Published: 3 August 00
Air & Space Power Journal

Revolt of the Admirals, the Fight for Naval Aviation by Jeffrey G. Barlow (1945-1950). Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, Washington DC. 420 pages, 1994.

We take for granted the level of cooperation and joint military operations between the Army, Navy and Air Force. Today its is common for naval personnel to be seen operating and training with Army and Air Force units and vice-versa. However, the years after World War Two would be a tumultuous time for the three services and the halls of the Pentagon was thick with animosity and antagonism. Jeffrey Barlow, a military historian brings to life the events, people and technology that would usher the armed forces into its current day organization. It discusses how legendary names from the three services coped with changes in military technology, Congressional appropriations and the search for a place in the nation’s security strategy. The years after World War Two would give rise to the Defense Department, the Air Force as a separate service and the creation of a Joint Chief’s of Staff. But the main focus of this book is the struggle over the super bomber or the super carrier. Upon the atomic explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, men like Chief of Naval Operations Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral Arliegh Burke and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Louis Denfield would have to reshape their ideas of warfare and the role the Navy would play in the atomic age. If that were not enough the Cold War began to loom large over the horizon. It was against this backdrop that Air Force pioneers like General Hap Arnold, Curtis Le May and Hoyt Vandenburg would challenge the Navy and Army for possession and supremacy over the new atomic weapon. The Air Force would lead an assault on Congress arguing that inter-continental bombers capable of dropping atomic payload and devastating industrial centers would decide future wars. Naval leaders countered by saying that complete nuclear annihilation may win the war but what would be left would be a desperate people and pockets of resistance hardened by nuclear holocaust who would fiercely oppose conventional forces.

Fleet Admiral Nimitz in his retirement speech would sum up his feelings towards investing heavily on one type of delivery system or force saying, "Offensively it is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy…if we are to project our power against vital areas of an enemy across the oceans, before beach-heads on enemy territory are captured, it must be by sea-air power." The author is critical of the Navy’s public affairs campaign that were no match for an Air Force bent on acquiring the lion-share of Congressional dollars for its advanced bombers. So effective was the Air Force that they were able to cancel the contract for the building of the USS United States whose keel had already been laid and congressional funds already appropriated. This would lead to the resignation of Navy Secretary John Sullivan. Chapters are devoted on the intense hearings on Capitol Hill, which captured the headlines of the day. It was here that the public was made aware of the animosity between Air Force and Navy strategies. Honest views on national security given by the CNO Louis Denfield would lead to his firing by Defense Secretary Francis Mathews who was angered at the public opposition to his plans for a stronger Air Force and the accusations of shady dealings on bomber contracts. The press would dub these congressional hearings the Revolt of the Admirals. However, it was these Admiral’s clear determination and their sticking by their convictions that made the case for carrier aviation and that the Air Force bomber was not the magic weapon in the nation’s defensive capability. Their premonitions on limited war and low intensity conflict would come true in 1950 with the Korean conflict. Revolt of the Admirals is an insightful and scholarly book that should be of interest students of National Security Decision Making as well as Air Force and Navy history.

LT Youssef H. Aboul-Enein
Medical Service Corps
United States Navy


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

Book Reviews | Home Page | Feedback? Email the Editor