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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of the Modern Navy

by
Gordon Carpenter O'Gara

published by
Princeton University Press 1943

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 3
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p13  Chapter II

The Navy Department

The Navy Department is the nerve center for the whole administration of the Navy afloat and ashore. It was set up as an executive department of the government in 1798. From then until after the War of 1812 the Secretary of the Navy was the sole organ of administration. In 1815 a Board of Navy Commissioners consisting of three captains (then the highest naval rank) was created to assist the Secretary. There was no division of their duties and all action was taken jointly by the Board.1 In 1842 the present bureau organization of the Department was established. At that time only five bureaus were created, but this number was increased to eight in 1862.2 This was the arrangement inherited by the Roosevelt Administration.

The principle of this system was the division of executive action with full individual responsibility. However, it had grown up haphazardly, for new offices or bureaus had been grafted on whenever a new need arose. "The result [was] a heterogeneous mass of old and new, without . . . unity of design, and with frequent [internal] rivalries. . . ."3

The bureaus in existence in the early 1900's were: (1) the Bureau of Navigation, which was in charge of all personnel and ship movements; (2) the Bureau of Construction and Repair, which was responsible for the hulls and armor of  p14 the ships; (3) the Bureau of Equipment, which had control over all the fittings and the fuel supply; (4) the Bureau of Ordnance, in charge of armament; (5) the Bureau of Steam Engineering, which designed and maintained the machines; (6) the Bureau of Yards and Docks; (7) the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, the purchasing and accounting agency; and (8) the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Like an admiral in command of a station, each bureau chief headed an independent division and was responsible only to the Secretary.4 Like the Secretary the chiefs of bureaus exercised the President's duties as Commander-in‑Chief, and their orders within their respective bureaus had the full authority of the Secretary, although they were ultimately responsible to him.5 Thus the Secretary was actually the only unifying force in the entire Department. As Mahan said, the bureau system worked well only if there was an energetic Secretary, or if an emergency forced activity upon the organization.6 The Assistant Secretary, it is true, proved of great value in relieving the Secretary of many administrative details so that more attention could be given the needs of the Department as a whole.7

Nevertheless, the Secretary, usually a civilian ignorant of naval affairs, was the only authority able to settle the many disputes arising within the Department, as he had to  p15 assist him only subordinates who were concerned almost exclusively with the work of their respective bureaus and did not have a broad outlook on the entire situation. Many of the problems arising were of such a technical nature that most Secretaries did not have sufficient knowledge to solve them.8 Therefore, the independence of the bureau chiefs was even greater in actual practice.

Under such pressure the Secretary frequently turned to the practice of instituting special ad hoc boards to advise him on specific subjects — for example, the War Board in 1898.9 As Secretary Moody said in his report in 1903, the chief purpose of the Navy Department was military and the civilian Secretary must therefore have military advice, but ". . . as it is, such information reaches the Secretary only through chance and luck."10 If a Secretary happened to take an interest in the Navy and was well informed on the subject, the administration moved along comparatively well. Otherwise it took some time to get an understanding of the requirements of the position. Secretary Newberry said, ". . . I do not believe that any man can understand the Navy Department in less than two years of continuous, earnest application."11

In the light of this situation, it is difficult to explain why Roosevelt made such frequent changes in his Secretaries of the Navy, for he had six in all during his two terms of office.12 The most probable reason for this was that political necessities outweighed his desire to help the Navy. As in  p16 so many other fields, Roosevelt found it necessary to compromise with the political situation. For example, in 1904 Paul Morton was made Secretary of the Navy largely to give American businessmen a representative in the Cabinet.13

Looking only at the operation of the bureaus in the civil administration of the Navy people found many important criticisms, even though some, like Secretary Metcalf,14 felt that the organization was satisfactory with only minor alterations. Although the bureaus were originally created to relieve the Secretary of much of the burden of his responsibilities, ". . . today, the bureau chiefs are so overwhelmed with the minutiae of their several charges that they cannot give sufficient time to the consideration of those broad questions which concern the service as a whole."15

In other words, there was so much paper work and the bureau chiefs were so engrossed in their own affairs that they were very poor advisers for the Secretary. In fact they were usually mere advocates for the point of view of their respective bureaus rather than real advisers.16 In an unfortunate attempt to justify the bureau system Rear-Admiral G. W. Melville after his retirement from the Bureau of Steam Engineering, which he had headed for sixteen years, stated that ". . . the eight bureau chiefs were never called together as a body to discuss anything. I can testify that my opinion was never asked on matters of navigation or  p17 strategy, and I certainly never offered any suggestions on such subjects. . . . It was not my work. I attended to my own duties and, as a rule, every other Bureau Chief attended to his, each keeping clear of the other's work. Any exceptions that occurred were due not to the system but to individual ambition. . . ."17

No more damning evidence could be offered to show how completely the officials in the Department thought in terms of their own particular bureaus with scant regard for the broader problems of the service.

This attitude of particularism was strengthened by the fact that complaints were simply referred to the bureau concerned for investigation. There would be no desire on the part of the bureau to admit an error if it could possibly be avoided.18 In 1907 the Navy League's magazine, The Navy, blamed the poor construction of many of our ships directly on the Navy Department. It said the bureaus ". . . are resisting the demands of common sense in order to preserve their own reputations for infallibility. . . . The bureau system has developed an atmosphere of coercion which is exceedingly powerful, forcing all those concerned in bureau work into supporting the system as it is."19 This vested interest of the bureau officials in maintaining a reputation for infallibility was secured further by Navy Department regulations forbidding public criticism by any naval officer. Violation of this could be punished by court-martial,  p18 and anyone daring to open his mouth would lose all chance of being assigned to the more desirable posts.

Furthermore, the Department could order official reports issued in its defense. In this regard The Navy stated early in 1908: "The protection afforded by this regulation to official mistakes, unbusinesslike and wasteful use of public money, and serious weaknesses in our war fleet, is nearly perfect."20 This is well illustrated by the experience of Naval Constructor Holden A. Evans, who was hounded out of the Navy for being too critical.21

In spite of its many shortcomings, the bureau system had managed to function, in part probably because most of the officers had been brought up in the same traditions and had similar points of view. The success of the bureaus, such as it was, may have been attributable also to ". . . the frequent changes in the chiefs of bureaus. Coming fresh from the general service to administrative duty, a chief must know that what he creates today he may use tomorrow. . . ."22

Serious as were the faults of the bureau system in the civil administration, an even greater weakness proved to be the lack of any military chief or coordinating general staff below the President. Some people believed that the Bureau of Navigation through its control of the ships and personnel could perform such a function.23 However, any over‑all planning for military operations would include the  p19 activities of all the bureaus,24 the chiefs of which were much too busy to confer with each other.

The result of this situation had been the setting up of bodies of officers to advise the Secretary on questions of policy and operation. The War Board, created in 1898 and dissolved at the conclusion of hostilities, was such a group. In March 1900 the General Board of the Navy was created by executive order under the presidency of the Admiral of the Navy. It was charged with formulating a general naval policy and with advising the Secretary. This was the real beginning of attempts to plan a long-range naval policy for the United States.25

By 1903, the General Board had produced a four-point program of development. This called for (1) a fleet of 48 battleships, second only to England, with adequate personnel and auxiliaries, by 1920; (2) an American policy to be conditioned by naval development abroad, not by an absolute standard; (3) a fleet always stronger than those nations with whom the United States was most likely to come in conflict; and (4) an increase in personnel adequate for the matériel. Unfortunately, since the General Board had no real authority, this policy was never officially adopted by the Department or the government.26

By 1909 the duties of the General Board had been fairly well defined through the gradual clarification of its position under Roosevelt's Administration, particularly by certain executive orders issued in 1903.27 The Board was (1) to devise plans for the preparation, maintenance, distribution  p20 and reinforcement of the war fleet; (2) to prepare plans of campaign in cooperation with the Army and constantly to revise these; (3) to advise on the number and types of ships and the number and ranks of the personnel. (4) to advise the Secretary on the location and the upkeep of all yards and stations; and (5) to coordinate the work of the Naval War College, the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Board of Inspection and Survey.28 Thus although in the eyes of the law the General Board was only an ad hoc body and had no permanent status, it proved extremely valuable in maintaining a continuity of policy within the Navy Department. Its weakness was that it failed to limit the extreme independence of the bureaus.

To remedy this defect it was often suggested that some actual authority be given the General Board, while keeping intact its responsibility to the Secretary.29 On the other hand, any amount of authority in the hands of such a board, it was feared, would lead to its complete control of the Navy, leaving the uninformed Secretary nothing but a rubber stamp.30

The growth of opinion in favor of some sort of general staff showed the strong influence that British practice then had upon our Navy. Nearly all proponents cited the British Board of Admiralty as a model for any American organization. Most critics opposed the creation of a separate chief of staff with all authority centered in one person.31 In other words, an arrangement whereby the Secretary would be  p21 assisted by a board of advisers, much as the British First Lord was assisted by a Board of Admiralty, was favored.32 Under the British system the First Lord was less a responsible head than was the American Secretary, his position being that of primus inter pares. As Mahan pointed out, the result of such a scheme is that it ". . . inclines to place executive action in the hands of a consultative body, . . . tending to make responsibility elusive."33

One thing, at any rate, is perfectly clear: the influence of the British example, as well as that of other foreign admiralties, was confined largely to naval officers and others who took a keen interest in the Navy. It certainly had little effect upon Congress, which was ultimately responsible for the organization of the Navy Department. This responsibility of the legislature was more true of the United States than of foreign countries, for naval appropriations abroad were generally made in one lump sum to be spent as seemed best to the Navy. The American Congress, however, specified each item in detail.34 This gave many opportunities for Congressmen to obtain porkbarrel appropriations for their constituents. Further than that, the distribution of jobs and favors inside the Navy Department involved a lot of politics. "Naval administration as it is . . . bears such an unusual crop of fat plums that strong pressure of public opinion will be required to force the politicians to relinquish their familiar perquisites."35

 p22  Shortly after the scandals in the Post Office Department administration were made public, Roosevelt instituted a special committee of inquiry under the chairmanship of Commissioner of Corporations James R. Garfield to investigate the entire federal bureaucracy. The Navy came in for a share of this, but nothing ever resulted from the action.36

In 1908 and 1908 the public attacks upon the Navy Department became so loud and insistent that they could no longer be ignored. Therefore, Senator Hale instituted an investigation. As was expected at the time,37 nothing ever came of this and the whole matter was finally dropped, for Hale and other politicians were involved in many of the charges made.38

The fact was that the Department was full of an accumulation of dead rot. As Harrison's former Secretary of the Navy, General Tracy, said of the bureau officials in 1907: 'They get into ruts, and can't get out. What they do, they do we, but they . . . never do anything new. There are no new suggestions or ideas. . . . It seems to be impossible for a bureau officer to take the initiative."39

In such a situation as this, Roosevelt's "big stick" proved to be of inestimable value in straightening out the administration. Since the President and the Secretary occupied the key positions in the organization, Roosevelt by his usual and vigorous activity was able to keep this cumbersome old structure alive and operating. Either personally or  p23 through his Secretaries, he intervened frequently in order to accomplish this.40 Unfortunately, such action was only temporary and could not be expected to outlast his administration, however much immediate good it might accomplish.

As an illustration of this, Commander William S. Sims (later Admiral) in 1908 near the end of Roosevelt's term of office found himself threatened with the ruin of his career by the Navy bureaucrats whom he had criticized vigorously for many years, always with the President's support. Their plan was to wait until Taft assumed the Presidency and then try to break him. Sims informed the President of this plot. The latter on examining Sims's official record found that it was practically blank, no mention being made of his valuable contributions in gunnery, ship construction, etc. Roosevelt immediately ordered complete reports on Sims's activities attached to his record. It was discovered at this time that one of his reports to the Navy Department on gunnery had been referred to the Bureau of Construction and Repair in January 1902. It had been filed by them and lost for three years, when it was found half eaten by cockroaches.41

Because Roosevelt realized how full of inefficiency and red tape such an organization was, and because he saw that it would probably slip back into its old groove after he left the White House, he tried time and again to remedy the situation. Some of the things he was most insistent upon were the establishment of a general staff and the consolidation  p24 of the bureaus. In his Annual Message to Congress in 1903, he said: ". . . There should be provided a general staff . . . similar to . . . the [one] lately created for the army. . . . Though . . . these boards and bureaus [in particular the General Board and the Bureau of Navigation] do good work, they have not the authority of a general staff, and have not sufficient scope to insure a proper readiness for emergencies."42

In the report of the Secretary of the Navy for that year similar measures for the consolidation of bureaus within the Department were recommended, as well as the creation of a general staff. The latter was to act as an advisory board to the Secretary and to perform many of the functions then belonging to the General Board, the Bureau of Navigation, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Naval War College and the Board of Inspection and Survey.43 This program was completely defeated, much of the blame for this being laid by Admiral Luce at the door of a few Navy officials.44 Each year these requests were renewed,45 though always with the same outcome.

Sims, in a letter dated September 24, 1906, to the Personnel Board, laid down the following principles for any reorganization:

"1. That there shall be no divided responsibility in the preparation for war.

"2. That all material bureaus, . . . with their chiefs, be under one military head, responsible to the Secretary of the Navy.

 p25  "3. That the Secretary . . . be given by law a body of military advisers none of whom shall be responsible in any way for the design of the material or for the training of the personnel."46

This as well as other pressure brought to bear had its effect, for in Secretary Bonaparte's report later that fall a plan to reorganize the Navy was proposed by which the Department was to be divided into two main sections, one for personnel, the other for matériel.47 This effort failed just as completely as had the earlier ones.

Finally, in the last year of his administration Roosevelt launched a determined attempt at reorganization: "I have from time to time recommended the reorganization of the Navy Department; it is absolutely necessary, and we will work until we get it. . . ."48

So in his message to Congress in 1908 he reiterated his demand for a general staff and for the consolidation of the bureaus, as well as for a system of promotion by selection.49 He further appointed a commission to report to him on this subject. It was composed of two former Secretaries of the Navy, Paul Morton and William Moody, Mr. A. G. Dayton, and Rear-Admirals (all retired) S. B. Luce, A. T. Mahan, W. M. Folger, R. D. Evans and W. S. Cowles.50 All the members were outstanding men and had had a good deal of experience with the Navy. The peculiar thing is that Roosevelt had waited until so late in his administration  p26 to take this step. A possible explanation is that he felt it was no longer necessary for him to be careful about hurting his political position. On the other hand, Congress was so out of hand by then that he must have known he had small chance to obtain passage of such a program.

At this particular juncture the cause of naval reorganization received great help from Truman H. Newberry, only recently appointed Secretary of the Navy. He had been Assistant Secretary for some time and understood the problem thoroughly. Furthermore, he was well liked and respected by naval officers. Admiral Evans expressed his complete confidence in Newberry just before leaving on the World Cruise of the fleet in 1907, paying special tribute to the latter's "common-sense business methods."51

On January 12, 1909, Newberry submitted to the President a plan of reorganization by which the Bureaus of Equipment and of Yards and Docks were to be abolished and the other bureaus regrouped into a division of personnel headed by the General Board and a division of matériel headed by the Board on Construction.52 This was given full approval by Roosevelt's Commission on Naval Reorganization three days later.53

On February 26 the Commission made its final report, submitting a detailed plan for reorganization which called for the creation of five divisions on a level between the Secretary and the bureaus. Certain of the division chiefs, who were to leave all administrative detail to the bureaus, plus a few other officers were to form a General Council  p27 and a Military Council for the Secretary.54 However, this last attempt also met defeat, although these efforts undoubtedly paved the way for the few changes made in the following administration. Actually the organization of the Navy Department is not much different today from what it was in 1909. It has been improved, but has never been thoroughly reorganized.


The Author's Notes:

1 A. T. Mahan, Naval Administration and Warfare (Little, Brown and Co., 1908), pp36‑7 ("Principles of Naval Administration," reprinted from The National Review, June 1903).

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2 ibid., p45.

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3 John Hood, "Naval Administration and Organization," Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, 27 (1901), p2. This will be cited hereafter as Hood, Naval Administration.

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4 Mahan, op. cit., p55 ("The U. S. Navy Department," reprinted from Scribner's, May 1903).

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5 T. H. Newberry, Statement on Methods of Conducting Business and Departmental Changes in the Navy Department before the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, February 1, 1909, pp24‑5. (This will be cited hereafter as Newberry, Statement, 1909.)

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6 Mahan, op. cit., p77 ("U. S. Navy Department").

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7 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1909, p10.

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8 Mahan, op. cit., p29 ("Naval Administration").

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9 ibid., pp63‑4 ("U. S. Navy Department").

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10 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1903, p4.

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11 Newberry, Statement, 1909, p22.

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12 See Table V in Appendix A.

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13 "President Gives Out His Cabinet Appointments," New York Times, June 21, 1904, in Theodore Roosevelt's Scrapbooks, Events of Interest Series, Vol. 13, p124.

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14 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1908, p36.

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15 C. F. Goodrich in Discussion on Hood, Naval Administration, p30.

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16 Mahan, op. cit., p63 ("U. S. Navy Department").

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17 G. W. Melville, "Is Our Naval Administration Efficient?" North American Review, 189 (1909), p44.

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18 Henry Reuterdahl, "The Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 30 (1908), p260.

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19 Quoted in "A Grave Indictment of Our Navy," Literary Digest, 35 (1907), p973.

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20 Quoted in "The Naval Turmoil," Literary Digest, 36 (1908), p355.

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21 See Holden A. Evans, One Man's Fight for a Better Navy (Dodd, 1940).

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22 Richard Wainwright in Discussion on Hood, Naval Administration, p32.

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23 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1904, Report of Bureau of Navigation.

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24 S. B. Luce, Naval Administration (1903), p88.

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25 John Hood, "A General Naval Policy," The Navy, 7 (1913), p181.

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26 ibid., p82.

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27 Luce, Naval Administration, p87.

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28 Newberry, Statement, 1909, p25.

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29 B. A. Fiske, From Midshipman to Rear-Admiral (Century, 1919), p398. This will be cited hereafter as Fiske, Autobiography.

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30 Newberry, Statement, 1909, p26. Also Mahan, op. cit., p48 ("Naval Administration").

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31 See Hood, Naval Administration, p28, and Discussion.

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32 S. B. Luce, "Wanted — An Admiralty Staff," Army and Navy Life, 14 (1909), p15.

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33 Mahan, op. cit., pp28‑9 ("Naval Administration").

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34 R. D. Evans, "The Cruise of the Atlantic Fleet to the Pacific Coast," Hampton's, 21 (1908), pp411‑12.

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35 "Evils of Our Navy Bureaucracy," Literary Digest, 37 (1908), p875.

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36 "Probing the Bureaus," Washington Post, June 16, 1906, in Roosevelt's Scrapbooks, Events of Interest Series, Vol. 17, p89.

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37 "Scraping off the Naval Barnacles," Literary Digest, 38 (1909), p195.

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38 "The Naval Turmoil," Literary Digest, 36 (1908), p355.

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39 "A Grave Indictment of Our Navy," Literary Digest, 35 (1907), p973.

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40 Reuterdahl, "President Roosevelt and the Navy," Pearson's 20 (1908), p573.

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41 W. S. Sims, "Roosevelt and the Navy," Part I, McClure's 54 (Dec. 1922), p62.

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42 Roosevelt, State Papers, p201.

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43 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1903, p5.

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44 Luce, "The Fleet," North American Review, 185 (1908), p575.

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45 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1906, pp7‑8.

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46 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, September 24, 1906, p22.

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47 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1906, p5.

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48 Reuterdahl, "President Roosevelt's Views on the Navy," Pearson's, 20 (1908), p569.

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49 Roosevelt, State Papers, pp543‑4.

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50 "Scraping off the Naval Barnacles," Literary Digest, 38 (1909), p195.

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51 R. D. Evans, op. cit., p409.

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52 U. S. 60th Cong. 2nd Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Reorganization of the Navy Department, p863.

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53 Newberry, Statement, 1909, p33.

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54 Roosevelt, Presidential Addresses and State Papers (Homeward Bound Ed., Review of Reviews, 1910), Vol. VIII, p2171.


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