Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Part II
Chapter 15

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

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

published by
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York

The text is in the public domain.

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


[image ALT: link to next section]
Part III
Chapter 1
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part II

 p268  Chapter XVI

Dead‑End Street

A message came from Mr. Taylor: he wished to see me. I went to his home at Chestnut Hill. He asked me, "Have you called on the secretary since his return from Europe?"

"What's the use?" I answered. "There are two Mr. Meyers — he makes up his mind and later overrules himself."

"I want you to do me a favor," Mr. Taylor said mysteriously. "I want you to go to Washington and call on Mr. Meyer. I can't tell you any more."

Next day I sent in my card to Mr. Meyer at the Navy Department. Word came that the Assistant Secretary, Mr. Winthrop, would see me instead. Mr. Winthrop told me that Mr. Meyer wished to have a talk with me but was away on a yachting cruise.

"Go up to New York tonight," said the Assistant Secretary, "and wait at the Hotel Belmont tomorrow until you receive a message from Mr. Meyer. I'll be in touch with him meanwhile at the New York Yacht Club."

Was this the start of another farce? Next day I waited all day in the lobby of the Belmont. About six o'clock in the evening, a message came that Secretary Meyer wished me to dine with him at the Knickerbocker Club. He greeted me cordially and with an excellent dinner. Afterwards he handed me the report of the Vreeland Board on the preliminary work to be done before the introduction of scientific management and asked me, if I were given charge, whether I could conscientiously carry out that work.

I told him I could, since the report was nothing more than an  p269 account of what I had done at the Mare Island Yard. At the same time I pointed out that the mere introduction of efficient shop methods in the yards would be largely abortive, unless there were a general reorganization besides. It did no good for one department to be efficient if the others were inefficient. Even if all were efficient, there still had to be co‑operation among them. A navy yard should be operated as a unit, like any private industrial plant, under a single manager.

There was no reason why I should not still argue for reorganization. The Vreeland Board was only an advisory body. The Secretary could accept or reject its report, as he chose. He could even order an efficient reorganization of the yards without consulting it. Secretary Newberry consulted no board when he issued his Order No. 9.

The Secretary grew interested and wanted to continue the discussion. He was going on with his cruise but directed me to meet him at the Somerset Club in Boston two days later. The Somerset Club proved to be about the haughtiest institution I had ever entered. Although I didn't resemble an insurance agent or process server, I was shoved into a small anteroom and with threats and menaces, of so it seemed, warned not to poke my nose outside until summoned.

Secretary Meyer rescued me with another good dinner. We talked for two hours — talked reorganization, as I hammered in lessons in management of deeply, I hoped, that the Sea Lords could not this time eradicate them. Still, Mr. Meyer came to no decision and invited me out to his home in Hamilton. There we continued the discussion. At last came the question I had been hoping to hear. Would I undertake the work of reorganizing all the navy yards of the country?

I told him I would gladly undertake it, provided I had full authority to carry it through, plus the strong support of the Secretary. He agreed to this. It was decided that I should start  p270 with one yard, spend a year to eighteen months there, and put it on its feet. As I worked out methods at the experimental yard, instructions based on my experience would go out to the other yards. Thus, when I came to visit the other yards, they should already have made good progress. It ought not to take me more than six months at each to bring them up to the standard of the first.

Thus I thought I saw the remainder of my official career spread plainly before me. In four years at the most I could accomplish this great work and then feel free to resign from the Navy, my mission realized. As a legacy I would leave behind an organization with a large, permanent nucleus of trained shore naval officers and competent civilians, and in efficiency Navy industry would stand on an equal footing with the best private manufacturing concerns in the country.

It was a question of which yard to select for the pattern.

"Mare Island, of course," said the secretary. "The politicians support you there, and the labor unions eat out of your hand."

This was a strong temptation to me, I had been thrown out of Mare Island. To return with full authority would be a splendid personal vindication. But I wasn't remaining in the Navy to vindicate myself or to tickle my vanity. Besides, Mare Island was already the most efficient yard in the country. "It's a tremendous job I'm undertaking, Mr. Secretary," I said. "Mare Island is too far away. I must be near Washington and have access to the Secretary when difficulties arise, as they surely will."

He understood, and named New York, our most important yard. Again I objected. The politicians and unions were to meddlesome at that yard. Moreover, the Presidential election was approaching, and New York was considered a doubtful state. If the Navy Department went into a cat-and‑dog fight with labor over the control of the New York Navy Yard, it  p271 might turn the scales and throw the state into the Democratic column.

"Personally," I told the Secretary frankly, "I hope the present Administration will be thrown out, but as an agent of yours I don't want to have a hand in it."

"Well then, Philadelphia," said Mr. Meyer.

But here was the same politico-labor situation I was struggling to free myself from. The Secretary grew a little provoked.

"What's the good of your plan or our discussion either," he said, "if there's no yard in which we can make a start?"

I answered, "We should go down in Virginia to the Norfolk Navy Yard. That state is irrevocably Democratic. If the Virginia senators and Congressman complain, you don't have to listen to them."

With a broad smile the Secretary said, "Norfolk it is — and this is the first time any naval officer has given me good political advice."

We discussed the authority I should have. I emphasized that the commandant of the yard should be given to understand from the beginning that the department was determined to carry out the changes. The Secretary said he would call the Norfolk commandant to Washington and explain it all to him personally. He then made me a very unusual proposition.

"You have said so much about the authority you require, I'd like to see what you would do. Assume you are in my position and make a draft of the orders and instructions you would issue, if you were in my place."

Orders to myself presented no difficulties. I was to report to the yard commandant for temporary duty in connection with introducing certain features of modern shop management, as outlined in written instructions to him from the Secretary of the Navy. The orders authorized me to delay six days en route to Norfolk to consult with Admiral Vreeland regarding these future  p272 duties and to make certain business visits, and notably one to Mr. Fred Taylor to solicit the help of himself and his associates in the work I had undertaken.

The accompanying instructions to the commandant presented the problem. As far as possible I wanted to avoid irritating him. Therefore, I decided there was no necessity of telling him the whole plans for the future. He need know only about the immediate work which concerned his own yard. Yet it must be definite with him that I had the authority to carry on that work.

I finished the drafts and gave them to the Secretary. He read them carefully, made one or two small corrections to clarify meanings, and handed them to his secretary to copy smooth. He said he would send them as they were to Admiral Vreeland to have the official orders and instruction prepared, which he would sign himself.

There was one last request for me to make. J. M. Willis, the young draftsman I had trained, had been for me a most valuable observer and assistant at Mare Island. I wanted him transferred to Norfolk to be my assistant there. Secretary Meyer said he would write to Admiral Vreeland to have the order issued.

For the third time in the battle for reorganization I was riding the crest of the wave of official favor. Would this one sweep me into the safe harbor of success? I thought so. I didn't see how it could miss. Two successive bludgeonings had not yet convinced me that right and common sense would not in time prevail. Taylor had kept writing me in my darkest moments that Mr. Meyer was "committed" to reorganization and would go through with it, and now the Secretary had fulfilled these prophecies. More than fulfilled them from my standpoint, for he had chosen me for the job and had let me write my own ticket. I left Hamilton feeling like a new man.

On my way to Washington I stopped at Philadelphia to see Mr. Taylor, accusing him of being the one responsible for this  p273 turn of events. He smiled but told me nothing. He strongly advised me to employ Mr. Carl Barth one day a week at Norfolk. Barth was an eminently success­ful efficiency engineer who had helped Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wheeler install scientific management at the Watertown Arsenal.

Taylor said to me, "They will hesitate to attack you and your work if they know an eminent man like Barth is working with you and will back you to the limit."

I decided to take the advice, once I was firmly settled at Norfolk.

In Washington I had several conversations with Admiral Vreeland about the whole scheme. He said the secretary had been telling him everything about our conferences. He looked me in the eye and said I had his approval, too. What's more, I believed him and left Washington for Norfolk with my head high.

On October 14, 1911, I reported to Admiral W. A. Marshall, Commandant of the Norfolk Navy Yard and Station. He said he had not yet received any instructions about me, and, until he did receive them, I was to do nothing. He gave me permission to become acquainted with the officers of the yard and the general yard conditions.

For the first time I had a slight trepidation. Why hadn't the instructions yet been issued? The drafts for both my orders and the commandant's instructions had been sent from Hamilton at the same time, and I had had my orders in my pocket for more than a week. When three more days elapsed without any instructions, I grew uneasy.

If Mr. Meyer had encountered opposition, it had failed. On October 18 Admiral Marshall called me and gave me the department's instructions. They were dated October 17 — the day before. I read them and saw they were what I had drafted, telling the commandant they confirmed verbal orders given me by  p274 the Secretary. Then I became aware that the commandant was very angry.

"Mr. Evans," he said, boring me with his eyes, "did you have any part in framing these orders?"

This was a most peculiar question. The written instructions were signed duly by the Secretary; why should Admiral Marshall have entertained such a suspicion?

I made a noncommittal answer. What Admiral Marshall said next burned itself forever into my memory. But I do not have to rely on memory, for I made full notes of the entire episode immediately afterward and kept that record.

Red with rage, and shaking the paper in front of me, he exclaimed, "These are the God‑damnedest orders ever issued in the history of the Navy!"

If a high-ranking naval constructor had uttered such a reflection upon the Secretary of the Navy, he would have been court-martialed and dismissed. Would Admiral Marshall dare to make his profane remark before one he knew would report it unless he was sure of his ground? Unless he knew the backing he would have, if called to account for his outburst?

He next came at me with, "You are to do nothing here until I return from Washington."

"Admiral," I asked, "are you going to Washington to try to have my orders changed?"

"No," he snapped, "I am not going to Washington to try to have your orders changed. I'm going to Washington to have them revoked."

Hindsight is easier than foresight, but it was many years before all the pieces in this kaleidoscope fitted together in my mind and formed a picture. Today I am morally sure that Admiral Marshall in behaving this way was but acting a part in a little drama rehearsed in advance with the Sea Lords in Washington.  p275 He was an officer who stood so well with the naval hierarchy that they planned to continue him as commandant at Norfolk after his retirement. He, the old sea dog, who on his long record deserved nothing but honor and consideration, was to come roaring up to Washington as the indignant and outraged commandant. He would tell the secretary that he refused to serve as commandant while such humiliating orders were in existence, and in this stand he would have the support of the admirals surrounding the secretary.

What was there in to instructions so offensive to Admiral Marshall? I had drawn them with all deference to the commandant's temper. If the reader want to judge for himself, he will find them in full in Appendix C of this volume. The offense lay in the fact that these instructions were to be preliminary to a reorganization which the line didn't want, and they gave me full authority to lay the groundwork for that evolution.

The little drama worked successfully. Secretary Meyer surrendered. Admiral Marshall came back to Norfolk triumphant, slapping down before me two papers signed by Mr. Meyer. One revoked my orders. The other was a new set of instructions, which, so far as vesting any authority in me were concerned, were as empty as last year's bird nest. The Secretary might as well have ordered a stray cat to Norfolk to introduce modern management.

At last I saw what perhaps I should have seen all the time — that Efficiency Avenue was a dead‑end street, and I had reached the dead end. On October 25 I addressed a letter to the Secretary asking to be detached from Norfolk Navy Yard, requesting a statement of the amount of leave-of‑absence to which I was entitled, and declaring my intention to resign from the Navy at the expiration of my leave. Extended excerpts from this letter may be found in Appendix C.

 p276  I expected that I should not remain in Norfolk more than two weeks. After that I would be on leave, looking for a job. But the days passed and became weeks without any reply to my letter, not even acknowledgment of its receipt. It was not even ordinary courtesy.

Long afterwards I found out what caused the delay. Behind the scenes a lively war was in progress over my resignation. Secretary Meyer was reluctant to accept it. Some of the Sea Lords were determined that he should. At this juncture Admiral Marshall overplayed his role in the drama a little. Not content that my orders were revoked, he now declared that he would not remain as commandant if I were even kept on duty at the Norfolk yard. Secretary Meyer took him at his word, detached him, and appointed the captain of the yard, Captain Doyle, to succeed him. The Secretary now hoped he might restore my original authority without protest from the easy-going, good-natured Captain Doyle.

The Sea Lords had lost a point here and became more than ever determined to induce Mr. Meyer to accept my resignation. The engineer officer I found at Norfolk was Lieutenant Commander Stanford Moses, a classmate of mine at Annapolis. I was fond of him personally and considered him my friend. He told me that he was in entire sympathy with the work I was trying to do, and that I could rely on his help. He invited me to meals in his home, and I accepted. Afterwards over a highball we talked, as old classmates do, very frankly about naval affairs and Navy people.

I have spoken about the grapevine lines of communication in the Navy. One day I received a stamped letter from Washington warning me to be careful in what I said to Lieutenant Commander Moses.

"Every time you visit his house," the letter said, "he calls Commander Andrews (Aide to the Secretary) the next day on  p277 long-distance and relates what you have said. Commander Andrews immediately dictates a memorandum of the conversation."

This letter came from a man at Washington whom I had once befriended.

A few days later my informant supplied me with a copy of a letter written by Moses to Captain Andrews. It said, "I urge that Doyle be detached and a strong man be sent to take his place."

That letter should have told me that the Secretary was hesitating over my resignation, but it didn't at the time. The next step of those of the Sea Lords who were opposing me was even more devious. On November 10, 1911, Captain Fletcher, the Secretary's Aide for Material, sent a confidential memorandum to Mr. Meyer stating that Chief Constructor Watt was urging the acceptance of my resignation for the following reason among others:

Evans is a bright man and has made a special study of shop management, and is probably better informed on this subject than anyone else. On the other hand, he is of a contentious disposition, and affairs are not apt to run smoothly except where he is practically handling things according to his own ideas."

How Watt learned of my "contentious disposition" is rather mysterious. He did not discover it at first hand, for I had never served with him, and in fact we only knew each other slightly.

Nor could he have taken it from my official record, as I now know. From the time I entered the Construction Corps, in 1896, I had served under various admirals, captains, commanders, chief constructors, and naval constructors, and one commodore, but until Admiral Osterhaus came to Mare Island I never had a fitness report that did not give me under every heading but health the highest rating of Excellent. Not one of these men ever  p278 mentioned my "contentious disposition," while several stepped out of their way to volunteer favorable comments upon me.

Even Admiral Capps, Admiral Watt's immediate predecessor in the Chief Constructor's Office, had on September 30, 1910, made a report on me in which the lowest mark given, except for health, was 3.8 on a scale of 4.0. Even for health he rated me 3.5, which still came in the category of Excellent. And after Watt put in his confidential statement, even Captain Doyle, Commandant of the Norfolk yard, with whom I quarreled, in the final fitness report I was ever to get in the Navy gave me a complete string of Excellents.

No, Watt did not get his information from that source. Of course, he may have taken it from the Sea Lords themselves by hearsay. No doubt they considered me contentious, when I dared to submit the report on which Secretary Newberry based his reorganization plan. No doubt I was considered contentious when I was suffering the indignities and humiliations heaped upon me by Admiral Osterhaus at Mare Island. No doubt they thought me contentious for writing to the secretary from Norfolk about the conditions in that yard. I may point out that it was better for the cause of the bureaucrats that the adverse "contentious" report on me come from my own chief, the head of the Construction Corps, rather than from the chief of any other corps or bureau. It carried more weight from him, for he was supposed to know.

Perhaps I scarcely need mention that it was only recently, when I gained access to the files of the Navy Department, that I learned about Admiral Watt's confidential memorandum at all. The victim of a "confidential statement" in the Navy has no recourse. The confidential statement is directly opposed to that cornerstone of fair play in the Navy regulations that an officer, reporting adversely on a subordinate, must supply the subordinate with a copy of the adverse comment to permit him to answer  p279 simultaneously. I regard the confidential statement as only one step above the moral level of an anonymous letter.

If I am to believe what officers tell me now, the confidential-statement disease is still rampant in the Navy Department. It becomes particularly vicious now that promotion is by selection rather than by seniority. With one "confidential statement," a character assassin can blast a man's ambitions.

My assistant, Jack Willis, had arrived from Mare Island. While waiting for some action to be taken on my letter to the Secretary, we showed up many glaring faults in the yard and began correcting some of them. As long as I was not relieved of duty, I felt that I must work.

Captain Doyle's first obstructive act was to write a formal order to me, dated November 9, as follows:

"You will report to the Commandant each day for conference with him in regard to the introduction of modern management at this Navy Yard."

When I saw him about this, he stated that each day he wished to be informed of exactly what I had done the day before and exactly what I proposed to do that day: "and," he said, "I don't want general statements — I want to know in detail exactly what you do."

So every morning I had to go up and waste an hour with the commandant. He would listen to me for a while, then offer some absurd criticism or suggestion. As if this were not enough, he decided that he must "crack down" on me somewhere, but he picked the wrong thing to crack down on.

One of the first things I undertook for the improvement of Norfolk Navy Yard was the introduction of a system of shop stores, and to that end, with the approval of Captain Doyle, then acting commandant, selected a committee to work out the details. The committee was preparing its report for the commandant  p280 when suddenly Captain Doyle had two of its members, Paymasters Chadwick and Cleborne, on the carpet, telling them that I had had no authority to take up this work, and by engaging in it the two paymasters had laid themselves open to a charge of entering into a combination of officers to weaken the authority of the commandant. Could anything have been more ridiculous? If I was acting without authority, why hadn't he sent for me and taken me to task, instead of picking on two members of the committee and accusing them of conspiracy?

I sprang to their defense, and in the controversy that followed, the lie was as good as passed. It seemed that Captain Doyle had overlooked the fact that he had authorized the work and approved the members of the committee itself. In fact, only a few days before he had assailed the paymasters, the work of the committee was discussed before him in the presence of all the heads of departments.

As the result of this incident I again wrote to the Secretary, renewing my request to be detached and adding a blistering criticism of the inefficacy of the Norfolk Navy Yard. This letter may also be found in Appendix C. November was passing, and still there was no word from Washington about my resignation.

Yet it had now been decided that my resignation would be accepted. The delay was due to the fact that the department was preparing a "save-face" for the Sea Lords and the Secretary that should divert the public's attention from the fiasco at Norfolk. On his trip to Europe Mr. Meyer had found in the Vickers plant at Barrow‑on‑Furness the finest management system in the world. Captains Willits and Theiss were rushed to England to learn the system and bring it back to our navy yards. They were absent from this country only a few weeks; but that, in the opinion of the Sea Lords, was quite long enough for line officers to absorb a Vickers system or anything else. Meanwhile the Navy press bureau was whooping it up for the wonder­ful new  p281 management system, imported from England, that was to be installed in our navy yards. No doubt there was good management in Vickers plant, but the propagandists seemed to be overlooking the fact that right then America was leading the world in solving industrial problems.

Early in December I had information that my resignation would be accepted. Captain Doyle must have heard it, too, for he became very polite and considerate once more. I had let it be known that I was ready to accept a position in civil life and now made a preliminary arrangement with Rodman Griscom, of Bertron, Griscom and Jenks, a conservative firm of investment bankers of New York who financed shipbuilding companies, to accept a position with them when I was free.

On December 15 I was detached from the Norfolk Navy Yard. I returned to my original assignment at Bath, Me., where, on January 25, 1912, I was granted three months' leave, after which my resignation would become effective.

But I had one last service to render to the Navy. Strenuous efforts were being made to persuade Congress to legalize an Aide system. This was an organization by which the Secretary would contact all his bureaus and departments through personal aides, thus creating a number of new and power­ful shore jobs for the line.

The House Naval Committee, considering this proposition, called me as a witness. The Congressmen asked me innumerable questions, some hostile, some friendly, about the Navy Department and the navy yards. I was before the Committee for several days. When I finished, several members thanked me, saying that Congress would never legalize the Aide system, which prediction proved to be true.

My resignation brought forth considerable press comment, especially in the technical papers. The American Machinist published a long editorial about it under the heading:  p282 severe loss to the Navy. Truman Newberry wrote me a sympathetic letter, saying he had prophesied to friends in Congress that I would eventually have to resign to retain my self-respect. Mr. Hobson made a statement about it in Congress.

On April 30th, 1912, my career as an officer in the United States Navy came to an end. I had given the best years of my life to it. For reward I had the satisfaction of knowing that in those best years I had also given of my best to the Navy and to my country.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 7 Feb 15