Book Review: Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet that Defeated Japan


by John T. Kuehn

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008. Pp. ix, 263. Illus., map, diagr., tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN:1591144485

The "General Board of the Navy" (1900-1950), was one of the most important defense agencies in the first half of the twentieth century.  Yet it is today largely forgotten, even by historians.  Often regarded as a mere advisory board' for the Secretary of the Navy, in fact during its existence the General Board filled many roles for the Navy, general staff, long-term  planning body (i.e., "strategic planning" in an enterprise sense) , studying basing requirements, fleet size, and personnel management, as well as a sort-of board of trustees for the service, among many other roles.
This work, the first book on this surprisingly little-known body, by retired Commander John T. Kuehn, who teaches at the Army Command and Staff College , examines the General Board and how it helped the Navy adopt innovative ideas, technologies, and doctrines.  Kuehn looks at several cases-in-point, most notably the modernization of the battle fleet, the introduction of aviation, and the development of the fleet mobile base, with a particular look at floating docks.  He does this against the background of the much misunderstood naval arms limitation treaties of 1922 and 1930, which he explains quite well, and the need for long-term preparations for a Pacific War, a matter not fully understood at the time. 

An important book for anyone interested in the Navy in the twentieth century or the process of innovation.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close