What should I read about the U.S. Navy?

I would like to learn more about the U.S. Navy.  What should I read?

I thank you all in advance for your excellent suggestions.


Heart of Oak taught me much about how different the US Navy was by WWII.

Have you read Eliot Morrison's excellent, Two Ocean War?

How about the work of Samuel Eliot Morison, an actual naval officer and historian?


Or maybe you could just check out the winners of the Samuel Eliot Morison Award For Naval Literature?


This sort of situation highlights the dire need for an AI-powered internet information synthesis application. You've got a list of Samuel Eliot Morison Award winners. But you're not going to read them all, so you want to somehow filter or rank them. But wikipedia isn't interested in providing book ratings or sales figures. On the other hand, doing it manually by looking everything up on amazon one-by-one is not a pleasant task. It should be trivial to hook up that list to amazon and be able to rank the books by amazon sales rank or rating.

Of course this one specific case would be easy to write, but the point is to make it general so you can create arbitrary new syntheses on the spot.

1. Goodreads ratings are terrible.

2. The application could do it instantly, imagine shaving off 5 minutes over hundreds of millions of instances of such trivial information combination tasks.

3. It would take so little time because there are few books. What if I wanted to do something similar for the TSPDT 1000 greatest films? Then we're back to writing trivial code to automate the task.

Question: Which book on a list of 30 naval book recommendations is the best?

Anon answer: Create an "AI-powered internet information synthesis application" that is scalable to "hundreds of millions of instances." Run your mega-system on the 30 books.

AG27780 answer: Spend 5 minutes sticking the books in a pre-existing ratings website (whose ratings are fine for most nonfiction) and sort by rating.

Affiliate sales revenue?


"The U.S. Navy is building a fleet that is not adapted to either the future mission set or rising threats. It is being built centered around aircraft carriers and submarines. Surface ships are being constructed as either escorts for the carriers or as ballistic-missile-defense platforms. While the littoral combat ship (LCS) was originally intended for sea-control operations in the near-shore environment, its current design is best employed as a mother ship for other platforms to enter the littorals. The result of all this is a brittle—and thus risk-adverse—fleet that will not give us influence, may increase the likelihood of conflict, and reduce the range of mission options available to the national command authority."

"While the littoral combat ship (LCS) was originally intended for sea-control operations in the near-shore environment, its current design is best employed as a mother ship for other platforms to enter the littorals. The result of all this is a brittle..."

I don't understand how the LCS becoming a mother ship makes the Navy brittle. Indeed, I would expect turning the LCS into a Drone carrier with expendable drones to make the Navy less brittle. Drones can be sensor platforms, gun platforms and used directly as missiles if need be. All with less risk to US personnel than using manned aircraft would entail.

It is brittle because of the development of precision weaponry that can relatively easily disable/destroy the mothership. No mothership no drones. Basically by relying on a few key ships, it makes those ships vulnerable due to an advancement in offensive weaponry that hasn't been matched by an advancement in defensive technologies.

Oh, ok, the issue is the low number of LCS motherships, not the concept of a mothership. Yes, I would agree and that's also the Achille's Heel of large aircraft carriers.

A carrier (especially considered with it's full complement of escorts) is theoretically a lot more survivable than the LCS. The LCS is much smaller, built to lower standards, and has orders of magnitude less defensive weaponry, reloads, and staying power.

Plus, the "theory" of the LCS is to operate semi-independently, which exacerbates the problems laid out above. An LCS, operating alone in a near-shore environment, is highly vulnerable to cheap and plentiful anti-ship missiles in a way a carrier is not.

We also don't have much knowledge of how effective either offensive or defensive naval weaponry is since it's been rarely used, and the largest use came over 30 years ago (in the Falklands war). So it's possible that new weapons (like Chinese precision-targeted ballistic missiles) might render carriers (or any other ship) vulnerable, but it's also possible the various countermeasures employed against them (Aegis BMD) is more effective.

But... that's really the cutting edge stuff. Nobody but the Chinese has that sort of tech. The stuff we'd be facing against anyone else would be technology that a carrier group has largely proven invulnerable to. But which a smaller group of LCSs might be endangered by.

Which is why, when push comes to shove, the USN seems to be shying away from actually introducing the LCS into situations it was designed to handle.

JWatts and Illuvtacos

There were German and Dutch corvette designs that could have done the job-- and production and knowledge base transferred to US shipyards.

The problem is you have an expensive ship that cannot be put "in harm's way". Now given modern politico-military realities, the sort of calculated risk with human life that took place in say WW2 with the USN just couldn't happen now (in anything but a full scale war). And a trained seaman or seawoman is a vastly more expensive and time consuming exercise than it was in WW2 with conscripts (where you got some of the cream of the crop hoping to avoid being drafted into the infantry).

Nonetheless the USN won't have enough, and they won't be prepared to risk them. The defence cost death spiral strikes again.

I also have a suspicion about Mine Counter Measures. First and foremost it's deeply undervalued-- that's a USN tradition vs. say the RN, which remembers the grievous cost of mine warfare in WW2 (whereas the data showing mines did as much harm to the Japanese merchant fleet as subs was only declassified 40 years later).

Second that it needs purpose built ships-- which as I understand it, LCS is supposed to provide, but I am not sure that it does.

In asymmetric warfare at sea (the most likely kind) mines rank up there with hypersonic cruise missiles in terms of the technology preferred by the weaker against the stronger.

Low numbers, weak construction, and minimal defenses.

The LCS is the fusion of two good ideas into one worst-of-both-worlds bad idea.

Good idea #1: A small, fast, attack craft that can take the battle to the enemy in his own waters with hit-and-run attacks, but is ultimately cheap and expendable. Better for any navy other than the one whose psychological selling point is that its ships are always the ones that are still afloat at the end of the fight, but at least worth hedging the USN's bets on.

Good idea #2: The dominant force in naval warfare is now air power, and in the littorals that means helos and drones. Whatever we use for inshore warfighting, needs to be a full-service helicopter carrier, even if it's only a couple of manned helos and 3-4 drones. That's a genuinely good idea regardless.

Problem: the logistical footprint of even a small helicopter force just plain doesn't fit into anything smaller than a decent frigate, and making a frigate blindingly fast while simultaneously cheap and "expendable", doesn't really work. Given the absolute requirements of "carries 2+ helos" and "40 knots speed" and "no more than a quarter of a billion dollars", and because someone scared the Navy about one particular threat, "can deal with 20-30 small speedboats at the same time", the navy got exactly and only that, except that because it was a military procurement it didn't turn out to be cheap after all.

It is a 40-knot helipad that is really good at killing speedboats, and that's about it. Traditional functions of a warship, like being able to sink enemy warships in battle, defending itself against determined attack, even surviving high seas and storm or enduring a long patrol, mostly got lost along the way. And the value of having your helipad be able to steam around at forty knots (for maybe a day before the fuel runs out) is kind of limited when the helos and drones are many times faster.

Were it up to me, there'd have been two ship classes, and the twenty-knot helicopter frigate would have doubled as a support ship for 2-3 of the fast-attack craft.

The technical term for a surface ship is "sitting duck".

No, there are two types on Naval vessels.....Submarines and targets.

A submarine is not a surface ship

The Nightingale's Song by Robert Timberg

Current Navy? Wikipedia is a good choice for what our current fleet looks like.


Hornfischer's "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" is a good read about the battle off Samar Island. Pretty specific but well worth the time.


Not just interesting about the battle, but about the philosophy of the DDE, how they were made, and so quickly and cheaply. Its very American - so-so quality but lots of them, like the Sherman tank.

One major question to ask yourself is how fast the US could build a new carrier if we lost one in a serious war now.

Same with building a new squadron of fighter, etc.

This should inform one's policy belief about defense spending. It may not be WW II anymore where you can crank these out at high speed production.

Indeed, similarly with Liberty ships (designed to be built quickly and cheaply with an expected five-year lifetime), the USN's light carriers (they took cruisers that were being constructed and turned them into aircraft carriers), escort carriers (which were often cargo ships similarly transmogrified), and arguably the Curtiss P-40 (not an especially good plane, but it's what the Army Air Corps had at the start of the war so crank them out until later better planes could be developed and built such as the P-38, P-47, and P-51).

The Sherman tanks though were different in one respect: they were the tanks that the US Army had actually decided it wanted to go to war with (unlike say their predecessor the M3 tank). Whereas the DDEs and the other ships listed, as well as the P-40, were stopgap measures: something to build and fight with until the manufacturers had time to build (and often design) better quality output: real destroyers, better cargo ships (e.g. the Victory ship instead of the Liberty ship), fleet carriers, escort carriers designed from the keel up, and the later model fighter aircraft.

My take on that is that if we lost *one* we would simple take an old one out of mothball. If we lost a bunch, i think we would have to rethink our naval strategy.

It's not as if the US was ready in 1939 to turn on the spigot and have a massive number of carriers flood out. 1940, 41, and 42 were mainly spent tooling up for the war, and the great bounty didn't start to flow until 1943. Most of the new carriers that came out in 43 had been laid down in early '41 - so it's not like the US was just popping out multiple carriers every few months.
I'm sure it would be even slower now, but our current carriers are way larger, with far more electronics (plus nuclear reactors), than an Essex class (the workhorse of the ww2 era). The reality is, that if we were losing carriers and still really needed them in this age of cruise missiles and drones, we would build a bunch of crappier essex style carriers - not quite as small as them, but without a lot of the bells and whistles of the current class. And we'd also have to do so expecting 2+ more years of war.

I'd suggest:

Early days / existential questions -- Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy

1900s / Rooseveltian force projection -- THEODORE ROOSEVELT'S NAVAL DIPLOMACY: The U.S. Navy and the Birth of the American Century

Modern Navy / how the former NATO supreme commander ran a ship -- DESTROYER CAPTAIN: Lessons of a First Command

A strong second for Six Frigates.

Perhaps Destroyer Skipper (http://www.amazon.com/Destroyer-Skipper-Memoir-Command-Sea/dp/0891415556/) instead of Destroyer Captain.

Maybe Thunder Below, Silent Running, or some other sub book?

To be honest, the best view into a U.S. pacific campaign today is probably the Falklands, where Brits were operating against a foe with overall poorer technology, but strong anti-access/area-denial capacity (exocets) and at the end of their logistical range for both bombers and warships, and hence with no quality fighter cover at all. Plus, there are a number of good books about the campaign.

+1 For Six Frigates.

Blogs and Magazines:

Day to day, the best aggregator is realcleardefense, there's a few others, but that's the one that's best. Hell, if you know how to navigate Reddit or Imgur, you can get some *really* good information there.

If you're looking for some podcasts, I'd try something like Midrats, which has had some good interviews over the years.

Or, if you're not serious you can read a book I guess. Admirals and Chief of Staffs usually put out something when they retire, 'a harrowing tale of leadership' with a picture of themselves in full dress or sometimes a boat on the cover.

Proceedings likely requires a set of knowledge not to be assumed by an academic from the ivory tower, but it is most certainly a good source of what many people responsible for the American Navy read in a professional sense.

Though it has been years since I last read a copy, admittedly.

These blogs will provide discussion and pointers to further reading

This one has multiple very knowldegable writers

Here's something on carriers from one of the better writers there:


This one is more overtly political, but provides some very good analysis someimtes.

USNI is a good source


Morison's history of ww2 is excellent.

War Plan Orange isn't half bad either.

Red Storm Rising gives you good idea of ASW and anti-surface warfare. All gone now.

I've always said the navy invented strategery, since under sail you don't point at where you want to go -- you point to where the wind will work with you to get the final point.

But in reality they mostly invested blown up budgets.

Start with the foundational work: "The Influence of Sea Power Upon History," by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1890).

Great place to start.
Also, In Harm's Way, about the USS Indianapolis in WW2.

I strongly recommend a book that gives a fascinating history of a critical part of the Navy, the Marine Corps, which teaches a lot about the Navy itself. It's not obvious to most how or why this semi-separate service started, or even how the Navy got started and re-started, particularly the pirate-driven Continental Navy. "Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps," by Allan Millett (former Marine Corps historians and former colonel). You even get insights on diplomacy, particularly as waged by Ben Franklin in France (who apparently gamed French expectations of Americans being ruffians who wore fringe leather and coon-skin hats, eventually compelling the British Navy a reason to split up and give the new states a huge break they needed).

This document is driving the US Navy's emerging strategy in the Pacific as it becomes clear that anti-access/area-denial weapons systems and the threat of nuclear war make a strategy centered around striking mainland China untenable. A blockade at a distance is the only credible threat that the United States can bring to the negotiating table.


The Hunt for Red October

One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890-1990, by Robert Baer.

One Hundred Years of Sea Power is a good book, but was written by George W Baer. He's currently a Strategy and Policy professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. with David Henderson (EconLog and the prof who introduced me to this blog). They may have some good ideas on what to read as well.

They would also be a good entry point with the faculty to get access to some non-published reading material. They advise Masters level students (usually mid-grade Navy Officers) research for their MBA/Operations Analysis Thesis, conduct their own research for DoN/DoD, and sometimes get sucked up into senior level positions in DoD to fill positions for a year or two before being returned to their Academic positions. Senior leaders often come through the school as well for Q & A sessions with the students and faculty.

Oops, thanks for the name correction. My apologies to professor Baer.

Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew

Fascinating book.

Yup, and I know a retired Sewerpipe Sailor who enjoyed it also.

You might consider Storm Center: The USS Vincennes and Iran Air Flight 655 : a Personal Account of Tragedy and Terrorism by Will C. Rogers, who commanded the Vincennes. It's a somewhat mundane telling (and excusing) of a sensational error. It gives some sense of a naval operation in the era of missiles and digital data processing.

Well, a sensational error that did not stop him from being awarded a medal, as noted here - 'In 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989." The award was given for his service as the commanding officer of the Vincennes from April 1987 to May 1989. The citation made no mention of the downing of Iran Air 655.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655#Post-tour_of_duty_medals

And one of the most reliable ways to get a comment deleted at any conservative web site is to mention Iran Air 655. Apparently, only bad guys shoot down civilian airliners, and give the person in charge medals.

World of Warships by wargaming.net

This is a serious post. The company is based in Crete, gives away a free well researched 3D rendered massive online game with US USSR Brit China fleets to play with.

Ask this man..? He works for the U.S. Navy's Dept of Economics: http://www.usna.edu/Users/econ/swope/

It's the Naval ACADEMY's economics department. A couple of faculty members work on naval economic history:



The first part of The Caine Mutiny is a very good account of what WW II service was like for a junior officer, based on Herman Wouk's service aboard minesweepers in the Pacific.

I don't have experience to judge the accuracy of the details, but I found the portrayal of life in the navy to be very vivid and articulate. I felt like i was getting a real sense of what it was like ot be in the navy at that time, at least as Wouk experinced or saw it. Plus, captain Queeg is a great antagonistic character. I didn't fully grasp the lawyer's rant at the end of the book, but the movie (on which Wouk consulted) made the moral arguments more clear. Great fun overall.

Yet another character (in the book that is; I don't remember the movie having this character) is midshipman Tobit, whose character Wouk based on a classmate at while training to be a naval officer: James Tobin.

As one who has been an employee (active duty and civilian) and student of the Navy, my question back is "What is it about the Navy you want to know?" It's history, its tactics, its relationship to the rest of the DoD (or the rest of government or defense industry), its mission and strategy, its performance?

Here are two that are historical in nature, but offer clear insights to timeless issues:

Paullin's "History of Naval Administration"
Toll's "Six Frigates"

If you want a primer on the organization, ranks, ships, etc; then read "The Bluejacket's Manual"

What is the Navy? Is it ships battling other ships? Is it ships transporting troops to the battle zone? Is it ships transporting aircraft closer to bombing targets? Is it ships stealthily roaming the sea bottom ready to launch bombs at a moment's notice? I'm fascinated by Navy pilots, not least because the concept of landing an aircraft on a moving (up and down as well as side to side) landing strip seems so implausible and because my father in law was a Navy pilot in WWII as was my mother's best childhood friend (the latter credited with more kills than any Navy pilot ever and more kills than any pilot who survived the war). Of course, that means that the Navy isn't really the Navy: it's air power with boats. There's a nuclear submarine base near my low country home, and I've met and talked to several of the crew members. I learned that the submarines stay submerged for long periods (months), that nobody on board (other than the captain and navigator) know where they are, and that crew members share space (including bunks) with 12 hour shifts. I think I'd rather try landing an aircraft on a moving landing strip than being in that submarine when they closed the hatch.

You knew David McCambell?

You should read the chapters of Fire On The Water by Robert Haddick that deal with the US Fleet and its capabilities, specifically as they apply to the western pacific.

Back when I was considering a Naval career, I found "The Naval Officer's Guide" to be a basic, but surprisingly enlightening guide to understand what being in the Navy is like. Not sure if you're looking for something more sweeping, but it may give an understanding of the people involved in the history. The current edition is the 12th, I read the 11th a number of years ago.

Whitejacket, Herman Melville

The Samuel Eliot Morison cites are an excellent place to start.

It's such a broad topic that, aside from citing Morison, it's hard to address. So instead here are some of my favorite books about very narrow topics within US naval history:

Guadalcanal by Richard Frank. The best book about a single battle that I've read; provides huge understanding about not just the battle but how the Japanese were fighting the war (not enough logistics, and the US gained strategic surprise by invading Guadalcanal -- the Japanese not only didn't expect the attack, they couldn't believe that the US was trying to actually wrest control of the island away from them, as opposed to engaging in a one-time raid as the Japanese did against Pearl Harbor) and how the Americans were fighting the war (not enough experience especially with torpedoes, night fighting, and using destroyers; but as the campaign -- and the war -- went on the US navy gained experience and prowess).

The book is not about the US Navy per se -- army air forces were involved, as were army troops and marines -- but nonetheless the naval branches on both sides including naval air were the keys to the campaign.

A group of veterans and historians recommends Craig Symonds' The Battle of Midway as the single best book about the battle and I agree. Provides both detailed stories and historical background including coverage of the Battle of the Coral Sea and how it affected the subsequent Battle of Midway.

John Lundstrom wrote two remarkable books about carrier fighter pilots and their operations early in WW II: The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway, and The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942. He seems to have covered every single combat and every single pilot (both American and Japanese) that occurred in that period, yet the book is not overlong nor overly detailed and we also get the big picture about how the US Navy was both struggling yet impetuous and daring during the early months of the war, and how the Navy was learning about combat realities in WW II (e.g. they quickly realized that they didn't have nearly enough fighter aircraft aboard their carriers, and that even a large aircraft carrier was not quite sufficient to carry out operations; you needed at least two carriers). And the parts about how pilots such as Thach, Flatley, and O'Hare (whom O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named after) quickly figured out how to utilize their seemingly inferior Wildcats to gain tactical superiority over the Japanese Zeroes are remarkable.

I don't think you have to read Alfred Mahan's magnum opus The Influence of Sea Power Upon History but you should at least be familiar with its thesis (which is by now received wisdom: great world powers require great navies).

For more policy oriented topics, there's a book whose title and author I will need to look up; it was about the US Navy's technological, strategic, and doctrinal decision-making between WW I and WW II. Naval planners everywhere were struggling to evaluate the roles of battleships, aircraft carriers, sea planes and flying boats, lighter-than-air airships (blimps and zeppelins), submarines, night fighting, radar, and what was the role of naval battle in the first place (a "decisive battle" such as Trafalgar or Tsushima, or a campaign involving island hopping, a primary role for naval and air bases, and gradual gain of control in the theater of operations). In retrospect it's easy to see what the answers were but at the time the answers were not at all obvious.

The same choices echo to this day, in terms of military budgeting, procurement, and design and innovation. Are massive super-carriers obsolete, and too vulnerable to missiles and submarines? Is the F-35 the best choice for future carrier-based aircraft? How well can enemy submarines be detected and destroyed? How important are stealth capabilities on a naval combat ship? How useful will littoral combat ships (LCS's) be?

Finally, a couple of other general recommendations: the US Naval Institute Press has a huge catalog of books, many of them very good. And books by Norman Friedman, who tends not to concentrate on the US Navy and tends to write more about specific ships and naval architecture, but nonetheless has written extensively about the US Navy.

P.S. I should've listed Blind Man's Bluff, as other commenters did. Again it's about a very specific topic: post-WW II submarine operations, most of them oriented around special operations such as espionage rather than combat because we haven't had a full-fledged naval war since WW II, but hugely fascinating.

Along somewhat similar lines: Peter Mass's The Terrible Hours, about the rescue of half the crew of an (accidentally) sunken submarine in 1939. The man behind the rescue, Swede Momsen, deserves an entire book, because as remarkable as the rescue was, it was only one of many daring or innovative accomplishments, both scientific and operational. E.g. he pioneered the study of deep sea diving, studying nitrogen narcosis, the bends, and the use of careful mixtures of gases instead of compressed air to breath.

In Guadalcanal, the remarkably poor quality of the US Mavy's armaments and night fighting training, compared to both the Japanese and the US Navy of 1944, makes it rather surprising that we won that fight - except for the logistics.

Yes, I think there were two additional big factors that tipped the campaign in the US's favor: the Japanese failed to commit enough of their still superior Navy to battle (because it took them a long long time to realize that instead of saving their warships for the "decisive battle", they needed to send those ships to fight at Guadalcanal because although it was not a "decisive battle" it was a key turning point.

And although green and not quite competent especially at night fighting and torpedo tactics (and armed with inferior torpedoes), the US sailors as well as officers were grimly brave and determined and kept on attacking and fighting. This was also vividly illustrated at the Battle off Samar Island (described in Hornfischer's very good book, Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, cited by several commenters here). Those were tough SOBs, as unafraid of facing suicidal odds as the Japanese were later in WW II. In addition to Guadalcanal and Samar Island, we saw the same grim determination in the hopelessly outclassed allied task force in the Battle of the Java Sea and the doomed torpedo pilots trying to attack the Japanese carriers at Midway.

Frank's book notes that by the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, every single American heavy cruiser had been either sunk or damaged and sent out of combat. (Though it should be noted that they had plenty of light cruisers left, which were better suited for combat in the Solomon Islands anyway.) At times the US Navy had only one damaged aircraft carrier left. But the US Navy kept on coming (it helped that they knew that they had brand new carriers and battleships already on the way to the Pacific).

There was one other operational aspect that became clear only in retrospect: the Japanese probably would've won the battle if they'd sent in their battleships earlier and oftener, to bombard Henderson Field. The Japanese kept trying to do that with cruisers and destroyers, which didn't have the firepower to tear up the airstrip and destroy enough parked airplanes. When the Japanese BBs finally did show up, it resulted in major damage which temporarily knocked Henderson out of action. At that point both the Japanese and the Americans realized that was a key component of the campaign, but it was too late for the Japanese to use the tactic effectively. They did try to repeat the bombardment, but the result was the two chaotic Naval Battles of Guadalcanal (desperate American defensive measures again) and two sunk Japanese battleships.

Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the US Navy by Ian W Toll.
Fascinating, well written.

Speaking as a retired Naval officer, it depends on what aspect of the US Navy you want to know more about.


For an excellent general overview try The United States Navy: A 200 Year History by CAPT Edward L. Beach, USN (Ret) and/or This People's Navy by Kenneth Hagan

For specifics on the War of 1812, which in many ways set much of the culture and tradition that has shaped the modern US Navy, you would be hard to beat C.S. Forester The Age of Fighting Sail. Teddy Roosevelt's Naval History of the War of 1812 is also supposed to be good, although I haven't read it.

There's not a ton of good popular history on the role of the Navy in the Civil War, but you can find some discussion in Beach and Hagan. Interestingly, given the prominence of several key events (the Maine, Dewey's victory at Manila) I don't know of a good popular history of the USN in the Spanish American War, either.

To fill in on that period, Wimme'ls Theodore Roosevelt and the Great White Fleet: American Sea Power Comes of Age is supposed to be good, although again I have not personally read it.

Moving to World War I, the only really good US naval history I know of is Sims' The War at Sea.

World War II is an embarrassment of riches from a naval history perspective. Robert Kaplan has argued that WWII continues to define the Navy's self-image today. Samuel Eliot Morison's A Two Ocean War is probably the best single volume history of the war, but there are many, many great works that focus on individual aspects. Hornfischer's Tin Can Sailors is outstanding, as is They Were Expendable by W.L. White (which is the non-fiction account of PT boats in the Philippines on which the John Wayne movie is based), Thunder Below! by Eugene Fluckey is a great memoir by a Medal of Honor recipient submarine CO. The list goes on.

Moving to more modern conflicts, I would recommend Lee Zatarain's Tanker Wars about the conflict in the Gulf in 1987, as well as No Higher Honor by Bradley Peniston about the USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG 58). Blind Man's Bluff has already been mentioned. Joe Bouchard's Command in Crisis is a more academic look, but it is also a worthwhile read on the Naval role in several Cold War crises.

For an irreverent take from a bitter and cynical junior officer, try Assumed the Watch: Moored as Before by Terence Fitzgibbons. I would have been frustrated to have had him working for me, but does a good job of capturing a particular perspective on the modern surface Navy.

For an overall cultural take, you could do worse than Carl Builder's The Masks of War. While somewhat dated, this is still the seminal reference for understanding service culture in the US.

While not about the US Navy, Sandy Woodward's 100 Days is one of the only accounts of contemporary war at sea you will read. Rabinovich's The Boats of Cherbourg is an interesting look at the development of electronic warfare, anti-ship cruise missiles, and the Naval component of Israeli security, all of which have shaped the contemporary USN.


-Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising have already been mentioned.
-Herman Wouk--The Caine Mutiny is simply one of the best Naval books ever written. A mentor of mine gave me a copy with the inscription that "everything you need to know about leadership--good and bad--is contained in this book." Winds of War and War and Remembrance are also enjoyable.
-The David Poyer novels (The Circle, The Gulf, etc) are not bad if you aren't looking for fine literature. A good account of naval culture, even if the hero's perpetual presence at the center of major events begins to strain credulity.
-P.T. Deuterman's The Scorpion in the Sea is similarly entertaining if you're looking for a yarn that shows a good understanding of contemporary Naval culture.
-Although not about the US Navy specifically, Nicholas Montsarrat's The Cruel Sea, does just about the best job of evoking life on a surface ship I've ever seen. There is one section in particular that describes the feeling of satisfaction the protagonist had upon qualifying as a deck watch officer that is absolutely spot-on. I used to give a copy to my junior officers when they qualified as Officer of the Deck (Underway).
-Similarly, C.S. Forester's The Good Shepherd is an excellent read.

I have read Roosevelt's history of the War of 1812, and it is that good. Combines exhaustive and impeccably researched technical detail with good narrative writing.

And as the ultimate endorsement, Roosevelt was asked to rewrite the work as a chapter in William Laird Clowes' "The Royal Navy, A History from the Earliest Times to 1900", which is where I actually read it. Complete with the slightly apologetic editorial introduction acknowledging that yes, they had outsourced that bit of writing to the guy who had, while they were getting the book into print, got himself elected Vice-President of the Royal Navy's enemy in that conflict.

-The David Poyer novels (The Circle, The Gulf, etc) are not bad if you aren’t looking for fine literature. A good account of naval culture, even if the hero’s perpetual presence at the center of major events begins to strain credulity.
-P.T. Deuterman’s The Scorpion in the Sea is similarly entertaining if you’re looking for a yarn that shows a good understanding of contemporary Naval culture.

In the fiction department, I was going to recommend these also, so...dittos! :-) Also some of the Stephen Coonts novels are not bad, see below.

Among the Poyer novels, I think the first five (The Circle, The Med, The Passage, Tomahawk, and The Gulf) are worth the price of admission. After that they start to fall off. Of those, all but Tomahawk are set in an afloat, operational environment (technically not correct for The Circle, but you'll see why I say that if you read it). Tomahawk is a pretty good depiction of life ashore in the "big leagues"--the major systems world, in which I had the privilege of working as a civilian for fifteen years--and thus gives you an idea of how every organization eventually suffocates in the coils of its own bureaucracy. A similar book would be The Minotaur, by Stephen Coonts.

In addition to P.T. Deutermann's Scorpion In The Sea, I would recommend his second novel, The Edge Of Honor, which is set in the Vietnam Era and gives a pretty good look at that rather unfortunate period in the Navy's history. Similarly it would be worth reading Stephen Coonts' The Intruders. Flight of the Intruder, set in the same period and Coonts' best-known novel (it was adapted for the screen)...not so much: too much of what goes on defies credulity.

Seconds on 1). the Cruel Sea (and his one based on newspaper pieces he wrote during WW2: Three Corvettes) and

2). The Good Shepherd (British author, American destroyer commander).

I learned so much about the loneliness of command from those 2 books.

There's a 3rd Monsarrat, it's on my kindle-- I think it is "HMS Destroyer"? Also auto-biographical.

There's 2 films:

"The Cruel Sea" (and Eric Ambler, the thriller writer, wrote that script I believe)


"In Which We Serve" - OK it's wartime propaganda, but like all great propaganda, it makes you forget that. The ship in question is the fictional version of Lord Louis Mountbatten's HMS Kelly-- head of a destroyer squadron, and lost in the evacuation off Crete. Mountbatten was criticized for taking excessive risks with his ship, which, as a cousin of the King (family name was Von Battenburg) and an heir to the throne, he could do that which a normal RN officer could not do. It's probably fitting that he died (in 1979?) on the deck of his own boat, blown to bits by an IRA bomb-- a warrior's end.

The film is framed in the narrative device of flashbacks, as the waves rise over fragments of the crew clinging to life rafts, being strafed by German fighters, in the Cretan sea. As each wave washes over, another chapter in the history of the ship is revealed.

I draw comparisons to "Went the Day Well?" the wartime film on which Forsyth based "The Eagle Has Landed". A German paratroop unit, disguised as Polish paratroops on an exercise, takes control of an English country village in preparation for an invasion. And the villagers contrive to fight back. Like all propaganda, it never loses sight of good guys and bad guys, but it demands of the audience that they care about the characters, and they care when they die. It never shies away from the message that patriotism means paying the ultimate price.

"In Which We Serve" is like that and there is at least one scene (back in England) which always causes me to flinch when I see it.

But there's no doubt that Admiral Cunningham's force based at Alexandria, and Force H at Gibraltar, distinguished themselves by their aggressiveness, willingness to take risks and to take the war to the Italian fleet. And, as a result, despite near qualitative and numerical parity, the Italians ran scared and cautious throughout the touch-and-go years of 1941-42, and despite general Axis air superiority, the Med was never an uncontested lake.

The DNA of the Royal Navy, learned in the centuries of war with the Dutch and the French, of brave and aggressive action held true in the Med-- it was to us what Ironbottom Sound off Guadacanal to you. The ghosts of Nelson and Vincent, and the fictional ones of Bolitho and Hornblower and "Lucky Jack" Aubrey, stood on those bridges in that wine-dark sea, and nodded their approval.

The USN, as has been noted here, got that same spirit from John Paul Jones and the Revolutionary War, and from the War of 1812 "we have met the enemy, and he is ours" (Lake Erie) and "don't give up the ship". And the wars against the Barbary Pirates. It took that through the Spanish-American war, and against the Japanese in WW2.

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War - sketches what a conflict between the USN and PLAN could look like; very up to date on current naval trends and has made the rounds among Navy personnel and policy makers alike


Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy


Randy Forbes is the chairman of the House Seapower & Projection Forces subcommittee . . . the chair's twitter feed is a great resource for keeping up on developments


How about the books in the Navy's professional reading program?

Here's the link:

Shield of the Republic (http://www.amazon.com/Shield-Republic-United-Violent-1945-1962/dp/0312099118). What shaped the Navy post-WWII.

In my view the top naval blog is

Note especially the posts by Bryan McGrath. He was a destroyer commander and now he is one the foremost boosters - and critics - of the modern navy.


I would suggest reading books about the Falklands Wars as well.

Sure, its not about the USA, but its the last big naval war we have had, and it used more modern weapons.

Also, the Argentinians could probably have won that war with a little more foresight in preparation, aka making sure to get a nice stockpile of Exocets first, sending Arctic warfare army units to the islands and not the tropical forces, etc.

Agreed. The Falklands War is the last time two sovereign state fleets squared off against each other anywhere on Earth. It is the most relevant data point for evaluating what future naval warfare might look like despite the fact that it is a generation removed from today.

I had relatives in the Falklands.

In terms of future wars, I think it is somewhat anachronistic.

It's unlikely a 2nd rate military power will challenge a first rate one in an aero-naval campaign, in the future. And the Argentine Navy's contribution (ex the Super Entendard strike planes and Skyhawks) was near zero. It was Argentine air force vs. Royal Navy, with a ground battle at the end.

What's much more likely is a "guerilla war at sea". In which a Pakistan, or whatever, uses high speed cruise missiles, mines, conventional subs, to try to disrupt a major naval power (in this case the USN; the Royal Navy will be a shadow of its former self, ditto France, Russia who knows?, China is an emerging power, Japan will be a player, as will India).

that's got some similarities with the Israeli situation (when an anti ship missile launched by Hizbollah, which is not even a country, severely damaged a corvette). Imagine Hizbollah or the Islamic Republic of Syria (as and when) tries to disrupt Israeli gas production from offshore fields. At which point, European customers of that gas get involved in protecting the fields and LNG tankers, etc.

All the Argentinians had to do was wait another couple of months, and the winter would have closed in.

By the next spring, the islands would have been unassailable.

If they'd been smarter over San Carlos Bay, hitting the transports not the warships, that would have made the whole land operation a lot more marginal.

If the media had not reported about the unexploded bombs, more RN lives might have been saved-- the Argentinians had set the wrong fuses.

The story goes that in the Exocet factory in France, there was a board where it was chalked up every time an Exocet hit a ship.

From memory, that was twice: HMS Sheffield (sunk) and HMS Gloucester (killed the helicopter support crew). That latter one was land-fired.

Six Frigates by Ian Toll


This : http://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac:152955 (pp. 151 ; 152 ; 209 ; 346-356) and this http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/508075 on the funding of research by the Office of Naval Research (and this fore more details : http://www.worldcat.org/title/science-and-the-navy-the-history-of-the-office-of-naval-research/oclc/884013233&referer=brief_results ).

I rather liked "Nuclear Weapons and Aircraft Carriers: How the Bomb Saved Naval Aviation" for an historical account from an important insider.

The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 - amazingly influential book - one that not only describes the operations of the world's navies that influenced the founding of the U.S. navy, but that also shaped its direction throughout the 20th century (and not just the U.S. navy - every major naval power.)

Also, to round out understanding the U.S. navy as it came to be in the 20th century, consider The Submarine: A History and Replacing Battleships with Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific in World War II (PDF Document).

If you want to learn broadly about what the US Navy does and modern seapower in general, read Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century by Geoffrey Till.

That's a good book.

Ned (HP) Wilmott wrote a book about sea power (written before fall of USSR) which I liked as well.

I know you asked about reading, but I highly recommend taking a tour of a recent Navy warship, either currently active or recently decommissioned. Walking the passageways will really give you an idea of what daily is like on a ship.

I toured the USS Hornet a few year back and the smell took my back to my deployment days.

While somewhat out of date concerning the specific ships currently in the U.S. Navy's fleet, the dKospedia article on the United States Navy is a good one webpage big picture introduction to the overall structure of the U.S. force and to some of the main policy issues that go into discussions about it. You shouldn't rely on it as a primary source or authoritative, but it is a good start to frame your search for other materials to decide what you want to investigate further before you lose sight of the forest for the trees.


The United States Department of Defense issued an entirely uncritical review of its biggest competitor, the Russian Navy, which is useful despite failing to not a lot of really grave problems in the Russian Navy (which has 85% of its ships at dock for lack of repairs or crews and can't get many replacement parts which were made only in the Ukraine) in a December 2015 report: http://news.usni.org/2015/12/18/document-office-of-naval-intelligence-report-on-russian-navy

The most important facts that you can know about the U.S. Navy are that it is the largest and most powerful navy in the world by far, let alone considered together with the navies of our tried and true allies, and that many of its primary capabilities have gone almost completely untested since the Korean War.

We have a lot of amphibious assault (D-Day style) resources that haven't been very rare since WWII. During the Korean War the U.S. Marine Corps landed at Inchon, this battle eventually resulted in intervention by Chinese forces on behalf of North Korea. The Royal Marines made first post-WWII amphibious assault during the Suez War of 1956 when they successfully landed at Suez on 6 November. In the Falklands War, the Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade, (augmented by the British Army's Parachute Regiment) landed at Port San Carlos on 21 May 1982. During the Persian Gulf War, a large amphibious assault force, composed of US Marines and naval support, was positioned off the coast of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This force was composed of 40 amphibious assault ships, the largest such force to be assembled since the Battle of Inchon. The object was to fix the six Iraqi divisions deployed along the Kuwaiti coast. Due to early misadventure, the mission for this amphibious force turned into a feint. The most recent amphibious assault was carried out by the Royal Marines when they landed at the Al-Faw Peninsula on 20 March 2003 during the Iraqi War.

Likewise, only three major naval conflicts took place in the second half of the 20th century, of which two pitted fleet against fleet. One was the well known Falklands War, pitting Argentina against the United Kingdom. The Falklands in particular showed the horrible vulnerability of modern ships to sea-skimming missiles like the Exocet. One hit from an Exocet sank HMS Sheffield, a modern anti-air warfare destroyer. Important lessons about ship design, damage control and ship construction materials were learnt from the conflict. The Falklands also demonstrated how incredibly effective a small number of inferior submarines can be against surface ships, something that has repeatedly been reproduced in war games and in cat and mouse activity between Chinese submarines and U.S. ships (without actual shots being fired) since then. Another took place 11 years earlier in 1971. It was the third and last of the Indo-Pakistani Wars, in which Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan with Indian assistance. The third major naval war took place between Iran and Iraq from 1980 to 1988. It did not feature any large fleet battles, but it featured attacks on merchant ships as routine for the first time since 1945. It also featured the largest surface action since WWII, when United States Navy ships went after Iranian oil rigs to punish the Iranians for their actions in the war. Iranian naval vessels intervened, and Operation Praying Mantis resulted. The same is true to a lesser extent with air to air combat. There have been only 54 military aircraft shot down in the last 25 years in the entire world and less than 165 since WWII. U.S. fighters have shot down fewer than 10 planes since Korea.

Also, virtually all U.S. Naval procurement is driven by the potential opposition navies of just a handful of countries: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, and Vietnam, with the first four really dominating the list.

Basically, naval and air force procurement for the last 70 years has been based almost entirely on theory with very few real world reality checks, against a handful of opponents in a few particularly worrisome scenarios (e.g. a Chinese attack on Taiwan, South Korea or Japan).

Lots of current "insider" analysis of current navy news can be found at the Strategy Pages blog: http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htsurf/default.aspx

Something very strange in your numbers?

Only 10 planes shot down by US fighters since Korea?

Vietnam War?

I can't remember how many Iraqi planes were shot down in 1990, but it wasn't a small number, from memory.

Haven't the Israelis bagged a few? 1982 in Lebanon (v. Syria) etc.

Ahhhh... we are forgetting US v. Libya 1986 (?).

Air clashes, followed by a big strike with F111s and USN aircraft. Asymmetric warfare by the Libyans (bombing that club in Berlin).

There is your classic power projection by the USN, of which the Iran-Iraq war stuff is another (better) example.

Six Frigates is very good, as is Symind's Midway. Also look at Toll's pacific war trilogy- 2 are out- Pacific Crucible & Conquering Tide. The book before last sand of the tin can sailors- Neptune's Inferno is very good. Look at Shattered Sword as well

I would also check out the latest edition of Eric Wertheim's "Combat Fleets of the World" published by the US Naval Institute: http://www.usni.org/store/books/naval-institute-guide-combat-fleets-world-16th-edition

It is an authoritative collection of the technical specifications and capabilities of the ship classes and equipment of the world's navies. It provides an accurate picture of the force structure of the US Navy and its competitors.

The book is expensive and big. I would look for it in the George Mason University library.

Shattered Sword, imparts a great understanding of naval aviation, the principles of which are relevant to this day.

The fundamental problem for the Navy is do you want to control the sea so you can send stuff over it (control) or do you want to deny the other's ability to send stuff over the sea (denial). The submarine guys are denial guys and believe that their technology can shut down the control guys. There is lots and lots of history from WWI and WWII that says they can make it really expensive for the control guys. From personal experience 30 years ago, they can make it really really tough on the control guys. The problem for the denial guys is that for the US control is so important we will do almost whatever it takes to control the seas. So, for example see the discussion of Liberty ships above where we darn nigh built more ships than the Germans had torpedoes.


What happens is the control guys (good terminology, thank you! ;-)) will have to go after the denial guys bases.

And that's how war widens. The British considered various ways of doing it in the Falklands, *did* have special forces operating on the Argentine mainland (that copter which crashed in Chile). Looked at using conventionally tipped ballistic missiles, or running a Vulan strike (discounted, but the threat of it after the Vulcan strike on the Falklands tied the Argentines in knots).

Now they would have used sea-launched conventional cruise missiles. And that's what the US navy would do as a first step.

I keep thinking back to the US Navy vs. the Barbary Coast pirates, because that's a very likely scenario for future naval war.

The over/under on Tyler reading every book mentioned in this thread is three weeks

On Tyler sampling them all, perhaps. On Tyler *reading* all of them all the way thru, never! Diminishing returns ...

Michael Abrashoff's It's Your Ship was a popular management book a few years ago. It's based on the author's experience commanding a U.S. Navy ship, and has lots of engaging detail about the modern Navy.

not directly the navy, but keep in mind:
in afghanistan, fighting the soviets, if you were a grunt in your foxhole, there were several shoulder mounted ground to air missiles you could use to try and take out a plane (with machine guns)
most required you to stand up and maintain line of sigh with the target; one model allowed you to go back in to the foxhole and monitor things remotely
guess which one the grunts like

the first iraq war was largely about tank battles; turns out the main us tank can shoot a shell further then the main soviet tank saddam had
size (or, more accurately distance) *really* matters

the point is, most of the stuff you read doesn't get down to the basics of, I'm gonna die, what can i do to avoid that

This book has a naval setting but it's strength in in the insights into the dangers of pride and professional ambition resulting in the use and misuse of talent in large organizations:

Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway by Carlson, Elliot


Very open question. Current USN? History?

If I had to choose 1 book that captures the spirit of the Navy, its ability to adapt and improvise, and its performance when it was fighting at a severe material disadvantage, it would be James D. Hornfischer's Neptune's Inferno, about the naval battles of Guadalcanal in 1942-1943. Tin Can Sailors is good too.

Stay away from Tom Clancy if you want a realistic sense of how the Navy / military runs.

Although not specifically Navy related, "Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution" by economist Tim Kane is excellent (in a Hayekian sense).

Also, Eric Prince's "Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater", is good. Read with Kane, I get the sense that the Blackwater business model leveraged the post 9/11 surge in demand for small unit security (for nation building) against the (relatively) poor pay of ex- and soon-to-be-ex special operations troops.

The biography of Admiral Hyman Rickover (The Rickover Effect), founder of the Navy's nuclear propulsion program. Any economist interested in institutions can learn much from the "nuclear Navy" whose influence plays a continuing role not only in today's US Navy but in the space program and nuclear power industry more broadly.

Tom Clancy's portray of how the civilian non-defense/intelligence federal bureaucracy and political decision making works in the federal government, however, is quite realistic.

As a Clancy fan myself, I'm curious: What leads you to believe his work isn't realistic (at least about how the military works)?

Check out the Falklands War or a synopsis of naval lessons learned. TLDR submarines are fearsome and ship to ship missiles and ground to ship missiles are Significant.

And those technologies were very immature compared to today.

Subsonic Exocets are well past it. Sub technology has probably only improved.

Had the Argentines had 3 working conventional subs of modern design, it's likely the Task Force would have failed.

this article has been cited hundreds of times/ trolling

The organizational construction of hegemonic masculinity: The case of the US Navy
FJ Barrett - Gender, Work & Organization, 1996 - Wiley Online Library
This article examines the construction of hegemonic masculinity within the US Navy. Based on life history interviews with 27 male officers, this study explores alternative discourses and identities of officers from three different communities in the Navy: aviation, surface warfare, ...

Read John Hattendorf on the development of U.S. Naval Doctrine: https://www.usnwc.edu/Academics/Faculty/John-Hattendorf.aspx

I suppose I would respond with a question: what do you want to know? Our history? Our culture? Our managerial style? Personally, I encourage my sailors to read Cutler's "Bluejacket's Manual" as a general introduction to the service, while I suggest my junior officers read Stavridis's "Watch Officer's Guide". They don't address our current structure - check USNI, NWC, or CNA for that - or our history (and you've received many solid suggestions), but they do capture what people need to know to be IN the Navy.

>>I would like to learn more about the U.S. Navy.

Hm. Could you narrow it down just a *tad*?

Read Jalopnik's FoxtrotAlpha blog, it's a bit aviation (and present) heavy but the comments (largely from current/former servicemembers) are invaluable.

Read a few dozen pages of the Nimitz Gray Papers, a relevant chapter or two from good Nixon, Gerald Ford, and John Ford bios, and the first hundred pages or so of Borneman's Admirals book for the Proustian view of how the navy attracts talent; pick out one or two Osprey books (the most exciting to someone new to this sort of thing may be the Midway volume), and scan through a book or website with a few dozen pictures or graphs of naval tactics with good captions. Spruance may be of particular interest as someone who was smarter than the average Economics Nobelist. BTW, there are still quite a few WWII naval officers - not just ensigns, but all the way up to XOs - still alive - two famous ones being Wouk and Morgenthau. You work for the NY Times, maybe you can get a researcher to set up an interview for you with someone like that.

Get a copy of The Sand Pebbles by Ricard McKenna, Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey stories, The Caine Mutiny, The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat, and Run Silent Run Deep by Capt. Edward L Beach. They'll give you a feel for sailors. Then you can move on to the non-fiction, which is less important than the men who make the ships work.

"The Influence of Sea Power upon History." Written by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914).

Alfred Thayer Mahan and Samuel Eliot Morrison have been settled upon.

For a modern take on ww2 battles, see James D. Hornfischer. I endorse all of his books, yet I especially like his books about our Navy at the beginning of ww2 when we were not dominant and things were bleak. See: 'Ship of Ghosts" about the Heavy Cruiser USS Houston of the Asiatic Fleet (prior to reading this book I was unaware of a difference between our Pacific Fleet and our Asiatic Fleet). The Houston was FDR's favorite ship as he utilized her quite a few times for transportation to various conferences before the war. FDR came to personally know many of the men aboard this ship. FDR would sail on the USS Houston and then stop and drop the whale boats and go fishing. When Houston was sunk, FDR felt the loss deeply!

Hornfischer's next book for recommendation is "Neptune's Inferno." This book is about the naval battles around Guadalcanal. The description of naval nighttime warfare is excellent as the Japanese were considered superior to our Navy in this slice of warfare until we used our superior technology to gain the upper hand.

Learn about men such as Admiral Daniel Callaghan and Willis Lee! Callaghan was from San Francisco and eventually came to command the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco. He earned a Medal of Honor for slugging it out shell for shell versus a Japanese battleship at close range and sinking the enemy. Callaghan perished, but his heroism lives on. You will also learn of his kid brother who eventually commanded the USS Missouri.

Admiral Willis Lee was the CO of the USS Washington, a relative of General Robert E. Lee and a 5 x Olympic Gold medalist. Also a Medal of Honor recipient. Find out what superior marksmanship can do to an enemy battleship under the command of a man such as Lee.

Read Up!

Allow me to amend a mistake. Admiral Willis "Ching" Lee was not a recipient of the Medal of Honor, but he did earn the Navy Cross. Sorry.

Check out this quote from his site at Arlington National Cemetery. For background, he sent the radio message because he was taking his large battleship Washington through "The Slot or Ironbottom Sound." It was a tight place to maneuver and he did not want any friendly PT boats or destroyers sending torpedoes towards his battlewagon.

He was best remembered for his decisive action at Guadalcanal in 1942. He turned the tide there with his group of battleships and cruisers. At a critical moment, when victory hung in the balance, he radioed the message, "Stand aside, I'm coming through. This is Ching Lee."

Most of the material on the current U.S. Navy is pretty poor I think. As you probably know, most of the U.S. service fleet revolves around the carrier battle groups, which people in the know will tell you are quite vulnerable to a capable adversary. Their efficacy is also somewhat questionable, given cheaper weapons delivery options available from the Air Force. Many of the stuff you will read glosses over these vulnerabilities, and instead focuses on the exploits of the Navy, most of which are quite heroic and interesting. Anyway, John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, was an architect in many ways of today's Navy, and he is also a pretty smart and outspoken person. I would read some of his books, which you can find on Amazon. In many ways, his views were prescient on the good, the bad and the ugly of how Navy has evolved into what it is today.

It's the defence death cost spiral.

Each ship costs more money, and so fewer are built, raising per unit cost, so fewer are built, etc.

Joint Strike Fighter is the emblematic case.

The USN seldom breaks out of the pattern:

- Elmo Zumwalt's Oliver Hazard Perry class. Like the Type 21s sunk in the Falklands, this was a design which was to some extent "forced" on the USN (RN) which was underarmed and overly vulnerable (the period of experimentation with the aluminium superstructure- -which fragments easily when hit, and can burn). However over 30 were built within a reasonable shot of projected cost (given 1970s inflation rates). And they served honourably in maintaining a sea presence for the USN for over 30 yrs

- F18 E/F. After Defence Secretary Cheney cancelled the A12 (? A11) attack plane, the USN "upgraded" the F18 A/B Hornet to the Super Hornet. 60% of it is a new plane. No it's not Stealth (which brings huge maintenance and reliability problems) but it has carried the backbreaking work of being a "bomb truck" over Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Iraq/ Syria for the USN and Marines. For medium intensity warfare it does the business.

Despite criticisms of cost and size at the time, it has served the USN well, and they probably should have more (given they won't be able to buy the projected number of JSFs- -and that has performance issues).

The Super Hornet is now the platform for the Electronic Warfare planes to replace the A6 that the USN and USAF desperately need-- the "Wild Weasels".

Sorry examples of the cost spiral pattern

- the Ardleigh Burke replacement, which has had procurement stopped at 3 units (DDG1000?)

- the whole LCS thing-- an off the shelf German corvette would have done the job


(that's the UK link, it's an American course)

Andrew Wilson's history of strategic thinking was inspiring and fascinating. He teaches at the US Naval War College, and several of the lectures are about naval strategy and history-- Alfred Taylor Mahan in particular.

it's a great way of absorbing a lot of information quite economically. You can even just listen, rather than watch.

The Great Courses is an undermentioned treasure.

Something intriguing about the Navy that wouldn't seem relevant to most people, but which might considerably impact its historical legacy, is that of all branches of the US military, the Navy seems to have the strongest administrative framework and the best record for transmitting materials to the National Archives. I worked briefly at NARA, and it was common knowledge that where, records were concerned, the Navy had its act together better and for longer than most federal agencies. Air Force also has good records, but is both very small and very recent compared to the other branches.

p.s. If you visit NARA and use Record Group 80 (Records of the Navy 1804-1958), I copied all of those collection descriptions into the database manually. "Retroactive conversion" = data entry by enervated graduate student.

For WWII (in which the USN saw more combat than all wars before or since):
* As many have mentioned, S.E. Morison's "Two Ocean War"
* A second on "Guadalcanal" by Richard Frank
* Also "Neptune's Inferno" by James Hornfischer. Loads of detail on how organizational structures, technology, and leadership interacted during Guadalcanal, but told in a very readable narrative.

Also the "Revolt of the Admirals" in 1949 is seen as important as defining the Navy's role in the Cold War, there are some books on this as well.

Anything by Ian W. Toll plus Little Ship, Big War.

Cognition in the Wild, by Edwin Hutchins

Intro: http://pages.ucsd.edu/~ehutchins/citw.html


I have some familiarity with this topic.

In my opinion, a few minutes reading about Alfred Thayer Mahan, if you are not already aware of him, are most important.

You need not read his works. You need only understand his role in expanding U.S. markets globally.

Next, I recommend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the U.S. Naval Institute

I particularly recommend a few more minutes scanning the article topics in Proceedings

After that, you will know as much as anyone in the U.S. about our Navy.

Beyond that, you may decide to explore what the Russians and the Chinese know about the U.S. Navy.

We suspect they know a lot!


You can't go wrong with this:


From my old man, a retired USN Admiral:

It really depends on why Cowen wants to learn more. If it is to try to better understand current Navy issues (policy, ship design, force structure) then he will want to read “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” (the updated US naval strategy just released this past summer); various articles in the US Naval Institute Proceedings (the primary monthly professional periodical about the Navy) and Naval War College Review (a quarterly publication); blogs such as “Commander Salamander” and “Information Dissemination,” articles by Seth Cropsey, Bryan McGrath, Jerry Hendrix and Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work; and various studies put out by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (CSBA), CNA Corporation, and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). On the other hand, if he wants to understand naval history or what being at sea is all about, then he should read "The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monserrat, "The Caine Mutiny" by Herman Wouk,” “One Hundred Years of Sea Power” by George Baer, and " Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” (the Battle of Leyte Gulf) and "Neptune’s Inferno” (the Guadalcanal campaign) by James Hornfischer. There are lots more, but that’s a start. Also, the Navy has a recommended reading list for its officers and enlisted personnel, made up of both fiction and non-fiction. He can probably find it online.

From a Naval historian friend:

Many thanks. Interesting discussion thread.

In addition to the list's mention of Mahan, Toll's _Six Frigates,_ George Baer's _One Hundred Years of Sea Power_ (for the USN from 1890-1994), and Samuel E. Morison's 15 volumes on the USN in World War II, try these titles, a mix of scholarship and popular histories:

Craig Symonds, _Lincoln and His Admirals._ Decision making for the USN in its first big war.

William Still, _Crisis at Sea: The United States Navy in European Waters in World War I._ The USN's first 20th century war.

Jon Parshall, _Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway._ Some surprising things about the iconic USN/IJN naval battle.

James Hornfischer, _Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal._ The USN and Imperial Japanese navy faced off when the odds were even.

Jeffrey Barlow, _From Hot War to Cold: The US Navy and National Security Affairs, 1945-1955._ The USN trying to manage in the early Cold War (and limited money) world.

John Sherwood, _War in the Shallows: U.S. Navy Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam, 1965-1968._ An relatively unknown story about the small boats that did amazing things in Vietnam.

Gary Weir (ed.), _You Cannot Surge Trust: Combined Naval Operations of the Royal Australian Navy, Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, and United States Navy, 1991-2003._ But in terms of what navies have done for the world since the Cold War, this gives one a pretty good idea. Better, it can be downloaded for free here:

The Republic's Private Navy by Jerome Garitee. Study of the privateering 'business' in Baltimore, war of 1812.

George Baer, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U. S. Navy, 1890-1990

Just want to add another recommendation for War Plan Orange. It's very much in the vein of Keep From All Thoughtful Men, being a study of the Navy bureaucracy's process of creating the WWII war plan that beat Japan. When you think of the quote from Nimitz about how nothing in the war surprised him, that was what he was talking about. Bankrupting the Enemy, while not about the Navy, was by the same author and a really interesting study of both the Trading With The Enemy Act (last deployed against DPRK, I believe) and of how trade sanctions can escalate into a shooting war. A minor theme was also technological substitution (the 1930s invention of Nylon messes with Japan's balance of payments. As an aside, the Japanese invention of pearl culturing around the same time drives Kuwait to exploit its oil since its pearl business is no longer up to handling their balance of payments.)

As anti-recommendations for your requested theme, I would say be wary Dreadnought and Castles of Steel. Despite its name, the first is more about all the times World War One almost happened (and also arms races) and the second is more about how loss aversion fed into strategic decision making in the minds of WWI naval planers. Both interesting, but neither about the US Navy.

Ian Toll's Six Frigutes is a great read on the origins of the Navy and early history, as others have noted.

I would like someone to explain Navy's football dominance over Army.

From my father, a retired USN Admiral (who lives a few miles down Braddock Rd from GMU):

It really depends on why Cowen wants to learn more. If it is to try to better understand current Navy issues (policy, ship design, force structure) then he will want to read “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” (the updated US naval strategy just released this past summer); various articles in the US Naval Institute Proceedings (the primary monthly professional periodical about the Navy) and Naval War College Review (a quarterly publication); blogs such as “Commander Salamander” and “Information Dissemination,” articles by Seth Cropsey, Bryan McGrath, Jerry Hendrix and Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work; and various studies put out by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (CSBA), CNA Corporation, and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). On the other hand, if he wants to understand naval history or what being at sea is all about, then he should read "The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monserrat, "The Caine Mutiny" by Herman Wouk,” “One Hundred Years of Sea Power” by George Baer, and " Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” (the Battle of Leyte Gulf) and "Neptune’s Inferno” (the Guadalcanal campaign) by James Hornfischer. There are lots more, but that’s a start. Also, the Navy has a recommended reading list for its officers and enlisted personnel, made up of both fiction and non-fiction. He can probably find it online.

I haven't seen anyone mention it yet, so I'll plug Joel Ira Holwitt's "Execute Against Japan" for the little-known story of the submarine force's role in the Pacific at the outset of WWII. Dr. Holwitt was my division officer at the time of publication, and I can personally vouch for his being an exceptional historian.

"Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat" by Wayne Hughes

"The Self-Designing High-Reliability Organization: Aircraft Carrier Flight Operations at Sea" by Gene I. Rochlin, Todd R. La Porte, and Karlene H. Roberts

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