Type of Document Dissertation Author Smith, Douglas Vaughn Author's Email Address email@example.com URN etd-07062005-173306 Title Carrier Battles: Command Decision in Harm's Way Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department History, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title James Pickett Jones Committee Chair Donald D. Horward Committee Member James Sickinger Committee Member Jonathan Grant Committee Member William J. Tatum Committee Member Keywords
- Chester W. Nimitz
- Frank Jack Fletcher
- World War II
- Aircraft Carriers
Date of Defense 2005-06-27 Availability unrestricted AbstractThis dissertation considers the transformation of the United States Navy from a defensive-minded coastal defense navy during the first century of this nation’s history into an offensive-mindset, risk taking navy in the very early stages of World War II. More precisely, since none of the most significant leaders of the U.S. Navy in World War II were commissioned prior to the Spanish-American War and none participated in any significant offensive operations in the First World War, this dissertation examines the premise that education, rather than experience in battle, accounts for that transformation. In evaluating this thesis this dissertation examines the five carrier battles of the Second World War to determine the extent to which the inter-war education of the major operational commanders translated into their decision processes, and the extent to which their interaction during their educational experiences transformed them from risk-adverse to risk-accepting in their operational concepts. Thus the title for my dissertation: Carrier Battles: Command Decision in Harm’s Way.
Almost all of the top-level leaders of the U.S. Navy in World War II had two things in common. They invariably graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy from 1904 through 1912, and from the U.S. Naval War College from 1923 through 1937. Thus none had any experience in the Spanish-American War, and, due primarily to lack of many opportunities for offensive action in the First World War, few had any real experience of consequence in that war either. The question that obviously springs to mind, then, is how did these top naval leaders, brought up in the culture of a Navy that had been developed as a coastal defense Service during the first hundred years of its existence, develop a risk-taking, offensive attitude without any real opportunity to refine the skills necessary for offensive operations save in the classroom? That has become the central theme around which this dissertation has been structured.
In the formative stages of their education at the Naval Academy something profoundly influenced the Midshipmen in inculcating a long-term commitment to naval service. Though several formative events surround their socialization in the military, one in particular seems to stand out. That would be the realization of the position of the United States as a player on the world stage emanating from President Theodore Roosevelt’s ordering of the “Great White Fleet” around the world in a cruise that marked the emergence of the United States in global politics. That event solidified in the Annapolis Midshipmen the realization of the role the U.S. Navy would of necessity play as America emerged from a survival instinct for isolation from European and world involvements to active participation in world affairs. Moreover, fortified by the naval theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the Officer candidates at Annapolis realized the geo-strategic implications of that participation. Of necessity, the U.S. Navy would spearhead U.S. global involvement, and by virtue of their eminent commissioning and potential for leadership positions in that Navy, their own destinies would be tied to that of United States global engagement.
Several authors have speculated as to what accounts for the success of the U.S. Navy in World War II -- and particularly in the early stages of that war. Luck, naval war gaming at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, breaking of Japanese naval codes, and Divine Intervention have all been postulated as credible rationale for that success. Though all of these were important -- none can adequately account for the aggressive, risk-accepting decisions that the top U.S. Naval operational leaders were able to embrace. The institutionalized naval educational process stands out as enabling in their relationship to decisive decision and action and fundamental understanding among the leaders interacting in combat of what they could expect from those fighting with them. Foremost among these is the so-called “Green Hornet,” -- so named because of the color of its binding, which provided an extremely concise and rote method for approaching and analyzing a problem and formulating a sound course of action appropriate to the situation at hand. Hence the actual title of the “Green Hornet,” -- Sound Military Decision.
The main thesis explored in this dissertation is that education rather than experience best accounts for U.S. Navy success in operations in World War II, and that Sound Military Decision can be appropriately established as the main element of that education which produced the success enjoyed.
This thesis is evaluated by analyzing the naval decision process in the five carrier battles of the Second World War: The Battle of the Coral Sea; The Battle of Midway; The Battle of the Eastern Solomons; The Battle of Santa Cruz; and The Battle of the Philippine Sea.
The institutions of higher education of the various Services today have deviated significantly and unacceptably from the successful approach they maintained during the inter-War period. Today’s education for Officers is very descriptive with respect to theory, operational art, doctrine, technology, techniques and tactics, as opposed to a much more proscriptive and interactive (among students) approach employed between the World Wars. It is hoped that the research completed for this study might be a catalyst for consideration of a return to an approach to education that will more fully capture the essentials of confidence-building between and among students and promote unconventional thinking (in the current parlance, thinking “outside the box”) that can refine approaches to warfare before rather than in the midst of battle.
From a historical standpoint, this study is unlike any done previously in terms of both scope and methodology. Experienced editors of naval publications indicate that no one has previously published a book which covers all five carrier battles of the Second World War. All five carrier battles have been mentioned in books, but only briefly attendant to campaigns taking place on land. In terms of methodology, dissection of the naval decision process in battle in relation to specific educational objectives previously instilled in the naval leadership, this study is believed to be applicationally unique. Thus this study has been conducted in appreciation of the possibility of making a unique scholarly contribution to the field of Military History, and also Military Education.
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