The Journal of Military History 68.1 (2004) 274-275
All the Factors of Victory: Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier Airpower. By Thomas Wildenberg. Dulles, Va.: Brassey's, 2003. ISBN 1-57488-375-5. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiv, 326. $27.50.
During World War II, U.S. aircraft carriers embarked significantly more aircraft than did their British and Japanese contemporaries, and the U.S. carriers could launch and recover aircraft at a faster rate. Those characteristics were very important on several occasions, especially in the critical carrier operations of 1942.
The man primarily responsible for that situation was Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, sometimes referred to as the "father of carrier aviation." Thomas Wildenberg has provided a long-needed biography of Reeves. This book, researched while Wildenberg held the Ramsey Chair of aviation history at the National Air and Space Museum, is a solid professional biography, telling us much about the man's motivations as well as his assignments and accomplishments.
The first naval aviation assignment for Reeves was in October 1925, when, as a captain, he became Commander, Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet. This meant that he was responsible for the Navy's first—and at the time only—aircraft carrier, the diminutive Langley. When he found that the Langley normally went to sea with only six aircraft, Reeves had the ship's flight deck lengthened and when the carrier returned to sea, Reeves ordered thirty-six aircraft to be placed on the flight deck, personally supervising their placement. Six more planes were stowed below. It was a seven-fold increase in aircraft, which he combined with an increased operating tempo.
But Reeves was much more than a carrier specialist. An 1894 graduate of the Naval Academy, Reeves first demonstrated his abilities when, as assistant engineer of the battleship Oregon, he contributed to the ship's record transit in 1898 from San Francisco, around South America, to join the Atlantic Squadron in time for the Spanish-American War. (That transit convinced Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt of the need for a Panama Canal.)
Reeves served in several surface ships. He commanded the collier Jupiter, the Navy's first large turbo-electric propelled ship (and later converted to the carrier Langley), as well as battleships. After studying at the Naval War College and briefly holding down a staff post there, he attended the twelve-week naval aviation observer school, which qualified him for an aviation command.
In 1927, while commanding the Battle Fleet's aircraft squadrons, Reeves was promoted to rear admiral. He was thus the Navy's first aviation officer to attain flag rank. After brief assignments in Washington, in 1930 he returned to the fleet as the first carrier division commander—the Navy now operating the large carriers Lexington and Saratoga in addition to the pioneer Langley. He brought the same drive to those ships, increasing their aircraft capacities and operating tempos. In fleet exercises the "Lex" and "Sara" invariably gained surprise in attacking defensive forces ashore, at the Panama Canal, and later on Oahu.
Reeves left the carriers in April 1931. Exactly two years later, in April 1933, he was picked to become commander of the battleship force as a vice admiral. Later that same year he was elevated to Commander, Battle Force, with the rank of full admiral. Less than a year later he was again promoted, to Commander-in-Chief U.S. Fleet. Reeves held that preeminent position from February 1934 to June 1936.
Retiring from active duty in late 1936, Reeves was recalled for service in the Navy Department in 1940, where he served in various advisory positions until 1947. He died the following year.
Reeves was a truly remarkable officer and aviation pioneer. In summing up Reeves's professional life, author Wildenberg writes that beyond the admiral's "historical mark" on fleet operations and carrier aviation, he also "exhibited an exceptional understanding of engineering, gunnery, aeronautical developments, logistics, counterintelligence, administration, and organization" (p. 267).
But from a historical viewpoint, Reeves—and this excellent biography—also give the lie to the oft-told myth that the Navy's "battleship admirals" opposed the development of carrier aviation in the...