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Bill Thayer

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Part II
Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
One Man's Fight
for a Better Navy

Holden A. Evans
[Former Naval Constructor, U. S. N.]

published by
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part II
Chapter 14
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part II

 p242  Chapter XIII

Admiral Osterhaus Clears his Conscience

As manager of a great industrial plant, Admiral Osterhaus had his troubles. The Sea Lords little realized the difficulties of the position their favorite officer had been assigned to. In the all‑important matter of harassing me, however, he was a pronounced success.

An example: One of my best assistants, Naval Constructor Fisher, had been in the drydock to inspect the bottom of a ship that had just been docked. The bottom of the dock was deep with mud, and Fisher had on hip boots. As he came up to the top of the dock, he found himself confronted by the general manager, the admiral, whose quarterdeck sensibilities had been outraged by Fisher's sand‑hog garb. He sharply reprimanded the constructor for his appearance and told him to get into uniform — this, of course, in the presence of the workmen.

When absurdities like this are put into Gilbert-and‑Sullivan operas, people laugh at them, but it is hard to realize that they have happened and can today happen in our Navy.

Another example: The admiral saw a gang of men coming from a ship under repair. They had finished one job and were proceeding to another. I happened to be near them. The admiral, knowing no better, assumed that the men were loafing.

"Mr. Evans," he shouted in a loud voice that brought the gang to a halt, "what do you mean by allowing that loafing under your eyes?'

I had been accused of many things but never before of allowing men under me to loaf. Of course, there was no retort a naval constructor could make to his commandant.

 p243  A third example: Commander Carr had moved on to his inspection district in the East. The new engineer officer who succeeded him was a great favorite of the admiral. Every morning Admiral Osterhaus, in company with the engineer officer, inspected all the shops. Neither one knew much about what they saw, but they inspected just the same. My department was the largest in the yard, yet never once did I get an invitation to inspect the plant with the general manager, Admiral Osterhaus.

Such incidents and situations became commonplace. But the boy who had come up through hardships from the pine woods of Florida was of tough fiber and could take it. Meanwhile the admiral was busy ordering numerous boards to investigate me and my department. Not one of them found anything on which to hang an unfavorable report.

All efforts to break my spirit with persecution having failed, I was detached from my important post at Mare Island and given the insignificant duty of superintending the building of a small submarine at a private shipyard in Seattle. It was a job which any boy fresh from an engineering school could have handled successfully.

I went to Seattle and now really took stock of my position. I had long overstayed my time in the Navy. In order to fight for economy and honest conduct of the Navy's material affairs, I had passed up opportunities in civilian life that by this time would have made me a figure in the industrial world. My reward had been this — an obscure post as a supervisor. My efforts for efficiency had blighted my naval career. I was a marked man and could expect in the future nothing better than what I had.

An easy answer to the accusations I make here will be that this is a grudge book. Before it is finished, I think any unprejudiced reader will be convinced that I bear no grudge for the shabby treatment I received in the Navy. That treatment eventually drove me out, and, considered solely from a selfish, financial  p244 point of view, it was the greatest service ever done me. Within a few years after my resignation I had become one of the highest-salaried industrial executives in the world.

So this is no complaint of a disappointed naval officer, lamenting the loss of his retired‑pay and attempting revenge upon those who took it from him. Against those who fought me, usually with unfair weapons, I have long since lost all animosity as individuals. If you want to call it a grudge, my grudge is against the system that made my treatment possible and which makes similar persecutions and martyrdoms possible today.

Every tax‑paying citizen has a right to bear that grudge. I suppose I have paid out in Federal taxes more money than most readers of this book. For a while I was in the 71‑per‑cent income‑tax bracket, which meant that every year I paid into the Federal Treasury hundreds of thousands of dollars in income taxes. Because of that, I want to get my money's worth; and because I have expert inside knowledge of the waste and extravagance of the Navy, I have the right and even the duty to speak out and demand that the Navy's industrial enterprise be placed under industrialists, and that line officers devote themselves to their real and important profession — their military duties — instead of spending half their naval life either in swivel chairs or undertaking to manage industrial plants, all the while complaining of the "shortage of officers."

Other navies separate these functions. Unless ours does, the American people, in the event of a far from impossible war, may be in for a dreadful awakening.

It is quite likely that I would have resigned at Seattle, except for an unexpected intervention which I will reach a little later in this narrative.

I had not been long in my new post when I received a letter from Admiral Osterhaus. Navy regulations require an officer, when making an unfavorable report on a subordinate, to submit  p245 the report to the subordinate for his comment. Admiral Osterhaus had made an unfavorable report on me — the first and only unfavorable report in my naval career. In due course he had referred it to me for comment.

Navy fitness reports, which are made at intervals, are all about alike. They are made on forms which demand answers to numbered questions. Most of the questions are to be answered with a graded mark plus the comment of "Excellent," "Good," "Poor," etc. The final stock question — it was No. 15 on Admiral Osterhaus's report — calls for an expression of opinion.

Whether Admiral Osterhaus's answer to No. 15 in his report of my fitness, dated August 22, 1910, reflected upon himself or upon me, I let the reader judge. Here it is.

15. Considering the possible requirements of the Naval Service in peace and in war, would you have any objections to said officer being under your immediate command?

Answer. . . . "Yes."

(If the answer is of an unfavorable nature,
state the reasons fully.)

Answer. . . "Though Mr. Evans has shown excellent ability, administrative capacity, and efficiency, he has not inspired me with that confidence and loyalty which, to my mind, is essential to answer No. 15 favorably."

Here is my comment made at the time on this non‑sequitur:

"It is with sincere regret that I learn the 'excellent ability, administrative capacity, and efficiency' that I have shown, as attested by Admiral Osterhaus, have not inspired him with that confidence and loyalty which is essential to answer Question No. 15 favorably. I have no further comment to make on this report."

Since the admiral sent me only his answer to Question 15, I assumed that he had given me bare passing marks on the other  p246 questions. I was mistaken. Lately, while in Washington gathering data for this book, I obtained a copy of my official record in the Navy. To my great surprise I discovered that the admiral who humiliated me on every occasion, did not give me a bad report at all. I grant him honesty in his answer to No. 15. He did not like me and was entitled to his opinion, even though it put a black mark on a subordinate's record.

Inasmuch as the Osterhaus report was the poorest given me during my entire service in the Construction Corps of the Navy, I am going to indulge myself by reprinting it here. The marks are on a scale of 4.0.

1. Aptitude for the service Excellent 3.8
2. Attention to duty Excellent 3.5
3. Manner and bearing in performance of duty Very good 3.5
4. Efficiency in performance of duty Excellent 4.0
5. Handling and commanding men Excellent 4.0
6. Executive work Excellent 4.0
7. Administrative work Excellent 4.0
8. General conduct Excellent 4.0
9. General bearing and military appearance Very good 3.5
10. Correctness and neatness of uniform Very good 3.5
11. Health Very good 3.5
12. Has he shown aptitude for duty of special character; and, if so, what duty?

Answer: "He has shown special aptitude in organizing and systematizing work in his department. He has shown excellent administrative ability."

13. Was any punishment inflicted upon said officer during the period covered by this report?

Answer: "No."

14. Do you consider said officer fit to be intrusted  p247 with hazardous and important independent duties?

Answer: "Yes."

Question No. 15, with its answer and my comment, I have just given.

Years after this, when I was the president of the Baltimore Drydocks & Shipbuilding Company, a friend of mine, Mr. William Stayton, telephoned to me one day to make a peculiar inquiry. If Admiral Osterhaus should call on me at my home, would I receive him cordially?

"What a question!" I said. "Of course I would."

A few days later the admiral and Mr. Stayton came to my house together. Admiral Osterhaus was stiff and ill at ease. It happened that I knew what was on his mind. Some time before, I had been told by a mutual friend that had had worried a great deal over the part he played at Mare Island. He had a bad conscience and wanted to square himself with me, if he could. Evidently now he did not know how to open the subject, and I let him suffer. I was not going to help him say what he wanted to say. After some formal conversation, he left with Mr. Stayton.

It was not many days before Admiral Osterhaus himself telephoned me at home, saying he would like to come to see me, if I were alone. I said I would be delighted. I was alone on sun porch when he was ushered in.

"Sit down, Admiral," I invited him.

"No, Mr. Evans," he said stiffly. "I would rather stand to say what I have to say. I look back over my many years of service in the Navy and find but one regret. That regret is, when I received instructions to harass and humiliate you at Mare Island, I did not refuse to accept such instructions."

"Admiral," I answered, with a smile, "you have the reputation of being most efficient, but you never fulfilled any instructions more efficiently than you did those. Now let's forget it and sit  p248 down and have a drink." Which we did.

It took courage for the old sea‑dog to make that statement. I have nothing but admiration for him. But what of the plotters in Washington who were willing to send a high-minded officer like Osterhaus on such a slimy errand and put him in the position at the end of his distinguished career of having to humble himself to appease his conscience? The words I have for them would not be proper for me to use here.

As for the supervision of the submarine in Seattle, if I loafed and took plenty of time, I might perhaps have been able to spend as much as one hour a day on the job. In a way this rustication was good for me. I had not had a real rest for years. Furthermore, it gave me an opportunity. I had collected a mass of material about scientific management with the idea of some day contributing something of my own to that subject. Now was my chance. During those idle weeks in Seattle I wrote my Cost Keeping and Scientific Management, which was no more than an account of our methods and results at Mare Island. The book was favorably received, my royalties amounting to more than $1,500 — a large sum for me in those days.

In this time, too, I carefully prepared a paper for the Naval Institute at Annapolis, entitled A Greater Navy at No Additional Cost. Naturally, this was an argument that if the navy yards generally adopted efficient management and operation, the fleet could secure extra vessels with no increase in the annual appropriations by Congress.

The institute accepted the article and had it on the press, when I received a letter from Professor Alger, Secretary and Treasurer. He said that on reading the proofs he had decided to place the article before the Secretary of the Navy for approval before publication.

"I am now informed," Professor Alger wrote, "that the Secretary is willing to have the article published, but there are certain  p249 statements made in it that must first be either corrected or eliminated."

I agreed to make the changes required.

A week later I received a letter from Professor Alger, from which the following is an excerpt:

"During my absence from Annapolis and Washington, the matter of your article was brought to an abrupt end, as you have learned ere this. It appears that the Secretary, after deciding that he would approve the article, providing it was amended in certain particulars, consulted others about it and was advised to withdraw his approval. Accordingly, Commander Coontz was sent for, in my absence, and told peremptorily that the article must not be published in the proceedings, for the reason that it was merely destructively critical as well as disrespectful."

Afterwards, I was called to testify before the House Naval Affairs Committee, and I presented the article and the correspondence regarding it. The whole was printed in the committee hearings. Commenting editorially on the incident, the conservative Army and Navy Journal held that my article was neither destructively critical nor disrespectful.

In Seattle I was seriously considering my future when I received one of the most remarkable offers ever made to a naval officer. The father of Fred W. Taylor, the eminent efficiency engineer, had recently died, leaving Mr. Fred Taylor a considerable fortune. Mr. Taylor now proposed to me that I obtain a year's leave without pay and come with him to make a further study of scientific management. This course was not only to be free to me, but Mr. Taylor said he would pay my Navy salary of $4,000 a year.

Once more all of my zeal for the service returned. With the professional prestige I would gain by studying with Taylor, I could defy even the bureaucrats to block my reform of the navy  p250 yards. I would bring about general efficiency in management, saving the country millions of dollars annually, and then I would step out into some responsible civilian position where I would be secure.

Confidently, I applied for the leave. What happened to my request is a story in itself.

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