Book Review – ‘Blue Versus Purple: The US Naval War College, the Soviet Union, and the new enemy in the Pacific, 1946’ by Jonathan P. Klug

By Jonathan P. Klug, published February 2021


Most surveys of the Second World War mention pre-war planning efforts, especially the US planning efforts involving Orange, the American code name for Imperial Japan. While the various incarnations of War Plan Orange were important, the processes of planning and conducting war games were arguably even more important. For over 40 years US Naval War College students participated in these efforts and increased their understanding of the theatre, adversary, and likely nature of the campaigns and battles. In fact, Nimitz said, ‘When the war in the Pacific actually started, nothing that happened surprised us at all except the kamikaze attacks.’ This was in large part due to that entire generation of navy leaders schooled in war gaming efforts, of which Edward Miller’s War Plan Orange may provide the best overview. An historical gap, however, existed with respect to the Naval War College’s contributions after the Second World War, which Hal Freidman has worked diligently to address.

At first blush Blue versus Purple appears to be a niche history of war gaming at the Naval War College, but there is more to the book than that. Like the many iterations before and afterwards, these war games gave the student participants a better understanding of the human reactions and decision making of senior leaders in naval warfare.

Friedman essentially organized his book into two parts. In the first part, he provided background material on the Naval War College, its 1946–7 curriculum, and its contemporary rules and mechanics of the naval wargames. The second part of Blue Versus Purple is a chronological narrative of preparatory exercises and three operations problems. Friedman detailed three operational problems in several chapters, including example contemporary tables and charts that the faculty and students used.

Blue versus Purple is very much worth reading by those who are interested in naval warfare, professional military education, strategic- and operational-level wargaming, and early Cold War navies. Friedman does a superb job of capturing the Naval War College’s contemporary wargaming methodology, adding to our understanding of its conduct and impact. Blue Versus Purple also provides insight into the War College’s overall approach to professional military education and the US Navy’s transition from viewing the Imperial Japanese Navy as the most likely enemy to seeing the Soviet Navy as fulfilling the role. Finally, Friedman’s work reveals part of the navy’s effort to grapple with the larger strategic situation in the aftermath of the Second World War and at the dawning of the Cold War. Highly recommended.

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Filed under: WW2 | Post WW2 | Twentieth Century
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Navies | Strategy & Diplomacy

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