Sunday, October 23, 2011


by Bill Doughty
Now read this:
“He is a man of the age ... not rash, but a go-ahead man, he combines valor with discretion, and will not rush into anything he cannot see his way out of.  Everyone respects him, and our men will fight to the death for him.”
These words were written of David Farragut in late April 1862 just after his dramatic conquest of the “impossible” at the Battle of New Orleans.  It was a truly decisive battle of the Civil War, capturing the South’s largest city ... Without change the same words could have been said of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance after his conquest of the “impossible” in the Battle of Midway -- as the years lengthen this significant victory will loom larger and larger as another of the decisive battles of history.
The highlighted words in this post of Navy Reads come from the introduction in a 1966 edition of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN: A Study in Command.  The introduction is by Rear Adm.(ret.) E. M. Eller, former Director of Naval History.  The words were written 45 years ago this year, yet only 24 years after the Battle of Midway!
Vice Adm.(ret.) E. P. Forrestel, who served on Spruance’s staff during WWII, wrote A Study in Command, commissioned by the Navy as a Command Study to help chart a career course for other naval officers.  It’s packed with great photos, a foreward by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and personal eyewitness insights, but for me the highlight is Eller’s introduction, which puts Spruance’s leadership style in context.
Eller quotes Spruance discussing his biggest revelation from the war:
Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Commander, Central Pacific Force, (center) 
is flanked by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific, (right)
 and an unnamed Brigadier General, touring Kwajalein Island.  NHHC.
“The things that I remember best are the times when we had considerable differences of opinion about what we should do,” writes Spruance.  “These were generally resolved satisfactorily, and there is no point in rehearsing them.  I think the fact that we could have differences in our ideas, and could argue and debate our various points of view up and down the line is the important thing to remember.  Time for preparing our plans was short, and they had to proceed more or less simultaneously on all echelons to get things done.  If orders had been handed down the line from on high, and no one had been allowed to question or any part of them, things might, at times, have gone differently.”
In other words, Spruance encouraged “courageous followership,” a concept we’ll explore in my next special blogpost (or preceding post depending on when you read this.)
And, Eller shows how Spruance embraced change in technology and innovation in warfighting.  Eller then makes the case that the Navy has promoted change throughout its history.
Unknowledgeable men often speak of the Navy as “barnacle crusted,” or of “battleship admirals” opposing change of every sort.  The truth of course is the contrary.  The Navy is always changing.  It has always led the nation in much major progress ... ship building ... astronomy and hydrography ... in many fields of physics ... in radio and radar ... aviation and underwater operations; in a host of other developments of this century including, particularly, atomic energy for ship propulsion.
Admiral Spruance saw nothing but “a changing Navy.”  His career encompassed more fundamental changes in navies than in any other period of history.  From crude beginnings, the United States Navy developed strength under the sea and in the sky with dramatic increase in total power...
The most significant part of these almost unbelievable changes, as demonstrated by the universally successful amphibious assaults in World War II, was the growing shift of power away from the land to the sea.  As one looks back into history, he sees that this is not a sudden shift.  It is a long one that has steadily expanded with the growth of science, invention and technology.
An early revolution of large import came with the age of sail.  Great Britain led the world toward freedom, that the free sea offers, through the power of wind on sails.  This brought navies easily into the great oceans and opened all horizons to man.
Yet, as we have noted, even greater change lay ahead; in steam, for example, that released ships from wind and tide.  Electricity and internal combustion engines were some of the developments that projected navies under the sea and into the heavens with far reaching impact on destiny.  In this century progress has accelerated with lightning speed comprising such fundamental changes integrated into deep sea navies as submarines, aircraft, radar, guided missiles and atomic energy.  Admiral Spruance himself, like most officers to some degree, played his part in shaping these momentous changes.
Vice Adm. Spruance presents the Purple Heart to 
Cpl John K. Galuszka, USMC, aboard a hospital ship 
at Pearl Harbor, Dec. 17, 1943.  NHHC.
Eller remembers conversations he had with Adm. Spruance “on the staff at Pearl Harbor and at times on his flagship afloat,” and reflects on Spruance’s understanding of the strength and synergy of a force -- the United States Navy -- that provides defense not only on the surface of the sea but also above and below.
Eller’s words should not be lost in the ether of history.  Spruance’s legacy will not be forgotten.  Tomorrow, USS Spruance (DDG 111), one of the newest ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, arrives at San Diego.  Like her namesake, Spruance will work to keep sea lanes and people free.

To read more about Adm. Spruance, the Navy Professional Reading Program recommends a well-documented biography by Thomas B. Buell, The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.  The NPRP is endorsed by the Chief of Naval Operations.
USS Spruance (DDG 111) heading for San Diego. U.S. Navy file photo.

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