Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Learning Across Peace and War in the United States Navy of the Early 20th Century
Abstract: The five decades between the Spanish-American War and the end of World War II were a time of revolutionary technological change. Navies struggled to assimilate new ship types --dreadnought battleships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, and submarines -- and integrate them with new technologies, like analog fire control computers, radio, and radar. The United States Navy stood out in its ability to harness those new technologies and develop them to expand the fleet's fighting power. In fact, between 1898 and 1945, the U.S. Navy evolved from a second-tier force to the world's strongest naval power. This transition was far more than an increase in size; the U.S. Navy rose to dominance largely because it developed mechanisms in peacetime that supported effective learning and innovation; these were then exploited in both world wars by the U.S. Navy and its supporting industrial base. Exploring these mechanisms and their origins can provide valuable insight into the process of organizational learning, how military forces can effectively innovate, and how modern organizations can successfully exploit today's rapid technological and social changes.
Trent Hone, Independent Scholar
Participant's Paper Title: Exploring the Options: The Development of U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine, 1913-1923
Participant's Paper Abstract: In the decade between 1913 and 1923, the United States Navy leveraged deliberate experimentation in the Atlantic Fleet, theoretical analysis at the Naval War College, and practical experience in World War I to explore potential options for coordinating a modern fleet in battle. These efforts triggered the development of the U.S. Navy's first coherent tactical doctrine, issued in the Atlantic Fleet's Destroyer Instructions of 1921 and the U.S. Navy's War Instructions of 1923. These manuals -- and the implicit assumptions embedded within them -- mark a watershed moment in the U.S. Navy's approach to combat. They provided the foundation for doctrinal development in the interwar period (1919-1939) and influenced U.S. Navy tactical concepts through the end of World War II.

This paper examines the processes that led to that foundation. It explores the work of the Naval War College and explains how it enhanced the effectiveness of the fleet. It analyzes the Atlantic Fleet's tactical exercises, detailing how they refined the thinking of senior commanders and fostered experimentation by more junior officers. It discusses the U.S. Navy's experience in World War I, the valuable lessons learned, and how they were effectively documented in the immediate postwar period.

The development and refinement of the U.S. Navy's tactical doctrine from 1913-1923 is a clear example of effective organizational learning. Before the start of World War I, the U.S. Navy possessed a modern battle fleet, but had very little experience or knowledge of how to handle it in battle. Through experimentation, analysis, and practical experience, officers developed an integrated set of concepts for coordinating their actions and acting as a cohesive unit. These ideas became the foundation of the U.S. Navy's tactical doctrine and served the U.S. Navy effectively for decades.
Hal Friedman, Henry Ford College
Kevin Delamer, Naval War College
Participant's Paper Title: The Resilience of Mahan: Educating Fleet Leaders
Participant's Paper Abstract: During the closing decades of the nineteenth century Alfred Thayer Mahan was the dominant force in shaping the study of naval theory at Newport. Over the ensuing decades Mahan passed from the scene and, eventually, so did the great majority of his writing. Despite this seeming loss of sway, Mahan remained a guiding influence on how the United States Navy assessed the strategic position of the United States in a maritime world.

A reassessment of the role played by the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan is in order. While several noted scholars have argued that Mahan remains relevant today, the discussions have been largely concerned with policy. The influence of Mahan on professional education in the U.S. Navy -- and other world navies -- during the first half of the twentieth century is an important touchstone in understanding the impact that his thinking has had on the events of the period. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, in a post-war letter, suggested that almost every problem encountered during the Pacific War had been thought through at the Naval War College in the interwar years. The men who did that analysis were all influenced by Mahan.

By examining the curricula of the Naval War College over the period in question as well as the personal relationships between the instructors at the time and Mahan, this paper intends to establish the enduring impact of the college's first lecturer on strategy and naval history on the manner in which the interwar navy educated officers to prepare them for the greatest maritime war in history.
Randy Papadopoulos, Department of the Navy
Laurence Burke, National Air and Space Museum
Participant's Paper Title: Starting Over: U.S. Naval Aviation after the First World War
Participant's Paper Abstract: U.S. Naval Aviation formally began in 1911. Between then and April 6, 1917, when the United States declared war against Germany, U.S. Navy leaders thought extensively about how naval aircraft could be used, but had little practice. This was primarily a shortcoming of the technology of the time -- not just the airplanes themselves, but also in crucial ancillary technologies such as radio. During the war, aviation and its supporting technologies advanced greatly, but the U.S. Navy's participation in the war was almost exclusively centered on the anti-U-boat campaign. This focused the U.S. Navy's efforts; ASW aircraft and techniques were developed to a high degree, but in the U.S. Navy's pre-war thinking, ASW was the least important use for Naval Aviation. When the war ended, the U.S. Navy needed to quickly merge operational and doctrinal lessons learned during the war with pre-war thought about the "best use" of Naval Aviation. The war presented no opportunity to develop the U.S. Navy's pre- and post-war priority -- using aircraft with the Fleet -- and so the U.S. Navy, in many ways, had to start over and develop a new concept for what Naval Aviation would look like. My paper will look at the discontinuity between the U.S. Navy's World War I experience and the post-war process of re-examining, and establishing, naval aviation doctrine and forces.

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