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The USS North Dakota: The All-Big-Gun Debate - The Critics' Position 1

The Critics' Position 1

In 1906, a man named Henry Reuterdahl launched a series of criticisms at the Navy Department, most of them based on organization. Though Reuterdahl’s arguments did not reflect on the new battleships, they left the Navy Department defensive about any criticism. So, when Navy Lieutenant Commander Albert L. Key began to raise questions about the construction of the North Dakota as it was being built in 1907, a debate among Navy officers ensued.

Commander Key was assigned to the USS Salem which was under construction nearby. He visited and studied the North Dakota often and submitted to the Secretary of the Navy a list of objections to its design. The disturbance caused by his assessment of the battleship led to a Naval Conference called by President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1897 to 1898 and maintained a strong interest in the Navy and its representation of US power abroad. At this conference, Key’s observations were under discussion. He had a good deal of support from other officers, though Navy regulations prevented them from speaking publicly on the matter.

The New York Times and Scientific American sought information on the matter of the North Dakota’s effectiveness and safety. Both printed articles on the debates before and after the Newport Naval Conference held in August 1908. The official report of the conference was released in November, just three days before the ship was launched. The following statements concerning the North Dakota are taken from these journals as well as Captain Gilbert F. Rindahl’s study of the ship which was published in North Dakota History 32 (April 1965):107 – 116.