Trac­ing the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship be­tween Amer­i­can and Bri­tish navies

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Thomas W. Schaaf Sr. Thomas W. Schaaf Sr. is a re­tired Naval avi­a­tor liv­ing in Fair­fax.


In “A Tale of Two Navies,” we have a re­fresh­ing new look at the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship of Bri­tain and Amer­ica writ­ten by an English­man. An­thony Wells, born in Coven­try, a grad­u­ate of the Royal Naval Col­lege who served in the Royal Navy and then em­i­grated to Amer­ica, be­came a cit­i­zen and worked for U.S. in­tel­li­gence and the U.S. Navy.

In a brief in­tro­duc­tion Mr. Wells writes that the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy have a unique re­la­tion­ship within a “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” forged dur­ing World War II by Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt and Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill. On Page 2 there is a pho­to­graph taken on board HMS Prince of Wales in Pla­cen­tia Bay, New­found­land, dur­ing a church ser­vice with Roo­sevelt and Churchill and hun­dreds of sailors on the main deck in the shadow of three of her huge guns on Aug. 10, 1941. It is a fate­ful mo­ment of the At­lantic Char­ter Con­fer­ence. Five months later the bat­tle­ship Prince of Wales and bat­tle cruiser Repulse would be lost in the Far East af­ter a lengthy high speed run from the At­lantic — both sunk on Dec. 10, 1941 by land-based Ja­panese bombers staged out of In­dochina.

In the words of Mr. Wells re­gard­ing this spe­cial re­la­tion­ship, “At its heart lay spe­cial in­tel­li­gence shar­ing at the most sen­si­tive lev­els, much of it fo­cused on naval mat­ters. Par­al­lel to and cou­pled with in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties ran a con­tin­u­ous thread of mar­itime strate­gic plan­ning that bonded the two navies through­out World War II. This golden thread that con­trib­uted so sig­nif­i­cantly to ul­ti­mate vic­tory in 1945 con­tin­ued in the post­war pe­riod. By 1960, when this story of ‘the two Navies’ be­gins, the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship of the U.S. and Royal Navies had be­come en­twined.”

Dur­ing the 55 years from 1960 through 2015, Mr. Wells ex­am­ines events cen­tral to the naval his­tory of both the United States and the United King­dom and the re­sponse of each navy to the Soviet Union through­out the Cold War.

Fol­low­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis in 1962, which showed how a pres­i­dent who had served in the Navy dur­ing World War II could use naval power to avert in­vad­ing Cuba and was able to off­set the fright­en­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of Gen. Cur­tis LeMay and oth­ers who wanted a nu­clear re­sponse to the Sovi­ets. Then in De­cem­ber 1962, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy and Prime Min­is­ter Harold Macmil­lan met in Ber­muda and agreed to share nu­clear sub­ma­rine and strate­gic nu­clear bal­lis­tic mis­sile tech­nol­ogy.

This agree­ment pro­vided the United King­dom with the Po­laris bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity, us­ing Bri­tish war­heads and giv­ing the U.S. Navy a long-term lease for a sub­ma­rine base at Holy Loch in Scot­land. Ear­lier, the Bri­tish had been work­ing on a way to mod­ify World War II straight deck air­craft car­ri­ers for safer and more ef­fi­cient jet op­er­a­tions by an­gling the land­ing area and us­ing steam to power the cat­a­pults. Draw­ing on th­ese Bri­tish in­no­va­tions we com­mis­sioned our first su­per car­rier, USS For­re­stal, with an an­gled land­ing deck and steam cat­a­pults in 1955. Mean­while the Navy lost no time in mod­i­fy­ing a num­ber of World War II Es­sex class car­ri­ers and the three post war Mid­way class air­craft car­ri­ers.

Mr. Wells in his “Tale of Two Navies” takes us through the Cold War, stress­ing the im­por­tance of the mar­itime forces in main­tain­ing our sea-based de­ter­rent and sup­port­ing our ex­pe­di­tionary forces. His chap­ter on the Falklands Cam­paign of 1982, “A Real Shoot­ing War at Sea,” is fast-mov­ing with some ex­cel­lent pho­to­graphs. Chap­ter Four, “The Soviet Navy Chal­lenges the U.S. Sixth Fleet and the Royal Navy,” is the most thought-pro­vok­ing chap­ter (and the long­est). It in­cludes the Six Day War and an in-depth anal­y­sis of the in­tel­li­gence net­works that re­vealed how close we came to con­flict with the Soviet air­borne army in Syria.

At the con­clu­sion of the book, Mr. Wells pro­vides four pages of source notes, which are sin­gle para­graph sum­maries of each of the 12 chap­ters. Th­ese are very help­ful in keep­ing a fo­cus on fu­ture U.S. Navy and Royal Navy strate­gic is­sues.

There is no bet­ter ex­am­ple of the unique Bri­tish abil­ity to re­solve seem­ingly in­tractable prob­lems than the de­vel­op­ment of the air­craft ejec­tion seat, which Sir James Martin un­der­took in 1942 when his busi­ness part­ner, Capt. Valen­tine Baker, was killed on a forced land­ing be­cause there was in­suf­fi­cient alti­tude to “bail out.” Al­though it took seven years, James Martin built an ejec­tion seat that saved an air­man in 1949. Since then (up to Fe­bru­ary 2017) 7,514 air crew lives have been saved by Mart­inBaker ejec­tion seats. And that in­cludes this re­viewer, who walked away from an ejec­tion on take­off from An­drews Air Force Base in 1967.

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