Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Documentary Histories
Spanish-American War

Address by Frank W. Hackett

 

AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BEFORE THE NAVAL WAR COLLEGE.

Frank W. Hackett, Asst. Sec. of the Navy.

[EXTRACT]

. . . But the unique feature of the course is what is known as “the war game.”1 Here one finds out empirically into what sort of a situation he is likely to be precipitated in the event that war shall suddenly come upon us. It sets a man to thinking what he had better do about it. When an officer goes away at the end of the course he carries with him a new stock of ideas. Later, upon taking command of a ship, there would seem to be no reason why he may not improve the opportunity to impart some of these ideas to junior officers. In this way the influence of the Naval War College may be exerted in numerous directions.

The sinking of Cervera’sfleet2 was not the execution of a plan suddenly inspired. On the contrary, that memorable July forenoon saw wrought out that which, in its beginning at least, was rehearsed, so to speak, in these very halls. An incident that occurred not long after the close of the war serves to illustrate my meaning. Rear AdmiralSampson3 happening to be here, saw suspended on the wall a large chart of the Cuban coast. It bore certain marks that denoted the movements of war vessels. The Admiral took it to be a chart that had recently been prepared for the purpose of illustrating certain features of the Spanish war. It turned out, as a matter of fact, that he was looking at a working model that had been put to use two years before the war in the study of an imaginary campaign against Spain.

So, too, the contingency of scouting in the West Indian waters during supposed hostilities with Spain had not been neglected. For the purpose two rooms were occupied. An officer in each room represented a contending force. Each started with a like knowledge of the number, character, and the assumed disposition of the ships of the other. Each did the best he could to fix the whereabouts of his opponent. On a signal work was stopped and the officers compared results. It is told of one accomplished commander whose ship did invaluable service as a scout on the Cuban coast, that while thus engaged he found the work strangely familiar, and said of it: “Why, it seems as though I am sure later on to hear Taylor’s bell.”4

Another illustration of the benefits of the instruction here will, I think, interest you. You will recall the fact that during the Spanish war Rear Admiral Remey5 served on board the Lancaster, a station ship at Key West. The Admiral was the center of communication between the Navy Department and our fleet in the West Indies. How well he performed that duty you need not be told. An officer of Admiral Remey’s staff is quoted as having said of the work in the Admiral’s office, that it “was exactly like the work during one of the War College war games; and that no study could have better fitted one for the real thing.”

Were nothing else to be gained from a season spent at the College, the participant in the game of war grows accustomed to approach a problem in maneuvers or strategy with some degree of confidence. He gains here, as he could nowhere else gain, a familiarity with many of the conditions of actual conflict. In other words, an emergency does not overwhelm him with surprise. More than this, the experience affords him an insight into what nine times out of ten the enemy is likely to do.

We may go a step farther and say that it is among the possibilities that some daring mind, kindled here with ambition to surpass his fellows, may one day conceive of an original idea in naval tactics, the realization of which will give to his country a tremendous advantage...

Source Note Print: USNIP, vol. 27, no. 2 (June, 1901), pp. 297-99. This speech was given at the annual opening of the Naval War College on 3 June 1901.

Footnote 1: The “war game” was introduced by retired Lt. William M. Little in 1886 at the Naval War College. 

Footnote 2: The American fleet defeated the Spanish flotilla at Santiago de Cuba harbor, under the command of RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete on 3 July 1898.

Footnote 3: RAdm. William T. Sampson.

Footnote 5: RAdm. George C. Remey was in charge of West Indies logistics at the naval base at Key West.