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Sanzō Nosaka

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Sanzō Nosaka
Sanzo Nosaka 1946.jpg
Member of the House of Representatives
In office
April 11, 1946 – June 6, 1950
ConstituencyTokyo 1st district
Member of the House of Councilors
In office
July 8, 1956 – July 3, 1977
ConstituencyTokyo district
Chairman of the Japanese Communist Party
In office
Preceded byKyuichi Tokuda
Succeeded byKenji Miyamoto
Honorary Chairman of the Japanese Communist Party
In office
Personal details
Born(1892-03-30)March 30, 1892
Hagi, Yamaguchi
DiedNovember 14, 1993(1993-11-14) (aged 101)
Political partyJapanese Communist Party
Spouse(s)Ryu Nosaka
Alma materKeio University

Sanzō Nosaka (野坂 参三, Nosaka Sanzō, March 30, 1892 – November 14, 1993) was a founder of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) who worked for periods as a writer, editor, labor organizer, communist agent, politician, and university professor. He was the son of a wealthy Japanese merchant, and attended the prestigious Keio University. While in university, Nosaka became interested in social movements, and joined a moderate labor organization after graduation, working as a research staff member, and as a writer and editor of the organization's magazine. He traveled to Britain in 1919 to study political economy, where he deepened his studies of Marxism and became a confirmed communist. Nosaka was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but his activity within British communist circles led to him being deported from Britain in 1921.[1]

After leaving Britain, Nosaka traveled through the Soviet Union (USSR). He returned to Japan in 1922, where he co-founded the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).[2] Nosaka became a labor organizer, but was arrested twice by the Japanese government for his activities. After being released from prison a second time, Nosaka secretly returned to the USSR in 1931, where he became an agent of the Comintern. He traveled to the West Coast of the United States, where he worked as a communist spy from 1934-1938.[3]

After leaving the United States, Nosaka worked in China from 1940–1945, supporting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by encouraging and recruiting captured Japanese soldiers to support and fight for the Chinese communists against the Imperial Japanese Army, and coordinating a spy network that operated throughout Japanese-occupied China. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, Nosaka returned to Japan with hundreds of other Japanese communists, where he led the Japanese Communist Party during the occupation of Japan.[4]

Nosaka attempted to brand the JCP as a populist party supporting Japan's peaceful transition into socialism, but his strategy was criticized within the party and within the Soviet Union. During the Korean War the JCP temporarily endorsed violence, and Nosaka disappeared from public life and went underground.[5] He re-emerged to lead the JCP again in 1955, after which he attempted to disrupt the US-Japan Security Treaty by organizing public demonstrations, but he generally supported the JCP's role as a peaceful party.[6] In 1958 Nosaka became Chairman of the JCP, a position he held until retirement at the age of 90, after which he was declared Honorary Chairman. Nosaka joined the faculty of Keio University, and he was widely idolized among left-wing intellectuals until shortly before his death, when the fall of the Soviet Union exposed controversial aspects of his relationship with Stalin's Communist regime.[7]


Early life[edit]

Sanzō Nosaka was the son of a prosperous Japanese merchant and was raised in a bourgeois environment. As a young man Nosaka was known for his fashionable taste in clothing and for the large dog that often accompanied him in public. He was quiet, serious, studious, introverted, and more comfortable in libraries than at public demonstrations. After his secondary education, Nosaka attended Keio University, which was then considered a "rich boys school". At Keio, Nosaka became interested in the international labor movement, an interest that was largely supported by one of his professors, Kiichi Horie. Nosaka decided to write his senior thesis on the moderate labor organization founded by Bunji Suzuki, "Yuaikai" ("The Friendly Society"). To research his thesis, Nosaka contacted Yuaikai's head office, and acquainted himself with its senior leaders: Suzuki initially mistook Nosaka for a salesman the first time they met, but eventually grew fond of Nosaka. When Nosaka graduated from Keio, in 1915, he joined Yuaikai and worked for the organization as a research staff member and as an editor of the organization's journal, Rodo Oyobi Sangyo (Labour and Industry).[8]

Nosaka became interested in communism after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.[9] As a greater volume of leftist literature entered Japan from the West, Nosaka's political orientation moved farther from the center. The first Western texts on revolutionary social theory available in Japan were mostly on anarchism, but Nosaka also enjoyed Edward Bellamy's utopian novel, Looking Backward. In 1918-1919 Nosaka read an English copy of The Communist Manifesto brought to Japan by his friend, Shinzo Koizumi. After reading The Communist Manifesto, Nosaka embraced the theories of Marxism.[1]

Nosaka announced his intentions to go abroad to study social theory in the November 1918 issue of Rodo Oyobi Sangyo. He sailed out of Kobe harbor in July 7, 1919, and arrived in London on August 27. After his arrival, Nosaka studied political economy at London University. Like many British intellectuals at the time, Nosaka deepened his studies of Marxism, and became a confirmed communist at the university.[7] While in London Nosaka became active in communist circles. He affiliated himself with notable trade union leaders active in London, and attended the September 8–13, 1919 Glasgow Trade Union Congress as a correspondent for Rodo Oyobi Sangyo.[2] Nosaka was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920,[10] and attended the Party's first session as a representative from London. Nosaka's activities within the Communist Party brought him to the attention of Scotland Yard,[2] and Nosaka was deported from Britain in 1921. After he left Britain, Nosaka traveled through Europe to the newly formed Soviet Union. In Russia, with the help of friendly contacts in the communist hierarchy, Nosaka became influential within the Communist Party. Nosaka was suspected of being either a British or Japanese agent; but, because of his contacts among high-ranking Finnish and Russian leaders, Nosaka was never purged.[7] Nosaka wrote A Brief Review of the Labour Movement in Japan. It was published by the International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions in 1921[11]

After attending the Far Eastern People's Conference in the Soviet Union, Nosaka returned to Japan in 1922,[2] and helped found the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) that same year.[10] Nosaka was more secretive about his relationship with the Communist Party than he had been in Britain, and kept his membership a secret from Bunji Suzuki and other moderate labour leaders.[2] After his return, Nosaka worked as a trade unionist and editor of the JCP's official newspaper, Musansha Shimbun.[5]

Because of his activities within the Communist Party (which was illegal in Japan),[12] Nosaka, like many communists in Japan, was arrested (twice in his case),[5] interrogated, and tortured by the Japanese kempeitai, but he was released after short periods both times. Nosaka was first arrested in 1923, and released within a year. After his release, Nosaka became more active within the Japanese labor movement.[9] In March 1928, the Japanese police began a campaign to harass and destroy the JCP,[13] beginning with the May 15 Incident.[9] After his second arrest in 1929, Nosaka spent two years in jail. He was released in 1931 on the grounds of illness.[3] The short lengths of Nosaka's arrests aroused suspicion among other Japanese communists that Nosaka had given important information to the Japanese secret police, but these suspicions were never acted upon.[7]

Comintern agent[edit]

Upon his release, Nosaka secretly returned to the Soviet Union, arriving in Moscow in March 1931.[14] While there, Nosaka served as a representative of the JCP,[9] and worked as an executive member of the Comintern.[5] While in Moscow Nosaka helped to draft the "1932 Thesis", which became the guiding document of the JCP until 1946. Most of his colleagues active in the JCP, who were not able to go abroad, were subsequently arrested by the kempeitai by the fall of 1932.[14][15]

One of Nosaka's friends was Kenzo Yamamoto, a legendary Japanese communist who had been in the Soviet Union with his common-law wife, Matsu, since 1928.[10] Yamamoto had a reputation as a great womanizer; and, when rumors circulated that Yamamoto was engaged in an affair with Nosaka's wife, Ryu, Nosaka wrote a confidential letter to the KGB (dated February 22, 1939) indicating that he believed Yamamoto and his wife were likely Japanese spies in the pay of the kempeitai. On Stalin's orders, both Yamamoto and Matsu were arrested as spies. A firing squad executed Yamamoto, and Matsu died in a gulag. Both Yamamoto and his wife were formally rehabilitated after their deaths by Nikita Khrushchev on May 23, 1956, recognizing the lack of any evidence that the two were actually spies.[7] In his autobiography, Nosaka later wrote that he had tried to save Yamamoto's life.[10]

In 1934, Nosaka secretly traveled to the West Coast of the United States, where he became involved in intelligence work on behalf of the International Liaison Department of the Comintern against the Imperial Japanese government. Nosaka's activities included disseminating information to communists still active in Japan, infiltrating and making contact with the Japanese communities active in the United States, and establishing a number of communist front organizations in Seattle, Los Angeles, and other cities on the West Coast. Nosaka worked to gain funding from the Comintern for his activities, and attempted to have other Japanese Communists secretly relocated to America. He planned to recruit American and Japanese agents to send to Yokohama to establish a cell that would operate as a communist front organization. Because the records from this period are incomplete, historians cannot be certain to what extent Nosaka's efforts in America were successful. Nosaka worked as a Comintern agent in America until 1938, when he returned to Moscow. In 1940, the Comintern ordered Nosaka to aid communist forces in China.[3]

In May 1943, Nosaka was the representative of the JCP in the case of the dissolution of the Comintern.[16]

Activities in China[edit]

Zhou Enlai and Sanzō Nosaka ( left ) in Yan'an.
Nosaka (middle) and Mao Zedong (right) at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of China

From March 1940 to the end of 1945, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Nosaka resided at the Chinese Red Army base in Yan'an, in Shaanxi Province, where he headed the Japanese People's Emancipation League (JPEL). The JPEL engaged in the "re-education" of numerous Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) and created propaganda on behalf of the Chinese Communists. Japanese troops captured by the Communists were then used by the Communists in various civilian and military roles, and were especially valued because their level of technical expertise was generally greater than that of most Chinese soldiers. "Re-educated" Japanese troops were instrumental in a number of Communist victories after World War II, including the 1949 Pingjin Campaign, in which most of the artillery fielded by the Communists was manned by Japanese gunners. In general, the method of "re-education" devised and employed by Nosaka was highly effective.[17]

Initially, the Red Army was a purely guerrilla force without the facilities to imprison POWs. The policy of the Eighth Route Army, the main communist force active during World War II, was to interrogate prisoners and then release them. After reports surfaced that the Japanese were punishing Japanese prisoners after they returned, the Red Army's policy gradually changed to one of retraining POWs, and the communists began to implement this policy after Nosaka arrived in Yan'an.[18] By the time of its war with China, the Japanese army was educating its officers and common soldiers to die rather than surrender. Injured soldiers were easily captured, and made up the bulk of Japanese POWs. Captured Japanese believed that they would be killed, but were instead fed and clothed, and began to develop a rapport with their captors.[18]

Besides Nosaka's regimen of psychological indoctrination, there were several reasons that Japanese POWs chose to join the Chinese communists. Communist guerrillas took care to develop an early rapport with their prisoners by treating them well. Captured Japanese soldiers were generally moved when they learned of the terrible conditions the war inflicted on the Chinese people, a perspective that they had not been exposed to before their capture. Closer to the end of the war, the growing possibility of defeat created anxiety among the Japanese army. Because of the Japanese military's policy to never surrender, Japanese soldiers never received any training about how to act as POWs: upon returning to Japanese ranks, many would face disgrace, punishment, and starvation. Many Japanese soldiers committed suicide after their capture, but those who chose to live generally came to sympathize with the Chinese. The Japanese army was aware of the existence of Nosaka's Communist Japanese soldiers, and feared the phenomena out of proportion to their actual threat.[18] Koji Ariyoshi, an American who met Nosaka in Yan'an wrote that Nosaka was "the Japanese national who undoubtedly contributed the most in the war against Japanese militarism". The Japanese army attempted to use numerous spies and assassins in order to eliminate Nosaka (who used the name "Okano Susumu" for the duration of the war), but were unsuccessful. Nosaka maintained a network of agents throughout Japanese-occupied China, which he used to gather information about events within the Japanese Empire and about the war.[19]

From 1940 to 1943, Nosaka's presence in China was kept a secret. Under a Chinese name, Lin Zhe, he directed the work of the Research Office of the Japanese Problem. His work with the Research Office in Yan'an brought Yan'an's intelligence information about Japan up to date. Nosaka collected newspapers and other publications from Japan.[20] To research the enemy, Nosaka and his crew took care to analyze current events in Japan and China, which they did by stocking Japanese newspapers, magazines, journals, and diaries that were purchased or seized on the battlefield.[21]

Nosaka's Japanese "prisoner converts" fought freely for the Chinese communists once their re-education was complete. In Yan'an, the Japanese lived normal lives without guards, owned a cooperative store, and printed their own news bulletins and propaganda. Visiting American officers used Nosaka's Japanese soldiers to critique and improve their own methods of anti-Japanese psychological warfare.[22] Shortly after Japan's surrender in 1945, Nosaka began to march with approximately 200 other Japanese Communists across northern China. They arrived at the coast after picking up hundreds of other Japanese along the way. Demanding immediate repatriation from the first Americans they found, they declared their intention to return and work "for the democratization of Japan and the establishment of peace in the Far East". Although there are no records of the exact number of Japanese "re-educated" by Nosaka who elected to remain in Communist-occupied China after 1945, it is estimated that "the number must have been considerable".[23]

Nosaka's contributions to the eventual victory of the Red Army were not forgotten by the leaders he had worked with in China. In 1965, on the twentieth anniversary of Japan's defeat, Nosaka was publicly praised by name by the highest-ranking general in China at the time, Lin Biao.[24]


Japanese political career[edit]

Sanzō Nosaka speaking to large crowd in Tokyo (ca. 1946)

After the World War II, Nosaka's return to Japan was facilitated by E. Herbert Norman, the Canadian representative to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, who may also have been a Soviet spy. Before returning to Japan, Nosaka gained Stalin's endorsement for the leadership of the Japanese Communist Party. Nosaka's re-entry to Japan was also aided by the American diplomat John S. Service,[25] who had a history of being friendly to Chinese Communists.[26] Before returning to Japan, Nosaka advised Joseph Stalin to retain the position of the Japanese Emperor, but to replace Emperor Hirohito with Crown Prince Akihito if the Communists ever gained control of Japan.[7]

Nosaka returned to Japan in January 1946, and received a hero's welcome by the JCP.[27] He returned to China as a recognized protege of Mao Zedong, and enjoyed the informal recognition as a "roving ambassador" for Japanese communism. After his return to Japan, Nosaka worked to organize Japanese communists. In the general elections of 1946, he and four other members of the JCP were elected to the Diet, and the party received 4% of the popular vote.[27]

The JCP made progress infiltrating Japanese labor associations and socialist parties; and, in the general elections of 1949, the JCP gained 10% of the popular vote. In May 1950, shortly after the United States entered the Korean War with the support of the United Nations, the Cominform criticized the JCP's gradualist policies, and directed the party to actively disrupt the American occupation.[28]

Throughout the 1950s, Nosaka's efforts were challenged by American occupying forces, as part of a broader effort to suppress leftists.[5] In 1949, a Communist-led general railroad strike led to several attempted derailments, and Sadanori Shimoyama, the president of Japanese National Railways, was found lying across a set of train tracks in Tokyo with his arms and legs cut off.[29] These and other incidents of "terrorism" were received poorly by the Japanese public, and cost the JCP most of its popular support.[28] The American commander of occupied Japan, Douglas MacArthur, declined to outlaw the JCP, but held the Party's leaders responsible, and, in June 1950, ejected Nosaka and the other Communist legislators who were elected in 1946.[29] After losing his seat in the Diet, Nosaka disappeared from public life and was forced to work underground.[5]

After Nosaka went underground, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reported that he had temporarily returned to China.[30] His strategy of "peaceful revolution" was criticized by the Cominform, and the Party temporarily endorsed violent revolution until 1952.[31] After working covertly for several years, Nosaka re-emerged in 1955 as the First Secretary of the JCP. Nosaka was briefly arrested after he resurfaced, but quickly released.[32] In 1958, Nosaka became the chairman of the JCP's Central Committee. He played a part in organizing a series of riots that lasted from May–June 1960 in opposition to the US-Japan Security Treaty.[7] These demonstrations forced the American president, Dwight Eisenhower, to cancel a visit to Japan, and forced the Japanese Premier, Nobusuke Kishi, to resign, but failed to achieve their main goal of seriously disrupting US-Japan relations. In Japanese public opinion, the demonstrations were received as a national embarrassment, and the JCP received only 3% of the popular vote in the 1960 elections.[33] The US-Japan Security Treaty was opposed by both ultra-rightists as well as ultra-leftists. In an attempt to stop the bill from being passed, an ultra-rightist university student named Otoya Yamaguchi, rushed the stage and fatally stabbed the leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, Inejiro Asanuma twice in the stomach with a wakizashi, as the latter was giving a speech in support of the bill. After his arrest, Yamaguchi told police that he had hoped to assassinate Nosaka as well.[34] In Nov 1963, Nosaka survived an assassination attempt while making a speech in Osaka. The perpetrator was 22-year-old Masahiro Nakao, a member of the rightist group Dai Nippon Gokuku Dan. Nakao, armed with a dagger, leaped on a platform where Nosaka was giving his speech. Nakao was subdued by Party members who turned him over to the police.[35]

Nosaka attempted to keep the JCP neutral during the Sino-Soviet Split of the 1960s, though the CIA interpreted that Nosaka's party remained somewhat more friendly with the Chinese.[36] On Nosaka's seventieth birthday party in 1962, Nosaka received extravagant praise from Beijing. Deng Xiaoping praised Nosaka as an "outstanding fighter of the Japanese people and comrade-in-arms of the Chinese people". The Soviets sent Nosaka a matter-of-fact confirmation of his status within the JCP, and within a month sent the JCP another letter scolding the Party for not adequately supporting Soviet positions.[37] The Soviets' measured praise of Nosaka was consistent with earlier Cominform criticism of Nosaka's political theories, which advocated a peaceful transition into communism.[9]

After his re-entry into public life in 1955, Nosaka was elected to the House of Councillors, a post that he held until 1977.[9] Nosaka joined the faculty of Keio University, and was one of many prominent communist intellectuals active in Japanese academic institutions in his time. Nosaka remained the JCP's chairman from 1958–1982, when he stepped down at the age of 90 and took the role of "Honorary Chairman".[7]


On September 27, 1992, two Journalists working for the magazine Shukan Bunshun, Akira Kato and Shun'ichi Kobayashi, publicly revealed evidence of Nosaka's involvement in the deaths of Kenzo Yamamoto and his wife. On a trip to Moscow, Kobayashi and Kato had managed to purchase a number of KGB documents, which had been kept secret since the Stalinist era. Among these documents was the letter that Nosaka had written in 1939 denouncing Yamamoto and his wife.[7]

The revelations of Nosaka's involvement in Yamamoto's death shocked the JCP, already reduced to six seats in the Diet after the 1991 elections. Akahata ("Red Flag"), a prominent communist newspaper, sent a team of journalists to Moscow to investigate the allegations, and they confirmed the authenticity of the documents.[7]

After the allegations against Nosaka became widely known, he checked himself into Yoyogi Hospital in Tokyo (a common tactic of Japanese politicians facing scandal). When a team of investigators sent by the JCP visited him,[7] Nosaka confessed that the letter was his, but refused to discuss the matter further.[38] The JCP ordered Nosaka to be present for a general Party meeting on December 27, 1992. After some deliberation, the party that Nosaka helped found expelled him by unanimous vote.[7] The Party newspaper[10] reported that Nosaka, when asked if he had any reply to the charges against him, would only state: "I have nothing to say".[7]

One year after being expelled from the Japanese Communist Party, Sanzō Nosaka died in his home of old age. Outside the JCP, Nosaka was remembered for his gentle demeanor, good manners, and conservative sense of style, "just like a British gentleman".[7] He was 101 years old.[39]


The Chinese Documentary series "Today In The History Of Anti-Japanese War" dedicated an episode to Sanzō Nosaka.[40]

Sanzō Nosaka was featured in the "International Friends during the Anti-Japanese War". A show organized by the Beijing People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. The show "features 160 pictures of 39 foreign friends who worked together with the Chinese people and made contributions to China's independence and freedom."[41]


Yonago Nosaka was a foster daughter of Sanzō Nosaka. She attended the 60th anniversary of the victory of the War against Fascism. She received a medal as a daughter of Sanzō Nosaka.[42]


Nosaka used the pen names of Okano and Lin Zhe.[42]

See also[edit]


  • Sanzo Nosaka (Under the Name "Okano") (1933). Revolutionary Struggle of the Toiling Masses of Japan. Speech By Okano, 13th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Workers Library Publishers.
  • Sanzo Nosaka (1921). A Brief Review of the Labour Movement in Japan. The International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions.


  1. ^ a b Scalapino pp. 4-5
  2. ^ a b c d e Scalapino p. 5
  3. ^ a b c The Japan Times Online
  4. ^ Gillin and Etter pp. 511-512
  5. ^ a b c d e f Universalium
  6. ^ Taylor pp. iv, 13-14, 19
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Kirkup
  8. ^ Scalapino p. 4
  9. ^ a b c d e f Encyclopædia Britannica
  10. ^ a b c d e Pace
  11. ^ Sanzo Nosaka (1921). A Brief Review of the Labour Movement in Japan. The International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions.
  12. ^ Scalapino p. 21
  13. ^ Taylor p. 1
  14. ^ a b Scalapino p. 42
  15. ^ Ariyoshi, Beechert, and Beechert p. 124
  16. ^ Milorad M. Drachkovitch (1986). Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern. Hoover Press. pp. 342–343.
  17. ^ Gillin and Etter p. 511
  18. ^ a b c Inoue
  19. ^ Ariyoshi, Beechert, and Beechert pp. 123–125
  20. ^ Page, Xiaoyuan Liu. A Partnership for Disorder: China, the United States, and Their Policies for the Postwar Disposition of the Japanese Empire, 1941-1945. p. 170–173.
  21. ^ Kushner, Barak. The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda. p. 137, 141–143.
  22. ^ Ariyoshi, Beechert, and Beechert p. 126
  23. ^ Gillin and Etter p. 512
  24. ^ Lin
  25. ^ Miwa and Ramseyer 8-9
  26. ^ Kifner
  27. ^ a b Taylor p. 3
  28. ^ a b Taylor p. ii
  29. ^ a b Whitney pp. 105-106
  30. ^ Taylor p. 28
  31. ^ Taylor pp. 13-14
  32. ^ Taylor p. 19
  33. ^ Taylor p. iv
  34. ^ Lucas
  35. ^ "PLOT TO KILL RED BALKED". The Spokesman-Review. Nov 14, 1963.
  36. ^ Taylor pp. 54-61
  37. ^ Taylor p. 75, 79
  38. ^ Associated Press
  39. ^ The Baltimore Sun
  40. ^ 抗战史上的今天 15 野坂参三决定建日本人民解放联盟 (in Chinese). 【抗战史上的今天】官方频道---纪念中国人民抗日战争暨世界反法西斯战争胜利70周年. Jan 14, 2015.
  41. ^ "Int'l friends photo exhibition unveiled in Beijing". This is Beijing. July 23, 2015.
  42. ^ a b Japan-Anti-fascism War. Aug 19, 2015.


Further reading[edit]

  • Kato, Tetsuro (July 2000). The Japanese Victims of Stalinist Terror in the USSR (PDF). Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies. 32.
  • Roth, Andrew (1945). Dilemma in Japan. Little, Brown.
  • Mark Gayn (Dec 15, 1989). Japan Diary. Tuttle Publishing.
  • Ware Jr, George (Oct 1, 1983). Political Change During the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945-1952): The Justin Williams Papers in the East Asia Collection, McKeldin Library, University of Maryland. Journal of East Asian Libraries. 1983.
  • Agnes Smedley (1972). Great Road. NYU Press.
  • Maochun Yu (Jul 31, 2013). OSS in China: Prelude to Cold War. Naval Institute Press. pp. 168–183.
  • Lynne Joiner (Jun 2, 2011). Honorable Survivor: Mao's China, McCarthy's America and the Persecution of John S. Service. Naval Institute Press. pp. 74–107.

External links[edit]