Apr 29

Q&A with Vince O’Hara, Naval Institute Press Author of the Year

Friday, April 29, 2016 11:48 AM

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Vincent P. O’Hara received the 2015 Naval Institute Press Author of the Year Award at the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2016 Annual Meeting. The Press was delighted that Vince accepted our invitation to talk about his books and some of his inspirations.VOH

Naval History: What are your books about and why do you write them?

Vince O’Hara: I write because I’m passionate about naval history. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.

The focus of my first three books, German Fleet at War, The U.S. Navy against the Axis, and Struggle  for the Middle Sea is naval surface combat. Collectively, they describe every surface engagement fought during the war by purpose-built warships displacing more than 500 tons. These books sprang from a sense that most histories inclined toward big actions—the Bismarck, Midway, Matapan, Leyte Gulf—and that this bias affected how many people understood the role of navies at war. I think the record of why and how ships fought provides an excellent window into the practical application of sea power; it shows how navies approached risk, how doctrine was tested, and how fighting forces evolved through time.

My next two Naval Institute books, On Seas Contested and To Crown the Waves are collaborative efforts that compare the major navies of World War II and I respectively according to a set format. My coeditors, David Dickson and Richard Worth, and I recruited different specialist to write chapters about each major navy. The format allows an apples-to-apples comparison of how these navies were organized, how they saw their roles, and carried out their missions.

Torch: North Africa and the Allied Path to Victory blends political and strategic considerations into a detailed operational narrative of the North African landings. It is also the fullest account of the French side of the campaign that has appeared in English. I consider it my best book to date, and I’ve been gratified by the favorable reviews and the awards it has won.

9781612518237NH: To what do you attribute your love of history?

VO: I’ve always been fascinated by ships and the sea. I grew up in San Diego and remember visiting Navy ships and every weekend driving by the old mothball fleet—aircraft carriers down to destroyers anchored row-on-row. I’d glue myself to the car window and marvel. My favorite television show was Victory at Sea, my favorite game was Broadside (based on the War of 1812). I was reading Morison in junior high, and it’s all been downhill from there.

NH: What favorite military historian—past and/or present—do you admire the most? Why?

VO: The first name that springs to mind is Samuel Eliot Morison and History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. It had a tremendous influence on me. Morison’s style, his sense of narrative, and his professional skills (not to mention the circumstances of the work’s creation) make his history unique. Otherwise, there are too many admirable military historians to mention, but I will single out Richard Frank for his detail, accuracy, and readability and Norman Friedman for the sheer amount of information he produces. At his best, no one explains complex concepts and relationships better.

NH: If you could go back in time, where would you land? Why? What would you do there?

VO: Presuming I could return, I’d go to San Diego in 1542 and watch San Salvador enter the bay. I’d also explore the places I know so well and see what they were like then.

NH: In a recent poll, USNI News asked, “What’s the greatest warship of all time and why?”

VO: I really don’t have a favorite warship. As a type I’m inclined toward destroyers. They could do it all and, because most navies considered them expendable, destroyers saw a lot of action. Assuming my time machine is good for multiple trips, and were I to serve in World War II, I’d be a destroyerman.

NH:Please tell us about your next book.

VO:My next book, coauthored with Leonard Heinz, is a battle history of World War I at Sea. Naval Institute Press is scheduled to publish it early next year. The book documents 144 surface engagements fought by ocean-going warships within a coherent and flowing narrative. It gives a new perspective on what was happening in every theater of war and makes a strong case that World War I was won at sea, not in the trenches. There is also a detailed comparison with World War II actions that reaches some interesting and surprising conclusions.

NH: Congratulations, Vince on this well-deserved award.

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VINCENT P. O’HARA is an independent scholar and the author of nine works including five published by the Naval Institute Press. His articles have appeared in the Naval War College Review, Warship, MHQ, Storia Militare, and other periodicals and journals. He holds a history degree from the University of California, Berkeley.


To hear Vince O’Hara discuss Torch with Secure Freedom Radio‘s Frank Gaffney, click here.

Vince O’Hara speaks with John Gresham, host of Military Monday on Blog Talk Radio here.