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THE UNITED STATES NAVY: 200 Years by Edward L. Beach



Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Henry Holt

A consistently engrossing, episodic account of the men, ships, and events that, in the author's informed opinion, contributed to (or obstructed) development of the US Navy from the post-Colonial era through WW II's Pacific campaigns. An Annapolis grad who retired with the rank of captain in 1966 after nearly 32 years of active service, Beach (Submarine!; Run Silent, Run Deep) points out that until 1941 the Navy spent only about 56 hours in actual combat. With narrative flair that would do credit to a Forester or Marryat, the author recounts the principal pre-WW II engagements, which included three well-fought frigate duels during an undeclared conflict with France in 1798, a series of battles on the Great Lakes as well as at sea during the War of 1812, Civil War clashes (the Monitor/Merrimac stalemate, Farragut's triumph in Mobile Bay), and a couple of squadron actions (Manila Bay, Santiago de Cuba) against outclassed Spanish forces in 1898. All but ignoring John Paul Jones (a Scotsman whose greatest victory was won in a French vessel), Beach dates the Navy's founding to an act of Congress in 1794. Among its early heroes, he numbers Thomas Truxton, a battle-tested commander who set the seagoing service's first standards for organization and training. There are villains as well as paragons in Beach's log of the Navy's formative years. Their ranks encompass Alexander Mackenzie, a ""sanctimonious prig"" who in 1842 hung three crewmen on the school ship under his command in the probably mistaken conviction they were plotting a mutiny. The summary executions helped accelerate establishment of the Naval Academy in 1845, but the author's detailed reprise leaves little doubt he views the affair as a blot on the fleet. There are, however, far more good exemplars than bad in Beach's anecdotal chronicle. Iconclasts given to questioning the status quo and apostles of constructive change (e.g., the charismatic William S. Sims, a Teddy Roosevelt favorite) as well as visionary strategists like Alfred Thayer Mahan are respectfully covered throughout. In common with their Army brethren, many naval officers have tended to prepare for past wars, the author finds; at any rate, he observes, the crucial role of aircraft carriers and submarines was not widely appreciated until WW II was well under way. In a brief, generally approving epilogue, Beach summarizes the progress of the Navy since V-J Day, remarking en passant that today's nuclear subs are larger than the dreadnought battleships which symbolized naval power as recently as the turn of the 20th century. A salty overview that should delight armchair admirals. There will be 32 pages of illustrations--maps, charts, line drawings, and photographs--in the completed text.