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]
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Sea Duty
The Memoirs of a Fighting Admiral

Yates Stirling
Rear Admiral, U. S. N. (Ret.)

Decorations by
Mabel A. Buell

The Author and the Book

Sea Duty is the memoirs or autobiography of Rear Admiral Yates Stirling, Jr. (1872‑1948). He was a man noted for his controversial views on a variety of subjects, and outspoken in his defense of them, and most of the time history has shown he was right. The United States, for example, cannot avoid being actively involved in affairs beyond their borders (or does so at their own peril); the country had bargained away her navy for an illusion of peace and goodwill; Pearl Harbor, which the admiral commanded as late as 1932, was poorly defended, and a Japanese attack on the base was likely.

Not all, however, nor even most, of Admiral Stirling's book is polemical. He gives us a good view of the Philippine insurrection in which the United States were embroiled on the heels of the Spanish-American War; of America's involvement in China between the World Wars; of naval bureaucracy and politics; of such things as target practice at sea. Thruout, interesting anecdotes abound.

In some quarters, unfortunately, Yates Stirling has become known almost exclusively for his one serious lapse in judgment: the celebrated Massie case, in which he was dead wrong — and by the time he published Sea Duty, he knew he was — but allowed personal prejudices totally to blind his reason and his judgment as well as to taint his character: Chapter 16 makes difficult reading; nor can it be excused as an outlier, since he repeatedly focuses on race, needlessly and by modern standards often offensively, in all kinds of contexts thruout the book.


Laying the Keel


The Launching




The War with Spain


The Philippine Insurrection


River Warfare


Staff Duty


Around the World


At the War College




The Bridge to France


In the Fleet


The Yangtze Patrol




Our Friends the Japanese


The Massie Case


My Last Command


Troubled Waters


America at the Crossroads



Rear Admiral Yates Stirling


Naval Cadet Yates Stirling


Three Generations of Yates Stirlings


On Board a Yangtze Gunboat


A Stranded Ship in the Yangtze Rapids


Admiral Stirling and Staff at Pearl Harbor


Admiral Stirling and Clarence Darrow in Honolulu


Admiral Hughes and Staff


Admiral Stirling Greeting General Balbo


Commissioning a Naval Reserve Officer


Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here was the first, © 1939 by the author. That copyright, however, was not renewed in 1966 or 1967 as then required by law in order to be maintained. The work is thus in the public domain: details here on the copyright law involved.


In the print edition the 10 formal images, all black-and‑white photographs, are very roughly placed, and purely as a matter of the publisher's convenience: tipped in on glossy inserts every 48 pages (except for the last, 16 pages after the previous one). I've therefore taken advantage of the flexibility offered by the Web to move them close to the text they illustrate. Their original placement is given in the table above, but the links are of course to their actual location in my Web transcription.

The decorative vignettes by Mabel Buell that head off each chapter have been left where they were, but they are black-and‑white woodcuts: in this Web transcription I colorized them, taking as my inspiration the European, American, and colonial postage stamps Admiral Stirling would typically have seen during the early years of his career.

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

My transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree; a red background would mean that the page had not been proofread. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The printed book was adequately proofread. The inevitable typographical errors — some of which, frankly, I suspect are uncorrected mistakes by the author himself, many of them occurring in the names of people and places — are marked, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any other mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

[image ALT: A bold drawing of the head and breast of a bird, frame left, against a backdrop of billowing seas. The bird is a Leach's Petrel as engraved by John James Audubon, and the image serves as the icon on this site for 'Sea Duty', the autobiography of Yates Stirling, Jr., a man sometimes known by the nickname 'the stormy petrel'.]

For his trenchant views and abrasive personality, the author and subject of these memoirs was occasionally called the Navy's "stormy petrel", as he himself acknowledges (p308). Taking my cue from that, the icon I use to indicate this subsite is a suitably colorized detail of John James Audubon's engraving of Leach's Petrel, one of the many members of that family of sea birds found in North American waters.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Site updated: 15 Sep 21