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Chapter 5

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.

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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Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p94  Chapter VI

Naval Personnel

While the problem of material was an important one, it could be solved quite satisfactorily if Congress would only provide the necessary ships. Naval personnel on the other hand was not so simple a question and had no such ready solution. Obviously, all the fine equipment in the world was useless if not properly used and maintained. In his first Message to Congress Roosevelt drew attention to this fact and requested large increases in the number of men. But public opinion refused to recognize this need although Congress continued to provide new ships. Thus the problem became all the more acute. One reason for this attitude on the part of the nation was that increasing industrial activity provided abundant opportunity for employment in productive enterprise. In addition there was still the old fear that the maintenance of a large standing Army or Navy would put the nation in the grip of militarism.1

Whatever the explanation might have been, the opening of the twentieth century found the United States Navy with 23,453 officers and men as compared to 114,880 for England, 49,775 for France, 39,546 for Russia, 30,386 for Germany and 26,108 for Japan.2

Considering first only the enlisted personnel and ignoring completely the Marine Corps, we find significant achievements during the Roosevelt Administration. In 1901 the Secretary of the Navy in his Annual Report requested  p95 3,000 more enlisted men, as well as the creation of a naval reserve.3 The President, however, asked for 4,000 additional seamen in his first Message to Congress.4 Actually 3,000 more were authorized that year and each additional year until 1905. Within that period the number allowed by law grew from 25,050 in 1901 to 37,000 in 1905.5

Even this generous program proved insufficient. When no increase was made in 1906, Navy officials immediately began clamoring for a larger personnel authorization. It was objected that the present quotas were not filled. The answer was that the new recruiting stations and methods would be more than sufficient to bring the enlisted personnel up to its authorized strength.6 Estimates showed that the Navy would need from 58,000 to 63,000 men to put all the ships in commission.7 Therefore Congress authorized 1,500 more men in 1907, and in 1908 brought the total to 44,500 by making provisions for 6,000 more.

Although the quality of the enlisted personnel was vastly superior to what it had been in the nineteenth century, the Navy still did not offer a sufficiently attractive career to draw a very high type of person. Desertions in 1906 amounted to 3,998, or over nine per cent of the total withdrawals, which was about the average record. In that same year, at a time when the Navy was eager for men to bring  p96 its strength to the authorized limit, only 13,000 out of 41,000 applicants could be accepted.8

Nevertheless, the enlisted personnel was coming to be more and more American in character. One of the first indications of this trend came in the improvement in the men's food. Refrigeration and canning were making possible a more varied and healthful diet on board ship than the traditional salt meat and hard tack. Furthermore, the new recruits from Middle Western farms were unable to get along on the old fare. In July of 1901 a board was appointed to investigate this situation. At the same time a young paymaster, John S. Carpenter, later an admiral, began experimenting on the Texas. Instead of issuing food to the individual deck messes to prepare as best they could, he obtained permission to employ several ship's cooks instead of the usual one and to feed the entire crew in one general mess. He himself supervised the preparation of the food. This was so successful that its general adoption was recommended. By General Order 68, the old messing system was abolished and the General Mess instituted.9

The size and variety of the rations was increased to include more meats, vegetables, bread and luxuries by the Act of July 1, 1902. Further progress was made in 1906 and 1907, when eggs and jam, among other things, were added to the Navy Ration. In the latter year the Department of Agriculture also began to help inspect provisions before they were delivered aboard.10

 p97  Another sign of the increased proportion of American citizens among the enlisted men was the fact that in 1906 a pay differential discriminating against aliens was established by General Order 34.11 This change in character of the men was to a great extent due to the sudden increase in enlistments as a result of Roosevelt's naval personnel program.

To step up the number of enlistments various measures were found necessary. First of all an advertising campaign was started and many additional recruiting stations were opened.12 In addition a general ten per cent pay increase was approved by Act of May 13, 1908. This raise was also applied to the pay of men on the retired list.13

It was found that morale could be greatly improved and an esprit de corps developed by awarding prizes for accomplishments in peace as well as in war and by encouraging athletic contests.14 Admiral Evans found that the enlisted men were more contented if the officers took an interest in them. For example, he frequently dropped into the men's mess without warning just to make sure that the food was good.15 His successor in command of the Atlantic Fleet on the cruise around the world, Admiral Sperry, said that such cruises "to foreign ports which keep the men interested and contented should be the rule, not the exception."16  p98 This was the origin of the slogan, "Join the Navy and See the World." The World Cruise of the fleet was perhaps the best publicity stunt of all to increase enlistments.

Many prospective recruits were frightened off by reports of mutinies. These were all branded as false by the authorities, who naturally did not want such unfavorable publicity.17 Naval Constructor Holden Evans, however, claimed to have been an eye witness of a mutiny at Mare Island in 1905. The crew of a submarine refused to dive when ordered to do so by the young lieutenant in command of the boat and even by the high-ranking officers of an inspection board waiting to witness the dive. In spite of this complete breakdown of discipline, the men were never punished, but the affair was hushed up and the men scattered singly through other ships.18 If one such incident could occur, it is only fair to suspect that at least some of the other reports were true. The World Cruise fortunately gave a great lift to the morale of the Navy and put an end to much dissatisfaction. In spite of the opportunities to desert during such a trip, very few men jumped ship. The naval enlisted personnel was San Antonio numerically nearly doubled between 1901 to 1909, but its quality was greatly improved.

Officers

The Personnel Act of 1899 provided the legislative basis for the constitution and organization of the body of naval  p99 officers during the opening years of this century. Under it a total of 1,020 officers, excluding midshipmen, was authorized. This was broken down to 18 rear-admirals, 70 captains, 112 commanders, 170 lieutenant-commanders. 300 lieutenants and 350 lieutenants (junior grade) and ensigns. In addition all chiefs of bureaus were given temporary rank as rear-admirals.19 This provision, made at a time when expansion of our naval matériel had not yet made itself felt, later proved completely inadequate. Even in 1901 a minimum of 902 more officers was found necessary to man all the ships ordered by Congress, without counting those needed for additional shore duty.20 Although the number of officers authorized in 1899 was a slight increase over earlier provisions, it was of little actual help because Congress did not increase the number of Annapolis appointments sufficiently to fill the quota.21 The Secretary of the Navy and the President both called attention to this situation in December 1901. The latter requested larger classes at the Naval Academy. At the same time he asked that the title "midshipman" be restored in place of "naval cadet" at the Academy.22 This change was granted but the necessary increase in officers was not.

At that time American battleships had an average complement of only seventeen officers, compared with twenty in Germany, twenty‑six in France and thirty-three in England.23 But even on that basis it was estimated that by 1906 the deficiency would amount to 1,360.24 In his second  p100 Annual Message Roosevelt repeated his demands, asking for a thousand additional officers and larger classes at Annapolis.25 This time Congress responded partially by doubling the classes at Annapolis for ten years and by authorizing thirty more lieutenant-commanders and fifty more lieutenants, the number of lieutenants (junior grade) and ensigns to be limited by the number of Naval Academy graduates.26

The actual number of officers, especially in the intermediate and higher ranks, was at first only very slightly affected by this new legislation. In 1905, for example, the Navy had 800,000 tons of ships and 34,000 men, compared to 100,000 tons and 7,500 men in 1882; but it had no more officers than it had had in the earlier year.27 The existing legislation which strictly limited the number of officers in each grade while doubling the size of classes at Annapolis also threatened to throw the numbers of officers in the different grades all out of proportion. If no changes had been made, by 1913 there would have been 70 captains, 112 commanders, 200 lieutenant-commanders, 350 lieutenants and (out of a total of 1,970) 1,238 lieutenants (junior grade) and ensigns.28 There would be no way to promote so many young officers through the higher ranks, especially since the large classes of the Civil War were already causing congestion at the top.29

In 1906 the President finally instituted a special Personnel  p101 Board under the chairmanship of Assistant Secretary Newberry. This Board made many valuable suggestions, but Congress still refused to increase the number of officers, so that in 1909 the total number was only 1,096.30 This was an increase over the 883 commissioned officers actually in the service in 1901,31 but it was not enough. Additional authorizations by Congress were needed if the second largest navy of the world was to have adequate personnel. In 1907 the United States Navy had only 941 officers, excluding midshipmen at sea and at the Naval Academy, in contrast to 4,013 in the English Navy, 2,279 in the French Navy, 2,065 in the German Navy and 1,871 in the Japanese Navy.32

As was mentioned above, the promotion of naval officers presented as large a problem as did their number. Under the act of 1899 promotion was almost entirely by seniority. Captains, commanders and lieutenant-commanders could at any time apply for voluntary retirement. If the casualties for that year had not been over a certain number, depending upon the rank, the President could place the applicants upon the retired list with the rank and three-fourths of the sea pay of the next higher grade. If these voluntary retirements should not prove sufficient, the Secretary of the Navy was empowered to call a board of five rear-admirals to select a very limited number of officers in each rank for involuntary retirement.33 Thus there was an elimination system, although extremely limited, designed to assist the flow of promotions. But it proved quite inadequate, especially  p102 in the face of the enlarged class at Annapolis and the large classes in the higher ranks. Officers spent so long a time in the lower subordinate grades that they never learned to think for themselves. They usually reached command ranks so late that they had lost their youth and ambition and had learned only to obey, not to command.34

Some people suggested as a remedy the establishment of percentages of the whole number of officers for each grade rather than absolute limits.35 This would have helped somewhat, but it would not have lowered the ages of the higher-ranking officers sufficiently. To continue promotions on the old basis and still have it rapid enough would have meant an unduly large number of officers in the top grades. Therefore, some system of forced retirement in each grade at a certain age was necessary, although many officers were strongly opposed to such a measure.36 A comparison of American officers with those abroad will quickly show this necessity.

In December 1906 the age of the youngest captain in the American Navy was 55 and the average time spent in that grade was 4.5 years; in Great Britain the youngest captain was 35 and the average time spent in that grade 11.2 years; in France 47 and 9.5; in Germany 42 and 6.2; and in Japan 38 and 8.0. The same situation was true of the flag officers. In the United States they usually averaged only 1.5 years in that rank before retirement, 8.0 in Great Britain, 14.2 in France, 6.0 in Germany and 11.0 in Japan.37 It was even  p103 possible that some of the midshipmen at Annapolis might not become full lieutenants until 45 or 50 because of the congestion in the upper grades.38 All foreign navies except the German promoted by some form of selection at that time, and the German Navy also was charged with having top officers too old for good work.39

Roosevelt more than anyone else realized the importance of young commanding officers. Back in 1897 he had written to Secretary Long that above all an officer must be young enough to have dash and decision, and it would be better to "have him err on the side of too much daring rather than too much caution."40 He was ready to adopt any measures that would solve the problem and asked the Personnel Board for a solution.

The Report of his Board proved very valuable. Of the two possible methods of promotion, by selection or by elimination, the Board favored the latter on the grounds that selection would prove too difficult to work in actual practice.41 Commander Key was the person largely responsible for the proposed plan. He suggested that the number of captains be limited to seven per cent of the total number of officers, commanders to seven per cent, lieutenant-commanders to eighteen per cent and lieutenants, lieutenants (junior grade) and ensigns to sixty-eight per cent. As the senior officers of each grade reached a certain age, a fixed percentage of that grade was to be put on the retired list. Key also wanted to require a minimum amount of sea  p104 service in each grade before promotion.42 In opposition to this plan of "selection out," the Bureau of Navigation favored positive selection for promotion.43 This was the system which Sims and the President supported.44 These  p105 authorities, including Secretary Metcalf, also asked for the creation of the rank of vice-admiral to command our fleets and to maintain our dignity abroad.45

All these provisions were embodied in a bill which the President transmitted to Congress.46 But nothing was done, largely because of Senator Hale's continued opposition. Therefore, in 1907 the Navy Department repeated its recommendations47 and the President did likewise in his Annual Message to Congress that December.48 Again the reforms failed and they were put to rest for the remainder of the Administration.

Actually the only real accomplishment was in increasing the pay of the Navy to offer more adequate rewards and to attract more talented men. In June 1906 officers were granted full pay while on shore duty instead of having to take a fifteen per cent pay cut.49 In May 1908 a general ten per cent raise in pay was voted and any officer who had served thirty years was allowed to retire at the discretion of the President at three-fourths pay.50

There remains to consider now only the problem of the relations between the Line officers and the staff corps. The Personnel Act of 1899 had made an important change by amalgamating the Line and the Corps of Engineers. Henceforth the Line was to contain engineering experts, just as it already contained ordnance experts. While it was generally accepted as successful — Great Britain partially followed  p106 our lead51 — some people objected to amalgamation on the grounds that specialization would produce better engineers, although it was admitted that by having all officers graduates of Annapolis there would be more unity of spirit and homogeneity of organization.52 Others felt that amalgamation was simply a means by which the Line hoped to keep all power from the hands of a strong engineering corps. It was officially claimed that all officers were in the future to be engineers as well. This was obviously impossible, with the result that warrant officers usually did the real machinery work, although a Line officer might be the chief engineer.53 At any rate amalgamation did settle the disputes between the Line and the engineers, even though some of its effects were of dubious value. Among other things, it resulted in placing officers inexperienced in engineering in positions they were unable to fill.

As an example, Holden Evans in 1905 assisted in raising the U. S. S. Bennington, which had blown up and sunk at San Diego. The Bureau of Steam Engineering tried to place the blame upon the young ensign who had been the chief engineer and one of the few survivors. He told Evans: ". . . I know very little about engineering. I never stood watch in an engine-room before I was made Chief Engineer of this ship."54

As the eyes of the nation were fixed upon this case, the Bureau wanted to avoid any responsibility itself. Every effort was made to convict Ensign Wade, the chief engineer, in the court-martial which followed. However, Evans  p107 came to his rescue and managed to prove that the accident was due to a defective boiler.a Wade was exonerated, but the Navy Department was furious at Evans.55

Contrary to the situation of the engineers, there was still a separate Corps of Naval Constructors. These were usually men from Annapolis who were sent abroad for graduate work in naval architecture and engineering.56 Under the Act of 1899, in addition to the Chief Constructor, who was also the Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, there were ten Naval Constructors and forty‑six Assistant Naval Constructors.57 Since the pay and opportunity for advancement were poor in this corps, many of the most talented officers left it for private employment.58

In addition to the Chaplain and Paymaster Corps, there were also the surgeons and doctors. The position of these medical officers caused a great furore in 1909. The old quarrel between Line and staff was revived when Roosevelt put a doctor in command of the hospital ship Relief.59 In protest against this action Rear-Admiral Brownson resigned his new post as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. Public opinion was largely against the President in his treatment of Brownson, whom he publicly denounced and whose story he kept hidden for some time.60 Senator Hale and The Navy joined the press in opposing Roosevelt.61 The latter, however, stuck by his guns and in December 1908  p108 told Congress that the experience of the fleet in the Pacific proved the necessity of having a hospital ship under the command of a medical officer.62

That no solution was reached to the problems of promotion and the status of the staff corps in relation to the Line is not surprising; no satisfactory answer has yet been found. These relationships involve too much of the human element to admit of a simple solution. Nevertheless, Roosevelt laid valuable groundwork for the future development of the naval personnel, especially by the findings of the Personnel Board of 1906, which paved the way for the system of selection later introduced.


The Author's Notes:

1 See Hurd, op. cit., p894.

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2 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1901, p6.

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3 ibid., pp5‑8.

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4 Roosevelt, State Papers, p120.

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5 Navy Yearbook, 1909, p678. See Table IV in Appendix A.

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6 U. S. 59th Cong. 2nd Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1907, p3 (Testimony of Rear-Admiral G. A. Converse).

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7 ibid., p5. Also Frederick Rogers, "The Extent to Which the Navy of the United States Should Be Increased," The United States as a World Power (Amer. Academy of Pol. and Soc. Science, 1905), p145.

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8 U. S. 59th Cong. 2nd Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1907, p4.

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9 K. C. McIntosh, Historical Sketch of Subsistence Methods (Lecture), p15.

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10 ibid., p16.

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11 idem.

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12 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1906, pp414‑16 (Report of Bureau of Navigation).

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13 Navy Yearbook, 1909, p560.

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14 U. S. 59th Cong. 2nd Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1907, p11 (Testimony of Rear-Admiral Converse).

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15 R. D. Evans, "The Cruise of the Atlantic Fleet to the Pacific Coast," Hampton's, 21 (1908), p583.

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16 Quoted in Brassey, Naval Annual, 1909, p35.

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17 e.g., U. S. 59th Cong. 2nd Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1907, p3 (Testimony of Rear-Admiral Converse).

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18 H. A. Evans, op. cit., pp159‑60.

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19 Navy Yearbook, 1906, p528.

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20 L. H. Chandler in Discussion of Hood, Naval Administration, p46.

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21 ibid., p42.

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22 Roosevelt, State Papers, p120.

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23 Hurd, op. cit., p903.

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24 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1902, p17.

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25 Roosevelt, State Papers, p159.

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26 R. H. Jackson, "Promotion, Present and Prospective," Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, 31 (1905), p408.

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27 ibid., p402.

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28 R. C. Smith, "Problem of the Navy Personnel," North American Review, 188 (1908), p888.

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29 ibid., pp884‑5.

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30 Navy Register, 1909, pp6 ff.

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31 Navy Register, 1901, pp7 ff.

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32 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1907, p11.

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33 Navy Yearbook, 1906, pp529‑30.

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34 Fiske, "American Naval Policy," Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, 31 (1905), p70.

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35 e.g., R. C. Smith, op. cit., p888.

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36 See C. F. Goodrich in Discussion of Hood, Naval Administration, pp31‑2.

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37 Roosevelt, Message to Congress, Dec. 17, 1906, Personnel of the Navy, p2 (59th Cong. 2nd Sess. Sen. Doc. No. 142).

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38 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1906, p35.

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39 R. C. Smith, op. cit., pp883‑4.

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40 H. F. Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt (Blue Ribbon Books, 1931), p73.

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41 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1906, p36 (Report of Naval Personnel Board).

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42 ibid., pp37‑9.

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43 ibid., p411 (Report of Bureau of Navigation).

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44 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, p7.

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45 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1906, pp7, 36, 409. Also Roosevelt, Personnel of the Navy, p3 (59th Cong. 2nd Sess. Sen. Doc. No. 142).

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46 loc. cit.

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47 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1907, pp5, 34, 372.

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48 Roosevelt, State Papers, pp474‑5.

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49 Navy Yearbook, 1906, p532.

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50 Navy Yearbook, 1909, pp559‑60.

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51 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1903, pp6‑7.

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52 Hood, Naval Administration, pp12‑13, 17.

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53 H. A. Evans, op. cit., p163.

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54 ibid., pp161‑2.

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55 ibid., pp166‑70.

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56 Capps, op. cit., p68.

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57 Navy Yearbook, 1906, p530.

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58 See H. A. Evans, op. cit.

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59 "Flays Brownson," Baltimore Sun, Jan. 6, 1908, in Roosevelt's Scrapbooks, Events of Interest Series, Vol. 27, pp112‑13.

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60 See Editorials in Roosevelt's Scrapbooks, Editorial Comment Series, Vol. 24, pp174‑6.

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61 The Navy, 2 (1908), pp34‑5.

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62 Roosevelt, State Papers, p544.


Thayer's Note:

a This wouldn't be last time the Navy blamed a low‑level sailor for its own systemic mistakes. In 1989, a turret explosion on the battleship Iowa was initially blamed on one of the 47 victims killed in it: it was officially claimed that Clayton Hartwig had intentionally detonated an explosive device to commit suicide because of a failed love affair with another sailor. The cause of the accident was ultimately determined to be errors in the Navy's powder handling procedures, which were changed as a result.


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