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An Examination of the 1917-1918 U-Boat Campaign in Light of B. H. Liddell Hart's Theories of Indirect Approach

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One of the most prolific critics of military strategy following World War I, Basil Henry Liddell Hart sought alternatives to the Western Fronts mechanics of mass slaughter that yielded neither decisive tactical success nor attainment of strategic military objectives and, hence, denied achievement of national objectives. Inspired by Sun Tzus concept of the cheng direct and chi indirect forces, Liddell Hart developed a theory of strategy of the indirect approach, which advocated a war of maneuver in both the physical and psychological plane, and endorsed attack on the economic nervous system of the enemy as a minimum risk, minimum cost alternative to physical destruction of the mass of the enemys force. Examining 280 military campaigns from 30 major conflicts over 25 centuries of warfare, Liddell Hart suggested that the grand strategy of indirect approach offered the best hope and most frugal means of achieving strategic success. He identified a significant number of examples in which national strategists selected the indirect approach as a measure of last resort, and by that selection obtained success when the direct approach would have brought failure. His analysis continued to the conclusion that the indirect approach is always superior to the direct approach, and had wider applicability -- a law of life in all spheres, a truth of philosophy. Does the theory of indirect approach stand scrutiny Is it possible to defeat an industrialized nation without committing mass on mass, achieving concentration of force, and pitting that force against the decisive point Or is Liddell Hart guilty of selective historical analysis The author examines Liddell Harts theory of indirect approach against the experiences of the Imperial German Navy during the unrestricted U-Boat Campaign of 1917-1918 to determine if Liddell Harts ideas are validated.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Undersea and Antisubmarine Warfare

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