing its foreign policy. Europe’s upheaval and the United States’ first forays into international politics resulted in the Quasi-War. The conflict and the politics that surrounded it present three timely lessons for the United States as it focuses on maintaining maritime superiority in an evolving maritime domain. Foremost among these lessons is the notion that maritime superiority is temporal: the maritime security environment is perpetually evolving; a superior navy today may be inferior tomorrow. Secondly, the dynamic maritime environment requires broad strategic foresight from politicians, military planners, and civilians. Lastly, the conflict illustrates the need for an integrative maritime strategy, which incorporates all the elements of maritime power at a nation’s disposal. These lessons have applicability across a wide spectrum of maritime issues, from shipbuilding and operational art to budgeting and politics.

Preface

While the U.S. Navy traces its origins to 13 October 1775, that beginning was fleeting. Upon the conclusion of the War of Independence, the United States disbanded the Continental Navy and the ships, seamen, and officers returned to civilian life. Despite the ratification of the Constitution of the United States in 1789, which empowered Congress “to provide and maintain a Navy,” it was not until five years later — in 1794 — that Congress authorized the procurement of six frigates, and yet another four years before those frigates were commissioned.1 Through authorizing the procurement and staffing of six frigates,  Congress set in motion the origins of the modern U.S. Navy we know today. Distinct from the Continental Navy by virtue of its mission — defending the sovereignty of the United States—the modern U.S. Navy’s origins in the Quasi-War defined many of the relationships and procedures used today.   

Prologue to War: “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute…”

 In 1789, the United States was looking inward with early American foreign policy focused on isolationism and neutrality. Two documents—the Proclamation of Neutrality and the Naval Act of 1794 – would come to define relations with the two nations most important to the initial development of the United States  – France and Great Britain. The Proclamation of Neutrality issued by George Washington in 1793, declared that the United States would be neutral in the dispute between Britain and revolutionary France. Believing that involvement in a war between France and Great Britain would be an economic and diplomatic disaster, the proclamation stated, “the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial.”2 Shortly after, in response to the threat posed by Barbary Pirates, the United States Congress reluctantly passed the Naval Act of 1794, authorizing the building and equipping of six frigates.3 Rectifying foreign policy ideals of neutrality with worldwide threats required concessions.

As the United States developed its foreign policy, balancing ideology against practical security concerns, war broke out between Great Britain and Revolutionary France. The Proclamation of Neutrality did not prevent British harassment of American merchant vessels and the United States and Britain drifted close to war.4 Therefore, eighteen months after proclaiming neutrality, the United States and Great Britain signed the Jay Treaty, which attempted to resolve unsettled issues from the War of Independence and put an end to British harassment of American merchantmen (impressment was the biggest gripe).

Rectifying isolationist foreign policy ideals with a world at war required concessions. The French and British had been at war since 1793 and the French viewed the Jay Treaty as siding with Britain.6 Therefore, securing peace with the British meant angering the French, who felt betrayed. However, in 1795, resolution with the British took precedence. Feeling threatened and betrayed by this Anglo-American relationship, France retaliated. This retaliation took many forms, most notably French privateers began to attack and harass American merchant ships. Thus, United States merchants felt little relief  – in essence trading British attackers for French.

Using an article from the Treaty of Commerce and Amity between the United States and France, which required that during wartime merchant ships provide detailed certificates (something American vessels rarely possessed) for the crew and cargo, the French boarded, seized, and sold more than 300 American vessels in 1795.7 Increasing the provocations, in 1796, France issued orders to attack American ships. Escalations continued, and by August 1796, French agents in the West Indies were issuing directions to attack American merchant ships.8 Over the course of the following nine months the French captured 316 American merchant vessels  – more than six percent of the nation’s merchant ships. 9 The economic toll on American merchants was severe.10 Despite receiving authorization in 1794 to construct six frigates, the United States remained incapable of countering the French transgressions.

These maritime provocations were the tinder of war, but the XYZ Affair  in July 1797 lit the fuse. President Adams dispatched three U.S. envoys to France as part of diplomatic efforts to avert war. Upon the U.S. envoys’ arrival, three French agents, working on behalf of French Foreign Minister Talleyrand, attempted to negotiate a bribe and a loan before negotiations even began.11 The U.S. envoys, outraged, sent word of the attempted demands back to President Adams, who in turn sent the report to Congress (substituting the agents names with the letters X, Y, and Z). As news of the scandal broke, the slogan “millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” became the rallying cry of an offended citizenry.12 President John Adams and the Federalists seized upon this national anger to bring the U.S. Navy into being.13 Recognizing the unique nature of the maritime domain and the importance of a navy, Congress established the Department of the Navy on 30 April 1798 with Benjamin Stoddert in the lead.14 A month later, the Congress authorized the capture of any armed French vessels located off the coast of the United States.15 However, the ConstellationConstitution and United States were not yet fit for duty. Undeterred, the Navy set about engaging the French with the sloop USS Ganges, dispatching it to guard the coast between Long Island and Chesapeake.16 Six weeks later, Congress appropriated the necessary funds   to complete the frigates USS Congress, USS Chesapeake and USS President.17

In June, the USS Constellation and the USS United States joined the USS Ganges. Moreover, on July 7, 1798, Congress rescinded all treaties with France.18 The same day, the USS Delaware captured the French privateer La Croyable off the shores of New Jersey.19 Two days later, President Adams signedAn Act Further to Protect the Commerce of the United States,” thereby authorizing military force against France.20 Besides public armed vessels, this Act authorized the president to “grant commissions to private armed vessels, which shall have the same authority to capture, as public armed vessels.”21 Foremost, this act illustrated that the United States was not going to have its sovereignty questioned  – even by a former ally such as the French who just a few years before had helped the United States secure their sovereignty in the Revolutionary War. Less explicitly, the President and some congressional leaders began to see the United States’ prosperity as inextricably tied to its maritime security and acquiring and maintaining that maritime security required a navy.22 While the debate over a permanent navy continued, the events of the preceding five years went a long way towards securing its permanence.

Auspicious Beginnings: “We are not afraid…”

Despite being outgunned and relatively inexperienced, the U.S. Navy performed well during the Quasi-War. Considering its limited naval assets at that time, engaging with the much more powerful French Navy was audacious. This audacity, backed up by the nerve and grit of civilian mariners and buoyed by a political infrastructure that appreciated the maritime domain, proved fruitful. While these characteristics account for much of the success that the United States enjoyed, they are not the whole story. Political events in Europe aided the United States’ cause in no small part. The French Navy, depleted by years of war with the British and purges from the French Revolution, was not as formidable a foe as it could have been. In addition, the Royal Navy, eager to dispatch the French, willingly assisted their former colony’s fledgling navy. These factors, coupled with an underestimation of the United States’ willpower, explain why the French Navy struggled to counter the United States’ limited naval power.

American naval vessels had early successes, seizing nineteen vessels from French privateers in the winter of 1798–99.23 In February 1799, the first major battle of the Quasi-War occurred between the USS Constellation (38-guns) and the French frigate L’Insurgente (36-guns) with the Constellation emerging victorious.24 A year later, the Constellation engaged in battle against the superior La Vengeance, a 52-gun Frigate.25 While the battle ended in a draw, the aggressive American naval response sent a clear message to their French adversaries that echoed John Adam sentiments – “We are not afraid.” By the time the Treaty of Mortefontaine ended the hostilities in September 1800, the United States had captured 85 French vessels and the French lost approximately 2,000 merchant vessels to U.S. privateers.26 Meanwhile, the United States lost only one ship – the USS Retaliation – during an engagement in November 1798 with two French frigates.27 Though these battles are indicative of the course of the Quasi-War, the U.S. Navy’s actions are only a part of a larger story.

Illustration of Revenue Cutter Eagle. (Picture by marine artist Peter Rindlisbacher)

American successes during the Quasi-War were due, in no small part, to the successful employment of private mariners, the Revenue Cutters (the precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard), and some assistance from the Royal Navy.28 Throughout the course of the conflict, eight Revenue Cutters were at sea in support of naval operations along the southern coast and throughout the West Indies.29 These Cutters had a significant impact, taking eighteen of the twenty-two prizes captured by the United States between 1798 and 1799.30 Meanwhile, Letters of Marque authorized civilian mariners to act as surrogates to the Navy.31 Again, the impact was significant and immediate. In 1798 there were 452 civilian mariners armed in defense of the United States; that number rose to 933 the following year.32 The cooperation among these various maritime entities buoyed a fledgling U.S. Navy, setting the tone for a pattern of future successful engagements. The successful campaign waged by these maritime forces laid the groundwork for the peaceful resolution in 1800 of the Quasi-War.

Maintaining Maritime Superiority: Lessons from the Quasi-War

Though not explicitly mentioned, a variety of recent strategic documents on maritime superiority draw upon French and U.S. experiences during the Quasi-War. Three broad lessons from this period in early-American naval history become apparent: maritime superiority is not a permanent condition; maritime superiority requires broad strategic foresight across political, military, and civilian channels to prepare and design; and interoperability across the sea services is critical to the establishment and maintenance of maritime dominance – a powerful navy alone is not enough. These lessons, learned during the United States’ first military engagement with a foreign power, offer relevant guidance for military planners designing a maritime strategy for maintaining superiority. 

First Lesson: Maritime Superiority is not a Permanent Condition

French experiences in the Quasi-War illustrate that maritime superiority is perishable. The CNO’s paper, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, implicitly acknowledges a specific lesson the French learned during the Quasi-War – without a proactive approach and strategic foresight, maritime superiority fades.33 The French Navy, stretched thin by years of fighting with the British, faced a United States that had awoken to the reality that its maritime superiority was as critical to its national security as its land borders. In addition, the turbulence of revolutionary France was not kind to the French Navy. Besides the financial hardships resulting from the chaos of revolution, purges, and resignations had deprived the French Navy of many of its best officers. The cardinal defect, therefore, was not the French ships, but manning and morale. Moreover, the Royal Navy, adept at keeping the French Navy bottled up in port, allowed little opportunity for training beyond port.34

By 1798, the French Navy was undisciplined and poorly trained, with estimates suggesting they were over 8,000 men short by 1799.35 Therefore, the over-tasked French Navy faltered and despite the French enjoying a numerical advantage and better-outfitted ships, the U.S. Navy –  a few years old and with less than a dozen ships to its name – was able to repulse the French until they turned back to European matters. These manning and training shortfalls limited the French Navy’s ability to effectively prosecute the Quasi-War and the continued expansion of their engagements only served to exacerbate these underlying issues. The decline in capabilities, when combined with an expansive geographic footprint and steady operational tempo, degraded the French Navy’s ability to maintain maritime superiority. These limitations would continue into the Napoleonic Wars and cost the French Navy dearly.36

Currently, there is a surge in maritime power across the world. In the Asia-Pacific, China’s increasingly powerful and capable maritime capability allows for an aggressive policy in the region.37 In part a reaction to China’s maritime polices, the remaining countries of the Asia-Pacific region are upgrading, re-aligning, and expanding their maritime domain capabilities.38 The Indian Ocean Region and the Middle East are experiencing similar transformations in the maritime domain, led by India and Iran respectively.39 Meanwhile, the Russian Navy is flexing its might throughout the aforementioned regions, as well as the seas of Eurasia and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The United States would do well to look at the French Navy’s experiences during the Quasi-War and realize that capacity is not the only factor in maintaining maritime superiority, and without the proper manning, training, and equipping that maritime superiority will be short-lived.

To echo Admiral Richardson, if the U.S. Navy fails to recognize and adapt to the evolving maritime security environment it risks falling behind competitors.40 Today, there are more competitors than ever before and the United States would do well to look back to the waning years of the 18th century for guidance. As the French fleet stretched itself thin across numerous theaters and campaigns, the Americans were re-establishing theirs with a very specific objective – defending their maritime domain. Conversely, the French, depleting their resources in an extended war with Britain and dealing with domestic turmoil, were stretched thin and unable to marshal the strength necessary to dominate the United States Navy in the Western Atlantic. Therefore, while the French Navy of the 1790s was superior to the U.S. Navy, the events of the Quasi-War illustrated that maritime superiority is a perishable advantage, even more so when not given the proper attention.

Second Lesson: Maritime Superiority Requires Broad Strategic Foresight

 The Quasi-War illustrated that achieving and maintaining maritime superiority takes a composite of political willpower, military planning, and civilian ingenuity. Despite the United States Navy’s successes during the Quasi-War, it took years for the United States to commission the six frigates authorized by the Naval Act of 1794, which put victory in jeopardy. Even with the commissioning of the six frigates, the U.S. Navy was still a limited naval power compared to France. These limitations were only overcome by the integration of Revenue Cutters and privateers. Without these developed maritime services, the United States would have had little recourse against French transgressions. In The Future Navy, the CNO stresses the importance of having the right navy in the right place for our decision makers. Although a perceptive understanding of geopolitics can allow for some preventative measures, a navy being in the right place is primarily a reactive measure. Having the right navy though, is a proactive process – there exists a critical distinction between acting now versus then. As the CNO notes, to remain competitive, “we must start today and we must improve faster.”41 This strategic foresight needs to be broad and encompass political, military, and civilian dimensions; it needs to account for the time and effort it takes to fund, design, commission, and deploy new ships; it must account for the geopolitical situation and the status of enemies and allies alike; and it must acknowledge the time and funding necessary to sustain the material condition and readiness of the existing fleet.

When post-revolutionary America began construction of the original six frigates, there was intense debate surrounding the need for a standing navy. While provocations from Barbary pirates set in motion the re-constituting of the U.S. Navy, it took intense French harassment of merchants to rally enough support to actually build, train, and equip that navy. Four years later, those frigates would form the backbone of the maritime campaign against French provocations. Had it not been for the prescience and practical leadership of Presidents Washington and Adams, civilian leaders like Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, and shipbuilders like Joshua Humphreys, the United States would have been unable to counter French provocations. Conversely, the French engagement of the United States during the Quasi-War was a sideshow that the French Navy was not prepared to effectively prosecute. The French government (known as the Directory during the Quasi-War) was engaged with the British at sea and revolutionaries at home and thus was unable to mount an effective strategy across political, military, and civilian lines. 

In a time of continued budget restraints and political divisiveness, leaders must take a holistic approach when assessing the cost-benefit analysis of maintaining a large Navy. As historian William Fowler writes about the Quasi-War, “[it is estimated] that cost savings to the American merchant marine exceeded the U.S. Navy’s costs during the war.”42 In short, doing nothing can cost more than doing something. Leaders must realize that maintaining maritime superiority requires funding, design innovation, and a well-equipped workforce in addition to an operational strategy that effectively allocates naval resources.43 Anything less risks ceding the maritime superiority that the United States has enjoyed for decades. 

Third Lesson: The U.S. Navy Needs to Work Closely with the Other Maritime Services

Borne of the first two, the last lesson concerns the need for cooperation across the sea services. The U.S. Navy performed admirably during the Quasi-War, but it was their effort combined with those of the privateers and Revenue Cutters that lead to victory.44 These entities – though transformed over the intervening years – still represent the formal elements of the United States’ maritime security infrastructure and their ability to work together proved critical during the Quasi-War. Across the spectrum of maritime operations, the increased integration of these maritime entities would enhance the nation’s ability to maintain maritime superiority.

The sheer diversity of forces working at play in the contemporary maritime security environment necessitates that the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard continue working toward a cooperative and integrated effort to support national objectives. Such interoperability proved critical during the Quasi-War and will prove useful again. As noted in the National Strategy for Maritime Security, “maritime security is best achieved by blending public and private maritime security activities on a global scale into an integrated effort that addresses all maritime threats.”45 There is promise in this increased integration. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Powera joint U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard strategy – details how to “design, organize, and employ the Sea Services in support of our national, defense, and homeland security strategies.”46 Shortly afterwards, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard expanded on the guidance, delivering The National Fleet Plan: A Joint United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, which details steps taken to identify opportunity for interoperability in areas of logistics, warfighting, and strategy.47 Likewise, the Marine Corps after years of fighting land wars, is re-engaging with its amphibious roots.48 The interlocking relationships these documents envision are critical for maintaining maritime superiority.

Newport News, Va. (May 17, 2006) – The Pre-Commissioning Unit Texas (SSN 775) sails past the Coast Guard cutter Sea Horse (WPB-87361). (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Patrick Gearhiser)

The relationship between the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and civilian mariners would do well to get “back to basics” by becoming acquainted with the lessons from the days of the Quasi-War. Then, like now, there is a shared mission that transcends the boundaries between civilian and military and between the various services. In the run up to the Quasi-War, the complexities of domestic politics and the global order made interoperability necessary and practical. Today, the same situation exists. Focusing on the strengths and limitations of the individual entities allows for better planning and efficient use of limited resources.

Conclusion

The world for all its changes bears a number of similarities to the late 18th century. Maritime shipping still represents the backbone of the U.S. economy  and by extension – its power and influence; contested waters still abound despite centuries of legal and practical solutions to remedy ambiguity; and the United States is again searching for that balance between neutrality and strength. As Seth Cropsey, former undersecretary of the Navy wrote, “Wide-ranging sea power is not so much an instrument of force although that it is as a condition of stable commerce, effective diplomacy.”49 It is this understanding that underpinned the establishment of the modern U.S. Navy and Marine Corps during the waning years of the 18th century as the United States faced a conflict that it was ill prepared to fight. Then, as now, geopolitics rarely waits for nations to get ready. You go to war with the forces you have. 

LT David M. Andre is a former Intelligence Specialist, and has served as an Intelligence Officer and Liaison Officer assigned to AFRICOM. He is currently serving as N2 for COMDESRON SEVEN in Singapore. He can be reached at dma.usn@gmail.com.

The views expressed above are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States Government.

References

[1] U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 1.

[2] Yale University. “The Proclamation of Neutrality 1793.” Accessed 01 June 2017. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/neutra93.asp.

[3] George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “The Naval Act of 1794.” Accessed June 15, 2017.  http://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/the-naval-act-of-1794/.

[4] United States Department of State. “John Jay’s Treaty, 1794-95.” Accessed June 4, 2017. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/jay-treaty.

[5] Mariners Museum. “The Quasi-War with France 1798-1800: The Jay Treaty.” Accessed June 12, 2017. https://www.marinersmuseum.org/sites/micro/usnavy/05/05b.htm; https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/jay-treaty.

[6] United States Senate. “Uproar of Senate Approval of Jay Treaty.” Accessed June 12, 2017. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Uproar_Over_Senate_Treaty_Approval.htm.

[7]Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between The United States and France; February 6, 1778, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fr1788-1.asp.

[8] Donald R. Hickey, “The Quasi-War: America’s First Limited War, 1798-1801,” The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord, XVIII Nos. 3-4, (July-October 2008): 69.

[9] Larry J. Sechrest, “Privately Funded and Built U.S. Warships in the Quasi-War of 1797–1801,” The Independent Review, v. XII, n. 1, Summer 2007, ISSN 1086–1653, 2007, pp. 101–113.

[10] Ibid.

[11] United States Department of State. “The XYY Affair and the Quasi-War with France, 1798-1800.” Accessed June 13, 2017, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/xyz.

[12] Carol Berkin, A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism (New York: Basic Books, 2017), 204.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Naval History and Heritage Command. “United States Navy.”  Accessed June 10, 2017, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/e/founding-of-department-of-the-navy.html.

[15] Alchetron. “Original Six Frigates of the United States.” Accessed June 14, 2017.  https://alchetron.com/Original-six-frigates-of-the-United-States-Navy-3900375-W.

[16] Leonard Guttridge and Jay Smith, The Commodores (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 22; Papers of the War Department: 1784 to 1800. “War Office orders for the pilot charged with delivery of dispatches for the Ship of War Ganges.” Accessed June 15, 2017. http://wardepartmentpapers.org/document.php?id=26708.

[17] James J. Farley. To Commit Ourselves to our Own Ingenuity: Joshua Humphreys Early Philadelphia Shipbuilding. https://earlyphiladelphiashipbuilding.wordpress.com/chapter-5-from-high-tide-to-low-tide-1798-1801/. 

[18] Carol Berkin, Christopher Miller, Robert Cherny, James Gormly, Douglas Egerton,Making America: A History of the United States, Volume 1: To 1877, (Cengage Learning, 2007), 178.

[19] David Petriello. Military History of New Jersey. (South Carolina: the History Press, 2014), 97.

[20] Benjamin Brown French, John B. Colvin. Laws of the United States of America: From the 4th of March, 1789, to the [3rd of March, 1845] : Including the Constitution of the United States, the Old Act of Confederation, Treaties, and Many Other Valuable Ordinances and Documents; with Copious Notes and References, Volume 5.

[21] Ibid.

[22] James A. Wombwell. “The Long War Against Piracy: Historical Trends,” Occasional Paper, Combat Studies Institute Department (2010): 67. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a522959.pdf. 

[23] Ken Hudnall, The Northwoods Conspiracy, (Grave Distractions Publication, 2011).

[24]Hampton Roads Naval Museum. “Pirates and Privateering in the New World.” Accessed June 18, 2017, http://hamptonroadsnavalmuseum.blogspot.sg/2016/07/pirates-and-privateering-in-new-world.html.

[25] United States Office of Naval Records. “Naval Documents Related to the Quasi War between the United States and France.” (GPO: 1935), 198.

[26] Yale University. “France—Convention of 1800: Text of the Treaty.” Accessed June 22, 2017.  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fr1800.asp.

[27] American History Central. “Quasi War.” Accessed June 20, 2017.   http://www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/quasi-war/.

[28] James C. Bradford. America, Sea Power, and the World (United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, 2015): 31.

[29] United States Coast Guard. “The Coast Guard at War.” Accessed June 22, 2017. https://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/h_cgatwar.asp. 

[30] Ibid.  

[31] Gregory J. Sidak, “The Quasi War Cases and Their Relevance to Whether Letters of Marque and Reprisal Constrain Presidential War Powers,” 28 Harv.J.L.& Pub. Policy 465 (Spring 2005) 471- 473.

[32] American Armed Merchantmen, 1798, and American Armed Merchantmen, 1799-1801, in Knox, Quasi-War, 2: 147-97, and 7: 376-438.

[33] John Richardson, Adm. A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority (January 2016).  http://www.navy.mil/cno/docs/cno_stg.pdf.

[34] Niklas Frykman . Seamen on Late Eighteenth-Century European Warships.  (2009), 84. Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis.

[35] Ibid.

[36] David Gates, The Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815, (New York: Random House, 2011)

[37] Jeremy Page, “ The Rapid Expansion of China’s Navy in Five Charts,” Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2015,  https://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/04/10/five-charts-that-show-the-rapid-expansion-of-chinas-navy/.

[38] Geoffrey Till and Jane Chan, Naval Modernisation in South-East Asia: Nature, Causes and Consequences, (United Kingdom, Routledge, 2013): 113-116.

[39] Anit Mukherjee, C. Raja Mohan, ed., India’s Naval Strategy and Asian Security (Routledge, 2015); Shaurya Karanbir Gurung, “China’s Naval Efforts May Prove Wanting in Front of Indian Navy’s Experience,” India Times. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chinas-naval-efforts-may-prove-wanting-in-front-of-indian-navys-experience/articleshow/57575868.cms.

[40] Yasmin Tadjdeh, “Navy Focuses on Maritime Superiority in Complex World,” National Defense, February 1, 2016.  http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2016/1/31/2016february-navy-focuses-on-maritime-superiority-in-complex-world.

[41] John Richardson, Adm., The Future Navy White Paper, 2017. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Resource/TheFutureNavy.pdf.

[42] William M. Fowler Jr.,  Jack Tars and Commodores: The American Navy, 1783–1815 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984): 41–42.

[43] Jessie Riposo, Michael E. McMahon, James G. Kallimani, and Daniel Tremblay, “Current and Future Challenges to Resourcing U.S. Navy Public Shipyards,” RAND Corporation (2017): Xviii. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1500/RR1552/RAND_RR1552.pdf.

[44] United States Coast Guard. “Cutters, Craft & U.S. Coast Guard Manned Army & Navy Vessels.” Accessed June 23, 2017, https://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/cutterlist.asp.

[45] United States Department of State, The National Strategy for Maritime Security. September 2005, 13. https://www.state.gov/t/pm/rls/othr/misc/255321.htm.

[46] A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power. March 2015,  https://www.uscg.mil/SENIORLEADERSHIP/DOCS/CS21R_Final.pdf. 

[47] The National Fleet Plan: A Joint United States Navy and United States Coast Guard http://www.navy.mil/strategic/Fleet_Plan_Final.pdf.

[48] Otto Kreisher, “US Marine Coprs is Getting Back to its Amphibious Roots,” Defense Media Network, November 8, 2012, http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/return-to-the-sea/2/.

[49] Seth Cropsey, MAYDAY: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy (New York: The Overlook Press, 2014).

Featured Image: CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (April 5, 2012) USS Constitution is moored to her pier at night in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors per year. (U.S. Navy photo by Sonar Technician (Submarine) 2nd Class Thomas Rooney/Released)

To Rule the (Air)Waves

By Tim McGeehan and Douglas Wahl

A new domain of conflict emerges as America transitions onto a wartime footing. Military, commercial, and private interests debate how to balance security, privacy, and utility for new technology that unleashes the free-flow of information. The President issues Executive Orders to seize and defend the associated critical infrastructure for exclusive government use for the duration of the conflict.

This is not the plot for a movie about a future cyber war, nor is it a forecast of headlines for late 2017; rather, the year was 1917 and the “new” technology was wireless telegraphy.

Long before anyone imagined WiFi, there was wireless telegraphy or simply “wireless.” This revolutionary technology ultimately changed the conduct of war at sea, making the story of its adoption and wartime employment timely and worthy of re-examination. While these events took place last century, they inform today’s discussion as the U.S. Navy grapples with similar issues regarding its growing cyber capabilities.

Wireless Unveiled

In 1896, Guglielmo Marconi filed the first patent for wireless telegraphy, redefining the limits of long range communication.1 Wireless quickly grew into a means of mass dissemination of information with applications across government, commerce, and recreation. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 provided a venue to demonstrate its wartime utility, when Japanese naval scouts used their wireless to report critical intelligence concerning the Russian Fleet as it sailed for Tsushima Strait. This information allowed the Japanese Fleet to prepare a crippling attack on the Russians and secure victory at sea.2 

People came to believe that wireless communication was not only invaluable, but invulnerable, as described in 1915 by Popular Mechanics: “interference with wireless messages… is practically impossible. Telegraph wires and [submarine] cables may be cut, but a wireless wave cannot be stopped.”3

Naval Implications

Command and Control

Wireless profoundly impacted command and control (C2) at sea. Traditionally, on-scene commanders exercised C2 over ships in company via visual signals; once over the horizon, units relied on commander’s intent. Wireless changed this paradigm. By enabling the long-distance flow of information, wireless allowed a distant commander to receive reports from and issue orders to deployed units in real time, increasing a commander’s situational awareness (SA) and extending their reach. A 1908 newspaper article even referred to the Royal Navy’s wireless antenna at the Admiralty building as the “Conning Tower of the British Empire,” and that the First Sea Lord, “as he sits in his chair at Whitehall,” can “survey the whole area of possible conflict and direct the movements of all the fleets with as much ease as if they were maneuvering beneath his office windows.”4

While wireless did improve communication, it did not achieve harmony between the Fleet and its headquarters. A second 1908 article appeared with a self-explanatory title: “Fleet Commanders Fear Armchair Control During War by Means of Wireless.”5 Much as today, officers considered increased connectivity a mixed blessing; they appreciated the information flow but feared interference with their ability to command.6

Vulnerabilities and Opportunities

While wireless increased SA, it introduced new vulnerabilities. The discipline of Signals Intelligence grew with the ability to intercept communications from adversary ships. While Marconi claimed to have a secure means of transmission, this was quickly disproven in the 1903 “Maskelyne Affair,” when a wireless competitor hijacked Marconi’s public demonstration and transmitted an obscene Morse code message that was received in front of Marconi’s audience.7  This “spoofing” foreshadowed similar episodes in World War I (WWI) where false messages were sent by adversary operators impersonating friendly ones.8

Militaries understood the vulnerabilities of wireless even before the outbreak of WWI. The day after declaring war on Germany, the British cut five German undersea telegraph cables. This action degraded the Germans’ long-distance communications capability and forced them to rely on less secure wireless transmissions, which were vulnerable to interception.9

While the “internals” (content) of these signals held strategic value by revealing an adversary’s plans and intentions, the “externals” (emission characteristics) held tactical value. With the advent of direction finding (DF) capabilities, friendly units could locate transmitting adversary platforms (to include a new menace, the submarine). When combined with known locations of friendly units (self-reported by wireless), these positions provided a near-real time common operating picture (COP).

Mitigations and Countermeasures

Ships could mitigate some vulnerability by maintaining radio silence to deny adversary DF capabilities. A complementary tactic was the adoption of Fleet broadcasts, with headquarters transmitting to all units on a fixed schedule (analogous to today’s Global Broadcast System).10 This “push” paradigm allowed ships to passively receive information, vice having to transmit requests for it (and risk disclosing their location to adversary DF).

In 1906, The Journal of Electricity, Power, and Gas described early countermeasures, specifically jamming techniques, where in “war games one Fleet has kept plying its wireless apparatus incessantly thereby blocking the signals of its opponents until it has passed clear.”11 It analyzed the ‘recent’ Russo-Japanese War, noting that while Russian ships sortied from Port Arthur, “the powerful station on shore began to grind out the Russian alphabet, thus paralyzing the weaker [wireless] outfits of the Japanese pickets.”12 It criticized the Russians for not continually transmitting on their wireless to interfere with the Japanese scouts reporting on their position in the run up to Tsushima Strait.13 In 1915, Popular Mechanics even described how to counter jamming, by “making frequent changes of wave length at known intervals,” a practice known today as “frequency hopping.”14

Wireless, WWI, and the U.S. Navy

On the day America entered WWI, President Wilson issued Executive Order (EO)-2585, which directed “radio stations within the jurisdiction of the United States as are required for Naval communications shall be taken over by the Government…and furthermore that all radio stations not necessary to the Government of the United States for Naval communications, may be closed.”15 The New York Times ran the headline “GOVERNMENT SEIZES WHOLE RADIO SYSTEM; Navy Takes Over All Wireless Plants It Needs and Closes All Others.”16 Weeks later EO-2605A went further and directed the removal “all radio apparatus” from stations not required by the Navy.17 In addition, EO-2604 titled “Censorship of Submarine Cables, Telegraph, and Telephone Lines” gave the Navy additional authority over all submarine cables and the Army authority over all telegraph and telephone lines.”18 Thereafter, the military controlled all means of telecommunication in the United States.

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Daniels had provided rationale for wireless seizure in 1916, when he explained that “control of the Fleet requires a complete and effective Naval radio system on our coasts” and instances of “mutual interference between the Government and commercial stations, ship, and shore, are increasing.”19 He saw no way to resolve the issue “except by the operation of all radio stations on the coast under one control” (the Navy).20

Class in session, at the Wireless School at the Washington Navy Yard, D.C. December 1904. Note schematic diagram on blackboard, and apparatus in use. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Officials prohibited foreign ships in U.S. ports from using their wireless, sealed their transmitters, and sometimes even removed their antennae. The government shut down amateur operators altogether. Two years earlier, The Journal of Electricity, Power, and Gas opined the “Government would have a tremendous task on its hands if an attempt should be made to dismantle all privately-owned stations, as more than 100,000 of them exist.”21 Nonetheless, that is exactly what happened.

Federal agents worked to track down and secure unauthorized wireless sets and their rogue operators. The Navy assigned operators at newly commissioned “listening-in stations” to monitor signals in specific frequency bands for their geographic area.22 When a suspicious signal was detected, multiple stations triangulated the transmitter and “Naval investigators would immediately [be dispatched to] reach the spot in fast automobiles.”23 The Electrical Experimenter featured a series about a “radio detective” who worked tirelessly to hunt down wireless operators. The detective described false alarms, but also the genuine discovery of hidden antennae disguised as clotheslines, tracing wires to buildings, and catching rogue operators and foreign agents.24

It is worthy to note that even after seizing control of the wireless enterprise, the government recognized the economic impact of wireless and therefore directed the Navy to continue passing commercial traffic. In 1917, SECNAV Daniels reported that the Navy made a profit providing this service and submitted $74,852.59 to the Treasury.25

Comparisons

The wireless actions of 1917 projected into cyber actions of 2017 would be analogous to the Navy seizing control of the Internet, passing traffic on behalf of commercial entities (for profit), censoring all email, and establishing domestic monitoring stations with deployable teams to round up hackers. The backlash would be epic.

However, rebranding the story with different terminology makes it palatable. In 1917, the Navy “seized control of the spectrum” by operating all wireless infrastructure as a “warfighting platform,” thus ensuring it was “available, defendable, and ready to deliver effects.” Censoring traffic and closing unnecessary stations (and private sets) was “reducing the attack surface.”  Navy listening stations “conducted tailored Signals Intelligence” to detect enemy activity. This language should all sound familiar to Navy cyber personnel today, as “Operate the Network as a Warfighting Platform,” “Deliver Warfighting Effects through Cyberspace,” and “Conduct Tailored Signals Intelligence” are all goals extracted from the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/TENTH Fleet (FCC/C10F) Strategic Plan.26 Like wireless, cyber capabilities are key to ensuring the flow of information, building a COP (associated FCC/C10F goal: “Create Shared Cyber Situational Awareness”), and enabling C2. While a crack team of Sailors might not jump into a “fast automobile” to hunt down an unauthorized Internet hotspot, the function is analogous to Cyber Protection Teams (CPTs) responding to intrusions on the DoD’s network.27 

While security partnerships between government and industry still exist, there are significant differences from 1917’s arrangements. The Navy could not seize control of the entire Internet as it did with all wireless capability in 1917. Wireless was in an “early adopter” phase and did not impact daily life and commerce to the extent of today’s Internet. Likewise, given the volume of email and internet traffic, censorship on the scale of 1917 is not feasible – even  if it was legal. Finally, while the Navy passing commercial traffic during WWI seems unusual now, the Navy actually had been routinely handling commercial traffic since 1912, when the Act to Regulate Radio Communication required that it “open Naval radio stations to the general public business” in places not fully served by commercial stations.28 That act effectively required the Navy to establish a commercial entity (complete with accounting) to oversee all duties of a commercial communication company; today this would essentially mean operating as an Internet Service Provider.29 In 1913, Department of the Navy General Order #10 opened all Naval ship communications to public business while in port; today’s Navy will most likely not turn its shipboard communications systems into public WiFi hotspots.30

Information Systems Technician 3rd Class John Erskine, Chief Information Systems Technician Jennifer Williams, Cryptologic Technician (Networks) 2nd Class Tyrone Fuller, and Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Amanda Kisner work together to assess the security of the computer networks aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo)

The wireless story is also a cautionary tale. Even after the war was over, the Government did not want to relinquish control of the airwaves. Among multiple Executive Branch witnesses, SECNAV Daniels testified to Congress that “radio communications stands apart because the air cannot be controlled and the safe thing is that only one concern should control and own it” (the Navy).31 The President voiced his support, spurring headlines like “Wilson Approves Making Wireless a Navy Monopoly.” However, industry applied political pressure and successfully lobbied to restore wireless to commercial and private use in 1919.32 

Takeaways

It is tempting to think that this story is about technology. However, the most important lessons are about people. The final goal in today’s FCC/C10F Strategic Plan is to “Establish and Mature Navy’s Cyber Mission Forces”; the Navy of 1917 had similar challenges developing a workforce to exploit a new domain. Some of their approaches are applicable today (indeed, the Navy is already pursuing some of them):

  • The Navy of 1917 leveraged outside experience by strategically partnering with industry and amateur organizations to recruit wireless operators. In 1915, with war looming, the Superintendent of the Naval Radio Service foresaw a dramatic increase in the requirement for radio operators. He contacted wireless companies to request that they steer their employees towards obligating themselves to Government service in the event of war – the companies enthusiastically complied. He also contacted the National Amateur Wireless Association, which shared its membership rosters. By 1916, it had chapters organized to support their local Naval Districts and helped form the Naval Communication Reserve the following year.33 Patriotic amateurs even petitioned Congress to allow them to operate as “a thousand pair of listening ears” to monitor wireless transmissions from Germany.34  Today the opposite of 1917 happens, where the Navy loses trained, experienced personnel to contractors and commercial enterprise. While the Navy creates its own cyber warriors, it should continue tapping into patriotic pools of outside talent. Deepening relationships with companies by expansion of programs like “Tours With Industry” could help attract, train, and retain cyber talent.
  • The Navy established a variety of demanding training courses for wireless operators. One of the Navy’s earliest courses had non-trivial prerequisites (candidates had to be “electricians by trade” or have similar experience), lasted five months, and was not an introductory but rather a “post-graduate” course.35 Later, a growing Fleet and requirements for trained radiomen necessitated multi-level training. The Navy established radio schools in each Naval District to provide preliminary training and screen candidates for additional service. In 1917, it established a training program at Harvard. These programs provided the Navy over 100 radio operators per week in 1917 and over 400 per week by 1918.36  Today’s Navy should continue expanding its portfolio of cyber training courses to more fully leverage academia’s facilities and expertise.
Recruiting Poster: “What the Navy is Doing: Live and Learn” Showing students in the Navy radio wireless school, at Great Lakes Illinois, circa 1919. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
  • During the war, the Navy looked past cultural differences (and indiscretions) when drawing personnel from non-traditional backgrounds. The “wireless detective” described rogue wireless operators as “being of a perverse turn of mind,”37 and “a reckless lot – at times criminally mischievous.”38 However, the Navy leveraged these tendencies and employed former amateurs “who were familiar with the various tricks anyone might resort to in order to keep their receiving station open” to hunt secret wireless apparatus.39 Today’s cyber talent pool may not look or act like traditional recruits; however, they possess skills, experience, and mindsets critical to innovation. The Navy should weigh traditionally disqualifying enlistment criteria against talent, capability, and insight into adversarial tactics.
  • The Navy of 1917 offered flexible career paths to recruit skilled operators. Membership in the Naval Communication Reserve only required citizenship, ability to send/receive ten words per minute, and passing a physical exam.40 New members received a retainer fee until they qualified as “regular Naval radio operators” when their salary increased. There was no active duty requirement (except during war) and a member could request a discharge at any time.41 Today’s Navy should continue expanding flexible career paths allowing skilled cyber professionals to enter and exit active duty laterally (vice entering at the bottom and advancing traditionally).

Conclusion

There are several parallels between the advent of “wireless” warfare last century and today’s cyber warfare. In modern warfare, cyber capabilities are potential game changers, but many questions remain unanswered on how to best recruit, employ, and integrate cyber warriors into naval operations. Like wireless in 1917, it is easy to become focused on the technical aspects of a new capability and new domain. However, to fully wield cyber capabilities, the Navy needs to focus on the people and not the technology.

Tim McGeehan is a U.S. Navy Officer currently serving in Washington.  

Douglas T. Wahl is the METOC Pillar Lead and a Systems Engineer at Science Applications International Corporation.

The ideas presented are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or Science Applications International Corporation.

References

[1] Tesla- Life and Legacy, 2004, http://www.pbs.org/tesla/ll/ll_whoradio.html

[2] Steel Ships at Tsushima – Five Amazing Facts About History’s First Modern Sea Battle, June 9, 2015, http://militaryhistorynow.com/2015/06/09/the-battleships-of-tsushima-five-amazing-facts-about-historys-first-modern-sea-battle/

[3]  G. F. Worts, Directing the War by Wireless, Popular Mechanics, May 1915, p. 650

[4] W. T. Stead, Wireless Wonders at the Admiralty, Dawson Daily News, September 13, 1908

[5] Fleet Commanders Fear Armchair Control During War by Means of Wireless, Boston Evening Transcript, May 2, 1908

[6] B. Scott, Restore the Culture of Command, USNI Proceedings, August 1915, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-08/restore-culture-command ; D.A. Picinich, Mission Command in the Information Age: Leadership Traits for the Operational Commander, Naval War College, May 2013, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a583531.pdf

[7] Lulz, Dot-dash-diss: The gentleman hacker’s 1903, New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228440-700-dot-dash-diss-the-gentleman-hackers-1903-lulz/

[8] H. J. B. Ward, Wireless Waves in the World’s War, The Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony, 1916, pp. 625-644, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1916war.htm

[9] Porthcurno, Cornwall: Cable Wars, May 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01wsdlh

[10] Navy’s Control of Radio a Big Factor in War, New York Herald, December 12, 1918,  http://earlyradiohistory.us/1918navy.htm

[11] H.C. Gearing, Naval Wireless Telegraphy on the Pacific Coast, Journal of Electricity, Power, and Gas, June 9, 1906, p. 309

[12] H.C. Gearing, Naval Wireless Telegraphy on the Pacific Coast, Journal of Electricity, Power, and Gas, June 9, 1906, p. 309

[13] H.C. Gearing, Naval Wireless Telegraphy on the Pacific Coast, Journal of Electricity, Power, and Gas, June 9, 1906, p. 309

[14] G. F. Worts, Directing the War by Wireless, Popular Mechanics, May 1915, p. 650

[15] Executive Order 2585, April 6, 1917,  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=75407

[16] Government Seizes Whole Radio System; Navy Takes Over All Wireless Plants It Needs and Closes All Others, The New York Times, April 8, 1917

[17] Executive Order 2605A, April 30, 1917, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=75415

[18] Executive Order 2604, April 28, 1917, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=75413

[19] 1916 Annual Reports of the Department of the Navy, pp. 27-30

[20] 1916 Annual Reports of the Department of the Navy, pp. 27-30

[21] G. F. Worts, Directing the War by Wireless, Popular Mechanics, May 1915, p. 650

[22] P.H. Boucheron, Guarding the Ether During the War, Radio Amateur News, September, 1919, pp. 104, 141, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1919spy.htm

[23] P.H. Boucheron, Guarding the Ether During the War, Radio Amateur News, September, 1919, pp. 104, 141, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1919spy.htm

[24] P.H. Boucheron, A War-Time Radio Detective, lectrical Experimenter, May, 1920, pages 55, 102-106, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1920spy.htm

[25] 1917 Annual Reports of the Navy Department, p. 45

[26] U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/TENTH Fleet Strategic Plan 2015-2020, http://www.navy.mil/strategic/FCC-C10F%20Strategic%20Plan%202015-2020.pdf

[27] P.H. Boucheron, Guarding the Ether During the War, Radio Amateur News, September, 1919, pp. 104, 141, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1919spy.htm

[28] An Act to Regulate Radio Communication, SIXTY-SECOND CONGRESS. Session II, Chapter 287, August 13, 1912, pp. 302-308, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/62nd-congress/session-2/c62s2ch287.pdf

[29] An Act to Regulate Radio Communication, SIXTY-SECOND CONGRESS. Session II, Chapter 287, August 13, 1912, pp. 302-308, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/62nd-congress/session-2/c62s2ch287.pdf

[30] 1914 Annual Reports of the Navy Department, p. 219

[31] P. Novotny, The Press in American Politics, 1787-2012, 2014, p. 82

[32] P. Novotny, The Press in American Politics, 1787-2012, 2014, p. 83

[33] L.S. Howeth, Operations  and  Organization  of  United  States  Naval  Radio  Service  During  Neutrality  Period, History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, 1963, pp. 227-235,  http://earlyradiohistory.us/1963hw19.htm

[34] P. Novotny, The Press in American Politics, 1787-2012, 2014, p. 79

[35] H.C. Gearing, The Electrical School, Navy Yard, Mare Island, Journal of Electricity, Power, and Gas, May 25, 1907, p. 395

[36] G. B. Todd, Early Radio Communications in the Twelfth Naval District, San Francisco, California, http://www.navy-radio.com/commsta/todd-sfo-01.pdf

[37] P.H. Boucheron, Guarding the Ether During the War, Radio Amateur News, September, 1919, pp. 104, 141, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1919spy.htm

[38] J. Keeley, 20,000 American “Watchdogs”, San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 1916, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1916wat.htm

[39] P.H. Boucheron, Guarding the Ether During the War, Radio Amateur News, September, 1919, pp. 104, 141, http://earlyradiohistory.us/1919spy.htm

[40] L.S. Howeth, Operations  and  Organization  of  United  States  Naval  Radio  Service  During  Neutrality  Period, History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, 1963, pp. 227-235,  http://earlyradiohistory.us/1963hw19.htm

[41] L.S. Howeth, Operations  and  Organization  of  United  States  Naval  Radio  Service  During  Neutrality  Period, History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, 1963, pp. 227-235,  http://earlyradiohistory.us/1963hw19.htm

Featured Image: Soviet tracking ship Kosmonavt Yuri Gagarin.