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Fighting at and From the Sea: A Second Opinion

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Journal article

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In our concentration on the excellent sensors, weapons, computers, and communications systems now or soon to be in our hands, strategic and operational naval theory has faded from our minds--in some cases, it may never even have entered. Hence, the great effects imposed on the Navy and, indeed, on the world at large by Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan seemingly have passed forever. Since Mahan, who died nearly ninety years ago, few have ventured into this still illexplored field of endeavor, and the names of those who have done so do not easily come to the minds of others. However, naval theory beyond the management of arms, sensors, and communications is alive, if not perfectly well. Those writing today in this field invite thought on several matters, but here I will comment on only one--the methods for the use of naval forces in war. One well informed and thoughtful scholar lists six such methods. These, in the order discussed below, are coastal defense, maritime power projection, commerce raiding, the fleet-in-being, fleet battle, and blockade. Over the centuries navies have used, or tried, all of them, and others, too. In the last half-century they have added two new methods. Perhaps a third is in the offing. The defense of coasts, and especially of harbors, against superior forces coming from the sea has most often and most powerfully been undertaken from ashore by armies and air forces. The usual result of a strong harbor defense is that the potential invader either chooses a less desirable place through which to begin his campaign ashore, or he does not try at all. Cases in point are Manila in World War II and, also in World War II, some of the French Atlantic ports, all of them well defended. The Japanese, impressed by the harbor defenses at Manila, began their drive upon that city in December 1941 at Lingayen Gulf, 120 miles to the north.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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