Home Squadron: The U.S. Navy on the North Atlantic Station
James C. Rentfrow
Historians have long dated the rise of the modern United States Navy to the twenty-five years between the 1883 Naval Appropriations Bill that was the genesis of the New Steel Navy and the 1907-1909 cruise of the Great White Fleet. This period witnessed a total transformation of the materiel of the Navy from wooden steam-powered cruising ships with full sail rigs to armored steel battleships and cruisers wholly dependent on their engines for mobility.
These technical changes were so profound that, to a very great extent, historians have concentrated most of their efforts on researching, analyzing, and describing them as explaining the transition of the United States Navy from a third-rate force to a fleet of the first rank. In Home Squadron, however, Commander Rentfrow makes the case for a far more important transformation within the Navy that occurred simultaneously. The Old Navy was a force whose missions were coast defense, showing the flag around the world, and commerce raiding in wartime. The materiel of the New Navy could fulfil those missions, but creating a world-class force required developing a new operational doctrine of concentrated fleet operations that could contend with the battlefleets of the European powers.
Rentfrow identifies the great changes in the operational perspectives of the North Atlantic (or Home) Squadron in the years just prior to the Spanish-American War as the foundation for those of the modern fleet. Even though the equipment of the squadron reflected the Navy’s transition from wooden vessels to steel warships, it was not until the late 1880s that even ad hoc concentrations of its units occurred for training and exercises. Then, between 1895 and 1897, the Home Squadron became essentially a permanently unified combat force that developed the foundational operational concepts that underlay American successes in 1898, admittedly against a less well-organized opponent.
Stephen B. Luce and John G. Walker were the two intellectual luminaries who, more than most, drove this change. Rentfrow’s analysis of the intellectual currents of the time form an essential component of his argument.
It is surprising that Home Squadron should represent such a transformation of the historiography of the modern United States Navy. Nevertheless, Rentfrow’s book accomplishes this feat. It illuminates the importance of coherent doctrine for military prowess and, as such, is a welcome antidote to the seduction of technological brilliance.
- Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014
- 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xi + 218 pages
- Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $54.95
- ISBN: 9781612514475
Reviewed by Michael O’Brien, Tampa, Florida