ARMED FORCES: Revolt of the Admirals

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ARMED FORCES Revolt of the Admirals

With all the impressive might of a carrier strike, the U.S. Navy last week brought its rebellion into the open. Risking their careers, the Navy's highest-ranking officers ranged themselves in flat opposition to the declared policies of the U.S. Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President of the U.S.

The outburst went far deeper than interservice bickering. Its weight made the shabby machinations and underhanded skulduggery that had preceded it seem inconsequential. The rebels were men with long and distinguished careers, among them some of the Navy's proudest names. In its impassioned power, the revolt brushed aside the Navy's civilian head, who had blandly assured the House Armed Services Committee that Navy morale was good and that the only dissatisfaction came from a few hotheads in the Navy's air arm. The Secretary of the Navy was treated to loud and sardonic laughter from his assembled subordinates when he protested that he knew of no "block" against naval officers' speaking their views.

Day in Court. The Navy got its full day in open court after one of its most noted fighting men did some quick footwork in the dark. Captain John Crommelin (who is eligible to become a rear admiral in December) had charged that the Navy was "being nibbled to death in the Pentagon" by "landlocked" strategists. His unruly blast had created only a short stir (TIME, Sept. 26). Last week, more than ever determined to get a formal investigation of his charges, John Crommelin took more desperate action.

Donning civilian tweeds, Crommelin pocketed a sheaf of papers, and went downtown to get in touch with the three wire services (the A.P. man said they rendezvoused in "a shadowy corridor"). To each man Crommelin handed over a confidential letter to Secretary of the Navy Francis Matthews from Vice Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, commander of the Pacific's First Task Fleet. Crommelin insisted only that his own identity be kept secret for the moment: he wanted nothing to detract from the impact of the letter itself.

Admiral Bogan had written: "The morale of the Navy is lower today than at any time since I entered the commissioned ranks in 1916 . . . The situation deteriorates with each press release." The Navy's older officers, he declared, "are fearful that the country is being, if it has not already been, sold a false bill of goods."

A forwarding endorsement by Admiral Arthur W. Radford, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, added: "The majority of officers in the Pacific Fleet concur . . ." Most significantly, Chief of Naval Operations Louis Denfeld, who up to then had never raised his voice publicly against any decision of the Defense Department, had agreed and added: "Naval officers . . . are convinced that a Navy stripped of its offensive power means a nation stripped of its offensive power."

The explosion was immediate. After the Bogan-Radford-Denfeld correspondence had been spread across Page One, Captain Crommelin admitted that he had slipped the letter to the press, was promptly blasted by Secretary Matthews as "faithless, insubordinate and disloyal" and suspended from duty. But the Navy got its hearing before Carl Vinson's House Armed Services Committee.

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