Edward L. Beach. Salt and Steel: Reflections of a Submariner. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999. xiii + 301 pp. $32.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55750-054-0.
Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb (National Endowment for the Humanities)
Published on H-War (May, 1999)
The United States Naval Institute (USNI) has had its headquarters at the United States Naval Academy for all of its 126-year history and serves as a steward of maritime history and as a forum for dialogue on the present and future of the naval and maritime services. Founded on 9 October 1873 by a group of 15 naval officers, the USNI currently has a worldwide membership of approximately 75,000 military professionals and supporters.
On Wednesday, 21 April 1999, the Naval Institute began its 125th Annual Meeting and 9th Annapolis Seminar at the Naval Academy. At 5:00 p.m. (17:00 hours) there was a ceremony dedicating "Beach Hall." This event honored the lives of Captain Edward Latimer Beach, U.S. Navy (Retired, b. 1867, d.1943), and his son, Captain Edward Latimer (Ned) Beach, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired, b. 1918), both graduates of the Naval Academy who made significant contributions to the Sea Service and to the U.S. Naval Institute.
The dedication ceremony recognized Captain Beach, Senior, who served on wooden sailing ships, in the cruiser USS Baltimore during the 1898 victory in Manila Bay, and commanded the cruisers USS Washington and Memphis in the Caribbean during World War I. He also served as the secretary-treasurer of the Naval Institute, published the first Bluejacket's Manual (now in its 22nd edition, 1999), wrote thirteen novels and, following his retirement in 1921, became professor of history at Stanford University. Ned Beach--as colleagues, friends, and admirers know him--graduated from the Naval Academy in 1939 and served on the destroyer Lea and in submarines (Trigger, Tirante, and Piper) during World War II. Stateside, he was a member of the personal staff of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had served as a Naval Aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and in 1960 commanded the nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton during the historic submerged circumnavigation of the globe. A member of the USNI since 1935, he also served on the Naval Institute's Board of Control and retired from active duty in 1966. In 1955 he wrote a classic submarine novel, Run Silent, Run Deep, and has since written two other novels and ten non-fiction books. He continues to be identified with the U.S. Navy as an author and speaker. The dedication of Beach Hall (the new headquarters of the U.S. Naval Institute) honors the Beach family tradition of service and is well deserved.
Officially published on 17 April 1999, Salt and Steel is an autobiography and a personal memoir, and is a companion to Beach's earlier contemplative book entitled The United States Navy: 200 Years (New York: Holt, 1986). He presents factual material in a highly readable style yet remains candid and modest about his personal exploits (and decorations). This latest volume is less about Ned Beach than about the U.S. Navy and the history of our country, and the book offers him a bully pulpit. He observes, for example, that nuclear and electronic technologies have brought significant changes in the conduct of modern warfare, namely, aircraft, submarines, and electronics. In his introductory remarks, Beach goes on to say that "I offer here first-hand accounts, personal memories, and some reflections spun from them. While the intersection of my own life with the ongoing panorama of naval history must be limited, and of course patchy, nonetheless, it spans a remarkable period: from the unrealistic years before World War II which almost cost us victory in that Armageddon of all wars, into the foundation of the electronic-nuclear era now well upon us; from the closing of the two-dimensional sea into the development of our Navy as a three-dimensional fighting force able to protect our national ideals throughout the world" (pp. x-xi).
This autobiographical account begins with Ned Beach's birth in 1918 and continues through his childhood, but also interweaves his father's naval activities as well as world events. For example, on the natal day Beach Senior was in command of the battleship New York, flagship of the American (Sixth) Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet, that kept watch over the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea. The wonderful stories of how Beach's parents first met, the tale of the turkey and roast beef "switch," and the gallantry displayed by Beach senior during the Philippines Insurrection are classics. Ned's exams for appointment at Annapolis, his Plebe Summer in 1935, reminiscences of infractions, the impact at the Naval Academy of the Mercury Theater of the Air radio program on 31 October 1938 (Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds"), and his graduation are recounted. Beach graduated second (in academic rank) in the Class of 1939 three and one-half months before World War II broke out in Europe. Assigned as an Ensign on an old four-piper destroyer, the Lea, he discusses Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic, the potential problem of Vichy French ships at Martinique in the Caribbean, the Bismarck episode, and the Roosevelt-Churchill conference at Argentia, Newfoundland--where the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter were formulated. Transferring to submarine school at New Groton, Connecticut, Beach was preparing for his mid-December graduation when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941.
As many writers have noted, this attack was a signal moment in American history and continues to be an event embroiled in controversy as scholars and others seek to understand its political, economic, and cultural precursors and subsequent manifestations. Beach calls the event "the shock of our national life." Traditional interpretations of the attack have fueled the controversy. Ned Beach, in an argument based upon eminent scholarship in his book Scapegoats: A Defense of Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor takes the revisionist position. He reasons persuasively that Admiral Husband E. Kimmel (1882-1968), commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short (1880-1949), commander of the Hawaiian Department of the U.S. Army, should be posthumously exonerated of the blame for the attack. The problem of the communication of information and the role of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner are issues of concern. Beach concludes that political and military expediency alone led to the firing of these officers, who were not afforded an appropriate opportunity to defend themselves. Your reviewer has heard him speak on this matter and is impressed with his candor in refuting the positions of modern-day political and military historians regarding this event. Indeed, Ned Beach is correct about the need to redress the wrong done to Kimmel and Short.
Beach also discusses the failure to relieve Wake Island and isn't shy when commenting about his superiors, particularly Vice Admiral Pye (called an "indecisive misfit" who issued "impotent orders" and whose "planning was uninspired"), whom the author states "cost us Wake Island," an outpost that could have been saved. The "cautious" Admiral Frank "Jack" Fletcher also receives some salvoes. The faulty work on U.S. Navy torpedoes produced by the Newport Torpedo Station are recounted vividly, and he documents that only about ten percent of the torpedoes actually exploded upon hitting their targets. The Navy's BuOrd (Bureau of Ordnance) was, he states, "run by incompetent dunderheads." Readers may wish to read Robert Gannon's Hellions of the Deep: The Development of American Torpedoes in World War II (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996) for more details. Beach also offers insight into the Battle of the Java Sea; the loss of the HMAS Perth, USS Houston, and HMS Exeter; and the battles of Midway, Savo Island, and Coral Sea--the latter "the world's first fight between aircraft carriers." The grounding on a reef of Beach's own submarine, the Trigger (SS-237) while on patrol during the action at Midway is likewise recounted vividly.
The result of the Doolittle raid on Japan he contends was "counterproductive," causing the Japanese to be become better prepared and more aggressive. Beach praises Admiral Chester Nimitz, telling two personal stories, one concerning a game of cribbage. Likewise, he has strong feelings about the intelligence decrypt efforts of Joseph Rochefort who "provided the keys to victory" by deciphering the Japanese Naval code--worthy of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Beach comments. In the chapter "A Professional at Submarine Warfare," he discusses the replacement of the Trigger's "unadmired skipper" (unnamed) with Roy "Pigboat" Benson and later with Robert "Dusty" Dornin, both of whom brought leadership to the entire crew. He also details the results of three successful patrols on the Trigger before his transfer to the Tirante. His promotion to Lt. Cdr., marriage to Ingrid, and summaries of his twelve war patrols--with direct quotes from patrol reports--are documented. Characteristically, Ned minimizes his own contributions and decorations and chastises himself for his "half-formed and half-baked" thoughts about what the postwar Navy would and should be (p. 167).
First as aide to Vice Admiral Denfeld, Chief of Naval Personnel, and then as the only submariner in Op-36, Atomic Defense Section, under Hyman G. Rickover, Beach learned about the "political" side of the Navy and about nuclear propulsion systems. Rickover, Beach comments, was "the most fascinating--and at times exasperating--officer I ever encountered." In 1948, as skipper of the submarine Amberjack, Beach pioneered tactical steep angle dives up to 47 degrees, earning the vessel the name "Anglejack." His writing career began with articles submitted to the USNI Proceedings, and soon after he became aide to General Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This was a time when the Air Force, formerly the U.S. Army Air Corps, had become a separate armed service, and all of the services jockeyed for the defense dollars in the postwar era. The infamous "Revolt of the Admirals" and Bradley's ill-fated "Fancy Dan" speech and its repercussions are detailed. Beach next served as skipper of the newly built conventional submarine Trigger II, a vessel he characterized as a construction "fiasco" and "not fit for service." The following four years, "a wonderful, heady time," Beach writes, was spent as the Naval Aide to President Eisenhower from 1953-1957. Memorable events included the decommissioning of the President's yacht Williamsburg and Mamie Eisenhower's sponsorship and christening of the world's first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, in January 1954. Beach also wrote Run Silent, Run Deep (New York: Holt, 1955). Film critic Leonard Maltin points out that the 1958 film version (starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster) is "one of the great WW2 'sub' pictures."
Promoted to Captain, Beach returned to surface sea duty for one year as the skipper of the Salamonie, a fleet oiler in the Mediterranean, and recounts harrowing refueling and the rescue of a man overboard in incredible seas. In January 1958 he began nuclear training for the USS Triton, the Navy's fifth nuclear submarine, and, while submerged during the "shakedown cruise" of this vessel, circumnavigated the world. Beach's book minimizes this event, but readers should refer to his Around the World Submerged: The Voyage of the Triton for the complete story. Beach's account of a memorable meeting with Admiral Karl Donitz during this period is also enlightening.
Retiring from the Navy in 1966, Beach has continued to teach and to write (he has a novel underway currently). Unfortunately, there is little about his later years in the book, but his final chapter, "Ideas for Our Navy's Future Years," affords him the opportunity to express thoughts about changing the rank structure and reducing staff, diminishing personnel turnover, nuclear power, and the influence of the submarine on sea power. The latter essay follows Alfred Thayer Mahan's theses about sea power, and Beach discusses three submarine campaigns: the American Civil War and the "diving boat" Hunley, World War I, and World War II--particularly the victory over Japan. Beach concludes that we must think of sea power in new ways during the modern era of "limited war" and "the influence of the submarine on sea power has been, from the deep of the sea, to give new meanings to 'war,' and to 'peace'" (p. 189).
This is a first-rate autobiography, candid and compelling, informative and insightful, passionate about the Sea Service and, especially, about the past history and future potential of submarines. Only a few books come to mind as exemplary assessments by submariners. One is by Eugene Fluckey, U.S. Navy (Retired) author of Thunder Below!: The USS Barb Revolutionizes Submarine Warfare in World War II (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992) who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The second is by Robert "Yogi" Kaufman, U.S. Navy (Retired) with Steve Kaufman, Silent Chase: Submarines of the U.S. Navy.
One wonders, with all of the credentials that Ned Beach has earned, why he is the only Naval Aide to a President of the United States never selected to the rank of rear admiral. While he has been outspoken for the good of the service, his caustic assessments of other naval officers (often his superiors) and his defense of Admiral Kimmel have mustered strident opposition. Nonetheless, I note that that naval officer and author Alfred Thayer Mahan was also not promoted beyond Captain. Beach is in good company.
. E.g., Gordon Prange's At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (actually written by junior authors Goldstein and Dillon), (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981) and revisionist scholarship, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath by John Toland (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982).
. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995.
. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962.
. Charlottesville, Va.: Thomasson-Grant, 1989.
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Charles C. Kolb. Review of Beach, Edward L., Salt and Steel: Reflections of a Submariner.
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