Sunday, December 05, 2004

Current Reading -- Naval History

I'm currently reading two books: The Price of Admiralty, by John Keegan, and Naval Warfare, by P. H. Colomb. Both authors take a historical approach to demonstrating the evolution of naval warfare.
Keegan progresses from Trafalgar to Jutland to Midway, to the Battle of the Atlantic in rather quick succession, with good descriptions of the maneuvers and combat ensuing. His object in writing was to document "How men have fought at sea, in the period from the heyday of the ship of the line to the coming of the submarine." He has so far succeeded in drawing me into Nelson's, Jellicoe's and Yamamoto's fleets; I'm just starting the chapter on Donitz. This book is a must-read for any student of naval history and tactics.
Colomb's treatment of history is significantly more detailed and purposeful than Keegan's. His aim is to elicit the rules of naval warfare based on examination of the historical record. Writing in the late 1800s, Colomb relies on the age of sail, with significant detail on the Dutch wars, the various Spanish Armadas, and the American and French revolutions.
Though two volumes rich in detail, Colomb shows both how command of the sea is achieved, and why it must be achieved for success in attacks on land. He provides numerous examples of both success and failure under the varying levels of command of the sea, including some exceptions to prove the rules.
What strikes me most about reading these two books is the parallel between Colomb and Admiral Vern Clark's Sea Power 21. Colomb's rules for how and why to obtain command of the sea seem to be only slightly modified in Clark's concepts of Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and Sea Basing. It is truly amazing that the impressive technological evolution over the intervening century has not changed (nor seriously challenged) Colomb's basic findings. Without command of the sea, Colomb finds that attacks on land are more than likely to fail; Clark's assured access, provided by the Sea Shield, enables the effective projection of American force and sovereignty.