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Information at Sea

Shipboard Command and Control in the U.S. Navy, from Mobile Bay to Okinawa

Timothy S. Wolters

Publication Year: 2013

The brain of a modern warship is its combat information center (CIC). Information about friendly and enemy forces pours into this nerve center, informing command decisions about firing, maneuvering, and coordinating. Timothy S. Wolters has written the first book to investigate the history of the CIC and the many other command and control systems adopted by the U.S. Navy from the Civil War to World War II. What institutional ethos spurred such innovation? Information at Sea tells the fascinating stories of the naval and civilian personnel who developed an array of technologies for managing information at sea, from signal flares and radio to encryption machines and radar. Wolters uses previously untapped archival sources to explore how one of America's most technologically oriented institutions addressed information management before the advent of the digital computer. He argues that the human-machine systems used to coordinate forces were as critical to naval successes in World War II as the ships and commanders more familiar to historians.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology


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pp. 1-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xiv

...This book has been a long yet rewarding journey, in no small part because of the remarkable scholars, teachers, friends, and family who have aided me along the way. In some ways the journey began years ago when my parents shared dinnertime stories about our family’s history. Both of my grandfathers served in the U.S. Navy, one aboard a battleship in the 1930s, the other as a...

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pp. 1-5

...American history is full of famous naval officers, from Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones to Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong. Why, then, investigate comparative nobodies like Edward Very, John Hudgins, Benjamin Miessner, Samuel Robison, Morris Smellow, and Caleb Laning? Even among leading historians, the work of these individuals remains virtually unknown. That anonymity is puzzling. Without their pioneering...

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1 Flags, Flares, and Lights: A World before Wireless

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pp. 6-39

...consider the irony of his situation. Born into a Florida family of moderate affluence, Joseph Fry accepted a midshipman’s warrant in 1841 at the age of fifteen, fought in the Mexican-American War, and participated in Matthew Calbraith Perry’s expedition to Japan. Yet Fry suffered from chronic seasickness, and eventually the Navy Department assigned him to permanent lighthouse duty in New Orleans. Had the Civil War not intervened, there...

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2 Sparks and Arcs: The Navy Adopts Radio

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pp. 40-80

...Jack London, the famous American writer, was in the wrong place at a historic time. Early on the morning of Wednesday, 18 April 1906, a shift in the tectonic plates at the northern edge of the San Andreas Fault created a massive earthquake. The nearest metropolis, San Francisco, was hit hard. London, who lived some forty miles north of the city, quickly made his way...

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3 War and Peace: Coordinating Naval Forces

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pp. 81-127

...ordered his ships to generate steam for full speed and to prepare for action. Over the next two hours, Jellicoe received additional wireless reports from several of his subordinate commanders, many of whom reported that they were engaging the enemy. Until roughly half past four the admiral believed he was facing only a portion of the German High Seas Fleet, as shore-based personnel previously had sent him an intelligence message placing the...

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4 A Most Complex Problem: Demanding Information

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pp. 128-169

...The officer in charge of this task was Captain Joseph M. Reeves. An Illinois native, Reeves had entered the Naval Academy in 1890. In his junior and senior years Reeves played right tackle on the football team, and he may well have invented the football helmet, a piece of equipment worn by him during the army-navy game in 1893...

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5 Creating the Brain of a Warship: Radar and the CIC

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pp. 170-221

...contacted the minesweeper by voice radio to obtain clarification. Outerbridge discovered that his ship had been searching in the wrong direction, so he reversed course and ordered his crew to continue the search. Thinking the minesweeper must have spotted a buoy or some flotsam, Outerbridge returned to his cabin to catch a little more sleep. Soon thereafter dawn arrived, illuminating the verdant...

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pp. 222-226

...While Mahan’s strategic arguments may have been a principal concern of senior military leaders and civilian policy makers, his naval professional arguments were meant for those who went to sea. On the whole, these individuals had little time to worry about the composition of the fleet. They needed to get the job done with the tools they had. This is not to suggest that Mahan’s strategic...


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pp. 227-230


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pp. 231-298

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 299-304

...For the historian, archives can be both a pleasure and a curse. Before each of the many research visits that led to this book, I would eagerly anticipate the chance to mine for hidden gems. Sometimes I would strike pay dirt, finding just the letter, memo, or report I needed to answer one of the vexing questions running through my mind. One such...

Archives and Manuscript Collections

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pp. 305-308


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pp. 309-317

E-ISBN-13: 9781421410845
E-ISBN-10: 1421410842
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421410265
Print-ISBN-10: 1421410265

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 16 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology