Book Review: All the Factors of Victory: Adm. Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier Aviation,


by Thomas Wildenberg

Dulles, Va.: Brassey’s, 2003. xiv, 326.. Illus,tables, notes, biblio., index. $27.50. ISBN:1-57488-375-5

All the Factors of Victory fills a surprisingly gaping hole in the history of U.S. carrier aviation, by providing an outstanding account of the single most important figure in its development. Reeves, the first flight qualified naval officer to be promoted to flag rank, was the principal sea-going aviation officer of the Navy for many years during the 1920s and 1930s. From 1934 to 1936 he served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet, the only aviation officer to hold that post, before retiring, only to be recalled to active duty during World War II.

Wildenberg, who has written extensively on the introduction of new technologies into the Navy in the interwar period, has provided a comprehensive account of the admiral’s life and career. This task was made the more difficult by the fact that the admiral left no private papers, not even letters; indeed, for some periods, such as from his retirement in 1936 until his recall to active duty in 1941, literally nothing is known about his life.

Reeves’ importance to the development of carrier aviation cannot be understated. He fostered – at times literally forced – the development of the techniques, tactics, and procedures that provided the foundation for the great carrier task forces of World War II. He accomplished this despite having to battle not only the “Gun Club” – of which he was himself a distinguished member – but also, and surprisingly often, the aviators themselves. Reeves demonstrated that carrier aviation could support the battleline in a variety of ways, and could also conduct daring offensive operations that would enhance the fleet’s effectiveness. And he did so in such a way that by the eve of the war the carrier was seen as an indispensable arm of sea power not only by the aviators, but also by the battleship navy. He conducted “surprise” attacks on Hawaii and the Panama Canal during the 1920s, while pioneering the basic organization of what would become the “carrier task force,” fought for greater autonomy for carriers, promoted the procurement of better aircraft, and more.

An immensely valuable contribution to the literature on the development of the fleet between the wars. Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, CNO SSG, Newport   

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