Category Archives: Military History

7 Reads For President’s Day

Today marks George Washington’s 285th birthday and the celebration of President’s Day. In observation of the holiday, we’re sharing some of our favorite books about the presidency.

9780813122694Washington on Washington

For most Americans, George Washington is more of a legend than a man—a face on our currency or an austere figure standing in a rowboat crossing the icy Delaware River. He was equally revered in his own time. At the helm of a country born of idealism and revolution, Washington reluctantly played the role of demigod that the new nation required—a role reconciling the rhetoric of democracy with the ritual of monarchy.

Washington on Washington offers a fresh and human perspective on this enigmatic figure in American history. Drawing on diary entries, journals, letters, and authentic interviews, Paul M. Zall presents the autobiography that Washington never lived to write, revealing new insights into his character, both personal and political.

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Jefferson on Jefferson9780813122359

A new and more complex portrait of Thomas Jefferson, as told by Jefferson himself. Not trusting biographers with his story and frustrated by his friends’ failure to justify his role in the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wrote his autobiography on his own terms at the age of seventy-seven. The resulting book ends, well before his death, with his return from France at the age of forty-six. Asked for additional details concerning his life, Jefferson often claimed to have a “decayed memory.” Fortunately, this shrewd politician, philosopher, architect, inventor, farmer, and scientist penned nearly eighteen thousand letters in his lifetime, saving almost every scrap he wrote.

In Jefferson on Jefferson, Paul Zall returns to original manuscripts and correspondence for a new view of the statesman’s life. He extends the story where Jefferson left off, weaving excerpts from other writings—notes, rough drafts, and private correspondence—with passages from the original autobiography. Jefferson reveals his grief over the death of his daughter, details his hotly contested election against John Adams (decided by the House of Representatives), expresses his thoughts on religion, and tells of life at Monticello.

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9780813109411Truman and the Democratic Party

What best defines a Democrat in the American political arena—idealistic reformer or pragmatic politician? Harry Truman adopted both roles and in so doing defined the nature of his presidency.

Truman and the Democratic Party is the first book to deal exclusively with the president’s relationship with the Democratic party and his status as party leader. Sean J. Savage addresses Truman’s twin roles of party regular and liberal reformer, examining the tension that arose from this duality and the consequences of that tension for Truman’s political career.

Drawing on personal interview with former Truman administration members and party officials and on archival materials—most notably papers of the Democratic National Committee at the Harry S. Truman Library—Savage has produced a fresh perspective that is both shrewd and insightful. This book offers historians and political scientists a new way of looking at the Truman administration and its impact on key public policies.

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The Enduring Reagan9780813134475

A former Sunday school teacher and Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan was an unlikely candidate for president. His charisma, conviction, and leadership earned him the governorship of California, from which he launched his successful bid to become the fortieth president of the United States in 1980. Reagan’s political legacy continues to be the standard by which all conservatives are judged. In The Enduring Reagan, editor Charles W. Dunn brings together eight prominent scholars to examine the political career and legacy of Ronald Reagan. This anthology offers a bold reassessment of the Reagan years and the impact they had on the United States and the world.

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9780813134024The Presidency in the Twenty-first Century

As the most prominent figure of the U.S. government, the president is under constant scrutiny from both his colleagues and the American people. Questions about the proper role of the president have been especially prevalent in the media during the current economic crisis. The Presidency in the Twenty-first Century explores the growth of presidential power, investigating its social, political, and economic impact on America’s present and future.

Editor Charles W. Dunn and a team of the nation’s leading political scientists examine a variety of topics, from the link between campaigning and governing to trends in presidential communication with the public. The book discusses the role of the presidency in a government designed to require cooperation with Congress and how this relationship is further complicated by the expectations of the public. Several contributors take a closer look at the Obama administration in light of President George W. Bush’s emphasis on the unitary executive, a governing style that continues to be highly controversial. Dunn and his contributors provide readers with a thorough analysis of a rapidly changing political role, provoking important questions about the future of America’s political system.

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The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections9780813109268

An intriguing phenomenon in American electoral politics is the loss of seats by the president’s party in midterm congressional elections. Between 1862 and 1990, the president’s party lost seats in the House of Representatives in 32 of the 33 midterm elections. In his new study, James Campbell examines explanations for these midterm losses and explores how presidential elections influence congressional elections.

After reviewing the two major theories of midterm electoral change-the “surge and decline” theory and the theory of midterms as referenda on presidential performance Campbell draws upon each to propose and test a new theory. He asserts that in the years of presidential elections congressmen ride presidential coattails into office, while in midterm elections such candidates are stranded. An additional factor is the strength of the presidential vote, which influences the number of seats that are won, only to be lost later.

Including both election returns and survey data, The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections offers a fresh perspective on congressional elections, voting behavior, Congress, and the presidency.

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9780813126609The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell

What essential leadership lessons do we learn by distilling the actions and ideas of great military commanders such as George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Colin Powell? The Art of Command illustrates that great leaders become great through a commitment not only to develop vital skills but also to surmount personal shortcomings. Harry S. Laver, Jeffrey J. Matthews, and the other contributing authors identify nine core characteristics of highly effective leadership, such as integrity, determination, vision, and charisma, and nine significant figures in American military history whose careers embody those qualities. The Art of Command examines each figure’s strengths and weaknesses and how those attributes affected their leadership abilities, offering a unique perspective of military leadership in American history.

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To explore more titles about the American Presidency, visit our website.

Two Score and Three Years Ago…

Today marks the forty-third anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War.  This twenty-day war was fought over the territory lost during the third Arab-Israeli War in 1967 between Egypt, Syria, and Israel.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and Egypt and Syria used this to their advantage when they decided to attack Israel.  While most of the Israeli guard were away from their posts in observance of the holiday, Egyptian troops swept deep into the Sinai Peninsula while Syria struggled to overthrow the occupying Israeli in Golan Heights.  Not too long after Syria’s siege did Israel counterattacked and recaptured the area.

After less than a month of fighting, the Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire was secured by the United Nations on October 25, 1973.

The following two books are fantastic resources for anyone who is wanting to learn more about the Yom Kippur War.


Inside Israel’s Northern Command by Brigadier General Dani Asher is a personal account from the war, relaying stories of war strategies used to fight off the Syrians during the Yom Kippur War.  Established as the successor of the 1948 Northern Front, the Northern Command was in charge of the operational routine, ongoing defensive activities, and the preparation for war with regards to Israeli borders with the three Arab nations: Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.  The crushing victory of the Six-Day War served as the basis for the concept of security, the doctrine building, and for the way we view the enemy in the six years’ period from the end of the Six-Day War to the onslaught of the Yom Kippur War.



Soldier in the Sinai is another personal account from the Yom Kippur War that describes the impact of the security concept on Israel’s defensive doctrine in Western Sinai after the Six-Day War, especially during the War of Attrition and the following cease-fire. Sakal examines the performance of the ground troops on October 6-15, 1973 (especially October 6-9) and their total dependence on airpower. Major General Emanuel Sakal, IDF (Ret.) focuses on a tactical and operational analysis of the defensive battle on the southern front from early morning October 4, 1973 to the evening of October 15.  Within this range of events, the book surveys the operational and strategic decisions made by the chief of staff and the defense minister, mainly regarding the defensive campaign, the preemptive or parallel air strike, and the counterattack.


Operation Dragoon from the Front Lines

72 years ago, Allied forces invaded Southern France as part of Operation Dragoon, pushing the German forces back into the Vosges Mountains. Originally conceived to be executed in tandem with the better-known Operation Overlord, Dragoon was overwhelming successful. Along with the German retreat, the important and strategic port of Marseilles was liberated by the Allies.

Aboard the U.S.N. transport General George O. Squier, surgeon Paul A. Kennedy was on watch—4 am to 8 am—as, “Naval guns [were] throwing salvo after salvo into the beach area,” at Le Dramont Plage.

kennedyComps.inddAs a member of the US Army’s 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group, Kennedy spent thirty-four months working in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany, and participated in some of the fiercest action of the war—Operation Avalanche, the attack on Anzio, and entered the Dachau concentration camp two days after it was liberated, and 72 years ago, Operation Dragoon.

From the beginning of 1944 until the end of the war, he kept a medical journal in which he meticulously recorded and illustrated 355 of these cases. He also kept a personal diary and took more than 1,500 photographs, most of which were developed and carefully labeled, but never printed. Below, in an excerpt from Battlefield Surgeon, Kennedy’s diary describes the wait before Dragoon, the confusion of landing, and the routine of setting up a mobile surgical hospital.

 Thursday, August 10, 1944

Aboard the U.S.N. transport General George O. Squier

Had a poor night last night—the British right behind us drank scotch ’til all hours. Up at dawn to start a long wait ’til noon. Had cold meat and beans for breakfast. Large truck convoy to Naples and the docks—greeted there at 1:00 by the Red Cross with doughnuts and lemonade (pretty good). Ship is a new navy transport (2,500 troops) and the accommodations excellent, much to our surprise. Room for 18 but only 10 of us in it. Had a saltwater bath (hot and filthy dirty when we boarded), then later had an excellent dinner. (Another real surprise—we expected C rations.) I’m certain where we’re going but we’ll see—and it won’t take long to get there.

Friday, August 11, 1944

On ship—

Pulled away from the harbor of Naples and sailed across the bay to Castelammare, where we’re lying at anchor with other transports and L.S.T.s (Landing Ship, Tank), most of them combat loaded. Weather still hot but cloudy—rained hard last night. Meals still excellent and ship more comfortable than anyone expected. (They sell ice cream on board here that is excellent and there seems to be plenty of it.) (The navy lives right!) Still lots of speculation as per usual as to where we’re going. I got a job assigned to me—a watch from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Paul A Kennedy

Surgeon Paul A. Kennedy

Saturday, August 12, 1944

On ship

Still just off Castelammare sitting in a blazing hot sun and minding the heat more all the time. Up at 4 a.m. to sit out watch from then ’til 8 a.m.—a long four hours in a dark hatch filled with sweating soldiers. Fortunate your sense of smell tires after a time and you smell nothing. Eating two meals a day with sandwich at noon, and the food continues excellent. Reading—on my bunk, on deck, a saltwater shower, ice cream, more speculation—signs!! The L.S.T.s pulled out this evening—a sign we may go tonight or early tomorrow. This waiting is difficult, particularly for something that might be disastrous.

Sunday, August 13, 1944

At sea Up for my watch at 4 a.m. to find us still at anchor. My watch interrupts my sleep no end. To Mass and Communion at 9 a.m. Pulled anchor and sailed at 1300 hours—all the transports that were around us plus a few line ships. Speed pretty good—must be 18 knots—wasn’t long before we were at sea. Four hours out all C.O.s were briefed on the mission, but we’ve not been enlightened as yet. Our general guess was right. Got my money back in francs—13 500-franc notes. A Grumman Wildcat  zoomed past us—there are many carriers in the vicinity, so the story goes. But you can hear anything you want on the ship.

Monday, August 14, 1944

At sea—on eve of D-day.

What I feel—the million things that are running thru my mind would more than fill this page. What happens tomorrow can be so disastrous in so many ways. I hope and pray that all goes well.

The day has been very quiet. More ships have joined us—battlewagons among them, other transports, but we can see only a small part of the task force. There’s no great excitement among the men though they know as well as anyone that tomorrow may be their end. The morale is good and most everyone feels that only success will be ours. I’m sure it will but I’m not sure of the price.

Tuesday, August 15, 1944

Le Dramont Plage on the Riviera

Things started to happen at 5:30 this morning while I was on my watch. Naval guns throwing salvo after salvo into the beach area. At 7 it stopped, and heavy bombers in waves of 36 each then came out of the southwest and hit the beach area. Just before the first assault wave went in to land at 8:00, ships mounting hundreds of rockets “peppered” the beach. We landed at H 10 riding from our transport 15 miles out on an L.C.I. (Landing Craft Infantry). Uneventful ride in—landed on green beach. Things seemed a bit confused—100 prisoners waiting on the beach to be taken out to a ship.

They were shelling the beach occasionally so we got out of there (loaded down) and found a bivouac area for the night on the side of a hill overlooking this little town. At 9 p.m., just at dusk, a Jerry plane came in from the east and when it was still 1,000 yards from the beach it released a robot radio-controlled bomb which flew just ahead of the plane and then gracefully slid downward and hit an L.S.T. square on the bridge. Flames and a terrific explosion and the L.S.T. burned and exploded all night. Four Long Toms were on it plus lots of ammunition.

No other ships lost. There were three other beaches but news from there is scarce tonight. 155s are just below us and are firing over us—the noise is terrible—that plus the ack-ack would wake the dead. We’re right in the middle of it too and the flak falls too close. I’ve got my bed laid out in a ditch with a door lying crossways over my head. Here’s where an air mattress comes in mighty handy.

I’ve landed on D-day and I’m all in one piece, thank God. Things seem to be going well although they’re only six miles from the water as yet. There was little resistance here, and with the way the Normandy front is going I think we’ll meet little.

Wednesday, August 16, 1944

In a villa on the French Riviera just east of San Raphael. Had a good night in spite of the noise, et al. Explored the countryside this morning, and this place looks like a war hit it all of a sudden. I can see that it was a beautiful place in peacetime—villas all overlooking the sea—small coves that seem to be separate little lakes hidden from everything, war included. Saw Jerry pillboxes dotting the hill that naval shells blasted out of existence.

The L.S.T. still burning. Many prisoners in the 36 Division P.O.W.enclosures. Not looking too happy.

Progress is good. The 155s have moved up some and we have a house to sleep in. Tomorrow we’re setting up six miles from here on a golf course.

On the Road to Le Muy via Battlefield Surgeon by Paul A Kennedy

On the Road to Le Muy

Thursday, August 17, 1944

One mile south of Le Muy

Had another robot bomb thrown at the beach last night just after sunset. We could hear it roaring, getting closer all the time, and everyone dove for the floor—it hit the water and exploded. A 155 is just outside our yard and it fired a mission (15 rounds), almost making me deaf. We waited around all day to move and finally left at 3:00 in a 6 x 6—passed thru San Raphael, Frejus. French flags flying from every house—people all in a holiday mood waving to us.

More prisoners coming in; walking, in trucks, and all seem not too unhappy. Glider traps covered the fields hereabout—poles with barbed wire strung between them. We set up just a mile south of Le Muy. 11th Evac next door.

 Friday, August 18, 1944

Draguignan, France

Moved here this afternoon and set up immediately—patients already waiting. Clean-looking town and people much improved. The countryside is pretty. We passed a couple fields on the way here that had hundreds of broken-up gliders in them. Jerry had lots of glider traps around.

Jerry had cleared out of here yesterday, so you see even the medics are close on his heels. There’s a building right behind us that a shell hit this morning—it’s still burning and fires are burning on the hill just ahead of us. Did one Jerry belly this evening.

Saturday, August 19, 1944

Patients have been nil all day. I guess nobody is getting seriously wounded.

The advance is still rapid and the news from Normandy is excellent—the Jerry 7th Army is in rout. Went into Draguignan this morning to look around. No war damage worth mentioning—people all very cordial and seem honestly pleased that we are here. One fellow who could talk English said that the Germans were correct but not nice—the Americans are nice. Bought some perfume for Marion and a French book for Paulie.

They have beer here in this town but in no way does it resemble our beer. Hospital is moving in a.m. but we’re staying behind as a holding company.

Wheeler’s ‘Jacob L. Devers’ Honored by Army Historical Foundation

Jacob L Devers WheelerThe Army Historical Foundation recently recognized outstanding contributions to U.S. Army history that were published in 2015. Among those select works honored by the Foundation was Jacob L. Devers: A General’s Life by James Scott Wheeler which won in the category of biography.

General Jacob L. “Jake” Devers (1897–1979) was one of only two officers—the other was Omar C. Bradley—to command an army group during the decisive campaigns of 1944–1945 that liberated Europe and ended the war with Nazi Germany. After the war, Devers led the Army Ground Forces in the United States and eventually retired in 1949 after forty years of service. Despite incredible successes on the battlefield, General George C. Marshall’s “dependable man” remains one of the most underrated and overlooked figures of his generation.

In this definitive biography, Wheeler delivers a groundbreaking reassessment of the American commander whose contributions to victory in Europe are topped only by those of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Wheeler’s exhaustively researched chronicle of Devers’s life and career reveals a leader who demonstrated an extraordinary ability to cut through red tape and solve complex problems. Nevertheless, Eisenhower disliked Devers—a fact laid bare when he ordered Devers’s Sixth Army Group to halt at the Rhine. After the war, Eisenhower’s and Bradley’s accounts of the generals’ disagreements over strategy and tactics became received wisdom, to the detriment of Devers’s reputation.

Bacevich Read Wheeler'seditorial on theV-E Day thatMight Have BeenThis exceptional work of military history was recognized at an annual awards program on June 16, at the Nineteenth Annual Members’ Meeting at the AUSA Building in Arlington, VA. The finalists were judged by a select awards committee of distinguished military historians and writers against a set of criteria, including significance to U.S. Army history, historical accuracy, and quality of writing. The win marks the ninth time a University Press of Kentucky title has won an award from the AHF. UPK’s previous winners in the category of biography are Beetle: The Life of Walter Bedell Smith by D. K. R. Crosswell, Exposing the Third Reich: Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler’s Germany by Henry G. Gole, and Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano.

The Army Historical Foundation is a member-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the American soldier. Established in 1983, the Foundation funds projects such as educational programs, research, publication of relevant historical materials, and the acquisition and preservation of Army artifacts.

The Battle of Jutland 100 Years Later: Two Commanders

100 years ago on May 31, 1916,  the German and British fleets clashed in the North Sea in the only major naval engagement of World War I: The Battle of Jutland. A British loss would have been disastrous—the Royal Navy had long been a point of pride, and with almost twice the number of ships (Britain’s twenty-eight dreadnoughts against Germany’s sixteen), total victory should have been assured. But, on June 2, 1916, as the remaining ships returned to their bases, both sides claimed victory.

Britain lost more than twice the number of men and more than twice the amount of ships’ tonnage than Germany did, but retained control over the seas (though Germany’s blockade continued). What should have been a decisive battle, ended with a whimper, as both fleets took a few, last desultory shots around 3:30 am the morning of June 1.

Today, we’ll take a look at the two commanders who sought victory on the high seas: Admiral Sir John R. Jellicoe of the British Grand Fleet and Admiral Reinhard Scheer of the  German Kaiserliche Marine.

Sir John R. Jellicoe, 1859-1935


Jellicoe was, in the words of Winston Churchill, the only man on either side of the conflict who could have lost the war in an afternoon. He commanded the British Grand Fleet for the first two years of the war. He was aboard his flagship, Iron Duke, at the Battle of Jutland when the two great dreadnought fleets met in their only engagement, and a British loss would have spelled disaster. Jellicoe was born of a seafaring family in Southampton and joined the Royal Navy at a typically early age: thirteen. His career was in the Mediterranean and in the Far East (he was badly wounded during the Boxer Rebellion). However, he was most talented as a planner and builder of the navy. He became a protege of Sir John Fisher, serving in the admiralty as director of naval ordnance and successively as third and second sea lord. Jellicoe had much of the responsibility for developing the new class of super battleships—including the original dreadnought—that came to dominate the balance of naval power before World War I. By August 1914, he was a vice admiral and commander in chief of the Grand Fleet. Jellicoe was therefore in control of a huge naval force that was in theory counterbalanced by a weaker but still potent German High Seas Fleet.

The long history of British naval power led to the expectation that the nation’s sailors would once again triumph at the first opportunity. However, the opportunity was long denied since the Germans (particularly the kaiser) so feared losing their hideously expensive dreadnought fleet that they refused to leave port.

Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet settled into a position of distant blockade, guarding the approaches to the North Sea from bases at Scapa Flow, Rosyth, and Cromarty. Only the respective battle-cruiser squadrons roamed the waters for the first year and a half of the war. At the end of May 1916, the German command finally decided to bring its fleet out, and Admiral Hipper was sent ahead with the battle cruisers to bait a trap for the British light squadron. Ironically, Jellicoe had the same plan, and the Grand Fleet was on the water with Admiral Beatty sent on to draw the Germans into the maw of the British dreadnoughts. The two fleets met off Jutland on 31 May. Jellicoe had a greater weight of firepower and ships, but he lacked the Germans’ better fire control systems and their speed of maneuver and communication. Despite twice approaching the line of German ships in an advantageous position, Jellicoe could not deliver a heavy enough blow, for the most part frustrated by swift German maneuvers. At the end of the day, the High Seas Fleet had escaped, leaving several British ships sunk or disabled—an inconclusive result from the British point of view, although one Jellicoe could d scarcely have prevented given the German unwillingness to fight it out. Six months later, Jellicoe was removed from fleet command and made first lord of the admiralty (Fisher had resigned over the Dardanelles debacle). In his new position, 1ellicoe ran into trouble over the issue of convoys—he was slow to accept this solution to the German U-boat menace—and he was turned out of office at the end of 1917. He was elevated to the peerage and in 1919 went to New Zealand where he became governor general the following year.

excerpted from Almanac of World War I by David F. Burg and L. Edward Purcell

Reinhard Scheer, 1863-1928


Admiral Reinhard Scheer, 1910/1916 ca. (Bundesarchiv. Bild 134-B2752)

On 18 January 1916, Vice Adm. Reinhard Scheer replaced [Admiral Hugo von] Pohl as commander of the High Seas Fleet. Pohl had fallen seriously ill and would die only a short time afterward, on 22 February 1916. Prior to replacing Pohl as commander in chief, Scheer had commanded the Third Squadron, a unit consisting of the eight most modern battleships in the navy. During that time, Scheer had not taken a stand against Pohl in any disputes concerning the deployment of the fleet and had not been inclined to pressure for a quick victory. But when Scheer took command of the fleet, two other personnel changes also took place: there was a new chief of staff, Capt. Adolf von Trotha (previously commander of the battleship Kaiser), and a new chief of the Operations Division, Capt. Magnus von Levetzow (previously commander of the battlecruiser Moltke). Thus two naval officers who had belonged to the sharpest critics of Pohl’s conduct of the war at sea gained a great amount of influence upon naval warfare. Their aim was to deploy the fleet in a more vigorous naval battle in the North Sea. By the end of January, the first draft of the new Leitgedanken für die Seekriegführung in der Nordsee (Guidelines for the Conduct of Naval War in the North Sea) was published, which was based on the assumption that the existing strength ratio precluded seeking ‘the decisive battle against the assembled English fleet.” The High Seas Fleet, it held, would have to put constant pressure upon the enemy until the latter was compelled to come “out of its present waiting stance” and advance “certain forces of theirs against us, which will present us with opportunities to attack.” The enemy must be prevented from having “such a sense of superiority . . . that he is no longer afraid to engage us in combat as he wishes.” In terms of “practical approaches” to this more offensive conduct of the naval war, the first choice was a commerce war with U-boats, followed by a mine war, a commerce war in the north, and an air war. With their airships, the navy not only had the means for an extensive reconnaissance (with radio contact to the home support bases), but also an offensive weapon that could reach the British homeland with its bombs, as was proven by the airship attacks that had begun in early 1915. In last place on this list stood “the vigorous actions by the High Seas Fleet.”

After the Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland contributed to the fateful decision in favor of an unlimited U-boat war. After that, the High Seas Fleet functioned only as an assistance weapon for the conducting of the U-boat war. Its activity was limited primarily to the monotonous task of securing minesweepers on the entrance and exit paths of U-boats. On the balance, it must be stated that the operations of the High Seas Fleet reached their high point in the Battle of Jutland, yet the battle itself brought no change in the conduct of naval battles.

The High Seas Fleet remained what it had been since the outbreak of war—“a fleet in being”—which had a strategic effect just because of its very existence. Its strong presence tied up the British Grand Fleet and, along with it, the light warships that were needed in the Atlantic for security escort tasks. The fleet provided security for its own coastal area, blockaded the Baltic Sea from relief shipments to Russia, and offered the U-boat war a certain amount of support in the securing of entrance and exit routes. Thus, contrary to popular opinion of historians, who deny that it had any strategic significance, the fleet did have its military value for the German conduct of the war. Still, a sober cost-effectiveness analysis inevitably leads to the conclusion that ultimately it did not accomplish what was expected of it, or could have been expected.

In later years, the Battle of Jutland had a long-term influence on the building of tradition of the German navy that followed. It was interpreted as the defining battle experience of the years 1914–1918 and was cited as proof of validity for the German naval buildup. In the early postwar years, the official historical writing by the navy concentrated on the depiction of the battle. The semiofficial work Der Krieg zur See 1914–1918 (The Naval War 1914–1918) came to the conclusion “that the German right to claim victory in the Battle of Jutland also stands up under the most rigorous historical research.” As proof for this thesis, the German side repeatedly quoted the greater number of losses on the enemy side, without taking into account the fact that on 1 June 1916 the Germans had declined further participation in the battle with good reason. In this respect, the strategic analysis of the leadership of the North Sea battle fell short. Even after the negative war experience, leading officers of the Reichsmarine and Kriegsmarine tended to hold the opinion that one fully fought naval battle in the North Sea could have brought a strategic, decisive victory. Within the closed circle of the naval officer corps, it was considered to be a given that not even the slightest criticism was permitted against either Tirpitz or the successful fleet commanders, Scheer and [Vice Admiral] Hipper.

excerpted from Jutland: World War I’s Greatest Naval Battleedited by Michael Epkenhans, Jörg Hillmann, and Frank Nägler


9780813190877 untitled

World War I 100 Years Later: Reassessing the Battle of Jutland

With commemorations of the World War I centennial in full-swing, names of historic battles like Verdun, Ypres, and the Somme have been recognized and remembered along with the soldiers who fought there. Images of men in the trenches dominate our memories of World War I, but of equal importance are the naval skirmishes that were waged in the European seas. No naval engagement was more important or had such an impact as the Battle of Jutland 100 years ago today, in which the German navy—under Admiral  Reinhard Scheer—attempted to break the British blockade of German shipping lines. Outnumbered against the renowned and dominant Royal navy—commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe—sixteen German dreadnoughts engaged twenty-eight British warships in World War I’s largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of battleships.

untitledThe Battle of Jutland marks a significant turning point in modern warfare—when new technology such as the submarine, the torpedo, and mines made major fleet combat between battleships irrelevant. Outdated strategies of war limited the leadership and tactics of both commanders. Traditional surface battles were quickly becoming a thing of the past as new, smaller battle cruisers could outmaneuver and outrun larger ships of the fleet, and the increasing use of submarines to disrupt and attack merchant vessels was seen as a more effective strategy.

After two days of bloody combat, both sides claimed victory. Britain retained control of the North Sea and forced the Germans to withdraw their fleet, but the British lost more ships and many more men than the German dreadnoughts.

The following excerpt comes from Jutland: World War I’s Greatest Naval Battle. Editors Michael Epkenhans, Jörg Hillmann, and Frank Nägler have collected an international group of scholars to investigate the iconic battle from both the British and German perspectives and reassess the leadership, strategies, and tactics of what would become the most formidable battle in modern Royal Navy history.

Reflections on the Battle of Jutland

by Michael Salewski [Excerpted from Jutland: World War I’s Greatest Naval Battle]

Somewhere a steamship idles in the waters. It is wartime, and steamships have to be inspected—as the Admiralty Staff book expressed it, a “minor event.” Thus the small cruiser Elbing and the torpedo boats B-109 and B-110 set off. The English have sighted the steamship as well, and so they send Galathea and Phaeton out in order to ensure fairness. N. J. Fjord is a harmless Danish commercial ship. But behind the German and British inspectors, at a proper distance, the High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet were on the move, their battlecruisers out front in operational positions. “Smoke possibly from fleet,” radioed Elbing and at 1532h set off the first shot of the battle.

The steamship functioned as a semaphore point. Before the development of radio telegraphy, flags were mounted on church towers. With the speed of light and vision, this kind of signal could be sent and received from beyond the horizon. But the two fleets now approaching one another are modern ones, even though they include one or more less modern squadron. No, as Scheer will argue, out of solicitude toward the crews, it would have been impossible to justify leaving the Second Squadron in Wilhelmshaven. It came back rather disheveled, and the Pommern was missing, along with its 844 men—the entire crew.

Only Franz Hipper and Sir David Beatty confronted one another at eye level, with commensurate weapons—this very thing brought forth the mystique of the cruiser battle. “It was a powerful moment,” reads the work by the Admiralty Staff, “and no one who experienced it could withdraw, when, after the breathtaking haste of the deployment, the German and British battlecruisers, the most beautiful and powerful ships of each fleet, swung into the battle line in majestic confidence, as if they were ‘fate itself,’ and the seconds of the utmost calm and marshaling of all strength gave way to the first thundering of the guns.” It was the ultimate duel, an industrial-scientific heroic deed worthy of the beginning of the heroic and brutal twentieth century.
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The Civil War Origins of Memorial Day

Three years after the Civil War ended, the head of an organization of Union veterans—the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)—established “Decoration Day” as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead. It is believed that the last Monday in May was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

However, springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places as early as 1866. On April 25 of that year, a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in the battle of Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed by the sight of these bare graves, the women placed flowers on them as well.

MacEnany.inddIn 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

150 years later, in honor of the Civil War origins of Memorial Day, we present an illuminating conversation with Brian McEnany, author of For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862:

Why did you feel particularly drawn to the West Point Class of 1862?
I was initially drawn to this class because it graduated 100 years before my own. While researching old musty cadet records and books at the archives at West Point for a reunion project, I became interested in Civil War politics and the cadet life of this class. I found stories and records of an extraordinary group of young men. Not finding much written about West Point classes after the start of the Civil War, I decided to write a book to fill that gap in history.

What was the most surprising thing you uncovered about this unique group of soldiers?
That is a hard question to answer. Regular army promotions were very slow during the war. There were questions raised in my mind about why this class did not have more transfers into volunteers to increase their chances for promotion. Secondly, the reputation of the Military Academy suffered greatly because of the large number of resignations of southern cadets—not a lot of people know that.

Can you talk a bit about why so many cadets from this class felt they had to resign from West Point before graduation?
Lincoln’s election followed by multiple changes in the superintendent and the commandant, resignations of officer instructors, as well as cadets led half this class to resign by the end of the summer of 1861. Their reasons were rooted in very strong state allegiances, colored mostly by friends, family, and politicians who appointed them as well as other cadets from the same state. It left little room for independent thought on the matter. Their letters were particularly poignant. One cadet from another class wrote to his mother that he resigned because he couldn’t sign his name to the oath of allegiance to the Union—he felt no one from the South could.

How did resignation like that affect the remaining cadets?
While they continued to focus on academics in preparation for graduation, their class motto, “Joined in a Common Cause,” shows they were strongly committed to the restoration of the Union.

Do you think the confusion and desolation of war may have led to their stories being overlooked?
I’ve found that most books and articles about the Civil War at West Point only focus on members of the May and June classes of 1861. Books about the other classes (1862–65) have not been written. My book is the first one published about another class that graduated during the war.

Can you talk a bit about the service records of the various cadets throughout the war?
The hardest task was to track the actual units they were assigned to—something that is not carried in their personnel records. I researched microfilm files of old newspaper articles and unit muster reports and found cadet, mid-career, and obituary pictures before I could write a biography for each member of the class. Promotions were very slow. Only the engineers and ordnance officers made captain during the war. The rest remained first lieutenants with the exception of four that went into volunteer service. One rose to Major General (Ranald Mackenzie), one was awarded the Medal of Honor (George Gillespie) many years later, one ex-member (Henry Farley) fired the first shot at Fort Sumter, and one classmate (William Bartlett) at the end of the war took the surrender of the last Confederate units in the eastern theater.

Who do you think was the standout from the class and why?
Ranald Mackenzie for sure. He graduated first in the class and rose to the rank of Major General US Volunteers during the war. He was in the right place at the right time; picked to lead an infantry regiment, he made a name for himself. Even Grant called him “a most promising officer.” Stern disciplinarian, an able tactical leader, brave to the point of recklessness; he was wounded six times during the war. He became a brigade commander, then commander of a cavalry division in the Army of the James. That division became part of Sheridan’s command during the Shenandoah Campaign and Lee’s Retreat. Mackenzie became more renowned after the Civil War. This was the Mackenzie that chased the Apaches into Mexico, and a 1950s TV show called Mackenzie’s Raiders even touted his exploits. He likely would have outshone Custer in history if he had lived long enough, but he died early. Others in the class were equally brave; 24 of the 28 were brevetted for gallantry, and one was awarded the Medal of Honor.

From these accounts, were you able to tell if any of these classmates felt remorse for attacking their fellow cadets during the war? Or was their dedication to their cause more important?
There were several incidents where classmates faced classmates on the battlefield. Sometimes, they were unaware of the other’s presence. At other times, they knew. Virginian James Dearing, an artillery man who commanded the guns in Pickett’s division, fired at Tully McCrea and John Egan at Gettysburg. At the end of the war, Mackenzie found Dearing lying, mortally wounded, in a hospital in Lynchburg just after Lee surrendered and made sure he was well taken care of. Morris Schaff ran into others after the war and wrote that there was no animosity shown. The bottom line is that I do not think they carried any bad feelings with them—the brotherhood endured.

What is the biggest thing you hope people take away from For Brotherhood and Duty?
For Brotherhood and Duty is all about memories, personal relationships and experiences.  What I hope is that people will remember those stories so that the next time they visit a battlefield they recall a real person and his story about that particular campaign or battle.