Warspite: A Question of Rank

30 Dec

I’ve had a handful of questions recently about the rank situation in Warspite – in particular, the observation that three characters have been doing jobs they are not supposed, judging by their ranks, to be doing. I may not have explained matters properly <grin>.

Midshipwoman Jodie Powell should not be serving as the Captain’s Steward, as well as playing waitress when the captains meet for dinner on Warspite. However, Warspite doesn’t have the large crew of a fleet carrier, so the junior commissioned officer was the only one who could be spared regularly. (Or so they reasoned.)

Philip Richards was a Senior Chief before being reassigned to a desk (which he considers a fate worse than death). Originally, the RN intended to make use of him as a desk jockey for a year or two, then offer him a chance to become a commissioned officer. His quasi-promotion to Lieutenant-Commander sped the process up – it was basically winked at by the First Space Lord and his staff, who knew John would need someone who could replace the XO on short notice if necessary. This wouldn’t have flown under normal circumstances – and could easily have blown up in John’s face. Luckily, they returned as heroes <grin>.

Percy has the most interesting issues. He’s a corporal, but because of his family name and connections, there isn’t much chance of him NOT seeing promotion, unless he screws up so spectacularly he gets assigned to a remote asteroid mining station. His superiors saw the berth opening on Warspite, which wasn’t really expected to see action, and decided to slot Percy into the post to see how he coped with it. As it wasn’t a ‘real’ promotion, his superiors knew he could simply be returned to his old unit and held back if he did mess up.

(Percy would prefer to believe that the ‘old boys’ network’ wasn’t working in his favour.)

This created something of a headache for poor Hadfield. Percy had a good record, but no real command experience – and, if the Marines had to split up, Percy would be Section Commander. He squared this circle by assigning Sergeant Peerce to Percy, with orders to effectively treat Percy as a promising young officer (thus allowing Peerce to mentor Percy to some extent) … and to be ready to take over, if Percy screwed up. Peerce was not Percy’s subordinate, in any real sense; he was merely serving in an advisory role, feeding Percy rope to see what he would do with it.

I hope that makes sense.


8 Responses to “Warspite: A Question of Rank”

  1. Ira Tabankin December 30, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    I can understand and accept the Midshipman (small ship with limited hands, etc), I can see the Chief being “frocked” to XO, since he has the experience and the captain has the need, however there’s no way I can see a corporal being placed in charge of a section of Marines which already has an experienced sergeant. Since he’s inexperienced they would have placed him UNDER the sergeant not above him. They would never have placed an inexperienced corp on a untested ship going into the unknown in a position of authority. Other than this issue which constantly bothered me, the book was very good.

  2. Daniel Silver December 31, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    I can buy the Midshipmen part of this but everything else just doesn’t make sense.

    You don’t jump an enlisted, even a Senior Chief, up to an officer rank let alone Lt. Commander even if he’s needed and even in wartime. None of the other officers would respect or accept him, there would be no winking something so extraordinary. Jumping an officer up a rank or two on short notice even in wartime is unusual. Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated soldiers in WW2 who committed countless acts of heroism, he was gradually over several years promoted up through the enlisted ranks, only after years of service in almost every major European battle and receiving almost every medal in the US and Allied militaries did he get promoted to Lt, the very lowest officers rank. Also your explanation for the navy’s plan for him doesn’t make sense either, you don’t get made an officer after a few years on desk duty; you go to command school. Maybe that’s what you meant by desk duty.

    I agree with Ira, even if you can somehow excuse Richards there is no possible way that a corporal is placed over a sergeant, this just doesn’t even make sense there would be no point in military rank or chain of command if this practice could possibly fly, you’ve made note in other novels that the head of the marines get a courtesy promotion so they’re the same rank as the captain of the ship, that is to avoid situations exactly like this, to say that the military would do this just doesn’t jive with historical accounts. Historically wartime promotions are done to fill in positions one rank above, i.e. a captain dies and his XO is promoted to fill the gap or a captain is promoted to lead a small fleet or a portion of a larger fleet but to jump enlisted into officers roles is almost unheard of because culturally there is such a divide between the two, enlisted men who do the time in school and get the education are still looked down upon by the other officers. In the situations you describe the chain of command would breakdown completely and these officers would receive no respect.

    I’m upset that these issue plague what I think is one of your better books in almost every other area.

  3. Glen Cheal December 31, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    I have a get out clause for you Chris! It’s a cheap onei . . It is all set in the future. Things change all the time so it doesn’t need to bear up to the real world 😉 hee hee (I work in such an environment and you can have totally new people with zero experience and little training acting as sergeants and if the role they are covering puts them in charge of resources they will tell substantive sergeants what to do etc)

    • Daniel December 31, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      It would be improbable but still more likely that they would promote Percy to Sgt than say he fills the roll of Lt as a corporal. But in an office situation this would be like saying the new intern will still be called an intern but is effectively the officer manager, just doesn’t make sense. Also you can say things change but as evidence by other parts of the book the culture appears similar. In fact this whole situation is less forgivable given that it’s taking place in the British military since that still has remnants of the class system and many officers are still nobles or come from the right families, or went to the right schools.

      • chrishanger December 31, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

        There’s two issues here – Percy is, effectively, an aristocrat. His father is a war hero and he’s been more or less adopted by Admiral Fitzwilliam. The second point, however, is that the Royal Navy has been badly decimated by the war. The fleet carriers that were destroyed in the fighting took thousands of officers and crew with them, including the RN’s best and brightest. (Janelle was the only officer to ASK for an assignment to Ark Royal before the war.)

        That’s partly why John got the promotion too. The RN is short of experienced officers.


        My Site: http://www.chrishanger.net/
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  4. Rodger Owen December 31, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    One thing I enjoy about reading scifi and fantasy is the freedom the authors take with human interactions and “rank” structures/relationships. Having served in US Army for over 20 years, it is refreshing to read about people and situations that are different from what I saw while serving, and to understand how it works. The really enjoyable authors to read are the ones who really exploit this rich environment of human relationships and who treat rank structures as “guidelines” with these interactions. Sure, the structure should be followed for the most part (otherwise, why have it, right?), but it’s fun when on occasion the author makes exceptions to the rule. Keep your creativity alive, Chris!

  5. Walter Wade December 31, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    I can buy off on some of the rational but you should have simply made Richards a mustang LCDR. A midshipman would never have been serving on this kind of ship. It should have been a simple matter of making it a seaman and solved the problem. I am sure there are junior enlisted on the ship and in the navies, they are assigned to mess duties on a routine bases. You can easily make our CPL a 2nd LT and solve the problem. It seems to be a common theme in space marine stories for them to have to all work their way up from junior without the benefit of OCS, etc.

  6. Mike Murfin January 6, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    The explanation is logical, but only for civilians who have not had contact with the military. I feel it would be more effective to conform to accepted military practice, rather than depicting unrealistic situations which do not add much, if anything, to the storyline. The storyline is in itself one of your best, but for me the military inconsistencies detract greatly from the reading enjoyment.

    I think you should look at it this way: do you want your reader base to be as broad as possible, selling as many books as possible? Or do you want your ex-military readers (of which there are obviously plenty, judging from the comments) to tire of these unrealistic descriptions and move elsewhere?

    I, for one, will certainly be considering the options before spending money on a book which may potentially irritate me more than it gives me pleasure in reading. If you can get this aspect “fixed”, no problem! As I stated on the discussion forum, I am an avid reader of your books, but this one went over the top on the plausibility scales.

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