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Information at Sea

Shipboard Command and Control in the U.S. Navy, from Mobile Bay to Okinawa

This is the first book to explore information management at sea as practiced by the U.S. Navy from the Civil War to World War II.

The brain of a modern warship is its combat information center (CIC). Data about friendly and enemy forces pour into this nerve center, contributing to command decisions about firing, maneuvering, and coordinating. Timothy S. Wolters has written the first book to investigate the history of the CIC and the many other command and control systems adopted by the U.S. Navy from the Civil War to World War II. What institutional ethos spurred such innovation? Information at Sea tells the fascinating stories of the naval and civilian personnel who developed an array of technologies for managing information at sea, from signal flares and radio to encryption machines and radar.

Wolters uses previously untapped archival sources to explore how one of America's most technologically oriented institutions addressed information management before the advent of the digital computer. He argues that the human-machine systems used to coordinate forces were as critical to naval successes in World War II as the ships and commanders more familiar to historians.

About the Author

Timothy S. Wolters, an engineer-qualified submariner and captain in the United States Navy Reserve, is an assistant professor of history at Iowa State University. He formerly held the Ramsey Chair of Naval Aviation History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

Reviews

"This is an excellent and important book. The author, a U.S. Navy Reserve officer, is well qualified to point to the distinction between the visible side of sea power, as reflected in ships and in naval weapons, and the much less visible but absolutely essential side involving the use of information."

- Norman Friedman - Proceedings

"Wolter's familiarity with naval minutiae and procedures leads to a lively and procedures leads to a lively, highly readable narrative that also maintains scholarly depth and thoroughness."

- Choice

"Information at Sea is a wonderful book, contributing to our understanding of the evolution of human-machine integration... a 'must read'!"

- Mark Hagerott - International Journal of Maritime History

"Both author and publisher have made this an appealing book. Illustrations of key personalities and equipment not only bring the subject to life, but are all the more helpful in understanding the core issues... This book is a must for any serious student of naval operations, platform design and in particular of the USN. Despite its specialised subject matter it will be valuable to military historians in general, especially those looking at the development and problems associated with command in the twentieth century."

- Dr. Marcus Faulkner - British Journal of Military History

"This book will appeal to a broad cross-section of readers with an interest in naval matters and in particular those officers and sailors of the war-fighting community... Wolters has done a fine job in researching and writing this book and the astute reader will recognise that there are important lessons to be learned in it."

- John Perryman - Great Circle

"The reader interested in a broad history of command and control design and innovation aboard US warships from the Civil War to World War II will be well rewarded. Wolters has mastered the sources surrounding this topic and writes in an easy style... This book is most highly recommended."

- John T. Kuehn - International Journal of Naval History

"An outstanding history of the US Navy from the Civil War through the Second World War... Information at Sea has four particular strengths. First, it reveals the connective tissues and nervous system of shipboard command and control across an eighty-year period through extensive pioneering archival research. Second, its well written chronicle of technological investigation, adaptation, innovation, and combat applications will appeal to experts and general readers alike. Third, it seamlessly interweaves bureaucratic decision-making with matters of laboratory research and development, field experimentation, adjustments in training and education, and the new command and control systems; Wolters explains how, why, and to what effect the Navy made changes to improve its combat efficiency. Fourth, the book challenges the longstanding notion that entrenched naval conservatism time and again retarded innovation. Wolters makes abundantly clear that, on the contrary, the Navy regularly listened, learned, and made intelligent decisions about integrating new communications and detection systems... For all these reasons, Information at Sea should stand as a landmark work of military history."

- Branden Little - Michigan War Studies Review

Endorsements

"An extremely well-researched and well-written history of the U.S. Navy’s efforts to develop the technology and technological systems necessary to manage operations at sea, especially during war."

- William M. McBride, United States Naval Academy
Johns Hopkins University Press
Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology
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