CIMSEC’s officer elections are here! Please vote on the next round of volunteers who will continue advancing CIMSEC’s priorities of shaping the discourse on maritime security and building a community of engaged thinkers.
See the voting form and candidate bios below. Elections will close on Thursday, October 17.
Lieutenant Commander Jimmy Drennan is a surface warfare officer and has served as president of the Center for International Maritime Security since early 2019.
Lieutenant Michael Madrid graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2014 and joined the Surface Warfare community, serving his first tour on USS MUSTIN (DDG 89) homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. After two years across the Western Pacific, he served another tour in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF), with USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75) homeported in Rota, Spain. He currently works at the Office of Chief of Naval Personnel Support. He has served as CIMSEC’s Director of Membership since 2018.
Dmitry Filipoff graduated from the University of California, Merced in 2013 with a B.A. in Political Science. He has served as CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content since June 2015.
David van Dyk
David Van Dyk is an associate editor with the Center for International Maritime Security and a copy editor/page layout designer at The News & Advance, an award-winning newspaper in Central Virginia. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies and a Master of Arts in International Affairs. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the Helms School of Government at Liberty University studying foreign policy. He completed studies in international law at United Nations University for Peace and enjoys reading about naval warfare, maritime security and international criminal law.
Steph Umbert recently completed his Master of International Affairs (MIA) program at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) in New York, where he Concentrated in International Security Policy and Specialized in East Asian Studies and International Conflict Resolution. His graduate studies at SIPA built on academic foundations in Economics and Political Science, in which he holds a double major Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, and Legal Studies, in which he holds a Diploma, laid prior in DC and Florida where he studied at George Washington University, the University of Miami, and American Heritage School. He also has experience in legislative politics, track-two diplomacy, and political analysis gained on Capitol Hill and on Manhattan. From his earliest days he has held and pursued, among other things, an intense interest in history, including military history, and in the broad spectrum of military affairs, from the development of technological capabilities and doctrines to the deterioration of veteran relations and regimes. He is a native of Florida born to naturalized immigrant parents and he has traveled extensively across both the Western Hemisphere and Eurasia.
Lieutenant (j.g.) Mark Jbeily is currently in the naval aviation training pipeline in Kingsville, Texas. Prior to flight school, he graduated from the University of Texas and subsequently the University of Oxford with a masters in international relations. He has written for the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings and his article entitled “An Ace For All Seasons” won first prize in the 2017 Emerging and Disruptive Technologies essay contest.
Lieutenant Adam Humayun is a native of Madison, New Jersey, and graduated summa cum laude from The George Washington University with a B.A. in International Affairs (Conflict and Security Studies) in 2012. He commissioned in December 2013 from the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. Onboard USS SHILOH (CG 67). He has served as CF Division Officer and Turbines Officer, and onboard USS MUSTIN (DDG 89) as Fire Control Officer.
Diplomatic biographer Sir Harold Nicolson once wrote that the worst kind of diplomatists are zealots, lawyers, and missionaries; the best kind are humane skeptics. In his first years as secretary of state, John Foster Dulles seemed to fall clearly in the first category. He was a dyed-in-the-wool lawyer with Cold War missionary zeal. For him, Soviet aggressive moves toward the West invited “massive retaliation”; neutrals were “immoral”; and his policies and acts gave rise to a new term in diplomacy: “brinkmanship.” He was also associated in the minds of many Foreign Service officers with Senator McCarthy and his ilk, who pilloried the Foreign Service and hounded out of office several of our best China specialists whose only “crime” was the accuracy of their reports out of China during World War II, predicting the decline of the Chinese Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang and the rise of Mao’s Communists.
I came to see a rather different Dulles when I was his working-level action officer during the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1958. My involvement in China policy dates back to 1956, when I was assigned as regional planning adviser in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, which was then headed by Walter Robertson. Robertson was the quintessential Virginia gentleman, a banker by profession, who had powerful connections in the administration and Congress. His overriding interest in world affairs was to uphold the position of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek as president of all of China, even though the “Gimo” and his forces had fled the mainland in 1949 to take refuge on Taiwan, China’s island province. For several months in 1958, I had chaired a small working-level interagency task force (State, Defense, and CIA) established by the White House to examine U.S. capabilities to cope with two or more simultaneous military crises in various parts of the world. One of the task force scenarios related to a Chinese Communist (Chicom) aerial or artillery interdiction of the Quemoy island group, held by one-third of the Nationalist forces, though located just a few miles off the shore of mainland China.
When, in fact, an artillery interdiction was launched against the Quemoy and Matsu islands on August 23, 1958, I was able that same day to have on Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Parson’s desk our agreed task force recommendations on U.S. countermeasures. These recommendations called for a cautious escalation of U.S. naval and air support operations, as necessary, to protect Taiwan from a Communist takeover. Parson and Robertson approved the recommendations, which were forwarded to Dulles. However, Robertson commented to me, the United States would, of course, never make first use of nuclear weapons. I found this remark rather astonishing, coming from one of our leading hawks.
Dulles, flying down from his vacation retreat on Duck Island in the St. Lawrence River, immediately called a meeting in his office. He had read our recommendations, but his first concern was legal. What were U.S. defense obligations toward Quemoy and Matsu? What restrictions applied to the involvement of U.S. forces in their defense?
These small offshore islands were not included in the U.S.-Republic of China Mutual Defense Treaty’s definition of the treaty area, but a subsequent joint resolution of Congress in January 1955, at the time of the first Taiwan Straits crisis, had authorized the president to employ U.S. armed forces in the protection of not just Taiwan and the Pescadores but also “related positions and territories in that area.”
Dulles had no difficulty in making a legal case that the joint resolution covered the offshore islands in this crisis, since Peking, in attacking them, announced that its objective was Taiwan. The president and congressional leaders agreed. Establishing rules for the engagement of U.S. forces was more difficult. The Quemoy group was so close to mainland shore batteries that they could be blanketed with enemy shells, although there was no evidence of any impending Chicom landing operation against the islands. In fact, the shelling occurred immediately before the typhoon season, when amphibious operations would have been most precarious. It was fairly clear that Peking did not want to take the islands unless, in doing so, it brought down the government in Taiwan.
Peking’s evident intent was interdiction of the offshore islands: to prevent provisions, including food and ammunition, from reaching the defenders, thereby wearing them down to the point of surrender which in turn would precipitate a collapse of morale on Taiwan and a takeover from within by the Communists. The problem therefore came down to one of resupplying the embattled Quemoy group, a task that was beyond the capability of the Nationalist navy, which was not only poorly led at that time but had to contend with incessant bombardment, rough seas, and alleged 27-foot waves in landing supplies on the islands. Thus it was arranged that the U.S. Navy would escort Chinese resupply convoys to a point three miles offshore from Quemoy but would not enter Quemoy’s territorial waters. Nationalist vessels had to cover the last three miles on their own, loaded with supplies including shells for Quemoy’s howitzers.
Dulles, acting under President Eisenhower’s instructions, decided against U.S. air operations in the Taiwan Straits and reached agreement with Taipei that U.S. and Nationalist planes would not overfly mainland China, thereby ruling out air attacks on Chicom shore batteries. One important reason for this decision was that there was no way of silencing these batteries short of nuclear weapons or extensive air-drops of napalm bombs, actions President Eisenhower strongly opposed, as did Dulles. It was also increasingly apparent that Chicom air capability was being used with great restraint, there being no bombing of any Nationalist-held territories.
Our limited rules of engagement also reflected awareness of the lack of support in the United States for getting involved in a war over distant islands that “weren’t worth the life of a single American boy.” Nor did we have international support beyond that of the Republic of China on Taiwan, South Korea, and South Vietnam. Governments of key nations allied to the United States, such as Great Britain and Japan, were correctly restrained in their criticisms, but public opinion in these countries was highly averse to U.S. involvement.
Secretary Dulles accordingly was bent on finding some diplomatic course of action to bring the fighting to a halt. He set little store by what the periodic U.S.-People’s Republic of China ambassadorial-level talks in Warsaw could achieve on this issue, though he appreciated that public awareness of these talks forestalled criticisms that the United States was out of diplomatic contact with the Peking government on this and other issues.
Very early on the morning of September 7, I received a phone call from Dulles, who had evidently had a restless night. He suggested that it might be best for the United States to take the issue to the United Nations, since the General Assembly would be reconvening the following week. Dulles mentioned the possibility of having the British and French introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a UN-supervised cease-fire and neutralization of the offshore islands. I was strongly opposed to this suggestion, which both Peking and Taipei would reject out of hand. It would impose great strains on our relations with Taipei, which in turn might strengthen the case for Peking occupying China’s seat in the UN.
However, I said nothing about all this to Dulles over the phone but replied that he would have our bureau’s reactions as soon as possible. I immediately prepared a memorandum, approved by Jeff Parsons and signed by Robertson, pointing out the negative factors entailed in the secretary’s suggestion and alternatively recommending that we ask the British and French to introduce a UN resolution welcoming Washington’s and Peking’s discussions of this issue at Warsaw and urging that Peking and Taipei resolve this issue without further resort to force. Also included in Robertson’s memorandum was a suggestion that our side might at some point in the near future take unilateral and unannounced moves, such as shifting our regular Taiwan Straits patrols farther away from Chicom territorial waters, with the Nationalists suspending artillery fire from Quemoy, to see whether this invited any reciprocal moves from the Communist side.
However, before any of these strategies could be pursued, our attention focused on the immediate, urgent issue of Quemoy running out of supplies. The daily consumption of supplies by the 80,000 troops and 45,000 civilians on Quemoy was estimated at 700 tons and yet, since August 23, only 125 tons had been delivered. This appalling record was ascribed to all the usual reasons—bad weather, tidal conditions, heavy shelling—but it also occurred to some in Washington that Taipei was deliberately holding back, or providing us with false figures, in an effort to get the United States more involved in the islands’ defense.
Our Joint Chiefs of Staff could see no reason why, with the exercise of guts and ingenuity, the Nationalists, under existing rules of engagement, could not off-load up to 1,000 tons of supplies a day under favorable weather conditions. Admiral Burke recommended new ways of delivering supplies, including floating them ashore. Over the next two weeks there was some improvement in deliveries but not enough to prevent an alarming diminution of food and ammunition on the Quemoys. By September 28, Taipei reported that only a few days of supplies remained. Cables from the U.S. embassy in Taipei were full of dire warnings.
At this point Secretary Dulles decided to go to New York to take the issue to the UN along the lines he had suggested over the phone on September 7. However, the very day he left for New York, I received word from the CIA that a reliable report had just been received from Quemoy stating that its supply situation was nowhere near as desperate as we had been led to believe. There were several weeks of supplies on hand in the extensive network of tunnels on Quemoy.
Robertson asked me to deliver this information in person to Acting Secretary Christian Herter, who immediately called a meeting in his office. There it was decided that I should go to New York to bring these developments to the attention of Dulles, with a recommendation from Herter that the secretary might wish to postpone any UN initiative.
I was met in New York by UN Ambassador Philip Crowe, who took me early the following day to the secretary’s suite in the Waldorf. When Dulles heard our reports, he canceled scheduled meetings with the British and French ambassadors to the UN, returned to Washington, and called a meeting that evening at his house. There, Admiral Burke was very upbeat on prospects for resupplying the Quemoys, mentioning for the first time in my hearing the fact that two of the Navy’s huge landing ship docks (LSDs) were about to arrive in the Taiwan Straits. These could contain dozens of amphibious landing craft, manned by trained Nationalist crews, which would run up on the shores of Quemoy with supplies.
Meanwhile, spirits on Taiwan had been lifted by the deadly effectiveness of several Nationalist fighter aircraft on patrol, whose U.S.-provided Sidewinders downed five MIG-17s. It was against this background that Peking radio announced on October 6 that it was temporarily suspending its bombardment of the offshores, emphasizing that its action was taken to spare the lives of Chinese compatriots inhabiting those islands. Our side immediately reciprocated by suspending U.S. convoy activities and modifying our naval patrol routes in the Taiwan Straits.
The outlook remained unclear. When Dulles departed on October 20 for Taipei, via Italy and England, Peking announced the end of its cease-fire on the alleged grounds that one of our LSDs had intruded into the territorial waters of Quemoy. On October 25, following the issuance of a joint U.S.-ROC communique at the conclusion of Dulles’s visit to Taipei, Peking announced its intention to observe a cease-fire on the offshore islands on odd-numbered days. Taipei retaliated by firing on Chicom vessels from batteries on Quemoy.
This curious arrangement left each of the Chinese governments with the satisfaction that it was master of the situation, but we had no idea of how long this arrangement would continue. Thus, when Dulles returned from Taipei, his first concern was to preserve the relative calm, while doing everything he could to get the bulk of Chiang’s forces off the offshore islands. But we felt we had to be careful in handling this effort, lest sharp open differences between Washington and Taipei tempt Peking to renew bombardment.
I well recall Secretary Dulles’s comments on his return to Washington: “If nothing is done now, and then a year or so hence the Chicoms again attack the offshores, it will be extremely difficult for us to give the ROC any military support. Already we have had to strain our relations with Congress and foreign governments to the breaking point. Our experience with the offshores was agonizing enough in 1955. It is worse today. We can’t go through this a third time.”
Our efforts to effect a drastic reduction in the garrisons on the offshore islands never succeeded. Eventually, there was a reduction, but meanwhile we came to appreciate that the Chinese in their own particular way had found a solution by turning their hot war into an endless propaganda battle—of propaganda shells, blaring loud speakers, and balloon-delivered leaflets. Peking also issued a long series of “serious warnings” to the United States every time one of our naval patrols in the Taiwan Straits came within Chinese mainland territorial waters, as defined by Peking but not by Washington. The serious warnings had reached the thousand mark by the time President Nixon’s trip to China was announced. Thereafter the warnings ceased.
In retrospect, I have often wondered whether Moscow had any hand in Peking’s decision to halt the heavy bombardment of Quemoy. We know that almost all of the 580,000 shells fired on the islands were produced in the Soviet Union, and that the first signs of serious Moscow-Peking differences appeared soon after the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, about a year before the 1958 Taiwan Straits crisis. However, we assumed during that crisis that Peking had Moscow’s unqualified support. Moscow said nothing to suggest otherwise. In fact, Khrushchev warned on several occasions that any use of nuclear weapons would not go unanswered by the USSR. (Peking exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1964.)
Finally, a few comments about Secretary Dulles’s handling of the crisis. I was deeply impressed by his excellent working relations with President Eisenhower as well as with his associates in State, Defense, and CIA (headed by his brother, Allen). On several occasions, near the conclusion of meetings in his office, Dulles would pick up the secure phone and tell the president of our conclusions and solicit his comments or, where relevant, his approval. Dulles thus made it clear to all present that he was acting under Eisenhower’s orders. That, in turn, strengthened Dulles’s position with all his associates.
I was also impressed by the way Dulles took charge of the problem, making it his personal responsibility to work out a peaceful solution, losing many hours of sleep in the process. Yet he sought advice from his associates. I recall how Gerard Smith, at that time director of the Policy Planning Staff, used to argue almost instinctively against the emerging consensus of several of our meetings. Dulles seemed to welcome the ensuing debate, which helped to fine-hone the final decisions. John Foster Dulles may be remembered by history as one of our most zealous, hardline secretaries of state, especially in his dealings with Moscow and Peking, but, from my vantage point during the last year of his life, he appeared as a man of moderation and reason, an able practitioner of diplomacy as well as of law.
Marshall Green served as ambassador to Indonesia and Australia and as assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific. This account, based on diary and other personal material, commemorated the 30th anniversary of Secretary Dulles’s death in May 1959.
Featured Image: A Chinese propaganda poster depicting warships, warplanes, and guns, and referring to the metal needed for the war effort with a depiction of a vat of molten metal being poured onto the island of Taiwan, during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958. (Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Today the U.S. faces renewed global competition, and conventional and asymmetric naval threats. The future U.S. way of war must innovate beyond the Second World War strategy of out-producing adversaries, since the U.S. has fewer shipyards and its rivals may have greater industrial capacity. Luckily, U.S. history offers examples of the U.S. as both a dominant power as well as an underdog. The Confederate States Navy provides an excellent example of an under-industrialized innovative underdog struggling to defend itself against an industrial juggernaut.
Naval Asymmetries in the U.S. Civil War
During the “War Between the States,” also known as the American Civil War, the Union Navy held as close to permanent general sea control for the duration; but the Confederate Navy waged an effective campaign to deny sea control in the littorals of key port cities. Maritime strategist and theorist Julian Corbett divided the concept of sea control between local or general, temporary or permanent. Sea control means controlling the sea lines of communications (SLOCs) one side needs to maintain while fighting to deny that control to the adversary. One does not need to control the sea to deny it to an adversary. Sea control does not mean that the enemy will not be able to raid SLOCs, but rather those raids will not have a decisive impact on the war.1
The Confederate Navy is considered a failure by popular belief because the Southern fleet was unable to break the Union blockade. The navy designed by Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory was not built to break the blockade, but for “desperate and unequal battle to protect land against sea.”2 This battle began poorly. The Union Navy waltzed into Port Royal, South Carolina, steamed past the Confederate guns at Fort Hatteras, and took control of the North Carolina sounds. Both ports were defended by guns that were out-ranged by the Union Navy.
The Confederate Navy needed a new plan, and with limited resources only a few places could be adequately defended. Secretary Mallory and General Robert E. Lee compiled a list of priority ports. Union leaders of the Blockade Board did the same. Interestingly, both concurred that the key Southern ports were Norfolk-Richmond, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, and Galveston.
In order to defend these ports Secretary Mallory focused his limited resources on denying sea control by increasing the survivability of warships through iron armor and improved anti-access weapons such as accurate long-range artillery and mines. When established together, this Confederate three-pronged approach successfully defended key Confederate ports. The new Confederate Navy was built to deny sea control near key Confederate ports to enable blockade runners to continue to supply the South, so that the army could continue to resist ashore. Charleston, Wilmington, and Richmond were not conquered by naval invasion but rather fell to the Union army advancing from the rear or, like Mobile, required weakening the Union blockade of Charleston to mass the forces required to invade. This trident approach enabled the South to maintain local sea control in the vicinity of key ports to keep those ports open.3
The theory was that mines and narrow channels limited the maneuverability and fighting effectiveness of ships operating in littoral waters. Well-placed minefields forced ships within range of coastal defense artillery which increased the accuracy and damage of the Confederate Brooke rifles.4 Damaged vessels that got past the mines and coastal defense artillery would have to face the ironclads. This system successfully defended Charleston, Wilmington, and Richmond.
However, the Battle of Mobile Bay demonstrated the inherent weakness of the system. The bold and innovative Union commander Admiral Farragut was not deterred by the mines. He placed anchor chains along his ships’ sides as improvised armor and steamed past the forts with their heavy guns to swiftly attack the single heavily outnumbered ironclad. CSS Tennessee’s steering system was outside the protective armor. Once the steering chains had been shot away, Tennessee was unable to maneuver and was overwhelmed by superior numbers.5
From the beginning, it was clear that the South was at a distinct disadvantage in terms of shipbuilding. With little maritime tradition, few shipyards, and a meager industrial base she could not out-build the Union. Secretary Mallory knew ironclads were the answer. Before the Confederate capital had even moved to Richmond, Secretary Mallory was planning an ironclad navy. On April 26, 1861, Secretary Mallory wrote to the chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs:
“I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the first necessity… Inequality of numbers may be compensated by invulnerability; and thus not only does economy but naval success dictate the wisdom and expediency of fighting with iron against wood, without regard to first cost.”6
In Norfolk, Lieutenant John M. Brooke and Chief Naval Constructor John Porter cooperated on a design for a casemate ironclad built on the hull of the frigate Merrimack. With modifications, the basic design became the standard for Confederate ironclads. Richmond and Charleston each completed three ironclads, along the rivers of North Carolina, four were completed, and Savannah and Mobile each completed one. More ironclads were under construction along the Mississippi and other cities. But construction was hampered by material shortages and transportation issues. Throughout the war, 50 ironclads were laid down and 22 of them were commissioned.
However, most Confederate ironclads had maneuverability issues resulting from under-powered engines and deep drafts. Engineering plants were under-powered because the South lacked the capability and expertise to build new plants and used whatever old systems could be salvaged.7
Congressional appropriations and civic societies, including women’s ironclad societies, raised money in major cities to support construction of ironclads like CSS Chicora and Palmetto State in Charleston. Both congress and the citizenry had an expectation that the ironclads would go to sea and break the blockade. Congressional pressure often forced untimely offensives that resulted in disaster. For example, CSS Atlanta was captured by Union forces after she sortied from Savannah in an ill-advised attempt to break the blockade of Savannah against the recommendation of her captain. She ran aground at low tide in the river and was forced to capitulate.
In Charleston, Chicora and Palmetto State conducted a sortie to attack the inshore blockading squadron. They damaged USS Mercidta and USS Keystone State. The Union blockading fleet abandoned the inshore blockade for several weeks until it became clear the two ironclads would not continue patrolling offshore.8
In North Carolina, the Albemarle sailed into the sound and sank the Miami and Southfield, and took part in the liberation of the cities of Plymouth and Washington. She was supposed to rendezvous with the Neuse to support the Confederate Army’s attack on New Bern, but was delayed. The Albemarle struck such fear into the Union fleet that they abandoned the North Carolina sounds. Albemarle was eventually sunk by Union Lieutenant William Cushing in a daring raid up the Roanoke River. Lieutenant Cushing used a steam launch equipped with a spar torpedo to destroy the ironclad.9
Richmond demonstrated the effectiveness of the fleet-in–being, behind obstructions, mines, and powerful artillery. The large Union fleet could not force the obstructions. In January 1865, Secretary Mallory wrote to Captain John Mitchell, commander of the James River Squadron, “If we can block the river at or below City Point, Grant might be compelled to evacuate his position.”10 On January 23-24, 1865, the Confederate fleet sortied, while Union ironclads of the James River Squadron were hundreds of miles away attacking Wilmington. This attack was defeated by the shallow depth of the James River and the Confederate commander’s caution. After a series of groundings, the Confederate fleet returned to its defenses. General Grant understood how close the Confederate Navy had come to raising the siege of Petersburg. If a Confederate ironclad got to City Point, it could destroy the Union supply ships that supported the Union Army besieging Petersburg. Despite frantic telegraphs, the Union James River Squadron did not steam to support the Union batteries. General Grant was lucky that Captain Mitchell had been spooked by the groundings and worried about the impacts of losing his fleet on the defense of Richmond.11
Coastal Defense Artillery
The War Between the States is often used as a demonstration that the adage, “a ship’s a fool to fight a fort” was dead. It was assumed that advances in naval artillery meant that the ship would always win. If one examined the first few disasters of the war, this might be the case. Bold Union attacks in Hatteras, North Carolina, Port Royal, South Carolina, and Galveston, Texas showed the weakness of Confederate artillery early in the war. The Confederacy needed heavy guns. In addition to his work on the Virginia, Lieutenant John M. Brooke also developed a new artillery piece, the 6.4 inch Brooke Rifled Gun, which was outfitted on the Virginia for its contest with Monitor. The Union Parrot Rifled Gun had a single reinforcing iron band around the breech, but the Brooke Rifle had multiple reinforcing iron bands increasing the strength of the gun and enabling it to use more powder to give projectiles greater range.12 The 7 inch Brooke Rifle’s maximum-range of 7,900 yards easily out-sticked the range of Union Parrot Rifles and Dahlgren guns.13 In addition to developing this new gun, Lieutenant Brooke also developed new bolts to fire from the guns. On 26 October 1862, he wrote in his journal that one of these new bolts pierced three two-inch plates and cracked the wood backing.14 These new guns would play a decisive role in preventing the Union Navy from repeating the easy victories of 1862.
While Lieutenant Brooke developed the Brooke Rifle, Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones was tasked with the manufacturing. In Selma, Alabama, the Confederate Navy created a foundry to turn out these guns. Through their resourcefulness, a successful, efficient foundry was created from nothing. Throughout the war, over 70 Brooke Rifles were cast in Selma and an almost equal number cast at Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond. These guns were vital to Secretary Mallory’s layered defense of Southern ports and armed both the forts and ironclads.
Norfolk was captured after Union troops landed near modern day Chix Beach far from Confederate defenses. Local Confederate leadership panicked as Union troops advanced on Norfolk. Unable to evacuate CSS Virginia, the Confederate Navy blew her up to prevent capture.
The road to Richmond seemed open. In May 1862, the Union Navy attempted to steam up the James River to capture the city. The Union force had two non-ironclad ships and three ironclads: USS Monitor, USS Naugatuck, and USS Galena. They were surprised by the Brooke Rifles at Drewry’s Bluff that caused massive damage to Galena and Monitor. Galena was hit over 45 times and was badly damaged, including suffering 25 casualties. The guns at Drewry’s Bluff bought time for the Confederate Navy to obstruct the river with mines and ironclads. The James River defenses would not be challenged again until 1865.15
In March 1863, Union Admiral Farragut attempted to run up river past the guns of Port Hudson on the Mississippi with his fleet of seven non-ironclad ships. Restricted room to maneuver, the strong current, and heavy Confederate shore-based gunfire caused havoc in the Union fleet. Only two of Admiral Farragut’s ships succeeded in passing the batteries. Every ship ran aground at some point in the engagement. Admiral Farragut’s ships were lashed together in pairs to minimize the risk of ships being disabled by gunfire and left to their own devices. USS Hartford and USS Albatross led the fleet upriver and were the only two ships to reach their objective. The second pair ran aground, and the shock of the grounding broke them loose of each other, damaging their engines and causing them to drift down river. Shot from the batteries damaged the boilers on USS Richmond, while her partner, USS Genesee, couldn’t make headway against the current and drifted down river. The lone ship in the rear, USS Mississippi caught fire after being hit with heated shot that exploded when the fire reached her magazines.16 In April 1863, Admiral DuPont attempted to force his way past the forts and batteries of Charleston with a fleet of ironclads. After several hours of bombardment, he failed. His force sustained massive damage. Three ironclads were put out of action for weeks, and one, USS Keokuk, sank from damage sustained during the fight.17
These guns not only heavily damaged ships that tried to force the passage, but their large range kept the blockading ships at bay, increasing the ability of blockade runners to enter the port. Wilmington’s geography provides an excellent example of the impact of heavy guns. Fort Fisher was constructed of sand at the tip of Cape Fear, protecting the two inlets into the Cape Fear River. Because of the distance between the two inlets, the Union Navy had to blockade both entrances which required more ships. The heavy guns of Fort Fisher included a 150 pound Armstrong gun, Blakely and Brooke rifles, eight and ten-inch Columbiads, and several 32 pounders. The 150 pound Armstrong gun and Brooke Rifles out-ranged the weapons of the blockading fleet by over a mile, forcing the ships farther offshore and increasing the number of successful blockade runners.18
Admiral Farragut’s famous quip to, “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” may be considered rash. He lost one of his ironclads, USS Tecumseh to Confederate mines (which were known as torpedoes at the time) at Mobile. If the mines had not become waterlogged, he might have lost more ships. Throughout the war, Confederate mines sank 29 Union ships and damaged 14 more.19
Mines struck fear into the hearts of Union sailors and impacted operations for commanders less daring than Admiral Farragut. Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury and Brigadier General Gabriel Rains led the Navy and Army torpedo research and production teams. Commander Maury’s experiences as a scientist and with electricity and transatlantic telegraph cable led to the development of the electrically detonated underwater mine. General Rains’ experience came from creating landmines and explosive booby traps during the Seminole Wars. While mines were a success, they were not perfect. Confederate manufacturing and new technology meant many became waterlogged duds and did not detonate, saving many more Union ships from a watery grave.
Mines were a controversial weapon in the 1860s; many thought mines lacked chivalry. Admiral Farragut said, “Torpedoes are not so agreeable when used by both sides; therefore, I have reluctantly brought myself to it. I have always deemed it unworthy of a chivalrous nation, but it does not do to give your enemy such a decided superiority over you.” Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph thought they should be used as a means to defend rivers and ports, but not just to kill the enemy. The Confederate Navy created offensive mines called the spar torpedo, a mine attached to a pole controlled from a ship.
The CSS Hunley, one of the world’s first submarines, and the first to sink an enemy vessel in combat, sank the USS Houstonatonic on blockade duty off Charleston in 1864. In addition to submarines, the Confederates developed the David-class torpedo launch. They were not true submarines, but their low profile made them challenging to spot at night. Throughout 1863, CSS David conducted attacks on USS New Ironsides, Wabash, and Memphis. The submarines and torpedo launches forced the Union blockade to remain farther offshore from Charleston to minimize the risk of submerged torpedo attack.
Mines were effective by striking fear into the hearts of sailors and shaping the battlespace through deterrence. The presence of mines often persuaded Union admirals to not attack, earning effective sea denial for the Confederacy. Admiral Farragut’s famous line stands out because most admirals did not go full speed ahead – they stopped and sent boats to sweep for mines first or simply remained offshore.
Secretary Mallory’s Navy succeeded in its desperate struggle to defend land against sea. The Confederate trident approach succeeded at denying the Union Navy local sea control in the vicinity of key port cities and forced ships to often remain farther from the coast. The Confederate layered defenses enabled Confederate ports to remain open until the final collapse of the Confederacy.
Despite an ever tightening blockade, the port of Wilmington blockade runners brought 3.5 million pounds of meat, 1.5 million pounds of lead, 2 million pounds of saltpeter, 500,000 pairs of shoes, 300,000 blankets, 50,000 rifles, and 43 cannon from Europe in the latter half of 1864. The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee received new uniforms and equipment that enabled them to continue the struggle. Fort Fisher, the gateway to Wilmington, was captured in January 1865 after two amphibious landings. The Army of Northern Virginia capitulated four months later.20
Today, the U.S. Navy is the largest in the world. However, it finds itself in another technological revolution similar to the rise of the ironclad. While it has the ships and assumes it has permanent sea control, rivals have heavily invested in the spiritual successor to the Brookes Rifle, the anti-ship cruise missile.
The U.S. Navy must learn from the Confederate example and create its own trident of technologies and tactics to out-compete rival advances. The U.S. Navy should rapidly construct new long range anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) that out-range opponents, improve and revive mine-warfare forces, and think hard about what evolution flows from the modern range and defense of the aircraft carrier. In addition, these advances should be shared with allies, such as Japan and the Philippines, who could utilize new American-developed sea mines and ASCMs to deny an adversary sea control near their littorals. Mobile long-range ASCM batteries on the islands of Luzon and Palawan could close the entire South China Sea to an adversary, much like Russian coastal defense cruise missile sites in Crimea can contest much of the Black Sea.
Great power rivals understand that a fleet-on-fleet engagement against the U.S. Navy is incredibly risky and have developed alternatives, just like the Confederate Navy developed alternatives to a fleet-on-fleet engagement with the Union. Now it is the U.S. Navy’s turn to learn from history, and develop its own counter-punch to ensure it maintains permanent sea control and open sea lines of communication.
LCDR JasonLancaster is an alumnus of Mary Washington College and has an MA from the University of Tulsa. He is currently serving as the N8 Tactical Development Officer at Commander, Destroyer Squadron 26. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.
1. Corbett, Julian, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, pp 125-127.
2. Luraghi, Raimondo, A History of the Confederate Navy, pg 4.
3. Simson, Jay, Naval Strategies of the Civil War, pp 129-131.
4. Ibid. pg 131.
5. Still, William N. Jr, Iron Afloat: The Story of the Confederate Armorclads, pg 210.
6. Ibid, pg 10.
7. Sims, pp 227-228.
8. Browning, Robert M. Jr, Success is all that was expected: The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War, pp 137-140.
9. Still, pp 212-213.
10. Coski, John M., Capital Navy, The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron, pg 196.
11.Ibid, pp 202-205.
12. Brooke, George, Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy, pg 127.
13. Drury, Ian and Gibbons, Tony, The Civil War Military Machine, pp 77-80.
14. Brooke, pg 115.
15. Coski, pg 46.
16. Page, Dave, Ships Versus Shore: Civil War Engagements along Southern Shores and Rivers, pp 316-319.
By Captain James L. McClane, U.S. Navy (ret.) and Captain Kevin Eyer, U.S. Navy (ret.)
It is entirely possible that the enormous superstructure of the Navy is actually working against maintaining an effective Fleet. We seem to be mired in a time in which counterproductive institutional incentives and dynamics have developed naturally in the absence of an existential threat to focus our efforts, such as a great power competitor. One of these unhelpful dynamics has been the explosion in the numbers of flag officers.
A cursory examination of the historical record makes clear that the number of flag officers serving in the United States Navy operates independently from either the number of ships in service or the number of personnel in uniform. Today, the number of flag officers seems to be more a political concoction or of runaway administrative outgrowth, but has little to do with the sea or the ability to sustain combat operations on it.
In the U.S. Navy, with the exception of the Civil War, there were no flag officers from the American Revolution until the Spanish American War. There were ceremonial commodores when operational protocol called for them, but otherwise no flags. However, the record from the Naval Historical Center beginning with the Spanish American War going to the modern naval era is instructive:
Ships in Service
1899 (Spanish American War)
The line was crossed in 1997, at which point the number of flag officers equaled the number of active ships. Today, there is about 32 times the number of flag officers per active ship as there were during WWII, when captains were entrusted to run the Navy with paper, pencil, dial telephones, voice radio, flag hoists, flashing lights, and seamanship. Using personnel figures reveals the flag-to-Sailor ratio increased by a factor of 100 times. What caused these drastic increases?
Explanations and Justifications
There are explanations for this growth. First, there is an institutional “law” which affects the matter. In 1955, the Royal Commission on the Civil Service published a report which explained how the previously inexplicable growth noted across the British bureaucracy was inevitable. The report was based upon what soon became known as “Parkinson’s Law.” According to The Economist, Nov 19, 1955: “The fact is that the number of the (senior) officials and the quantity of the work to be done are not related to each other at all. The rise in the total of those employed is governed by Parkinson’s Law, and would be much the same whether the volume of the work were to increase, diminish or even disappear…Omitting technicalities (which are numerous) we may distinguish, at the outset, two motive forces. They can be represented for the present purpose by two almost axiomatic statements, thus: Factor I – an official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals; and Factor II – officials make work for each other.”
The study went on to demonstrate Parkinson’s Law, using, in one case, the explosion of Royal Navy admirals, between 1914 and 1928, a period of time in which the number of ships fell precipitously, while a sharp rise in admiralty officials (almost 80 percent) was noted, creating what one called “a magnificent Navy on land.”
There is even a formula: x = 2km + p over n, where k is the number of staff seeking promotion though the appointment of subordinates; p represents the difference between the ages of appointment and retirement; m is the number of man-hours devoted to answering minutes within the department; and n is the number of effective units being administered. Then x will be the number of new staff required each year.
This perfect self-licking ice cream cone was replicated a century later in the U.S.. In 2010, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for the elimination of more than 100 general and flag officer positions as part of his so-called, “Efficiency Initiatives.” Despite a clear plan and subsequent Pentagon assurances that cuts were to be made, the top ranks remain largely intact to this day, and the small number of reductions occurred almost exclusively at the one-star level.
Add to this the fact that a May 2013 GAO analysis found that the number of support staff at DoD’s Combatant Command headquarters grew “by about 50 percent from fiscal years 2001 through 2012.” This created added distance between commanders and warfighters. “In some cases the gap between me and an action officer may be as high as 30 layers,” Gates once stated, resulting in a “bureaucracy which has the fine motor skills of a dinosaur.”
Intransigent, perhaps, but the services have their own explanations for the necessity of ever-increasing numbers of general and flag officers, as well as Senior Executive Service (SES) personnel. According to a February 2016 CRS report entitled, “General and Flag Officers in the U.S. Armed Forces: Background and Considerations,” one frequently cited cause of the increase in senior personnel has been the increase in “joint” requirements that followed enactment of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (GNA) in 1986. In other words, we’re hamstrung by a law not of our own making.
Another rationale used to explain the increase has been an increased focus on forging coalitions with other nations. This has, in turn, generated a demand for senior military leaders to conduct coordinated planning, training, and operations with their peers from foreign nations. The proofs of this rational seem to be missing, as the military worked with large coalitions in the past – in World War II, for example – without a glut of senior officers.
There are also inescapable issues connected to the organizational structure of the military, which includes certain positions regardless of overall size of the military. There will be a Chief of Naval Operations regardless of force size. A similar case can be made for many senior persons who serve on the Joint Staff, the Service Staffs, the Combatant Commands, and certain defense agencies. According to the CRS, “Given the organizational structure of the Armed Forces—some of which is required by law—the amount of management ‘overhead’ does not necessarily change in direct proportion to the size of the force.”
However, according to the CRS:
“Prior to the creation of DOD by the National Security Act of 1947, military services were separate entities with distinct missions, frequently in competition with each other for resources. Although the establishment of DOD brought services together in a single organization, those services continued to organize, plan, and operate relatively independently, and they maintained separate, direct chains of command over their respective parts of the operational force. In turn, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) was a spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs, but exercised little authority over his fellow Joint Chiefs. In practice, this meant that services trained, planned, and executed operations separately from each other, or at best side by side. Prioritization, including associated resource decision-making, took place primarily within the Military services, rather than across DOD as a whole; and there was little if any room for DOD to benefit from economies of scale.”
What Goes Up and What Goes Down
While the military, writ large, is clearly more sophisticated than it was in the past, and while political, acquisition, and joint/combined organizations impose a greater demand than ever before for senior representation, it is still hard to understand how the number of flag officers and senior executives are sustained in the Navy with intractable fervor even as the active ship list has declined by about 70 percent.
With specific regard to the Navy, what do the numbers suggest? Why is there no apparent flag statistical correlation with active ships or Sailors? Should we understand this disproportionate growth in flag officers to be worrisome or simply a necessary development? At least in the Surface Force, the growth of flag/SES numbers has been matched by a demonstrable and steady decline in readiness. This decline seems to have been relatively unnoticed and unremarked upon by leaders until very recently when many appeared to be taken by surprise that ships were poorly maintained, trained, and sailed without required certifications.
If, as has been claimed, this number is the absolute necessity in order to keep the Navy on a level playing field with the other services – for both dollars and influence – then can’t these senior persons also do a more meticulous job of running things inside the Navy?
It seems that “The Navy” has less and less to do with the active fleet and more to do with something else. A part of the problem of ineffectual leadership may lie in what criteria are being used for flag selection. Increasingly, and over many years, flag activities have less to do with actual fleet operations and more to do with extra-Navy relationships. The entering argument for flag-selection has moved (at least in the case of surface warfare) away from, “sustained, superior performance at sea” and toward the question of, “what can you do for us in Washington if we make you an admiral?”
It is commonly understood that, regardless of record, an officer without substantial experience in Washington is unlikely to move beyond a first command. Those officers who stay with the fleet, without also keeping a weather-eye on good Washington tours, and an associated accretion of powerful advocates, end up being viewed by boards as insufficiently broad, which is tantamount to non-selection. Whether they are the sorts of persons that are wanted to fight the nation’s battles at sea or not is hardly of interest. Instead, what is of interest is: Can they can influence a budget? Plan future manning? Are they acquainted with the interests of industry and congress? Are they thoroughly familiar with the employment of power and influence beyond the Navy’s lifelines? Are they polished? Do they fully support Navy policy, regardless? But whether they are skilled in ship maintenance, anti-submarine warfare, or operational-level warfighting and tactics is of little (or at best secondary) interest despite how vital these grassroots-level skills are toward crafting viable policy. Instead what we have built is a bloated generation of leaders who are better at fighting bureaucracies than wars.
Solutions and Ideas
Flag numbers cannot be easily drawn down once established. Nevertheless, a new path forward must be described. That path includes cultural changes, which can only be effected from the top-down.
First, board precepts should be altered to reward at least a few of those officers who are more regarded for their operational/waterfront excellence than their experiences in front offices. More stars need to go to officers who are intimately connected to the fleet and with developing warfighting tactics, rather than with the Washington milieu. Rather than asking simply, “What can he or she do for us in Washington,” perhaps another important question should be, “Who do we want to fight our wars?”
Second, hard questions should be asked with regard to whom, exactly, we are putting in charge of the actual procurement and maintenance of ships. Engineering Duty Officers (EDs) and Acquisition Professionals (APs) are the unquestioned flags of who actually runs the bottom-line acquisition of ships, as well as their maintenance. It seems odd that these are also officers that have had few command-at-sea (EDs) or a major command-at-sea tours (APs).
Third, meaningful command opportunities for captains, beyond major command, should be established. It makes little sense to give our most experienced surface force captains the choice of either making flag, going to an obscure, heavy-lifting staff job, or get out. As it is, most of the few “sequential major commands” are either shore- or training-based, and kept firmly under the thumb of closely connected flags. Our real ship experts leave, almost to a man, if they don’t make flag, and those who do stay are generally only doing so to prepare for their next career. On the other hand, many would stay if they were offered positions commensurate with their background and experience, positions in which they could bring their expertise to bear on cracking hard problems on warfighting tactics or waterfront operations, and not carrying out more simple staff functions for a bureaucracy that has outgrown its administrative usefulness.
Fourth, cut the number of SES positions. Certainly, one may ask what these SES personnel can provide that uniformed personnel cannot. Continuity? Stability? Unfortunately, it seems as if these terms have become euphemisms for the sort of bureaucratic paralysis and risk aversion, in the name of self-interest, which increasingly plagues the services but especially the SES. Consider replacing these persons with long-serving captains, post-major command, and allow them to remain in place for multiple tours (as opposed to indefinitely as is the case with SESs) if necessary.
Finally, the real bureaucracy – the self-licking ice cream cone – needs to be cut. Not just flag officers and senior executives, but their counterparts across the services should be a primary target for a congressionally-mandated mission/task review, with resultant manpower and infrastructure reductions, as well as an across-the-board reduction in flag and SES-level requirements. There are several approaches available. First, former Secretary Gates’ Efficiency Initiatives should be fully implemented. Second, caps on the total number of general and flag officers, instituted by President Bush in 2001, should be reinstated and tied to the size of the force.
While there may be certain institutional and bureaucratic reasons for maintaining the number of senior personnel in the service, the evidence seems to suggest that these leaders are increasingly remote from, and unable to address the issues of, the fleet – and the same is probably true in the other services.
Captain James L. McClane comes from a Navy family. His service afloat since 1964 includes DD, DDGs, CGs, and with Aegis destroyer and cruiser commands. He was the commissioning combat systems officer of USS Ticonderoga (CG 47). His service ashore includes sequential major commands of Afloat Training Group Atlantic.
Captain Kevin Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three Aegis cruisers: USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62).
Featured Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (Sept. 7, 2011) – From left, Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, Vice Adm. Scott R. Van Buskirk and Vice Adm. Scott H. Swift bow their heads during the benediction at the U.S. 7th Fleet change of command ceremony held on the flight deck aboard the command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth R. Hendrix)