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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

W. D. Puleston

published by
D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.
New York • London

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 12
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

The Hub of the Navy's Educational System

The efficiency displayed by reserve officers trained at the Naval Academy in 1917 and 1918 convinced the Department that there was an abundant supply of junior reserve officer material in American colleges and universities. To prepare undergraduates for commissions as reserve ensigns, it would be necessary only to add a course in naval science and tactics, embracing navigation, ordnance, and seaman­ship, to the regular college courses. Instruction could be spread over the four collegiate years, and the average undergraduate could take the naval course without its interfering with his regular college work. Thus the Navy would obtain a college graduate qualified to be a reserve ensign of the line or executive branch. Similarly, collegians majoring in engineering subjects could take a course in marine engineering, supplementary to their regular engineering courses, which would qualify graduates as reserve ensigns for engineering duty. All reserve midshipmen would be given practical training on summer cruises, following the same routine used to train midshipmen from Annapolis.

In 1924 the Department began with units at Harvard, Yale, Northwestern University, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, and the University of California. These became miniature naval academies, averaging  p128 two hundred reserve midshipmen within the particular institute, in which regular naval officers and chief petty officers conducted courses in the theory of navigation, ordnance, and seaman­ship, and supervised the drills in gunnery, seaman­ship, and infantry. The Department depended upon the university to instruct the reserve midshipmen in other essential subjects such as mathematics, physics, English, and modern languages. It was necessary to vary the plan to meet special situations at different institutions, but the conditions were substantially the same at all units, and when reserve midshipmen from different universities cruised on the same battle­ship or destroyer, their professional attainments reached the same level.

The following description applies particularly to Northwestern, a pioneer unit, but it is typical of Naval Reserve Officers' Training Units. The requirements and the compensation of reserve midshipmen are identical in all units.

Reserve midshipmen must be citizens of the United States not less than fourteen years old. They must meet practically the same physical standards as those required for entrance to Annapolis, pass examinations in professional subjects conducted by regular naval officers, and successfully complete their regular college course, to receive their naval diploma. Although all students are eligible, those well grounded in mathematics are preferred, as much of the naval course requires mathematics.

The course in Naval Science and Tactics is divided into the basic course for Freshmen and Sophomores and the advanced course for Juniors and Seniors. The basic course requires two recitations and one drill per week, for which the university grants the student two semester hours of credit. The successful completion of the basic course is a prerequisite for the advanced course, which requires four recitations and one drill each week, for which the university  p129 grants three semester hours of credit. A student passing the naval course, the university course, and a physical examination is tendered a commission as a reserve ensign in the United States Navy.

All reserve midshipmen in the Junior class are required to take the summer cruise; Sophomores and Freshmen are encouraged to take the cruise, and space is provided for fifty percent of them. About one hundred reserve midshipmen from Northwestern are cruised annually on battle­ships or destroyers, accompanied by two of their regular naval officers and three chief petty officers who supervise their practical instruction and drills at sea. For drill on the campus, the Northwestern unit is organized as a battalion of infantry of three companies, with its own drum and bugle corps.

The reserve midshipmen are furnished uniforms, books, and equipment, and those in the advanced course are allowed the commuted value of one ration, about twenty-five cents a day, commencing with enrolment in the advanced course and continuing through the calendar year. Transportation to the ports of embarkation and subsistence while on the training cruise are paid by the Department.

The extra-curricular activities are similar to those at Annapolis. Northwestern has a drum and fife corps, a unit paper, the Purple Salvo, an annual Navy Ball, and the presentation of the battalion colors by a beautiful young lady, all in the Annapolis manner. The atmosphere of all reserve units is astonishingly like that at Annapolis, and when regular and reserve midshipmen are cruised on the same ships, they fraternize and quickly become "shipmates."

The results obtained at the six original units justified the expectations of the Department, which gradually increased the number. When it became necessary to provide officers for the two‑ocean Navy, the Department added still more,  p130 and to‑day there are Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps units in twenty-seven colleges and universities, with an approximate enrolment of 3,500 students, which will reach 7,200 by 1944. This number is more than twice the present capacity of Annapolis, which is 3,100. By reducing the course, increasing the number of midshipmen at Annapolis, and adding the reserve units, the Bureau of Navigation has provided a steady and adequate supply of ensigns, regular and reserve, who will become available as the ships are completed.

In addition, the Bureau had to obtain on short notice approximately 5,000 junior officers to officer the additional ships put in commission to carry on the neutrality patrol and to meet the limited national emergency. In 1940 it turned to the campus. In August some 6,650 college men were enrolled as reserve seamen and embarked for a ten days' cruise on battle­ships. During this time they were given a thorough examination by regular officers to determine their preparation and aptitude for commissions as junior officers. About 5,400 passed the preliminary examination and were sent to Annapolis, Northwestern, or the U. S. S. Prairie State and were given intensive courses in seaman­ship, ordnance, navigation, and marine engineering similar to those given in 1917‑18. By June, 1941, 1,773 of these students had graduated and over 1,500 were on active duty in the fleets. Two thousand eight hundred more were graduated from the same schools by July 1, 1941, and sent to sea. Commencing in September, 1941, 4,900 more reserve ensigns were enrolled, and from the experience tables it is safe to predict that the Navy will obtain 4,200 reserve ensigns ready for duty by August, 1942. Seven hundred of these commenced an intensive course in engineering at the Naval Academy in January, 1942, to qualify for engineering duty.

 p131  These large increments of approximately 9,200 reserve ensigns will meet the immediate needs of the Navy for peace, prolonged emergency, or war. The Naval Academy and the twenty-seven institutions with their N. R. O. T. C. units now in operation will furnish a continuous supply of junior officers available for replacements and to officer our two‑ocean Navy.

Thus the Naval Academy has become the hub of an educational and training system that is capable of almost indefinite expansion. It is the model of twenty-seven miniature naval academies teaching the same professional subjects, using the same training methods ashore and afloat, enjoying the same extracurricular sports and amusements, imbibing the same naval ideas, and absorbing the spirit of the American Fleet.

Any one who studies the record of the Naval Academy will be impressed with the responsiveness to the needs of the Navy. It has adapted itself to the expansion of the American fleets as neatly as the bark to a growing tree. No institution could have responded so nearly automatically to the necessities of a nation's navy without being truly national in its composition and spirit. Since the early fifties, midshipmen have come from every Congressional district and, in the words of a Superintendent, Rear Admiral Russell Wilson, "from every walk of life, where there are found sound bodies, good minds, ambition and character." At the Academy they find an atmosphere of fair play, characteristically American, in which their finer qualities develop. The alumni have demonstrated, in and out of the Navy, the past success of the Academy.1

The nation wants to be assured of the future. What of  p132 Annapolis now? Can the Academy continue to furnish officers for the modern Navy, in which are integrated aviation and submarines? It is a Navy which in a few years will become a two‑ocean Navy and is already committed to the defense of the Western Hemisphere and the American way of life. Will recent and future graduates rise above initial reverses as did Preble's officers? Will they be equal to all the responsibilities of modern naval and air war? Only of those who have laid aside their armor can the positive word be spoken.​a But no one who has looked closely into the faces of the regular and reserve midshipmen at the Academy to‑day will doubt the future of our Navy.

The reasons for the author's confidence in Academy graduates, past, present, and future, will be given in the remaining chapters. They are based upon numerous recent visits to Annapolis, discussions of its problems with the Superintendent, officers and instructors, and conversations with and observations of regular and reserve midshipmen.

Chapter 12 describes the present buildings and grounds, illustrating the physical growth of the Academy, and gives an account of the present interior organization. Chapter 13 traces the development of the present curriculum and the establishment of the Department of Physical Training. Chapter 14 outlines the extracurricular activities, showing how they fit into the comprehensive scheme of training present‑day midshipmen for the many tasks that await them in the fleets. Chapter 15 describes the methods of entering the Academy and some of the problems that immediately confront the plebes, with some hints that may help them through the Academy. These last four chapters are closely related and should be considered together, for academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities combine to form the daily life of the midshipmen. These chapters  p133 give prospective midshipmen a clear idea of life at the Academy and offer substantial reasons for believing that Annapolis will continue to furnish American quarter-decks with capable, high-spirited, and aggressive officers, equal to any demands that may be put upon them.

The Author's Note:

1 In the appendix there is an account of the Academy alumni which supports this statement.

Thayer's Note:

a A reminiscence of Solon's words to Croesus (Herodotus, I.32, Plutarch, Life of Solon, 27.6).

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