HyperWar Editor's Notes

The following notes are intended to add additional color to this history.

The original history was prepared by William C. Askew and is dated September 13, 1946. It is unclear what position Mr. Askew held, although one document as part of this record is signed "William C. Askew, Colgate University". On May 13, 1949, Lt. Francis L. Berkeley, Jr., USNR submitted a review of the original manuscript to the Director of Naval History, with his recommendations on the manuscript. It appears that Lt. Berkeley was asked to review the original document and provide comments and suggestions for its revision.

The original manuscript that was used for this HyperWar posting included numerous margin notes and other commentary from the review of Lt. Berkeley. Those notes and comments do not appear in the transcription as posted on the HyperWar web site. In transcribing this document, I had a very strong urge to edit substantial portions of the original text, if for no other reason than to correct grammatical errors. However, in keeping with the intent of the HyperWar project, I resisted that temptation, and tried to capture the original document in its native form.

It would not be fair to the reader to withhold the fact that within the Navy (in 1949) there was some level of dissatisfaction with the initial history. As such, I have included here some general information, to give a broader view of this document. Lt. Berkeley's notes are quite extensive, but it is not practical or necessarily relevant to publish all of the notes. As time and motivation permits, I will attempt to extract some of the more relevant comments for inclusion here. Suffice it to say that his recommendation appears to have been rejected, and we are left with the present document.

The following material is provided:

It is rather humorous to note that in Enclosure C, the overly critical Lt. Berkeley incorrectly identifies the first Armed Guard crew as having been assigned to the Dunboyne on December 2, 1942. This crew was, in reality, assigned on December 2, 1941.

- Rick Pitz, for the HyperWar Foundation, 20 July 2007

13 May 1949

From:    Lt. Francis L. Berkeley, Jr., 191080, (D), USNR, Volunteer Reserve.
To:        The Director of Naval History
Subj:     Recommendations regarding manuscript entitled "History of the Naval Armed Guard Afloat".

Encl:    (A) Subject manuscript, annotated.
            (B) Suggestions (entitled "General Memoranda") for revision of the manuscript.
            (C) Memorandum entitled "Mr. Askew's Armed Guard Manuscript, suggestions for its replacement."
            (D) Tentative Skeleton Outline for an Armed Guard operational history.

1. Enclosure (B) suggesting revisions, was written prior to my reporting for two weeks' temporary duty, and after a cursory reading of the manuscript, which I then supposed must be used, subject only to revision.

2. Enclosure (A) I have annotated in detail, both in marginal notes and by means of attached slips. Its faults of organization and composition, its reliance on only one source of information, and its entire neglect of Armed Guard relationship to other elements of the anti-submarine war would make revision exceedingly difficult.

3. Enclosure (C) sets forth briefly my suggestions and recommendations as to future procedure for getting an adequate Armed Guard operational history prepared.

4. Enclosure (D) is suggested as a tentative skeleton outline for an Armed Guard history. It could be much improved by the writer who undertakes the task, and it should certainly be much more elaborated, with added sub-headings.

5. My mature conviction, following a close sentence-by-sentence study of Mr. Askew's manuscript during the past two weeks, is that it ought to be discarded, and a new one written. Without adequate revision, the present manuscript tends to reflect actual discredit (and undeserved discredit) on the Armed Guard and on the Navy. As adequate Armed Guard history could have considerable popular appeal, and would shed additional luster on the Navy's record in World War II.


Francis L. Berkeley Jr.

Mr. Askew's Armed Guard Manuscript

Suggestions for its Replacement

Enclosure C - 13 May 1949

If the manuscript is to be reviewed, the notes and queries attached to it (entitled "General Memoranda"), made by me two weeks ago upon a first inspection of it, may be suggestive.

My personal opinion is that the manuscript is not worth revising. It is badly organized and ill written. It never succeeds in conveying the "feel" of the Armed Guard service. Despite extravagant claims for the Armed Guards, the author never makes clear the relation of freighters' gun crews to the other elements of Anti-submarine warfare or to the Naval war as a whole. The narrative is a cold, impersonal account which sacrifices every consideration to a rather absurd effort to drag in the name of every possible ship. Marginal notes throughout the manuscript, and slips attached to each chapter, record in detail my personal and critical reactions to this book.

Virtually the entire manuscript is a digest of voyage reports. "Memos for File" of the Arming Merchant Ships Section are cited four times, and there are two footnotes to other sources. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that this volume would serve even as a complete substitute (for use by another editor or author) for the actual voyage reports of the Armed Guard Officers. In a majority of cases Mr. Askew has strained the human interest from these reports, or has simply failed to catch it "between the lines". Note, for example, the Philippines chapter. It bears considerable resemblance to a time table, and is scarcely more readable. A future author or editor will, therefore, be obliged to consult at least some examples of voyage reports from the various convoy areas and independent sailing routes.

An action story of the Armed Guard ought to be written. A good one could obtain a wide popular audience and would reflect great credit on the entire Navy. It need not be "fictionalized" in any particular, nor even be over-dramatized. The material is all available, and all that is needed is imagination and a reasonable facility in narrative writing.

Three methods, depending on budgetary considerations, suggest themselves:

  1. Narrative to be written by reservist ordered to this office to perform this function, and no other, for a period of four to six months.

  2. Staff member of Office of Naval History to serve as general editor. Specific chapters to be written by selected reservists called in for two weeks each.

  3. A professional writer to be allowed to use this Armed Guard material as a private enterprise, subject to a minimum of censorship and as mush assistance as the Office of Naval History could render. He should be encouraged to serialize some of the parts as well as to produce a complete volume.

In discussing these three alternatives below, it is assumed that an historian of demonstrated ability as a writer is not available.


This one-man job would give the Director of Naval History the greatest amount of control of the scope and timing of the project. It would be best to have an ex-Armed Guard man, providing that a literate man who can spare time (four to six months) for the work can be found from among the 144,000 men who served in the Armed Guard. If it should happen that (1) the budget forbids this, or (2) the man selected cannot remain in this office for so long a period, the procedure might be as follows. The writer could come to this office for two or three weeks to examine confidential materials, and make notes. Narratives which are merely restricted (such as "Arming of Merchant Ships and Armed Guards") might be lent to him through inter-library loan for use at his home community. He could also work at home with published works, such as Morison's and periodicals which have Armed Guard material ("All Hands", the "Yale Review" for 1944, etc.). Occasional visits to Washington might then suffice for his completion of the work.

At the beginning he should be required to prepare a general outline of his narrative, subject to approval by the Director of Naval History. Periodically he might be required to submit portions of his work, so that the office would not have another Askew on its hands.


If an officer permanently on the staff of the Office of Naval History undertook this task, it would be necessary (1) to relieve him of some other duties, or (2) to have him act as a general editor. If the first plan can be followed, most of the problems disappear at once. If he must act simply as editor and coordinator, he would still have to devote considerable time to the work at different periods. He would have to prepare an outline, or table of contents, of the work either before or after the "chapters", or essays were written. He might have to prepare the introduction, the concluding chapter, and even forwards to some or all chapters. In order to get ten or twelve chapters good enough to use, he might have to get twenty or more men to write single chapters (either here or on two weeks' duty, or at their homes from personal diaries and recollections). One man might write on "Voyages to Murmansk", another on the "Armed Guard Center, Brooklyn", etc. Other chapters might be on such subjects as "Relations with Merchant Mariners", "A Day's Work at Sea" (or in Port; a good deal of humor could be brought in).

On the whole, I think this would be a somewhat cumbersome and difficult method, although a cheap one. Selection of writers would be difficult. As Admiral Halsey observed in his memoirs, writing an "official report" cramps the style of most writers. If you selected a score of men who turned in good voyage reports, you might get something quite fine if you told them to elaborate their reports (and let themselves go) for possible use in a published narrative.


A professional writer might be offered the facilities and assistance for the preparation of a popular volume on the Armed Guard afloat and ashore. There would be best-seller potentialities; but the Office of Naval History should restrict itself to assisting and to censoring (as mildly as possible) only to protect confidential data. One of the better war-correspondents could do such a job. I recall two "Yank" reporters (Army sergeants Marion Hargrove, author of "See Here, Private Hargrove", and Walter Bernstein, a writer for the "New Yorker") who made a three-months voyage with me, and recorded some of their observations in "Yank". The following year (1944) Bernstein published a readable little piece, in the "Yale Review", which he called "Night Watch". It was good despite war-time censorship and the fact that he picked a typical quiet night in the Pacific for the story.

The best man who occurs to me off-hand for such a project is Mr. Abbott J. Liebling, who in recent months has done an excellent series for the "New Yorker" describing his visits to Denmark last year to see the owners and crew of his old war-time Armed Guard ship. Such a man as he might be able to serialize parts of his Armed Guard history prior to its publication as a book - a device which increases sales of the book.

Even an ex-war correspondent who had previously written only on the Army might be set on fire by reading Morison's fine chapter on single-ship actions (Chapter XVI, "Unescorted Ships With Armed Guards"). I can imagine such a man ending his book with a similar chapter. His narrative might well begin with a brief story of the "first" Armed Guard officer, Ensign Rufus T. Brinn who volunteered for Murmansk from the first "pool" at Brooklyn, and mustered his crew at the old 52nd Street Armory on 2 December 1942 to go on board Dunboyne for an eventful, tragic voyage (see ComThree's administrative history, Vol. II, pp. 491-492, and S.E. Morison, Battle of the Atlantic, pp. 168, 172 ff. and 372 ff). The chapters between such a beginning and such an end should give greatest emphasis to the North Cape run, the North Atlantic U.K. run, the Mediterranean, and the Philippines, with shorter chapters relating the Armed Guard to the principal decisive campaigns in both war theaters.

Both the organization and the method of presentation by a professional writer, however, would have to be his own.

This third alternative is the one I am inclined to favor. It would be the least expensive. It would be least likely to distract the office staff from other duties. A well chosen professional would be most likely to get a wide audience for the book. He would be more likely than the persons suggested above in sections I and II to have the leisure to undertake the work without the distraction of other tasks. Above all, he would have the incentive of (1) a good story and (2) a story which would sell. If he did not find a good potential story when he first examined the available materials, he would not undertake the project at all. This fact would help the Director of Naval History to avoid an initial error in selecting a writer - avoidance of another Askew. If the Director is opposed to Alternative III, then I think number I is the safest, although number II might bring some surprisingly good results at the cost of editorial efforts and a considerable delay in time.

Respectfully submitted.


Francis L. Berkeley Jr.
Lt. (D) USNR

13 May 1949


Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Rick Pitz for the HyperWar Foundation