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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Yarns of a Kentucky Admiral

by
Admiral
Hugh Rodman, USN


published by
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Indianapolis
1928

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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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p288  Chapter XV
The Navy as a National Asset and Necessity

No Greater Victory After the Grand Fleet had seen four years of war, the last year of which we shared, the Armistice came, followed by the debacle, the last scene of the grand drama. It came not as we had all expected, in the smoke and thunder of a great sea battle, but in the ignominious surrender of the entire German fleet without firing a gun. No more complete naval victory was ever won.

When our armies had won on the battle-front in France, when the Germans were beaten and an armistice was to be signed, it was decided, in consultation with Admiral Beatty, to send a naval officer to make certain demands.

Admiral Beatty was reminded that the policy of the United States would demand a complete elimination of the German fleet. We did not care whether it was sunk in battle, destroyed by the Germans themselves or surrendered or anything else — so long as it was eliminated. There was nothing new in this to the commander-in‑chief, who, in all of our conversations and discussions at the time, and even previously, held exactly the same views.

I remember well when some one, after the surrender, expressed his sympathy to Beatty, regretting that he had not had the opportunity to win a great victory, the intimation being that there had been no great final sea battle.

Admiral Beatty vigorously resented his implication  p289 and stated, in no uncertain words, that he was not in need of sympathy, but was subject to congratulations. He explained that due to the operations of the Grand Fleet, the whole German sea force, from the largest battle-ship to the small craft afloat, had surrendered; and he added that there was no record of any naval surrender in history equal to this event, wherein the whole of the enemy's naval force was, so far as any future danger was concerned, completely annihilated. And he was right — there could not have been a greater victory.

In accordance with our demands, the enemy's ships were disarmed at their home ports, ammunition landed, torpedo warheads sent on shore, breech-blocks and fire-control apparatus removed, and offensive utilities rendered innocuous. Then, with reduced crews, under command of a German admiral, in one long column, the battle-ships leading, followed by the battle cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers, et cetera, the German fleet sailed for a designated rendezvous, where the Grand Fleet lay at anchor.

Before daylight we got under way and proceeded to sea toward the rendezvous, heading east in two long columns six miles apart, the American battle-ship force being in the middle of the northern line.

A British light cruiser was directed to meet the Germans who were heading west, and conduct them in between our columns.

Here let me diverge for a moment and recall to the minds of any one who may have been in China or the Philippines, the viciousness of the domesticated caribou and the antipathy they show for a white man; how ready they are to attack — yet any native child can,  p290 with perfect safety and impunity, go up to the most savage of them, take him by the nose and lead him where he pleases.

I was reminded of this when the little cruiser rounded‑to ahead of the German High Seas Fleet, as the head of their column came into view out of the mist, and hoisted the signal by international code, "Follow Me." No better illustration of the Philippine child leading the vicious beasts could be found than the little cruiser leading those huge war vessels, like a herd of emasculated steers, down between our lines. Our battle-flags were mastheaded, officers and men at battle stations, bands playing patriotic airs, turrets trained toward the enemy — all was in readiness for any act of treachery that might be attempted.

At a prearranged signal, our forces reversed their direction and swung simultaneously through one hundred and eighty degrees and, still paralleling the enveloped Germans, conducted them into a designated anchorage in the Firth of Forth.

Then came a signal from the commander-in‑chief to the surrendered fleet — "At sundown lower your colors and do not hoist them again without permission."

After an inspection of the ships by British and American officers who satisfied themselves that they were completely disarmed, they were later sent in groups, under guard, to Scapa Flow — that cold, bleak, dreary, God‑forgotten harbor in the Orkneys, where the Grand Fleet had spent many a month and year, straining like ferocious dogs in leash, waiting to pounce on their prey should an opportunity ever occur.

A Concrete Solution Here the German fleet lay corralled, and only once were their colors ever hoisted again — on the occasion when they surreptitiously sunk their own vessels in  p291 Scapa Flow. While it was an act of treachery to do this, it was a concrete solution of the question of disposition or division of the German ships, for, under the law, they all became British property when sunk in their territory.

I had recommended to our government that in case any German battle-ships were assigned to us, they should be sunk by gun‑fire. It seemed to raise a great hue and cry at home. In addition to numerous clippings from the press which were sent to me, I received quite a number of letters, taking me to task for recommending that which appeared to the uninformed to be a sheer waste of valuable material.

My reasons were perfectly logical. If the British navy was sufficiently strong to dominate the German navy during the war (and it was so), surely with the addition of our ships it was stronger than ever. Our terms called for the complete elimination of the German ships. What would have been the use of adding some of those battle-ships to our navy after the war, and a proportional number to the other Allies' navies? This would have maintained our relative strength, but Germany was forbidden to build any capital ships for ten years, by which time the old German ships would have become all but obsolete!

Moreover, their construction, fittings, guns, ammunition, engines, et cetera, were not standardized to our measurements and materials, which would have made their upkeep and maintenance very expensive. And, finally, it would scarcely pay to scrap them, as only the metal would have been of any use, as the fittings were valueless for the reasons above mentioned, and the cost of scrapping might exceed the value of the metal.

 p292  I have always attributed our entrance into the war primarily to the thick-headed stupidity of the Germans in violating our rights as neutrals on the high seas, even after repeated warnings, as well as to their promulgation of the submarine policy and their barbarous and inhuman methods of carrying it out.

Going still further, there has never been any doubt in my mind but that the arch-conspirator — the man was more than any other person to cause the World War — was the bigoted, egotistical, self-constituted God's Anointed Bill Hohenzollern. He had spent his life in building an armed force for the ultimate purpose of conquering the world and was seeking an issue to start the ball rolling. Why on earth should the assassin of a member of the royal family of Austria, who was only a human being like other men, have been of sufficient importance to be used as a pretext to start hostilities that caused millions of deaths, hosts of wounded, untold suffering, inestimable loss of property and all the horrors of a world conflagration? Who but such a vainglorious, conceited ass as the said Bill Hohenzollern would deliberately have caused the greatest catastrophe that the world has ever known?

Can't you visualize him when the German armies were meeting with success, when it seemed as if they must win, strutting like a peacock, tail-feathers spread, mustache ends pointing upward, in full uniform, courting the limelight and letting his imagination run rife, dreaming that his armies would conquer the world, that he with his foot on the necks of the fallen foes, would demand homage of all his late enemies, after he had confiscated their property and annexed most of their territory! He would be the Emperor of the World!

 p293  And how did it end? In the greatest Marathon that the world has ever known, between father and son — Bill Senior and Little Willie. For when they realized that the jig was up, the race for Holland was on, tail-feathers and all. And it was a spirited race, every fellow for himself and the devil take the hindmost — top speed from the start until safety had been reached — the armies deserted and some one else left to take the blame and the responsibility, and B. H. calmly resting in oblivion.

And from that day to this he has passed his time in recuperating from the terrible ordinal — this Mighty Heaven-sent Would‑be Ruler of the Universe, though it is doubtful if he does much peacocking in his ostracized garden.

Hoch! Der Kaiser What a pitiful example! I remember well on our return from the Philippines, when Captain Joe Coghlan, of the Raleigh, repeated in a private club in New York the following little poem, Hoch! der Kaiser, for which he came near being court-martialed. Had he been alive in 1918 and repeated it, he would have been lionized.a

"Hoch! Der Kaiser!"

Der Kaiser auf der Vaterland

Und Gott on high all dings command —

Ve two! Ach! Don't you understand?

Meinself — und Gott!

He reigns in Heafen und always shall;

Und mein own embire don'd vay small.

Ein noble pair, I dinks you call

Meinself — und Gott!

Vile some men sing der power divine

Mein soldiers sing Die Wacht am Rhein,

p294 Und drink der health in Rheinisch wine

Of me — und Gott!

Dere's France, she swaggers all aroundt,

She's ausgespielt, dot's oudt.

To much, we think, she don'd amoundt;

Meinself — und Gott!

She will not dare to fight again,

But if she should I'll show her blain

Not Elsass und (in French) Lorraine

Are mein — by Gott!

Dere's grandma dinks she is nicht schmall bier

Mit Boers und such she's inderfere;

She'll learn none owns dis hemisphere

But me — und Gott!

She dinks, goot frau, some ships she's got,

Und soldiers mit der scarlet coat.

Ach! Ve could knock dem — Pouf! — like dot!

Meinself — mit Gott.

In dimes of peace brebare for wars.

I bear der spear und helm of Mars,

Und care not for ten tousand czars —

Meinself — und Gott!

In fact I humor efry vhim,

Mit aspect dark und visage grim.

Gott pulls mit me, und I mit Him,

Meinself — und Gott!

King Albert It is nauseating to contrast this deluded ruler with such a man as King Albert of Belgium, and to think that the former should have so barbarously invaded the territory of the latter without the slightest justifiable right and in deliberate violation of existing treaties, and contrary to every moral principle.

 p295  Personally I have always regretted that Bill H. wasn't captured and hanged, for surely he is the world's premier cold-blooded murderer and would‑be plunderer, and should meet the same fate that is usually meted out to any other vicious, poisonous reptile.

Stop to consider the enormity of the crime of the German invasion of Belgium. Starting with Genghis Khan, go up or down the scale, and see if you can find in all history a greater violation of the rights of a friendly nation, secured by treaty, than that of the German invasion of Belgium, or a time when a more barbaric, cold-blooded, murderous set of cutthroats and robbers ruthlessly invaded a neighboring, friendly state, devastated the country, destroyed its industries and murdered, not only the men who opposed them and preferred death to surrender, but women and children as well, and committed other outrages far too heinous to mention.

Nor could there have been a more worthy, valiant and faithful monarch and king than Albert of Belgium. He justly won the admiration and esteem of the civilized world at large by his courage and defense of his country against the barbaric hordes, and in the end saved the day by checking them until France could get her second wind.

While we were in the Grand Fleet during the war, King Albert and Queen Elizabeth did us the honor to visit my flag-ship. It would be difficult to find in any walk of life two more charming, cultured, gracious and kindly people than the king and queen of the Belgians. The memory of their work and efforts during the war for their stricken country, will last as an enduring monument not only in the minds of their own people, but in that of the world at large.

 p296  "You Know Me, Al" After the war I was in command of our Pacific Fleetb when their Majesties made a tour of the United States. Knowing that they would visit the west coast, I extended an invitation to them to dine with me during their stay in San Francisco. They accepted, and I took the fleet there in their honor to welcome them. In the absence of my wife, I asked my sister to be my hostess for the occasion — and had I asked a lamb to lie down with a lion, there could not have been greater consternation.

At once she said, "What do I do and say when introduced to royalty?"

Keeping my face straight and pretending to be serious, I replied, "For gracious' sake, don't be so provincial; you are not introduced to royalty, you are presented."

"All right then; when I am presented, what do I say and do?"

It might be added that I had already communicated to her the necessity of making three stately bows at the time of presentation, and warned her that she should practise until she could accomplish them easily and gracefully. But, being no longer young (she had passed the sixty mark), the exercise had been somewhat strenuous.

Now, remembering that his name is Albert, in answering her question, and drawing upon my imagination to carry out my plot, I said:

"I dare say their Majesties will be in my after cabin, my guests in the forward cabin, and when their Majesties have signified their readiness to receive my guests and have them presented, you being the hostess, will be the first to enter, and as such, will be an example to the others.

p297 "As you approach, I will say, 'Your Majesties, if you will do me the honor and give me the privilege, I should like to present my sister, Mrs. W–––––, who will be our hostess this evening.' You will then make your three stately bows and, at the end of the third, say, 'You know me, Al.' "

Evidently this reached the king's ear, for after dinner, when the guests had departed, as the king and queen lingered in my cabin, he referred to it quizzically and said:

"Admiral, I didn't know that it was from my name that you Americans got that expression."

"No, your Majesty," I replied, "it was not. It was from one who held a much more exalted position than yours."

Smiling, he said, "That is not hard to do, but who was it?"

Then I told him that some years ago, when we kept a station ship in Constantinople, our men taught the Turks to play baseball. In the final match between the Turks and the blue-jackets when the first Turk came to bat, he said:

"O Allah! give me an eye to see the ball!" He struck three times and was out.

The second Turk said, "O Allah! give me the skill to hit the ball." He likewise struck out.

The third Turk said, "O Allah! grant that I may make a base hit." And he also struck out.

The sides changed and an American blue-jacket came to bat. He fanned the home-plate with his bat and exclaimed to the world at large, "You know me, Al!" and knocked a home run.

 p298  By international law, custom and treaty, if a vessel of a friendly nation be suspected of being unneutral, and be met on the high seas, it is the duty of the belligerent to ascertain this and if there be doubts — reasonable doubts — to send the suspected vessel into one of the belligerent's home ports, for trial before a prize court.

But the German submarine policy at sea was equally without warrant, illegal, barbarous and in violation of treaty agreement.

The information as to neutrality may be obtained in a variety of ways. The status of the ship is generally obtained by sending an officer on board to make an examination of the ship's papers, including a thorough search, if deemed necessary. Just as one charged with a crime or violation of any law on shore is entitled to a trial before a legally constituted court, so a suspected ship on the high seas is also entitled to the same consideration.

But the Germans could not send suspected ships into their home ports when they had been halted by submarines in the war zone, because the British blockade would preclude any surface vessels reaching a German port from the eastern Atlantic. Hence the Germans deliberately sank neutral vessels without examination or any trial whatever, even when they had women and children on board. No nation could have maintained its self-respect under such conditions and not have declared war. How on earth we remained out as long as we did is beyond my comprehension.

We all recall the sinking of the Lusitania and other ships, where men, women and helpless children were ruthlessly murdered and barbarously drowned like rats in a cage. This to my mind is on a parity with  p299 cold-blooded murder and piracy; and since it has been the custom the world over to destroy pirates, there was no sympathy for the enemy in our command, nor any great desire to worry about taking prisoners, if there were any way to avoid it by fighting it out to a finish if an opportunity offered.

In the beginning the Germans had reason to believe that they would be successful in this submarine policy and destroy the Allies' lines of communications; and they came very near accomplishing their purpose, while they had an abundance of volunteers to man their subs.

But later, when the Allies had found means successfully to combat this mode of warfare, many a sub that left its home with murderous intent, failed to return. It was our policy to keep secret all information as to our methods, and the individual cases of capture or destruction of subs, so that the enemy could not ascertain whether they had been sunk by mines or gun‑fire, captured, wrecked or disabled; and since such a large per cent were failing to return, the Germans found it necessary to draft men to serve in them. Later, officers constituted a large part of their working crews. There is reason to believe that the fact that the government still insisted on sending subs to sea was one of the initial causes which eventually led to the demoralization of the German navy, toward the end of the war.

"Command of the Seas" The operation of the Grand Fleet and the German submarine policy have been dwelt upon somewhat at length to illustrate more fully what is meant by "sea power" or "command of the seas," and to emphasize the fact that a navy is essentially requisite for the preservation of our sovereignty, liberty and independence,  p300 and that a nation to be victorious in war must have command of the sea.

The Navy's Usefulness Recently, when I was introduced to the Chamber of Commerce in one of our larger cities, its president, expressing his thought in commercial parlance, said, "Admiral Rodman is with us to‑day to sell us the navy." I assured him that if such were the case, I should be sailing under false colors for trying to sell something that was already theirs. For there is no question but that the navy is one of our greatest national assets, in whose ownership we all share, and in which we should take a just pride; and it should be spoken of as our navy and not the navy.

Let me quote a few words from our most eminent and responsible men with reference to our navy:

"The United States navy is the surest guarantee of peace which this country possesses." — Theodore Roosevelt.

"A powerful navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense." — Woodrow Wilson.

"Perhaps the day will come when nations will employ no armed forces. Until such a day comes, we shall find our assurance in a navy of the first rank." — Warren G. Harding.

"The navy is the first line of defense; it is desirable that the highest efficiency in men and material be maintained." — Calvin Coolidge.

"It is essential that we maintain the relative naval strength of the United States." — Charles Evans Hughes.

No other president of the United States had a  p301 clearer conception of the value of naval power than did Theodore Roosevelt. He clearly understood its history and traditions and its usefulness to our nation. He well knew that the fleet is the right arm of the State Department, and he knew how best to make use of it in carrying out our foreign policy.

This was illustrated by the Venezuela affair in which our navy was used to uphold the Monroe Doctrine.

In 1902 the German emperor sent his fleet into the Caribbean and announced that he would seize a foothold in the ports of Venezuela. German subjects had certain claims against that country, and these claims he declined to adjudicate by arbitration, relying on force instead. Perhaps he planned to test our adherence to the Monroe Doctrine before further operations in South America.

President Roosevelt sent for the German ambassador and told him in no uncertain terms that unless his emperor agreed to arbitrate, he would dispatch Admiral Dewey with orders to use the Atlantic Fleet forcibly, if necessary, to keep the Germans from landing.

The emperor decided to arbitrate.

Had Roosevelt not acted in this forceful manner, Germany would have obtained a hold in Venezuela and developed a strong naval base that would have threatened our control of the Panama Canal and forced us greatly to increase our armament there. The potential power of our navy thus maintained the Monroe Doctrine and effectually prevented Germany from getting such a foothold on this continent.

The necessity for maintaining an adequate army and navy must be understood and appreciated by  p302 every student of history and every thoughtful man. Neither of these branches of the national defense can be created overnight. We must have a well-organized and efficient army at all times — one capable of expansion in time of war or threatened danger, and a well-balanced and dependable navy, ready to strike and strike hard in the very beginning of hostilities.

The latter can only be accomplished by years of labor and foresight, by building and maintaining a navy second to none, and by training its personnel to the very highest degree of efficiency. Upon them both depends our independence, liberty, ideals and well-being, not in time of war, but also in time of peace.

It is of little use to have a navy not quite big enough. The Germans spent hundreds of millions of dollars in creating a fleet about eighty per cent as strong as that of Great Britain. Upon the declaration of war, this fleet did not give Germany eighty per cent protection; it gave her no protection, for she was denied the use of the seas and her only resource lay in submarine warfare.

A second-best navy is like the second-best hand in poker — and if one has ever been unfortunate enough to place his confidence and his coin in backing a "full house" against "four of a kind," he knows what that means.

The late Conference on the Limitation of Naval Armament has prescribed the number of capital ships, that is, battle-ships and battle cruisers, to be allowed the United States for the next ten years. But it does not define or prescribe the remaining number and types of vessels, such as destroyers, light cruisers, submarines, airplane carriers, or aircraft, fuel ships, supply  p303 ships, transports, et cetera, which are needed to make a balanced fleet.

We have the requisite number of capital ships, but in some of the other types we are sadly lacking, and it should be the duty and pleasure of every patriotic American to use his best efforts to see that we do have them at the very earliest possible time, and sufficient personnel to man them adequately.

Our navy exists primarily for war, but its functions in peace, aside from preparedness, never cease. Not only is it our first line of defense at all times, and one which may also be offensive, but it is the great strong arm of our government in times of peace. It is useful not only in guaranteeing our treaty rights, but in making our influence felt in the councils of nations when our own policies are at stake, or when we are advocating the policies of weaker nations, particularly those of the American continents.

"As Strong as our Navy" John Hay said, "Our foreign policies are just as strong as our navy and no stronger." It therefore stands to reason that if we are to maintain our position in international affairs we must have an adequate, up‑to‑date and efficient naval force at all times.

And here let it be said that there is the closest community of interest between our navy and our merchant marine. The latter should be expanded to the utmost, for it not only extends our commercial interests and enriches our country, but constitutes one of the most necessary adjuncts to our navy in time of war.

It is very difficult for the people of our country to realize fully what our navy means to them, more particularly those who live in the interior and therefore  p304 rarely have a chance to come in contact with its operative forces.

It is interesting to know that our first man-of‑war, built in 1794, was for the purpose of protecting the farm products that our forefathers were shipping to Mediterranean ports, from the depredations of the Barbary pirates. To‑day this very same mission of protecting our merchant marine, carrying our tremendous sea‑borne commerce of manufactured goods as well as farm products, still exists.

The key to prosperity lies in the sale of surplus products abroad. This oversea commerce requires dependable delivery if we are to compete in the world's markets. This in turn necessitates reliable transportation, which can only be assured by shipping our goods in our own ships and not in foreign bottoms. Even though on the surface it may appear cheaper to take advantage of the lower freight rates of foreign countries, in the long run such a practise would militate against us because of its lack of dependability.

Such a condition would be more or less analogous to the case of a commercial house that entrusted delivery to a rival concern.c

To Attain Lasting Peace In a broad sense, our navy's relation to our country is analogous to that of the city police force to a great city; each is a necessary protective agency.

In every community, throughout the broad and civilized world, there are pacifists and altruists who advocate the abolition of all national and protective forces. They base their theories and belief upon the righteousness and goodness of mankind. But who among you would acquiesce in a policy that would abolish your police force, leave your bank vaults unlocked, your homes and property unprotected at all times, and trust solely to the honesty and integrity of  p305 mankind to commit no depredations? I believe that it can only be accomplished, if at all, by centuries of instruction and the education of the world at large.

There is no class of people in this great republic of ours who disparage and strive to prevent war, and who would welcome any constructive measure that would insure lasting peace to the world, more than those of us who are in the naval service. But this end can only be attained by the influence of our churches and schools. These in turn can not function without law and order; and finally, law and order, in a national sense, can only be maintained by an adequate army and navy.

No country on earth has a better form of government, is more prosperous, offers better opportunities and promises greater rewards for earnest endeavor than does our own. Yet there are numerous incendiary organizations, usually secret ones, which continually plot against established government and strive to undermine it and disrupt it, our own not excepted.

Diametrically opposed to these are numerous patriotic societies, most of which have been founded upon the service of their members in the army and navy in time of war, or that of their forebears. They are promoters of patriotism and an influence for good in every way, and I should like to see every officer and man in the regular service, who may be qualified, affiliate with one or more of them.

An Emergency Case In conformity with this policy, the following incident may be of interest.

In the summer of 1919 the Pacific Fleet under my command, lay off Seattle, Washington, awaiting the arrival of President Wilson, who was due by rail at two thirty P.M., and was scheduled to review the fleet immediately afterward.

 p306  About twelve thirty P.M. I was visited by the mayor and chief of police of Seattle, who informed me that six hundred I. W. W.'s, more or less, had collected in the city and that there were indications that they intended to make a hostile demonstration on the president's arrival, and might commit violence in some form or other.

I recalled that some time before, when the American Legion was having a parade in one of our northwestern cities, several members taking part had been deliberately shot down in ranks at the instigation of, and by members of, the I. W. W.d

Statutory law requires that when a state desires the use of federal troops, its governor shall make application to the President of the United States, who may approve the request at his option. But here was an emergency that required immediate action, since the interval until the president's arrival was too short for the prescribed communications to be successfully completed; so I informed the mayor that I would be glad to cooperate.

Already we had the usual ships' patrols on shore, consisting of blue-jackets and marines, whose duties pertained more directly to our own men who were on liberty. I immediately ordered on shore four hundred extra marines, with machine-guns, and held them in motor lorries on the water-front. Six hundred additional blue-jackets and sixty officers, armed with automatic pistols, were added to the shore patrol, all under command of Captain Moffett, now Rear Admiral.e

When Moffett asked me for orders, and we discussed certain emergencies that might arise, I told him that in case of any apparent attempt to molest the president, particularly if his life seemed to be  p307 threatened, or in case of any demonstration which might be construed into an overt act, he was to shoot first and shoot to kill. I told him to spread his orders broadcast, where they might reach any one directly concerned.

Many of the patrol‑men were veterans of the World War, and had recently returned from the war zone where firing on sight was the order of the day when the occasion warranted it. Moffett put not only the fear of God, but the fear of the navy as well, into the I. W. W. ranks, for shortly after his arrival on shore, when his force had been stationed and his policy promulgated, the I. W. W.'s melted away like a cake of ice on the Fourth of July.

It was not until about five thirty P.M. that I had a chance to have a confidential talk with the president. In referring to my action, I stated that while I could use the subterfuge of increasing the patrol as a legitimate excuse for sending troops ashore, as a matter of fact it had been done in an emergency, when there was no doubt in my mind but that he would have approved it, as in fact he did.

That evening, as the president addressed an audience of six thousand or eight thousand in the Auditorium, there was a slight demonstration outside the hall, which consisted more of noise than of actual effort to force an entrance. There was a trifling interruption in the president's speech for a moment only, as he laughingly referred to it, for Moffett handled the situation most efficiently by working his men in between the crowd and the entrances and forcing the people back.

One reason for referring to this incident is its aftermath. Investigating a little deeper into the policies of the I. W. W., I learned that they were attempting  p308 to contaminate some of the crews and spread incendiarism through the navy. It occurred to me that it might be well to forestall them by getting as many officers and men as possible to join the American Legion.

With this end in view, I entered into negotiations with some of its leading Legion men on the Pacific Coast, who heartily approved and agreed to charge only a nominal initiation fee. In this way some twenty-seven thousand officers and men were soon affiliated, which I believe was the greatest number who ever joined practically en masse, in so short a time.

Later I received a number of threatening letters, and was made the object of bitter newspaper attacks, and was actually warned in person, after dark, that the I. W. W.'s would "get" me, though that was some years ago.

It would be indiscreet to go into detail as to how we later broke up their organization, for the time being, at least, in the southern part of California, and helped land some of the members in the penitentiary, but I am tempted to believe that the navy loathes the I. W. W. quite as much as that organization hates us.

It is a pity that politics — I mean party politics — has such weighty effect that not infrequently our fighting forces are made to suffer on this account. Naval officers themselves do not take any part in this for they are non‑partisan, and their recommendation to Congress are based on actual needs.

"Lack of Three Ships" Recently in an examination in naval history at the Naval Academy, the question was asked, "Why did the Continental Allies lose the battle of Trafalgar to the British forces under Lord Nelson?"

The memory of one midshipman was possibly a little shaky, but his answer was excellent. He wrote,  p309 "For lack of three ships — leadership, seamanship and marksmanship." From my view-point, Congress has too often dealt body blows to the navy, and I have often felt that there is at least one "ship" lacking there, namely, statesmanship.

To‑day the navy maintains a protective influence in various parts of the world. Of late it has been of inestimable value along the coast of China in saving the lives of hundreds of our citizens, and in one case at least, of preventing a general massacre and wholesale destruction of property. We now have a large number of vessels in and around Shanghai and up the Yangtze, which are indispensable to American interests.

It was a part of this force, which was the first to respond, and creditably performed humanitarian work in connection with the recent earthquake in Japan. It was an American naval officer, Commodore Perry, who opened Japan to the commerce of the world over seventy years ago. Humanitarian services were also performed by our navy in Chile, Messina, Martinique and elsewhere. It was our destroyers that insured the evacuation of the thousands of refugees made homeless by the Greek debacle and the burning of Smyrna.

We are also maintaining a special squadron along the Central American coast to protect American interests and to try to act as arbiters in the numerous revolutions which harm the various states of that area.

Admiral Bristol has made himself so indispensable in the capacity of United States high commissioner at Constantinople for the last eight years that the State Department has just reluctantly consented to his relinquishing his diplomatic duties and resuming his naval work.

There are many more cases, equally important, but  p310 far too numerous to mention, wherein naval officers are constantly called upon to exercise diplomacy, often in an emergency, when there is neither time nor opportunity to consult the administration in Washington, and when they must take the full responsibility for their actions.

Fortunately a naval officer is required to have a fair knowledge of both constitutional and international law, and, what is more to the point, he must be ready to make decisions and to act promptly.

The history of our navy in all wars in which it has taken an active part has been most commendatory. To‑day the United States owes its independence and commanding position in the world's affairs largely to the achievement of our navy, which has never failed in time of need.

Do not for a moment imagine that the navy alone is necessary to the national defense — an adequate army is equally necessary. The navy is, however, and always will be our first line of defense. I have already dwelt upon the necessity for it from that angle. We do not have a well-balanced fleet as far as numbers and types of vessels are concerned, nor a sufficient number of experienced personnel fully to man them. We must have both if we are to have an efficient fighting force. This condition is due largely to the fact that though the General Board and the Navy Department have made the proper recommendations, Congress has seen fit to decide and appropriate otherwise.

Nevertheless, though this is a handicap, take what we have, both in material and personnel, and it will be found that it is, ship for ship, as fit and efficient as any navy in the world. It is the duty of every loyal American to see that our navy never falls below the necessary standard, and to urge upon Congress the  p311 necessity of providing the required vessels to make a properly balanced fleet and give us the men to man them.

A word must be said with reference to the volunteers who so willingly made all sacrifices and came into the navy during the World War. While they were untrained and were, naturally, not as adaptable when shifted from one class of duty to another as the regulars, yet they were invaluable and rendered excellent service in every way. They deserve the highest commendation; we could not have carried on without them.

"My First and Only Choice" I have lived to see the transition in ships from wood to steel, from sails to steam, from smooth-bore, muzzle-loading, cast-iron guns with a range of two or three miles, throwing iron shells of twenty pounds weight with a small bursting charge of black powder, to huge steel pieces of ordnance with ranges of over sixteen miles, hurling armor-piercing shells of two thousand one hundred pounds weight, with a bursting charge of tremendous power, and similar improvements in every other line.

I have recently retired from the navy after a continuous service of between forty-five and fifty years. It has been my life's work. If I had to live it over, my first and only choice would be the navy. It has been a real and lasting pleasure to give the naval service of the United States my best effort and whole-hearted support, and my just reward is in realizing that, man for man and ship for ship, we have no superiors.

For our prosperity to‑day, for the future of our country, for the maintenance of our rights and ideals in the world, and for the utmost prolongation of peace, our navy should be second to none.

The End


Thayer's Notes:

a Many versions of the poem exist; for an even fuller version and a detailed account of the furore raised by Capt. Coghlan's speech, see Adm. R. E. Coontz, From the Mississippi to the Sea, p210 and my note there.

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b The following illustration is tipped in on p42, unrelated to the text there; only in the present chapter does Adm. Rodman mention his command of the Pacific Fleet, and nowhere does he mention the USS New Mexico:

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c A good modern example is provided by Amazon, building its own drone fleet.

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d The Armistice Day Massacre of Centralia, Washington: Nov. 11, 1919. A good account may be read on this page at HistoryLink.Org, an online encyclopedia of Washington state history.

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e Adm. William Adger Moffett is best known as the first Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics; he would die in a dirigible crash five years after Adm. Rodman wrote. Turnbull and Lord's History of Naval Aviation, dedicated to him, contains much detailed information on his pioneering work in that field, especially in chapters 17‑18, 20‑22, 24‑25, and 27‑28.

A quick biographical sketch of him may also be found at the National Aviation Hall of Fame.


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Page updated: 20 Sep 17