Book Review: The Royal Navy Officer’s Pocket-Book, 1944

The Royal Navy Officer's Pocket-Book by Brian Lavery

The Royal Navy Officer’s Pocket-Book, 1944 with introduction, compiled by Brian Lavery is a reprint of the World War II naval officers pocket-book. Lavery is a leading British naval historian he has also published Churchill’s Navy (2006). 

As a former US Marine, I have read the tomes that are the Marine Corps’ non-commissioned officers and officers handbook and guide. Although it has been well over twenty years since I looked at either book, I remember a great deal from them that applied to my time in the Marines and afterwards. As a student of history and formerly serving under the Department of the Navy, I thought this British naval hand-book would be an make a nice comparison to that I have learned. 

After the introduction by Captain J. N. Pelly, the book begins:

Leadership is the one attribute which is common and necessary to all who wear the uniform of an officer in His Majesty’s Forces, whatever their technical qualifications. 

It is followed by Bearing and Example, Knowledge, Firmness and Fairness, Loyalty, and Smartness. This is much of what I expected; what makes a leader a leader and more importantly an effective leader. This first section of the book is a fairly detailed coverage of what it takes to be an effective leader. Know you men, by name. No one likes to be called “Hey, you.” Address your non-commissioned officers by rank and name. It shows respect for what they have earned and your faith in their abilities. Don’t raise men’s hope of leave or liberty, unless you are one hundred percent sure you can deliver on it. Disappointment makes for poor morale. There is several mentions about conduct of the men and more than a few mentions of dealing with drunkenness (but also the importance of maintaining adequate rum rations for the men). 

The book goes on to more ship related matters and spends a great deal of time on the ship’s medical officers. There is a section on correcting courses, converting magnetic compass readings to true compass readings, and correcting for drift. The ship’s medical officer section is disproportionately large, primarily because doctors serving on ships during the war were civilian doctors and not naval trained doctors. They had a major adjustment to make. Doctors are also told that the navy cannot afford x-ray machine and microscopes for all the ships in the navy and doctors must make use of the medical training and not rely only on technology. The final chapter starts with the warning that this book is to remain locked up when not in use then proceeds to cover the subject of mutiny. I saw that as a little odd to find in a modern democratic nations naval hand-book, but it was on the minds of leaders. WWII pulled many men into the navy who would much rather being doing something else than fighting a global war. There was a realistic concern that some would choose to rebel. The solution basically boils down to good leadership. 

It is interesting to see all the changes in the modern military and how much of this hand-book is now obsolete. One thing that never changes though is leadership and being an effective leader. That leadership also plays a role in the civilian world today’s leaders and supervisors could learn much from this short hand-book. Military leadership is not yelling and screaming. It is building a team, setting the example, and motivating people to complete a task. Militaries know this and it has remained effective over the years. This hand-book may be more in more in line for military historians and naval historians, but it has great advice for all leaders. 

No star rating because this is a historic training manual written for a specific purpose and time, but well worth the read. 

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