How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
IN World War II sea power reached the culmination of its influence on history. The greatest of air wars and the one which saw the most titanic battles of all time on land was also the greatest of naval wars -- not alone in the magnitude of naval operations but also in the degree to which those operations contributed to final victory. It could hardly have been otherwise in a war which was truly global, in which the pooling of resources of the great Allies depended upon their ability to traverse the sea, and in which American men and materials, including aircraft, hammered and defeated the enemy in remote theaters which could be adequately serviced only by sea. Yet this unparalleled accomplishment of Allied sea power occurred in a war during which the very existence of navies was threatened.
Although the land-based airplane was the original cause of the threat, the nature of the crisis which Allied sea power met and overcame cannot be adequately described merely in terms of ship versus aircraft. The menace of the enemy airplane was intensified by the insufficiency of cargo vessels and warships. That shortage was in large part responsible also for the successes of the German U-boat arm; and that in turn also affected the issue between planes and ships. Besides, the utility of sea power must be interpreted in terms not of the ability of the warship to defend itself, but rather of the ability of navies to carry out their traditional functions. The two are of course related, but it is important to remember that the effects of enemy aircraft on our naval strategy is by no means summed up in a tabulation of ships damaged or destroyed by them. One way to preserve ships is to minimize their exposure to danger. Such a procedure may be necessary to preserve the nucleus of a fleet, but as a general rule warships cease to be worth preserving to the extent that preoccupation with their preservation results in the abandonment of their functions. Thus, the most fruitful way of discussing tactical and strategic changes, especially as they influenced our conduct of the Pacific war, is to describe the steps by which our Navy was gradually enabled to dominate the maritime struggle.
The function of sea power has traditionally been to achieve and maintain "command of the sea." This time-honored and somewhat cryptic phrase connotes simply the ability to use the sea and to deny its use to the enemy. The test of "command" is the exclusion of enemy shipping from an area in which one's own shipping continues to operate. The uses of command are many, ranging from those which are offensive in nature (e.g. invasion of an enemy coast, or economic blockade) to those which are purely defensive (e.g. the defense of one's coasts against overseas invasion, or protection of shipping). But where it exists at all, command is always basically the same in character.
Prior to the recent war, it had become axiomatic that the first step in acquiring command in a disputed maritime area was to maintain a force there capable of dealing with the largest single force which the enemy could bring to bear. If the area in question was the key area of the war (e.g. the North Sea and its approaches in World War I), the force retained for the purpose of commanding it was generally the major part or perhaps the whole of the "battle fleet." This idea of concentrating the major ships into a unified battle fleet which was able to assert and maintain dominance had been developed at least as early as the Anglo-Dutch wars of the seventeenth century. It was then found that the dispersed operations of cruisers engaged in convoying shipping or throttling the commerce of the enemy could be carried on securely only behind the cover of such a concentrated force. This idea, which was basic to the whole principle of "command of the sea," was rejected as outmoded by both sides in the first year of the Pacific war. The airplane was one reason for that rejection -- possibly the basic one -- but it was clearly not the only one.
The strategic problems of the Pacific war were in many respects without precedent in naval history. Never before had a war been fought by two great naval powers whose main sources of strength were on opposite sides of a wide ocean -- in this case far the widest ocean in the world.[i] There was thus no one area which if dominated would automatically give control of the whole. In the Atlantic, at least so far as enemy surface ships were concerned, it was enough to control the two exits of the North Sea, the waters off the coast of France, and the Strait of Gibraltar. In the Pacific there were numerous, widely-dispersed archipelagoes to be fought over. And for at least the first year of the war neither side had the resources to assert supremacy in all the areas which might at any moment become critical.
Thus both sides divided their fleets into separate formations or "task forces," each of which was considered an independent tactical unit. The task force system provided a means of covering widely separated areas simultaneously and of rotating units of strength in those areas which were especially important but where it was impossible to maintain a fleet continuously. And at a time when enemy land-based air attack was a threat of profoundly disturbing proportions, the task force system offered a means of accomplishing desired objectives without exposing to such attack any more ships than were absolutely necessary for the execution of the mission.
The task-force principle was by no means wholly new. In World War I, as in all great naval wars, squadrons of varying size and composition were frequently detached from the fleets of both sides for independent and sometimes distant missions. What was new was a situation which could enable a senior naval officer testifying before a Congressional committee as late as the summer of 1943 to declare: "The fleet as such has ceased to exist!" By that he meant simply that the whole body of the fleet had been dissolved into the many task forces which carried out its purpose. No such thing had occurred in the First World War, when the British task forces operating far afield had reduced only temporarily and by slender margins the capital ship strength concentrated in the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow and Rosyth.
The Guadalcanal campaign, which Admiral Ernest J. King has characterized as the crucial naval campaign of the war, illustrates both the operation of the task-force principle and its limitations. The convoy which made the initial American landing on August 7, 1942, was covered by a very sizeable force, considering the strength then available to us. It included all the aircraft carriers (three), most of the heavy cruisers, and one of the only two modern battleships then available to us in the Pacific. But even before the debarkation was completed, the carrier group and the one battleship were withdrawn for their own security, out of fear of Japanese land-based air attack. On the same night (August 8) a Japanese surface force which had come down from the north destroyed one Australian and three American heavy cruisers and severely damaged a fifth heavy cruiser and two destroyers. In the severity of the blow, this loss was second only to Pearl Harbor.
The disastrous battle of Savo Island was followed by a series of engagements both in the immediate vicinity of Guadalcanal and in the general area to the east. There were the aircraft carrier engagements of the Eastern Solomons (August 23-25) and the Santa Cruz Islands (October 26), in the latter of which the Hornet was sunk, leaving the damaged Enterprise the only Allied aircraft carrier in the Pacific. (The Wasp had been sunk by a submarine in the previous month.) On October 11 occurred the Battle of Cape Esperance, the first of three night surface fights in which, on the whole, we gave a good deal better than we took. On the night of November 12-13 a cruiser force under Admiral Callaghan grappled with a much superior Japanese force including at least one battleship. This battleship, the Hiei, was disabled and on the following day was dispatched by our land-based aircraft; two enemy cruisers and four destroyers were also sunk. But the cost to us was two of our five cruisers and four destroyers sunk and the other three cruisers plus three destroyers heavily damaged. Of our entire task force only the destroyer Fletcher was undamaged.
Two nights later another action took place in which two of our newest battleships, the South Dakota and the Washington, participated. In this action we sank another Japanese battleship, the Kirisima, which capsized after five-and-a-half minutes of fire from the Washington's 16-inch guns. Two enemy cruisers and two destroyers were also sunk, and six other ships, including a second battleship, were damaged. The cost to us this time was relatively moderate -- three destroyers sunk, one battleship, the South Dakota, damaged, and one destroyer damaged. The Kirisima, incidentally, was the last Japanese battleship definitely destroyed by us until the Battle for Leyte Gulf almost two years later.[ii]
Meanwhile, activity of our land-based aircraft was almost continuous and exercised an enormous direct and indirect influence on the campaign. Our possession of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal enabled our land-based planes not only to carry out attacks of their own but also to provide reconnaissance for our surface units. They could scout far to the north of the island, over waters which the Japanese had to traverse in approaching Guadalcanal, while the Japanese were denied similar reconnaissance in the direction of our own approaches. We were thus able to bring our ships to the spot when needed, and in any meeting which occurred the advantage of surprise was likely to be on our side. In that way our surface forces were enabled to exercise a continuity of influence out of all proportion to the time they actually spent in the disputed waters.
Nevertheless, real naval command was never established by either side. None of the naval actions was in itself decisive. Both sides continued to send more men and supplies into the island, though it became increasingly difficult and costly for the Japanese to do so. Even after the mid-November battles the Japanese continued to come. On November 30 occurred the Battle of Tassafaronga, a near-disaster for us. In that battle we lost the heavy cruiser Northampton, the fifth United Nations heavy cruiser lost in the area, and suffered extremely severe damage to two other heavy cruisers. A week later, on December 7, 1942, six Japanese destroyers escorting a large transport were met by nothing greater than a handful of motor torpedo boats, which, however, proved sufficient to rout the enemy with the loss of one destroyer.
We won the campaign at sea, and thereby made possible victory ashore, only by our superior fighting and staying power in a simple contest of attrition. It was a contest which because of our qualitative superiority (especially in the use of radar) and our immeasurably greater naval building program we were better able to afford than the enemy. The Japanese had lost more heavily than we, and those losses had been imposed upon them while they were still bleeding from their costly rebuff at Midway. They could not go on expending major ships for the defense of one remote island. We had amply proved our determination and ability to continue the contest indefinitely, if need be, and they acknowledged defeat. But the cost to us had not been light. Had we been able to begin the campaign with all the forces which we dispatched to the area before it ended (besides ships lost and damaged, we had gathered in the southwest Pacific in February 1943 seven battleships -- of which three were new -- five aircraft carriers, 12 cruisers, and numerous destroyers) we should undoubtedly have been able to win our victory more speedily and at lesser cost.
Thus, our experience was not such as to encourage a continuation of the "task force" strategy. The system had shown a weakness which could have been predicted. Any force can as a rule be beaten by a larger force, and in penetrating enemy waters with a small portion of one's total strength one is inviting the enemy to interpose just such a superior force. The only conclusion to this chain of matching big by bigger is a showdown match of maximum strength, in which one side stands ready at all times to intervene in the active theater with a force larger than the largest available to the enemy. Such a force, wherever it can be maintained, gives true command of the sea, and the achievement of command has always been visualized as the first aim of the naval offensive.
But before such a thing could be done, the United States Navy had not only to gain decisive superiority over the enemy fleet but also to acquire more reliable defenses against enemy land-based aircraft. The land-based airplane offers the side which can use it against an opposing fleet a chance to inflict heavy damage without exposing its own fleet units to danger. Throughout the Guadalcanal campaign, and in fact through most of the fighting which followed in the Solomons, our warships were usually careful not to approach hostile shores in daylight. Waters over which the enemy was able to put even a few aircraft were approached stealthily in darkness, and the area was usually quit in time to put a good safe distance behind the retreating ships before dawn. The utility of a warship which could operate effectively against the enemy only at night was not such as to inspire confidence in its ability to command vast seas.
Following the Guadalcanal campaign, the Japanese showed more discretion. Though we continued in 1943 to advance up the ladder of the Solomons, and also took Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians, the enemy gave us little opportunity to sink or damage any of his important ships. By the end of 1943, the Japanese had clearly withdrawn the bulk of their fleet to home waters, where it was obviously being held in reserve for some decisive opportunity, such as was not to come until the following year. The enemy meanwhile attempted to stay our progress as best he could with aircraft, submarines and occasional light surface forces -- besides, of course, his land garrisons, which had been isolated and hence were considered expendable.
This change in policy produced a certain amount of mystification in this country. One product of the confusion was a set of extravagant theories purporting to explain Japanese "unwillingness to fight" on the basis of peculiar Oriental processes of thought which affected their naval strategy. The fact was simply that the Japanese had suffered losses which they were unable to replace, while at the same time our own Navy was undergoing an extraordinary expansion of strength. The Japanese no longer chose to fight because they knew they had become grossly inferior. The vast construction and production programs in the United States were making ships, planes and weapons available in unprecedented volume. Meanwhile, in the spring and summer of 1943, the Battle of the Atlantic had swung decisively in our favor, and later in the year the net increase of merchant ship bottoms -- just as necessary as warships and planes for any real offensive -- began to exceed a million gross tons monthly.
The present article does not offer opportunity for extensive discussion of the tactics which finally defeated the U-boat. It should, however, be stated that the problem was not essentially different from that which faced the Allies during the First World War, and it was in fact met by basically similar measures. Though various novel, ingenious and highly effective devices were adopted, no one of them was predominantly responsible for success. The improvements in supersonic detention devices and in depth charges (including the "hedgehog") and the use of radar did little more than offset comparable improvements in submarine and torpedo performance. The airplane, which played a very large rôle in the U-boat hunt, had been so used also in 1917-18, though of course to a substantially lesser degree. In the later stages of the war, the Schnorkel, an air-pipe system which permitted U-boats to charge their batteries while submerged, considerably reduced the effectiveness of patrolling aircraft. What defeated the submarine was the provision of enough patrol and escort craft, both surface and air, to make the life of the submarine unpleasant and short. It was a perfectly predictable accomplishment. The antisubmarine craft had to be properly equipped, but devising and manufacturing the equipment was a small problem compared to that of getting the ships and planes to carry it.
In our descent upon the Gilbert Islands in November 1943, we demonstrated that a revolution had taken place in our naval strategy. For the first time in the Pacific war, we began an operation with a task force which was really an entire battle fleet, one capable of engaging and defeating the whole Japanese fleet. Moreover, the fleet remained off the shores of Tarawa and Makin, day and night, until the conquest of those islands was accomplished. But in contrast to the six-months' fight for Guadalcanal, this required only a few days. Such was to be the pattern of all our invasions thenceforth, from the Marshalls to Okinawa. Our Navy continued to speak of "task forces" spearheading our advance, but in any essential advance into enemy seas the force covering the operation was likely to be a fleet of immense proportions; and it grew steadily larger as the war continued. Toward the latter part of the war, the famed Task Force 58 became an aggregation of vessels which in cruising formation spread over an area 55 miles long and nine miles wide. The principle of achieving and retaining decided command around any land area we invaded definitely replaced the attrition tactics which had been so costly and so slow in winning results at Guadalcanal.
Three closely related factors were responsible for this revolution. First and most obvious was the great accretion in our ship and plane strength; second was a change in our naval thinking, marked by the evolution of a conception which combined wholly novel methods of execution with a return to the classic principles which Mahan had so brilliantly elucidated and popularized two generations earlier; and third was a tactical revolution in our aerial offense and defense comparable to the strategic revolution inherent in the return to the use of the whole fleet.
Until the series of operations which began with Tarawa, the aircraft carrier had been used in small numbers. It was viewed merely as a vessel which redeemed the airplane from the handicap of limited range, and was used as a means of making planes available to surface ships, mainly as a protection for them, whenever those ships were beyond easy reach of their own land-based aircraft. But the offensive successes of a few American carriers in February and March of 1942 at the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, Rabaul, Wake, Marcus, Lae and Salamaua awakened our naval command to the real offensive potentialities of the carrier. The result was an expanded and accelerated production program which had begun to bear fruit toward the end of 1943.
And once we began to use carriers in large groups, it became apparent that our Navy had incorporated within itself the only truly mobile air force of any size in the world. It was an air force in which not only the aircraft themselves but also their floating bases were capable of rapid movement. It was a force which therefore enjoyed all the peculiar advantages of mobility, such as ability to concentrate and to achieve surprise. On the other hand, the enemy's ability to combine or coördinate his separate groups of land-based aircraft depended on forewarning and was determined by the fixed distances between his stationary airfields.
Moreover, our naval fighter planes operating from our carriers proved tactically superior to the best land-based planes which the Japanese were able to send against them. This advantage no doubt surprised many who had assumed that carrier planes, because of special limitations of design, must inevitably be inferior to land-based planes. But it is always a question of whose planes one is talking about. Even our Navy Hellcats and Corsairs could not have quite the margin of superiority in flying performance over the best Japanese fighters that our Mustangs and Thunderbolts were to enjoy, but they had margin enough, and they had a comparable advantage in fire power and armor.
The popular doctrine that carrier-borne air forces should not be opposed to land-based air forces had rested also on the idea that though the base of the floating air force could be sunk, a land base could at most be dealt an injury that was easily repaired. This disability was largely overcome by the very fact of concentration, which gave our roving fleets air forces large enough to keep dangerous concentrations of enemy planes away from our ships. Although we had lost the Lexington, the Yorktown and the Hornet to enemy air attack in a period of six months during 1942, we were not to lose another carrier to such attack for two years. During that time the fleet became constantly more audacious in its attacks. The immunity was not, however, solely a matter of increased air power. A good part of it rested upon the magnificent antiaircraft artillery which had been incorporated in the United States fleet.
The antiaircraft shield of our fleet, built from scratch within little more than two years, comprised one of the outstanding technical miracles of the war. A great many more enemy aircraft were downed by our carrier-based aircraft than by our antiaircraft guns; but the public, which was aware of this, overlooked the fact that those downed by our ships' guns were disproportionately important, since they were the planes which had succeeded in penetrating our fighter screen and arriving at the spot where they were most dangerous. If one compares the carrier-based aircraft to the field players in a soccer team, the antiaircraft defenses of our ships would be comparable to the goal keeper.
Some of the secrets of our antiaircraft weapons have only recently been revealed to the public. Most arresting among them is the "influence" or "variable time" fuse for our 5-inch projectiles. This fuse, operating on radar, causes the shell to be set off by the proximity of the enemy plane, thus eliminating the difficult problem of setting time fuses for swiftly moving targets. In fact, as its sponsor, Rear Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, once put it: "With the influence fuse the enemy pilot computes your setting for you, and does a damned accurate job of it." It has been estimated that the fuse increased the effectiveness of our 5-inch guns at least five times; our modern battleships carried 20 such guns.
Along with the 5-inch guns and their miracle projectiles were developed giant machine guns of 40 mm. caliber, firing 2-pound explosive projectiles at the rate of 140 per minute for each barrel. The newer battleships carried 20 quadruple mounts of those guns, or 80 barrels, and the larger aircraft carriers had almost as many. Considerably less powerful, but nevertheless deadly, were our 20 mm. machine guns, which fired quarter-pound explosive projectiles at the cyclic rate of 460 per minute. The number of such guns on modern battleships or large aircraft carriers ranged from 40 to more than 60. And all these guns were controlled by automatic lead-computing sights or directors, some of the latter fitted with fire-control radar. Enemy planes could be shot down at blackest midnight as soon as they came within range of the guns: they would be seen by the ships' gunners only through the explosive flash which marked their destruction. The Japanese probably never fully realized how enormously our antiaircraft power was in advance of theirs. And even our destroyers, which of course carried fewer of each type of gun than the larger ships, nevertheless had enough of the three types mentioned to be potent antiaircraft ships.
The most striking single result of this great growth in aerial defensive as well as offensive strength was that our Navy had all its old freedom of movement restored to it. Since by the end of 1943 the Navy also enjoyed a decisive surface superiority over the Japanese fleet, its new confidence against air attack enabled it to rove about in enemy waters with all the insouciance which superior fleets had been wont to display in days long past. And it exhibited a freedom of action among enemy-held archipelagoes which many had predicted would never again characterize the movements of ships.
Two months after we had taken the key points in the Gilberts a still larger American force assaulted and took Kwajalein and other atolls in the Marshalls and proceeded at once to destructive raids of Truk in the Carolines and of Saipan and other points in the Marianas. The Kwajalein attack featured another tactical revolution in the Pacific war in that it was begun with far the greatest preparatory bombardment from the sea which had ever taken place. No fewer than 13 battleships were included among the warships which turned their guns upon the soil of that one small atoll. These events of early 1944 were followed at the end of March by a still more conclusive demonstration of our new naval strength -- the attack upon the Palau Islands, more than 4,000 sea miles west of Pearl Harbor. In that expedition the American Fleet had to proceed up and down the whole length of the enemy-held Carolines and against one of the strongest enemy bases in the western Pacific. The few Japanese aircraft which it met were easily repulsed. For the enemy to have attempted surface resistance with anything less than his whole strength would have been wholly useless; and the Japanese shrewdly refrained from committing their fleet.
A remarkable characteristic of these audacious moves was the almost total absence of loss or even damage to our surface units. The escort carrier Liscome Bay, torpedoed by an enemy submarine off Makin in November 1943, was the only medium or large combat ship lost in operations which included the taking of all the Gilberts, all the Admiralties and St. Matthias group, most of the Marshalls, landings among the Bismarck Archipelago and Dutch New Guinea and destructive attacks against bases in the Carolines, the Marianas, the Palaus, and against Rabaul and Kavieng. Even the taking of Guam and Saipan in the Marianas, which in June 1944 provoked the Japanese to their first major fleet action after the battles off Guadalcanal and which resulted in a crippling blow to them, involved no heavier cost to our fleet than light to moderate damage to three major warships. Such was the reward of operating concentrated fleets enjoying definitely superior surface and air strength. Following the loss of the heavy cruiser Chicago off Rennell Island on January 30, 1943, no American warship larger than a destroyer was to be lost to enemy air attack anywhere until the sinking on October 24, 1944, 23 months later, of the Princeton in the battle for Leyte Gulf.
The sinking of the Princeton marked, however, the termination of this happy state of affairs. For while the Princeton herself was not the victim of a suicide plane, the day following her loss saw the appearance in force for the first time of the Kamikaze. Up to then suicide attacks had been sporadic and in almost every case the consequence of a desperate bid by a doomed plane to redeem the failure of an orthodox attack. The Kamikaze, on the contrary, were systematically organized groups which began their missions with the deliberate intention of crashing their planes upon the decks and superstructure of our ships. In their first appearance this gruesome corps achieved the sinking of one escort carrier and one destroyer.
The losses to the Kamikaze off Leyte were not too menacing in themselves, but the significance of the new threat was not lost upon our fleet commanders. It requires neither a good plane nor a particularly skillful pilot to crash a plane on a ship. Antiaircraft fire which merely disables the plane is of no value in fending off suicide attacks unless the pilot is killed a sufficient distance from the ship, or the damage to the plane is of such character as to prevent it from being steered. Most depressing of all was the realization that there could be no new and specific way of dealing with Kamikaze. Fighter plane screens and antiaircraft defenses were the only thing that could be used, and they were already being used to the hilt. Carrier groups could be altered to incorporate a larger proportion of fighter planes, but it was not possible in a short time to alter substantially the character of the antiaircraft defenses, even if such alteration were physically possible.
Events over a ten-day period in Lingayen Gulf, while ships of the Seventh Fleet were engaged in covering the landings on Luzon, seemed to confirm our fears. Heavily armored ships were, to be sure, relatively immune to important structural damage from this type of attack, though injury to the men and implements swarming over the decks and superstructure could nevertheless be serious. But aircraft carriers, with their unarmored flight decks and scores of stationary planes filled with gasoline, provided an ideal target; and smaller ships like destroyers were also dangerously vulnerable. The Navy became seriously alarmed at the extent of damage, and for a time insisted upon the utmost secrecy concerning the successes of the Kamikaze.
Finally came the Okinawa campaign, when over a two-months' period some 30 American warships were sunk and 223 damaged. The ships sunk included none larger than destroyers, but 12 of that type were lost. Sixty-seven other destroyers were damaged, as were ten battleships, eight large carriers, two light carriers, and three escort carriers. The casualties in men -- 4,907 killed and missing, 4,824 wounded -- comprised about one-seventh of the Navy's total for the entire war. About 80 percent of this total of loss and damage resulted from hits by Japanese suicide planes.
Yet the net result of this battle was a defeat for the Kamikaze. Heavy as was the damage inflicted upon our fleet, it did not begin to compensate for the more than 4,000 Japanese planes destroyed during the assault. None of our major ships was sunk, and there was no question as to which side could better absorb the blows inflicted upon it. The Kamikaze assault at Okinawa was the last great challenge to our fleet by the Japanese. Their recognition of its failure no doubt helped to make certain their surrender within a very few months.
Okinawa was, however, a salutary reminder to our fleet that tactical problems are never solved conclusively. Although the defenses of the American fleet against enemy air attacks were on the whole remarkably successful during the war just ended, that fact argues nothing for a possible future war, in which the enemy may enjoy far greater resources and technical aptitude than the Japanese.
Present technical trends indicate that the defense of ships against air attack will become increasingly difficult. Aircraft speeds are already close to the barrier of "compressibility" represented by the speed of sound, and according to some reports have actually burst through that barrier. Rocket-accelerated, radio-controlled, glider bombs (not to be confused with V-1) used against Allied ships by German planes, which managed thereby to attack from outside the range of our smaller antiaircraft guns, will certainly develop in efficiency and reliability. It would be an open question whether antiaircraft defenses could keep pace with such developments even if we were assured that progress on those defenses would be pursued with all possible vigor. Do we have that assurance?
The United States Navy proved during World War II that it had the resiliency to overcome a menace of scarcely imagined magnitude. The few who, like "Billy" Mitchell, had been able to comprehend it had drawn conclusions which were proved erroneous. But the Navy's achievement cannot discount the fact that on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack our warships, big and little, were virtually naked in respect to antiaircraft defenses. The achievement lay mostly in redeeming past errors of omission. And while those omissions may have been due in part to lack of funds, ultimate responsibility must nevertheless be found within the Navy itself.
Strategic and tactical doctrines which have been conclusively validated in the war just ended must nevertheless be reviewed constantly to see if they remain valid. The public can and must assist in this process. One way to do so is to examine critically any effort of the military to freeze armaments at high quantitative levels. For there is nothing more deadening to technical progress in a navy than to keep in active or reserve commission a number of ships far exceeding any possible current needs. The writer is not here concerned with how much money and manpower is expended but rather with how efficiently money and manpower are utilized.
In that respect the atomic bomb merely accentuates the necessity for flexibility in tactical conceptions, a necessity already sufficiently underscored by progress in other weapons. But it does a great deal more. The atomic bomb introduces the possibility that in another general war the utility of navies will be decided ashore rather than at sea. A nation which has had its entire economy destroyed may be able to put a fleet to scant use.
The experiments with the atomic bomb now being planned by our Navy will therefore have little relevance to the basic issue. The traditional concepts of military security which this country has developed over the past fifty years -- in which the Navy was correctly avowed to be our "first line of defense" -- must be reconsidered. And the Navy's indubitably superb accomplishment in the greatest of all naval wars will not facilitate its taking the lead in revaluing its own place in the national security.
[i] The War of 1812 and the Spanish-American War of 1898 will at once come to mind as possible exceptions to this statement. But in the War of 1812 the United States Navy comprised scarcely more than a few frigates. These engaged in a commerce-raiding campaign which was spectacular but which hardly influenced the decision. The dominant British Navy exercised a close blockade of our coasts from bases in Canada and the West Indies. The Spanish-American War was likewise a localized war, and was fought by navies which were clearly not of the first rank.
[ii] The battleship Mutu blew up in the South China Sea during the summer of 1943. Her destruction may have been at the hands of an American submarine which was herself lost before reporting the achievement, or it may have been the result of an internal explosion.