Thursday, February 14, 2013
America's Black Sea Fleet: The U.S. Navy Amidst War and Revolution, 1919-1923
Right up front, I have to say, this is one of the best books that USNI Press has put out in some time. Skillfully written an English professor and retired USNR Captain, Dr Shenk has crafted an excellent treatise on this heretofore little known fleet.
The US Black Sea Fleet operated from Constantinople from the end of the First World War through the horrors of Russian famine and Turkish genocide of Christians until 1923.
Shenk weaves a tale of the egotistical Admiral Mark Bristol USN, who essentially outdid the State Department as the most important American figure in the region. Bristol allowed the use of naval radios to transmit stories for reporters and news services that painted him or his policy in a favorable light. In addition, Bristol often allow the use of destroyers to transport persons or groups in his favor around the region.
The fleet was mostly destroyers augmented by cruisers or battleships for short periods and commanded from ashore or from yacht USS Scorpion (pictured below), which was often used for social functions by Bristol. Some of the young officers serving in theater would become well known in World War Two and after: Kinkaid, Gallery and Leahy to name a few.
Constantinople was the Roaring 20s was full of desperate White Russians who had fled the Bolshevik takeover at home. To make ends meet, many would perform any type of job they could get such as teachers, maids, waitresses and even prostitutes. Anyone could walk into a restaurant in Constantinople and be served by a former princess.
US Navy ships were permitted to deliver food aid to starving Russians at Black Sea ports. US sailors were first hand witnesses to bodies lying everywhere due to the famine.
The animosity between Greece and Turkey during this period was intense and Greece invaded parts of Turkey to support native Greeks in Turkey. Many of these Greek residing in Turkey were prevented from fleeing and many ended up dead. The Black Sea Fleet was instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of fleeing Greek and Armenian refugees at Smyrna and elsewhere.
Also during the fleet's period of existence was the slaughter of at least one million Christian Armenians in Turkey, a fact that Bristol did not fully comprehend while it was happening. Ninety years ago the idea of that kind of genocide as practically unthinkable in Bristol's defense.
Wow, I've not been as gripped reading a history since I read Barbara Tuchman's classic Guns of August in high school.
We certainly hope that Professor Shenk writes again soon.