All posts in “suggested reading”

Summertime Reading

Go ahead, admit it – the habit dies hard.  Before every summer you swear that you are finally going to read “—” and by golly, this is the summer to do it.  Well, Labor Day is a mere 20-days away and I’ll bet you’ve barely put a dent in the reading list.  Fear not however, YHS has been busily working his way through several books thoughtfully provided by their publishers and I’m about to expand your list going into the fall months. We have works of fiction and non-fiction, most of which (surprise!) have a naval/maritime theme.  Some have just hit the streets – others are coming to bookshelves, real and virtual in the very near future.  All come with a firm “thumbs-up” and “read” recommendation.  In no particular order:

The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy and King – The Five Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea, by Walter R. Borneman (Little, Brown & Co.).  The book follows the paths of four Naval officers who rose to hold the highest rank in the US Navy at the end of the Second World War – the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral.  Borneman uses an interesting approach for this comparative biography, but in a manner different than what Larrabee took in his work (Commander in Chief: FDR His Lieutenants and Their War).  While Larrabee’s work bound several biographies together, Borneman instead follows all four of his subjects through the epochs that preceded the Navy’s involvement in WW2, an approach that works very well for gaining an understanding of the changes that brought the Navy from the Olympia at Manila Bay, to the massive Fleet extant in 1945, barely 47 years later.  With wide ranging backgrounds (Nimitz was born to German immigrants in Texas while Halsey hailed form a family of sailors) each had a particular style and means to accomplish their goals – and personalities to match.  Borneman carefully weaves the personal stories through the larger narrative of societal and technological changes in the world as seen through the Navy’s lens.  The faults and shortcomings of each are found alongside their triumphs as we follow the progression of their respective careers.  I am especially pleased at the inclusion of Leahy – an oversight I thought on Larrabee’s part.  Nimitz, Halsey and King have all been pretty well highlighted for their efforts during the war – especially the first two.  To a degree, that is expected given that those three were acting directly in the Service – from Halsey at the lead, Nimitz overseeing a vast theater and actions as disparate as fast carrier task group operations to amphibious landings, an active submarine war against the Japanese merchant fleet and the logistics to make it all work; and King in the dualist role of man/train/equip that is the CNO’s portfolio and balancing with the operational oversight of a Navy engaged in a global fight.  Leahy, retired and serving as Ambassador to France was recalled as FDR’s Chief of Staff and had the task, if not the formal title, of being the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, compelling the Navy, Army and Army Air Force to work the joint fight (not always successfully).  Another contribution of Leahy, highlighted in the book, was his insistence on including State in planning, especially for the post-war years.  An important aspect of historical works is their ability to provide insight and application in the here and now – otherwise it is merely an academic exercise.  One of the first observations of today’s reader would be that each of these individuals had one or more events or personality traits that would lead to early termination in today’s Service (to wit, the almost weekly detailing of CO firings found in Navy Times).  It is worth noting, however, the values and ethics these four shared remain relevant today – perseverance in the face of adversity, dedication to personal technical and warfighting competency, devotion to Service and those under your command, and personal accountability along with a certain openess to new ideas, new technology and different ways of doing business.  At the risk of using a word that is justifiably pilloried today, they nonetheless developed and implemented transformational plans, policies and operations  without transformation becoming an end unto itself.  Criticisms are few – I would, for example, have liked a bit more about King’s work in fighting the Battle of the Atlantic and there were a few editorial discontinuities to be expected in a pre-publication edition.  Overall – a very good work and one worth including on a list of professional reading.  On a scale of 1-5 stars I would rate it a 4.5 and definite buy.

The Aden Effect – A Connor Stark Novel, by Claude Berube (Naval Institute Press – Oct 2012 publication).  “Murder, politics, seapower, Middle East instability, and intrigue in the White House…” While that may describe the front page of the Washington Post these days, it is also the lead-in descriptor for the author’s first foray into fiction, set in the troubled waters off the Horn of Africa.  A Navy Reserve Officer who has deployed to the region, Berube draws deeply on his expertise in intelligence, history and surface warfare to set the stage and populate his work with a wide variety of characters – and I do emphasize characters.  The narrative flows well for a first fictional work and there are enough plot twists and sudden turns to keep you engaged and pressing deeper into the book.  I won’t delve into details the plot as the book is slated for release in October, but an overview is available at the pre-order site on the Naval Institute Press’ website.  I will point out that in order for the plot to work, the reader need not suspend all reality and disbelief as is the downfall of many works of fiction based on the real world.  Likewise, you won’t need a copy of Jane’s or the DICNAVAB at your side to follow the action.  The “stuff” of naval warfare – ships, aircraft, tactics and procedures, are nicely woven into the story, avoiding becoming the story themselves and allowing you to focus on the characters.  With reference to the characters – it would have been nice to see a little more development of the ancillary actors but that is understandable in the first take at fiction.

Is it a buy?  Certainly – coming out in October it is the perfect companion as you head up to the cabin for the weekend or off to the family reunion at Thanksgiving.  Overall I’d rate it at 4 on a scale of 1-5 stars and am looking forward to the next installment in the series.



PIRATE ALLEY: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia, by RADM Terry McKnight, USN (Ret) and Michael Hirsh with a Foreward by Jim Miklaszewski (Naval Institute Press – October 2012 publication).  The reality of the ongoing scourge of piracy off the Horn of Africa is brought home in vivid detail in this volume co-written by a 31-year veteran of the sea service and a Vietnam War Army combat correspondent. Piracy is an industry that tallies almost $13B a year in worldwide economic impacts and in 2011, took some 1,000 seafarers into captivity.  It is not supported by a government – for in effect is no government in what has become a lawless territory and all that implies where International Law and the efforts to stop piracy are concerned. The first baby steps at confronting this scourge followed the MV Golden Nori incident (a Japanese-owned tanker carrying 40,000 tons of high;y explosive industrial benzene) in October 2007,  when in December 2008 the UN finally passed UNSCR 1846 which permitted actions in the territorial waters of Somalia for the express purpose of repressing acts of piracy through all means necessary – on the high seas and under international law.  The following month, January 2009, saw the stand-up of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151) in the Gulf of Aden with the express purpose of fighting piracy and RADM McKnight’s assignment as the first commander.  The narrative builds from there as we see the cumulative after-effects of previous actions and nonactions, distilled in the pirate’s business model, as illustrated by NAVCENT, VADM Gortney “They will not shoot at me.  I will get their money. And no one will arrest me.  It’s a good job.” And it had to be (a good job) in order to continue to attract recruits from the traditionally non-seafaring parts of the Somali back country and place them in  tiny skiffs, armed with AK-47’s and RPGs intent on capturing and holding hostage giant (to them) ships, their cargo and crew.  For millions.

The challenges of leading a CTF in that part of the world – the delicate politics of the situation, domestic and international; of dealing with a strategic messaging plan whose audience couldn’t possibly have been the pirates (“suspected pirates” – never “pirates” or terrorists” even when caught red-handed hundreds of miles offshore with weapons in their possession), of rules that said which nations could capture pirates and which could only “deter” piracy;  are all detailed here.  It is an interesting reading exercise in command judgement and innovation, well detailed by McKnight and Hirsh in examples that include several chapters on the capture/re-capture of the Maersk Alabama and freeing of her hostage captain.  It is also a work that serves to peel back the underlying layers of elements that support and contribute to piracy in the region in an attempt to better understand why it happens which in turn.  In a section titled Piracy 101, there is a conversation with an expert on the local area in general (Bosaso) and the pirates in particular in which he relates his surprise that whereas he thought he’d be interviewing pirates themselves, the first month or so of his investigation was spent talking to the businessmen who sprung up around the piracy and as he relates, gave him greater insight into piracy – there’s lots to like here and wealth of information in an easy and quick reading format.  I’ll be frank – I’ve always been interested in other aspects of naval matters and tended to read articles on piracy only out of a sense of obligation – not so here.  If there is just one book you read this fall on piracy, this should be it.  Overall – 4.5 stars on a scale of 1-5 and a must include on your professional reading list.

Thank you to the Naval Institute Press and Little, Brown & Co. for providing early/advanced copies of these books for review. – SJS

Eating the Elephant – One Bite at a Time

For those not so inclined to leap with both feet into the full Appropriations Bills (regular, continuing and sustaining minus the funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan), here is a Congressional Research Service study of current Defense Authorization and Appropriations bills with analysis of some of the more important parts (like shipbuilding – pg CRS-76, funding tables begin pg CRS-96).  As Julia Child would say – Bon Apetit!


Annotated Bibliography – Aviation

Over in the comments to one of my posts someone asked for some recommended books to learn more about Naval Aviation. What I’d like to do is start the list, then open it up to further comments/additions from the readership. Feel free to range wider afield in either realm – aviation and or naval topics.

Whilst contemplating YHS’ library (which remains large, much to the chagrin of Mrs. SJS…) several books of note seemed worth recommending, some of which you have seen around here before:

  • Fate is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann. A compelling first hand account of flying from the 30’s to the 60’s. Two accounts, thunderstorm penetration over the Adirondack Moutnains in a DC-3 and flying into Bluie -Two West in Greenland duirng WW2 ended up with personal resonance for me in my flying career.

  • Gold Wings, Blue Sea : A Naval Aviator’s Story by Rosario Rausa – everything you ever wanted to know about flying SPADs and carrier aviation in 1950s and 6hers 0s (not just for prop lovers either)

  • Bridges at Toko-ri by James Michner – should be mandatory reading for everyone, not just those in aviation.

  • Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully – there have been many books written on Midway; some good (Miracle at Midway, ‘And I was There’) others not so. The universal theme for all have been utilization of the same POV and resources. Parshall and Tully use a staggering quantity of original source materials – deck logs, diaries, message traffic, from both sides to piece together a detailed accounting of the battle that strips some of the better known but inaccurate perceptions. Along the way we learn how the IJN and USN operated their fleets, carriers and how different flight ops were within each navy. This is original reserch of the highest order.

  • Clash of the Carriers by Barret Tillman – the little told story of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, of which the Marianas Turkey Shoot was one of the more recognized components. The re-telling of the late afternoon strike against the IJN carriers, knowing full well that they were at max range (250+ nm) and that return and recovery would be at night (night flight ops were not a common practice back then) alone is worth the read.

  • Afterburner – Naval Aviators and the Vietnam War by John Sherwood – Sherwood compiles and analyzes an incredible breadth of information about the details of each of the Navy’s operations during the air war and then relates the key parts of the narrative through the eyes of an pilot or flight officer involved in each action. Through tales of courage and fear, triumph and horror, Sherwood reveals the lives of common aircrew who performed extraordinary service. Their experiences illustrate the personal nature of war—even from the air.

  • The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe – Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979–the year the book appeared–Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. “The Right Stuff,” he explains, “became a story of why men were willing–willing?–delighted!–to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero.”

  • Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coontz.

As mentioned, there’s more – but enough of that, let’s hear what you, dear reader, consider to be your favorites…