“He that will not adopt new remedies must expect new evils.”—Bacon
In the preface to his first book on sea power, Mahan stated that historians generally, being unfamiliar with the conditions at sea and having neither special interest concerning or special knowledge of the sea, had overlooked “the profound, determining influence of maritime strength upon great issues ...” He used a synonym “maritime strength” for “sea power” and indicated its value. In the introductory chapter he stated that the history of sea power “is largely a narrative of contests between nations . . . frequently culminating in war,” and furnished some striking historical examples of the value of sea power, emphasizing its influence on the Punic Wars. In the first chapter, Mahan discussed the elements which together produce sea power, but did not define it concisely. And nowhere throughout his books can there be found a short definition of sea power.
Mahan did not base the thesis of sea power on definitions and rigid logic. He recited the elements of sea power, indicated the factors which tend to create sea power, discussed sea power as an instrument of the State and revealed its influence on history by an analysis of international conditions existing at various times. Mahan never departed from this method of illustrating and affirming the influence of sea power.
Land power or sea power is, and air power will be when it matures, an attribute of a great nation or empire; these will always be important, sometimes decisive, factors in the endless rivalries of great nations for power and dominion. In peace they should be the objectives, in war the instruments, of chiefs of state. The future of land, sea, and air power must be considered on this high level, if their influence on the destiny of the United States is to be correctly appraised; and a correct appraisal of their relative values would assist American statesmen, admirals, generals, and air marshals to determine the national policy in peace and in war.
Only powerful nations can aspire to the possession of great land areas, to the dominion of the sea, or to the control of the air. It is unnecessary, therefore, to consider the impact of aviation upon the sea power of small states except in the role of allies of the larger states.
History shows that land power may be more essential to one nation, sea power to another. Germany, France, and Russia will always need more powerful armies than navies. France was defeated by Germany in 1871 and 1940, although her Navy was much the stronger. The superior sea power of the United Nations could not prevent the German invasion of Russia in 1942, although it did mitigate the effects and assist the resistance of the Soviet armies. Nor could superior armies and air forces defend the United Kingdom if she lost control of the sea and was effectively blockaded. It is not sufficient to weigh the abstract value of sea or land power; it is necessary to demonstrate their relative values to a particular nation. This paper will consider mainly the impact of aviation upon the sea power of the United States.
The famous Roman legions established their dominion over Italy. To defeat Carthage the Romans marched aboard their galleys and became seamen. Although they had no natural naval aptitude and service at sea never became as popular as duty with the legions, the expansive instinct of the Roman people led them to support the imperialistic policies of their leaders. After the destruction of Carthage, the Romans established their empire mainly around the Mediterranean Sea and supported it with a strong navy. The experience of Rome proves that a virile, growing people can create and maintain a preponderant navy and army if national interests so demand, and if the rulers are sagacious enough to realize the necessity.
The history of the United Kingdom which established law and order on the Seven Seas with its ships of wood and sail emphasizes the advantages and disadvantages of sea power as an instrument of the state. Modem sea power arose naturally in the British Isles, whose inhabitants were obliged to turn to the sea for their livelihood. Britons fostered their shipping, and to increase their trade, established colonies overseas followed by naval bases. Eventually they developed great island and continental areas into overseas dominions and dependencies. Their natural tendency to acquire sea power was encouraged by the sagacity of some of their statesmen and thwarted by the folly of others, but in the end the native genius prevailed.
Russia exemplifies modem land power as precisely as the British Empire does sea power. These two great nations expanded their territories almost simultaneously, Great Britain primarily by her fleets; Russia by her armies. Great Britain expanded around the world; Russia from the Baltic and Black Seas to the Pacific Ocean. Oceans and seas were British highways and Russian barriers. Great Britain was compelled to create armies of considerable strength to occupy continental areas like India and South Africa. Russia was forced to create strong fleets as auxiliaries to her land forces in the Baltic and Black Seas, and in the waters of the Far East. The continental masses in the British Empire presented almost insuperable military problems to her small, highly trained but widely deployed army. Similarly, the widely separated sea frontiers of Russia presented insoluble naval problems to her comparatively small and widely separated fleets. The Roman Emperors solved the problems of imperial security which vexed the Russian and British governments by maintaining simultaneously the most powerful army and the most powerful fleet in the world. Even so, Rome could not always protect her widely separated frontiers from sporadic invasions.1
1 The knowledge that attacks on Roman territory would be followed by punitive expeditions gradually spread throughout the barbarian tribes and eventually Roman frontiers were protected equally as much by the certainty of Roman revenge as by the superiority of Roman arms.
The history of Rome proves the obvious, that in the past it would have been safer to have both land and sea power. Today any single nation would be more secure if it possessed preponderant land, sea, and air forces. Even this obvious truth needs qualification. The forces, land, sea, or air, which give security to one nation may become a potential threat to another. Assuming prudence and foresight on the part of rulers of a threatened nation or nations, they will strive to create equal or greater forces, resulting in armament races, strained diplomatic relations, and possibly wars.
Past experience definitely proves that land power and sea power are not mutually exclusive. The possession of ample land power certainly does not prejudice the chances of a nation’s aspiring to sea power or air power, or both. In 1943 the conditions which produce sea power certainly favor the creation of air power. Therefore, in the United States, land, sea, and air forces should not be competitive but cooperative and complementary, for each is only a means to the same end; at their utmost they exist only to protect and advance the interests of the American people.
On account of her geographical position, population, industry, and almost self-sufficiency in war materials, the United States is better able to create and sustain preponderant land, sea, and air forces than any other single nation. But there are formidable obstacles. Unless very economically administered, the cost of creating and maintaining a preponderant army, navy, or air armada would probably lower the standard of living in the United States perceptibly.2 The creation and maintenance of the preponderant army, navy, and air force simultaneously would almost impoverish the nation.
2 If the theory of some economists that normally there is a potential and dangerous surplus of labor, goods, and raw material in the United States is correct, instead of restricting production to balance the national economy, these surpluses could be converted into armed forces for the defense of the nation.
If Europe were not content to let one nation rule the waves, and, in fact since the downfall of Rome has not permitted a single nation to possess simultaneously sea and land power, it is most improbable that the great nations of America, Europe, and Asia would reconcile themselves to one of their number possessing at the same time preponderant land, sea, and air forces. If any one nation attempted such a program after the present war, it would almost certainly encounter first, combined diplomatic opposition, next competitive building programs, and finally, a coalition war. Therefore, unless it could be positively shown that the United States vitally needs preponderant land, sea, and air forces, the nation should decide whether one or more of these powers can support her foreign policies.
The elements of land power are obvious. They include huge continental areas sufficiently large to be almost self-sustaining in regard to raw materials, a population virile and homogeneous, to produce raw materials and transform them in their factories, and with enough of the martial spirit to make good soldiers. Without these elements, no nation can be considered a great land power. In obtaining their territories, great land powers usually have encroached upon their neighbors and are surrounded by hostile or at least jealous and unfriendly states. It is easy for a sea power to revive these latent jealousies. Empires founded on land power depend primarily on their armies, but also need small navies as adjuncts to their armies to assist in the defense of their sea frontiers.
The elements of sea power were outlined by Mahan. The nations aspiring to sea power must have first the capacity to produce goods or commodities for export and, second, the shipping facilities necessary to carry these goods abroad and to return with raw materials. This implies an extensive merchant marine. A natural accompaniment of sea power are colonies which assist in the defense of the sea empire, but at the same time require protection from the home country. Way stations or naval bases are also necessary where combat ships can refuel, repair, and refit. These bases also serve the merchant marine and must be garrisoned sufficiently to protect themselves from probable enemies until they can be relieved or reinforced by the superior fleet. A sea power should not have more of these overseas bases than are needed, for their garrisons absorb thousands of soldiers.
The elements of air power require a little more discussion. Land and sea weapons developed slowly and land and sea power gradually evolved as nations were integrated into empires or great states. Compared with other weapons, aviation has improved with extraordinary rapidity. Armies and navies immediately realized the potentialities of aircraft over the land and sea for scouting, controlling artillery, and combat. Commissioned officers here and abroad were among the pioneer pupils of the Wright Brothers. Eight years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk the United States Navy established aviation as an arm of the fleet. In another two years the World War provided the most powerful single impetus to the development of aviation. Subsequent to the war of 1914-18, the United States established air mail not only for commercial reasons but because of the benefits to the Army and Navy air forces.
Beginning in 1933 the Nazi government concentrated the energy and genius of the whole German people on developing the Luftwaffe as a political instrument of the Reich, both as an independent arm and as an integral and formidable branch of the army and to lesser degree of the navy. This deliberate policy of the Nazis was as momentous as the decision of the Roman government to create a navy to destroy Carthage. The outbreak of war in 1939 compelled other nations to increase their air forces. As a result the development of aviation has been rapid and forced and therefore is not comparable in all respects to other land and sea weapons which were more slowly evolved. But it is clear that only a powerful nation with a scientific, industrious, martial population can supply the elements necessary to create a preponderant air force.
It will help to measure the impact of aviation on sea power to contrast the control of the land, the sea, and the air. Control of the land by armies is absolute. Invading troops take possession of flourishing cities and seize the products of enemy factories, mines, and fields. If the army commanders wish, they can confiscate all national property and requisition the goods and services of the entire population.
Control of the sea is less complete than control of the land. Its object is to protect friendly and destroy hostile ships. The extent of the oceans prevents remote areas from being continuously patrolled and navies have never been able to control directly any portion of the seas except that under the guns of their widely deployed ships. It is generally possible for the superior fleet to control the traveled sea routes, the main crossroads of the oceans and the great sea terminals, but only after it has defeated or forced the enemy to retire to his own harbors.
After defeating or blockading the enemy fleet, no navy has ever been able to suppress enemy trade entirely. At the height of British sea power in the Napoleonic wars after the Battle of Trafalgar, it was always feasible for some French convoys to evade the British blockade. Nor has any navy ever protected its own merchant marine completely. It was always possible for a few French privateers or small squadrons to escape the British blockade and capture British merchantmen. The losses suffered by the British Merchant Marine during the Napoleonic wars were continuous and severe. During 21 years of war with France, the British lost annually an average of nearly 500 merchant ships. In addition, during the three years that the United States was in the war, 1812-15, the United States took about 1,600 British merchantment. During the years 1812-15, inclusive, Great Britain probably lost around 1,030 ships per year—an average of about 2.8 ships per day. During the past three years, probably less than 60 per cent as many British ships have been lost.
Although not as continuous nor as certain as control of the land, control of the sea effectually suppresses the overseas commerce of an enemy. And no European nation, not even a continental nation like Russia, France, or Germany, has been able to sustain a long war when deprived of its overseas trade. Napoleon resorted to the Continental System in his effort to compel the British government to relax the pressure of sea power on France. This policy involved him in a war with Russia and brought about his downfall. In 1917 the Kaiser resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare in a desperate effort to avoid the effects of Great Britain’s sea power; his action brought the United States into the war, with disastrous results to Germany.
Control of the sea will not immediately force an enemy to sue for peace. If a nation or group of nations controlling the seas can simultaneously invade the enemy country, the decision will be gained earlier. Control of the sea contrasted with control of the land is transitory and incomplete; it is slower in its results, but history proves that its influence has been more decisive.
Control of the air will be less continuous and complete than control of the sea, because airplanes cannot remain aloft as long as surface ships remain at sea; furthermore, control of the air must be in depth (or altitude) as well as in the horizontal plane; for example, it would be quite possible for air blockade runners to use the stratosphere to escape blockading aircraft at lower levels. To intercept air cargo carriers effectively airplanes in almost countless numbers would be required.
Control of the air over strategic areas has been the deciding factor in recent battles and campaigns on the land and on the sea. It facilitated the German invasion of Norway and the British evacuation of Dunkirk. Its most spectacular triumph was the air-borne invasion of Crete, a clear-cut victory of airships over surface ships. It is fair to add that this air invasion was only across a 65-mile stretch of sea, that the surface ships had little supporting aviation, to observe that the German air losses were heavy, and that the Luftwaffe did not undertake to follow this success with the capture of Cyprus 350 miles distant. But while this is being written the Luftwaffe is reinforcing Tunisia from Sicily by transport planes, which often tow gliders, carrying infantry and light artillery.
Control of the air was not sufficient to crush the British Isles in 1940-41. From the evacuation of Dunkirk through May, 1941, the German Luftwaffe was at liberty to concentrate its full force on the United Kingdom. During that time London was bombed unmercifully. For fifty-seven successive nights that city was the target of the Luftwaffe. No city in the United Kingdom was safe. Destruction of Coventry added a new word to the English language. The only limitation on the use of German aviation was the latent threat from Russia which compelled the German High Command to retain a considerable portion of their air force on the eastern frontier and placed a limit on the losses they could accept in the effort to destroy the United Kingdom. Except for this armed truce on Germany’s eastern frontier, Air Marshal Goering had the full use of all of his air forces.
In spite of all their planes and the numerous well-equipped airfields in France and the Low Countries which formed a vast semicircle around the south and east coast of England, German aviation could not compel the British people to sue for peace. Many factors contributed to the failure of the Luftwaffe; the magnificent behavior of the Royal Air Force and the robust determination of the British people were not the least, but the decisive factor was the ability of the British Navy and Merchant Marine to maintain the overseas communications of the British Isles. In spite of the destruction of port facilities, of the railway system ashore and repeated disruption of the coastwise shipping, the British Navy and Merchant Marine supplied the United Kingdom during this terrible ordeal.3 In the longest and fairest trial between superior air and superior surface ships, the surface ships won. The air battles for Britain proved that aviation alone is not sufficient to crush a determined insular nation which can maintain its overseas communication.
In contrast to this failure of superior aviation operating alone, superior aviation used in support of superior armies or fleets has proved irresistible. Acting with its superior army the Luftwaffe made possible the rapid overthrow of Poland, Holland, Belgium, and France. Control of the air has proved as valuable in amphibious operations in archipelagos as it was in the land campaigns of Europe. The rapidity with which Japan overran Malaysia, the Philippines, and the Netherlands East Indies was due partly to her control of the air in the vital strategic areas, but also to control of the surface of the sea, and to her more numerous and powerful armies.
3 See Front-Line 1940-41, official account of the defense of the United Kingdom.
There is more to sea power than control of the sea, and air power implies more than control of the air. The sea is a convenient and commodious highway which requires neither construction nor upkeep; the airways are even more inviting for they are not interrupted by continents and islands, which bar the surface ships. In many respects airships resemble surface ships, but as commercial carriers their advantage in speed is more than offset by their greater cost.
Reduction in the cost of air freight and air passengers will result from improvements in the design and construction of the plane and of the engine, from greater strength and lightness in the structural material and increased thermal efficiency of the fuel. It is possible that within the next ten years the cost per ton per mile for air freight could be reduced to six cents. This would still be sixty times the cost per ton per mile of freight carried on steamers. Steamers required many years to displace sailing ships as freight carriers. The air freighters, the “flying box cars,” will not rapidly drive the 10-knot tramp steamers off the ocean, although light freight such as securities, precious stones, and luxury goods are carried by air even now. In isolated countries critical spare parts of heavy machinery can be profitably imported by air when the particular piece of machinery is essential to the operation of an important factory.
The writer is indebted to Dr. E. P. Warner of the CAB for this data but the opinions expressed are the writer’s, not necessarily Dr. Warner’s.
During war, military reasons justify air freighters both for the transport of troops and essential war materials which cannot expeditiously be carried over land or sea, but there is no evidence that in the near future there will be a great carrying trade in the air during peace. Even under war conditions, air freight is still recorded in pounds or kilograms, sea freight is computed in thousands of tons.
The influence of sea power results from the value to all nations of their sea-borne trade. Until the air commerce of any nation becomes so great that its obstruction and eventual destruction will compel a nation to make peace, air power will not be comparable with sea power. When airborne trade becomes vital to the life of a nation its government will be compelled to provide a combat air force to protect its own air-borne commerce and attack that of an enemy. Airships will be employed to support air power in the same manner that surface and subsurface ships are now employed to support sea power; and as sea power always depended upon army garrisons for protection of its bases and now needs aviation, air power will require the support of naval and army forces. Commercial aviation will assist combat aviation by providing air transport planes that can be used as auxiliaries, and a reserve of pilots; but it will require escort through the skyways and thus also be a liability.
The fact that air power has not yet arrived does not detract in the slightest degree from the present military importance of naval and army aviation which can intervene in land and sea battles and can undertake independent operations over continents and oceans unsupported by either land or sea forces. Obviously, aviation is a powerful factor in controlling both the sea and the land by controlling the air.
The United States Army Flying Fortresses as well as naval planes have operated successfully as an arm of the fleet. They have discovered Japanese task forces being assembled in harbors and while en route to attack American possessions or American ships. In addition to their scouting value, which will increase as their personnel becomes more familiar with sea conditions and surface ships, these Flying Fortresses have attacked and dispersed convoys assembled in congested harbors. Their attacks on convoys under way have not been equally successful, but they have made it hazardous for Japanese convoys to operate in the New Guinea-Solomons area. The Flying Fortresses and other army planes based in Australasia have been of great assistance to the United States Pacific Fleet in its operations in the southwest Pacific, and particularly in the defense of Guadalcanal.
The excellent results obtained by the Flying Fortresses have led some air enthusiasts to question the necessity of aircraft carriers, mainly on account of their vulnerability. There are two imperative reasons for aircraft carriers in the United States Fleets. It is impossible for Flying Fortresses to accompany surface ships in all their operations in all parts of the oceans. If Flying Fortresses could accompany the fleet, they would still be unable to perform all the defensive and offensive tasks of the fighter, dive bomber, and torpedo squadrons based on the carrier.
American carrier-based fighters have been able to hold their own against land- based pursuit planes in actual combat and to intercept enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes. Similarly carrier-based dive bombers and torpedo planes have destroyed and sunk aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, and battleships under battle conditions. Flying Fortresses are too large and unwieldy to drive off enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes; and battle experience has shown that it is possible for high-speed maneuverable ships to steam from under bombs dropped from high altitudes by skillful bombardiers equipped with excellent bomb sights.
When hits are made by bombs from high altitude bombers they damage but do not usually disable or sink the target ship. Dive bombers usually disable enemy ships, and torpedo planes, which have proved the most deadly enemy of surface ships, usually sink their targets. If these carrier-based dive bombers and torpedo planes were redesigned to give them longer radius of action so they could operate from land bases they would be less maneuverable and present a larger more vulnerable target. The high altitude horizontal bombing planes have one tactical advantage—they are practically immune to counterattack while the casualties among the dive bombers and torpedo planes are large.
As long as aircraft carriers are present with surface task forces or fleets, American men-of-war will have with them fighting planes equal to shore-based fighters for defense and dive bombing and torpedo planes capable of disabling and sinking enemy capital ships. Not until airplanes operating from shore bases can undertake effectively to control the seas can the surface fleet be supplanted by an air fleet. The surface fleet will require carrier-based planes until the United States possesses both sufficient air bases and the various types of planes necessary to accompany and defend our own surface ships and destroy enemy surface ships.
To control the ocean routes in 1943 and the near future the United States Navy must have aircraft carriers to provide the air arm for the fleet. Their flying decks are easily destroyed; they have suffered severe losses, but losses alone cannot condemn the carriers. If their dive bombers and torpedo planes inflict equal or greater damage on the enemy, and their fighting planes protect surface ships, aircraft carriers more than justify their existence even if their careers are as short as they have been glorious.
It is possible that carriers can be built stronger and the naval air “umbrella” made so powerful that it can protect ships, particularly aircraft carriers, from enemy planes. It is also possible that torpedo planes and dive bombers can be developed which can operate with the fleet from numerous carefully chosen air bases which would make it possible to supply land-based planes of all types to operate with the fleet in practically any part of the world. In this event it might be better to shift from carrier to land-based planes to protect the surface ships.
It would make no difference to the American people, government, or High Command whether control of the air over the United States Fleets and task forces operating at sea was obtained and exercised by planes from aircraft carriers or with Flying Fortresses and other land- based planes. But it is essential to keep control of the sea and at present airplanes alone cannot control the sea. The United States Fleets cannot do without carriers until it has been proved under war conditions that land-based planes can take the place of planes now supplied them from aircraft carriers. As this war progresses, more evidence will be developed upon the relative value of land-based and carrier- based planes and until that question has been decided, the United States surface ships must be supported by both land-based and carrier-based planes.
During the first year’s sea fighting in the Pacific the aircraft carrier has played a more conspicuous part than the battleships, partly because our battleships suffered severely at Pearl Harbor. British, American, German, and Japanese battleships have been disabled and sunk both by air bombs and by torpedoes in port or at sea. They have been pronounced obsolete so frequently that many radio listeners must regard them as prehistoric monsters. Nevertheless battleships still remain the heavyweight champions of the surface ships. No other surface ship dares attack a battleship in the day, and it is a formidable foe even to destroyers at night.
On account of the limitations on building battleships between 1921 and 1937, practically every battleship which began the present war was overage. In the early sea and air engagements 1917 battleships were fighting 1941 aircraft. Due to the obsolescence of their battleships both Japan and the United States have employed heavy cruisers to escort their aircraft carriers, with resulting heavy losses in both cruisers and aircraft carriers. The battleships recent commissioned and those now under construction are as different from their 1917 predecessors as the airships of 1942 are from those of 1917. Improvements in engineering have increased their speed and radius of action without sacrificing their armor or armament. Great Britain, the United States, and Japan now possess modem battleships completed after the results of the early sea and air battles of the present war were known.
In all probability battleships will begin to take a larger part in the sea battles and there is more than an even chance that the 1941-43 battleship, built to resist as well as to attack planes, will meet the challenge from the air. It may share its offensive role with the aircraft carrier, but its ability to take punishment is peculiarly its own.
Battleships cannot be considered obsolete because they may be sunk. In the fierce naval battles between Holland, France, and England, numerous ships of the line (the battleships of their day) were sunk in every major sea battle. They were not branded as obsolete on that account. They were replaced by new ships of the line. If our battleships are fought boldly they will suffer heavily, but if they are handled skillfully they will probably inflict more loss on the enemy than they receive, which is all that is required of any ship. Battleships were designed to be fought, not to be preserved for naval museums. They, too, are expendable.
In addition to carrier-based aviation, all navies carry fighting and observation planes on battleships and cruisers. Whether navy planes are land based or carrier based, it is essential that the Navy High Command keep complete control of naval aviation. Both the United States Navy and the Japanese Navy have integrated aviation into their fleets and have proved that they can co-ordinate their naval and air forces with the army’s land and air forces in all parts of the seas. In addition, they have shown that they can use these combined air-navy task forces in perfect co-ordination with expeditionary forces of the army and marines in amphibious warfare. Both Japan and the United States have shown that in amphibious operations they can merge land, sea, and air forces into a harmonious, efficient team. In North Africa the British and the Americans have shown that they could combine land, sea, and air forces in a gigantic overseas expedition.
The German Navy is so small that command of its naval aviation has never become a problem. The Luftwaffe has provided air protection for the German surface ships, which have been limited to operations along the western coasts of Europe. The Germans are believed to be building one aircraft carrier; they have catapulted planes from their merchantmen; and their cruisers and surface raiders carry ship-based planes. It is altogether likely that if Germany ever has a navy its aviation will be as completely under the Fleet Commander as its land planes were under the Army High Command in the shore campaigns. The Germans are already able to raise an air “umbrella” 400 miles offshore, and they escorted the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen from Brest to the Baltic, with the assistance of some destroyers and E-boats.
Although the Luftwaffe is entirely independent of the Army or Navy in its administration, the German High Command has insured that aviation assigned to the Army is completely integrated with the ground troops. When German aviation is provided for an army division, an army corps, an army or group of armies, it becomes an integral part of the ground forces and members of the Luftwaffe wear the insignia of the particular formation they serve. Germany, with an independent air force, has shown that it is possible for air squadrons to be provided for ground troops and to operate efficiently with them. On many occasions, particularly in the operations in the Mediterranean, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have operated as a single combat unit with the utmost harmony and efficiency. The Royal Air Force has many outstanding achievements but it failed to meet the needs of the British Navy and Army in several critical campaigns. It did not provide sufficient air strength for the Army and Navy in Norway, Crete, or Malaya; and it failed to discover promptly and attack effectively the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen.
The danger of giving an independent air force authority to dispose of all aviation arises from the commendable partiality of bold, enterprising officers for their own arm. In the Navy, officers and men serving on battleships, cruisers, destroyers, or submarines, and in the Army those serving in the infantry, cavalry, armored divisions, artillery, or engineers have always tended to overvalue their own ships and arms. This natural pride and confidence in their weapons is laudable in commanders of types or branches; it often enables them to do the impossible; but commanders in chief and their staffs must take a broader view and evaluate correctly various arms, so that they can make the strongest combinations of the land, sea, and air forces available. The first step in determining the disposition of land, sea, and air forces must be an estimate of the enemy’s strength and weakness. Manifestly this cannot be properly done by officers acquainted only with the powers and limitations of one weapon.
Fortunately for the United States, its combat aviation was developed by army and naval officers, who, aware of the functions of fleets and field armies, and acquainted with the different ships and arms, created army and navy aviation as integral parts of the land and sea forces. The pioneer service flyers are now Admirals and Generals. Admiral King, Admiral Horne, General Arnold, and General McNarney are all flying officers. After his latest victory in the Pacific Admiral Halsey boasted of being an air officer. It is not likely when the American High Command plans campaigns and battles it will fail to employ the air arm, nor will it make the mistake of Air Marshal Goering and call upon the air arm alone to win the war.
While air power is developing, it can learn much from naval strategy and tactics. Already fighting planes perform escort duty similar to destroyers on the defensive and torpedo planes operate in the air as destroyers do on the surface. Eventually there will be air battleships and air cruisers able to keep the air and operate from overseas air bases as surface battleships and cruisers operate from naval bases. There will be freighters of the air, passenger ships of the air, and combined freight and passenger ships of the air, with their air terminals and port facilities for handling passengers and cargo. There will be well-traveled air lanes, many of them in the stratosphere, in which most of the long-distance ocean trade will tend to converge.
To equal the surface merchant marine, the air merchant marine must meet all the logistical requirements of combat aviation. There must be airship tankers to supply the ships, munitions ships of the air to provide the bombs and torpedoes, repair ships of the air with the emergency repair facilities and technical personnel, and air transport ships to provide personnel replacements. We already have air ambulances and troop transports which tow troop-carrying gliders. Parachute troops have already proved that under certain conditions air squadrons can seize their own land bases. Airplanes now carry howitzers and field guns weighing more than two tons, so they can reinforce their air infantry with air artillery units. It is easy to predict future improvements of planes; the difficulty is to restrain the imagination to what is practicable in the next decade.
At present bulk fuel cannot be furnished by air over great distances. Not until air tankers can supply the fuel for their combat ships in all parts of the world can aviation become independent of land and sea transport. Even with air supply ships, air power will require overseas air bases both for the combat and the commercial airplanes. These bases will have to be protected by army garrisons with anti-aircraft batteries so that airships can refuel, repair, and refit without danger from the enemy. For a long time it will be cheaper to supply these bases and service these planes with surface ships, which will need protection by surface men-of-war as well as aircraft.
In a paper concerned primarily with aviation, little has been said of submarines, which will probably have as much influence on the course of this global war as airplanes. It is also a safe prediction that on account of their unique characteristics, submarines will continue to be essential to the control of the sea if airships reach the perfection predicted by their most earnest advocates and are able to dominate surface combat ships.
Air power in the full sense in which the term sea power is now used will not exist until air-borne commerce is so extensive and so essential to the life of a state or states that their national existence can be threatened by the suppression of their airborne trade. This will not happen until ordinary sea-borne freight, carried by air, practically displaces the sea-borne freight now carried on surface ships. This displacement may happen in the distant future, but it certainly is not imminent.
Even at its zenith air power will only be a means to an end. Its ultimate objective will be the same as sea power, namely, to control the land. Except for the fish it provides and a few distillates, the sea is a barren waste useful to mankind only as a means of communication. Nor can any sustenance be obtained from the air. In their barrenness the sea and air are essentially alike and it should never be forgotten that the only reason for sea power now, and air power when it arrives, is to control the land areas.
Since air power in its fullness has not yet arrived, the impact of aviation upon sea power can be determined by the answer to the following question. Can sea power based upon control of the sea, by surface, subsurface, and air ships, operating from continental and overseas bases protected by land garrisons, anti-aircraft batteries and shore-based fighters, hold its own against land power based on large continental areas, with ample shore-based aviation and a smaller surface navy? The record shows that, in 1939, superior land power aided by superior aviation wielded by the German government was pitted against the inferior land power of Poland and France and the superior sea power of Great Britain and France. By June, 1940, Germany, the great land power, was triumphant over Western Europe and had negotiated an uneasy nonaggression pact with the Soviet. Except for aviation, the European situation in the summer of 1940 was substantially the same as the summer of 1807 after the treaty of Tilsit. For 18 months, in 1940 and 1941, British sea power bore the same heavy responsibilities it sustained when only its storm-beaten ships stood between Napoleon’s grand army “and the dominion of the world.”
The superior British Navy, supported by local control of the air in the English Channel, enabled the defeated British Army to evacuate Dunkirk, to refit its defeated divisions, and to reinforce the Army with divisions from the dominions. The British Navy made possible the supplies from overseas which rearmed and re-equipped its Army. Assisted by the Royal Air Force, the Navy escorted reinforcements of British land and air forces to its overseas garrisons, particularly to the heroic island fortress of Malta. In spite of German submarines, aircraft, and surface raiders, the British Navy, assisted by the Royal Air Force, has made possible a continuous increase in the industrial production of the United Kingdom. In short the Royal Navy performed its traditional functions in spite of enemy aviation and submarines. If the British situation at present is compared carefully with its position at the evacuation of Dunkirk, it will be evident that never in the history of the world has sea power, obtained by the control of the sea and control of the air over strategic sea areas, had such a decisive influence on the course of a war and the fate of an empire.
Contrasted with the ability of the United Kingdom to replenish its strength from overseas, the greatest land power, Germany, assisted by the greatest air force in the world, has been able to draw only upon western and southeastern Europe for supplies. The Reich has been unable to obtain rubber, oil, and wheat which had been arriving from overseas, nor could the economic treaties Ribbentrop forced upon the Balkan States and negotiated with Russia compensate for the supplies usually available to Germany denied her by the British sea forces. When Hitler realized in June, 1941, that he could neither invade the United Kingdom, cut its sea communications, nor bomb its inhabitants into submission, it was necessary to prepare for a long war, which he had not anticipated. Other factors doubtless influenced the German High Command to invade first the Balkans, then Russia, but the economic pressure resulting from British sea power was the compelling one.
Will sea power be as useful to the United States in the Pacific as it was to Great Britain? It would be difficult to imagine a less propitious beginning of an amphibious war than the one in the Western Pacific following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The blitz campaign of the Japanese land, sea, and air forces was as devastating as the Germans’ land blitz in the Low Countries and North France in 1940, but the Japanese forces were gradually brought under control by the naval and air forces of Great Britain, the United States, and the Netherlands. The advance of the Nipponese has been restricted to the waters of the northwestern Pacific, except for one brief sortie of the fleet into the Indian Ocean. Anglo-American and Dutch sea power has made possible the British occupation of Madagascar, and the reinforcement of India. A succession of naval and air engagements between Japanese and American forces in the Coral Sea, off Midway Island, the Aleutians, and the Solomon Islands, has restricted the Japanese Navy and Merchant Marine to the Andaman Sea and the waters bounded by the Netherlands East Indies, New Guinea, the Mandate Islands, and the Japanese home islands, except for a few blockade runners, skulking raiders, and ubiquitous submarines.
Japanese soldiers have not been within 2,000 miles of continental United States except as prisoners of war. While the seaborne commerce of the Axis powers creep along the coasts of western Europe and eastern Asia, Anglo-American convoys deliver troops, munitions, and supplies from the Western Hemisphere to the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Australasia. Japan has been held in the western Pacific, although it has been necessary to employ much of the American Navy in the Atlantic Ocean.
Anglo-American sea power, assisted by contributions from the other United Nations in close co-operation with its land and carrier-based aviation, has placed the Japanese Navy, which began with a successful offensive campaign, on the defensive. Japanese task forces, perhaps its combined fleet, will make other lunges to break the air and naval net that is gradually encompassing them. In its desperation, Hirohito’s High Command may strike at Siberia or India. But the handwriting is on the wall. The first insular nation in modern history which dared to challenge superior sea power will pay for its temerity, first with the loss of its temporary overseas conquests and second with the surrender of the homeland. Already American submarines are slowly cutting its life line, and aviation will hasten the effect of sea power on Japan because at the proper moment it will compel the Japanese fleet to come and fight the United States Fleet or be destroyed at anchor in the Inland Sea.
In the present war, sea power has already sapped the strength of Germany and limited Japan to a stretch of sea in the Northwest Pacific. To the ultimate defeat of the Axis the stubborn defense and counterattacks by the Chinese and Russian armies, the occupation of North Africa, the systematic bombings of Germany’s industries, and perhaps a future Anglo-American Expeditionary Force in western Europe will all contribute. But the major contribution to the downfall of the Axis has been made, is being made, and will be made by sea power, wielded first by the Anglo-French navies, then by the Royal Navy alone, and finally by the navies of the United Nations. In some future war, air power or land power may be the dominant factor, but in the Global War of 1939—43 the decisive influence is already apparent to the discerning. It is Sea Power.