How They Became Legends (Part 3 of 8)

Continued from Part 2


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.”[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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. [9] [10] [11] [12]

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

Next: Interwar Doctrine and the Submarine School

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

[2] Ibid., 224.

[3] 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.

[4] Leeman, 65.

[5] 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.

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

[7] 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.

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

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] 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.

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

[14] Ibid., 6.

[15] 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.

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

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

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

[19] Blair, 26.


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