Review by Bill Doughty
The Centennial of Naval Aviation (CONA) celebration throughout 2011 might not have been possible without a series of events chronicled in Revolt of the Admirals -- the Fight for Naval Aviation, 1945-1950 by historian Jeffrey G. Barlow.
Barlow gives a well-documented, you-are-there look at the struggle to define “air power” at the end of WWII, showcasing fundamental questions in a turbulent period in history:
- Should our nation rely only on strategic bombing and atomic weapons; or should we have an agile, balanced and arguably more moral approach to defense?
- Should there be a “unification” of the services and loss of naval specialties; or should we protect executive civilian control of the military and a commitment to air-sea power?
Barlow shows the raw courage of leaders, now legends, like then-Capt. Arleigh Burke; Admirals Arthur Radford, Raymond Spruance and Thomas Kinkaid; former Marine Commandant Gen. Alexander Vandegrift; Fleet Admirals William Halsey, Ernest King and Chester Nimitz; and others.
Fleet Adm. Nimitz shared his view in his valedictory on “The Future Employment of Naval Forces,” delivered on Dec. 15, 1947 when he retired as Chief of Naval Operations:
“If we are to project our power against vital areas of an enemy across the ocean before beachheads on enemy territory are captured, it must be air-sea power.” -- Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, CNO, 1947
Nimitz knew from his experience in the Pacific that the Navy’s strength was its capability to fight not just on the ocean but under and over, as well.
At the start of WWII, aircraft carriers had moved from being the “eyes” to becoming known as the “fists of the fleet,” says Barlow, who shows how the Navy proved the capability of naval aviation in the 1940s.
“During the final years of the war, the carriers of the Fast Carrier Task Force piled up an enviable record of successes against Japanese land-based air power as its aircraft hammered away at enemy shore targets, including those in the Japanese home islands. From 1 September 1944 to 15 August 1945 alone U.S. Navy F6F and F4U fighters destroyed 2,948 Japanese fighters (1,882 of them first-line Zeke [Zero] or other advanced model aircraft) in combat at a cost of only 191 American planes.”
Naval aviation, though, was still a relatively fledgling force six decades ago, threatened by competing interests, agendas and budgets.
While some politicians and others favored only strategic bombing of civilian populations, top Navy leaders championed a more nuanced approach to warfare.
Speaking against a strategy of indiscriminate destruction targeting civilian populations, Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) Adm. Arthur Radford testified in 1949 at the House Armed Services Committee’s Unification and Strategy Hearings under Chairman Carl Vinson (D-GA):
“The types of war we plan to fight must fit the kind of peace we want. We cannot look to the military victory alone, with no thought to the solution of the staggering problem that would be generated by the death and destruction of an atom blitz.” -- Adm. Arthur Radford, CINCPAC, 1949 [pictured at left with Pres. Truman in 1950]
Today, the Navy-Marine Corps team offers a wide array of air capabilities, contributing to various aspects of the nation’s Maritime Strategy: Forward Presence, Deterrence, Sea Control, Power Projection, Maritime Security, and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response.
Some other insights in Revolt of the Admirals:
- President Truman’s role in saving the career of Arleigh Burke (with the help of his aide Rear Adm. Robert L. Dennison).
- The need for strong, honest public relations.
- The advantage of courage and honor over timidity and expediency.
A moral of this book: True loyalty and integrity means commitment to doing what’s right, no matter what.
Aviation Machinist's Mate Airman Kevin Vincent organizes a bookshelf inside the library aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) on Jan. 4, 2011. Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 are on a deployment in the Pacific to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Travis K. Mendoza/Released)