1. Bibliographic Entry: Mahan, Alfred T. Mahan on Naval Strategy: Selections from the Writing of Real Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, Edited by John Hattendorf (Annapolis: US Naval Institute, 1991)
2. Author (Top-3 notes on author): Alfred T. Mahan graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1859, served as the president of the US Naval War College, and retired as a Captain, though was promoted to Rear Admiral in recognition of his service in the Civil War. He was born at West Point in 1840, where his father, Dennis Hart Mahan, was a professor of civil and military engineering and dean of the faculty. During the Civil War, Mahan served on various ships on blockade duty and also at the Naval Academy
3. Context: Mahan wrote toward the end of the Pax Britannica. The Pax Britannica was not forced upon the world by the operations of a large navy, rather, other nations accepted British ascendancy in the areas of finance, industry, commerce, and shipping. The Pax Britannica ended when other nations bean to industrialize, produce steam machinery, lay iron railroads, and construct iron ships form the products of their own factories.
Technological changes included the change from wood to iron, sail to steam, and round shot to shells, resulting in not only a new technological emphasis, but a new approach to naval tactics and strategy.
Mahan also wrote at the end of US westward expansion, so the nation could only expand overseas.
4. Scope. (What is the theory about? How broad or narrow is it?):
5. Evidence/credibility: Historical study, primarily of Britain and France.
6. Central Proposition/Thesis: The fundamental principle of all naval war [is] that defense is insured only by offense, and that the one decisive objective of the offensive is the enemy’s organized battle fleet.
a. Jomini-centric. Uses principles of strategy IAW the map, and applies it to the sea. Specific examples are lines of communication between forward operating bases (ports). From these ports advanced positions can be attacked and retained.
b. Places the center of gravity on the enemy fleet. (231, 251)
c. His strategic approach is to capture an advanced position, then hold it using ground forces. Once holding the position, the campaign moves into the strategic defense while the fleet is released to pursue tactical offensive operations. (106)
d. The goal of the tactical offensive is to draw the enemy fleet away (if weaker) or drive the enemy fleet away (if stronger) from the lines of communication that ensure the land forces are able to hold the advanced position. (224-225)
e. Equates Jomini’s strategic points to strategic ports. States that you can have too many ports - which result in you spreading you fleet too thin to protect them. One advances toward the enemy from strategic port to strategic port (advanced position), but not too far and not too fast to over-expose LOCs. (106)
f. The objective of the defense in naval terms is similar to that of land concepts. Buy time, preserve the force, await an opportunity to swing to the offense.
Notes of interest (direct from text):
30 In these three things-production, with the necessity of exchanging products, shipping, whereby the exchange is carried on, and colonies, which facilitate and enlarge the operations of shipping and tend to protect it by multiplying points of safety-is to be found the key to much of the history, as well as of the policy, of nations bordering upon the sea.
31 The principal conditions affecting the sea power of nations may be enumerated as follows:
I. Geographical Position.
II. Physical Conformation, including, as connected therewith, natural productions and climate.
III. Extent of Territory.
IV. Number of Population.
V. Character of the People.
VI. Character of the Government, including therein the national institutions.
1. Geographical Position. 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.
As the aim here is not an exhaustive discussion, but merely an attempt to show, by illustration, how vitally the situation of a country may affect its career upon the sea, this division of the subject may be dismissed for the present; the more so as instances which will further bring out its importance will continually recur in the historical treatment.
2. Physical Conformation The seaboard of a country is one of its frontiers; and the easier the access offered by the frontier to the region beyond, in this case the sea, the greater will be the tendency of a people toward intercourse with the rest 0£ the world by it
3. Extent of Territory. This may be dismissed with comparatively few words. As regards the development of sea power, it is not the total number of square miles which a country contains, but the h of its coast-line and the character of its harbors that are to be considered. As to these it is to be said that, the geographical and physical conditions being the same, extent of sea-coast is a source of strength or weakness according as the population is large or small. (numerous harbors and long coastline = difficult to blockade)
4. Number of Population. After the consideration of the natural conditions of a country should follow an examination of the characteristics 0£ its population as affecting the development of sea power; and first among these will be taken, because of its relations to the extent of the territory, which has just been discussed, the number of the people who live in it. , it is not only the grand total, but the number following the sea, or at least readily available for employment on ship-board and for the creation of naval material must be counted.
Though the treatment 0f the subject has been somewhat discursive, it may be admitted that a great population following callings related to the sea is, now as formerly, a great element 0f sea power;
5. National Character. The effect of national character and aptitudes upon the development of sea power will next be considered.
The tendency to trade, involving of necessity the production of something to trade with, is the national characteristic most important to the development of sea power.
6. Character of the Government. In discussing the effects upon the development of a nation's sea power exerted by its government and institutions, it will be necessary to avoid a tendency to over-philosophizing, to confine attention to obvious and immediate causes and their plain results, without prying too far beneath the surface for remote and ultimate influences.
Nevertheless, it must be noted that particular forms of government with their accompanying institutions, and the character of rulers at one time or another, have exercised a very marked influence upon the development of sea power.
98 Both the power and the difficulties due to steam call for a more comprehensive and systematic treatment of the art of war at sea, and for the establishment of definite principles upon which it reposes.
(Technology drives change in maritime theory and strategy).
99 This is the advantage of the habit of mind bred by study, when principles are understood. Such decisive considerations correspond essentially to the leading feature, or features, which constitute “the key" of a military situation.
(Espouses the same attributes of a quality commander as the other theorists).
105 · In the mobilization of a land force, concentration, militarily understood, is the prime object, as it is with navies; but it is the second step, that is, it follows the local activities which mobilize the several corps.
(mass is desired for sea-borne operations too).
All these advantages in mobility mean rapidity in time; and this reduction in the scale of time required for movement means expansion in the scale of distance that can be covered, in order to overpower a dispersed or an unwary enemy.
(the mobility and maneuver capabilities of naval forces is vastly superior and more dynamic than that of ground forces).
106 but it is only by subsequent reading that I have come to appreciate how common is the opinion that the holding of each additional port adds to naval strength. Naval strength involves, unquestionably, the possession of strategic points, but its greatest constituent is the mobile navy. If having many ports tempts you to scatter your force among them, they are worse than useless.
The farther toward an enemy you advance your tenable position by the acquisition of strategic points, or the positions occupied in force by army or navy, the better; provided, in so doing, you do not so lengthen your lines of communication as to endanger your forces in the advanced positions
107 From these instances the general reason for taking up such an advanced position is obvious. Behind your fleets, thus resting on secure positions and closely knit to the home country by well-guarded communications, the operations of commerce, transport, and supply can go on freely. Into such a sea the enemy cannot venture in force about equal to your own
219 What is the true strategic use to be made of the naval force when the key to a maritime region, or any advanced position of decisive importance in such a region, has been won by a combined expedition? The answer given was that, when such had been won, the particular expedition, having next to secure and preserve that which had been gained, from the offensive, with which it started, to the defense the true part for the navy to bear in such a defensive. the defense of the conquest, or the further prosecution of the conquest, and the fleet operations, and so of its own element, the sea. But it can fulfill such a charge only by either driving the enemy's sea force away from the region in dispute or from the critical point of the campaign
(ground units grab an advanced position through the strategic offense, and then transition to the strategic defense to keep sea lanes (LOCs) and draw the enemy fleet away from the advanced position. Fleet may use tactical offense to achieve this effect. – Fleet operations in the slot at Guadalcanal)
224 Whichever of the above-mentioned two courses the navy has to adopt,-driving away or drawing away,-it must again be noted that it is on the defensive as to the general operations, but on the offensive as to its own actions.
225 The true complement of any scheme of home coast defense is a navy strong enough either to drive the hostile fleet away from one's own shores or to keep it away by adequate threats to hostile interests.
231 s. It is perhaps even more true of the sea than of the land that the proper objective is not a geographical point, but the organized military force of the enemy.
(Enemy fleet is COG)
243 The distance from your own most advanced position to the position you wish to attack may be a further element of difficulty.
(sustained fleet operations require a chain of linked forward bases (strategic ports) to provide secure LOCs.)
255 · Though the open sea has not natural strategic points, yet the crossing of the best mercantile routes, the difficulties of strong head winds and adverse currents, will make some points and some lines more important than others. The occurrence of strong harbors, possibly shoal water, or other difficulties to navigation, may affect the tracing of the line laid down to be held.
(Jomini of the sea)