Alfred Mahan, US Navy, Officer and Shipwrecker

| October 19, 2019

Alfred Thayer Mahan was a naval historian, widely regarded as an expert in all things Navy, but he was, in fact, more inept on board a ship than a recruit at Great Mistakes on the first day.

Not only was CAPT Mahan a poor seaman, he was also afraid of being run into and had the attention span of a gnat when aboard ship.  He wrecked more ships and had more collisions than the total to date since WWII ended. He may have done a great deal to help build the Navy and bring it into the modern ear, but he was out of his depth when sent to sea.

From the article:  He was perhaps the most celebrated naval historian of his era, an influential promoter of United States naval and commercial expansion during America’s rise to world power in the late nineteenth century.

As the author of numerous articles and books, including the landmark The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783Alfred Thayer Mahan was widely regarded as a brilliant naval theorist.

From his writings, readers would never have guessed, however, that the renowned champion of the United States Navy hated the sea, and while an active-duty naval officer, lived in constant fear of ocean storms and colliding ships.

Mahan’s fear of accidents at sea was not unfounded.

During a 40-year naval career that began as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1856, he was involved in numerous maritime mishaps. – article

This is stuff you can’t make up. Anyone who can crash a gunship into a moored barge is someone special. As long as he stayed ashore, he was fine, although he did not like having to teach knotting rope, a bosun’s skill, to Academy students. He was frequently so busy watching other people that he missed the boat. He probably would have plowed a ship into those breakwater pilings in the photo above.  But when he took a desk job, he was one of those who pushed the Navy into the modern era of naval warfare.

Category: "The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves", Historical, Navy

Comments (29)

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  1. USAFRetired says:

    Living proof of… Those who can do, those who can’t … teach

    Having said that, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783 should be required reading today.

    Technology may have changed, but the underlying strategy remains.

    • Slow Joe says:

      Yes, but no.
      I don’t think we should study history based on how relevant is in today’s world. If that were the case, there would be a lot of history nobody would ever care about.

      I see the study of history as the means to understand the past and the decisions taken by the people at that time, and how we developed into what we are/where we are today.

      The way I see it, history doesn’t repeat itself. It only seems like that on a very superficial level, but deep down inside, men might repeat the same mistakes but the possible solutions and outcomes are not the same.

      • Perry Gaskill says:

        History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

        (Attributed to Mark Twain)

      • Ret_25X says:

        The study of history to understand how we came to be where we are is the study of relevance to today.

        History is nothing but a record of the actions taken in places and circumstances. The technology of those may change, but the human element remains very much the same.

        So yes, the study of history is guided by its relevance to today.

        This is why we know about the Westphalian Accords but not the silverware on the table at the meetings where it was hammered out.

        • SFC D says:

          Somewhere, deep in the annals of history, there will be a detailed record of every setting on that table.

      • David says:

        “The only thing new under the sun is the history you don’t know” – Harry Truman.
        “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana.
        History is made by people; if you want to see how people will react in a similar situation, find the appropriate situation in history.

    • SFC D says:

      I’m thinking the good CAPT might have had some underlying Aspergers.

  2. xyzzy says:

    Modern…EAR? Really?

    Wonder what that looks like.

  3. Just Lurkin says:

    His father was an Army Engineer (back when that was the elite branch) who taught at West Point and influenced a generation of officers. A great family of military theoreticians.

    • cc senor says:

      Interesting. Mahan Hall at USMA named for papa Dennis and Mahan Hall USNA named for son Alfred. Both for being pretty good teachers.

    • The Stranger says:

      Engineers will ALWAYS be elite, King of Battle’s rejoinders notwithstanding!

      • Fyrfighter says:

        I do believe my father would agree, he was an engineer in the late 60’s/ Vietnam

        • 5th/77th FA says:

          Hey now Pappy, you knows I lubs me some Engineers. They builds things we gets to blow hell out of. And you can always borry a spare bangalore if needed.

          And between y’all above, and hat tip to Mick below, the other question I had was answered. The Ring Knockers of the two Schools for Boys got together. Shoulda known by the time frame involved. Kinda dreary rainy yuckee day down here. And not a single SEC team playing on broadcast TV.

        • Steve1371 says:

          Fyrfighter, was he Marine or Army? What type of engineer?
          Also what year/ years? Just curious, we may have crossed paths.

          • Fyrfighter says:

            Combat engineer in the army, never told much in the way of stories, other than he spent some time building special forces camps in the Central Highlands. Mentioned Pleiku a couple times… he was there 67-68, including Tet.
            And he may have, on one or two occasions, extolled the virtues of High Explosives…lol

            • Steve1371 says:

              I was there 68-69, aMarine combat engineer. I worked with an Army heavy junk engineer outfit for a brief while at a place called the washout above Cam Low just before I rotated. Sounds like he and I share an appreciation for stuff that goes BOOM!

              • Fyrfighter says:

                Hmm, I’ll see him tomorrow, and ask him about it. He was a Lt at the time. He does occasionally talk about loosing a duece and a half in a mud puddle, and running a Rome Plow..

      • Rehman Ahsanullah says:

        I’m interested my qualifications DAE civil engineer 75% marks

  4. 5th/77th FA says:

    How in dahell did he keep his Commission? I can understand be forgiven for 1 screw up during a war when you need “trained” officers. But… Seriously?

  5. USNI magazine (United States Naval Institute) which I subscribe to has articles from writers that refer to Capt. Mahan. I didn’t know that he was bad at manual dexterity but an expert on things Navy like is written on the intro post, a sort of Albert Einstein who rumor has it couldn’t tie his own shoelaces but was an expert on what we have read about him. These guys sound like me but in reverse where I can put together Electronic plugs, field strip weapons fix things for my neighbors being mechanicaly inclined BUT, a big BUT, I send AT&T fifteen bucks a month for tech support an on the phone with Verizon for my cell phone a number of times. I finally found out what an APP was a number of months ago and still don’t understand what a cloud is on these PC’S and phones.

  6. Old NFO says:

    He would never have survived today in the ‘zero defects’ world… sigh

  7. C2Show says:

    Soooooooo.mahan was the Bernath of his time.

    • The Stranger says:

      We’ll, no. Mahan was actually good at something productive. Also, based on the information above, he may have run into things, but he never ran out of fuel.