Ellsberg, Edward

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ELLSBERG, EDWARD (1891–1983), U.S. naval officer. Born in New Haven, Conn., Ellsberg was the son of Jewish refugees from czarist Russia. The family moved to Colorado when Ellsberg was a boy. He trained as an engineer. One of very few Jews to be accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910, he ranked first in his class. After varied service on the uss Texas, he was ordered to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for postgraduate work in naval architecture, receiving a master of science degree. Although he was encouraged to remain an executive officer, he transferred into naval construction. During World War i he worked in refitting confiscated German liners in the New York Navy Yard and subsequently became an authority on raising sunken vessels. In 1925 he became the first person to be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in peacetime when he raised the submarine usss-51, which had sunk after a collision off Block Island, Rhode Island. During the ten-month salvage operation, Ellsberg became the first naval officer to qualify as a deep-sea diver, understanding the importance of going down to the ocean floor with his men. He earned a reputation as an expert in submarine salvage.

In industry, Ellsberg worked as chief engineer of the Tidewater Oil Company until 1935. He patented several inventions, including a method for increasing the yield of high-octane gasoline and a process for removing water from lubricating oil.

Ellsberg organized the rehabilitation of the U.S. naval base in Eritrea (then Massawa, Ethiopia) following the entry of the United States into World War ii. There, with a makeshift workforce, he restored the demolished Italian naval base and cleared the harbor of scuttled ships. At the end of 1942 he was made principal salvage officer for the Mediterranean. On the North African coast, he cleared the ports of Oran and Algiers for Operation Torch. He also took part in the Artificial Harbors project connected with the Allied invasion of France in 1944. He was released from active duty shortly before the end of World War ii. Ellsberg was the recipient of many awards from the United States and British governments, such as the Legion of Merit and the Order of the British Empire. He retired in 1951 with the rank of rear admiral. He consulted for shipbuilding companies and remained on the sea, traveling and sailing on his boat.

Ellsberg was the author of books on naval topics, including On the Bottom (1928), Thirty Fathoms Deep (1930), Pig-boats (1931), s-54 (1932), Hell on Ice (1938), Men under the Sea (1940), Under the Red Sea Sun (1946), No Banners, No Bugles (1949), Passport for Jennifer (1952), Midwatch (1954), and The Far Shore (1960).


J. Ben Hirsh, Jewish General Officers (1967), 96–98. add. bibliography: J. Alden, Salvage Manaa: Edward Ellsberg and the U.S. Navy (1997).

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]