Today the American people are feeling their way along the difficult path of world leadership. Most of us are apprehensive and at times are bewildered by the many pitfalls which seem to lie ahead. Nevertheless, while many fear the future, there are some who believe the United States may stand on the threshold of what will one day be known as her Golden Age.
What do we fear? Is this period of international tension, which we are now experiencing and which some prefer to call cold war, something new to mankind, or have others before us experienced the same thing? History indicates that when the interests of great powers overlap international tension is more the rule than the exception. The British, for example, have few periods in their history when a state of war or international tension did not exist. In other words, it might be argued that some degree of international tension is the normal peacetime condition of the world.
Moving in this atmosphere of tension is a relatively new experience for the people of the United States. We have never previously been confronted with it in the same degree, because we have never before been a dominant power in the true sense of the word. During our growth we enjoyed the tacit protection of the British Navy, and England, preoccupied with more urgent problems on the Continent, permitted us to grow and prosper without having to worry too much about our own security.
The existence of the British Navy permitted us to use the seas without having to pay our way. It permitted us to make international commitments and to pursue policies abroad well beyond our capacity to back them up. For example, we created the Monroe Doctrine and were able, by obtaining the support of the British, to make it effective. Later we built a great fleet of clipper ships to engage in world commerce on a scale far out of proportion to our ability to insure its safety. In the First World War we took the offensive at the outset by sending expeditionary forces overseas, confident in the effectiveness of the British Fleet, which accepted the major responsibility for convoying them safely to the Continent.
Today we face a different situation. As a result of two great wars, which exacted a crippling price in young men and resources, the British are no longer able to carry their former share of the load. As a result we in the United States are finding it necessary to assume more and more of the responsibility of world leadership, a responsibility which we did not seek and for which we were not fully prepared.
As a nation we find ourselves in the position of a young man who has suddenly inherited control of a huge industrial organization. Prior to this turn of events he had been enjoying life to the fullest extent, with no major worries or responsibilities to distract him. Now he suddenly finds himself in control of the organization, and he is bewildered. He did not seek this responsibility and would have preferred that life continue on as it had in the past. Two courses are now open to him. He can either avoid his responsibility and continue to squander his assets so long as his organization can pay the expenses; or he can face his new responsibility squarely and dedicate himself to the task of guiding his organization through the keen competition which lies ahead. Fortunately he is a man of character. He is determined to succeed in the best tradition of his forefathers and, if possible, to be even more successful than they. How should he proceed from there? He must first understand the structure of his organization. How is it situated in respect to its competitors? What is the quality of its product? Does it enjoy a high reputation for integrity in the consumer market? Is it well managed? After he has answered these and other questions to his own satisfaction, the young executive will be better prepared to make important decisions affecting the future of his organization.
Thus we in the United States, in order to be more fully prepared to assume our new responsibilities, should understand our position in the world in relation to other great powers. We can begin by studying a globe. For only by use of a globe can we get an accurate picture of the geographic relationships between nations and continents. Maps and other flat projections of the curved surface of the earth contain certain distortions which make them unsuited for our purpose.
We shall note particularly, in our study of the globe, that only about a third of the area is land, while the remainder is covered with water. Further examination will reveal that much of the land area of the earth consists of deserts, mountain areas, and wastelands, areas which are not well suited for the support of large populations. Thus the most densely populated areas of the earth are, first, Europe and Western Asia, second, Southeastern Asia, third, India, fourth, the United States, and fifth Japan. Since international relations are relations between groups of people, most of our major problems in this field might be expected to arise in our dealings with the heavily populated areas.
Among the five population centers enumerated, the United States occupies a unique position. We are situated between two great oceans. To the north lies a traditionally friendly nation and beyond that a vast arctic wilderness. To the south are other friendly neighbors. The security advantages afforded us by our fortunate geographic position can be matched by no other nation or center of population. Our nation is large and compact and richly endowed with natural resources. Those who would attack us must first cross the seas or the arctic barrier. These great frontier areas will continue to be formidable barriers to any enemy of the future, provided we have the wisdom to retain control of them. We have ready access to the sea lanes of the world. Important bottlenecks in these routes are, for the most part, controlled by nations friendly to us. And though technical developments have greatly increased the speed of travel on land, at sea, and in the air, our relative security is still great. For if such developments have diminished our own security, other nations have suffered to a far greater degree.
What do we have to offer to the world? In other words, what is the quality of our product? We have a product of the highest quality. It is an idea. It is the idea of freedom and dignity of the individual, the idea that each living person has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is an idea for which men have fought and died since the dawn of history. It is an idea which at times has been suppressed but has never been extinguished. For slavery is a temporary thing, and sooner or later subjugated peoples rise up and by their own inherent strength cast off the bonds of their oppressors. The will to be free burns within every living man, and in that fundamental human characteristic lies another powerful factor in our future security. We must guard against taking any action at home or abroad, in peace or in war, which will jeopardize the integrity of our concept of human liberty.
Our position is sound, and the quality of our product is high. Do we have any customers? In other words, do we have any friends? We may again turn to our globe and begin tracing with our finger along the seashores of the world. Starting with the east coast of Canada, we move on past Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Great Britain, France, and so forth, on around Africa and the Eurasian Continent. We move in around the Mediterranean and around South and Central America. We pause briefly in the Baltic Sea. We will note, with very few exceptions, that wherever the seas touch the land the United States has friends. In most instances, where there is some doubt, the situation within the countries in question has not yet been resolved. The common bond of the sea is a powerful force, which has been a source of understanding among maritime nations of the world for many centuries. Occasionally one of them strays from the fold, but never for very long. If we need further proof of these friendships, we need only examine the voting record of members of the United Nations. We shall find that the maritime community, where liberal government has grown and flourished down through the years, follows a fairly consistent voting pattern. Yes, we have many friends, whose confidence in us is further strengthened by our reputation for integrity in our dealings with other nations.
Now that we sense the strength of our position, the force of our idea, and the backing of our friends, do we have any assurance that we are being well managed? Let us briefly examine the record of our foreign relations since the close of World War II. Our country played a major part in the formation of the United Nations, whose charter reflects the same philosophy upon which our own government is based. We took a decisive role in the rehabilitation of Japan. We inaugurated a program of military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey. We moved swiftly to insure the economic and political stability of Italy and other nations of Western Europe. We entered into the North Atlantic Alliance, which we are proceeding to implement.
Is there any pattern to this series of international commitments? Let us turn once more to our globe and note the location of each member of the North Atlantic Alliance. Even though many of these nations are situated in exposed positions, all signed the pact with the feeling that they were bound together, and not separated, by the North Atlantic Ocean. And in so signing, each nation staked its future on the ability and the intention of the United States to maintain control of the North Atlantic. In the Eastern Mediterranean Greece and Turkey have staked their national existence on our ability and intention to remain in those waters in peace and in war. In the Indian Ocean, India and Iran have indicated similar confidence; and in the Pacific we are committed to the defense of the Philippines and Japan.
It is evident that every important international decision we have made since the end of the war is based on the assumption that we can and will maintain control of the seas. In other words, though not specifically stated as such, the United States by her actions is pursuing a national policy based on maintaining control of the sea. If this is so— and the evidence indicates that it is—our fundamental military objective should also be to maintain control of the sea in the event of war.
Thus if we recognize the fundamental assumption upon which our international commitments are based—control of the sea —and make certain that we have the means available to insure that control in the event of war, we may indeed conclude that our government is pursuing sound external policies.
On Control of the Sea
It appears desirable to establish just what we mean by control of the sea. The term sea itself can be broadly defined. It can be limited to include only the high seas, that portion of the oceans outside established territorial waters. Or the term can be expanded to include all the navigable waters of the world—the bottlenecks of maritime traffic, the inland seas, and even the navigable rivers—in other words, the sea lanes of the world.
If we accept the limited definition, we find ourselves dealing with large expanses of water safely removed from the seaports, the narrow straits, and the navigable inland waters, all of which combine to extend the sea lanes into the heart of every continent. Thus the limited definition confines us to wide ocean areas, which have until recently been relatively free from the influence of land power or land-based air power. This is the simple, easy definition of the sea. In this sense the sea is merely a barrier, or a broad wasteland over which most maritime traffic must pass en route from one continent to another. By themselves, without the terminals at either end, the high seas are of little use, except for fishing and as the preferred battle area for the deep-water sailors of the past.
Now if we add to this vast expanse of water the territorial waters, the great seaports, the Gibraltars, the English Channels, the great rivers, and the inland seas, indeed, the whole seaborne transportation network, it begins to come to life. The sea lanes of the world, over which nations have fought for centuries, now begin to pulse with the commerce of the world, commerce which has grown more extensive with each passing year. It is this control of the sea lanes concept which complicates any basic study of warfare or other relationships between nations. For the influence of the land and the influence of the sea overlap one another in these inland waters and narrow seas.
We shall concern ourselves here with the problem of controlling the sea lanes, rather than merely the high seas. But before we go any further let us make certain we are approaching the subject with a certain degree of objectivity. Technical advances, particularly during the past fifty years, have broadened considerably the zone where the influence of land-based and ship-based weapons overlaps. It is this zone of overlap which forms the basis for many of the jurisdictional differences of opinion now existing among various branches of the armed forces. Such differences also exist on a similar scale in the commercial transportation field among air, rail, trucking, and shipping interests; and competition results. As in most jurisdictional disputes, however, there is a tendency to lose sight of basic issues, with the result that the various factions involved very often find themselves concentrating on means to increase or preserve their own influence rather than on understanding and solving basic problems. Thus there is a tendency, wherever matters pertaining to the sea are involved, to focus our attention upon navies. Or more unfortunate still is a recent tendency, fortunately not widespread, of regarding the sea as something the Navy favors and the Army and Air Force oppose.
In an attempt to be objective let us forget, for the moment, that the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force even exist. Let us instead regard ourselves as the great mass of the American people. We love our country, and we desire to preserve for ourselves and our descendants the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are thankful for our very fortunate location on this earth, a location perhaps more fortunate than that of any other nation. Countries adjacent to our borders are our firm friends, and we are in a position of accessibility to the navigable waters of the world which no other nation can match. We are situated in the midst of the greatest transportation network known to man. Perhaps this ready accessibility to the sea lanes is the greatest natural resource we have. Do we understand its true value, and do we know how to use it?
Most of us recognize water transportation as the most economical in existence. But there are some who do not recognize how economical it really is, in comparison to other means of transport. Though many variables enter into such calculations, a rough comparison is sufficient for this discussion. One oil company, for example, estimates shipping expenses for petroleum products by rail as twenty times greater than they are by water. If we use a ratio sometimes accepted to compare rail and air transportation costs—that is, seventeen dollars for air transportation to every dollar by rail—we will then have a rough comparison among the three. Thus, in the case of petroleum products, to ship a given amount by sea might cost one dollar per mile. By rail the same amount would cost twenty dollars , per mile, and by air it would cost three hundred and forty dollars per mile.
Air, rail, and water transport might be compared to three of the common means of shipping merchandise within the United States—first class mail, railway express, and freight. If we desire to ship a small article, and time is essential, we may send it by first class mail. If we desire to reduce our shipping expense, and time is not quite so essential, we may ship the article by railway express. It is usually more practical to ship heavy, bulky items by freight, thereby sacrificing the time element to gain a more acceptable shipping rate. If we desire to ship a ton of coal, the obvious solution is to ship it by freight. It is possible to ship coal, properly packaged, by express, but the shipping charges would be almost prohibitive. Do we ever ship coal by first class mail? Obviously the transportation costs would be prohibitive, and such a measure would be resorted to only under the most unusual circumstances. The Berlin airlift, where coal was carried at transportation rates approximating those of first-class mail, was such an unusual circumstance. There was no other choice. The coal was needed in Berlin, and to get it there by any other means would not have been consistent with the policy of the United States government.
Thus we can conclude that the three common forms of transportation—air, land, and water—are essential to our civilization—and that they will continue to be so, as far as we can determine today. We conclude that of the three, water transportation is the most economical by a considerable margin. We see that the cost per mile of water transportation varies little with the route taken. Whether the route traverses coastal waters, narrow straits, navigable rivers, or the high seas, there are no mountains to cross or tunnels to dig, no bridges to build or roadbeds to maintain.
We recognize that these water routes have always been available to man as the great, economical carriers of the commerce of civilization. We recognize their great flexibility and durability. In time of war, shipping can easily be routed away from danger areas. Shipping can be protected by its own inherent maneuverability, and if a ship sinks, it rarely blocks the shipping route for those which follow. And the shipping lanes are durable; they cannot be destroyed by bombing or gunfire. Narrow waters, temporarily blocked by mines or other obstructions, can be cleared with comparative ease through the use of continually improving techniques.
Having gained an appreciation of the worth of the sea lanes to those who control them, we are ready to turn our attention to means of retaining this control for ourselves and for our friends—in peace and in war.
In war we seek to transport our weapons to the proper place at the proper time. In other words, we want our weapons in positions where they can exert the greatest influence upon the enemy while incurring minimum risk for ourselves. If we can use water transportation, it means a smaller outlay, in terms of national effort, for mere transportation costs. This is true whether we are transporting men, guns, bombs, gasoline, or any of the other weapons of war.
How can we control the sea lanes in time of war? Obviously this is a great problem, one which has occupied the minds of strategists for centuries. There are many aspects to the problem; and the methods to be employed will vary with the nature of the sea area in dispute. Just as in land warfare, where the tactics and weapons for a campaign across the plains of Central Europe differ considerably from those employed in mountain or jungle warfare, the tactics and weapons employed to gain control of broad expanses of ocean will also vary considerably from those employed in narrower waters. The deep water tactics and weapons used in the Central Pacific during the past war are, for the most part, unsuited to the task of gaining control of narrow waters, a bay, or a navigable river.
As the waters narrow and become subject to the greater influence of land weapons, a greater proportion of land-based weapons may be required to control them. If the effort is directed toward control of a navigable river route, the brunt of the campaign may be borne almost exclusively by land- based weapons. But regardless of the methods, weapons, or tactics employed, the strategy is the same. If we appreciate the value of water transportation routes, we shall seek to control them in war, in order to reach the vitals of our enemy at minimum cost and risk to ourselves.
From time to time new weapons and modes of warfare are developed. Some of these possess capabilities which threaten, in the eyes of some, to make the cost of controlling and using the sea lanes prohibitively high. But more often than not such weapons can also be adapted to facilitate control and use of the sea. The gun, the torpedo, and the airplane have been used with great effectiveness to gain control of sea areas after each, in its turn, was credited with capabilities to deny the seas to those who sought to control them. Today atomic weapons and controlled missiles are in their earliest stages of development. It requires little imagination to appreciate the tremendous possibilities of weapons such as these if applied intelligently to the problem of controlling the sea lanes.
Nations have for many years struggled with the problem of gaining control of the seas for themselves, or of denying it to their enemies. The weapons and tactics employed by them to gain their ends have been many and ingenious. Today we recognize the modern submarine as the greatest threat to our control, and our government is applying itself diligently to the problem of meeting this threat.
Now let us place ourselves for a moment in the position of a group of strategists in another country, a hypothetical country engaged in planning a war against a group of nations which includes the United States. We are assigned the problem of preventing the United States from using certain sea lanes in the event of war. Perhaps we should approach the problem by determining first what weapons and tactics the United States was developing to insure control of the sea lanes in which we were interested. We might note particularly the emphasis being placed on anti-submarine warfare.
Now our problem might boil down to this: Shall we concentrate our effort on more and better submarines, confident that we shall be able to outbuild and outfight the United States in this particular form of warfare, or should we look around for other, possibly more effective, means of thwarting their plans? Perhaps our solution would be a combination of the two courses. We may continue to place a certain amount of effort on the submarine, and at the same time continue to look around for other means of dealing with our opponent. Suppose we were to develop a long range bombing force specially trained and equipped for anti-shipping work. Perhaps we should concentrate our attention on controlling land areas adjacent to bottlenecks, through which important sea transportation must pass. There may be other solutions worthy of our attention. The important point is that we must attempt to out-think, or outwit, the United States. And we must be certain that we are prepared to use our outwitting devices on the day we have chosen to begin the war.
To return once again to the problem confronting the United States, we can see that it has many facets. Today the main threat to our control of the high seas appears to be the submarine; tomorrow it may be something else. The problem of controlling narrower waters, however, may also be worthy of more careful investigation in the future.
All through history man has proved himself a master at outwitting his fellow men. About all we do know about a future war is that our enemies, whoever they may be, will not act in the way we expect, or would prefer them to act. War is more than a race in scientific development. It is also a battle of wits. If we would continue to control the sea lanes, we must also win the battle of wits.
On Use of the Sea Lanes
Much has been written in recent years on the subject of control of the seas, on how to gain such control, and how to maintain it.
Yet little has been written on what to do with the sea lanes once control has been established. Control of the sea, like control of the air, is of little value unless it is used effectively. Control of the sea, like control of the air, is not an end in itself. In warfare it can be used in a defensive sense to provide a barrier between oneself and an enemy or to protect one or both flanks of a land campaign. It can also be used in an offensive sense to transport military power in its various forms to an area where its application or threat of application will have a decisive influence on the outcome of the war. There is little evidence in history to support the belief that the use of the sea lanes in this latter sense has ever been thoroughly understood. There are examples in history of the effective, and even brilliant, use of the sea lanes in warfare. But these, for the most part, are scattered instances, and they are outnumbered by instances of a lack of understanding of their offensive uses. Winston Churchill very likely had this in mind when he wrote:
“Sea power, when properly understood, is a wonderful thing.”*
For even the British, who have recognized more than any other people in history the immense possibilities of water transportation, have sometimes fallen short in its exploitation. We ourselves have demonstrated at times a lack of appreciation of what the water areas of the globe can mean to the United States in terms of security and prosperity.
For an illustration let us turn to the continent of Europe and examine the geographical relationship between the land areas and navigable waters. Numerous rivers, running generally in a north-south direction, empty into the Baltic on the north or the Mediterranean-Black Sea system on the south. In times of peace these great water systems literally teem with shipping of all descriptions. And yet, in time of war, their value as a medium of transportation has, by comparison, been virtually ignored. Most of the continental wars have been waged across Europe in an east-west direction. Each river was a barrier—to be crossed at its narrowest point by the attacker, or to serve as a bulwark to assist in the defense. To the generals, these navigable rivers were obstacles. Very few looked along their direction of flow and appreciated their possibilities for the conduct of military campaigns. The Baltic to the north and the Mediterranean system to the south, though used offensively to some extent, have served generally as anchors for the flanks of land armies or as lines of logistic supply for land campaigns.
Perhaps two reasons can be advanced for this apparent neglect of rivers and narrow waters in warfare. The first might be called man’s inherent fear of the water. To most men bodies of water, since the beginning of time, have been part of the Unknown. Even today most of us find the thought of perishing in battle on land preferable to drowning at sea. When given our choice, we usually prefer to take our chances on land; and most armies of the past have accepted rides in ships only when they could advance (or retreat) no further by land. The second reason might be found in the sailor’s inherent fear of narrow or shoal waters. The fear of running aground, and thus bringing disaster upon their ships, has led most admirals of the past to seek battle in the deep water of the high seas and to avoid, if possible, the narrow and shoal waters. As a result, the development of tactics, weapons, and techniques for controlling and using narrow waters in warfare has not kept pace with developments in other fields.
There is one development growing out of the last war, however, which promises to generate greater interest in narrow waters. It is the amphibious craft, which can be deliberately run onto a beach and backed clear or, in the case of some types, can be run onto the beach to join in land warfare. This, together with the aircraft carrier and other developments most certainly to follow, will stimulate greater interest by all practitioners and students of warfare in a field long neglected.
Perhaps it would be advantageous at this point to analyze briefly certain military campaigns of the past in an effort to determine in each case how fully the possibilities of sea transportation were appreciated. In so doing, however, it is recognized that such analyses enter into the field of second guessing. It is simply not possible to evaluate properly all information considered in making strategic decisions, even if it were readily available. Thus the purpose of this discussion is not to determine whether or not any decision or move was right or wrong. That would be presumptuous. Its purpose is to stimulate the development of original thought in the field of strategy, where lack of it could seriously jeopardize our survival as a nation.
Before we begin our analysis, however, let us refresh our memories on the employment of water transportation in time of peace, when there are no enemy forces to stand in our way. We should keep in mind that war, too, is a problem of getting from one location to another. Whether our objective be Tokyo or Berlin, it is a fight for lines of transportation. If these lines can be cleared expeditiously—not necessarily with great loss of life or destruction of property-— the campaign is usually considered a success.
In peacetime our problem is one of transporting merchandise from one point to another, within a specified time and at minimum cost. Business competition is keen, and the outlay required to transport raw materials and manufactured goods often determines whether or not an organization can remain in business. Thus it is perhaps possible for the strategist to learn something of value in this respect from the businessman.
Let us take, as an example, a hypothetical businessman. He is a coal dealer in West Virginia, and he desires to ship a thousand tons of coal to a customer overseas. His first problem is to get it to the nearest seaport, which, in this case, we shall designate as Norfolk, Virginia. Here again we turn to our globe for assistance. Suppose his customer is located in Berlin. It is possible to ship his coal by sea to the nearest European port —perhaps Cherbourg—and thence by rail across Western Europe to Berlin. After comparing shipping rates, however, he probably finds that he will save money if he ships by sea to Hamburg on the river Elbe, or to Stettin via the Baltic Sea, and thence to Berlin. His advance agent and the bill of lading could be sent by air.
Let us now shift the customer to Stalingrad. The coal could be landed at Cherbourg as before and shipped across Europe by rail. But here he would find it more desirable to ship by water through the Dardanelles, the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, possibly some distance up the Don River, and finally the last hundred miles or so overland to Stalingrad.
Now we will bring an enemy into the picture. The coal business has been suspended for the duration, and our problem is to bring troops, guns, and other implements of war to bear on our objective. The enemy, whoever he may be, will throw many obstacles across the route to any objective we might select, but with sufficient thought and proper planning, with the proper combination of forces, with the development of tactics and weapons suitable for the job at hand, the problem can be solved. The advantages of water transportation do not suddenly disappear with the outbreak of war, only to return again after the war has ended.
Perhaps one of the most interesting illustrations of both the proper and improper uses of sea transportation can be gained from an account of the Crimean War. Without going into what each side expected to gain by going to war, we find that hostilities began in 1853 with the armies of Czar Nicholas I advancing across the Prut River and occupying the Danubian principalities, which the Czar had selected as the scene of warfare. The British and French loaded their own armies into ships and conveyed them through the Dardanelles to Varna on the Black Sea coast of what is now Bulgaria. After it became apparent that nothing would be gained by conforming to the Czar’s wishes in regard to a site of battle, the Allies reembarked and made a landing in the Crimea. This apparently was a complete surprise to the Czar, who, like the British in Singapore, prior to the last war, did not anticipate landings to the north of his fortifications. The lessons to be drawn of course are these: Why fight in the area chosen by the enemy when you have the mobility to strike where he is at a disadvantage; and why advance overland when you can move by water?
The German Armies wilted before the defenses of Stalingrad in 1942. In his early planning Hitler apparently had forgotten the lessons of the Crimean War. The German High Command might also have profited, in this instance, from the experiences of businessmen like our coal dealer from West Virginia. The weapons and tactics of World War II differed considerably from those used in the Crimean War, but the geography of the globe remained unchanged.
Let us now examine the experience of the British in the First World War. Prior to its outbreak they were deeply concerned over the German challenge to their control of the high seas and built a navy to deal with that challenge. But what did they do to exploit their control of the seas? In the first place they were not self-sufficient. They needed supplies from across the seas, and for that reason the sea lanes had to be kept open. This was the defensive aspect of the war at sea. Offensively the greater part of the British effort at sea was devoted to pouring young men and equipment into the bloody battle on the Western Front. Perhaps this was essential once the war had started. But let us go back a few years.
Suppose, prior to the outbreak of World War I, the British had devoted sufficient thought and research to the problem of seizing control of the narrow waters of the Skagerrak-Kattegat and the Baltic Sea. This would have provided a serious threat to the German Baltic coast and might have had considerable influence on the German decision to go to war in the first place. It would have opened a short, direct route to the support of Russian forces on the Eastern Front. It would have made possible the establishment of another front on the German north coast. Having once developed the proper combination of forces, weapons, and tactics to solve the problem of breaking into the Baltic, it would have been merely a repeat performance to force the Dardanelles. (Winston Churchill was much criticized for the failure of the Dardanelles Campaign in 1915. Nevertheless his strategic concept was sound. But his planners, tacticians, and weapon designers had failed him many years before.) With sea communications open to Russia through the Baltic and the Dardanelles, with powerful armies facing her on the Eastern and Western Fronts, and with her northern coast open to attack, Germany would have been confronted with an entirely different problem prior to World War I, one which even her blitzkrieg specialists might have hesitated to face.
Between the two World Wars the British concept of a war on the Continent changed very little. The tactics and weapons required to invest narrow waters had not been developed. The ghost of the Dardanelles Campaign still haunted them. While British strength was permitted to melt away in the Mediterranean, the flower of her youth was once again sent across the Channel to participate in continental warfare. Weakness in the Mediterranean encouraged Italy to enter the war. Inability to take control of narrow waters opened Norway to invasion.
Reentry into Europe followed much the same pattern as had previous continental wars, that is, advance as far as possible by land, cross the water at its narrowest point, and continue onward by land.
We will turn, for a moment, to the Pacific and look in on the Central Pacific Campaign. Here we see a force designed specifically for the task at hand. This campaign has been dubbed by many as an “island hopping” campaign, from which very few lessons can be gleaned for future application. But let us see What happened. After a little hesitation in the Gilberts and Marshalls, while the commanders were feeling out the capabilities of their weapons, the pattern of the campaign became clear. The advance on Japan would be made by the most direct sea route. The spearhead of the attack would consist of the most effective weapons available—land- based air (both short and long range), sea- based air, and amphibious assault forces. Sufficient land campaigns would be undertaken en route to protect the flanks (including the third—or air—flank) of the spearhead and to provide bases for logistic support. Enemy forces, which did not interfere with the advance or threaten the flanks, would simply be blocked out or ignored.
There it is. Pick the best sea route to your objective. Design your forces, weapons, and tactics for that particular job, and establish sufficient bases en route to protect your flanks and provide logistic support. In the case of Japan, in World War II, once the sea lanes to her homeland had been opened up, the imminence of invasion was sufficient to bring about her capitulation.
For operations in more restricted waters, a far greater proportion of land-based forces would obviously be required. The extent of land operations en route to the objective would depend upon the narrowness of the waters, the nature of terrain, and the capabilities of our own and enemy weapons. Operations to control strongly defended narrow straits would be difficult, comparable in fact to operations for gaining control of important communication bottlenecks in land warfare. The price of a Verdun or a Stalingrad was high, but the value of those positions to the victors was correspondingly great.
Let us now turn back to Europe and imagine what might have happened if we had applied the principles of the Central Pacific campaign to the problem of reentering Europe via the Mediterranean. In the first place considerable thought, research, and advance planning would have been applied prior to the outbreak of war to the problem of controlling and using narrow waters.
We are now back in early 1942, engaged in second-guessing the Mediterranean Campaign. Suppose we select the area at the head of the Adriatic Sea as our strategic objective. En route we must secure our flanks and provide bases for logistic support. The important bottlenecks along the route are the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Sicily, and the Straits of Otranto. Perhaps this will require that we seize positions in Northwest Africa, Tunis (or Sardinia), Sicily, and Southern Italy. En route we shall cut Rommel off from his source of supplies, open the way to the support of General Montgomery, assist Yugoslavia and Albania, and threaten Germany’s Balkan flank. Once we are ashore at the head of the Adriatic, communications between Italy and Germany are cut off, and Italy falls (if she can hold out even that long). Our whole problem in such a campaign boils down to whether or not we are able to operate successfully in narrow waters. There is little doubt but that we were not able to do so in 1942. Some progress has been made since 1942, but perhaps not enough.
We might even go one step further in our second guessing. Had the British developed the know-how for operating in narrow waters prior to the outbreak of World War II, Italy might not have been tempted to enter the war. Thus there might have been no need for operations in North Africa. Indeed, there might never have been a Munich!
Before we discard such a campaign as not worthy of future consideration, let us ask ourselves a few questions. Are we, the American people, applying the thought and the effort to the problem of controlling and using the sea lanes in warfare that our world situation warrants? Does the thought and the effort we are applying to the identification and solution of our strategic problems compare favorably with the thought and effort we are applying to the development of weapons—the tools of strategy? Is our strategic thinking keeping pace with our technical development? Perhaps not.
As we in the United States ponder our situation in respect to other nations and our chances for survival in the future, we are mindful of the fact that, even though weapons and tactics may change as the years progress, the geography of the globe remains constant. Thus the stage for future war, should we be faced with it, is set well in advance. Strategic problems can be fairly well defined. The tools and tactics to be employed, however, vary with technical and tactical developments.
There is evidence in history to support the belief that the possibilities for use of the sea lanes in warfare have rarely been fully understood. This should be a matter of deep concern to the people of the United States. For, unless there is wider understanding of the part played by the sea in our civilization, its potentialities in warfare may once again be overlooked. The sea lanes of the world will continue to be of service to our country so long as we have the power and the wisdom to control and use them effectively. The facts of geography change very little; yet how often in history they have been ignored!
Use of the sea lanes in warfare does not preclude the employment of any effective weapon of the time. The most intelligent use of all forms of transportation will also be required. How our weapons are used and how our forces are organized to implement strategy is, of course, another problem. But problems of organization are essentially problems in the field of human relations. Here, too, there are certain basic issues involved. And since human nature has changed very little through the centuries, much can be learned in this field from a study of the experiences of others who lived before us.
Unfortunately life on this earth is still essentially a matter of survival of the fittest. Man gained supremacy over the more powerful animals and the more numerous insects chiefly because he could think. Among the many factors contributing to our rise to world leadership, our form of government, which rules out any vestige of thought control, is of major importance. Nevertheless, we must guard ourselves carefully against the tendency to grow complacent or arrogant because of any temporary technical advantage which our nation may enjoy. We are not supermen, thrust suddenly upon this earth to solve the world’s problems with one mighty stroke. If the quality of our thinking falls behind, our end may come just as surely as it has come to other great civilizations of the past. Others less fortunate than we covet our position of world leadership. If we fail, they stand ready to take our place.
The people of the United States have many natural advantages which cannot be matched by any other nation. We are in a strong geographical position. We have a superior idea. We have many friends. We have a wide reputation for integrity in our dealings with other nations. We have unrestricted access to the sea lanes of the world. If we recognize the true value of these advantages and apply them intelligently to the solution of our many problems, there need be no fear for the future. For the futility of war against the maritime community will be obvious to all. We may then look forward with confidence to many years, perhaps centuries, of constructive leadership and influence among the nations of the world.
* Italics are supplied.