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June 9, 2019

Held February 15-16 at the San Diego Veterans Museum at Balboa Park


Expanding Naval History

The Western Naval Historical Association held its first symposium, Expanding Naval History on February 15th and 16th, at the Veterans Museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The objective of the symposium was to bring together groups who are interested in naval history, but that often practice their interest in isolation. This included academics, authors, enthusiasts like war gamers, modelers, students, and veterans. The symposium was a success in that all of these groups were represented and one of the most striking things about this varied group was that it was a very convivial gathering; everyone enjoyed themselves, talking and mingling between sessions, at the group dinner on Friday night, and over lunch.

The keynote speaker was Rear Admiral James Goldrick, RAN (ret.), who traveled from Canberra, Australia to attend the event and who also presented a paper

As can be seen from the following list of speakers and topics, the symposium considered a broad range of subjects:

           Sam Tangredi (director of the Center for Future Warfare Studies) and Mercy Tangredi (youngest author ever published in Naval History magazine) presented "Haizhan 1363: The Battle of Lake Poyang,” a little-known action which led to the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. Dr. Tangredi outlined his ongoing project to assemble and publish an anthology on “The Battle History of the Chinese Navy.”

​            Karl Zingheim (historian for the USS Midway Museum held a workshop on naval “Modeling and Dioramas.” Zingheim presented four dioramas —the USS Nevada passing the sunken Arizona at Pearl Harbor, the USS Samuel B. Roberts laying a smoke screen at Leyte Gulf, an ex-USN four-stacker in RN service making a depth-charge attack, and the destruction of HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue—at the hands of U.9. He also gave an instructive talk on the sort of research needed to make historically accurate dioramas.

​​            Dr. Bernard Cole (U.S. National War College) spoke next on the topic: “Work in Progress: U.S. Navy and China 1929–2019.” He discussed  the recent expansion of the Chinese navy, making many interesting points such as that after the Tiananmen Square events of 1989 the Chinese government made a new social contract with the people—we’ll give you economic prosperity, you let us run the country. To ensure that prosperity, the government believes it needs a strong navy.

​            Dr. Cynthia Watson (U.S. National War College) gave a passionate and well-received talk on “The Importance of History in Professional Military Education.” One of the interesting points by Dr. Watson made was that the students at the National War College avoid classes that have the word “history” in their titles, but when professors to substitute “strategy”  they line up for the classes. 

         James Goldrick presented the paper “Doing Naval History.” In it the admiral discussed some of the lessons he had learned practicing simultaneously  as a historian and as a naval professional who commanded a task force in the Persian Gulf (don't play golf), and some important principles historians of all types--academic, professional, and amateur  can apply to the practice of their craft. This  interesting and worthwhile paper is presented in its entirety. 

​            Michael Whitby (Senior Naval Historian for the Canadian Department of National Defence) spoke on Royal Canadian Navy Interaction with the USN at the Dawn of Nuclear Submarine Operations.” The RCN and USN worked together closely as they struggled to counter the threat, and several Canadian devices and tactics were adopted by the USN.

            Author Vincent O’Hara led a workshop on writing naval history. In this informal group discussion the authors present discussed writing their craft. Craig Symonds, for example, said that he found it effective to begin in the middle of a subject whereas Bruce Taylor said that he wrote his introduction first as his guide in the composition process. The authors shared many other  techniques and tips. 

​        Thomas J. Cutler (holder of the Gordon England Chair of Professional Naval Literature, U.S. Naval Institute) led a workshop entitled “Writing for Naval Institute.” Cutler, a long-time editor at the Naval Institute Press, discussed what the press looks for in a submission and the process that submissions go through at the press. Magazine publishing was touched upon as well.  

            Mark Fiorey (U.S. Naval war College) presented a paper entitled “U.S. Navy Captain Dudley W. Knox and the Fight for Education 1919–1922.” This focused on the efforts of two young officers, Dudley Knox and Ernest King, to improve naval education and open a west coast branch of the Naval War College in San Diego.

​        Author Stephen McLaughlin gave a presentation entitled “Intelligence vs. Brute Force: The Russian Defense of the Gulf of Riga, 1915.” McLaughlin spoke on the German navy’s attempts to break into the Gulf of Riga in August 1915, efforts and the German army’s failure to understand the advantages of sea power. This little known topic sparked much interest within the group.

​            Lonnie Gill (GENERAL QUARTERS naval war game system) led a Naval Wargaming Workshop. Gill and several colleagues displayed a wide range of wargaming models at various scales and provided background on wargaming as both a hobby and as a serious tool for studying naval warfare.

​            Author Trent Hone discussed how the USN’s prewar emphasis on the decentralized development of doctrine allowed it to adapt to the evolving struggle for the Solomon Islands. As part of the talk, Gill and colleagues set up a wargame-type display of the Battle of Cape Esperance to show how the principles Hone was discussing played out in action. 

​            Craig Symonds (Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the US Naval War College) gave a talk entitled “The Importance of Operational Naval History.” Symonds spoke about the Second World War at sea, and the difficulties Allied leaders faced in allocating limited resources to simultaneous operations in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean, a theme he addresses in his recent book.

            Kevin Sheehan, the archivist and librarian at the San Diego Maritime Museum, discussed the museum’s holding that relate to naval history. Mentioned also were other west coast libraries and archives that are important resources for historians, such as the Chapman University collection of veteran’s letters.


            Attendance over the two day program was thirty-five. The group dinner on Friday night was attended by twenty and proved a congenial evening, with lively discussions circulating up and down the table. Overall the symposium met its major goals and planning for a 2020 event is underway.

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