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Discipline in the U.S. Navy

Condensation Of A Study By
RADM Arleigh Burke, USN

Image of cover - Discipline in the U.S. Navy

Discipline In the U.S. Navy

Condensation Of A Study By
RADM Arleigh Burke, USN

December 1950
Bureau of Naval Personnel


Rear Admiral Arleigh Burke's study in its original form was reproduced and distributed to all Commanders in Chief, Fleet Commanders, and Type Commanders. The study appeared in its condensed form in the October 1950 issue of the Naval Training Bulletin. The timely importance of the subject was immediately proved by the numerous requests for additional copies. Aside from this, however, the decision to reprint the article in this booklet form is in keeping with the policy of the Bureau of Naval Personnel – the dissemination of training information to as many naval personnel as possible.

Rear Admiral Burke's study carries a message which is as important to the top level command as it is to the petty officer. If you are looking for the answers to the questions of what discipline is, what the factors are which contribute to the break-down of discipline, and what methods can be used to combat these breakdowns, then the following pages will be of interest to you.

J. W. Roper
Vice Admiral, USN
Chief of Naval Personnel

PART I--General Discipline in the Navy


A well disciplined organization is one whose members work with enthusiasm, willingness, and zest as individuals and as a group to fulfill the mission of the organization with expectation of success.

Effect of Lack of Descipline

Lack of discipline results in loss of smooth, determined operating action and combat efficiency. Examples of the results of lack of discipline may be seen in the Italians at Adowa, the Spanish fleet in the Spanish-American War, the Russian army in World War I, and, with less disastrous outcome, the peacetime disaffections of the British Navy at Invergordon after World War I, the recent unrest in the Royal Canadian Navy, and the strikes to go home in the U.S. Army after World War II. The underlying cause in each case was the deterioration of the whole organization to such a degree that the local authorities could not, or would not because of their own degeneration, correct the local situation early enough to prevent widespread loss of authority. The United States Navy has never had an instance of this kind at any time in its history.


Measures of Discipline

Besides the large criterion of combat ability, there are many lesser criteria which in the aggregate become important measures of discipline: (1) A dignified pride and self-respect--pride in the Navy, in the unit, and in oneself; (2) A willingness to work for and to make personal sacrifices to the group good; (3) A smart appearance -- a sloppy ship or a slovenly man will be so in action; (4) A respect for fellow men exemplified in courtesy and consideration; (5) Optimistic cheerfulness, liveliness, and exhilaration.

Discipline and Command

Discipline is a function of command. Juniors as well as seniors must be made responsible for and be cognizant of their responsibility. Commanders can not delegate or reassign their own responsibility. Morale problems cannot be turned over to the chaplain or the dispensing of justice to the legal expert. Specialists must be naval officers first and specialists second, and work for the commanding officer rather than function separately. Command must have the authority necessary for the exercise of its responsibility.

Factors Affecting Discipline or Morale

In every case of breakdown of discipline the following four major factors have been present: (1) Lack of information--subordinates were not kept informed


of problems or of reasons why the organization was required to take the action it did take. (2) Lack of interest--seniors had little interest in or knowledge of the problems of their juniors or if they did the juniors were left unaware that they did; (3) Slackness in command; (4) Instability. Senseless transfers of personnel, changes in operating schedules or in daily routine. The organization as a whole and as individuals felt insecure and uncertain of the future.

There were other important factors such as operating conditions, food, living conditions; all of which had an effect on discipline, but each of the above four major factors were defective in all major disaffections. It is worth while to examine these and other factors in detail to determine their status in this Navy of ours.

Information to the Navy. There are two incentives which cause any young man to choose a certain profession as a lifetime career, and these same incentives are the cause of his satisfaction with his choice as his career develops. The first is his belief that the profession has honor and a future. The other incentive is that a man must feel that if he does his duty well and honorably, and demonstrates his ability, he can progress to a reasonable degree of success within the organization.

In the British Navy there was a general let-down, an anticlimax following the first world war. The British government needed to save money to stay solvent.


The British Fleet was sent on dangerous, unpleasant duty around Russia. British seamen were paid too little in proportion to the civilian rates of pay. There were rumblings of dissatisfaction before, but when a pay cut was suddenly announced, the British Fleet at Invergordon mutinied.

The British Admiralty had never bothered to explain to the Navy the problems which confronted the government and the Navy. The bluejackets knew only what they read in the news, and the news was full of doubt as to the need of a Navy at all in the future. There was comment that the Navy would be practically disbanded. Uncertainty developed in the lower decks--and uncertainty is the most fruitful cause of unrest. Factual timely information issued by the Admiralty might have prevented the trouble from developing, but nobody put out the information, and even the senior officers did not know the facts.

There is great need in our own Navy now for factual information. Our officers and men get detailed and excellent information on how to make the next rate, but they get very little assurance (or didn't until recently) as to the future of the Navy. They read, absorb, and sometimes believe the stories that Navies are no longer needed, that the Navy is on the second team, etc. They have not had made available to them the basic facts which would disprove the specious arguments against their service, and as a result they have


started to be less proud of their Navy. Information must be fed continuously to be effective; it must be given by every medium available.; and it must be given by each senior to his subordinates. All should know in general that there is an honorable place--a necessary place -- in the national security structure for a Navy, and that without an effective, hard fighting Navy, no war can be won. It is the job of all officers in top billets in the Navy to explain in general the plans and the future of the Navy to their service. Later, when the situation permits, it would be desirable if the senior officers were assisted in this duty by a very few qualified personnel, but there is danger in establishing an officer for this purpose too soon. For the dissemination of such information can be effective only if it is accomplished by many people. As an example, every issue of every Navy publication should have some article in it about the future of the Navy as a whole organization. Many do now. They should be encouraged.

There is a converse to this lack of information being passed down. Unless there is dope coming down, little goes up. Information must be exchanged.

If seniors do not inform their juniors of items of interest, juniors will not feel a strong compulsion to inform their seniors of items of possible interest. No commander can command even a division well unless he is informed of what is going on within his command.


He must have the feel of the pulse of his crew--which he can get only if his people confide in him.

Interest of Seniors in Subordinates. The case history of the recent "incidents" in ships of the Royal Canadian Navy will serve as an example of apparent lack of interest of seniors in the work and the problems of their juniors. There was a noticeable lack of human understanding between officers and enlisted men. Men were reprimanded for work badly done but rarely commended for work well done. Captains withdrew from their officers, and flag officers had little knowledge of what was happening in the ships. There was little instruction of young officers in practical leadership. There was no recognized process for the airing of grievances. There was lack of cooperation, of frankness and of communications among leading hands, petty officers, officers and their superiors. An absence of confidence between officers and leading petty officers, between petty officers and nonrated men and between junior and senior officers existed. Officers did not exercise close supervision over the duties of their divisions. The seniors did not know what was going on in the lower decks and consequently took no remedial steps which would have prevented a serious situation from occurring.

In short, the officers did not know what was going on and apparently didn't care. The men lost faith and confidence and a series of "incidents" resulted.


Our Navy has always been free of this type of disorder and one of the reasons is that all naval officers know that their most important duty is the handling of men. A successful Navy requires a unique and close relationship between officer and man. The officers have been thoroughly conversant in that relationship and were therefore well prepared to fulfill their responsibilities to their subordinates.

But officers are not paying quite the attention to this paramount duty they did before and during the war.

The results showed up in a survey made by BuPers of the opinions of separates about the Navy and were confirmed by the large number of people who wanted to get out as a result of A1Nav 117 (27 December 1949). A surprisingly large number, both petty officers and nonrated men, felt that the officers and, to a lesser extent, their senior petty officers, were not interested in their personal problems or welfare. They also felt that their jobs were not very important and that their seniors did not recognize their qualifications--or for that matter their minor shortcomings.

These men leaving the Navy have complained that their officers did not make adequate use of their skills and training. Officers were not aware of the men's capabilities and potentialities, what contributions they could make to the Navy or to their ship. They felt that the officers made no effort to identify their men with their ship or with the Navy.


That is an indictment whether the men were right or not. That's the way they felt -- and that's wrong.

The cause for this difficulty starts at the top with the very senior officers. These officers are commencing to lose the personal touch with their juniors. There is a good reason for it. Few of them can be assigned to duty at sea these days. Those that are swamped with masses of paper work and conferences, so that there is little time left over for that important function of keeping acquainted with what their subordinates are doing and how they are doing it. The more responsible the position that an officer holds the more important it is that he direct and supervise the work of his subordinates, and seemingly the less time he has available to accomplish this priority task. If the situation is not corrected there will be a gradual lowering of effectiveness as juniors rise to more important positions under the tutelage of too busy seniors.

There is much comment that the younger officers and the petty officers are inexperienced and lack ability in their divisional duties. This is true. But they will get that experience only under the direction of their seniors, and we are back at the starting point again--that the seniors don't have the time to exercise proper supervision. Seniors could well devote more effort to delineating to juniors, especially the "J.O.'s," exactly what is required of them. Too often these enthusiastic young men are simply told to comply with the mass


of directives from the multiple "higher authorities" without adequate guidance or counsel. The lads end up confused, frustrated, overworked, and disheartened. From that position it is a gentle down-hill slide to lack of pride and loss of ambition. The situation is gradually improving, but it will not improve at a high enough rate until more emphasis is placed on the handling of men and less on the volume of paper scanned.

Junior officers and petty officers have a tendency to be too soft, too lenient with minor infractions of discipline and thereby penalize the good man while favoring the poor ones. This eventually becomes apparent to the officers who then are apt to become uncertain of themselves and become too arbitrary. In either case they lose the confidence of their men.

Inexperienced officers also apparently have a tendency not to follow through on reports and orders. This allows the poor man "to get away with it" and is discouraging to the good men. There is not enough checking.

There are far too many inexperienced commanders of stations and ships (some of them rather senior) who use courts martial to correct defects which should have been corrected by direct personal action of the division officers or the captain himself. Direct personal action early in the game will save many a court and will greatly increase the effectiveness of any command;


but it does require knowledge of incipient trouble before it occurs, and it does necessitate a lot of time spent with subordinates.

There is a small minority of youngsters who take undue advantage of their rank and this quite naturally causes resentment. No man takes advantage of his rank unless he is unsure of himself and uncertain as to the respect he would command without his artificial means.

Of course the leadership supervision and guidance the junior officers and petty officers give, day in and day out, are the most important factors in achieving a high esprit de corps. The division officer is the core of the Navy's spirit. This is the key to much of the disciplinary trouble of the present Navy. Much of the criticism of present morale, or lack of it, is leveled at the division officer, and rightly so, and most of it is based on this officer's lack of understanding of his men. He must know them as individuals and make them realize and appreciate that he knows them. All this has been said frequently and in many ways, but it is believed that one element of this problem is frequently overlooked. Has the division officer the means and time available to adequately supervise, guide, and counsel his men in the manner required to develop that feeling of mutual respect and understanding so important in the foundation of a high esprit de corps (and high standard of discipline)?


Most of the present mass of directives, orders, instructions, etc., from the many offices and bureaus in the Navy Department, fleet, type, and unit commanders, and other sources, ultimately fall upon this one individual (the division officer) for execution. If he is conscientiously carrying out each and every such order and directive, standing his watches, supervising his maintenance and upkeep work, making the required inspections, and otherwise carrying out his prescribed duties and responsibilities, he finds that the 24-hour day is just not long enough. The result is that some of his duties have to be performed hurriedly or not at all if he is to cover the essentials. The average division officer, under these conditions, directs most of his attention and efforts to those tasks whose results are most immediately apparent to his seniors, or, in other words, to those tasks which, if omitted or neglected, would cause immediate repercussions. In this process the supervision, guidance, knowledge, and understanding of the men of his division are often neglected.

The solution to this problem lies in a more proper understanding of the relative importance of the division officer's various duties, both by his seniors in his own command and by himself. It requires proper appreciation on the part of the many officers responsible for issuance of orders, directives, instructions, etc., regarding how and by whom they ultimately will be carried out, with respect to their effect on the


over-all workload of the individuals and units affected. This would confirm the necessity for a reduction in "paper work" and nonessential directives.

Correction of the tendency to neglect interest in subordinates is not something that can be accomplished overnight. It is being effected gradually by many people who are cognizant of the defect. A larger number of people working at the job would speed up the process.

It is important to emphasize that only by knowing subordinates is it possible to evaluate their talents and limitations. Only by knowing men can they be properly placed. There must be continuous concern about men, and not concern just when they get into trouble or are about to ship over or go out.

The atmosphere of a Navy or a ship is created by the attitude of the officers. Officers are obligated to insure that each of their subordinates knows that the senior officers, and the Navy, do care about men as individuals. Each person in the Navy must have assurance that his progress, his training, his career, and his performance of duty are of concern to the Navy.

Slackness in Command. All major catastrophies in the loss of discipline in all organizations have been preceded by a general slackness in the command. The old saying that a taut ship is a happy ship is still true. The reason is that on a taut ship the officers and the men know where they stand and what is expected of


them. There can be complete dependence on one's associates, for lack of reliability will be brought up with a round turn. On such ships, all men do a day's work, not just the conscientious ones. There are no soft billets in a taut outfit. The officers and the men are on the job and require others to be on the job. Chiselers and transgressors are promptly punished while their offenses are still minor.

Sure and everybody knows that's true too, but the majority of the separates in the same survey by BuPers stated that the little things, the seemingly minor details that go to make a happy ship or an efficient one were apparently a haphazard matter. There was a lot of "made work." The men complained that ships were slack; they felt that the Navy was a lazy man's way of living and working. They felt that their work had little significance, and they got no satisfaction of accomplishment. Some of this is due to lack of information, to lack of explanation, but a great deal of it must be due to general slackness also.

There are a number of contributory causes for slackness in command--inexperience or lack of interest on the part of officers, the indifference of old-timers, both officer and enlisted, who are merely passing the time until retirement, laziness on the part of young men who want to ride and produce as little as possible in the process. All can be corrected by tautening up the units.


Tautness requires absolute fairness above all else. Commanders must distinguish between good and bad men and take action accordingly. This means that men who fail must be punished promptly at mast and that each man's record must reflect his conduct and ability. It means that commanding officers must tackle the onerous problem of the relative fitness of officers, so that officer's fitness reports reflect faithfully the worth of the officer. There must be a clear differentiation between the excellent and the poor, or again the conscientious man is penalized and the poor man is favored.

Slackness in command always requires eventual drastic action.

Instability. Instability is always a contributing factor in serious cases of lack of discipline. The personnel instability in our fleets after the war was therefore a serious concern to the Navy. If command attention had not been exercised carefully the discipline of the Navy would have suffered much more than it did.

There are many times when transfers are most desirable or are unavoidable. The Navy, especially BuPers, has done well in reducing unnecessary transfers, but there are still too many men--and officers--being shifted. It takes time for a man to become acquainted with his job and time for a unit to shake down after receiving new men. Unless, through foresight and careful planning, the Navy can get some reasonable


permanency of personnel on its ships and stations it will always be in a state of turmoil.

The man hours lost to the Navy by men in transit is appalling. Here again, BuPers is making valiant efforts to reduce time in receiving stations, time en route, and time waiting for ships. Until all commanders and all ships and stations do their best, there will be this great loss in manpower utilization.

There should be great improvements due to long enlistments. Short enlistments preclude permanency of personnel--and seem to discourage men from selecting the Navy as a career.

BuPers is trying to put through a plan for scheduled sea-shore rotation which will reduce the justified complaints of unfairness and favoritism. That Bureau is having difficulty in resisting the continual pressure, mostly from senior officers, to give special and unjust consideration to their own people, especially Stewards, Yeomen, and similar ratings. A definite schedule of ship-shore rotation would be advantageous to the Navy and permit its personnel to make some sort of personal plans.

The present high rate of reenlistments will do much to eliminate the instability and rapid turnover due to the necessary training and schooling of new recruits. A high percentage of the manpower in the Navy is being used to train new men. The reduction in the number of trainees as well as in the number


of instructors and administrators necessary for elementary training will relieve some of the instability due to transfers.

One of the basic causes in both the British mutiny at Invergordon and the "incidents" in the Canadian Navy was instability in the operating schedules. Ships either had no schedule or the schedules that they did have were changed frequently and without time to permit the officers and men to adjust their personal plans without inconvenience.

Frequent sudden changes in the operating schedules of ships after the war in the United States Navy was also one of the major sources of discontent. Even though the necessity of such changes was explained, the operating personnel could not understand why adequate planning and foresight could not have made most of the changes unnecessary.

Naturally, the exigencies of the service preclude the maintenance of a rigid schedule. Changes will frequently be necessary and unavoidable. On the other hand there is still insufficient realization among the shore based planners of the great inconvenience caused to many people when schedules are abruptly changed. It speaks well for the discipline and loyalty of naval personnel that these changes are accepted without serious consequences. Nevertheless unnecessary changes are an additional strain to discipline and usually result in some men being AOL because they are not big


enough to change their own plans to fit those of their units.

Stability of promotion and advancement has also been a cross under which the discipline of organizations has broken. The Bureau of Personnel is busily engaged in preparing career guidance plans for all Navy people. Heretofore written advancement examinations have been the most important factor in evaluating the relative worth of individuals, with some attention being given to the evaluation of the man's work on the job. Written tests, however, are only one measure of a man's effectiveness. They do not necessarily give a man's true aptitudes, qualifications, or achievements. BuPers is evaluating the performance of Chief Musicians and Musicians First Class with ten years' service in the spring, a work which will assist in the determination of the relative fitness of men for promotion. If this project is successful, evaluation centers will be established for all rates. These centers, it is hoped, will fulfill the need for obtaining accuracy and comprehensiveness in all of the qualifications. The record of capabilities of the men who are evaluated in these evaluation centers will also be of considerable assistance in the proper detailing of personnel and in the selection of personnel for commissions in the event of another emergency. This situational testing to determine actual qualifications will do much to insure that the best men available are promoted and thereby


give to all personnel the necessary confidence that true worth will determine advancement.

BuPers has also recently instituted a system of fitness reports for chief petty officers and petty officers first class in order that a continuous and comprehensive record may be obtained on performance of duty of each of these key people. These, like any other system in which men mark other men, will be valuable in proportion to the conscientiousness with which the marking seniors act. Here again, it is necessary that rigid adherence to high standards be maintained to assure that the men who actually reach those high standards are not discriminated against by less qualified men receiving high marks which they do not justly deserve.

In a peacetime Navy it is important for each man in each rate to have some prospect of promotion even though that prospect may involve tough competition. BuPers has arranged for a steady flow of promotions for each rate. With so many reenlistments and with more and more people making the Navy their career it is essential that each man be confident that as his qualifications increase he will be advanced accordingly.

The officer promotion system was well established before the war. Since the war it has not been possible to reinstitute the entire system with the same degree of efficiency that previously existed, due to the much larger number of officers and the wide variation in


their educational qualifications and experience. Nevertheless much progress has been made in the attempts to insure fair competition and adequate opportunity for advancement. In addition, the personnel acts prescribe the procedures required for promotion in considerable detail.

Officers must have confidence in the promotion system or discipline will be jeopardized. Unless the best officers are promoted, faith of other officers and enlisted men in the integrity of the system will be shaken. It is essential that officers be promoted who will be best qualified to lead in battle. They must have other qualifications, such as good administrative and technical ability and a wide array of knowledge also, but the rest of the Navy must have absolute confidence in those selected. Should the less qualified personnel be selected there will come a time in battle in which the Navy will fail because of its leadership. Like begets like, and inadequate personnel, once they have moved up sufficiently to be on a selection board, will themselves be apt to select other inadequate personnel.

Standards must be very high, they must be attainable, they must be equitable, they must be well known, and they must be maintained with integrity. Otherwise the officer corps will decay and decay rapidly, and there will be no effective combat Navy if this happens.


Other Factors Important to Discipline

In addition to the four factors discussed above, there are others which, although they lack the critical nature of these four, are nevertheless important to discipline. Five factors of this sort are touched upon briefly below.

Increase in Navy Ashore. Instead of the 65 percent of naval personnel serving at sea, as was the situation before the war, 65 percent are actually billeted ashore now. Before the war there were very few small shore stations as compared to the multitude in existence now. These two changes have resulted in a relatively large number of less experienced commanding officers administering men. While there is nothing that can be done about the changes mentioned above, a great deal can and should be done in the way of stressing to officers ashore the fact that they have a most difficult job and a primary responsibility to insure that the discipline, spirit, and effectiveness of their commands meet the high standards which the Navy must maintain.

Shore Patrol. Untrained shore patrolmen cannot handle minor infractions satisfactorily. Personnel assigned to shore patrol duty should be specially trained.

Fleet Employment. It may be that we have too much concentration on grand exercises and not enough on training of individual ships and units; and too much


emphasis on reporting exercises and too little on improving performance.

Marriage and Discipline. Early marriages in the case of naval personnel sometimes result in worry, frustration, and despondency. They cause a divided loyalty between family and the Navy which often leads to serious derelictions. Assistance with personal problems of this sort is the responsibility of the division officer, whose duty it is to inspire the trust and confidence that lead his men to consult him.

Creature Comfort. This is not a Bureau problem but a command responsibility. It is not as satisfactorily handled as is commonly believed. Much more can be done by many commands to provide good food, messing facilities, living quarters, and general environment.

PART II--Disciplinary Cases

Uniform Code of Military Justice

It has always been highly desirable to reduce the number of courts martial for a number of obvious reasons. Upon the placing in effect of the Uniform Code of Military Justice what was formerly desirable becomes a matter of absolute necessity. One of the effects of the new Code will be a formidable increase in the amount of time and paper work involved in connection with courts martial. Without a decrease in the number of cases, the workload will become prohibitive.


Reason for Delinquency

The major reason for the increase in the number of courts martial over prewar days is the decrease in the amount of "command attention" being exercised as compared with those days. Commanding officers are using courts martial as a corrective device more frequently than in prewar days. They apparently fail to realize that a large number of courts being given is actually a reflection upon the officers' command ability.

What Can Be Done

(1) Discipline can be tautened. When this is correctly done, less punishment will be required. (2) Studies should be conducted on a continuing basis to determine the types of individuals who get into trouble. Results of such studies would be used by recruiting officers to screen out troublesome types before they get into the service. (3) The provisions of A1Nav 89 should be used far more than is now the case to rid the Navy of those undesirables and misfits who succeed in getting into the Navy in spite of the best efforts of the recruiting officers.



Published: Thu Sep 07 10:51:01 EDT 2017