Shanghaied!

The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in 1865, but right on into this century sailors were routinely drugged, beaten, and kidnapped to man America’s mighty merchant marine

William Davis, a cabinet-maker, left his home near Great Salt Lake in the Utah Territory in the mid-1870s and headed for Northern California, a fast-growing region where he hoped to earn up to six dollars a day by adapting his expertise to ship carpentry. He made the eight-hundred-mile trek with his wife, Isabelle, and three small children, the youngest of whom was just six weeks old. Read more »

Tokyo, 1945

The author entered the conquered capital days after the surrender to meet high officers of the Imperial Navy

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1945, I was a naval officer in Norfolk, Virginia, contemplating my inevitable return to the Western Pacific, when two bombs were dropped, the Soviets entered the war, and the Japanese emperor prevailed on his government to throw in the towel. On August 28 the first occupation forces arrived; on September 2 the formal surrender took place. A few days later Rear Adm. R. A. Ofstie, for whom I was working, called me down the hall and asked if I would like to go to Japan. Read more »

Sea Dogs

They padded aboard submarines and proved themselves steadfast in boredom and in battle. During the worst of war these canine mascots brought their shipmates some of the comfort of home.

SAILORS HAVE BEEN TAKING DOGS TO SEA SINCE A PAIR OF canines shipped out with Noah. Nevertheless, the picture of the floppy-eared poodle, looking as jaunty and confident as the young submariners who surrounded her, surprised me. What was the dog’s name? I wondered. Why was it on a submarine? A scrawl on the back of the photo revealed only that this was the crew of the USS Whale after its return from its eighth war patrol in the Pacific. Read more »

The Biggest Theater

Revisiting the seas where American carriers turned the course of history, a Navy man re-creates a time of frightful odds and brilliant gambles.

Some memories are good and some bad, but the fact is that they change over the years. All of us who were part of it can recall how angry we were about the war against the Axis Powers. We were mad at all of it: Pearl Harbor, enemy atrocities, everything. We were also angry on the personal level at the necessity of going to war, at the consequent disruptions to our lives, at the risks we had to take, the privations, and the all-pervading, constant fear. We hated it, or thought sincerely that we did.Read more »

A Place To Be Lousy In

The American army that beat Hitler was thoroughly professional, but it didn’t start out that way. North Africa was where it learned the hard lessons—none harder than the disaster at Kasserine. This was the campaign that taught us how to fight a war.

There was no light. Most of the soldiers in the boats couldn’t see anything, but they knew they must be close because the wind offshore brought the smell of charcoal smoke and dry grass. The first assault troops landed sometime after eight bells. The only sounds they heard were the metallic jingle of their gear and the crunch of their boots on the wet beach. Two shore-based searchlights snapped open to look for aircraft. It took a moment for the enemy to realize that danger was coming at them not from the sky but from the sea.Read more »

The Second Sinking Of The ‘Maine’

Giving the men who died aboard America’s first battleship a decent funeral took fourteen years, three-quarters of a million dollars, and some hair-raising engineering. But in the end, they did it right.

On the evening of February 15, 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine rode peacefully at her mooring in Havana Harbor. Officially she was there on an innocuous diplomatic mission, but many saw her presence as a demonstration of U.S. sympathy for Cuban rebels in their struggle against Spanish imperialism. Read more »

School For Sailors

A novelist and historian takes us on a tour of the Academy at Annapolis, where American history encompasses the history of the world.

Watery is the first word that comes to mind as you enter the main gate of the U.S. Naval Academy, at the foot of the Maryland town that has become the school’s other name, Annapolis. The broad Severn River greets the sea reaches of Chesapeake Bay a few hundred yards away. A few miles farther out is the Atlantic. Just across Prince George Street is Annapolis harbor, crammed with sloops and power boats. This is obviously a good place for a school for sailors, a nursery of admirals. Read more »

Navy Power A View From The Air

Seventy-five years ago a powered kite landed on a cruiser. From that stunt grew the weaponry that has defined modern naval supremacy.

For hundreds of years ships of war were of wood, moved by the wind. Their long-range weapons were simple cannon, while at short ranges, with ships locked alongside one another in deadly embrace, the sailors used cutlasses, sabers, pikes, and small arms. The strategy of sea power consisted of maneuvering, out of sight and beyond knowledge, into position where the power of the guns and their trained crews could become decisive.

Inventing A Modern Navy

Chaos and farce and catastrophe played a big part. But so did a few men of vision.

This is the story of the efforts of naval officers to bring steam, coal, iron, steel, and high explosives together in satisfying combination during the last century. It was a time of transformation and change when the U.S. Navy made its way from the old sailing ships of the line to the dreadnought, also known in its first American version as the Skeerd of Nuthin . What we know of all this is still pretty much what the historian Frank M.Read more »

Four Months On The Front Line

A former Marine recalls the grim defense of Guadalcanal in 1942

July 1942. Winter in Wellington, New Zealand, brought long, slanting sheets of rain that drenched the U.S. Navy transports looming huge and dark along the city’s docks. The men of the 1st Marine Division labored around the clock to combat-load the ships. The artillery, tanks, and communications gear were distributed among all the vessels so that if one or more were sunk by enemy fire, no vital component would be irretrievably lost. Read more »