Sea Power and Its Relations to the War of 1812. A T Mahan.Volumes I & II.

By Captain A T Mahan. United States Navy.

Printed: 1905

Publisher: Sampson Low Marston. London

Dimensions 16 × 23 × 4.5 cm
Language

Language: English

Size (cminches): 16 x 23 x 4.5

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Navy leather spine with textured boards. Gilt shipping engraving on both front boards. Gilt banded rectangles and lettering on the spine. Gilt top edges.

Historic: A very distinctive and well bound edition

 THE BOOK THAT SHAPED TODAYS WORLD

Alfred Thayer Mahan (September 27, 1840 – December 1, 1914) was a United States naval officer and historian, whom John Keegan called “the most important American strategist of the nineteenth century.” His book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 (1890) won immediate recognition, especially in Europe, and with its successor, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793–1812 (1892), made him world-famous and perhaps the most influential American author of the nineteenth century

Mahan’s views were shaped by 17th-century conflicts between the Dutch Republic, England, France and Spain, and by the nineteenth-century naval wars between France and Great Britain. British naval superiority eventually defeated France, consistently preventing invasion and an effective blockade. Mahan emphasized that naval operations were chiefly to be won by decisive battles and blockades. In the 19th-century the United States sought greater control over its seaborne commerce in order to protect its economic interests which relied heavily on exports bound mainly for Europe.

According to Peter Paret’s Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Mahan’s emphasis on sea power as the most important cause of Britain’s rise to world power neglected diplomacy and land arms. Furthermore, theories of sea power do not explain the rise of land empires, such as Bismarck’s Germany or the Russian Empire.

Mahan believed that national greatness was inextricably associated with the sea, with its commercial use in peace and its control in war; and he used history as a stock of examples to exemplify his theories, arguing that the education of naval officers should be based on a rigorous study of history. Mahan’s framework derived from Antoine-Henri Jomini, and emphasized strategic locations (such as choke points, canals, and coaling stations), as well as quantifiable levels of fighting power in a fleet. Mahan also believed that in peacetime, states should increase production and shipping capacities and acquire overseas possessions, though he stressed that the number of coal fuelling stations and strategic bases should be limited to avoid draining too many resources from the mother country.

The primary mission of a navy was to secure the command of the sea, which would permit the maintenance of sea communications for one’s own ships while denying their use to the enemy and, if necessary, closely supervise neutral trade. Control of the sea could be achieved not by destruction of commerce but only by destroying or neutralizing the enemy fleet. Such a strategy called for the concentration of naval forces composed of capital ships, not too large but numerous, well-manned with crews thoroughly trained, and operating under the principle that the best defence is an aggressive offense.

Mahan contended that with a command of the sea, even if local and temporary, naval operations in support of land forces could be of decisive importance. He also believed that naval supremacy could be exercised by a transnational consortium acting in defence of a multinational system of free trade. His theories, expounded before the submarine became a serious factor in warfare, delayed the introduction of convoys as a defence against German U-boats during World War I. By the 1930s, the US Navy had built long-range submarines to raid Japanese shipping; but in World War II, the Japanese, still tied to Mahan, designed their submarines as ancillaries to the fleet and failed to attack American supply lines in the Pacific. Mahan’s analysis of the Spanish-American War suggested to him that the great distances in the Pacific required the American battle fleet to be designed with long-range striking power.

Mahan believed first that good political and naval leadership was no less important than geography when it came to the development of sea power. Second, Mahan’s unit of political analysis insofar as sea power was concerned was a transnational consortium, rather than a single nation state. Third, his economic ideal was free trade rather than autarky. Fourth, his recognition of the influence of geography on strategy was tempered by a strong appreciation of the power of contingency to affect outcomes.

In 1890 Mahan prepared a secret contingency plan for war between Britain and the United States. Mahan believed that if the British blockaded the eastern ports, the US Navy should be concentrated in one of them, preferably New York, with its two widely separated exits, and employ torpedo boats to defend the other harbours. This concentration of the US fleet would force the British to tie down such a large proportion of their navy to watch the New York exits that other American ports would be relatively safe. Detached American cruisers should wage “constant offensive action” against the enemy’s exposed positions; and if the British were to weaken their blockade force off New York to attack another American port, the concentrated US fleet could capture British coaling ports in Nova Scotia, thereby seriously weakening British ability to engage in naval operations off the American coast. This contingency plan was a clear example of Mahan’s application of his principles of naval war, with a clear reliance on Jomini’s principle of controlling strategic points.

Timeliness contributed no small part to the widespread acceptance of Mahan’s theories. Although his history was relatively thin, based as it was on secondary sources, his vigorous style, and clear theory won widespread acceptance of navalists and supporters of the New Imperialism in Africa and Asia.

Given the rapid technological changes underway in propulsion (from coal to oil and from reciprocating engines to turbines), ordnance (with better fire directors, and new high explosives), and armour and the emergence of new craft such as destroyers and submarines, Mahan’s emphasis on the capital ship and the command of the sea came at an opportune moment.

 Germany

Mahan’s name became a household word in the German navy after Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered his officers to read Mahan, and Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930) used Mahan’s reputation to finance a powerful surface fleet. Tirpitz, an intense navalist who believed ardently in Mahan’s dictum that whatever power rules the sea also ruled the world, had The Influence of Sea Power Upon History translated into German in 1898 and had 8,000 copies distributed for free as a way of pressuring the Reichstag to vote for the First Navy Bill.

Tirpitz used Mahan not only as a way of winning over German public opinion but also as a guide to strategic thinking. Before 1914, Tirpitz completely rejected commerce raiding as a strategy and instead embraced Mahan’s ideal of a decisive battle of annihilation between two fleets as the way to win command of the seas. Tirpitz always planned for the German High Seas Fleet to win the Entscheidungsschlacht (decisive battle) against the British Royal Navy somewhere in “the waters between Helgoland and the Thames”, a strategy he based on his reading of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.

United Kingdom

Mahan and British admiral John Fisher (1841–1920) both addressed the problem of how to dominate home waters and distant seas with naval forces unable to do both. Mahan argued for a universal principle of concentration of powerful ships in home waters with minimized strength in distant seas. Fisher instead decided to use submarines to defend home waters and mobile battlecruisers to protect British interests.

France

Though in 1914 French naval doctrine was dominated by Mahan’s theory of sea power, the course of World War I changed ideas about the place of the navy. The refusal of the German fleet to engage in a decisive battle, the Dardanelles expedition of 1915, the development of submarine warfare, and the organization of convoys all showed the Navy’s new role in combined operations with the army. The Navy’s part in securing victory was not fully understood by French public opinion in 1918, but a synthesis of old and new ideas arose from the lessons of the war, especially by Admiral Raoul Castex (1878–1968), who synthesized in his five-volume Théories Stratégiques the classical and materialist schools of naval theory. He reversed Mahan’s theory that command of the sea precedes maritime communications and foresaw the enlarged roles of aircraft and submarines in naval warfare.

Japan

The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660–1783 was translated into Japanese and was used as a textbook in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). That usage strongly affected the IJN’s plan to end Russian naval expansion in the Far East, which culminated in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). It has been argued that the IJN’s pursuit of the “decisive battle” (Kantai Kessen) contributed to Imperial Japan’s defeat in World War II, because the development of the submarine and the aircraft carrier, combined with advances in technology, largely rendered obsolete the doctrine of the decisive battle between fleets. Nevertheless, the IJN did not adhere strictly to Mahanian doctrine because its forces were often tactically divided, particularly during the attack on Pearl Harbour and the Battle of Midway.

United States

Mahan believed that if the United States were to build an Isthmian canal, it would become a Pacific power, and therefore it should take possession of Hawaii to protect the West Coast. Nevertheless, his support for American imperialism was more ambivalent than is often stated, and he remained lukewarm about American annexation of the Philippines.

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