Influences of Interwar Doctrine and Training on the Successes of U.S. Submarines in the Pacific Theater of Operations During the Second World War

Photo caption: USS Harder (SS 257) off the coast of Woleai during the rescue of Ensign John Gavlin, April 1, 1944. (Source:


Current trends in leadership training often overlook historic examples of effective leadership – the developmental processes and the results of the professional background of leaders in an operational environment. The development of the submarine influenced the outcome of both the First and Second World War, but it was the leadership of the American submarine skippers in the latter conflict which provided examples of legendary and effective leadership. This thesis will address the question of how the interwar period influenced the doctrine and formal professional education of submarine skippers. Most importantly, however, will be the discussion of the contributing factors which combined to force a rapid evolution in leadership and employment of these submarines: technology, enemy, and internal bureaucratic resistance, to name a few factors.

Incorporating several primary sources with supporting information from noteworthy and authoritative secondary sources, an analysis and evaluation of the efforts of the United States Naval Academy and the Submarine School is supported by the reports, logs, and official documents from the Second World War. Divided into sections, this thesis illustrates the genesis of submarine doctrine, the interwar evolution of maritime warfare and the associated professional education of the officers charged with waging naval combat, and selected examples and an analysis of the relevance, interdependence, and successes of doctrine and leadership development. The dangers of overcomplicating the professional development of leaders is inherent in the present efforts to understand the basic art of motivation in any mission or task; however, understanding the core of what has produced effective leaders in the past will remain a challenge in understanding the delineation between excessive deliberation and the false simplicity of social influence. Leadership will always remain a vital component of human social interactions, and an understanding of what has worked in the past will continue to assist future generations of leaders in appreciating the resiliency and capabilities of the human mind and spirit.


“History, in short, gives you all the qualifying factors; whereas reason, in love with its own refinements, is liable to overlook that which should modify them.” [1] -Alfred Thayer Mahan

Leadership, in its modern manifestation, has become a formal academic process which analyzes motivation, inspiration, and communication in relation to achieving an organizational goal. Within the public and private sector, leadership has become a lucrative industry generating $14 billion in 2013 from a multitude of courses, programs, and consultation services. On the surface, such an effort and investment to develop leaders is commendable; however, the challenges of evaluating the overall success of these endeavors prevents an accurate assessment of their effectiveness.[2] As leadership is far from a novel concept, an understanding of how historic examples of past education, challenges, and successes provides an effective template in future applications of organizational influence, management, and mentorship.

The Second World War provides an endless list of leadership examples – both effective and ineffective – with documented processes of development of these leaders prior to the conflict, their contributions to historic events, and the evaluation of their respective successes and failures. Within the pages of history books around the world, exploits of selfless responsibility, loyalty, and dedication can be easily found. In some cases, such as the men who commanded American submarines in the Pacific Theater of Operations between December 1941 through September 1945, their roles in history as leaders have been the subject of texts and movies, however, the underlying process of how they became legendary figures has received little detailed discussion.[3] Prior to the Second World War, the professional leadership development of American submariners starting at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, created the foundation for the rapid evolution in doctrine necessary for the success of the American submarine campaign against the Japanese in Pacific Theater of Operations during the Second World War. Faced with a determined enemy, a hostile operational environment, and plagued by problematic weaponry as well as bureaucratic challenges, success as well as failure for these men, known as “skippers,” was often a matter of training, individual values, knowledge, and – most importantly – opportunity.

The Origins of Submarine Doctrine

Following the end of the First World War on November 11, 1918, American naval doctrine underwent a series of evolutionary shifts before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. While these changes were profound, it is vital to understand the impetus and significance of the motivating factors for the progressive shift from heavily armored battleships comprising the bulk of the naval forces to the inclusion of aircraft carriers and submarines as valuable assets. During this first war of the 20th century, submarines represented one of many technologically advanced vessels which were debuted during the war; for the contemporary military and political leadership, the broad tactical and strategic applications for these novel craft were relatively unknown. Developed initially as a desperate effort for the Confederate Navy during the American Civil War (1861-1865), the first effective example of the modern wartime submarine was the Hunley, which proved the concept of submerged attack on surface warships during its attack on the USS Housatonic in 1864.[4] Like the Hunley, early submarines of the 18th century like the Intelligent Whale, were utilized on a limited basis by the US Navy in an experimental capacity and the relatively small crews of 10 volunteers were essentially the propulsion of these small hand-powered craft.[5] Subsequent designs were powered by steam, and later, gasoline engines on the surface; underwater propulsion was provided by electric motors operated from banks of large batteries. American submarines were plagued by numerous developmental problems associated with the new technology and these first crews were witnesses, victims, and culprits in several accidents resulting from negligence, inexperience, or chance.[6] Cumbersome on the surface and a tactical liability as they submerged, the value of these craft, with dive times often less than three and a half minutes, the strategic value of submarines was lost to Navy leadership prior to the First World War.[7] Viewed as a “plaything for the younger officers…diverting time and money from other more useful and dependable branches of the service,” American efforts in pursuing an active role in establishing these small warships as capable tactical and strategic asset were placed secondary to surface warships such as the contemporary battleships, battlecruisers, and destroyers.[8]

The First World War seriously altered traditional views of naval warfare. The effectiveness of German U-boats in their campaign of “unrestricted submarine warfare” against American, British, and French shipping during the First World War was a dire lesson unheeded. The Imperial German Navy built 373 U-boats during the war and of these, 178 were lost due to the Allied anti-submarine effort. With a ratio of one U-boat lost for every 32 Allied ships sunk, the effectiveness of this campaign against the maritime “lines of communication” in the Atlantic was reflected in the final tallies of Allied shipping destroyed by U-boats: 5,708 merchant ships and around 11 million tons of supplies vital to the land war in Western Europe failed to reach their final ports.[9] American submariners under the command of Captain Thomas C. Hart (1877-1971) were tasked with learning the complexities of operating surrendered German U-boats and returned six to the united states following the Armistice of 1919 for post-war public relations as well as a comprehensive naval study and evaluation of the German technology and its relation to submarine warfare doctrine.[10]

Along with Hart, the names of Naval Academy graduates who would later lead American naval forces through the interwar period and into the Second World War became associated with the appraisal, development, and evolution of the American submarine effort. Chester W. Nimitz (1885-1966) joined Hart in 1919 during the early efforts to model American submarines on the German designs. Advocating the offensive benefit of the independent, long-range submarine over the cooperative efforts of smaller, defensive variants favored by the naval leadership of the time, Nimitz’s foresight helped shape the basis for American submarine design.[11] Charles A. Lockwood (1890-1967), who would later become Commander, Submarines Pacific Fleet in the Second World War, took command of one of the six U-boats of the fleet, in 1920, the UC-97, for its voyage the up the St. Lawrence canal and into the Great Lakes as part of a recruiting drive Victory Bond campaign.[12] Ralph W. Christie (1893-1987), was critical in the early development of the primary offensive weapon of the American submarines, the torpedo, following the First World War.[13] During the Second World War, Christie would obstinately clash with his subordinates and Lockwood over the performance of the Mark 14 torpedo in the first half of the war.[14] These men, closely associated with undersea warfare from the beginning of the 20th century, were instrumental in the development of the principles and participants of the inevitable submarine campaign in the conflict which was shaping in the Pacific.


Interwar Doctrine and the United States Naval Academy

The United States Naval Academy’s role in American naval doctrine and leadership training was as rooted in the past during the time between the First and Second World War as it is in modern times. Borrowing heavily from 17th century British methods of practical education for midshipmen, the Naval Academy strove to replicate successful efforts in instilling “discipline, obedience, initiative, professional knowledge, and leadership skills.”[15] Officially opening as the Naval School on October 10, 1845, the institution was the result of political maneuvering and indirect pressure upon Congress in a manner fitting of some of the later graduates: bypassing the petulant bureaucracy and adopting a direct approach to the solution of the problem. With a major naval war deemed unlikely by some members of the Senate, the Naval School was viewed as a poor financial investment by the United States and indirectly committing the nation to naval expansion.[16] Doctrine, like formal leadership training, was an implied art for those who attended the Naval Academy. As part of the 130 semester hours required during the Academy’s four-year academic program in 1930, “leadership and international law” were combined and allocated a mere one and a half semester hour versus six semester hours for English composition, literature, and public speaking.[17] The consistent focus of the midshipmen attending the Academy centered upon the basics of the “profession” of being a naval officer through direct mentorship, it was possible to determine leadership potential of midshipmen and disseminate knowledge on seamanship, navigation, patriotism, and honor.[18] Leadership and doctrine, for the Naval Academy during the interwar years, were concepts more effectively taught through direct involvement, rather than static syllabus-driven academic programs.

Understanding the fragility of oceanic lines of communication was reinforced not only through the Naval Academy’s implicit direction, but was the focus of naval theory both before and after the First World War. Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), himself a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in 1859, as well as a Union naval officer during the American Civil War blockades of the Confederacy, understood the importance of the value of logistical warfare against sea lines of communication and structured much of his popular theories of naval warfare on the command of these vital assets.[19] Allied lessons learned from the study of Germany’s effective use of the submarine as a commerce raider during the First World War validated Mahan’s theories regarding the importance of shipping and the relationship between control of the oceans and the capability of success on land.[20] Though the Washington Arms Limitation Treaty of 1922 limited the number, size, and capabilities of capital warships such as battleships and aircraft carriers, no such limitations were imposed upon submarines; with Japan’s refusal to sign the Second London Naval Treaty in 1937 marking the effective end of international efforts to limit naval warship production, the race to build an effective navy to control the seas began once more.[21]

In the decade leading up to the Second World War, doctrine and education for naval officers was rapidly evolving. Establishing a foundation of creating a leader capable of earning the confidence of his subordinates through professional proficiency, and loyalty, the Naval Academy provided rigorous physical, intellectual, and mental training.[22] The syllabus was demanding enough that most future submarine skippers awarded the Medal of Honor were comparatively average amongst their peers at the Academy: Samuel Dealey (Class of 1930), 254th of 405, Lawson Ramage (Class of 1931) 112th of 443, Eugene Fluckey and Richard O’Kane (Class of 1934) 99th and 245th, respectively, of 463 and finally George Street III (Class of 1937) 154th of 328. [23] [24] [25] [26] Graduation from the Naval Academy was merely the start of every naval officer’s career, however. Practical application of the academic subjects and the study of contemporary doctrine the Academy was facilitated by assignment to surface ships following graduation from the Naval Academy.[27] Continuation training and further professional development and organizational efficiency was subsequently refined through example under the command of surface captains and through establishing a working relationship with the many department heads on surface ships.[28] The “fleet exercises” of the 1930s provided a chance for the cooperation and knowledge of the Navy to refine offensive and defensive tactics against maritime threats. The focus of the United States Navy during these exercises was multifaceted: they allowed the Navy to evaluate the capabilities of the existing and new technologies and allowed for the officers to solve the problems associated with adapting academic theory into operational practice.[29] It was during these training events that the problems inherent in “War Plan Orange” – offensive warfare against Japan – were realized to be insufficient and unrealistic in practice due to the difficulties and complications in cooperative efforts with allied nations in the vast theater of warfare that the Pacific Ocean posed.[30] Though these training events were ultimately terminated in 1940 as the theoretical threats manifested themselves into real threats posed by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific and the German Navy in the Atlantic, the education and perspective they provided would be the basis of the campaign waged by men like Dealey, Ramage, Fluckey, O’Kane, and Street.[31] With submarines capable of posing a threat not only directly influencing the merchant shipping, but also including the maintenance and protection of these vital logistic components of force projection, an effective offensive doctrine involving submarines began to take shape as a product of the reviews of the past and the contemporary capabilities.[32] It was this contemporary perspective regarding doctrine and the foundations of leadership which the Naval Academy instilled upon its graduates. The potential of early command, the intimate community, and the attractiveness of comparatively independent action against the enemy which prompted some naval officers to volunteer for submarine duty.[33]

Interwar Doctrine and the Submarine School

For submarines, the doctrine during the interwar period was marked by rapidly evolving technology and the need for innovative and resourceful leaders to capitalize on the changes in submarine warfare. The fleet problems provided foreshadowing into the problems involving submerged approaches to targets and the subsequent torpedo attacks. Officiants to these exercises often failed to appreciate and understand the aspects of torpedo engagements and often assigned arbitrary estimations of the effective “hits” of the notional weapons as 30% based on their own personal judgement.[34] Similarly, the lack of effective background in submarine operations by senior surface commanders were influenced by the limitations of the rules established for these fleet problems to promote the “absolute necessity for submarines in smooth water to conduct their attacks from deep submergence using sound equipment only.”[35] This pervasive optimism, coupled with the attitude that unrestricted warfare from the First World War was an “aberration,” and an overreactive approach to safety as a result of several highly-publicized accidents involving submarines in the 1920s not only hindered the development of the most effective use of submarines, but also negatively influenced the development of American anti-submarine efforts.[36] Relegated to a defensive role as part of the Asiatic Fleet stationed in the Philippines, submarines were considered more of a tool intended to delay any aggression by the Imperial Japanese Navy long enough for relief to arrive from Hawaii, and the American bases on the West and East coasts – the latter through the Panama Canal.[37]

The challenges of determining the order of precedence in the cause-and-effect evolution of submarine warfare during the interwar period involve understanding the relationship between capability and intention. With early submarines, the limitation of their designs limited considerations of their effectiveness as a long-range offensive asset. The interwar period, however, saw the influences of leaders within the American submarine force urging drastic design changes which led to submarines becoming key maritime interdiction platforms during the Second World War. The combined efforts of respected and experienced submariners Thomas Hart and Charles Lockwood after the First World War resulted in a gradual shift from the smaller and slower S-boats to a production emphasis on the larger “fleet” submarines which were capable of operations with surface warfare groups as scouts or secondary direct support assets.[38] As aircraft were better suited for the role of scouting and were increasingly incorporated onto cruisers and battleships for the specific purpose of scouting and observation, a return to the concept of extended patrols into enemy controlled waters dictated an increase in range, endurance, and firepower for American submarines. Recommendations made by both Hart and Lockwood in 1938 called for future submarines to be capable of diving in under one minute, outfitted with fore and aft torpedo tubes, equipped with deck-mounted guns, and sufficiently stocked with enough food and fuel for patrols lasting up to three weeks and extending beyond 5,900 nautical miles.[39] Though these capabilities had been evident in some of the designs prior to 1938, the shift from defensive to offensive doctrine, in terms of design, coincided with the shift in the training and development at the United States Submarine School in New London, Connecticut.

The selection and process of transitioning either directly from the surface fleet or, for enlisted sailors upon completion of the various service schools within the Navy, were dependent on a variety of factors; the common factor, however, was the fact that all who served aboard submarines were volunteers who received specialized training at the Submarine School in New London, Connecticut. Established as a submarine base and the Submarine School in 1916, changes placed upon naval facilities at New London dictated a steady growth following the end of the First World War during the interwar years and an accelerated period of expansion during the few years preceding the America’s entry into the Second World War.[40] The application process for attendance at the school, for officers, was conditional. For ensigns, along with flight training at Pensacola, Florida, submarine training at New London was not available until two years’ experience was maintained in the surface fleet and their annual “reports of fitness” showed qualification “to stand watch as officer of the deck underway.”[41] The requirement  integral of the application process for solely for officers – the approval and involvement of their commanding officer – was in addition to the approval of the medical officer declaring the applicants’ medical qualification for service on submarines.[42] The advocacy of the previous commander, coupled with the documented ability to satisfactorily perform the basic component of a professional naval officer served as an indication of the maturity and leadership potential of men who would rise to the challenges and complexities of service in submarines. As all officers assigned to submarines were expected to frequently stand watch during wartime patrols, they assumed the responsibility for the ship and were effectively entrusted with command of a warship much earlier than their peers.[43]

As the most important part of the selection and application process for all potential submariners, the medical screening was detailed and thorough. Pre-war interest in the medical aspect of submarine operations were limited to less than ten medical officers, with the focus of their experience upon the physiological aspects of deep-sea diving.[44] With medical care onboard submarines on patrol limited to care provided by the pharmacist’s mate tending to routine illnesses and injuries incurred in the line of duty, pre-existing conditions or chronic medical issues would not only limit the effectiveness of the submarine’s patrol, but increase the workload on the crew as task-sharing would be imperative to ensure the safety of the boat.[45] Medical examinations prior to selection for attendance at the Submarine School a list of twelve benchmarks, including dental evaluations to guarantee the ability to use the breathing equipment used in escape, additional vision and hearing tests, as well as basic psychological tests.[46] As examples of the tenacity of character exhibited by those who desired not only a commission as an officer in the United States Navy, Eugene Fluckey’s eyesight had nearly resulted in expulsion from the Naval Academy in 1934 due to nearsightedness. Passing the final tests with his vision improved through a series of progressive prescriptions and self-directed strengthening exercises, Fluckey – deemed “an embarrassment to the naval medical profession” for his studious and stubborn determination – graduated the Academy in 1943 and completed Submarine School in 1938.[47] Lawson Ramage’s solution for similar poor vision due to an injury received at the Naval Academy was simple and effective – by memorizing the chart for his initial application and using his uninjured eye for an exam to determine the vision of each eye, he was accepted to the Submarine School in 1935.[48] Perseverance compelled such candidates, produced by the Naval Academy and refined through experience, for the specialized and complex training to wage submarine warfare and were filtered through the admission process and proceeded to New London.

The Submarine School, for those officers approved to attend, was multifaceted and intense. Each year, training at New London began in the beginning of January and July and lasted five and a half months.[49]Academic work in the mornings gave way to afternoons of practical exercises on attack trainers, ship handling on surplus submarines from the First World War, and scenario-based training where instructors would intentionally establish difficult conditions for the students to promote innovation and cooperation as the only keys to success.[50] The submarine force during the last few years of peace possessed more available open positions on operational submarines than graduates of the school in New London, leaving competition to be self-directed rather than direct; however, complacency and a casual approach towards mastery of the skills required of the officers was grounds for immediate classification as “unfit for submarine duty” and immediately removed from training. The ungainly and foreign design of the submarines themselves contributed greatly to the students’ mental stress due to the difficulties in even the simplest task of getting underway and mooring back on the docks.[51] As submarine warfare was complex in practice as it was in theory, the efforts of the school stressed an approach to leadership that drew influence and experience from the careers of naval officers prior to their arrival at New London. Coordination, cooperation, and reliability for the complex task of diving fostered a sense of safety through teamwork, and effective leadership to unify action with intent.[52] Upon completion of the school and assignment to an operational boat, the proper qualification as a submariner was a thorough and deliberate process. Qualification required recommendation from the skipper, an oral or written examination based upon knowledge of submarines and associated equipment, preparation, leadership, temperament, and efficiency as well as a practical test determining handling, operation, attack, and navigation.[53] As a final step towards command for executive officers deemed worthy of command, the establishment of the Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) School on the eve of the start of the Second World War correlated practice with contemporary doctrine. Where the Submarine School focused on the fundamentals of service aboard submarines, the PCO school was established early as an advanced course offering realistic training and evaluations of attacking.[54] Due to the quickened pace of combat operations during the war, the integration and communication between the academic and operational components responsible for the development of doctrine was necessary.  A month-long course with no more than 10 students per class, the PCO course was led by experienced skippers and produced 434 graduates in 63 classes held throughout the duration of the war.[55] Most importantly, though, the PCO school provided the officers with an extended network within the submarine force and would provide the foundation and credibility which would be vital during the inevitable war in the Pacific. The education process which led to the wartime submarine skippers, started with the Naval Academy and culminated in this final course as the United States Navy’s efforts to “lead, not follow, in the submarine operation, warfare, strategy, and tactics… quick to take up new progressive ideas.”[56]

Evolution of Threat

An appreciation of the threat posed by the Imperial Japanese Navy during the interwar years and into the Second World War offers a look at the catalyst responsible for the rapid evolution of doctrine and the challenges faced by American naval officers participating in the in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Within six hours of the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the order to “execute unrestricted air and submarine warfare against Japan” was issued by the Navy Department and the departure of the USS Gudgeon marked the beginning of the first offensive patrols of American submarines in hostile waters.[57] The Imperial Japanese Navy, at that moment existed as an example of the ineffectiveness of the interwar treaties which were intended to restrict the offensive capability of the signatory nations. Earlier successes against the Russian Navy at the battle of Tsushima in May1905 placed the Imperial Japanese Navy at the forefront of naval might in the Pacific.[58] Japan’s territorial dominance was reinforced upon the conclusion of the First World War when the League of Nations granted possession of strategic islands in the Pacific in 1920, and it was the further restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 which restricted the production of warships in the United States which exacerbated the power balance in the Pacific.[59] Compounding the misjudgments of Japanese naval production and development, the 1930s were a decade of intelligence failures, social ignorance, and political overconfidence which minimized the threat potential posed by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Naval aviation efforts by the Japanese was repeatedly scorned as being inferior and incapable of direct comparison with British and American aviation efforts. Similarly, the contemporary racial assumptions erroneously discredited Japanese operational and doctrinal abilities. Most importantly, however, was the official dismissal that Japanese aggression and technology was easily estimated, predictable, and would be easily countered by economic pressures and superior Allied naval capabilities. American intelligence before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor maintained an unfounded and biased view of the capabilities, while some naval personnel fully understood the potential threat and ability of the Japanese military forces.[60]

The development and implementation of effective intelligence efforts in the last few years of peace provided the first indications of Japanese intentions and would later prove to be vital in the persecution of Japan’s naval and maritime forces. The slow process of deciphering of the Japanese diplomatic and military codes and the consolidation of intelligence assets in key locations around the Pacific provided the first solid results in 1940 with the deciphering of JN-25 – the main naval code used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.[61] Despite this intelligence victory, the inability of the United States to sufficiently recognize, disseminate, and act upon the indications present in the deciphered political and military communications constituted only one part of a series of missed, or neglected opportunities.[62] The advancements in Japanese naval technology and doctrine placed the United States Navy at a severe disadvantage prior to the commencement of hostilities in 1941. Reliance on advancements in submarine and torpedo bomber efforts during the interwar years strongly complimented the development of long-range and potent “Long Lance” torpedoes supported the Japanese military intentions of increasing the engagement range of American battleships, thus negating the vaunted abilities of these key warships.[63]

Finally, Japanese anti-submarine warfare suffered significant developmental stagnation during the interwar years. The pre-war emphasis of anti-submarine assets primarily assigned to fleet screening, or protection duties, placed the Imperial Japanese Navy at a severe disadvantage at the beginning of the Second World War.[64] For those warships designated to be the prime defenders against the threat posed by American submarines, there were several factors which prevented their effectiveness throughout the war. Sonar, the ability to use sound waves to detect submerged objects or vessels, was a relatively new technology for the Imperial Japanese Navy, and though their anti-submarine vessels were fitted with basic sonar equipment, they lacked the ability to accurately determine the depth of enemy submarines, Japanese employment of depth charges relied on saturation of a target area where the identity of an enemy submarine was confirmed. Assuming American submarine construction prevented operational depths to exceed 400 feet, Japanese depth charges were designed with this requirement as the maximum effective depth.[65] Likewise, bathythermographs – equipment necessary in determining the presence of a underwater density layers which could hinder anti-submarine effort – were not available, later proving to be a significant  contributing factor which compounded the sonar technician and screen commanders ignorance of the environmental factors which influenced the tactical situation.[66] Lastly, trained sonar operators were a limited resource within the Imperial Japanese Navy. The enlisted and officer courses were no more than 7 months long, with very few officers attending and finishing the course; however, the facilities for training were limited and actual practice was conducted without the benefit of static land-based simulators.[67] Despite these nationally-induced limitations, the threat posed by Japanese anti-submarine efforts manifested a direct and capable threat to American submarines during the war and obligated the skippers to adapt through necessity to survive.

Wartime Evaluation of Doctrine

The devastation of the American surface fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 resulted in the submarine being the sole offensive weapon of the Navy at the beginning of the war. Recent analysis of naval strategy and tactics has resulted in the simple axiom of warfare that maintains that “the contribution of principles to warfare boils down to outthinking the enemy.”[68] As current literature covering the exploits of individual boats and their skippers is comprehensive, they would render a detailed study of their contributions to the war redundant in the context of the legacy and influence of the Naval Academy and Submarine School in the Pacific theater of operations in the Second World War. However, and understanding of several of the major issues faced and overcome by the skippers is critical in correlation between the academic foundations and the operational realities. The flaws in the interwar doctrine, equipment selection, and the Mark 14 torpedo necessitated the importance of outthinking the enemy for the simple reason that the effective application of the pre-war plans and vaunted weapons proved to be problematic and ultimately ineffective. The concept of offensive operations from the Philippines, though ideal on paper, proved to be a liability due to the Asiatic fleet’s reliance on the older and smaller S-boats for interdiction of the Japanese transports carrying the invasion forces to the northern shores of Luzon while the larger and more modern fleet boats were designated for patrols in the adjacent and stormy waters around the Philippines.[69] The trials and tribulations of the Asiatic fleet proved to be indicative of the problems experienced by the entire submarine force in the Pacific during the war. The practice of firing upon a target from a depth of 100 feet on sound bearings alone on December 10, 1941 by the USS Sailfish (SS-192) proved the interwar development of this engagement technique ineffective, eliciting a response from the escorting destroyers. The subsequent depth charge attack was sufficiently violent enough to cause the skipper to succumb to anxiety and pass command to his executive officer, marking the beginning of the slow professional realization within the submarine service that reluctance to press forth an aggressive and persistent attack would continue as a lingering and potent reminder of the misguided prewar doctrine.[70] In addition, unreliable engines and the deferment of shipboard maintenance issues deemed “minor” in peacetime, which turned out to be critical at the start of the war challenged the command ability of the older skippers in their ability to circumvent procedure for “practical.” The loss of the logistics facilities at Cavite Naval Base at the end of 1941 reflected a lack of consideration for the threat posed by maintaining a vital facility in close proximity to an obvious threat, and the lack of a contingency plan for such a possibility denoted an overall failure of the Navy in the adherence to the war planning conducted before the war.[71] Finally, and most importantly, the bureaucratic inaction upon discovering reliability issues with the Mark 14 torpedo, despite the initial patrol reports which indicated suspect defects was the final precursor to the challenges which would plague submarine skippers until a resolution was found and agreed upon by the operational fleet and the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance.[72]

The opening complications for the American submarine campaign in the Pacific effectively established the rhythm for the duration of the war, and though many of the issues faced by the American skippers were often repetitious, their responses and adaptation limited the effects and duration of these problems. The execution of unrestricted submarine warfare, as with all battles waged by man, centered on the human aspect of the fundamental skills of instilling inspiration, motivation, and execution necessary in the art of leadership; the shifting priorities of daily operations constituted a major part of the shifting change in how the skippers led, and were permitted to lead, their crews into combat. Morale of the skippers as well as the men under them was a continuing challenge for the commanders of the submarine forces based throughout the Pacific. The sudden and violent detonations from depth charges, aerial bombs, shore- and ship-based batteries compounded the excruciatingly protracted sonar searches from anti-submarine vessels and the sound of moored mines and overhead cable drags along the hull of the submarines attempting to remain as quiet as possible.[73] Though the USS Greenling (SS-213) sustained damage severe enough from 95 depth charges over a 2 ½ hour period requiring an early termination of its 12th patrol early in the beginning of 1945, the actions of the crew and skipper of the USS Puffer (SS-268) on its first patrol in 1942 prompted subsequent study and debate concerning the extremes of peril faced by submariners.[74] [75] Submerged for nearly 38 hours in an attempt to evade the persistent enemy warships above, the crew of the Puffer were subjected to physiological and psychological extremes never experienced before or after the attack, yet later medical studies cited the mental conditioning “by drill, training, and education” were responsible for the reluctance of the crew to gross panic.[76] Resourcefulness and initiative played a key role in the care of the wounded men under the skippers command as well. Faced with a case of appendicitis on the USS Seadragon (SS-194) on September 11, 1942, Lieutenant Commander Ferrall firmly buoyed the confidence of his pharmacists’ mate Wheeler Lipes, to perform the first emergency appendectomy while submerged in hostile waters. The surgery, performed using instruments, anesthesia, and antiseptic compounds all improvised from what was on board, proved successful and the first of three such procedures conducted underway.[77] It was this level of practical determination which formed a template for success as the skipper and which fostered bi-directional loyalty between the crew and the commander.

The mechanisms associated with the American submarine campaign underwent gradual refinement as a component of the influence of the effective leadership during the war. Skippers were entrusted to wage war in a manner which few outside of the international scope of naval officers understood or fully realized. The selection of the crews to serve on American submarines during the war occasionally followed the rationale which compelled submarine skippers to shirk conventionality for effectiveness. Instances of men being recruited into a boat’s crew due to disciplinary infractions were considered to indicate “courage of his convictions,” while alcoholism and temerity were countered by the difficulty in obtaining conventional liquor and an understanding of the command climate of other ships.[78] In comparison to the ideals of military discipline and hierarchy, the American submarine force frequently challenged these concepts; the bureaucratic rivalry between the operational forces using the Mark 14 torpedo at the beginning of the war and the Bureau of Ordnance responsible for the development and testing of this and subsequent offensive weapons of the submarines. Tested only twice during the initial development in the mid-1920s, the Mark 14 torpedo represented contemporary state-of-the-art technology and was put into production under extreme secrecy to prevent the vaunted magnetic detonator’s capabilities to become known to allies and potential threats alike.[79] However, as the pride accomplishment of the Bureau of Ordnance, the Mark 14 became a major culprit for the ineffectiveness of the submarine campaign during the first half of the Second World War. Beset by two additional and overlapping defects aside from the magnetic detonators – faulty depth-setting mechanisms which caused the weapon to run up to 11 feet deeper than the desired running depth, and the mechanical exploder’s firing pin which would distort upon impact – the primary weapon of the submarine proved to be a test of the tenacity and creativity of the submarine force leadership.[80] Criticisms of the weapon by operational skippers citing mechanical flaws as a major factor in the poor engagement records in the Pacific was met with petulant resistance by the Bureau which assigned poor maintenance and aiming techniques upon the skippers as the reasons for the weapons poor performance.[81] The frustration, relief of skippers deemed ineffective, and force-wide morale issues which were ultimately associated with the defective torpedoes were eventually resolved by leaders within the Pacific submarine force through the consolidation of initiative, mechanical knowledge, problem-solving techniques, and teamwork nurtured and reinforced from their professional education at the Naval Academy, Submarine School, and experience-based learning.

The evolution of the doctrine guiding submarine warfare was the most important benchmark of the increasing competence of the graduates of the Naval Academy and Submarine School. Despite the inauspicious start of their naval careers, men like Dealey, Ramage, Fluckey, O’Kane, and Street persisted in the face of adversity which claimed the professional careers of a third of their peers as a result of relief through “lack of aggressiveness,” among other reasons.[82] As the older naval officers were progressively replaced by younger and more spirited men unencumbered by the formal rigidities of the ineffective doctrine, the support offered by one of their earlier peers who maintained complimentary traits of intellect, initiative, and charisma – Charles Lockwood. Open to new ideas for technology which would increase the effectiveness and survivability of the crews under his command, Lockwood’s legacy was to foster leadership through obligation. Providing superior facilities at home ports as well as forward logistics support bases, Lockwood also directly challenged the Navy institution concerning the sacrifice of operational officers and personally conducted tests to verify the complaints submitted by his subordinates about the Mark 14’s performance.[83] This bi-directional commitment reflected on the performance of many of the submarine skippers during the war and reflected in several of their individual exploits. In 1944, Dealey’s Harder conducted the rescue of a downed American pilot by bringing the surfaced submarine in such close proximity to the beach of Woleai Island during the ongoing air attack that the hull was scraping the reef fringing the island.[84] Known as “the destroyer killer,” Dealey’s aggressiveness towards these potent anti-submarine warships often departed from the traditional tactics of avoidance and retreat; on the contrary, Dealey’s tactic of inviting the destroyers to attack, then firing torpedoes at the last moment left the advancing ship with few effective options for evasion.[85] Ramage, in the Parche, further distanced himself from the interwar doctrine in a 34-minute surface action on the night of July 31, 1944, with 15 hits of the 19 torpedoes fired during the attack and resulting in Ramage becoming the first non-posthumous submariner to be awarded the Medal of Honor.[86] Fluckey’s exploits in the attacks he led on the Barb against Japanese shipping in the Chinese harbor of Nam Kwan in 1945 made him a reluctant recipient of the Medal of Honor, but the Barb’s employment of rocket barrages and his idea and execution of disembarking volunteers from his crew to sabotage coastal railways on Japanese soil later that year lends supporting evidence at the progress and creativity in which both leadership and doctrine had shifted in the progress of the war.[87] Finally, as a measure of the success in the evolution of submarine warfare and the product of the professional education provided by the United States Navy, O’Kane incorporated the successful practices of his previous commander, Dudley Morton, in the administration of his command of the USS Tang (SS-306) to become one of the most successful combinations of talent and machinery during the war. Among the top five in best patrols by both number and tonnage of ships sunk, O’Kane represented both the Naval Academy and Submarine School as an ideal example of their contributions to the Second World War. These successes were curtailed by a malfunction and circular run of the Tang’s final torpedo which resulted in the loss of the boat and most of the crew on October 24, 1944; again, the professional education of the crew and O’Kane contributed to the only known underwater egress of a stricken submarine and the subsequent honorable conduct of the survivors as prisoners of war for the rest of the conflict.[88]

The American submarine campaign in the Pacific was not without controversy, however. Included in the ongoing debate over ethics of American skippers during the Second World War are several examples of lapses in judgement, situational awareness, or personal ethics of a few skippers. Dudley Morton’s decision to fire upon the survivors of the Japanese troopship Buyo Maru on January 26, 1943, while unpunished, represented one of a very few instances where the contemporary hatred for the enemy usurped compassion and professionalism.[89] The engagement and subsequent sinking of the Awa Maru by the USS Queenfish (SS-393) on April 1, 1945, constituted an odd example of the suspicions of American leadership using hospital ships and other vessels provided safe passage in accordance of international laws and treaties for the purpose of resupplying military forces. Though the skipper of the Queenfish immediately broke radio silence to transmit the discovery his mistake upon questioning survivors, his later court-marshal was an example of the responsibility, loyalty, and integrity instilled by the Naval Academy.[90] Far from perfect, the process of the attrition of Japan’s naval and merchant fleet was the result of the combination of the men, machines, and application of the accelerated learning process integral to conflict.


The United States Naval Academy and Submarine School produced a breed of naval officers unlike their contemporary surface counterparts in both mission and attitude. Financially, submarines constituted a sound financial investment in direct comparison with other warships of the United States Navy; the per unit cost of each boat ranged between $2.7 to $4.5 million and it took as little as 23 months between the start of construction and the first action against the enemy. [91] In contrast, battleship construction immediately prior to the Second World War required between 49 to 55 months for construction and an investment of up to $90 million per ship.[92] [93] Operationally, the men who were the products of these institutions were an investment of the Navy in terms of education, and the process for validation of the overall effectiveness of their training as well as their contributions to the evolution of doctrine was substantial. Most of the 1,471 patrols conducted by submarines during the Second World War represented 48 days on patrol, with 6 patrols extending past 80 days.[94] In terms of threat, the Imperial Japanese Navy constituted a substantial adversary intent on territorial expansion which was facilitated by maintaining naval supremacy. The focus of their research, development, and production of capital ships to augment the demands inherent in the protection of their growing empire, however, neglected the assets necessary for detecting and defeating the submarine threat to their extended logistics routes. Capitalizing on this weakness, submarines skippers pressed attacks accordingly upon this vulnerability; the final tallies conducted at the end of the war credited America submarines with 1,113 merchant vessels sunk – a loss of almost 4.8 million tons of vital shipping capacity.[95] It is important to note that while these numbers are impressive, what makes these figures even more significant is that the American submarines force constituted a mere 1.6 percent of the Navy’s manpower and consisted entirely of volunteers.[96] Operating in a hostile environment, the skippers led their crews through typhoons as well as the placid waters of shallow bays and rivers, with navigation learned at Annapolis and an with an appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of submarines assimilated in New London. As leaders, submarine skippers not only understood the critical tasks of their shipboard peers, they were trained and capable of assuming additional tasks due to illness, incapacitation, or other necessity.

Most importantly and vital to the success of the American submarines was the human element. Unlike their contemporaries serving on surface warships, naval officers upon submarines were, due to design of the boats and the crew size, in much closer proximity to the men they led which fostered a working relationship and personal understanding unique to the service. This bond was continually reinforced over the duration of patrols and the shared triumphs of successful attacks, the frustrations experienced with problematic torpedoes, and the implicit reliance each crewmember maintained on their shipmates to work towards the shared goals of survival and success. From the very beginning of their careers at the Naval Academy, the men who became the commanding officers of these small crews were rated not only on their own performance, but their capacity to contribute as a team member towards the effort of a crew at sea. This education continued to the Submarine School and highlighted the extreme dangers involved in submarine operation and employment and the importance of initiative and cooperation. As dual volunteers, submariners consisted of men determined to reach a goal, and often their path towards that goal necessitated duplicity or persistence to overcome the obstacles which would typically deter lesser men. The resulting breed of officers, therefore, possessed the ability to independently adapt to rapidly changing tactical and operational demands, as well as understand the circumstances and need to occasionally circumvent doctrine, equipment limitations, and convention to guarantee success. American submarine skippers, though subordinates in the hierarchy of the naval command structure, largely determined their own success and though many were relieved of command during the war, this was a reflection in the difficulties in transitioning from the established pre-war doctrine to the dynamic and fluid methods which actually worked in practice. In 1940, a submission to the professional journal of the United States Navy, Proceedings Magazine, offered a valid reminder of the importance of the role of the skipper on the submarine:

No one can help him. Germany had some 400 submarine captains during the war but over 60 per cent of the damage they did was accomplished by but 22 of these 400 officers. The inference is obvious. The one and great difficulty in submarine warfare is to find sufficiency of officers who will rise supe­rior to the incidental intricacies of these compli­cated vessels, who will make their opportunities and take advantage of them when found under conditions of hardship and acute discomfort[97]


The development of the American submarine skipper, starting at the United States Naval Academy, and further refined at the Submarine School, resulted in capable leaders who were situated at a significant point in the evolution of naval warfare. These officers proved to be critical participants in the successful efforts to defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy and merchant fleet in an aggressive and successful submarine campaign in the Pacific Theater of Operations in the Second World War. With little in the way of formal professional instruction on leadership, the graduates of these two institutions were instilled with the concept of leadership through obligation. Working from the template of experiential learning before it became a concept espoused by contemporary leadership education, the success of the skippers was the result of practical mentorship and the shared desire of their peers to succeed through cooperation and initiative, regardless of the obstacles and challenges.



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Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD September 29, 1934. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934. Accessed June 25, 2017.

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Denig, James L. “Food – Hawaii’s Vital Problem.” USNI Proceedings 66, no. 11 (1940): 1454-1460. Accessed June 25, 2017.

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Hamilton, James. “Battleships.” USNI Proceedings 66, no. 8 (1940): 1130-1137. Accessed June 25, 2017.

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[1] Alfred Thayer Mahan, Naval Strategy (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1911), 16.

[2] Robert B. Kaiser and Gordy Curphy, “Leadership Development: The Failure of an Industry and the Opportunity for Consulting Psychologists,” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 65, no. 4 (2013): 294-302, accessed June 25, 2017,, 294-295.

[3] “The American Submarine: a Select Filmography & Bibliography,”, n.d., accessed June 25, 2017,

[4] Robert Barnes, United States Submarines (New Haven, CT: H. F. Morse Associates, Inc., 1944), 11.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] Ibid., 99.

[8] Ibid., 59.

[9] Clay Blair Jr., Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1975), 24.

[10] Barnes, 113.

[11] Norman Friedman, US Submarines Through 1945: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995), 107.

[12] Chris Dubbs, America’s U-Boats (Lincoln: UNP – Nebraska, 2014), accessed June 25, 2017, ProQuest Ebook Central, 91.

[13] Blair, 33.

[14] Ibid., 386.

[15] William P. Leeman, Long Road to Annapolis (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), accessed June 25, 2017, ProQuest Ebook Central, 6.

[16] Ibid., 224.

[17] H.E. Rossell, “The College, the Technical School and the Naval Academy,” USNI Proceedings 56, no. 2 (1930): 123-131, accessed June 25, 2017,, 127.

[18] Leeman, 65.

[19] Reynolds B. Peele, Maritime Chokepoints: Key Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) and Strategy (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1997), accessed June 25, 2017,, 2-3.

[20] Alfred Thayer Mahan, Naval Strategy, 167.

[21] William M. McBride, Technological Change and the United States Navy, 1865–1945 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), accessed June 25, 2017, ProQuest Ebook Central, 176.

[22] The Lucky Bag 1935 – Annual of the Regiment of Midshipmen (United States Naval Academy: Annapolis, MD, 1935), accessed June 25, 2017,, 48.

[23] Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD September 26, 1930, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1930), accessed June 25, 2017,, 42.

[24] Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD September 25, 1931, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931), accessed June 25, 2017,, 54.

[25] Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD September 29, 1934, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934), accessed June 25, 2017,, 28, 44.

[26] Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD September 24, 1937, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1937), accessed June 25, 2017,, 52.

[27] Paul R. Schratz, Submarine Commander: A Story of World War II and Korea (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1988), 5.

[28] Ibid., 6.

[29] Albert A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010), accessed June 25, 2017, ProQuest Ebook Central, 2.

[30] Maurice Matloff and Edwin Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare 1941-1942 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1999), accessed June 25, 2017,, 9.

[31] Scot MacDonald, “Last of the Fleet Problems,”, 1962, accessed June 25, 2017,, 38.

[32] James L. Denig, “Food – Hawaii’s Vital Problem,” USNI Proceedings 66, no. 11 (1940): 1454-1460, accessed June 25, 2017,, 1456.

[33] Blair, 26.

[34] Albert A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940, 41.

[35] Ibid., 233.

[36] Ibid., 307.

[37] Hunter Stires, “1941 Asiatic Fleet Offers Strategic Lessons,” USNI Proceedings 142, no. 8 (2016), accessed June 25, 2017,

[38] Friedman, 100, 222.

[39] Ibid., 223.

[40] “Naval Submarine Base New London – History,”, accessed June 25, 2017,

[41] United States Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1942), accessed June 25, 2017,, 26.

[42] Ibid., 321.

[43] Henry Felsen, He’s in Submarines Now, (New York, NY: Robert M. McBride & Co. 1942), accessed June 25, 2017, 128.

[44] C.W. Schilling, History of Submarine Medicine in World War II (New London, CT: U.S. Medical Research Laboratory, 1947), 2.

[45] Ibid., 12.

[46] Ibid., 14-15.

[47] Carl LaVO, The Galloping Ghost (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2007), 10-14, 33.

[48] Stephen Moore, Battle Surface!: Lawson P. “Red” Ramage and the War Patrols of the USS Parche (New York, NY, USA: Naval Institute Press, 2011), accessed June 25, 2017, ProQuest ebrary, 6.

[49] United States Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, 322.

[50] Schratz, 25-26.

[51] Ibid., 26, 27.

[52] Ernest W. Brown, “The Human Mechanism and the Submarine,” USNI Proceedings 66, no. 10 (1940): 1608-1613, accessed June 25, 2017,, 1608-1609.

[53] United States Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1942), 322.

[54] Schratz, 29.

[55] Arnold Lotring and Jeff Fowler, “PCO Training: Making the Best Better,”, 1999, accessed June 25, 2017,

[56] Barnes, 129.

[57] Blair, 84.

[58] “The Development of Japanese Sea Power – ‘Know Your Enemy!’,”, 1945, accessed June 25, 2017,, 23.

[59] Matloff,2.

[60] McBride, 202.

[61] Blair 54-53.

[62] Blair, 67.

[63] McBride, 172, 202.

[64] United States Navy, Japanese Anti-Submarine Warfare, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1946), accessed June 25, 2017,, 7.

[65] Japanese Anti-Submarine Warfare, 11-12.

[66] Ibid., 41.

[67] Ibid., 43.

[68] Wayne P. Hughes, Fleet Tactics – Theory and Practice (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1986), 144-145.

[69] Blair, 112.

[70] Blair, 121.

[71] Blair 133-134.

[72] Blair 137.

[73] Navy Department, Bureau of Ships, Submarine Report Depth Charge, Bomb, Mine, Torpedo, and Gunfire Damage Including Losses in Action 7 December, 1941 to 15 August, 1945 Volume I and Volume II, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1949), accessed June 25, 2017, VII, 12-13.

[74] Ibid., 288.

[75] Craig McDonald, The Distorted History of the USS Puffer (SS 268), The Klaxon, 2006, accessed June 25, 2017,, 2.

[76] Duff, 78.

[77] Duff, 36.

[78] Schratz, 112-113.

[79] Blair, 35.

[80] Blair, 258, 261.

[81] Schratz, 43.

[82] James DeDrose, Unrestricted Warfare: How a New Breed of Officers Led the Submarine Force to Victory in World War II, (New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2000), 4.

[83] Blair, 566, 410-411.

[84] Michael Sturma, Death at A Distance, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 44.

[85] Ibid., 120.

[86] Moore, 129, 171.

[87] LaVO, 112-113, 124-125.

[88] Blair, 743-744.

[89] Blair 358.

[90] Blair, 813-814.

[91] Rodney Watterson, 32 In 44: Building the Portsmouth Submarine Fleet in World War II (New York, NY, USA: Naval Institute Press, 2011), 107, 111.

[92] James Hamilton, “Battleships,” USNI Proceedings 66, no. 8 (1940): 1130-1137, accessed June 25, 2017,, 1131.

[93] “Professional Notes,” USNI Proceedings 65, no. 12 (1939): 1791-1818, accessed June 25, 2017,, 1792.

[94] Ivan F. Duff, Medical Study of the Experiences of Submariners as Recorded in 1,471 Submarine Patrol Reports in World War II, (Washington D.C.: Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Navy Department, 1949), accessed June 25, 2017,, 166.

[95] “Summaries of Japanese Shipping Losses During World War II by All Causes,”, n.d., accessed June 25, 2017,

[96] Blair, 853.

[97] Brown, 1609.


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