Honorable Mention, 2016 Lyman Awards, presented by the North American Society for Oceanic History
This book is a thrillingly-written story of naval planes, boats, and submarines during World War I.
When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, America’s sailors were immediately forced to engage in the utterly new realm of anti-submarine warfare waged on, below, and above the seas by a variety of small ships and the new technology of airpower. The U.S. Navy substantially contributed to the safe trans-Atlantic passage of a two million man Army that decisively turned the tide of battle on the Western Front even as its battleship division helped the Royal Navy dominate the North Sea. Thoroughly professionalized, the Navy of 1917–18 laid the foundations for victory at sea twenty-five years later.
Lisle A. Rose grew up in Champaign, Illinois where his father was on the faculty of the University of Illinois. Rose enlisted in the U.S. Navy in July 1954 and served on three ships making cruises to the Far East, Latin America, and the polar regions. Aboard the icebreaker Staten Island he participated in Operation Deepfreeze II to Antarctica between November 1956 and April 1957. He was honorably discharged from the service in September of that year and obtained a BA in history from Illinois in 1961 and a PHd in American History from the University of California-Berkeley in 1966. Following teaching at various universities between 1966-72, Rose joined the U.S. Department of State's Historical Office from 1972-78 where he was one of a team of professional historians editing the ongoing official series Foreign Relations of the United States. Transferring to the Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs, Rose was Polar Affairs Officer from 1978 to 1982 where he prepared an Arctic policy statement, negotiated the annual U.S. scientific program in Greenland with the Government of Denmark, and helped form an Interagency Arctic Policy Group to formulate official U.S. policy on that region. In 1980, he was a member of the United States Delegation to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. In 1982 Rose transferred to the Office of Advanced Technology Affairs where he specialized in the international aspects of the U.S. Landsat earth remote sensing satellite program and was part of a two person negotiating team that with representatives from the Soviet Union, France, and Canada completed the COSPAS-SARSAT intenational search and rescue sattelite system. Rose retired from the Department of State in 1989 in order to resume an active writing career in Cold War, naval, and polar history.
Rose currently resides in Edmonds, Washington with his wife, historian Harriet Dashiell Schwar, and is Library Coordinator and member of the Board of Governors of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. Rose's professional memberships include the American Polar Society, North American Society of Oceanic Historians, U.S. Naval Institute, other organizations.
When we think of the Great War our minds’ eyes drift to trenches, gas and dogfights. America’s Sailors In The Great War: Seas, Skies And Submarines tells the story of the men and ships that guarded the supplies and troops on the routes across the Atlantic between North America and Europe, pursued U-Boats, mined the channels and initiated naval aviation.
America’s trade with belligerents was transported in unusual vessels in the summer of 1916 when the German monster “merchant” U-boat, Deutchland, designed to transport New World supplies through the British blockade, made two visits to the United States. More menacing was the surfacing of U-53 in Narragansett Bay near the US Naval War College in September. During the next few days U-53 sank five merchant vessels within sight of the Newport Lighthouse.
Due to the lead time require to bring ships into service, the Navy was America’s best prepared force and the first to make its presence known in the war zone. Less than six weeks after the Declaration of War, Division 8 consisting of five destroyers arrived at Queenstown, Ireland “ready now…except for refueling.”
Armed forces are shaped by the wars they fight. Britannia ruled the waves but Germany’s opportunity was to interdict supplies so as to starve Britain out of the war. Surface raiders had a role but most of the work was carried out by the U-boats that actually spent most of their time on the surface. America’s Navy was therefore molded to take on U-boats with destroyers, subchasers and mine layers.
The U. S. Army would be of no value until it could be transported to France. That unprecedented task was laid upon the United States Navy. It provided escorts for convoys traveling from Halifax for British ports, and New York and Hampton Roads for Brest, St. Nazaire, La Pallice and Bordeaux. The Navy can be justly proud if its success in this assignment.
Readers are introduced to both the big picture of the role of the Navy in the War and the lives of the individual sailors. Analyses of the states of the American Navy and the War at the time of the America’s declaration of war, the relationships between the United States and Royal and German Navies and the Unrestricted Submarine Warfare that finally compelled a reluctant President Wilson to lead his country into war are the subjects of the first chapter, “State of Play”. The next topic is the “Call To Quarters” as the Americans are quickly incorporated into the nautical combat.
Planes were merely new tools adopted by all forces. Early naval aircraft were generally seaplanes that did not require aircraft carriers. One of the most interesting chapters deals with the development of the convoy system that became essential when success on the battlefield relied on the transportation of men and supplies from Canada and the United States.
The USN deployed a variety of vessels: the destroyers that protected the convoys and hunted their menacing U-boats, the battleships that, although little suited to the action of the War, did, on occasion, provide artillery support to land forces, the submarines that hunted other submarines, the minesweepers that made channels impassable and, perhaps unique to this war, the subchasers, essentially yachts that were produced in large numbers to be sent out in search of U-boats.
Much of the sailors’ sagas are found in their entertaining anecdotes. Division 8’s sailors who arrived in European looking forward to encounters with Irish colleens were disappointed to find “not a one had any teeth, their hair looked like rope and they had no shape.” (P.58) later arrivals aroused jealousy among the Irish lads. Quick backpedaling was required by the drunken swabbie who shouted “To hell with King George” below his portrait in a Liverpool bar. When a husky Anzac replied with “To hell with President Wilson”, the Yank offered a hand and cried, “That’s what I say! I’m a Republican.” P 183
In “America’s Sailors In The Great War” I find an excellent introduction to the men and machines that so heroically completed the missions assigned to them. Names of ships and men who crewed them who would achieve fame in a later war, such as Texas, Arizona, Nimitz, Kimmel and Halsey are distributed throughout this tome. It is well researched and skillfully crafted so as to retain the reader’s attention. By the time I closed this work I had a much firmer understanding of the contributions of America’s sailors to the Great War.