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I consider the job of Executive Officer to be the most important job aboard ship. I want to share my view on this matter with submarine officers in the fleet because I am dissatisfied with the definitions of the duties and responsibilities of the Executive Officer as set forth in official Navy documents.

My opinion is derived from a practical, not theoretical point of view, based on years of experience at sea. In this matter I bold myself to be an expert. I became the Executive Officer of a fleet type submarine a year before the U.S. entered WW n. I subsequently made seven war patrols as Exec of three different fleet submarines, putting two new-construction submarines in commission. As Exec of those new construction submarines it fell largely upon my shoulders to prepare them for war, for Commanding Officers with both fleet boat and battle experience were scarce in the early war days. In short, I had to organize the officers and men and establish procedures for war operations. The latter included procedures for battle station actions; countering of emergency situations; routine operations such as watch standing, diving and surfacing; and more prosaic matters such as rigging for red, dumping garbage, blowing sanitary tanks, and the like. Although that experience had to do with the operation of fleet submarines, the functions of an Exec are timeless and apply equally to sailing ships and nuclear submarines.

I learned more about what it takes to be an effective Executive Officer after my first seven war patrols. I acquired that additional knowledge both at sea and in the business world. I served as Commanding Officer of a fourth fleet submarine during three successful war patrols. After the war I left the Navy for civilian life and spent over thirty years in a large corporation. There I learned more about the job of manage-ment, a critical function of an Executive Officer.

Duties Prescribed by Official Documents

Duties of the Executive Officer of a naval ship are spelled out in two major documents; U.S. Navy Regulations and U.S. Navy Rewlation This document is quite general in nature as demonstrated by the following excerpts:

  • 0806. “‘The commanding officer shall keep the executive officer infonned of the commanding officer’s policies, and nonnally shall issue all orders relative to the duties of the command through the executive officer. Normally, the com-manding officer shall require that all communications of an official nature from subordinates to the commanding officer be transmitted through the executive officer.”
  • 1061. “‘The officer detailed as executive officer shall be an officer eligible to succeed to command who, when practi-cable, is next in rank to the commanding officer.”
  • 0851.b. “During action, station the Executive Officer where he or she can best aid the commanding officer, and, if practical, where he or she could probably escape the effects of a casualty disabling the commanding officer, and yet be able to assume command promptly and efficiently.”
  • 1005. “‘The executive officer, while in the execution of duties as such, shall take precedence over aU persons under the command of the commanding officer.”

OPNAVINST 3120.328 The duties of the Executive Officer set forth in this document are much more specific than the above. Of particular importance are:

  • 302.a. (In part) “BASIC FUNCfiON. The Executive Officer is the direct representative of the Commanding Officer. All orders issued by him/her will have the same force and effect as though issued by the Commanding Officer. The Executive Officer will conform to and carry out the policies and orders of the Commanding Officer and shall keep him/her informed of all significant matters pertaining to the command. The Executive Officer shall be primarily responsible under the Commanding Officer, for the organization, performance of duty, and good order and discipline of the entire command. He/she will recognize the right and duty of a Head of Department to confer directly with the Commanding Officer on matters specifically relating to his/her department.”
  • 302.d. (In part). ORGANIZATIONAL RELATION-SHIPS. The Executive Officer is directly responsible to the Commanding Officer. All Department Heads and Executive Assistants report to the Executive Officer regarding internal administration of the command.”
  • 302.c. DUTIES, RESPONSffiiLffiES, AND AUTHOR-ITY.” Included in this section are over twenty specific duties of the Executive Officer. They include many duties such as those pertaining to the handling, training and supervision of person-nel; planning and scheduling; ship inspections; and organizing and administration of command.


I have no specific complaints regarding the statements presented in Navy Regs or the OPNAVINST other than that both fail to give a clear picture of the basic function of a submarine Executive Officer. To me, the OPNAV instruction bears a semblance to a recipe for making a cake. That is, it speaks to the ingredients. For example, 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of milk, 3/4 lb. of butter, a pinch of salt and 1(2 tsp of sugar. That’s all very well if you know that you are trying to make a cake. However, not every submarine officer, nor every C.O. or Exec really grasps the fact that the sole reason he is aboard his ship is to prepare for the wartime mission(s) assigned his ship. As a matter of fact, he may be so occupied in diverse peacetime activities that he devotes little effort to preparing his depart-ment or his ship for war.

In simple language, the U.S. possesses combat submarines in order to carry out their assigned wartime missions at the drop of a hat. They must be ready in all respects at all times. At the start of WW IT, we submariners were not well prepared for fighting the Japanese in terms of operational concepts, crew organization, weapons, and fuel capacity. A submarine hull and its equipment consists of the sum of its design, manufacture, installation, maintenance and support. Without its personnel, it is cold iron. It took two or more patrols for most of our submarine crews to learn how to organize, operate and fight effectively with what we had at the time. At the same time we had to learn the soft points of our ships and their equipment under wartime operating conditions. The same situation could apply in the future.

So, what does this have to do with the Executive Officer? It is his job to weld the men, hull, equipment and supplies into a fighting machine for employment as directed by the Com-manding Officer. To do so he must be the Submarine Manager. As such he is the crew actuator, the ship overseer, coordinator, integrator and enforcer. No list of duties such as that presented in OPNAVINST 3120.32B can ever be complete. What is required is a General Prudential clause that states in effect that the Executive Officer is the Manager of the ship for the Commanding Officer.

As the Boss, the Commanding Officer should be the distnbutor and enforcer of higher command level policies and directions. Aboard ship he should set internal policy and make himself totally aware of the readiness of his command He should also make strategic and tactical operational decisions. When he orders, ‘Take her down to 600 feet, or, “Fire tubes 3 and 4”, he expects those orders to be carried out rapidly and precisely. If the Exec has done his job well as ship manager,the C.O. will get that performance.

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