Hitting the books: Rookie oceanographer helped win World War II using ocean science
L.etartize It tells the story of pioneering oceanographic researcher Mary Sears and her leading role in creating one of the most important intelligence gathering operations of World War II. Academically obscure, emaciated, and brusquely ignored by his male colleagues, Sears was selected to command by the godfather of climate change, Roger Rebel, in charge of the Naval Hydrographic Office’s Oceanographic Unit. She and her team of researchers have analyzed ocean currents, mapped bioluminescent fields, mapped deep-sea crevasses that could reveal or hide U.S. submarines from their enemies, and analyzed the shores and waves of the Pacific Islands and Japan itself. situation.
from Lethal Tides By Catherine Musemes. Copyright © 2022 by Catherine Musemeche. Reprinted with permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
— Washington, DC, 1943 —
After four months in the Oceanographic Corps, Sears has learned a lot about what the military needs from oceanographers. She learned it from meeting with Roger Revell and his associates at the Joint Chiefs of Staff Subcommittee on Oceanography, listening to their concerns about what the Navy lacked, and taking detailed notes. learned from answering requests for tidal data, wave forecasts and ocean currents from all branches of the military to support tactical operations abroad. She learned it from gathering all known references to drifting and drafting a desperately needed manual to help find men lost at sea. Now she understands exactly how severe the lack of oceanographic intelligence is and how it can undermine military operations. It won’t.
Sears was no longer at Woods Hole. There she was sidelined by a male colleague who had sailed the Atlantis and collected her specimens during her stay ashore. For the first time in her life, she was in charge. It was her responsibility to launch and direct the operations of the Marine Intelligence Corps, which studied the key issues that affected the war. She was never asked to set agendas, call meetings, or give orders to people. She needed to take her lead.
To take on the role of leader, Sears will have to break through her innate tendency to be reserved and the thoughts running through her head that screamed you didn’t belong here. was not natural for a bench scientist who worked alone all day staring at a microscope, especially if that scientist was a woman, but Sears learned by watching the level. He started out as a tweed-jacketed scholar, but when the Navy made him a lieutenant, he assumed the persona of “the man in charge.”
As the tall, broad-shouldered, uniformed Rebel entered the meeting room of the Munitions Building, he was in complete control. He spoke in a vibrant and determined voice. He had answers to all questions. he solved the problem. Well, thanks to her level of overconfidence, Sears was also in uniform. She didn’t want anyone to think she couldn’t fulfill them.
In the first year of the war, Washington gathers information about countries whose armies might be at war, especially as far afield as New Guinea, Indochina, Formosa, and all the small islands scattered across 64 million square feet. There was a mad scramble for. Pacific miles. World War II spanned the globe to places most Americans had never heard of, places the military had never been to. It was unlike any other war Americans had fought. .
Getting to these places is easy. The Navy could navigate anywhere in the world to a distant target thanks to the nautical charts maintained by the Hydrographic Office, but what will they find when they get there? Is the beach flat and wide, or narrow and steep and difficult to land on? Was the terrain mountainous, volcanic, or swampy? Will strong winds and waves prevent a smooth landing? will you land on Who were the native people and what language did they speak? Were there roads for cars after the troops crossed the beach?
All these details were important because going to war was more than carrying men, tanks, rifles and ammunition to designated locations and attacking the enemy. I had to come prepared for something. I mean, I knew everything I could about the area beforehand.
The military searched the files for background material. They found the agency’s files littered with spotty reports, but no comprehensive reference that spanned the globe, giving them a sense of what to expect when they went to war. The period from World War I to World War II spanned the lean budgets of the Great Depression. The military, like the rest of the country, was in decline, with soldiers trained on Springfield rifles built in 1903 and rented cruise ships used to transport troops. With Congress tightening its purse strings, there was no money to spend gathering information about a war that could one day break out in a corner of the world. The file cabinet was almost empty. “We were arrested completely unprepared,” one intelligence official summed it up.
What will the military do now to catch up in the midst of the ongoing war?
It was a problem that had plagued Roosevelt since before the war. To correct the information divide, he appointed General William Donovan his intelligence coordinator in mid-1941. This role changed during World War II to Director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). However, Donovan was also a late starter, and his mission focused less on foreign terrain and more on espionage and sabotage.
The military’s logical source of information was its own intelligence agency. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Army’s Intelligence Corps, G-2, all began producing their own internal intelligence reports, duplicating efforts and costs. . But like jealous brothers guarding their toys, the agency kept reports private and only hindered preparations in the long run. We didn’t, and there were still many gaps that needed to be filled.
“Who would have thought that when the Germans marched into Poland, we would suddenly have to extend our search from the cryolite mines of Ivigtut in Greenland to the guayule plant in the Yucatán island of Mexico? Or Kiska? From the twilight settlements of Guadalcanal to the reef beaches of Guadalcanal, who thought they needed to know (or suspected they didn’t really) all about the beaches of France and the tides of the English Channel? You must have thought,” the CIA official later mused.
That was exactly the problem. No one could have predicted exactly what information would be needed in a global war. Whether it was knowing where to find the minerals you needed or finding the latest tidal data, you needed more than just estimating the strength and weaponry of enemy forces. Military leaders seeking to plan war were particularly hampered as to where to send their troops first and what operations to carry out when they arrived. Their information needs unfolded in real time. The lack of a centralized forum to collect, collate, analyze, and disseminate information put the United States at a disadvantage in war planning.
Roosevelt began to realize the extent of the problem when he began meeting with Churchill and the British Chief of Staff at a series of war planning conferences. At the Arcadia Conference, two weeks after the start of World War II, Britain had the upper hand in strategic planning. For nearly two decades they operated under a system of supreme unified command over the British General Staff and benefited from cooperation between the Admiralty and the British Army. The United States had no such counterpart.
A few weeks after the first meeting, Roosevelt formed his own Joint Chiefs of Staff, a United States unified high command composed of Admiral William D. Leahy, the special military adviser to the president. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations, Supreme Commander of the U.S. Fleet. General Henry H. Arnold, Deputy Chief of Staff, Air Force, Chief of Army Air Corps. This impressive array of leaders was able to formulate a battle plan, but it took time to become a truly cooperative organization.
At the next war planning conference in Casablanca in January 1943, Roosevelt realized another flaw in the American war planning apparatus: the information gap between Britain and America. No matter where in the world the topic came up, the British were preparing detailed analyzes of the areas in question and pulling those reports out of their briefcases. Its inability to produce a single study of equal quality frustrated and embarrassed the president.
“We came, we listened, we were conquered,” Brigadier General Albert C. Wedemeyer, chief planner of the Army, shared with colleagues after the Casablanca conference. “They kept us on the defensive practically all the time.”
The British served the Americans in this war for two years, and they learned the hard way about the need to gather reliable terrain information. During the German invasion of Norway in 1940, the RAF Bomber Command used the 1912 version of the Bedeka’s A travel guide for travelers as the sole reference when planning a counterattack. In the same offensive, the Royal Navy had few charts to guide attacks on major ports. The British had run out of one of her on the Norwegian mission, but knew they had to do better.
There they formed the Interservice Terrain Division to pool terrain information generated by the Army, Navy, and Allies, and tasked them with producing reports in advance of military operations abroad. This is where Churchill’s reports came from, and why his aide was able to pull them out of a briefcase when the most sensitive joint operations were planned. To stand, Americans needed to be able to do the same. That is, they had to find a way to correct the lack of information, and operations were planned quickly. To stand on equal footing with Britain, Americans needed to be able to do the same. That meant we had to find a way to quickly rectify the lack of information.
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