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War at Sea: Changing Techniques and Unchanging Fundamentals

ISSUE:  Winter 1943

From the time the industrial revolution first invaded the navies of the world, drastic change in weapons has been so persistent that one might consider it one of the constants of naval war. Most observers consider themselves daring and progressive in stressing the pattern of today, and thus by implication urging its adoption for the warfare of tomorrow. But the campaign of tomorrow or next year is bound to be fought with implements which in certain respects differ from those of today, and it is necessary to anticipate those changes to the best of our ability and to prepare for them. If you would have victory, prepare for change.

The changes going on about us are all too obvious. Their immediacy and their undeniable importance lead us to overlook the fact that there are certain basic procedures or assumptions in warfare that tend to change but little, or perhaps not at all. These too are important. It does no good to have the best of tools and even the skills for using them if one does not also know how to apply them to the best advantage.

It is a kind of egotism common in our age that causes us cavalierly to dismiss the changes of the past as far less important than those occurring in our own lifetimes. Whether the adoption of steam on the warship and merchant vessel was a change of greater or less naval consequence; than the advent of the military airplane is a nice question which cannot be resolved offhand. But it does seem logical to assume that the sum total of the changes which occurred between Trafalgar and Jutland by no means fades into insignificance when compared with the changes which have occurred since Jutland.

That point should hardly need stressing, yet we are being told on every hand that we must discard like a moth-eaten garment the fundamentals of strategic theory which survived a century of incredible change. Obviously they should be re-examined, and it may be true that they are moth-eaten and need to be discarded, but in so doing we must certainly avoid substituting for them garments which do not fit. Changes of the most far-reaching nature are now in progress, and while we are engrossed in fighting a great war we cannot wait for the perspective and insight which are acquired only through the passage of time. But this is all the more reason why we must subject to the most careful scrutiny every new factor in today’s war to determine as accurately as possible the degree to which existing concepts must be revised.

One of the most difficult and yet most important tasks involved in this process is to distinguish between intrinsic consequences following from a change and those which follow merely from the swiftness with which that change has taken place. Consider the submarine during the last war. There can be no doubt that if the Germans had possessed in 1915, when the use of the submarine was still new, the number and quality of U-boats which they enjoyed in 1917, they would have swiftly defeated England and won the war. In that case popular enthusiasm (outside the defeated countries) for the new weapon would have known no bounds. The pre-war predictions of Admirals Sir Percy Scott and Lord Fisher that the submarine would drive all surface warships from the seas would have been amply vindicated, and anyone who would have dared to protest this verdict would have been hooted into humiliated silence. But in the two years following 1915 the British devised effective counters to the submarine, and by the time the Germans launched their unrestricted campaign of 1917 that campaign was doomed to failure.

The modern submarine has in fact remained a naval weapon of the first importance. Yet it has not driven other types of warships from the seas, and at the present time it shows no promise—or threat—of doing so. It has improved tremendously in performance, but its effectiveness, measured in terms of tonnage sunk per submarine per day, has never since equalled the record it achieved in the early days of its destructive career in the spring of 1915. It is a deadly weapon now, but it was much deadlier when it was new-Percy Scott and Lord Fisher proved wrong, not because they overestimated the potentialities for progress of the submarine, but because they forgot that other things would also change. They did not foresee the supersonic detector device, the depth charge, or a host of other weapons which have appeared in the arsenal of anti-submarine defense.

Thus, those who permit themselves to be wholly swept away by the current successes of some new implement and who proceed with reckless brush to paint pictures of war taking place wholly underseas—or, as is the most recent tendency, wholly in the air—are the real conservatives among war prophets. In their enthusiasm for their hobby they blind themselves to the fact that technology marches on with broad sweep, that its progress is not confined to the few instruments which for the moment are favored of the gods, and that the implements which today are menaced with extinction will tomorrow develop new means of protecting themselves and of furthering their own intrinsic merit. What we will then have will be not a return to the conditions of yesterday, but something new and distinctive.

The present war at sea has lasted long enough to have passed through several marked revolutions in tactics. For the first several months it appeared that the tactical progress of 1917-18 so unfavorable to the submarine had been a continuing one. The Germans were losing their U-boats in large numbers and were inflicting no commensurate damage on British shipping. Then the U-boats devised new tactics and the German Army obtained new bases for them on the French and Norwegian coasts. The results are too recent to need stressing. Only a few months ago one of our senators was telling us that it was “utter folly” to hope to build merchant ships faster than they were being sunk and was urging what was impossible—that we shift the major burden of our cargo transport from vessels to aircraft. Now it is his prediction which looks foolish. An increased quantity of patrol and escort craft and constant tactical advances in the defense of shipping have enabled us, at least for the time being, to push shipping losses far below the level of new construction.

The menace to ships from the air has had a somewhat similar history. The war was more than a year old before either side lost to air attack a warship as large as a cruiser, or any substantial amount of shipping. Not until November, 1940, did the Italians suffer the Taranto disaster, and it was not until January, 1941, that the British lost their first cruiser, the Southampton, to the airplane. The boast of the Luftwaffe that it would destroy the British Navy seemed far indeed from realization. But Taranto opened a new phase, and for the next year and a half of the war, particularly in the opening months of the Pacific campaign, it seemed that the surface ship was really being driven from the seas by the tiny dive-bomber and torpedo plane. Recent events, however, are indicating that the pendulum has again begun to swing. The analysts of the press and radio who were proclaiming a short time ago that air power would win the Battie of the Pacific are now considering the Solomon Islands campaign and reminding us not to forget the surface ship.

In the crucial matter of shipping, an even more radical swing has taken place. When the Germans occupied the Atlantic seaboards of Norway and France, the long-range German bombers quickly became a close second to the U-boats in the destruction of British and Allied shipping. In the spring of 1941 something between 24 and 40 per cent of British ships lost were victims of air attack. But the British adopted countering devices, particularly the “catafighter,” and by the autumn of 1941 the proportion of ships lost as a result of air attack had fallen to one-twelfth of what they had been in the preceding April. The airplane is still a tremendous menace to the shipping of all belligerents in particular areas, but on trans-oceanic routes and especially on the vital trans-Atlantic ferry the damage it inflicts has fallen to insignificant proportions.

Naturally, a trend which has reversed itself once may reverse itself again, but to some degree such changes can be anticipated. This anticipation requires, however, an unbiased appreciation of the potentialities and limitations of various types of weapons, and mental flexibility concerning the evolution of new tactics. It requires also an understanding of the relatively unchanging fundamentals of naval warfare.

“The principles of war are eternal, but the factors with which they have to deal are undergoing an incessant evolution.” This dictum of von der Goltz puts the emphasis where it belongs, on the factors which are changing. Yet emphasis does not mean the same as sole preoccupation, and when we are being overwhelmed with everlasting change the fact that some things vaguely characterized as “principles” can lay claim to changelessness is something which should win our most grateful attention. The fact of the matter is that we can make no sense at all out of the confusion of change unless we look at it through the spectacles of enduring values.

It is, of course, difficult to tell where factors end and principles begin. In sea warfare the factors which made impossible the old practice of close blockade certainly affected some of those rules of naval strategy which had attained the dignity of being labeled “principles.” But if one starts at the other end of the scale, at the original source of the principles, one finds himself on much firmer ground. The source of the abiding principles of war is found in the purpose of war. The phenomenal timelessness of Clausewitz’s philosophy stems basically from his clear recognition of that fact, j

The science of strategy is amazingly like that of economics, j since it is simply a system for the utilization of military j resources, which are inevitably limited, in order to achieve j one’s political goal in the quickest and most economical way. The classical economist assumed that the economic goal of man was to enhance the general availability of the material ! goods of the world. So long as that general assumption remained true, the fundamental tenets of classical economics were impeccable. No advances in technology, no advent of new industrial nations could impair them. Only when one’s goals change—when one seeks self-sufficiency rather than [ gain from trade, or maximum employment for its own sake rather than that maximum production which will entail the fullest absorption of labor—do these tenets begin to topple, j The goals of the economist are clearly more flexible than j those of the strategist, and yet it is conceivable that the goals S of war too should change. It might become, and some peo- j pie seem to be urging it, an exercise in the maximum use of a particularly favored weapon. Under such circumstances the basic principles of strategy are automatically outmoded.

The aim of naval strategy taken by itself is ridiculously | simple—the control ,of sea-borne transportation. Even in j the so-called “combined” or “amphibious” operation—a land- j ing from the sea upon hostile territory—the function of the navy is primarily that of protecting the transportation of land forces while they are upon the seas, though of course the fleet will not be reluctant to contribute whatever artillery salvos and aircraft are necessary to ease the landing. The purpose of a navy is to make the sea a barrier for the enemy and a highway for oneself, and besides that fundamental purpose any other uses are merely incidental, though in specific instances they may be important.

Transportation—or “communications” as military men prefer to call it—is important in land strategy as well. Some writers, von Willisen for example, have not hesitated to describe strategy as “the study of communications.” Certainly it should be obvious that the motor truck or railroad train which supplies a tank or gun in the field is every bit as vital as that tank or gun itself, and it has long been recognized that a blow at the communications of an army is a blow at the heart of that army. But the nature of land warfare is such, especially in modern times, that the active forces by their very position athwart the enemy tend naturally to cover their own communications. The result is that the supplying of an army over land, while carried on by military personnel, usually has more of the character of ordinary peace time transportation than of a military operation.

On the seas, however, there are no fronts which are held by one side and besieged by the other. Those ships which leave our west coast bearing military supplies for our forces in the Solomon Islands must be prepared to repel the enemy not only in the Solomon’s area itself, but almost anywhere on the broad seas. The protection of that shipping is a naval operation from beginning to end. If a large part of that route is relatively safe, it is usually because our naval dispositions make it so, but we cannot afford to be weak anywhere. A shipping route is like a cable supporting an elevator. If the cable snaps, it makes no difference to the occupants of the elevator where the break occurred. But so long as the cable remains whole, every portion of it is important.

This point is worth stressing if only to compensate for the wholly distorted picture given by our daily press. The headlines are constantly shrieking of the ships which are destroyed or damaged in the area of most active operations„ with the result that the safe transit of a convoy across most of the width of the Pacific is taken wholly for granted. Moreover, the naval implements which are quietly responsible for the safety of the convoys on the broad seas are accorded no particular credit, while those short-ranged weapons which are inflicting actual damage hold the limelight. A balanced view must consider naval operations as a whole. The fact, for example, that the American convoys to Britain are crossing the Atlantic with a high degree of safety is at least as important as the fact that many ships are being lost in the convoys bound for Russia.

If there were no need for practising economy with one’s means, naval strategy would resolve itself into mere cross raiding; that is, each side would divide its navy more or less into two parts, sending one part to raid the enemy’s shipping and keeping the other to defend its own shipping. But some time during the seventeenth century the idea developed that it was better to account for the bulk of the enemy’s major warships first. The fleet which gained control by destroying or neutralizing the enemy’s major forces was called the “battle fleet,” and behind its protective arm small squadrons or single cruisers carried on their work against enemy shipping and against whatever solitary raiders had eluded the crushing strength of the battle fleet. In so far as it was successful, this strategy tended to give one an exclusive use of the sea, and this happy condition came to be known by the rather pretentious term of “command of the sea.”

The idea of “command of the sea” and of obtaining it through intermediate military operations not immediately concerned with shipping is basic to naval strategy as we have known it. It involves the idea of concentrating superior forces against enemy concentrations. If raiders were able, first, to elude with ease such superior concentrations, and second, to wreak upon shipping havoc of such proportions as to be quickly decisive, the old principles of strategy would fall to the ground. The strategy which would replace it would be confined to schemes for maximizing the effects of raiders. What we would have would be a situation in which victory went not to the stronger navy but to the side which was least injured by having its maritime communications severed.

The idea of concentrating one’s efforts on the destruction of enemy shipping is, of course, far from new, such strategy having long been dignified by the term “guerre de course.” The conviction that the strategy of the guerre de course could be made decisive by the development of new weapons is also not new. In the 1840’s the Prince de Joinville was convinced that the steam frigate gave France the means of defeating Great Britain on the seas regardless of the superiority of the British Navy. Nor is the idea entirely novel that new weapons may be a means of eating away the main bulk of a superior opposing fleet and thus of wresting away from the enemy the coveted command of the sea.

What is new is the belief that certain weapons, even after they have been deprived of any advantages of novelty, will not only give a fresh effectiveness to the guerre de course, but will also deprive the surface warship of its previous ascend-ancy and perhaps of its entire utility. It would be difficult to maintain that naval strategy would continue along famil-iar patterns even after the surface warship had disappeared i as the chief instrument of asserting control of the seas, The instruments which promise to do these things, according to the conviction of many, are of course the submarine and the airplane. Though both these weapons were used at sea in the last great war the modern airplane is hardly to be recognized in the types of the last war, and the tactics of both submarine and aerial warfare have changed tremendously. If one insisted on considering only really new devices we would be concerned chiefly with those which have revolutionized radio communications, submarine and aircraft detection, and gunnery control, and which for various good reasons have scarcely been mentioned in the press. The submarine, it could be argued, implies by its nature the existence of enemy surface craft or airplanes, since it would not otherwise incur the great disadvantages which necessarily attend its ability to submerge—chiefly the loss of speed and fire power. Ton for ton, there is no question that the surface warship can be enormously more effective against enemy shipping than the submarine. But the submarine is the only naval vessel which is able to operate for long periods in waters commanded by the enemy, and in that fact lies practically its whole reason for being.

It is true that during the first World War the depredations of the German U-boats caused Admiral Jellicoe to draw a distinction between “surface command” and “subsurface command,” but there is no need for such word play. There is only one kind of command, the kind that enables one side or the other to control the movements of merchant shipping within a given area, and the submarine is merely a means of challenging the command asserted by the enemy’s local superiority in surface craft and airplanes.

The two world wars have definitely indicated that with large numbers of submarines in existence victory on the seas was no longer the assured prize of the superior navy. In 1917 and again in 1940-42 it appeared that whereas the superior navy could deny the seas to the enemy, it could not on a modest margin of superiority assure the safe passage of its own shipping. A tremendous number of patrol craft and escort vessels were necessary above and beyond those required to secure supremacy on the surface.

The tactical changes in submarine warfare during the present war have been too numerous and complex to describe here. The essential point is that all of them have thus far been parried, after the provision of the necessary means, by an agile readjustment of defensive tactics. When the Germans began to follow the tactics of having groups of submarines on the surface follow behind a convoy during daylight in order to close in at night for the kill, the British utilized the airplane to keep them submerged and therefore too slow to keep up with the convoy. The flare and the floodlight made it unhealthy for the surfaced U-boats to expose themselves in the midst of a convoy at night. And it might be noted that the surface tactics which were for a time so favored by the Germans were dictated by the inherently slow speed and poor vision of the submerged submarine.

To be sure, the effectiveness of the submarine remains high. By forcing the enemy to move in convoys it is costly to him in shipping effectiveness even if no vessels be sunk, and the fact is that at this date it has been responsible for the sinking of a tremendous tonnage of ships of all categories. The submarines of each side have sunk vastly more of their adversary’s shipping than all other types of craft combined, airplanes included. Its score in warships, including the mightiest battleships and aircraft carriers, has been decidedly impressive. The blow it has struck against United Nations shipping has already had the most far-reaching effects on every theatre of the conflict. It is not unlikely that the toll of the German U-boats is the chief reason for the delay in opening a second front in Europe. In the hands of the Allies it has effectively hampered the trans-Mediterranean communications of Rommel’s armies in North Africa, and has thus played a large part in his recent defeat. The Japanese have felt its bite in the western Pacific.

But it has not proved the decisive weapon on the seas. Of course it would have proved decisive if the Allies had been unable to produce the escort and patrol craft necessary to counter it and to produce also the shipping necessary to replace the toll it has been taking. It is probably true that the quantitative effort required to overcome the submarine has thus far been much greater than the effort which the Germans have put into their submarine campaign, but that situation may be reversed in the future. The submarine has lessened somewhat but by no means demolished the significance of surface superiority. It has remained from first to last a raider, dealt with by methods comparable to those which have always been used against raiders, and not a means of wresting command of the sea.

What the future of the submarine will be depends largely on whether its architectural progress can outrun the means of combating it. It has become more resistant to depth bombs than formerly, it is able to dive much deeper and thus become a more difficult target, and it may in the future greatly increase its submerged speed and endurance. Yet in all these respects its potentialities definitely seem more limited than those of the implements being used or which might be used to combat it. Above all, it is hard to see how the rapidly developing means of submarine detection, which are beginning to undermine the whole reason for being of the submersible, can be overcome. One cannot be sure for the future, but in this war at any rate, the submarine will imperil but not command the seas.

The peculiar value of the airplane extends over two very diverse fields—reconnaissance and attack. Almost every aerial bomb which strikes home makes the front page of the news, but the accomplishments of the aerial observer are generally passed over in silence. Yet it might be doubted that the reconnaissance value of aircraft adds up to less than their attack value. The two cannot as a rule be separated, but great decisions have been made and large operations put in progress on the basis of what was seen from the air.

Even when atmospheric conditions are such that visibility is not enhanced by taking a position aloft—which is often the case—the speed of the airplane enables it to reconnoitre large areas in a short time. On the trans-Atlantic ferry it has been invaluable not only for spotting U-boats on the surface or at periscope depth but also for bringing together portions of convoys which have^een scattered by attack and which are enjoined to radio silence. It has helped convoys also to contact warship escorts sent out to meet them. And its ability to dash in where warships fear to tread has enabled fleets to keep check on the enemy’s dispositions and particularly on the whereabouts of his major warships. The Bismarck was not long out of Bergen when her departure was discovered, and the Tirpitz has not succeeded in cloaking her movements with the mystery essential to her success.

As an instrument of reconnaissance, however, the airplane seems on the whole to favor the command of the superior fleet. By and large it is the inferior fleet which has more to gain from concealment. The British have been able, largely because of the reconnaissance airplane, to command the North Atlantic under conditions which would have made such command almost impossible twenty-five years ago. There are exceptions to this general rule, to be sure, particularly since the reconnaissance airplane may be the advance agent not for a fleet but for an air force which is determined to challenge the domination of a fleet.’ Nevertheless, if the utility of the airplane were confined to reconnaissance, the traditional patterns of strategy would be if anything more solidified and strengthened than formerly.

As an attack weapon the airplane hardly needs any emphasis at this date. It has had, to put it mildly, an exceedingly good press. Nothing is more likely to make the headlines than a successful aerial attack upon ships, particularly warships, and it would be silly to question the fact that the exploits of aircraft have been brilliant. Whether it is really the dominant arm in the war at sea is, however, another question, and it is precisely deciding this issue that one must bear in mind the whole length of the sea lane and not merely the terminal areas in which the sinkings occur.

The airplane owes its success as an attack weapon to several characteristics. Its speed enables it not only to overtake any vessels within its cruising radius but frequently also to gain the advantage of surprise and to get in telling blows before effective resistance can be organized—even when the means of resistance are at hand. Its elevation above the target and thus its ability to utilize the force of gravity enable it to discharge missiles of a size that would require a very large gun and therefore a large ship to hurl. It should be remembered, however, that the armor-penetrating power and the accuracy of aerial bombs are generally much less than that of gun fire. The airplane’s small size and extreme velocity of movement make it an uncommonly difficult target to hit, which not only helps it in its bombing forays but also serves to make it the best means of torpedo attack against major warships. It can also hop over various kinds of defensive barriers just as the submarine can dive under other types, which means that it can often attack ships in harbors which are adequately defended against other forms of attack. And like the submarine it is a means of striking blows against forces which by any kind of accounting are vastly superior in strength.

This is a formidable list of advantages, and they have added up to a host of marvelous accomplishments. If these advantages were not balanced at least in part by certain inherent limitations, there would be no question that the day of the surface warship would be over. Every military implement has certain limitations, and it does not therefore detract from the value of the airplane to mention those peculiar to it. Such mention merely happens at the moment to be unpopular, with the result that too much is expected of the airplane by itself, and those supporting weapons which are necessary to give it its maximum effectiveness are often passed off in the public mind as relatively useless.

The most obvious limitation of the airplane in naval use is its short endurance. The large bomber type may have a range with a small bomb load that looks impressive on paper —ranges cited rarely indicate the distances at which the planes can be effectively operated—but range in miles is a very different thing from sea-keeping ability, which must be measured in time. For the purposes of escorting a convoy or patrolling areas far removed from one’s base it may be far more important to be able to keep a station than to cruise at 175 miles per hour.

The airplane is far more handicapped by bad weather than the surface warship. Various types of weather conditions will make flight impossible, and in certain important maritime regions like the North Sea such conditions are far from infrequent. This factor alone would suffice to make the surface warship indispensable, at least as an auxiliary, so long as it was at all possible to keep any substantial number afloat in the face of the air threat.

Also, for a weapon of war the airplane is amazingly fragile. Whatever immunity it has is due to its ability not to take punishment but to evade it, and evasion often fails. One reads stories of planes returning safely to their bases despite many bullet holes, but against such stories one need only consider the colossal score of planes downed or destroyed on the ground month by month in the active theatres.

This fragility of the airplane has consequences of more immediate strategic importance, but it reflects also on the popular but mistaken assumption that the airplane is generally a cheaper means of doing the same thing which a warship can do. The public eye is concentrated on the single airplane which makes the torpedo hit, yet we know that it usually takes large numbers of aircraft to accomplish decisive results and that they often suffer terrible losses in doing so. And the effort and costly organization required to bring an air force to an active area and maintain it in action there usually go quite unnoticed.

The fragility of a plane means also that aircraft are a relatively unreliable means of securing results even within their cruising radius. Fantastic successes are matched by spectacular and costly failures, even in combats which otherwise are exactly comparable. Failures, however, even those of the enemy, never make the headlines.

It has been argued by some air enthusiasts that the airplane will completely displace the warship as soon as it is designed with sufficient range to enable it to make itself felt over all portions of the sea while operating from land bases.

But the only way the airplane can attain substantially longer range while retaining its ability to carry an appreciable military load is by increasing its dimensions, and the larger the plane becomes the more it begins to lose its peculiar virtues. The larger plane is far more expensive per unit and, unlike the surface ship, its invulnerability does not increase proportionately to its size. It is one thing to use large planes to bomb great cities at night, and quite another to use them over the sea in daylight against moving targets which may include powerfully armed warships. It has been proved again and again in all the active maritime theatres of this war that the kind of plane which achieves decisive results on the high seas is not the big bomber which bombs from level flight at high altitude, but the dive-bomber and the torpedo plane, and these must for tactical reasons be small planes. Only when ship targets are stationary in harbors or lacking abysmally in anti-aircraft armament or other defenses—which the more modern warships are not—can the large bombers be counted upon to secure results.

Besides, the more one emphasizes range in the design of a plane, the more one must sacrifice characteristics which are j tactically desirable, such as speed, maneuverability, rate of climb, and armament load. The larger the plane the larger the field required for its take-off, and there are many important areas of the globe—the Solomon Islands, for instance— where landing fields are so scarce that any flat, open space becomes the object of bitter campaigns. The large plane is even more hampered by adverse weather than the small one, since there are fewer fields available for emergency landings. Finally, how much range would it take to enable a land-based . plane to attend a convoy moving across the ocean—assuming I that a plane which could keep station with a convoy was tactically adequate to beating off various kinds of attackers?

The fighting in the Solomon’s has put the limitations of the plane in sharp relief. The scarcity of aircraft carriers because of losses and the even greater scarcity of aerodromes greatly limits the number of aircraft which can be put over the fighting lines or landing beaches. We have—at this writing—only Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. Australia is much too far to permit large bombers sent from there to keep the air over Guadalcanal, and of course dive-bombers or torpedo planes cannot fly the round-trip distance at all. The result is that even in this outstanding example of amphibious operations, where aircraft are generally at their maximum effectiveness, the airplane has by no means stolen the show from the surface ship.

To be sure, the airplane might still dominate the broad seas if sufficient aircraft carriers were available. But the aircraft carrier is also limited in its operations by unfavorable weather—including heavy seas as well as fog, snow, and low clouds. Besides, the aircraft carrier, despite its extraordinary usefulness, has shown itself too incapable of absorbing punishment to be the warship which can push all other types out of existence. But the essential point is one that does not concern these matters at all. Strategically considered, the aircraft carrier is a warship like other warships save that its weapons are airplanes instead of guns. Even if the carrier did become the dominant warship (it cannot be such now because it exists in extremely limited numbers), the fundamental strategic principles of the past would be substantially unaffected. Tactics would of course be revolutionized, but much of that revolution has occurred already and revolutions in tactics are by now a very old story.

Considering naval operations as they should be considered, from the viewpoint of the long haul rather than merely of the coastal operation, it is clear that the land-based airplane cannot dominate the seas unless the devastation it accomplishes in terminal or coastal areas is of such proportions that events on the broad seas become relatively unimportant. Such a condition has by no means yet come into being. The destruction of shipping by aircraft in coastal areas has taken place on a large scale, but at least as concerns United Nations shipping it has fallen far short of being decisive. There have been exceptions in the case of particular campaigns and along particularly exposed routes, but in general the proposition is true.

The same applies to warships, especially major warships including the much-abused battleships. Thus far the Prince of Wales and Repulse have been the only capital ships which have been struck down entirely from the air while at sea, and this in more than three years of war. The quantity and qual- ity of anti-aircraft defense on battleships has improved con- siderably in the year which has elapsed since, and it is bound to improve further. A great deal might be added on this question, both pro and con, but all these arguments would pale into insignificance beside the fundamental fact that a Luftwaffe immensely superior to the Royal Air Force for two long years and based on nearby Norway and France did not wrest control of the Atlantic from Britain. What would have happened, however, if the Germans had had a navy superior to the British Navy in fighting power?

Any unbiased observer must concede that the airplane or the warship can stand on its abilities to do things which the other can do either less well or not at all, and it is obvious that the margin of utility of each is very great. Only the simpleton would deny that the airplane is of extraordinary importance anywhere on the seas and particularly in coastal areas, but that is not the same as saying that other types of naval craft are bound to become obsolete or even to lose their ascendancy—if one must insist on a scale of values.

Of course, the strategic framework in which sea power op-erates has changed enormously as a result of the airplane. Not all of this change redounds to the disadvantage of sea power, by any means. The strategic bombing of Germany, for example, is closely integrated with the Anglo-Ameri- can blockade. The bombing takes up where the blockade leaves off, and the effectiveness of the combination is vastly greater than either one would be by itself. On the other hand, it is clear that a fleet is much hampered when it comes to operating in coastal areas near large, land-based, enemy air forces, particularly if its own land-based air forces are out of range. It is true also that the danger of aerial invasion of an island like Great Britain, while generally much exaggerated, does mean that the British Fleet can no longer guarantee almost by itself the security of the British Isles. British strategy always called for the dispatch of all but a remnant of their land forces to battlefields abroad, but the forces kept at home must now be of sizeable proportions.

And the question of whether the airplane will eventually replace the surface merchant vessel as the carrier of the bulk of ocean commerce needs also to be answered, though there has been a great deal of rank nonsense written on the subject. If such a change should occur, sea power as we have known it in the past will no longer have any reason for being. The most that can be said today, however, is that such a change, if it is at all possible, is still far in the future.

The conditions under which sea power fulfils its mission have changed beyond all recognition from those of the past. But the function of sea power in general is quite unchanged, and the basic methods by which it accomplishes its objectives have changed but little. If Nelson were to return to life to-day, he would not recognize as belonging to this world the modern tools of naval power, but he would soon be at home in the council rooms where high strategy is formulated.


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