Friday, January 23, 2015

eBook Review: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783

Alfred Thayer MahanThe Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 894 KB
    • Print Length: 528 pages
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004TQHBAI
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (48 customer reviews)
    • Price: $0.00 

1. Short review:  *:D big grin    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I shall read it again.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I began reading The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783 (Sea Power) from the Kindle edition available from Amazon. That version does not include the plates (illustrations) in the original. After reading eighty percent of Sea Power, I switched to the Gutenburg version with the plates. It was tedious to move all my highlights and notes from the Amazon version to the Gutenburg version, but it was worth it.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Interesting question. It is a vicarious roller coaster -- someone telling me about someone else's roller coaster ride.
It is free to download. It was worth my time to read it.

2.2. What I did not like: A T Mahan's turgid prose. The writing is far better than that of Admiral Farragut, but Mahan sometimes still gilded the lily. It is as if he were addicted to purple prose. An example:
It may be pointed out, in the first place, that if a nation be so situated that it is neither forced to defend itself by land nor induced to seek extension of its territory by way of the land, it has, by the very unity of its aim directed upon the sea, an advantage as compared with a people one of whose boundaries is continental. 
The first nine words in that paragraph are the literary equivalent of a speaker clearing his throat. The clause is the middle is eleven wasted words.
     Who edited Mahan's writing?
If a nation has neither to defend itself by land nor to seek new territory by land, it has an advantage over those nations that do.
     Is that better? It says in 26 words what Mahan said in 65. Either way it is an assertion unsupported by evidence.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Naval historians. This is not light reading. You must have an interest in the subject.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Well, no profanity, no obscenity, no sex. The plates illustrate the positions of ships in naval battles. If reading naval history does it for the kid, sure, let him read it.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Maybe.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
     Sea Power divides into three parts:
     1. Naval actions in the 17th Century; the supremacy of the Dutch at sea and their fall;
     2. The rise of English naval power in the 18th Century to supremacy at sea; and
     3. Naval actions in the War of 1778 (which includes the American War for Independence).

     1. Naval actions in the 17th Century; the supremacy of the Dutch at sea and their fall.
     The Dutch dominated the sea trade in the 17th Century. At one time, the Dutch East India Company owned the largest navy in the world. The Dutch fought the English and French in a series of short wars and inflicted upon the English the worst naval defeat in their history.
     In peacetime, the Dutch navy declined, because the burgomeisters were not willing to pay its upkeep. Their grandchildren would regret their parsimony.

     2. The rise of English naval power in the 18th Century to supremacy at sea.
     The Battle of the Medway impressed on the English the need for a strong navy, and they never forgot that lesson. The English navy began its rise in the War of 1704 (called by various names, such as, Queen Anne's War or the War of the Spanish Succession). It continued through the War of Jenkin's Ear, the War of the Austrian Succession (aka King George's War), and the Seven Years' War (aka the French and Indian War).
     By 1763, the English merchant marine fleet outnumbered all others combined, and English naval power dominated the seas.

     3. Naval actions in the War of 1778 (which includes the American War for Independence).
     The rise of the English navy continued through what Mahan calls the War of 1778 despite setbacks in India and the Battle of the Capes.
     In the Atlantic, the English were usually successful, the only exceptions being the Battle of the Capes and the Battle of Porto Praya. Praya caused delay and inconvenience to the English naval squadron bound for India. The Capes, a tactical draw, was a decisive strategic defeat; the result was the surrender of British forces under Cornwallis at Yorktown. (This was not the intent of the French gov't. The French did not care if the Americans won independence or not. They wanted the Americans to keep the English army occupied to suck money out of the English treasury. After Yorktown, the English went to ground in New York, Narragansett Bay, and Charleston and stayed there until the peace was concluded.)
     After the Capes, in 1782 Admiral Hood outsailed, outsmarted, and outfought the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of Frigate Bay, but that did not matter to the forces ashore: the French took St. Kitts. For all the fighting, neither Hood nor de Grasse captured or sank any enemy ships.  Later that year, Admiral Rodney defeated de Grasse and took him prisoner at the Battle of the Saintes.
     In the seas off India, Commodore Suffren took the offensive against Vice Admiral Hughes, but never managed to capture or destroy a single English warship. He never lost one, either. Suffren threatened the English fleet, gave succor to the French allies in India, and relieved the siege of Cuddalore, but never broke the English hold over India. That he did so much with no logistics support from France is amazing. For his valiant efforts, Suffren was elevated to the post of Vice Admiral of France.

2.7. Other:

     Sea Power is a seminal work on the use of naval power. It influenced naval doctrine in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
     Four points:
     1. Fleet action after fleet action after fleet action. Dutch against the English and French. Dutch against the English. English against the Spanish. English against the French. English against the French and Spanish.
     And none of them were decisive.
     In the period covered by Sea Power, the most decisive victory was won by English Rear Admiral Kempenfelt over the French at the Second Battle of Ushant.
     From all these indecisive victories, how did Mahan conclude that the way to victory was through a decisive naval battle?
     2. Mahan dismissed 'cruising war' -- that is, destruction of enemy commerce -- as indecisive. Maybe it was in his day, but the invention of the submarine changed that. Historically, the submarine works best as a commerce raider. Winston Churchill said the U-Boot came within a hair's breath of winning the war for Germany in 1917. The American submarine service destroyed Japan's ability to wage offensive war. The Japanese misused their subs as pickets for their fleets, vice commerce raiders.
     Maybe in Mahan's day commerce raiding was indecisive, but the submarine changed that.
     3. Rodney won the Battle of the Saintes and captured Admiral de Grasse, and Mahan still criticized him. Said Rodney did not win enough. That is like saying the Ravens won the Superbowl but did not cover the spread.
     4. Suffren. Among French naval commanders of the 18th Century, Suffren stands head, shoulders, trunk, groin, and kneecaps above the others. He commanded as a Commodore, which was a courtesy title given to the senior captain of a fleet. The fact that he could not swing the tide in his favor does not diminish the brilliance of his efforts.

     Most people know that the Royal Navy commanded the seas for two centuries. What is forgotten is that the French built better ships, faster ships, and in less time than the English. That continues today. Today, the US Navy is by far the most powerful in the world. The US Navy is more powerful than all the other navies of the world combined. What is forgotten is that the French Marine is the second most powerful navy.
     The difference between the Royal Navy and the French Marine then was that the Royal Navy spent most of its time at sea. Like Jerry Pournelle or Jim Dunnigan -- I cannot recall which -- said, moving ships around in peacetime is very much like moving ships around in war. The Royal Navy had the opportunity to develop and maintain its skills. The French Marine did not.


PS Sea Power was a bestseller in England.

2.8. Links: Alfred Thayer Mahan

2.9. Buy the book: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783

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