Mahan's close reading of history, his evaluation of the lessons of naval events and his predictions and prescriptions for the conduct of future naval policy contributed powerfully to the shaping of the twentieth century. His influence on naval theorists and policy makers in every great nation was profound, but nowhere was it stronger than among the three "upstart" powers, the United States, Japan and Germany. The Mahan-inspired devotion of these three powers to challenging the naval superiority of the existing naval triumvirate, Britain, France and Russia, and then each other, was among the catalysts for the eruptions of 1914 and 1939.
While Mahan's theories received their most cogent statement in his masterwork, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, he expanded upon them in many other books, articles and essays. The present volume comprises a rich selection of his shorter pieces. Ranging widely, these selections cover over 40 different topics in a comprehensive discussion of naval principles, sea power in history, and naval and national policies. Taken together, they offer the distilled wisdom, sober evaluations and closely reasoned analysis of a celebrated figure who was an American naval officer in the Civil War, second president of the Naval War College and one of the most outspoken delegates to the Peace Conference at The Hague in 1899.
This single volume of selections will enable naval officers, laymen, armchair sailors and students of world history to grasp quickly the essence of Mahan's ideas and their lasting effect upon naval policy and international affairs.
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Mahan on Naval Warfare
Selections from the Writings of Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan
By Allan Westcott
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1999 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE VALUE OF HISTORICAL STUDY
THE history of Sea Power is largely, though by no means solely, a narrative of contests between nations, of mutual rivalries, of violence frequently culminating in war. The profound influence of sea commerce upon the wealth and strength of countries was clearly seen long before the true principles which governed its growth and prosperity were detected. To secure to one's own people a disproportionate share of such benefits, every effort was made to exclude others, either by the peaceful legislative methods of monopoly or prohibitory regulations, or, when these failed, by direct violence. The clash of interests, the angry feelings roused by conflicting attempts thus to appropriate the larger share, if not the whole, of the advantages of commerce, and of distant unsettled commercial regions, led to wars. On the other hand, wars arising from other causes have been greatly modified in their conduct and issue by the control of the sea. Therefore the history of sea power, while embracing in its broad sweep all that tends to make a people great upon the sea or by the sea, is largely a military history; and it is in this aspect that it will be mainly, though not exclusively, regarded in the following pages.
A study of the military history of the past, such as this, is enjoined by great military leaders as essential to correct ideas and to the skillful conduct of war in the future. Napoleon names among the campaigns to be studied by the aspiring soldier, those of Alexander, Hannibal, and Cæsar, to whom gunpowder was unknown; and there is a substantial agreement among professional writers that, while many of the conditions of war vary from age to age with the progress of weapons, there are certain teachings in the school of history which remain constant, and being, therefore, of universal application, can be elevated to the rank of general principles. For the same reason the study of the sea history of the past will be found instructive, by its illustration of the general principles of maritime war, notwithstanding the great changes that have been brought about in naval weapons by the scientific advances of the past half century, and by the introduction of steam as the motive power. [The pages omitted point out lessons to be drawn from galley and sailing-ship warfare. — EDITOR.]
Before hostile armies or fleets are brought into contact (a word which perhaps better than any other indicates the dividing line between tactics and strategy), there are a number of questions to be decided, covering the whole plan of operations throughout the theater of war. Among these are the proper function of the navy in the war; its true objective; the point or points upon which it should be concentrated; the establishment of depots of coal and supplies; the maintenance of communications between these depots and the home base; the military value of commerce-destroying as a decisive or a secondary operation of war; the system upon which commerce-destroying can be most efficiently conducted, whether by scattered cruisers or by holding in force some vital center through which commercial shipping must pass. All these are strategic questions, and upon all these history has a great deal to say. There has been of late a valuable discussion in English naval circles as to the comparative merits of the policies of two great English admirals, Lord Howe and Lord St. Vincent, in the disposition of the English navy when at war with France. The question is purely strategic, and is not of mere historical interest; it is of vital importance now, and the principles upon which its decision rests are the same now as then. St. Vincent's policy saved England from invasion, and in the hands of Nelson and his brother admirals led straight up to Trafalgar.
It is then particularly in the field of naval strategy that the teachings of the past have a value which is in no degree lessened. They are there useful not only as illustrative of principles, but also as precedents, owing to the comparative permanence of the conditions. This is less obviously true as to tactics, when the fleets come into collision at the point to which strategic considerations have brought them. The unresting progress of mankind causes continual change in the weapons; and with that must come a continual change in the manner of fighting, — in the handling and disposition of troops or ships on the battlefield. Hence arises a tendency on the part of many connected with maritime matters to think that no advantage is to be gained from the study of former experiences; that time so used is wasted. This view, though natural, not only leaves wholly out of sight those broad strategic considerations which lead nations to put fleets afloat, which direct the sphere of their action, and so have modified and will continue to modify the history of the world, but is one-sided and narrow even as to tactics. The battles of the past succeeded or failed according as they were fought in conformity with the principles of war; and the seaman who carefully studies the causes of success or failure will not only detect and gradually assimilate these principles, but will also acquire increased aptitude in applying them to the tactical use of the ships and weapons of his own day. He will observe also that changes of tactics have not only taken place after changes in weapons, which necessarily is the case, but that the interval between such changes has been unduly long. This doubtless arises from the fact that an improvement of weapons is due to the energy of one or two men, while changes in tactics have to overcome the inertia of a conservative class; but it is a great evil. It can be remedied only by a candid recognition of each change, by careful study of the powers and limitations of the new ship or weapon, and by a consequent adaptation of the method of using it to the qualities it possesses, which will constitute its tactics. History shows that it is vain to hope that military men generally will be at the pains to do this, but that the one who does will go into battle with a great advantage, — a lesson in itself of no mean value.CHAPTER 2
"THEORETICAL" versus "PRACTICAL" TRAINING
A Historical Instance
THERE have long been two conflicting opinions as to the best way to fit naval officers, and indeed all men called to active pursuits, for the discharge of their duties. The one, of the so-called practical man, would find in early beginning and constant remaining afloat all that is requisite; the other will find the best result in study, in elaborate mental preparation. I have no hesitation in avowing that personally I think that the United States Navy is erring on the latter side; but, be that as it may, there seems little doubt that the mental activity which exists so widely is not directed toward the management of ships in battle, to the planning of naval campaigns, to the study of strategic and tactical problems, nor even to the secondary matters connected with the maintenance of warlike operations at sea. Now we have had the results of the two opinions as to the training of naval officers pretty well tested by the experience of two great maritime nations, France and England, each of which, not so much by formulated purpose as by national bias, committed itself unduly to the one or the other. The results were manifested in our War of Independence, which gave rise to the only well-contested, wide-spread maritime war between nearly equal forces that modern history records. There remains in my own mind no doubt, after reading the naval history on both sides, that the English brought to this struggle much superior seamanship, learned by the constant practice of shipboard; while the French officers, most of whom had been debarred from similar experience by the decadence of their navy in the middle of the century, had devoted themselves to the careful study of their profession. In short, what are commonly called the practical and the theoretical man were pitted against each other, and the result showed how mischievous is any plan which neglects either theory or practice, or which ignores the fact that correct theoretical ideas are essential to successful practical work. The practical seamanship and experience of the English were continually foiled by the want of correct tactical conceptions on the part of their own chiefs, and the superior science of the French, acquired mainly by study. It is true that the latter were guided by a false policy on the part of their government and a false professional tradition. The navy, by its mobility, is pre-eminently fitted for offensive war, and the French deliberately and constantly subordinated it to defensive action. But, though the system was faulty, they had a system; they had ideas; they had plans familiar to their officers, while the English usually had none — and a poor system is better than none at all....
What is Practical?
It was said to me by some one: "If you want to attract officers to the College, give them something that will help them pass their next examination." But the test of war, when it comes, will be found a more searching trial of what is in a man than the verdict of several amiable gentlemen, disposed to give the benefit of every doubt. Then you will encounter men straining every faculty and every means to injure you. Shall we then, who prepare so anxiously for an examination, view as a "practical" proceeding, worthy of "practical" men, the postponing to the very moment of imperative action the consideration of how to act, how to do our fighting, either in the broader domain of strategy, or in the more limited field of tactics, whether of the single ship or of the fleet? Navies exist for war; and the question presses for an answer: "Is this neglect to master the experience of the past, to elicit, formulate, and absorb its principles, is it practicals?" Is it "practical" to wait till the squall strikes you before shortening sail? If the object and aim of the College is to promote such study, to facilitate such results, to foster and disseminate such ideas, can it be reproached that its purpose is not "practical," even though at first its methods be tentative and its results imperfect?
The word "practical" has suffered and been debased by a misapprehension of that other word "theoretical," to which it is accurately and logically opposed. Theory is properly defined as a scheme of things which terminates in speculation, or contemplation, without a view to practice. The idea was amusingly expressed in the toast, said to have been drunk at a meeting of mathematicians, "Eternal perdition to the man who would degrade pure mathematics by applying it to any useful purpose." The word "theoretical," therefore, is applied rightly and legitimately only to mental processes that end in themselves, that have no result in action; but by a natural, yet most unfortunate, confusion of thought, it has come to be applied to all mental processes whatsoever, whether fruitful or not, and has transferred its stigma to them, while "practical" has walked off with all the honors of a utilitarian age.
If therefore the line of thought, study and reflection, which the War College seeks to promote, is really liable to the reproach that it leads to no useful end, can result in no effective action, it falls justly under the condemnation of being not "practical." But it must be said frankly and fearlessly that the man who is prepared to apply this stigma to the line of the College effort must also be prepared to class as not "practical" men like Napoleon, like his distinguished opponent, the Austrian Archduke Charles, and like Jomini, the profuse writer on military art and military history, whose works, if somewhat supplanted by newer digests, have lost little or none of their prestige as a profound study and exposition of the principles of warfare.
Jomini was not merely a military theorist, who saw war from the outside; he was a distinguished and thoughtful soldier, in the prime of life during the Napoleonic wars, and of a contemporary reputation such that, when he deserted the cause of the emperor, he was taken at once into a high position as a confidential adviser of the allied sovereigns. Yet what does he say of strategy? Strategy is to him the queen of military sciences; it underlies the fortunes of every campaign. As in a building, which, however fair and beautiful the superstructure, is radically marred and imperfect if the foundation be insecure — so, if the strategy be wrong, the skill of the general on the battlefield, the valor of the soldier, the brilliancy of victory, however otherwise decisive, fail of their effect. Yet how does he define strategy, the effects of which, if thus far-reaching, must surely be esteemed "practical"? "Strategy," he said, "is the art of making war upon the map. It precedes the operations of the campaign, the clash of arms on the field. It is done in the cabinet, it is the work of the student, with his dividers in his hand and his information lying beside him." In other words, it originates in a mental process, but it does not end there; therefore it is practical.
Most of us have heard an anecdote of the great Napoleon, which is nevertheless so apt to my purpose that I must risk the repetition. Having had no time to verify my reference, I must quote from memory, but of substantial accuracy I am sure. A few weeks before one of his early and most decisive campaigns, his secretary, Bourrienne, entered the office and found the First Consul, as he then was, stretched on the floor with a large map before him. Pricked over the map, in what to Bourrienne was confusion, were a number of red and black pins. After a short silence the secretary, who was an old friend of school days, asked him what it all meant. The Consul laughed goodnaturedly, called him a fool, and said: "This set of pins represents the Austrians and this the French. On such a day I shall leave Paris. My troops will then be in such positions. On a certain day," naming it, "I shall be here," pointing, "and my troops will have moved there. At such a time I shall cross the mountains, a few days later my army will be here, the Austrians will have done thus and so; and at a certain date I will beat them here," placing a pin. Bourrienne said nothing, perhaps he may have thought the matter not "practical;" but a few weeks later, after the battle (Marengo, I think) had been fought, he was seated with the general in his military traveling carriage. The programme had been carried out, and he recalled the incident to Bonaparte's mind. The latter himself smiled at the singular accuracy of his predictions in the particular instance.
In the light of such an incident, the question I would like to pose will receive of course but one answer. Was the work on which the general was engaged in his private office, this work of a student, was it "practical"? Or can it by any reasonable method be so divorced from what followed, that the word "practical" only applies farther on. Did he only begin to be practical when he got into his carriage to drive from the Tuileries, or did the practical begin when he joined the army, or when the first gun of the campaign was fired? Or, on the other hand, if he had passed that time, given to studying the campaign, in arranging for a new development of the material of war, and so had gone with his plans undeveloped, would he not have done a thing very far from "practical"?
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Table of ContentsINTRODUCTION
PART I NAVAL PRINCIPLES
1. THE VALUE OF HISTORICAL STUDY
2. "THEORETICAL" versus "PRACTICAL" TRAINING"
A Historical Instance
What is Practical?
3. ELEMENTS OF SEA POWER
4. "DEFINITION OF TERMS : STRATEGY, TACTICS, LOGISTICS"
5. FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES
6. STRATEGIC POSITIONS
II. Military Strength
7. STRATEGIC LINES
Importance of Sea Communications
8. OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS
9. THE VALUE OF THE DEFENSIVE
10. COMMERCE DESTROYING AND BLOCKADE
Command of the Sea Decisive
11. STRATEGIC FEATURES OF THE GULF OF MEXICO AND THE CARIBBEAN
12. PRINCIPLES OF NAVAL ADMINISTRATION
The British Systems
The United States System
13. The Military Rule of Obedience
14. PREPAREDNESS FOR NAVAL WAR
PART II SEA POWER IN HISTORY
15. A NATION EXHAUSTED BY ISOLATION
France under Louis XIV
16. THE GROWTH OF BRITISH SEA POWER
"England after the Peace of Utrecht, 1715"
17. RESULTS OF THE SEVEN YEARS' WAR
18. EIGHTEENTH CENTURY FORMALISM IN NAVAL TACTICS
19. THE NEW TACTICS
"Rodney and De Guichen, April 17, 1780"
20. SEA POWER IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Graves and De Grasse off the Chesapeake
21. THE FRENCH NAVY DEMORALIZED BY THE REVOLUTION
22. "HOWE'S VICTORY OF JUNE 1, 1794"
23. NELSON'S STRATEGY AT COPENHAGEN
24. ENGLAND'S FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
25. THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR
"The Nelson Touch"
Commerce Warfare after Trafalgar
26. GENERAL STRATEGY OF THE WAR OF 1812
Results of the Northern Campaign
27. LESSONS OF THE WAR WITH SPAIN
"The Possibilities of a "Fleet in Being"
28. THE SANTIAGO BLOCKADE
29. "FLEET IN BEING" AND "FORTRESS FLEET"
The Port Arthur Squadron in the Russo-Japanese War
30. ROZHESTVENSKY AT TSUSHIMA
PART III NAVAL AND NATIONAL POLICIES
31. EXPANSION AND OVER-SEA BASES
The Annexation of Hawaii
32. APPLICATION OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE
Anglo-American Community of Interests
33. CHANGES IN THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN
34. OUR INTERESTS IN THE PACIFIC
35. THE GERMAN STATE AND ITS MENACE
The Bulwark of British Sea Power
36. ADVANTAGES OF INSULAR POSITION
Great Britain and the Continental Powers
37. BEARING OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS ON NAVAL POLICY AND STRATEGY
38. SEIZURE OF PRIVATE PROPERTY AT SEA
39. THE MORAL ASPECT OF WAR
40. THE PRACTICAL ASPECT OF WAR
41. MOTIVES FOR NAVAL POWER