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Murphy's New View
Griffifth Stadium, Washington D. C., September 27, 1933
Admiral Ricketts and Commander Murphy hadn't talked alone together more than a dozen times, but the location always presented a problem. For security reasons it was important to minimize overt contact between BuCon and BuAero, suggestive as it was of the building of aircraft carriers. It was therefore necessary for the two men to meet in a recreational setting, as if they were just friends. Admiral Ricketts thought this silly. He insisted that there were no spies in BuCon to report a visit by Commander Murphy. He also refused, apparently on principle, to go anywhere near any art gallery. They finally compromised by going to see the Washington Senators play the New York Yankees in the wilderness of row houses and systematically named streets in which Griffifth Stadium was located.
The Senators were traditionally the butt of jokes, for example,
"Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."
This year, with the great Joe Cronin and such other luminaries as Goose Goslin and Heinie Manush, they had bedazzled the league. With only a few games remaining to be played, they were mathematically certain of the pennant.
One might have supposed that Admiral Ricketts would be a Senator fan. Not only did he live in the city, but the Senators were the team closest to his home precincts in Virginia. On the contrary, for reasons that Murphy could only guess at, he was a staunch supporter of the New York Yankees, the perennial powerhouse of the league. As such, he went out to see them whenever they came to town. It didn't seem to matter that this particular game was a meaningless one.
Admiral Ricketts wanted to sit close to first base so as to be near his particular hero, Lou Gehrig. Murphy at least got him to sit back from the crowd a dozen rows so that they couldn't possibly be overheard. He had some important matters to discuss, but he found it difficult to communicate with the admiral. When the Yankees were at bat, Ricketts followed every pitch, sometimes shouting advice to the umpire. He would also jab Murphy in the arm if he thought that the latter had missed anything.
Since they were both in civilian dress, Murphy was tempted to jab Ricketts back when he, in turn, needed the admiral's attention. Instead, he waited for the Senators to come to bat. Even then, whenever there was a ground ball and a routine throw to Gehrig at first, Ricketts popped his head forward and ignored whatever Murphy was saying. The best chances to talk came between innings, but there were still interruptions as the admiral shouted to hot dog vendors.
Murphy's main concern was to get across an idea he had had as a result of a conversation with Moses Whitby, who had recently been in Washington. They had agreed that, given the likely development of Japanese aircraft, American fighters would be unable to adequately protect their own carriers in any battle between carrier forces. Partly making up for this was the powerful anti-aircraft armament which was being readied for all American ships. But they still had to expect heavy losses. Murphy felt that he had gotten that across to Ricketts by the bottom of the second inning.
In the third, Murphy got Ricketts to agree, as he had many times previously, that their strategy was defensive: Let the Japanese strike first, and then reply. If the carriers sunk were a couple of the old converted battleships, particularly the ones which carried fighter planes exclusively, it would be no tragedy. Most of the fighters would already be in the air when their bases went down, and they could be refueled aboard other carriers. The Japanese fighters would, by this time, have taken a mauling. They would be in no shape to beat off the American attack that followed them home to their own carriers.
All this was familiar stuff, but the more often Ricketts agreed to a position, the more likely he was to maintain it under pressure. Murphy fed it to the admiral while the Yankees were at bat in the third. He then waited for Babe Ruth to lift a high fly to center for the third out before leaping in.
"But suppose, admiral, that they get the Lexington and Saratoga, or whatever other new carriers we may have. Then we won't have any bombers left to make our attack with. We'll lose the battle."
"You could send the bombers off to fly around while their carriers are attacked."
"There probably wouldn't be time. And there wouldn't be any bombs or torpedoes aboard the other carriers to arm them with. Really, it's even a little worse than that. One reason we're only having fighters on some of the old converted battleships is so there won't be bombs and torpedoes to go off if the ship is hit and catches fire. So it's really the new carriers that are more vulnerable and more likely to be knocked out. A hit in the right place, and all the explosive aboard will blow them apart."
Ricketts was silent, and Murphy was sure he had gotten through to him with the problem. He now had to time the solution properly.
In the bottom of the third, the Senators got two runs as the hated Cronin doubled off the wall with two on. Ricketts was almost beside himself, and couldn't be talked to at all. In the top of the fourth, the Yankees, including Gehrig, went down in order while Ricketts muttered imprecations. It was in the bottom of the fourth that Murphy made his next move.
"You know, under battle conditions, pilots won't be able to pick out one carrier, as opposed to another, to bomb. All carriers will look the same, and, with the volume of AA we can put up, the Jap pilots will think they're doing well if they can hit any carrier."
"I would in their place. PITCH TO HIM, HERB. DON'T WALK THAT CLOWN!"
There were some hostile looks from people in front which Ricketts ignored. Murphy quickly came back with,
"Ok. What we need are more ships that look like carriers to confuse them."
"What! How in hell do you build something that looks like a carrier but isn't?"
Murphy was afraid that Ricketts was getting too loud, and desisted for the time being. He also suspected that Ricketts, if left with something he didn't understand, would mull it over.
In the top of the fifth the Yankees got two runs to tie the game, and Ricketts felt much better. He even asked Murphy what he had in mind as the ground crew dragged the infield.
"The new fleet tankers that you're about to design. It would be great if they were to have virtually flush decks and a bridge structure that can be easily dismantled. When war draws near, we can quickly put a big flight deck on top. They won't have elevators for taking planes below deck, but they could still have a complement of some twenty fighters. They could also land and refuel fighters whose carriers have been sunk. Most important, they'll look like the other carriers from the air."
Ricketts at first looked unbelieving, and then laughed sarcastically.
"How will you navigate them with no bridges? How will they steam with no funnels?"
These questions were clearly meant to be rhetorical, and Murphy was keenly aware of his minimal background in naval architecture. However, he had recently read a few things.
"The funnels can be led off to the side the way the Japs did with their big carriers, Kaga and Akagi."
Murphy paused a minute as the throw went down to second base, and then continued,
"You don't really need a bridge on a ship. The helm should be down below anyway. All you need are some shelters where the officers can stand and communicate by telephone with the helm and engine room."
Ricketts made some peculiar noises.
"Look, Murph, if you'll shut up about that and watch the game, I'll think about it."
Murphy sat back with a smile, and did as instructed.
The Senators chipped away for two more runs, and entered the ninth with a two run lead. The Yankees sent up a pinch hitter for Herb Pennock, who singled. Combs bounced into a force play, but the next man walked, so that they had two on with one out. Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri were then coming up in order. Ricketts pounded triumphantly on Murphy's shoulder, as if the game were already won for the Yankees.
Unfortunately, Ruth lifted a towering pop fly to the infield, so that Lou Gehrig came to bat with the game to win or lose. Admiral Ricketts went very nearly beserk when the first pitch, which he believed to be high, was called a strike. Then there was a pitch in the dirt, which the Senator catcher did well to block. At that point Murphy yielded to temptation and bellowed,
"C'MON, PETE. HIT A HOMER."
Ricketts turned on him as if he had called the Virgin Mary a prostitute. In fact, while he was explaining, for all time, the matter of who had what first name, he missed the next pitch entirely. It was called a ball.
Gehrig swung on the two-and-one pitch, and hit a ball high and deep to right. It was far enough to reach the shallow fence, but it curved sharply toward the line. To Murphy it was obvious that the ball cleared the fence foul to the right of the pole. The umpire signalled a foul ball, and the Yankees didn't even argue.
Admiral Ricketts, on the other hand, was so convinced that the ball was a home run that he made quite a rumpus. Gehrig had stepped out of the box to put resin on his hands, thus giving Murphy a chance to console his senior colleague.
"Sure, it was fair all the way, but you know what it is with a home town crowd. The umpires are afraid to cross them."
Having uttered this gross calumny against a gentleman in blue, Murphy then reassured Ricketts.
"He's bound to get hold of the next one. COME ON, LOU."
Ricketts, seemingly glad to see that Murphy now had the right name, turned his attention back to the game.
The Senator pitcher, a young left-hander, reached back for something extra and threw a fast ball that was probably meant to be high and tight. In the event, it came in outside, but still in the strike zone, a dangerous place. It was the sort of pitch Gehrig would have put away on most days. On this occasion, he uncorked his quick level swing and missed, albeit powerfully and impressively. The crowd roared for the Senator victory, and Admiral Ricketts held his head.
Some small boys who had earlier taken exception to the admiral's foreign allegiances now jeered and crowed at him. He didn't even notice. Murphy, not sure what implications this outcome might have for the future war with Japan, watched Gehrig walk back to his dugout. He showed no signs of temper, and acknowledged the words of a teammate with a rueful grin. It was, after all, only a meaningless game in Washington.
As they walked along at the tail of the crowd, D. D. Ricketts was surprisingly calm for a man whose team had just been robbed of a victory.
"Murph, for such a smart man, you have a big blind spot. You expect everyone else to be as rational as you are."
Having delivered himself of this opinion, Ricketts laid his hand paternally on Murphy's shoulder and expanded on his topic.
"Take this business of whether ships need bridges. The naval officer isn't well paid. But he has honor, and that honor is mostly built around command at sea. That command must be exercised with dignity. The captain must be able to stand on his bridge, with his officers ranged around him, and feel that he's visible to all and sundry as the man in charge."
"In the old days under sail, a captain had to hang on to the mizzen rigging in a gale and shout orders as best he could."
Ricketts' demeanor, as he now spoke, had suddenly become so reasonable that Murphy caught himself wondering if it could be the same man.
"I grant you, those were probably finer, braver days. But bridges hadn't been invented. Besides, even naval captains often weren't gentlemen with corresponding notions of dignity. What you suggest means hanging onto a catwalk somewhere with only a telephone as a visible symbol of command. It won't do. I know these people better than you do."
"These ships will have bridges as built. I just want the sheer flat, and anything that sticks up above it to be easily removable."
"A flush deck oiler with removable superstructure is going to be a damn funny looking ship. The captains will cry and scream. Practically the whole navy cares about the way ships look."
Murphy found himself unable to give up the argument, even though he was aware that Ricketts might blow up and throw reason to the winds at any moment.
"We already have ugly ships. It's really only the cruisers and the newer destroyers that are pretty."
"And remember, Murph, I won't even be able to explain why these oilers will look this way. There's no point in doing it if the conversion idea isn't kept secret. Worst of all, do you know what they'll all say?"
Murphy, feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to say, shook his head.
"They'll say that this is what happens when you give naval architects too much power. We don't know what command at sea is like, and we don't allow for it. The kind of bridge these guys think they need has wings and at least two levels. It has to be part of the structure of a ship. They won't be satisfied with a mere pilot house."
The two men were now in the middle of a crowd waiting for a trolley, but Murphy was pretty sure that their conversation wouldn't mean anything to anyone else. He replied, guardedly,
"It might turn out to make the whole difference, later on."
Ricketts, uncharacteristically whispering, replied,
"And what about masts? You've got to have masts and booms to get refuelling hoses across."
Murphy sensed that he was winning. He was sure that a man of Ricketts' ability could devise more than one way for a tanker at sea to get a refueling hose across to another ship without having booms attached to masts. He said only,
"I'd appreciate it if you'd think about it, sir."
The groundwork had been prepared. Murphy felt certain that Cynthia could do the rest.
The Freer Gallery, September 29
It was Cynthia's first meeting with Murphy since their joint meeting with Mr. Stone and Admiral King. They immediately began to discuss that meeting. Murphy burst out,
"Mrs. Tanaka didn't really warn you about Admiral King, did she?"
"She did after I asked her to."
"I see. His face was certainly a picture when you brought that up. I wasn't sure what would happen. However, he did afterwards joke about it with me. I don't think he minds being famous in the Japanese navy for his seductions."
"I decided it was more original and interesting to be the one who resisted, as opposed to being another sheep to be slaughtered. That was the opening move in my defense."
Murphy then told Cynthia about the tanker-carriers he had discussed with Admiral Ricketts. He added,
"For you, the implication is that our pilots have got to learn to operate from shorter narrower flight decks than you'd find on a regular carrier."
"Okay, I'll communicate that to Moses. Do you think D. D, can actually produce such ships?"
"If he wants to, certainly."
"Is he really that good, Murph?"
"He may be the best ship designer in the world."
Cynthia, caught by surprise, laughed.
"That's funny. I never thought of him that way at all. The idea of a world's champion at anything turning out to be like D. D. is just downright humorous."
"The trouble is that he also has some real blind spots. For example, he has no idea how many senior officers hate him and want to get rid of him."
"His second tour of duty at BuCon will be up in two years, and he expects to get a district command after that."
At that, Murphy threw up his hands dramatically.
"I know this much for sure. He won't get a district, and he'll never be promoted to Vice Admiral. I'm not even sure he'll last another year before he's retired or shunted off somewhere. You must know the score as well as I do."
"I've heard some things, yes."
"If you owe him anything, it isn't sex. It's to keep him from offending people any more than necessary. If you can get him to be nice to King and share power, that'll help a great deal."
Cynthia looked at her companion, somewhat askance.
"This isn't a member of BuAero speaking is it?"
"No. Really, it's not that. D. D. did a brilliant job on that last project which I won't mention. We need him for one more. I want his ability as a naval architect. He'll last longer if he gives up pretensions in other directions. If he behaves, I can get both King and Stone to speak up for him, at least up to a point."
"Whenever anyone talks to me about D. D., I end up by saying that I'll try. And I will, too. In the meantime, I have just one question. Aren't we ever going to build ships that aren't intended just as targets for the Japs. First, we started converting old destroyers and light cruisers that are meant to get hit by torpedoes aimed at more valuable ships. Then we allow them to bomb our ships at will. Now we build tankers that are meant to be bombed by mistake."
"Well, the Japs are too good to deny completely. They'll get hits. We want to make it as unlikely as possible that those scores will be on the most critical ships."
"What happens if they get them all?"
"In a funny way, it's not a complete disaster even if they sink all our carriers and we don't even damage any of theirs. At least if, as planned, we shoot down and kill large numbers of their pilots. Our pilots come back and have to land in the water beside destroyers who pick them up. American industrial power, once its running full steam, can replace the planes and carriers very quickly. And replace them with better planes and ships. Then, we still have the top-notch experienced pilots to fly those better planes. The Japs have all their ships, but they've lost most of their best pilots. A first class corps of pilots takes a very long time to produce. You can't do it with hurry-up wartime training programs. Half-trained pilots get killed as fast as you can supply them."
"That doesn't make me feel a great deal better. Anyhow, what about D. D.? You told me before that he needed to be more popular. Now we're pushing him into designing tankers that'll make him unpopular."
Murphy looked at her closely and sighed.
"Well, this is the thing we need him for. Designing a ship that can later be converted to something else without giving away what that something else might be isn't a project for an amateur. No one else could do it as well. So we have to protect him in other ways until those tankers are designed. Someone else could oversee the actual construction."
"So it's not just ships that are being sacrificed. It's also an admiral."
"I'm afraid so. His days are numbered whatever we do. But this is the last thing we really need out of him."
"Poor old D. D! I may have to console him occasionally even after he gets unadmiralled."
"I've always thought you really cared for him, whatever you said."
"You care for him too."
"I suppose so, in a way. He certainly livens the place up, and he's more interesting than your average admiral. I guess I'll miss him."
"One trouble is that he knows so much. Then there's Mrs. Ricketts. I bet she knows much more than you'd like."
"The trouble will come with one or both Ricketts. They'll be extremely disgruntled, and they'll complain to all sorts of people. It's always people who're fired who spill the company secrets."
Murphy scratched his head.
"This, I think, is a problem for Mr. Stone."
The Office of the Undersecretary of the Navy, October 8, 1933.
Mr. Sheldon Stone, utterly oblivious to the misfortunes of the Washington Senators in their World Series against the New York Giants, was sitting writing at his large desk when his secretary announced Commander Murphy. He immediately called out,
"Come on in, Murph. Would you like some coffee?"
Murphy was one of few people, and the only member of the Navy Department, with whom Mr. Stone felt completely comfortable. He enjoyed meeting Admiral King, but it was always a battle of wits. He was fascinated by Miss Cynthia Harding, and made excuses to see her. But she also terrified him, and he spent hours wondering whether he had made a fool of himself in front of her.
It wasn't that he underestimated Murphy. Mr. Stone knew that he was the equal of King in many ways, and that he was also capable of intrigue. But, in spite of his ever-ready sense of humor, Murphy didn't make fun of people.
"Morning, Mr. Stone. No coffee yet, thanks. I'm glad to get to an office that's reasonably secure for once."
"Yes. I know everyone eavesdrops on each other down below. You're so crowded that you can't help it. We're not more honorable or less curious up here. It's just that our exalted status gives us more space."
"The problem I have for you concerns security, but it's going to take more than a larger office to solve it. Cynthia Harding brought it up, and it seemed serious enough to bring to you."
It made Mr. Stone quite nervous when people talked that way. It reminded him of the feeling he used to have when told to report to the headmaster. It seemed to make no difference that he was now, more or less, the headmaster. He nervously shot out,
"No leak, I hope."
"No. Strictly a future concern. We all know that Admiral Ricketts will be under increasing pressure. We're afraid that, if he's forced to retire, he'll be pissed off enough to spill the beans."
"You don't mean that he'd go around to the Japanese embassy?"
"Nothing like that. He's not a traitor. But he has a tendency to talk at the best of times. He makes a greater attempt to curb it now than he would if he were pushed out."
As an administrator, Mr. Stone tended to take potential future problems much less seriously than present ones. If it hadn't been Murphy who brought him this one, he would probably have dismissed it. As it was, he acknowledged it rather hesitantly.
"Yes. I see."
"Cynthia also thinks that Mrs. Ricketts knows a lot, and may not be secure."
"Well, we already know that Cynthia has limited love for Madame Ricketts. She might actually turn out to be a better risk than her husband. Anyhow, I see the problem. Any ideas?"
"The obvious one. That you might be able to keep D. D. in office. Quite apart from this, he's the best designer we'll ever get."
"I do so wish that he was just the man who designed the ships and wasn't in command of the bureau. But I can't restructure BuCon to that extent."
"If Cynthia can get D. D. to be tactful with his peers, and I negotiate an arrangement between him and Admiral King, can you keep him where he is?"
"Sounds like a tall order for you and Cynthia. I can't really give admirals orders, you know. Right now, Mr. Swanson is in the hospital, and he's completely out of touch."
With Murphy, Stone made no secret of the fact that he considered the hospital the best place for Claude Swanson, the nominal Secretary of the Navy. He went on to say,
"I can go right to the president with something that's obviously urgent and important. This may be that, but it sounds so much like backstairs gossip and petty intrigue."
"I think it's really all those things at once."
"Yes. But how would you like to approach the president of these United States and ask him to keep a man from being fired so he won't get depressed and angry and flap his mouth?"
"How about this? Could you tell the president that, even though Admiral Ricketts is tactless and makes enemies, he's the best naval architect in the world? That we need him, and that he has to be protected against all the admirals he's antagonized. That's all true, even if we also have these other concerns."
"Well, Murph, it's a question of spending political capital. Now, it's true that the president has a strong interest in the navy. He calls me up at least once a week and occasionally has me come over to brief him. And he does know D. D. He's dropped in a couple of times to help design ships. I can imagine how much a naval architect would welcome that kind of help, but D. D. was evidently tactful for once. Perhaps he was amused. The president has mentioned D. D. to me favorably. So that's a plus. On the other hand, this is a president who wants to be popular. He knows perfectly well that nothing makes a president less popular than telling a department it can't fire a man it wants to fire. To get him to protect D. D., I'm going to have to make a major case. I can't make such a case very often, perhaps once a year. Is it worth it?"
Neither man spoke for some time. Finally, Murphy said,
"There are some things that would have clear priority over this. For example, suppose you could persuade the president to embark on a program to build a series of new aircraft carriers. That would allow us to match Japanese strength instead of always trying to turn our weaknesses to advantage."
"That, I think, is out of the question for, shall we say, the next three years. What else would have such a priority?"
"Such things as improving naval pay, and thus attracting better men. Developing new fighter aircraft with higher performance. A whole range of things that would get us either better equipment or better men."
"Those are all things that cost money, and I don't think there's anything I can do, in addition to things I've been doing all along, which will increase the navy budget. Is there anything which wouldn't cost any money which would have priority over protecting D. D.?"
"The only thing I can think of would be protecting Admiral King, if he ever needs it. But I don't think he's likely to anytime soon."
"No, probably not. Although it won't surprise me if they gang up on him in the end. But, as I say, I can do one thing a year, and that won't happen this year. Is there anything which doesn't cost money, and which is likely to come up this year or next, which has priority over protecting D. D.?"
"Well, since we're talking about protecting people, it would be disastrous if Cynthia were fired. But I can't imagine why anyone would want to."
"People of her rank, however valuable, are very easy to protect. You just transfer them if they get in trouble. I wouldn't have to spend any political capital on her."
"Well, then. I guess that's it. I can't think of anything else that ought to have priority."
"All right. I'll remind the gentleman who sometimes styles himself as
Acting Secretary of the Navy of the very valuable work that his sometime
tutor in naval architecture is doing. Then, if trouble comes up, it'll
be natural to appeal to him."
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