200,000 Miles aboard the Destroyer Cotten

By Cooper, William | Naval War College Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

200,000 Miles aboard the Destroyer Cotten


Cooper, William, Naval War College Review


Robinson, C. Snelling, 200,000 Miles aboard the Destroyer Cotten. Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 2000. 320pp. $35

As a midshipman in the 1960s, I discovered J. Bryan's Aircraft Carrier, the classic World War II nonfiction "diary" of life aboard the USS Yorktown (CV 10) in 1945. It remains a great source of insight into the everyday lives of the men of Task Force 58 at the height of the Pacific War. As a junior officer in destroyers, I sought out similar nonfiction work describing life aboard "tin cans" during the war, but I found only two books, both novels. Not until Robinson's 200,000 Miles aboard the Destroyer Cotten have I read anything as good as J. Bryan's book.

This book comprises Robinson's recollections, bolstered by deck logs and his archive of letters to his parents, of his experience as a junior officer in Cotten (DD 669). As such, it is an amalgam of specific details, his immediate appreciations, and his present-day reflections on the men he served with, the events of those years, and the ship itself.

Ensign Robinson was commissioned via the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Harvard University in late spring 1943. He was assigned to the precommissioning crew of Cotten, which was then under construction at the Federal Shipyard in Kearny, New Jersey. Cotten was a "war emergency" Fletcherclass unit, with built-in modifications based on the wartime experience of earlier sister ships. Laid down on 8 February 1943, the ship was launched and commissioned in just 165 days. Ensign Robinson began his service on Cotten as the typical junior officer, with a bewildering series of assignments while the ship was fitting out in Kearny. Ultimately, he was assigned as assistant first lieutenant with a battle station at "Sky 2," directing 40 mm antiaircraft guns.

Cotten was quickly dispatched to the Pacific Fleet and began its combat career as part of Operation GALVANIC, the November 1943 invasion of Tarawa and Makin. The ship screened the escort carriers and performed antisubmarine warfare patrols.

While Robinson provides some historical framework to the ship's operations, the strength of the book is the insight it provides into the daily life of a destroyer wardroom during this extraordinary time. …

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