Monday, December 01, 2008

Sid's Christmas

Earlier this year, I asked one of the 32nd Degree Salamanders, Sid, to recommend a "Top 5" list of books that everyone interested in the Navy should own. Sid always has a very keen eye on history, naval literature, and a general sound sense of himself and the world around him. Those who read comments know Sid is about as sharp as they come.

So, with only a few editorial adjustments - below is Sid's list of recommended books for you to think about for Christmas. Get them for yourself or someone you know who has an interest in things naval. I already have 3 of the 5 - so I have already bought myself my Christmas. You know me an books - love them so much I just want to get naked and roll around in them.

Without further babble on my part; Sid you have the Con.
I started to get interested in things navy at a quite tender age. When not trying hard to become J-57 FOD, one of my pastimes was pulling down all the Proceedings and checking out the cool ads. A few years later, my first book report in the third grade was on a slim volume about John Ericsson. By the fifth grade I was clambering about the Naval War College library, making a racket, and wishing I could understand the knowledge in those several stories high stacks of books.

Yeah...I know...GEEK!

Well, the good CDR Phibian allowed that I put some of that accumulated geekness to good use and come up with a list of navy related books that may be of interest to his readers.

So here are five books that I think y'all will enjoy. No particular order to them as they are all good. Each was written by folks whom Chap might peg as "Implementers". In spite of being thrust into circumstances that rendered accepted doctrine moot, each summoned knowledge and character from within and prevailed. They got the job done, and each wrote a whale of a tale.

Innovation is the star that Daniel V. Gallery steered by. It prepared him to seize the opportunities that came his way during a 44 year navy career and engineer the kind of luck that any Irishman would be envious of. That luck, born at the intersection of preparation and opportunity, served him well in battle. From the signature wrestling hold that allowed him a spot on the US Olympic team, to his capture of the U-505, and finally in conflicts inside the then building Beltway, RADM Gallery proved a wily and loyal warrior.

RADM Gallery was also a masterful wordsmith (a proclivity that seems to come easily to the Irish), and wrote 8 books along with numerous magazine articles about various naval subjects. Every one of them is a natural page turner. If you haven't read some of Gallery, your naval education is incomplete. His books are getting ever harder to find, but the one essential read would have to be his autobiography Eight Bells (Original title: Eight Bells and All's Well).

Second on the list is South From Corregidor by then LCDR John Morrill. It too is hard to find, but if you can obtain a copy, you will have a gem of a seastory in your hands. (Wonder if USNI could republish these treasures?)

The cowriter of the book, Pete Martin, noted that heroes tend to be quiet men, and this prewar photo of the young naval officer and his family, belies little of the mettle behind one of the greatest examples of seamanship -and more importantly leadership- this navy has witnessed. Then LCDR Morrill, after weeks of keeping the mined entrances to Manila Bay open for resupply while under unremitting Japanese fire, finally had to scuttle his command the USS Quail (AM-15). Won a Navy Cross for those efforts too, but LCDR Morrill was just getting started.

Not content to be taken prisoner on Caballo where he and his crew were standing the 1941 version of "IA", he and 17 of the crew who were able and willing, embarked on a 31 day, 2000 mi journey to Australia through enemy held this.

LCDR Morrill could have rested on his laurels at that point, but he had a keen understanding of joint warfare and he wanted to fight. Instead of taking the high profile navigator job aboard a cruiser, he chose instead to join the part of the navy known as the "disposal school for ensigns." EagleSpeak covers this sequel well, where he transformed a flotilla of diminutive craft into serious warships and took them half way around the world to visit harm upon the enemy. John Morrill. Sailor. Leader of sailors. Warrior.

Informed by COMDESPAC of the intention to remove the torpedo tubes from his DE in order to ship aboard more anti-aircraft armament, and asked of his opinion, the CO wasn't going to have it. The mustang Lieutenant said to the Admiral,
"Since we have 5 inch 38 guns, someday somebody is going to forget we are boys and will send us to do men's work. I want a man's weapons. If somebody is going to think we are big enough to be destroyers, and if I am to be used as a destroyer, I want a destroyer's main offensive weapon, which is a torpedo."
The Lt. further added, with a smile,
"Well Admiral, as far as my ship is concerned, the torpedo tubes will be removed over my dead body. I've got torpedo tubes and I expect to use them, and I expect sometime to get a hit with them."
Then Lieutenant Robert Copeland made good on his rash promise too. At the Battle of Samar.

A slim volume, A slim volume, The Spirit of the Sammy B is an oral history chronicling the not quite six month life of the Samuel B. Roberts by her skipper, RADM Robert Copeland. This book proves good things come in small packages.

When the British withdrew the HMS Endurance from her patrol as a cost cutting measure, the Argentinians calculated that the British would not fight for the windswept islands they knew as the Malvinas and forcibly took them. They calculated that the current British government would follow the pattern that had been in place since Wilson; a preference for diplomatic solutions over military confrontation. However, they badly miscalculated the resolve of Margaret Thatcher who mobilized her fleet within 48 hours. The 1982 Falklands campaign is the last major sea action fought by any navy. At the time, many doubted the Royal Navy, substantially diminished by successive cutbacks since the 1960s would prevail. The Brit's quickly assembled force sailed most of the world away from any useful support and engaged in a brutal littoral war. But in the word of the Battle Group commander, "it was a bit tight."

The Falklands War is a cautionary tale for the USN of the early 21st century, which could be called upon to wage a similar campaign on similarly short notice. And it is a cautionary tale for those who do not believe the littorals comprise the most lethal battlespace once can find themselves in.

One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, by Adm Sandy Woodward, recounts his experience as the RN Battle Group commander. His main qualification for the job was simple geography. Near Gibraltar conducting NATO exercises, he was the closest Flag to the fight. Woodward details the fog and friction of war, along with the fog and friction of an ad hoc command arrangement. One Hundred Days is a sobering tale of modern naval warfare viewed without the benefit of Tom Clancy's rose colored lens.

Who is the hero here?. The fresh caught Captain on the right, Matt Bell, has spent a lifetime willingly stepping up to the plate to defend this country's interests and has flown in combat. His proud papa on the left, Jim Bell, spent seven years and change as an unwilling guest of the North Vietnamese. During that time he gained a legendary reputation for resistance in the face of deprivation and torture, and barely survived the experience of being cuffed to Ralph Gaither when both had the tail end charlie position during the infamous Hanoi March. As is the nature of true heroes, you can sit right next to the man and have no clue. But the hero I'm referring to is neither of them. It is Dora Griffin Bell, author of The Heroes' Wife.

The year 1967 is remembered by many for its Summer of Love. For those at home on and around Naval Air Stations, it was a time of enduring continuous combat losses. On his second combat cruise in May 1967, Dora Griffin's husband Jim, along with his RAN Jack Walters, was flying a BDA mission over Hanoi when his RA-5C was hit by a barrage of AAA. The grainy footage shot by the Vietnamese -and often seen spliced into Discovery Channel accounts of John McCain's shootdown as the wreckage fell into a lake- shows the Vigilante bursting into a fireball and pitching up violently before disintegrating. Both pilots survived the 700 knot ejection badly injured, and both were interviewed by a French journalist in the Hanoi Hilton. Dora had no idea for the next five and half years that her husband died only two days later.

The Heroes' Wife describes her life over those years, and is a poignant account that can provide an inspiration to those spouses today who are seeing their loved ones off to repeated tours in far away wars. The account also proves the worth of a strong military spouse network as well.
Sid, an outstanding list - thank you for the time to put together - and the extra effort to take the pic to go with the list. A good Christmas to you and yours.

Next Monday I will put together another book list to help with your Christmas list based on a responses received via an email chain earlier last month.

This Christmas, give the most valuable thing you have - your time to those you love. Material gifts are secondary - and if you have to get a material gift, think books.

No comments: