More Speaking Engagements

It’s been a good year for speaking engagements to draw more attention to Learning War and the creative work my colleagues and I have been doing in the Agile community. I’ve also been able to spend a bit of time looking into and discussing Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and his approach to command, which had a profound resonance with the Navy’s approach to doctrinal innovation and learning in the mid-twentieth century.

Next week, I’ll be at Agile 2019. Joey Spooner and I will be taking attendees through an “Adventure into the Kanban Cadences.” It’s a fun and enjoyable simulation that helps people understand more about the different layers and feedback loops of a scaled Kanban system.

Later this month, I’ll be speaking at the Washington Navy Yard Museum and NWDC Carderock. The theme of both talks will be organizational learning in the U.S. Navy, as I developed it in Learning War. A key difference is that at the Navy Yard, I’ll be focused on the history, whereas at Carderock, I’ll focus on complex adaptive systems and implications for the future.

I’m excited for September. I’ll be at the McMullen Symposium again, this time on a panel based on a new Naval Institute Press book commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. My chapter in the book, and my talk at the conference, will discuss Admiral William F. Halsey’s decision to take his Third Fleet north and leave the exit to San Bernardino Strait unguarded.

Later that month, I’ll be discussing Admiral Nimitz’s approach as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet and Commander, Pacific Ocean Areas, at the National Museum of the Pacific War’s Annual Symposium. That’s been a very enjoyable project so far. My paper at the Society of Military History Annual Meeting earlier this year was a preview, but I’ve done a lot since then and I’m looking forward to sharing my ideas.

4 responses to “More Speaking Engagements”

  1. Where would RADM Callaghan have been exposed to the info about the fighting strength comparisons between 3 NORTHAMPTONs and 1 KONGO? This really puts the events of 12-13 Nov 42 in a new light! Thanks very much, John

    • Yes, that is part of my argument. Callaghan was an experienced surface warfare officer and while he may not have seen that specific analysis, he certainly would have been familiar with the assumptions and logic behind it. Best, Trent

      • It’s an interesting analysis but there are some other data points that give me pause.

        First Neptunes Inferno has a quote from Callaghan that indicates he believes he’s on a suicide mission. That does t sound like a guy who thinks by going 3 on 1 he can create a favorable tactical situation.

        Second Callaghan is up against 2 Kongo’s not 1. Plus the rest of the Japanese force.

        Third he only has two 8” cruisers and 1 6” gun cruiser. Thus it’s not really the same scenario that’s on that graph.

        Fourth he famously never issued a battle plan to his commanders. If your plan for defeating a superior enemy force depends on getting in close and going three on 1 you’d sure as heck want to communicate that.

        Fifth and perhaps most importantly his off ships fire starboard even fire to port order. Given the formation he’s in that order absolutely guaranteed that his 8” cruisers would be splitting their fire in different directions. That sure doesn’t sound like someone trying to create this model engagement.

        In my view Callaghan didn’t have a real plan even in his own mind. He’s taking cruisers up against battleships and he thinks his fleet has been sent on a suicide mission. He hasn’t had a sea command of more than a single ship before and his recent time on San Francisco was escorting carriers. He’s trying to see with his eyes what the Japanese fleet is doing and seems to have tuned out most of the reports coming in from other ships. It’s not until his group is dead center in the middle of the enemy fleet that he figures this out and gives the famous odd/even order.

        Based on his formation and lack of any pre-battle orders the picture to me is one of a guy who wants to create a fairly standard surface engagement (if such a thing can be said to exist) in which he’ll see the enemy maneuver his line to best advantage and simply commence fire. I just don’t see anything in the record or in his conduct that leads me to think he was trying to create the kind of matchup your talking about.

      • Thanks for the comments. If you’d like to engage with my full argument, I suggest you consult Learning War; it gets into much more detail about the available evidence regarding Callaghan’s plan and why I think my narrative is the best fit for it.

        The most important question is not what plan would have been most effective for Callaghan’s force. Instead, we have to look at the options available to him—factoring in existing USN tactics and doctrine, Callaghan’s personal disposition, and what he knew about his forces and those of the enemy—and his actions during the battle to try to reconstruct what he was trying to do. I’ve done that and tried to put Callaghan’s fight into the appropriate context.

        As to some of your points:

        – The “suicide” comment is from Callaghan’s flag captain, Cassin Young. Callaghan himself was much more resolved, responding, “I know, but we have to do it.” I cannot be certain, but I hypothesize Young’s reaction was one reason Callaghan never issued a battle plan.

        – Substituting Helena for an 8-inch cruiser only makes it more likely that Callaghan would prefer a close-range fight. Under about 10,000 yards, the limited penetrating power of her 6-inch guns would be more than offset by their much higher rate of fire (at least in the Naval War College’s calculations).

        – Two Kongos instead of one. Yes, of course. This is why Callaghan hoped to deal with each in turn.

        – Callaghan’s open fire to port and starboard order is less illuminating than his orders to his destroyers (he tells both the van and rear destroyers to take course 000—straight through the enemy formation) and his three large cruisers, which he orders to follow his flagship and turn to port (to open broadsides) and then cease fire to mask their approach once they are past what appears to be the enemy screen. He made a deliberate effort to close with his heavy ships. Callaghan also clearly stated he was after the Kongos. He told his three cruisers, “We want the big ones.”

        Those maneuvers are far from a “fairly standard surface engagement” but they do have a certain similarity to prewar USN formations for “night search and attack.” As a cruiser captain, Callaghan would have become familiar with them before the war. I believe they informed his approach to the battle and are one reason why, rather than attempting what would have been more “standard” (crossing the enemy “T”), Callaghan headed directly for the Japanese formation once it was located on radar.


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