World War I Synposium Kansas City Part II

John T Kuehn's picture

Part II – WW I Symposium Kansas City

John T. Kuehn

Second Lecture.

Professor James Holmes - —Naval War College, hold J.C. Wylie Chair of Strategy (Wylie is one of the more unsung naval theorists, a veteran of WW II and later admiral who wrote an excellent book on Military Strategy (1967) for “the man on the street” as Mahan put it.) Author of Red Star Over the Pacific (2010)—his award-winning book about the Chinese Navy today in the current geopolitical environment.  Holmes has his doctorate in International Relations and is retired US Navy surface warfare officer.

Refuse to Be a Control Freak:  The Royal Navy's failure at Jutland (and What the U.S. Navy Can Learn from it Today)

Insights for today.  Claimed WWI a forgotten war for most Americans (I concur). Study of WW I has a lot to offer, and has many applications to the maritime sphere.

“My enemy is my friend”—protagonists keep us sharp.  The interactive dynamic, my best self needs a co-pugilist.  Holmes leveraged Competition theory—no enemy means we become the “lazy champ.” Used the Rocky III metaphor (i.e. used popular cultural metaphor, albeit from the popular culture of his and my day…not so much millennials, although who knows, maybe they watch Rocky III on Netflix?)

Such is also the case with martial institutions—armed forces are vulnerable when they lack adversaries.  Takes Correlli Barnet and Andrew Gordon’s tack about Royal Navy after Trafalgar—especially the latter scholar’s seminal work The Rules of the Game (1996).  Started with discussion of Royal Navy (RN).  Covers a lot of ground, but did it cogently and effectively. Showed picture of current Navy Chief of Naval Operations, John Richardson, who had read Rules of the Game and asked Holmes what he thought of the book.

Robert Heinlein—quoted this science fiction guru-- two groups of people control freaks and curmudgeons.  Same is true with officers, most are in former category.  So his arguments center on the officer corps as the keys to understanding service culture in navies.

Thesis--WWI is a better a place to learn lessons—for maritime as well as land warfare--than just about any modern war since Peloponnesian Wars. Cited Mark Twain—history rhymes, echoes…history provides a starting point.  Made, quickly, in passing, the case for the value of the study of military history, by professional officers and security professionals. Makes sense given Holmes’ perch inside Professional Military education (PME) system of the US Department of Defense.

Then referenced to “great power competition” and Globalization and war.  We are in Globalization II,  1914 was end of Globalization I. Norman Angell mentioned, everyone economically interdependent—so there could not be a war. Then there was.

Naval Arms races.  Tirpitz designs a battleship centric navy of very short range for regional dominance.

Winning too big is dangerous.  Trafalgar.  Leyte Gulf.  1991, the Navy and Marines say “we own the high seas”.   The evil twin of victory—that is the lazy champ syndrome.

“The calm lee of victory” (from Gordon) gives a view that this is the natural order of things.  Centralization of authority and gutting of initiative occur in RN after Tafalgar.  Talked about British Admirals in the Grand Fleet, Beatty and Evan-Thomas.   Centralized system fails at Jutland.  It takes leadership to overcome this sort of atrophy. 

Took the insights today—“Long Calm lee of Leyte Gulf.” Obviously he is worried that the US Navy might be the JUTLAND RN of the 21st Century.

Admiral Ernest King in 1941 issues orders re: “excesses of detail  in orders”  urges decentralized execution and mission command. Empowers its skippers.

Showed collision picture of Fitzgerald from 2017  (like a similar British collision in 1890s he had discussed earlier).

Zero defects mentality that exits in today’s navy is getting rid of potential Kings, Nimitzs and Halseys. Are these—navy collisions and scandals-- the sorts of things we should’ve seen coming? “Does it always take a Jutland to emerge from the lee?”

End of presentation

Question: First was  really three…bout signals at Jutland and  Friction.  Holmes responded by outlining  2-fleet design by Jacky Fisher,  British battle cruisers (BC) designed for sea control not the battle line.  German BCs designed with better survivability and damage control.  Aside by Kuehn—US Navy adopts German damage control doctrine after the war, not that of the British.

Second Question.  1904-05, Russo-Japanese war. What were lessons learned.  Holmes discussed Mahan and Sims and fact that this war was closely studied by some navies.

Closed out with a question on convoys and Holmes said to see his article  on convoys and the critical vulnerability represented by merchant tonnage in any major war.