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Admiral Dan Gallery: The Life and Wit of a Navy Original, by C. Herbert Gilliland and Robert Shenk, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1999, $36.95.

On June 30, 1815, the U.S. Navy sloop Peacock boarded and captured the British brig Nautilus in the East Indies. Not until 129 years later would American sailors hear the command, “Away boarders,” in the capture of a foreign warship. The man who issued that order in World War II is the subject of Admiral Dan Gallery: The Life and Wit of a Navy Original.

Foreseeing the possibility of such an action, “Fighting Dan” Gallery, then commanding a hunter-killer group from the escort carrier Guadalcanal, had trained his escort destroyer crews in boarding and towing. The opportunity came in the mid-Atlantic on June 3, 1944, when Gallery masterminded the intact capture of the German submarine U-505, now on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Even before that historic occasion, Gallery was no conventional naval officer. A product of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he wrestled–and once punched out a son of the secretary of the Navy–Gallery first served as an engineer in the “black shoe” (surface ship) Navy before going “brown shoe” in the early 1930s, serving at an air base and aboard carriers. During staff assignments, he helped develop the Norden bomb sight, conceived of guided missiles in 1939 and became the Navy’s first chief for guided missiles after World War II. An innovative thinker, he even pioneered the concept of an in-helmet radio receiver with which football quarterbacks could take orders from their coaches.

Aside from his distinguished career, capped by the capture of U-505, Dan Gallery will be remembered for his writings. The strength of this biography, written by two Annapolis English professors, is its liberal inclusion of excerpts from his letters, essays, short stories and novels. His fictional works were comic sea stories, while his polemics dealt with more serious subjects. During the “Revolt of the Admirals” in 1949-50, arising from the dispute over the strategic roles of the Navy and the Air Force, Gallery wrote articles for magazines, such as “Don’t Let Them Cripple the Navy” in The Saturday Evening Post and “If This Be Treason” in Colliers. His attack on the over-reliance on nuclear warfare predicted future strategic thinking. His outspokenness brought him close to being court-martialed, but he survived to serve 10 more years, though he never made vice admiral. The authors show that Gallery made many mistakes in his career, but he always owned up to them. One wonders if in today’s Navy, with its zero-defect fitness reports, a Dan Gallery would have made it past lieutenant.

Roderick S. Speer