Monday, 1 July 2013

June 2013 Notes: Some Examples of ‘Anglosphere’ Naval Theorists

Reason for writing: Britain by tradition has only had a small army (some would say it’s returning to that state), so it was dependent upon its navy to defend its vast empire, its trade and the Island it & it’s live upon… therefore to use the correct description it was a a thassalocracy[1].


The books in full are all worth a read, but these notes are to serve as quick guide with a little explanation to make it easier to find the one that suits the situation best:


Cable, James. Britain's Naval Future. London: Macmillan Press, 1983.

—. Gunboat Diplomacy, 1919-1979. London: Macmillan Press, 1981.

Corbett, Julian S. England in the Seven Years War. Vol. II. II vols. London: Elibron CLassics, 2005.b.

—. England in the Seven Years War. Vol. I. II vols. London: Elibron Classics, 2005.a.

—. Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 1911.

Corbett, Julian S., and H. J. Edwards, . The Cambridge Naval and Military Series. London: Cambridge University Press, 1914.

Cresswell, John. Naval Warfare. London: Sampson Low, Marston & CO., LTD, 1936.

Harding, Richard. Seapower and Naval Warfare 1650-1830. London: Routledge, 1999.

Harding, Richard, ed. The Royal Navy, 1930 - 2000, Innovation and Defence. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2005.

Hill, J. R. Air Defence at Sea. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd, 1988.

—. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Mahan, A.T. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783. 5th Edition. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1987.

Richmond, Herbert W. National Policy and Naval Strength. London, New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co, 1934.

Richmond, Herbert W. "Naval Officers Point of View." In The Cambridge; Naval and Military Series, edited by Julian S. Corbette and H. S. Edwards, 39-54. London: Cambridge University Press, 1914.

Roosevelt, Theodore. The Naval Operations of the War Between Great Britain and the United States 1812-1815. London: Elibron Classics, 2007.

The Lord Tedder. Air Power in War. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1948.



Key Points:

Alfred Thayer Mahan. Source Wikipedia

·         Mahan

·         Main Works:

·         The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783

·         Quote:

·         “There was a period during the reign of the former (Louis XIV.) and the downfall of Napoleon. There was a period during the reign of the former in which the French navy was superior in number and equipment to the English and Dutch; but the policy and ambition of the sovereign was always directed to continental extension, and his naval power, resting on inadequate foundations, was ephemeral.”[2]

·         “In a war undertaken for any object, even if that object be the possession of a particular territory or position, an attack directly upon the place coveted may not be, from the military point of view, the best means of obtaining it”[3]

·         “For two hundred years England has been the great commercial nation of the world. More than any other her wealth has been intrusted to the sea in the war as in peace; yet of all nations she has ever been most reluctant to concede the immunities of commerce and the rights of neutrals. Regarded not as a matter of right, but of policy, history has justified the refusal; and if she maintain her navy in full strength, the future will doubtless repeat the lesson of the past”[4]

·         Key Points:

·         The battle is supreme – therefore it is the battle fleet which is supreme; for it is only by winning the battle that a national will gain control of the sea.

·         Points of Interest:

·         Mahan was a great salesman for naval power, who can be credited with having done much to enhance the position of the USN and to provide many of the words behind its modern self-image.

Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, one of the key texts written by Julian Corbett

·         Julian Corbett

·         Main Works:

·         Some Principles of Maritime Strategy

·         Quote:

·         Naval Strategy, which is commonly and conveniently confined to the movements of the fleet in a theatre of war, is really a form of minor strategy; and while tactics are concerned with the arena of a battle, and minor strategy with the arena of a campaign, so the study of the functions of the fleet is concerned with the whole arena of an international struggle.[5]

·         “The last thing that an explorer arrives at is a complete map that will cover the whole ground he has travelled, but for those who come after him and would profit by and extend his knowledge his map is the first thing with which they will begin. So it is with strategy” [6]

·         “You cannot conquer sea because it is not susceptible to ownership, at least outside territorial waters. You cannot as lawyers say ‘reduce it into possession,’ because you cannot exclude neutrals from it as you can from territory you conquer. In the second place you cannot subsist your armed force upon it as you can enemy’s territory. Clearly, then, to make deductions from an assumption that command of the sea is analogous to  conquest of territory is unscientific, and certain to lead to error”[7]

·         “For clearness we may summaries the whole in tabulated analysis, thus: -

1.      Methods of Securing Command

a.      By obtaining a decision

b.      By blockade

2.      Methods of Disputing Command

a.      Principle of ‘the fleet in being’

b.      Minor counter-attacks

3.      Methods of Exercising Command

a.      Defence against invasion

b.      Attack and defence of commerce

c.       Attack, defence and support of military expeditions”

·         Key Points:

·         It use of the sea which matters, the nation which can make best use of the sea will win the war.

·         Points of Interest:

·         Julian Corbett was an excellent historian, and his works on the Seven Years War, as well as the official history of the War at Sea during World War I are all worth reading.

Theodore Roosevelt, President, Rough Rider, NYPD Commissioner and Naval Theorist – to name just some of the things he did in his very packed life.


·         Theodore Roosevelt

·         Main Works:

·         The Naval Operations of the War Between Great Britain and the United States 1812-1815

·         Quote:

·         “Fatuously unable to learn the lesson taught by the revolutionary contest, he hoped to find in levies of untrained militia a substitute a regular army. As for the navy, he at one time actually hoped to supply its place by a preposterous system of what may be called horse-gunboats, that is, gunboats which could be drawn ashore and carried on wheeled vehicles to any point menaced by a hostile fleet. Men who get discouraged by the attitude of latter-day politicians may draw some hope and comfort from the reflection that the nation actually lived through the experiment of trying Jefferson’s idea. Nevertheless, the trial of this same experiment caused bitter loss and mortification”.[8]

·         “At the present day no student of international law would justify the attitude of Great Britain in the quarrel; but the international standard was different among nations at the beginning of the nineteenth century; and, moreover, Great Britain was fighting for her life, and nice customs curtsey to great crises as well as to great kings”.[9]

·         Key Points:

·         Access/use of the sea, it is ok to be a medium power, it is ok to be an emergent power but a nation has to build it fleet to match its requirements… not try

·         Points of Interest:

·         Whilst as Assistant secretary for the navy he did a lot to prepare the USN for the war with Spain, but when war came he preferred to leave his office behind and join the volunteer Calvary to fight with distinction in Cuba.

·         Richmond

·         Main Works:

·         National Policy and Naval Strength

·         Quote:

·         “To the naval officer, naval history can be of great value, provided it is so treated that some practical end is served”[10]

·        “Strength at sea is a compound of many elements, of which ships of war spring first to the mind: and ships must have seamen, they must have harbours, they need supplies. But a navy has also frontiers. Just as a continental nation strives to achieve secure and strong frontiers – a range of mountains, a river, a buffer state, or a desert – so a maritime nation directs its attention to a corresponding problem. Its interests are in the sea highway; and any territory from which those interests can be reached constitutes a frontier. Therefore, so far as is practicable, the maritime nation is anxious that the territory on the other sides of a highway, or in the neighbourhood of it, belongs rather to a friend, or an innocuous power, than to a prospective enemy or one  that has the capacity to act at sea. Ships or seamen may indeed be increased by the internal efforts of a country; but frontiers are international questions with which external policy has to deal. So too alliances and questions of rights at sea are matters external, very essential to sea-power and therefore objects to which the efforts of Policy are directed”.[11]

·         Key Points:

·         A nation should never discard advantage of existing technology for the promise, but unknown, of new technology.

·         Points of Interest:

·        Quote from Sir Walter Raleigh: What is England’s interest? Security. In what manner can her security be lost? ‘There are,’ he says, ‘two ways in which England may be afflicted. The one by invasion, being put to the defensive in which we shall cast lots for our own garments. The other by impeachment of our Trades by which Trades all Commonwealths flourish and are enriched.’ We are, in fact, comparable to a fortress which can be subjected only by assault or investments, and it is by sea alone that we can be made to suffer these afflictions. ‘Invaded or impeached we cannot be except by sea.’ Commerce, he points out, is essential to us, for it is the strength of nations, for money, the first and most forcible of the five means by which power is attained, is derived from commerce. Commerce requires great quantities of shipping and fighting, and these represent our strength. Therefore he concludes that in our foreign relations that country which is strongest in shipping ‘is most to be suspected and feared’.[12]

·         James Cable

·         Main Works:

·         Gunboat Diplomacy

·         Britain’s Naval Future

·         Quote:

·         “Indeed, the more one considers actual cases the more one is driven to the reluctant conclusion that the peaks of undoubted war and demonstrable peace are separated by a valley of uncertainty where the classical definitions offer no guidance that is either absolute or précises. ‘An act of violence intended to compel our opponents fulfil our will’ includes an Arab bomb in a London store; ‘armed conflict between nationals’ almost justifies those journalists, who in 1958, talked of Britain’s ‘Fish War’ with Iceland”[13]

·         “An act of coercive diplomacy, on the other hand, is intended to obtain some specific advantage from another state and forfeits its diplomatic character if it either contemplates the infliction of injury unrelated to obtaining that advantage or results in the victim attempting the infliction of injury after the original objective has been either achieved or abandoned. Coercive diplomacy is thus an alternative to war and, if it leads to war, we must not only hold that it has failed: we may even doubt whether it deriver the name.”[14]

·         Key Points:

·         It’s not how much a nation has, as long as it has enough to fulfil its needs, but it’s how it uses it, and peacetime is just as important as war time.

·         Points of Interest:

·         James Cable was a career diplomat, who brought the experience of diplomacy and the perspective it gives use of navies – producing some very interesting points.

·         J.R. Hill  (usually called Richard)

·         Main Works:

·         Air Defence at Sea

·         Quote:

·         “In essence, air defence at sea is ‘layered’ from the point of origin of the threat to its intended point of impact. Attack at sources is part of the process, the outer layers if you like; the principles are complementary, not separate.”[15]

·         “In this sudden, hard-hitting world the offence must have built-in advantages. For medium powers as well as superpowers, the attractions of attack at source, particularly pre-emptive attack, will be great. But the political situation, reflected in Rules of Engagements, may not permit it. Some governments may be confident enough, or reckless enough, to plan on the assumption that they can get away with pre-emptive action. Others will be constrained to plan so because that is the only thing their resources will allow them to do. But forces designed for such action only, without the defence ability to take a counter-attack, will have no staying power. This can only be acquired by translating into materiel, training and organisation the principles of this most difficult and demanding art, air defence at sea.”[16]

·         Key Points:

·         That a fleet is not the value of its individual units, but the sum of the whole they build when working together; it’s a very technologically focused work.


·         Points of Interest:

Some key diagrams of the layered defence[17]

Wars in quick:

·         World War I

·         Was Mahanian framed, in that the big battle fleets/risk fleet were focused on its concepts, but in reality it was Corbettian in practice, as the battles of the convoys, the blockade and the global operations testify to.

·         World War II

·         The battles of the pacific would look fairly Mahanian, it certainly was with the Japanese expectations of Pearl Harbour; unfortunately the war as whole was more Corbettian and Teddian (Rooseveltian didn’t seem right) with victory in the end going to the navies which built the most, built the best suited for the war, and which focused on winning the wars not necessarily every battle which won it.

·         Cold War

·         Whilst Mutually Assured Destruction was the order of the day, the navies seemed to be constructed along Corbettian lines - where it was use of the sea that mattered. Yet concepts like the strike fleet were Mahanian – focused on winning a battle, and winning it as close to the soviet homeland as possible so that sea control could be established early.

·         Falklands War

·         If Cable had been followed it might never of happened as Britain would have kept enough slack to be able to react in time with force to deter; the Argentines certainly took a more Mahanian approach, and structure their defences upon that perspective


Theorists are interesting, they often reveal more about the age they live in rather than the age they are ‘studying’ to put across their points – yet still they produce interesting histories. More importantly these theorists whilst not being an exhaustive list are capable together of providing a place to start from when analysing navies and the duties they carry out for their governments.


“It behoves countries whose people, like all free peoples, object to paying for large military establishments, to see to it that they are at least strong enough to gain the time to turn the spirit and capacity of their subjects into the new activities which war calls for”[18]

[1] (Harding, Seapower and Naval Warfare 1650-1830 1999, 2 & 297)
[2] (Mahan 1987, 505)
[3] (Mahan 1987, 507)
[4] (Mahan 1987, 540)
[5] (J. S. Corbett, England in the Seven Years War 2005.a, 2)
[6] (Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy 1911, 11)
[7] (Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy 1911, 79)
[8] (Roosevelt 2007, 10-1)
[9] (Roosevelt 2007, 11)
[10] (Richmond, Naval Officers Point of View 1914, 40)
[11] (Richmond, National Policy and Naval Strength 1934, 1-2)
[12] (Richmond, National Policy and Naval Strength 1934, 4)
[13] (Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy, 1919-1979 1981, 37)
[14] (Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy, 1919-1979 1981, 38)
[15] (Hill, Air Defence at Sea 1988, 50)
[16] (Hill, Air Defence at Sea 1988, 111)
[17] (Hill, Air Defence at Sea 1988, 52-3)
[18] (The Lord Tedder 1948, 15)

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