Book Review: The Unsinkable Navy: The Politics of U.S. Navy Expansion in World War II (Joel R. Davidson) : WW2

8/12/2001 • Franklin Roosevelt, World War II Reviews

The Unsinkable Navy: The Politics of U.S. Navy Expansion in World War II, by Joel R. Davidson, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1996, $28.95.

At the end of the day on December 7, 1941, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was in ruins. Yet three years later, in the midst of a two-ocean war, the United States had the largest fleet the world had ever seen. While the atomic bomb gets a lot of credit for ending World War II, the fact is that the war had already been largely won in the Pacific from the decks of Navy ships by the time the bomb made its debut. The Unsinkable Navy tells the story of how this remarkable feat was accomplished, from the viewpoint of the senior Navy leadership.

The chief protagonist throughout the book is Admiral Ernest J. King, commander in chief of the U.S. fleet, who also was appointed chief of naval operations in March 1942. In that dual role, King was in charge of naval operations worldwide and also responsible for fleet preparation and logistics. As such, he was ideally positioned to oversee the planning for fleet expansion and the construction of additional shipbuilding facilities. The record put together by Davidson shows how Admiral King took full advantage of his position to make the U.S. Navy pre-eminent throughout the world.

King had a number of advantages on his side during his bureaucratic struggles with the Army and the Army Air Forces over the allocation of raw materials, productive capacity and manpower. He fiercely maintained that only the Navy (i.e., King and his staff) could determine how many and what kinds of ships it needed. He never failed to remind everybody that the Army and Army Air Forces needed the Navy to take them into battle. King was close to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (himself a former assistant secretary of the Navy), and he cultivated powerful political friends in Congress. Against that combination, the Army and Army Air Forces were required to adjust their plans both in terms of materiel production and the manpower to fill their ranks.

John I. Witmer