Category Archives: History

Naval and maritime history section.

The Decisive Fleet Engagement at the Battle of the Yalu River

By Aidan Clarke

When war broke out between Japan and China in 1894, few expected a Japanese victory. Qing China had undergone its period of self-strengthening and modernization for much longer than the Japanese Meiji modernization period, had invested more money in its naval  programs and platforms, and the Japanese Navy was supposedly outmatched both qualitatively and quantitatively. However, at the Battle off the Yalu River the Japanese defeated the Qing Northern Fleet in a decisive battle. So what went wrong in Qing self-strengthening? What left the Chinese so vastly unprepared for naval conflict?

Upon a close review of both primary and secondary sources, three key answers emerge. Firstly, the lack of a unified Chinese Navy under the Qing Empire proved fatal in the First Sino-Japanese War. Second, corruption and inefficiency in the institutions of the self-strengthening movement ensured poor commanders and a lack of equipment in the Beiyang Fleet. Finally, Japan’s unified command, professional officer corps, rigorous training, and use of French Jeune Ecole tactics won the day.

Naval Power and Combat in the Sino-Japanese War

Li Hongzhang, the Chinese scholar, diplomat, and military leader, remains a critical figure in understanding the self-strengthening movement in China. He led modernization efforts across the Qing Empire, setting an example through his own Huai Army and the Beiyang (Northern) Fleet. Regional armies and fleets like the Huai and Beiyang soon became the model on which the Qing Empire built its new armed forces in the wake of the Taiping Rebellion. This practice would prove to have fatal consequences during both the Sino-French and Sino-Japanese Wars as factional politics would override any sense of national duty in the Northern and Southern Qing Fleets.

On paper, the Qing Navy dwarfed that of the Japanese in 1894. The total size of the Chinese fleet at the time was “about 65 large ships and 43 torpedo boats.”1 By contrast the Japanese could boast just “32 warships and 23 torpedo boats.”2 These numbers bely the true strength of each fleet however, as “China’s navy still had a fourfold division in the Beiyang, Nanyang, Fujian, and Guangdong Fleets.”3 This division was foolhardy for several reasons. For one, it meant that the Chinese were never able to apply overwhelming force or superiority in numbers during battle. Despite the fact that the Beiyang Fleet was the largest of the regional fleets, and technically could match the size of the Japanese Navy, during the decisive Battle off the Yalu River, the Japanese had an 11 to 10 numerical advantage.4

The biggest problem the division created was that each fleet was regionally loyal and lacked loyalty to a central command or state. During the Sino-French War, the Qing Southern Fleet was annihilated by a French surprise attack. The Beiyang Fleet did little to help the Southern Fleet in this predicament, as “Li Hongzhang only sent two of the ships requested from his Beiyang fleet, and he withdrew these from the battle by asserting that the Japanese threat in Korea mandated their return north.”5 While this may have seemed a prudent maneuver at the time, allowing Li to protect two of his modern ships from senseless destruction, it cost him in the future. Just as the Beiyang Fleet had protected its own ships during the Sino-French war, in the Sino-Japanese war “the Nanyang officers now got their revenge on the Northern Fleet by keeping the Southern Fleet out of war with Japan for the most part.”6 

Factionalism went beyond simply Northern versus Southern Fleet rivalries, as it even existed within the fleets themselves. Regional factions seem to have particularly irked Ding Ruchang, Li Hongzhang’s commander-in-chief of the Beiyang Fleet, where “there were many officers from Fukien in the navy, Ting Ju-ch’an (Ding Ruchang), being a Huai-chun man and being placed above them, found that his actions were constantly being circumscribed.”7 This reflects the latent issues of the regional army system as it created centers of power aside from the Emperor or the state. This in turn meant that there was a lack of loyalty, discipline, and efficiency in the fleet, all flaws that were exposed in the Battle off the Yalu River.

Another major issue faced by the Beiyang Navy was the corruption rampant in the late Qing empire. This was a major disappointment, since to many observers, the institutions behind the Self-Strengthening movement were initially very successful. The Japanese only began producing large scale warships some 15 years after the Qing successfully did so at the Jiangnan Shipyard. Even then those ships produced in Japan could not compete with those produced at Jiangnan where “In terms of armaments, those manufactured at the Jiangnan Arsenal were by and large superior to Japan’s.”8 The Fuzhou Shipyard, located further south, was even bigger, and where Dr. Benjamin Elman even refers to it as “probably the leading industrial venture in late Qing.”9 However, this success was not to last. Chinese regional leaders were skeptical of Li Hongzhang and the naval board, and refused to pay anything more than the bare minimum required for the basic maintenance of the fleet. They were wary of the naval board because, “its ineffectual Manchu director, Prince Chu’un, and his successor, Prince Ch’ing were unable to administer its funds properly and could not prevent the Empress Dowager from diverting the funds for other purposes.”10 Another observer commented that “the Admiralty has had big sums paid to it yearly the last ten years and ought to have a balance of 36,000,000 taels, and lo! It has not a penny, having allowed the Empress Dowager to draw on it for the many whims she has been indulging in.”11

Worse still was the impact the corruption within the Qing government had on the commanders of the Beiyang fleet, particularly those in command at the Battle off the Yalu. Even before the war this appeared to be a common concern amongst observers of Asian naval affairs, with one newspaper article commenting that the commander-in-chief of the fleet, Admiral Ding Ruchang, was not adequately trained for his role, “Ting (Ding), whose knowledge of naval matters does not fit him to do any of the real work.”12 Another article states that when compared to Japanese officers, the officers of the Beiyang fleet “labored and still labors under disadvantages arising out of birth, habit, and system.”13 The Qing Empire’s insistence on maintaining Chinese essence while embracing Western characteristics meant that soldiers and sailors remained undervalued in society, while Confucian scholars with little experience in war or tactics found themselves in positions of leadership. These ideas are reflected in secondary sources as well, with one going so far as to say that “Li Huang-Chang had characteristically staffed it (the Beiyang fleet) with ‘needy relatives and greedy henchmen.’”14 While the aforementioned article does seem to take a Japanese viewpoint, the author is correct in noting that Admiral Ding had no experience as a naval commander regardless of his past as an excellent cavalry commander under Li. In the end, the author’s label of Ding as “gallant but incompetent” seems to be fair.15

The ordnance supply officer for the Beiyang Fleet was Li Hongzhang’s son-in-law, Chang P’ei-lun, who Professor Wiliam Lockwood refered to as a “champion swindler.”16 He describes the cost of Chang’s corruption, whose ordnance department regularly filled shells with sand, and “When the shooting began, the Chinese fleet found that its total supply of ammunition amounted to fourteen shells per gun. Two 7,000-ton ironclads had only three shells in all for their 10-inch guns.”17 Benjamin Elman also notes that the Chinese were “hampered by woeful shortages of ammunition” at the Battle off the Yalu and that “Some were filled through the black market with cement rather than explosives.” Elman argues that this “suggests serious corruption problems in Li Hongzhang’s supply command.”18 Not only did this corruption limit the Chinese fleet’s ability to fire its guns during the battle, but having a limited number of shells also prevents effective live-fire gunnery training.

Japanese cruiser Matsushima pictured in 1896. Matsushima served as flagship of the Japanese Union Fleet at the Battle of the Yalu River. (Wikimedia Commons)

This lack of practice was certainly reflected in the opening exchanges of the battle, as the Chinese opened fire first, “The Chinese Admiral opened fire at a range of 6,000 meters (about three and three-quarters miles), the shot on both sides falling short, the effective range being around 5,000 meters.”19 The primary armaments of the main Chinese battleships fired 197 rounds, and scored just 10 hits.20 When they did hit, they knocked the Japanese flagship out of the battle, but they simply did not hit often enough to have a decisive impact. Overall, the Chinese fleet “scored about 10 percent of her tries. The Japanese, on the other hand, with their quick-firers scored about 15 percent of their tries.”21 While the Japanese ratio does not at first look overwhelmingly favorable, the Japanese guns had three times the rate of fire of their Chinese opponents, meaning that they were more accurate even as they fired many more shots.22

In perhaps the most staggering display of outright corruption, at the commencement of hostilities between China and Japan, Elman tells of an observer who noted that Chinese ships had about half their crews, while the salaries for the crews were still being paid in full.23 These gross indiscretions helped doom the Beiyang fleet at the Battle off the Yalu River. Underequipped, undertrained, understaffed, and with the wrong men at the helm, the battle could only go one way.

What is staggering is that for every institutional shortcoming suffered by the Chinese, the Japanese could point to an institutional success. While the Qing were unable to coordinate or consolidate their forces under a single command, the Japanese fleet was always unified, and trained extensively together as a single fighting force. This goes a long way to explaining the contrast in the conduct of the two fleets during the battle. While the Chinese opened fire from the extreme range of 6,000 meters, a Japanese account holds that the Japanese fleet held its fire until it had closed the distance to just 3,000 meters. Furthermore, the Japanese carefully coordinated their fire, “All the big guns on the Japanese vessels were directed towards the upper decks of the Ting Yuen (Dingyuan) and the Chen Yuen (Zhenyuan), the rest of the Chinese ships being fired at with guns of smaller caliber.”24 This tactical decision showed remarkable forethought on the part of Japanese commanders who knew their lighter weaponry could not hope to penetrate the armor belt of the two Chinese battleships. Although it is likely these sources were carefully checked by the Japanese government (who provided the authors with sources and documents), this tactic is borne out as fact by the reports which indicate that Admiral Ting was injured in the early stages in the battle, as Japanese fire crashed into the bridge of his ship and took out the signals mast, leaving him unable to communicate with the rest of the fleet.

Battle map of the fleet combat action at the Yalu River, 1894. By J. Hart, based on sketch by Philo N. McGiffin, 1895. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Japanese remained steadfastly disciplined throughout the battle while chaos reigned in the Chinese formations. This is due to the fact that while the Chinese had neither the funds nor the supplies for extensive training the Japanese prepared for war by “incessant training at sea. Special importance was devoted to gunnery, torpedo work, and steaming efficiency.”25 Another major failing of the Chinese fleet was the reluctance to create a true naval academy and professional officer corps. The Japanese did not hesitate to do so, forming a naval school in 1866. The Japanese naval academy had existed for nearly thirty years by the time the Sino-Japanese War began. Using graduates from the school Japan had built a professional officer corps, and could count on well-trained commanders throughout the fleet.

Chinese officers on the other hand, could boast of no such training. While some, like Captain Deng Shichang of the Zhiyuan, (who was recognized for his heroic conduct during the battle) had spent time overseas evaluating foreign fleets, they constituted a small minority, negating their impact in the chaos of battle. The vast majority of Chinese officers were trained in the Fuzhou arsenal, and “some observers described the Fuzhou-trained officers as cowards.”26

Chinese battleship Ting Yuen which participated in the Battle of the Yalu River. (Wikimedia Commons)

Many naval scholars suggest the Chinese focused too heavily on building ships while neglecting the training of their sailors. “The material growth continued at a rate more impressive than that of the Japanese Navy, obscuring the fact that the Chinese were doing little right other than acquiring more warships.”27 In Power at Sea, Lisle Rose attacks the Chinese mindset more directly, “China had chosen to concentrate on material power, Japan on the intelligence of its men behind the guns and in the engine rooms.”28 Perhaps the Chinese determination to adopt Western technology but maintain a Chinese essence blinded their mindset in this instance. The Japanese had no such pretensions, and strove to learn as much as possible about French Jeune Ecole tactics. Designed to help smaller fleets confronting a numerically and technologically superior enemy, these tactics were perfect for the young Japanese Navy. The Battle off the Yalu should be viewed as a textbook example of the Jeune Ecole in use against a quantitatively superior fleet.

Conclusion

The picture which emerges after an examination of the two fleets on the day of the Battle off the Yalu River yields up a stark contrast. The Chinese had more ships, thicker armor, and bigger guns, but were led by corrupt and incompetent officers, faced a dire shortage of ammunition, and had no overall strategy or tactics. Against them was a far smaller Japanese navy, designed and built around a cutting edge strategy taught to them by French officers, with a professional officer corps and years of extensive training at sea under their belts.

During the period from 1850-1941 practically every naval officer and expert was writing about the “decisive battle” that would invariably occur on the high seas in the next great war, where one fleet’s massive battleships would meet the others, and the two would go toe to toe just as Nelson and Villeneuve had at Trafalgar. This “decisive battle” seldom occurred however, with opportunities missed at Jutland, Heligoland Bight, Doggers Bank, Leyte Gulf, and more. But this decisive meeting of capital ships did occur at the Battle of the Yalu River and the Battle of Tsushima. This makes the Battle of the Yalu River one of the most fascinating moments in naval history.

The question of why the Qing failed despite their extensive modernization efforts and why Japan was so much more successful has occupied the minds of many historians throughout the years. Perhaps we have an answer in the form of Chinese failure to consolidate their regional fleets, rampant corruption, poor training, and inadequate personnel. These deficiencies were all exposed by a superior Japanese Navy off the Yalu River in the final, decisive battle of the Sino-Japanese War.

Aidan Clarke is an undergraduate student at Furman University, double majoring in History and Politics and International Affairs, with an interest in naval affairs. He has previously researched the U.S.-Soviet naval showdown during the Yom Kippur War, and is currently conducting a research project on the Russo-Japanese War.

The author would like to thank Dr. Lane Harris of the Furman University History Department for his assistance on the research and writing of this paper.

References

1. Elman, Benjamin A. “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865-1895.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 283-326. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Herbert, Hilary A. “The Fight off the Yalu River.” The North American Review, vol. 159, no. 456, Nov. 1894, pp. 513-28. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

5. Elman, Benjamin A. “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865-1895.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 283-326. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

6. Ibid.

7. Spector, Stanley. Li Hung-Chang and the Huai Army. Washington UP, 1964.

8. Elman, Benjamin A. “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865-1895.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 283-326. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

9. Ibid.

10. Spector, Stanley. Li Hung-Chang and the Huai Army. Washington UP, 1964.

11. Ibid.

12. “THE SOUTHERN CRUISE OP THE PEIYANG SQUADRON.” The North – China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (1870-1941) [Shanghai], 6 June 1890. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

13.“THE PEIYANG SQUADRON.” The North – China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (1870-1941) [Shanghai], 29 June 1894. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

14. Lockwood, William W. “Japan’s Response to the West: The Contrast with China.” World Politics, vol. 9, no. 1, Oct. 1956, pp. 37-54. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Elman, Benjamin A. “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865-1895.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 283-326. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

19. “Summary of News: LATEST INTELLIGENCE HANDS OFF! RUSSIA IS FIRM LOCAL NEWS FROM HOME THE BATTLE OF PINGYANG THE NAVAL FIGHT AT THE YALOO THE MOOR APOLOGISES LOCAL NEWS FROM HOME TO REASSURE JAPAN BAD NEWS FROM ST. PETERSBURG THE MILITARY CONTRIBUTION OF THE STRAITS SETTLEMENTS THE JAPANESE AT HAIYUENTAO THREATENING NEWS THE NAVAL FIGHT OFF THE YALOO GREAT FIRE AT MANILA THE NAVAL FIGHT AT THE YALOO THE SAFETY OF THE TRANSPORTS THE NAVAL FIGHT AT THE YALOO.” The North – China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (1870-1941) [Shanghai], 28 Sept. 1894. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

20. Elman, Benjamin A. “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865-1895.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 283-326. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Eastlake, Frederick Warrington, and Yamada Yoshi-Aki. Heroic Japan: A History of the War between China and Japan. London, Sampson, Low, Marston, & Company, 1897.

25. Rose, Lisle A. The Age of Navalism, 1890-1918. Missouri UP, 2007. 3 vols.

26.  Elman, Benjamin A. “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865-1895.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 283-326. JSTOR. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.

27. Sondhaus, Lawrence. Naval Warfare, 1815-1914. E-book, New York, Routledge, 2000. Warfare and History.

28. Rose, Lisle A. The Age of Navalism, 1890-1918. Missouri UP, 2007. 3 vols.

Featured Image: The Battle of the Yalu River by Kobayashi Kiyoshi. (Wikimedia Commons)

The New York Naval Militia in Operation Sandy

By CDR Art McCormick (ret.)

Super Storm Sandy

On 26 October, 2012, as Super Storm Sandy, the largest tropical storm in area ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean roared up the eastern seaboard of the eastern seaboard of the United States Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York.1 Preparations included the 24-hour activation of the state’s emergency operation center (EOC) with major participating components, including the Division of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA), ready to respond. A Warning Order was issued by Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General (TAG), to all components of the DMNA which comprises the NY Army National Guard, the NY Air National Guard, the NY State Guard, and the NY Naval Militia (NYNM). A Warning Order for the Naval Militia had been issued by the NYNM Deputy Commander for Operations on 25 October 2012. Three days later Gov. Cuomo ordered the mobilization of NY Military Forces (NYMF). The mobilization included members of the Naval Militia.2

On the same day, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, with the consent of the Governor, authorized the appointment of a Dual Status Commander (DSC) for NY, thereby allowing a pre-certified National Guard officer to command both state and federal forces within the state.3 This command was executed at 1128 on 3 November, 2012. This was the first large-scale unplanned contingency utilizing a DSC since the concept was established in 2009.4

Establishing the NY Naval Militia

Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution authorizes states to establish militias which can be called forth by Congress “to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.” The states are reserved the right to appoint officers of their militias and authorize training “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Title 10 of the U.S. Code (USC) Sec.311, established by Congress, defines the organized militia as the National Guard and the Naval Militia.5 NY State Military Law Article 1, Sec. 6 “authorizes the Governor in event of invasion, disaster, insurrection, riot, breach of peace, or imminent danger thereof, to order all or part of the organized militia into active service.”6

Article 1 Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution also directs the Congress to “provide and maintain a navy.” In the late nineteenth century states began reestablishing Naval Militias, originally created and then disbanded in the early 19th century, to support the mandated federal Navy. In times of national emergencies states provided their naval militias for federal service. New York Governor David Hill signed a bill creating the NY Naval Militia on June 14, 1889.7 The 1st Battalion stood up two years later.8 The Naval Militia Act (NMA) of February 1914 put the State Naval Militias under the supervision of the Secretary of the Navy.9 This preceded the launching of the Naval Reserves by two years.10 With the establishment of the Navy Reserves, and later the Marine Reserves, federal support of naval militias ended and most states abolished their organizations.11

New York is unique in continuously maintaining its federally recognized Naval Militia. Title 10 USC does not include the Naval Militia as a reserve component but does authorize the Secretary of the Navy to set standards that the Naval Militia must meet, including the requirement that 95 percent of unit members be U.S. Navy (USN) or U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) reservists, to qualify for federal material support.12 NY State Military Law also requires 95 percent of Naval Militia members to be federal reservists13 and that the organization parallels that of the Navy and Marine Corps Reserves.14 Additionally, Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the NYNM and the USN (1996),15 the USMC (1996)16 and the U.S. Coast Guard (1997) have been signed, reaffirming continued cooperation while also permitting Coast Guard Reservists to join the NYNM.  Federal responsibilities supersede NYNM activation. A January, 2007 Defense Department report, Critical Homeland Infrastructure Protection, discusses the benefits “of the Federal Government providing immediate access to Navy and Marine reservists during State and Local emergencies, at no cost to the DoD.”17

History of NY Naval Militia Disaster Response

The NYNM can trace its disaster response history back to when it was mobilized to “protect steam ship passengers during the 1892 cholera quarantine at Fire Island.”18 120 years later the NYNM would again be at Fire Island performing Defense Support to Civilian Authorities (DSCA) missions. A more recent operation includes the TWA 800 recovery in 1996. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was the lead agency in the massive recovery operation with significant USN support. Over 30 NYNM members, mostly stevedores from the USN 6th Cargo Handling Battalion, along with Marines, were activated for three to four weeks to load, unload, and drive trucks. 

When the North Country Ice Storm of 1998 struck in January 15 NYNM members were on State Active Duty (SAD) for five weeks assisting primarily with logistics and supplying staff officers. Naval Militia Construction Battalion (SeaBees) members served under the NY National Guard 152nd Engineer Support Company and used National Guard heavy equipment.

The most significant NYNM state activation occurred immediately after the World Trade Center terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Naval Militia personnel were on site within hours and remained in Lower Manhattan for ten months. A total of 560 personnel were called to SAD. A decade later, nearly 200 NYNM members were mobilized when Hurricane Irene struck in August 2011. Non-disaster activations included assisting with maritime security for the 2004 Republican National Convention when NYNM SAD members served alongside National Guard Title 32 and Title 10 troops.

Joint Task Force Sandy       

As the NY community was still reeling from the ravaging effects of “Sandy,” a Nor’easter (named “Athena” by The Weather Channel) struck the NY metropolitan area on 8 November, delivering 7-13 inches of snow, a four-foot tide surge, high winds, and additional power outages. Although a relatively minor snow storm as far as Nor’easters are concerned, the timing could not have been more demoralizing with snow accumulations breaking records for this early date. At the peak of operations there were over 4000 military personnel under state control with the majority being on SAD, some under Title 32, which allows the governor to retain command and control (C2) while the federal government assumes the financial burden, and nearly 700 Federal Title 10 forces (federal active duty personnel under C2 of the Secretary of Defense/President of the U.S.). Brigadier General Mike Swezey, a pre-designated DSC, was the only individual in both Operation Sandy chains of command: one leading up to the president, who retained C2 of Title 10 forces, and down to the active duty troops serving within NY. The other lead up to the Governor of NY, who retained C2 of Title 32 and SAD troops, and down to the state forces responding.

Orders were accepted by over 200 NY Naval Militia members during the Operation Sandy response with 25 to 85 personnel on SAD at a time. Duration of activations ranged from 1 day to over 30 days from 29 October to 30 November, with the majority serving from five to nine days. Most of the NYNM members were integrated into the state’s military task forces whose missions included security, sheltering displace citizens, food and clothing distribution, and the evacuation of hospitals and nursing homes. Additionally, the NY Naval Militia Military Emergency Boat Service (MEBS) performed safety reconnaissance operations in Jamaica Bay to help identify maritime hazards along with security patrols around Fire Island at the request of local law enforcement agencies until emergency utilities could be restored and access roads made passable. Naval Militia members were also integrated into the DMNA Joint Task Forces Headquarters (JTFHQ) and the Operation Sandy Joint Operations Centers (JOC) respectively.

The NYNM warning order of 25 October 2012 directed the activation of the Personnel Action Team (PAT) to begin identifying and contacting members in preparation of expected activation. Liaison Officers were also advised to be ready to respond to anticipated mobilization execution order (EXORD). General NYNM activation directives require members recalled to DSCA SAD to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours if necessary. The EXORD was given on 28 October and the JTF Sandy Liason Officer (LNO) team reported the next day. A NYNM LNO would be present at the JTF Sandy JOC from 29 October until 19 November when liaison duties would be handled locally by the senior militiamen in the area of responsibility (AOR). NYNM LNOs would also be manning the JFHQs JOC in Latham, NY. Within a few days the JTF Sandy JOC would include representatives from the NY Army National Guard (NYARNG), the NY Air National Guard (NYANG), the exclusively state NY Guard (NYG) and the NYNM. In addition, representatives from the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), Army North, the National Guard Bureau, and the USS Wasp Amphibious Battle Group (ABG) would be occupying seats within the JOC. On 3 November, the USS Wasp (LHD-1), accompanied by the USS San Antonio (LPD-17) and the USS Carter Hall (LSD-50), arrived off the coast of New York and New Jersey with embarked Marines and Sailors from the 26th MEU along with detachments from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 366 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 467. They operated in support of Hurricane Sandy disaster relief efforts. Title 10 personnel from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines were among the responders:

  •  Air Force teams completed unwatering operations at Rockaway Wastewater Treatment facility, and East School in Long Beach, N.Y., and provided teams to support fire departments conducting unwatering operations in Breezy Point, N.Y.
  • Army divers repaired the pier system at Caven Point, N.J. Additionally, divers continue to assist the New York City Fire Department unwater the PATH tunnel at the World Trade Center and unwater the Long Beach High School and Recreation Center, N.Y.
  • Marines continued assessments with Army engineers in Far Rockaway, N.Y., and pumped 90,000 gallons of water from apartment buildings there. About 750,000 gallons were pumped from affected homes and parks in Breezy Point, N.Y.
  • Navy dive detachments continue to support the World Trade Center site and Marine Corps pump teams are assisting pumping operations at Breezy Point.

Helicopters from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were transporting and relocating generators in the area at the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Navy Seabees and Marine personnel restored the beach at Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook; and supporting debris clearance operations at locations in Bayonne, N.J. and the Battery, N.Y.19

Also, National Guardsmen from Florida, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia arrived in NY through Emergency Management Agreement Compacts. With such a diverse force responding to the disaster, the Governor, with input from the Adjutant General (TAG), and the Secretary of Defense  consented to the activation of a DSC to command Title 10, Title 32, and SAD forces within the state. The DSC was executed on 3 November and the NYNM was a part of this historic event.

Naval Militia members, after reporting to the Joint Reception Staging Onward Movement and Integration (JRSOI) site and being scanned into the system, were then put to work where needed according to their skillsets. Seven members arrived with air transportation provided by the 109AW and then proceeded with the Air Guard command down range to Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn which quickly became the main logistical point for supplies and equipment being used and distributed by the various responding agencies. The majority of the mobilized force was sent to the Lexington Avenue Armory where they were integrated into Task Force 69.

According to one Meritorious Commendation citation awarded during the period:

“The NY Naval Militia element of Task Force 69 was responsible for saving numerous lives at Belleview Hospital during Super-storm SANDY. On 30 October 2012, the NY Naval Militia contingent, part of the Task Force, completed a mission at Belleview Hospital to keep critical hospital functions operational. In conjunction with Officers of the New York Police Department, this element kept the hospital’s generators operating overnight. Utilizing a bucket-brigade and 5-gallon buckets they hauled 100 gallons of fuel per hour from a 1400 gallon fuel truck to generators on the 13th floor of the hospital. Additionally, Task Force 69 assisted hospital staff by keeping food and water supplied throughout the hospital. When it was determined that Bellevue Hospital should be evacuated, 4-5 man teams carried patients down multiple flights of stairs to awaiting ambulances.”20

Two young Marine NYNM members that were qualified Humvee drivers spent a month chauffeuring the TAG and DSC throughout the AOR. MEBS-qualified truck and trailer drivers along with boat teams were kept busy early in the operation ensuring the safety of the vessels and equipment from storm damage. Boats needed to be taken out of the water and brought to higher ground where feasible and if not, taken underway to safer anchorages. If not for the conscientious meritorious efforts of the MEBS teams significant damage would have resulted. This would have hampered the security patrols that were to follow.

On 5 November, a request from Suffolk County for maritime security patrols with local law enforcement officers off Fire Island was routed through the JFHQ. It was determined that the NYNM could accomplish this mission and two vessels, trucks, and trailers, along with 15 qualified boat personnel, were soon on their way. They would perform what was quickly labeled “Vampire Patrols” from 1600 until dawn for 14 days commencing on 8 November. Although the first patrol had to be cancelled due to dangerous seas, security patrols from Kismet to Davis Park were completed. This area was without electrical power and the roads were impassable due to the super storm making the homes vulnerable to looters and any remaining civilians without emergency assistance. These patrols greatly reduced the risks. Flexibility was key as fuel and anchorage had to be secured for the vessels along with berthing and messing facilities for the crews. Assistance from the local authorities, including the nearby U.S. Coast Guard station was critical to the mission’s success.

Immediately after the 11 September, 2001 attacks, JTF Empire Shield (JTFES) was stood up and has remained active since. Simultaneously, the NYNM MEBS command was established with resources committed to JTFES mission. At the time of Superstorm Sandy’s arrival, 2 MEBS vessels were assigned to Empire Shield. One vessel, with armed National Guard personnel onboard, assisted with security at the Indian Point nuclear power station just up the Hudson River from NYC. The other boat was utilized for safety and security checks of vessels entering NY Harbor with a U.S. Coast Guard inspection team embarked. This was done through a unique agreement between NY and the Coast Guard. When Sandy struck, both MEBS boats were taken off the Empire Shield mission and given over to JTF Sandy to be used by the DSC as needed. This allowed the boats to be available if conditions permitted while allowing them to be relocated to safer anchorage. Within a few days, when it was determined that sufficient MEBS resources could be mobilized for Operation Sandy, both boats were returned to Empire Shield to continue their normal missions.

The final mission assignment for members of the NYNM involved going door-to-door in the ravaged coastal areas of Rockaway, Brooklyn, and Staten Island to ascertain the well-being of citizens whose lives were devastated by this catastrophic event. This was accomplished through the Thanksgiving Holiday.

The Current Force    

As the federal maritime forces in NY have decreased, so has the NYNM membership. The recent Strength Report dated March 1, 2012, counts total enrollment at 2206, (compared to approximately 4500 on 9/11), with 209 officers, 22 warrants, and 1975 enlisted.21 The majority of members are selected reservists (SELRES) from the USN (1300), followed by USMC SELRES (655), and USCG SELRES (106). Retired reservists under 60 years of age on the Federal Component List (94) and 5-percenters on the State Active List (51) make up the rest of the force. NY State educational assistance entices recruitment.22 Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, all training was provided by the federal government through the reserve system.

A new Joint Operations Center (JOC) with direct communications with the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) was dedicated at DMNA Headquarters in 2008.23 The NYNM, along with the other components of the DMNA JTFHQ, mans a position at the JOC, continuing to stand the watch for not only New York, but all of America.

Arthur McCormick CDR (ret) NY Naval Militia is a US Navy veteran having served on active duty as a Radioman from 1966 to 1970 and then as a reserve Hospital Corpsman from 1987 to 1990. Shortly after 9/11/01 he was recalled to state active duty into the federally recognized NY Naval Militia in support of the World Trade Center disaster response. He served in lower Manhattan. He subsequently accepted a state commission in 2003. CDR McCormick served as Senior Joint Task Force 3 Liaison Officer on the staff of the Dual Status Commander for Hurricane Irene (DSC authorized but not activated) and Superstorm Sandy (DSC activated). CDR McCormick graduated from the US Naval War College with Joint Professional Military Education Phase 1 certification in 2008. CDR McCormick retired from the NY Naval Militia in 2016. On the civilian side Dr. McCormick is a retired veterinarian having graduated from the NY State College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University in 1979. He may be reached at artmccormick@hotmail.com.

References

[1] Governor Cuomo Declares State of Emergency in New York in Preparation for Potential impact of Hurricane Sandy. http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/10262012-sandystateofemergencecy  Oct 26, 2012.

[2] Governor Cuomo Directs New York Army and Air National Guard to Mobilize for Hurricane Sandy. http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/10282012nationalguardmobilized  Oct 12, 2012

[3] Panetta Appoints ‘Dual’ Commanders for Hurricane Relief. American Forces Press Service. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118366 Oct 28, 2012

[4] Hurricane Sandy Puts New National Guard Command Mechanism to Work. National Defense Industrial Association. http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2012/December/Pages/HurricaneSandyPutsNewNationalGuardCommandMechanismtoWork.aspx December 2012

[5] Title 10 Sec. 311 USC. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/10/311.html

[6] NYS Military Law Art 1 Sec 6. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/MIL/1/6

[7] NY Times. June 15, 1889. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=2&res=9404E3DE133AE033A25756C1A9609C94689FD7CF

[8] New York Naval Militia Turns 120 on June 23 2011. http://dmna.ny.gov/news/news.php?id=1308832192

[9] NYNM. http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/nynm/naval.php?id=about  

[10] TNR. MAR 2010. History of the Navy Reserves, p. 18. http://www.navyreserve.navy.mil/Publications/2010/TNRmar10.pdf

[11] National Archives. Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. 24.6.2 Records of the Division of Naval Militia Affairs. http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/024.html#24.6.2

[12] Title 10 Sec. 7854.  http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode10/usc_sec_10_00007854—-000-.html

[13] NYS Mil Law. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/MIL/2/43

[14] Ibid.

[15] Dept of Defense (DoD). http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=40825

[16] MARINE CORPS ORDER 5725R.7C ASSOCIATION OF MEMBERS OF THE SELECTED MARINE CORPS RESERVE (SMCR) WITH A STATE NAVAL MILITIA 7JUN96. http://www.marines.mil/news/publications/Documents/MCO%205725R.7C.pdf

[17] Defense Science Board Task Force, p19. http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/2007-01-Critical_Homeland_Infrastructure_Protection.pdf

[18] NYNM. http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/nynm/naval.php?id=about

[19] US DoD News. Pentagon Provides Sandy Response Update. Nov 9, 2012. http://www.defense.gov/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=118496

[20] Meritorious Commendation Award citation. EO1 Thomas Gray. For meritorious service during the period 29 October 2012 – 8 November 2012.

[21] NYNM HQ. Latham, NY 12MAR2012.

[22] NYNM Education.  http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/nynm/naval.php?id=education

[23] NYNG Media Advisory. http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/pressroom/presindx.php?id=1203072420

Featured Image: Crews from the Coast Guard Cutter Sturgeon Bay, Coast Guard Marine Safety and Security Team Boston, Coast Guard Station New York, the New Jersey State Police and the New York City Police Department escort the Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) New York as the ship sails into New York Harbor. The nearest patrol boat is  NYNM PB 300 escorting the USS New York (LPD-21) into NY harbor for it’s commissioning ceremony in November 2009.

Crimes of Command in the U.S. Navy – A Conversation with Michael Junge

By Christopher Nelson

Recently, Captain Michael Junge published an interesting book on why and under what circumstances the U.S. Navy relieves commanding officers. His book, Crimes of Command, begins in 1945 and proceeds through numerous historical case studies up to the modern era. I think many people – not only those in the surface warfare community – but commanders, leaders, and sailors in other communities will find our exchange interesting.

The book is worth your time – and it is a perennial topic that deserves attention.

Nelson: Would you briefly describe what the book is about and why you wanted to write it?

Junge: In short, it’s about why the Navy removes commanding officers from command – the incidents that lead to removal, the individuals removed, and what the Navy does about the incident and the individual. But instead of a look at just one or two contemporary cases, I went back to 1945 and looked across seven decades to see what was the same and what changed.

Nelson: In the book, when referring to the process of relieving commanding officers, you talk about words like “accountability,” “culpability,” and “responsibility.” These words, you say, matter when talking about why commanding officers are relieved. Why do they matter and how do they differ?

Junge: The common usage blends all three into one – accountability. We see this with the press reports on last summer’s collisions – the Navy’s actions are referred to as accountability actions.” Most people, I think, read that line as “punitive actions” mostly because that’s what they are. But accountability isn’t about punishment – it’s about being accountable, which is to give an accounting of what happened, to explain one’s actions and thoughts and decisions. The investigations themselves are an accountability action. The investigations are supposed to determine who was responsible for the problem, what happened, who was at fault, and then determine if within that responsibility and fault there is also culpability.

Culpability is about blame – accountability is not, even if we use it as such. In investigations, when you mix culpability, blame, and accountability together end up being about finding fault and levying punishment instead of finding out what happened. That keeps us from learning from the incident and preventing future occurrences. We’ve completely lost that last part over the past few decades if we even had it to begin with. Every collision I looked at, for example, had four or five things that were the same – over seven decades.

Nelson: Later in the book, you say that as virtues, honor, courage, and commitment are not enough. How should we reexamine those virtues? Isn’t this always the challenge – the challenge of the pithy motto vs. the substantive truth, that’s what I was getting at. And it’s not that there is some truth to the motto or slogan, but rarely are they sufficient alone – yes?

Junge: Honor, courage, and commitment make for a great slogan, but will only be inculcated in the force when our leaders routinely say them and live by them. I wrote a piece for USNI Proceedings in 2013 that commented on how naval leaders rarely used those words. That hasn’t changed. If they are used it’s in prepared text and often used as a cudgel. Leaders need to exemplify virtues – we learn from their example – and if they don’t use the words we don’t really know if they believe in them. But they are a great start, and they are ours – both Navy and Marine Corps.

What I meant in the book is that honor, courage, and commitment aren’t enough for an exploration of virtues in general. For the Navy, they are an acceptable starting point. For individual officers, or for the Naval profession, we need to think deeper and far more introspectively. My latest project is looking at the naval profession and a professional ethic. My personal belief is that we don’t need, or want, an ethical code. Or if we have one it needs to be like the Pirate Code – more as guidelines than rules. There’s science behind this which is beyond our scope here, but rules make for bad virtues and worse ethics. Rules tend to remove thought and press for compliance. At one level that’s great, but compliance tends to weed out initiative and combat leaders need initiative.

Nelson: So, after studying the historical data and specific events from 1945 to 2015, what did you conclude? Why are there more commanding officers relieved today than there were fifty years ago?

Junge: Even after all the research and the writing, this is a tough one for me to encapsulate. In my dissertation defense, I made a joke at the end that the reason we remove more officers now is complicated. And it is. Every removal is a little different from the others. That makes linking details difficult. But, when you lift back a little and take a really long view, I could find some trends. Not only do we remove more commanders today, we do it for more reasons, and we have almost completely ended any sort of recovery for officers removed from command.

Chart courtesy of the author.

Without giving too much away, because I do want people to read the actual book, today’s removals come down to a couple of things – press, damage (material or emotional) to the Navy, and the commander’s chain of command. If the chain of command relationship is poor, the press gets a story, and there is some level of damage to the Navy (metal bent, people hurt, or image tarnished) then the commander is likely to go. But it’s not a direct line. Sometimes the information comes out later – we saw this with USS Shiloh last year and in one of the cases I covered, the helicopter crash in USS William P Lawrence. Neither commander was removed from command, but both careers were halted after the investigations were done and the administrative side of the Navy took over. If those incidents happened in the 1950s or 1960s, both commanding officers would have unquestionably moved forward with their careers. Whether that would be good or bad depends entirely on what those officers might have done with the knowledge gained from the investigations that challenged their leadership and individual character but we won’t know anymore. Maybe we should.

Nelson: When you started this book and after looking at the data, did anything surprise you? Did you go in with particular opinions or develop a theory that the data disproved or clarified?

Junge: When I started this I was pretty sure there were differences. One of the reasons I pulled all the data together was because in 2004 the Navy Inspector General issued a report that said, in essence, that a one percent removal rate was normal. If one percent was normal in 2004, when we had fewer than 300 ships, then we should have heard something about removing COs when we had 1000, or 3000, ships. But, we didn’t. So that there was a change wasn’t surprising.

I started off thinking that Tailhook was a major inflection point. I intended a whole chapter on the incident and investigation. In the end, the data didn’t support it – the inflection had already happened and Tailhook, especially its aftermath, was indicative of the change. I’m not minimizing the impact Tailhook had on Navy culture – we are still dealing with echoes twenty-five years later – but for the trend of removing commanders, it wasn’t a watershed. Likewise, I thought the late 1960s to early 1970s might be an inflection point – we had a rough couple years with major collisions, attacks, fires, Vietnam – but the data showed it wasn’t the turning point I expected.

It wasn’t until I plotted the information out that I saw the inflection of the early 1980s. When I saw the changes in the graph I had to go back to the research to sort out why. It was both frustrating and encouraging. It showed me I wasn’t trying to force data to fit a pre-selected answer, but it also meant leaving a lot of research behind.

Nelson: You go into some detail in your book about court-martials. Historically, why does the navy rarely take commanding officers to court martial?

Junge: The simple reason is that the Navy has a difficult time proving criminal acts by commanding officers. It’s not a new problem. When officers are taught to think for themselves and have sets and reps thinking critically, then when on a jury they are likely to take the evidence and make their own minds up. And that conclusion may run counter to what Navy leadership wants. Getting courts-martial into that real true arbiter of guilt and innocence was a major win for the post-World War II military. But, since leaders can’t control courts-martial anymore we now see this major abuse of administrative investigations, which runs counter to our own regulations on how we are supposed to handle investigations of major incidents and accidents.

Nelson: In fact, you threw in an anecdote in your book about Nimitz issuing letters of reprimand to the jury members on Eliot Loughlin’s court-martial. This was fascinating. What happened in that case?

Junge: In April 1945, Lieutenant Commander Charles Elliot Loughlin sank a ship without visually identifying it. The ship turned out to be a protected aid transport with 2,000 civilians aboard. Nimitz removed Loughlin from command and ordered his court-martial. The court found Loughlin guilty but only sentenced him to Secretarial Letter of Admonition. Nimitz was reportedly furious and issued letters of reprimand to the members of the court. In just answering this question I realize I never dug deep into what happened to those members – I might need to do that.   

Anyway, that was a rare case of Nimitz being angry. And in retrospect, I wonder if he was angry, or if he was protecting the court from the CNO Admiral King. There’s a story I’ve been percolating on in how Nimitz and King had differing ideas of responsibility and culpability. King was a hardliner – King could be seen as the archetype for modern culpability and punishment. There were some exceptions but he was pretty binary – screw up, get relieved. Nimitz was the opposite. Halsey put Nimitz into multiple tough spots where Halsey probably should have been removed from command – but Nimitz knew Halsey and erred on the side of that knowledge rather than get caught up in an arbitrary standard. That’s why I think those letters were out of character. But I have to temper that with the very real knowledge that Loughlin committed a war crime, was pretty blasé about it, blamed others, very likely put American prisoners of war in more danger than they already were, and might have endangered the war termination effort. Those conclusions run counter to the modern mythology around Loughlin, but are in keeping with the actual historical record.

Nelson: And if I recall, there was an XO that chose court martial rather than NJP ten or so years ago after a sailor on the ship was killed during a small boat operation. The XO was exonerated and cleared from any wrongdoing by the jury. Fleet Forces ended up putting a statement out how he disagreed with the verdict.

Junge: USS San Antonio – LCDR Sean Kearns. Sean remains one of my heroes for forcing the system to do what it says it will do. I firmly believe that Admiral Harvey stepped well outside his professional role and made his persecution of Sean a personal matter when he issued some messages and letters after the acquittal. I know among many SWOs that Harvey’s actions after the verdict really altered their opinions of him. Sean’s case is also major reason I am in favor of the Navy ending the “vessel exception” which precludes anyone assigned to a sea-going command from refusing non-judicial punishment and demanding a court-martial. Too many Navy leaders abuse this option. I know of a story where an officer was flown from his homeport to Newport, RI for non-judicial punishment, and another where an officer was flown from Guam to Norfolk for NJP. There are more cases where officers were removed from command, but kept assigned to sea duty so that they could not refuse NJP. That this even happens completely belies the intent behind the vessel exception.  

Nelson: You also talk in some detail about Admiral Rickover and the culture he fostered and how that culture affected command. Overall, how did he affect command culture?

Junge: This was my biggest surprise. If you’d talked to me before I started and asked about Rickover I’d have easily said he had nothing to do with the changes. Wow –that was wrong. I’m not sure how I could ever think that someone who served almost 30 years as a flag officer, hand selected each and every nuclear-trained officer, and personally inspected each and every nuclear ship for decades didn’t influence Navy culture. Rickover ends up with the better part of a chapter in a story I didn’t think he was even part of. But, the culture we have today is, I think, not the one he intended. Maybe.

Rickover was, and remains, an individual who brings up conflicted memories and has a conflicted legacy. Like many controversial figures, the stories about him often eclipse the reality behind them. I’ll paraphrase a student who spoke of my colleague, Milan Vego, and his writings – you have to read about Rickover because if you just reject him completely, that’s wrong – and if you just accept him at face value, that’s wrong – you have to read and think and read some more, then come to your own conclusion. I can tell you that in the professional ethic piece I am working on, I expect Rickover’s legacy to play an important part.

Nelson: If I recall, I believe you self-published this book. How was that process? Would you recommend it for other writers? What did you learn when going through this process for publication?

Junge: The process, for me, was pretty simple. Getting to the process was very difficult. We know the adage of judging a book by its cover – well there’s also a stigma of judging a book by its publisher.

Actually getting a book published through an established publisher, the conventional process, takes well over a year and is full of norms and conventions that, from the outside, seem unusual. In the same way that we wonder “how did that movie get made?” when you go through the process of publishing, you start to wonder “how did that book get published?” I have a long time friend who is a two-time New York Times bestselling author who gave me some great advice on the conventional route. Just getting the basics can take up to an hour of discussion.

I tried the conventional route but after sending dozens of emails to book agents and getting only a few responses back, all negative, I checked with a shoremate who self-published his own fiction and decided to take that route partly out of impatience, frustration, and curiosity. I’m just good enough at all the skills you need to self-publish that it worked out to be pretty easy, with one exception – publicity. I’m not good at self-promotion so even asking friends to read the book and write reviews was a challenge.

Anyway, whether I recommend the self-publication process – it depends entirely on your own goals and desires. I wanted my book read – that was my core focus. To do that I could have just posted a PDF and moved on. But, I also wanted to make a few dollars in the process – and people who pay for a book are a little more likely to read it. This book grew out of my doctoral dissertation and I have a friend who is doing the same thing – but his goals were different. His core goals are different – he’s a full-on academic and needs the credibility of an academic publishing house for his curriculum vitae. We both defended around the same time – his book comes out sometime next year. I’m happy to spend more time talking about what I learned in the process, but the best advice I can give is for authors to figure out their objectives first. That is probably the most important thing. Everything else can fall into place after that.

Nelson: I ask this question in many of my interviews, particularly of naval officers – if you had ten minutes with the CNO, and if he hadn’t read your book, what would you tell him about Crimes of Command? What would you recommend he do to change the culture if change was necessary?

Junge: I really thought about punting on this one and running the note our Staff Judge Advocate has been running about Article 88 and Article 89 of the UCMJ (contemptuous words and disrespect toward senior commissioned officers). If I had ten minutes with CNO I doubt I would get 60 seconds of speaking time. My conclusions run completely counter to Navy lore about accountability and 10 minutes isn’t enough time to change anyone’s mind. But, as I thought about it I think I would say this: “CNO, we have really got to follow our own instructions. If an instruction says ‘do this’ then we need to do it, or change the instruction. We can’t have flag officers making personal decisions about this rule or that based on short-term ideas and feelings. If the situation doesn’t fit the rule, either follow the rule with pure intent or change the rule. But we can’t just ignore it. That’s an example that leads us, as a profession, down bad roads.” I would hope that question would then lead to a conversation of leadership by example that would include everything from Boards of Inquiry to travel claims to General Military Training.

Nelson: Sir, thanks for taking the time.

Michael Junge is an active duty Navy Captain with degrees from the United States Naval Academy, United States Naval War College, the George Washington University, and Salve Regina University.  He served afloat in USS MOOSBRUGGER (DD 980), USS UNDERWOOD (FFG 36), USS WASP (LHD 1), USS THE SULLIVANS (DDG 68) and was the 14th Commanding Officer of USS WHIDBEY ISLAND (LSD 41). Ashore he served with Navy Recruiting; Assault Craft Unit FOUR; Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources, Headquarters, Marine Corps; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communication Networks (N6); and with the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has written extensively with articles appearing in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, US Naval War College’s Luce.nt, and online at Information Dissemination, War on the Rocks, Defense One, and CIMSEC. The comments and opinions here are his own.

Christopher Nelson is an intelligence officer in the United States Navy.  He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC and is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, Rhode Island. The questions and views here are his own.

Featured Image:  (FORT BELVOIR, Va. (May 04, 2017) Hundreds of service members at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital gathered before daybreak and celebrated their unique service cultures and bonds as one of the only two joint military medical facilities in the U.S. during a spring formation and uniform transition ceremony May 4, 2017. (Department of Defense photos by Reese Brown)

British Amphibious Operations in Egypt, 1801: A JP 3-02 Perspective, Pt. 1

By Jason Lancaster

Introduction

“Amphibious Warfare requires the closest practicable cooperation by all the combatant services both in planning and execution, and a command organization which definitely assigns responsibility for major decisions throughout all stages of the operation.”– Admiral Henry K. Hewitt, USN1

By late 1800, the French Revolution was going poorly for the British. Britain’s economy was in distress, her allies had been driven from the war, Russia was shifting to support France, and neutral Baltic nations were arming to enforce their maritime rights and neutrality. Yet despite all this Britain fought on alone against France.

British armed forces were a tale of two branches. The Royal Navy had cleared the seas of French warships, blockaded the coasts of France, and was well respected. By way of contrast, the British Army had performed poorly ashore in northern Europe, had suffered catastrophic casualties while campaigning in the West Indies, and was universally derided by other European armies.2 Britain needed a military victory to solidify the government’s political position at home and abroad as well as to demonstrate the capability of the newly reformed British Army. The British amphibious operation in Egypt was what the nation needed.

Since July 1798, French forces had occupied Egypt. In August 1798, Nelson’s fleet obliterated the French fleet, cutting the French army off from France. After a year of campaigning in Egypt and Syria, Napoleon returned to France. Yet, the French army remained in Egypt, a permanent threat to British India. Britain needed a victory on land to secure room for negotiations at the expected peace conference.

The British joint campaign in Egypt has languished in relative obscurity, overshadowed by Admiral Nelson’s epic naval battle in 1798. When viewed through U.S. Joint Publication 3-02 Amphibious Operations, this campaign provides several lessons on the successful conduct of an amphibious operation.  

Despite the successful execution of the landing and British victory in the campaign, mistakes made by the national command authority, in intelligence, logistics, planning, and the relationship between the commanding general and admiral caused problems throughout the operation. Even though U.S. amphibious doctrine was developed and refined in the Second World War era and Joint Publication 3-02 is the evolution of those experiences, this essay argues that the principles of a successful amphibious campaign as defined by JP 3-02 are applicable regardless of time period and this historic case study can be analyzed through this doctrine.

Planning

“The planning phase normally denotes the period extending from the issuance of an initiating directive that triggers planning for a specific operation and ends with the embarkation of landing forces. However, planning is continuous throughout the operation.” – JP 3-02 3

British politicians agreed that they needed a victory, but where Britain should strike was a matter of debate. The Prime Minister and cabinet debated whether to support another royalist uprising in France, another landing in Holland, Egypt, or somewhere else.4 Surprisingly, despite Britain’s recent support of failed French royalist uprisings and landings in Holland both options were initially more popular than Egypt.

Secretary of State for War Sir Henry Dundas spent years improving Britain’s position in India, and did not want French interference to threaten his work. Secretary Dundas and Napoleon agreed Egypt was the key to India. The French Consul in Egypt stated 10,000 French troops could proceed down the Red Sea to India and take Bengal from the British in one campaign. In London, intelligence on French force levels in Egypt were scarce, but estimates were 13,000 French troops demoralized and crippled by the plague. Intelligence Reports stated the garrison of Alexandria numbered 3,000, and scattered through Upper Egypt and Syria were 10,000 more French troops. 5 In reality, the French army in Egypt was closer to 25,000 soldiers, and despite sacrifices and hardship, their morale was high.6 Britain planned to send an army of 15,000 to Egypt.7 Britain also planned to send an additional 3,000 troops from India, but there was little likelihood of coordination between the two forces, and a failed landing would have enabled the French to defeat both forces piecemeal. This faulty intelligence could have proved disastrous to the landing force. British diplomats in Constantinople also believed they had coordinated Ottoman logistical support for horses and gunboats.  

Secretary Dundas, turned to his fellow Scot, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, to lead the expedition and turn the tide of the war. General Abercromby was an experienced general who had successfully conducted several amphibious operations in the West Indies earlier in the war. At 65, he was an innovative soldier despite his age who mixed the best of the American light infantry and Prussian close order drill schools of British military thought. His protégé, another Scot, General Sir John Moore, pioneered British light infantry tactics, and had served with General Abercromby throughout the West Indian campaigns seizing sugar islands from the French. He served as a division commander throughout this campaign and represented the army’s interests in planning the ship-to-shore movements of the campaign.8

The naval leadership was no less capable and distinguished. Admiral George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, successfully negotiated with the mutineers at the Nore in 1798. He served as deputy Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean under Admiral Lord St Vincent before himself assuming the command in November 1799. Lord Keith experienced amphibious operations during the siege of Charleston in the American Revolution and in 1795, an expedition that captured the Dutch Cape Colony. Lord Keith’s deputy for planning the ship to shore movement was Captain Alexander Cochrane, uncle of Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane and a distinguished future admiral in his own right. He had served on the American station during the Revolutionary War and was commanding officer of HMS Ajax, a 74-gun ship of the line.

“The focus of the planning process is to link the employment of the amphibious force to the attainment of operational and strategic objectives.”9  Initially clear direction for operational and strategic objectives was not given. Campaigns in the Netherlands, France, and Egypt were proposed. Finally, Secretary Dundas tasked General Abercromby and Lord Keith to conduct a landing in Egypt. Secretary Dundas gave the commanders four objectives: eject French forces, restore Ottoman rule in Egypt, protect British interests in India, and secure a better negotiating position for a future peace conference. Secretary Dundas directed the joint force to attempt to seize the Spanish Fleet at anchor in Cadiz before proceeding to Marmorice Bay to receive promised logistical support from the Ottoman Empire and then to defeat the French forces in Egypt accomplish British objectives.

Operational planning for the expedition began when General Abercromby arrived in Gibraltar. According to JP 3-02, top down planning, unity of effort, and integrated planning are the key components of the planning phase. General Abercromby’s presence in the planning was keenly felt, however Lord Keith displayed little interest in the planning. General Abercromby spoke with naval officers who had served on the Egyptian coast. These conversations helped shape the campaign and narrow the landing sites to the Aboukir Peninsula or Rosetta. Aboukir would enable the British fleet to provide logistical support and the army’s flanks would be protected by water during the advance on Alexandria. A landing at Rosetta would enable the British army to link up with the Ottoman army and advance together toward the French.10  

Initial reports led General Abercromby to believe that his army would find potable water on the Aboukir Peninsula. Eventually, General Abercromby learned through captured letters that all water would have to come from the amphibious shipping. During a council of war aboard HMS Foudroyant naval officers familiar with the coast explained, “when anchored in Aboukir Bay, [the fleet] would be able to land a sufficient quantity of water and provisions for the army.” As the army advanced, “it would always be within a mile of [the coast], boats with water and provisions might attend.”11 If the fleet was destroyed in battle or forced off station by gales, “the army would die of thirst.” While the force was anchored in Marmorice Bay, General Moore was sent to Syria to speak with Captain Sir Sydney Smith RN, serving with the Ottoman forces fighting the French. General Moore assessed the Ottoman forces as disorganized, poorly trained, and disease-ridden. General Abercromby selected Aboukir for the landing site. The condition of the Ottoman army played a major role in that decision. Despite the water supply risk, Aboukir Peninsula was closer to Alexandria, and the waters of the bay and lake protected the army’s flanks from French cavalry.12

Embarkation

“The embarkation phase is the period during which the landing force with its equipment and supplies embark in assigned shipping.” – JP 3-02

Despite almost a decade of war, in 1801, the British army remained small. To create an expedition of 15,000 troops involved redeploying  from British deployments around Great Britain, Ireland, and Europe. Not all regiments in the British Army were designated for service outside Europe. Some regiments, particularly militia regiments, were able to volunteer for active service, but only in Europe. High casualty rates in the West Indies meant that few militia regiments volunteered to serve outside Europe. British troops embarked from Ireland and Britain, including units who would not participate in the campaign, but would relieve units in Gibraltar and Minorca that would participate in the campaign.13 The complex embarkation plan shuffled soldiers across Europe, resulted in some soldiers spending months cramped inside troopships waiting to get ashore.     

The expeditionary force also lacked cavalry mounts. British forces often deployed without horses and purchased them locally since horses take up a large amount of space aboard ships and there was a great difficulty keeping horses healthy for long voyages. The Ottoman Empire promised the British army an ample supply of horses. In reality, British diplomats and supply officers were unable to procure a sufficient number of quality mounts for the cavalry, artillery, and wagon train. The horses provided proved to be subpar, and the strongest horses were given to the artillery to pull cannons. The poor quality mounts meant that the French cavalry would outclass the British cavalry in Egypt.14

Rehearsal

“The rehearsal phase is the period during which the prospective operation is rehearsed to: test the adequacy of plans, timing of detailed operations, and combat readiness of participating forces; provide time for all echelons to become familiar with plans; and test all communications and information systems.” – JP 3-02

The British attempt to land a force to seize the Spanish Fleet at Cadiz was a fiasco. A large portion of that was because there had been no time for a rehearsal. Boats went to the wrong transport, it took hours for soldiers to embark the boats, and then they did not form up properly. The landing was called off and the following day a storm scattered the fleet, and the invasion of Cadiz was over. When the fleet arrived in Marmorice, they planned to spend just a few days to rendezvous with Ottoman naval forces and supplies before proceeding to Egypt. Instead, the expected logistical support from the Ottomans never materialized and the expedition spent almost two months waiting.15 General Abercromby used this time to good effect drilling his troops. This time enabled the force to learn and rehearse their ship-to-shore movement to great effect. For seven weeks, the troops practiced ship-to-shore movements, boats going to the right transport, soldiers embarking the boats, boats forming waves, and soldiers forming line of battle from the boats.

A detail of a plan of the Operations of the British Forces in Egypt from the landing in Aboukir Bay on th 8th of March to the Battle of Alexandria March 21st inclusive. (William Fadden, Geographer to His Majesty & to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales/Wikimedia Commons)

The boats were organized into three waves. The first wave comprised 58 flatboats. Each flatboat carried 50 soldiers. The second wave encompassed 81 cutters and the third wave comprised 37 launches. Artillery in boats followed in the fourth wave, the cannons would be disembarked and crewed by sailors.16  The troops practiced disembarking from ships into the landing craft and forming into line of battle on the beach. The soldiers were instructed to enter the flatboats as expeditiously as possible, sit down, and keep their muskets unloaded until formed into line on the beach. Officers’ servants were instructed to bear arms in the ranks and to carry no more than their own equipage.17 The boat crews practiced maintaining the assault boat spacing of 50 feet and the movement from ship-to-shore.18

Movement

“The movement phase is the period during which various elements of the amphibious force move from the points of embarkation or from a forward deployed position to the operational area.” – JP 3-02

The expedition’s movement phase consisted of three phases. Phase 1 consisted of the movement from Great Britain and Ireland to Gibraltar and Minorca where the forces were gathering. This phase included the failed attempt to seize the Spanish fleet at Cadiz.

Phase 2 consisted of the movement from Gibraltar and Minorca to Marmorice Bay. Following the Cadiz debacle, the expedition watered and victualed in Africa, and proceeded to Marmorice Bay, Turkey. During this phase a terrible storm scattered the fleet and several days were spent bringing the transports back to the fleet.19 After several weeks, the fleet arrived in Marmorice Bay, whose deep waters and high cliffs proved an excellent anchorage.

Phase 3 was the movement from Marmorice Bay to Egypt. The expedition encountered a storm that frightened the Turkish gunboats, which left the expedition. On 1 March, the expedition arrived off Alexandria – sailing in so close that the masts of the French ships in harbor were visible – and proceeded down the coast to Aboukir; however, weather conditions prevented the landings until the 8th of March.20 This alerted the French, gave General Menou eight days to concentrate troops and entrench them on Aboukir Peninsula. While French troops were rushed to the scene, including 2,000 soldiers to Aboukir Peninsula, there was confusion in the French army as Captain Moiret described, “various movements so numerous as to be impossible – as well as pointless.”21

Now that the expedition was off the coast, the Royal Engineers conducted a beach reconnaissance. Unfortunately, the good works of Majors Fletcher and Mackerras was to no avail. Major Fletcher was captured and Major Mackerras was killed by artillery during their reconnaissance. When the fleet arrived, General Abercromby undertook the reconnaissance himself.22 

LT Jason Lancaster is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He is currently the Weapons Officer aboard USS STOUT (DDG 55). He holds a Masters degree in History from the University of Tulsa. His views are his alone and do not represent the stance of any U.S. government department or agency.

References    

[1] Joint Publication 3-02: Amphibious Operations, 18 July 2014, pg II-1

[2] Michael Glover, Peninsular Preparations, (Cambridge, 1963),pg  3.

[3] Joint Publication 3-02 Amphibious Operations, (2014), I-7

[4] (Mackesy 2010, 5)

[5] John Fortescue, A History of the British Army Vol. IV, (MacMillan, 1915), pg 800.

[6] Joseph –Marie Moiret, Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition, 1798-1801, (Green Hill, 2001), pg 160.

[7] Piers Mackesy British Victory in Egypt, (TPP 2010), pg 13.

[8] Piers Mackesy British Victory in Egypt, (TPP 2010), pg 14.

[9] JP 3-02, pg III-2.

[10] John Moore, The Diary of Sir John Moore, (Arnold, 1904), pp 397-398.

[11] Moore, 397.

[12] Fortescue, pg 809.

[13] Fortescue pg 804.

[14] Mackesy, pg 100.

[15] James Lowry, Fiddlers and Whores, (Chatham, 2006), pg 59.

[16] John Creswell, Generals and Admirals, (Longman’s, 1952), pg 101

[17] Aeneas Anderson, Journal Of the Forces, ( Debrett, 1802), pg 201.

[18] Moore, pg 399.

[19] Lowry, pg 59.

[20] Lowry, pp 70-71.

[21] Moiret, pg 161.

[22] Anderson, pp 213-215.

Featured Image: British Troops Landing at Aboukir by Philip James de Loutherbourg (Wikimedia Commons)