All four of the founding theorists of sea and air power—Mahan, Corbett, Douhet, and Mitchell—were living in a maelstrom of change, wrestling with the implications of new technology, new machines of war, and rapid advancements in social and economic systems, which challenged orthodox ideas and classical theory. The two dominant developments that were the backdrop to the theoretical work of all four were the mobilization of entire nations in warfare, and the mechanization of warfare—sea power, as conceived by Mahan, and elaborated on by Corbett, and air power, as envisioned by Douhet, and further developed by Mitchell, were predicated on dramatic industrial advancements in warfare. The air power theorists were developing their ideas and producing their first important writings within a relatively small number of years following the first effective use of heavier than air flight. All four had little to fall back on theoretically except the land war theorists Clausewitz and Jomini. Mahan, Douhet, and Mitchell were either directly or indirectly influenced by the Jominian concepts of lines of operation and decisive battle between primary field armies, or concentrated forces. The twin principles of mass and concentration figured prominently in the ideas of Jomini, who was writing to explain Napoleon’s art of warfare, and seem to have been transferred to the theories of Mahan and Douhet in particular.
Both Mahan and Douhet were especially concerned about forces being lost to attrition, and as a result, emphasized aggressive offensive action against enemy forces whenever and wherever they could be found, to bring about a decisive battle of annihilation with as little delay as possible. Where Alfred Thayer Mahan advocated concentration of naval forces for battle on the seas above all else, his British counterpart Sir Julian Corbett admitted that concentration alone was not all-important. Corbett was shaped in important ways by Clausewitz’s subordination of war to politics, and by Clausewitz’s later elaboration on limited war, and also shared Clausewitz’s underlying skepticism about the utility of theory to inform action during actual warfare. Still, Corbett was such an original thinker that he was able to go beyond the half-finished ideas of Clausewitz and beyond the prevalent assumptions of his day concerning surface fleet battles on the open seas.
Mahan’s “command of the sea” was founded on a classical view of war and focused on pursuing global power projection by taking the fight to the enemy’s fleets. Mahan advocated command of sea lines of communication and denial of the same to opponents, and the ability to decisively engage and destroy competing navies—ideas which were shaped significantly by Lord Nelson’s operational approach at Trafalgar in 1805. To Mahan, Command of the sea was secured through naval superiority, which followed from a powerful fleet of massed warships able to move about the world’s oceans freely, seek out enemy fleets, and unleash enough firepower to sink enemy fleets in decisive battles. Mahan advocated a rather monolithic type of navy built around battleships, and recognized only one primary naval mission, seizing and maintaining command of the sea. “[Mahan] made the number of battleships the measure of naval potency, and the destruction of the enemy battle fleet through decisive engagement—for the purposes of either securing or breaking a blockade—the main operational objective of naval strategy.” Mahan was critical of the use of naval power to support operations on land, but only where he believed it jeopardized a side losing command of the sea. Mahan’s assumptions about the primacy of fleet actions are in direct contradiction to lessons learned by U.S. forces during the Second World War in the Pacific, where the strategic isolation and final offensive against Japan could not be achieved by fleet actions alone or without the very close coordination of land, air, and naval forces.
Mahan was not an original thinker but like Jomini, he was very successful at reformulating already developing ideas into a coherent whole. Mahan was riding a wave of change in naval technology which precipitated an era of intense reevaluation of classical naval theory—which in any case, when Mahan published his famous work on the influence sea power on history, was drastically underdeveloped as compared to land warfare theory. Mahan’s ideas heavily influenced America’s rise to international preeminence and the building of a world-class navy, but ultimately his ideas proved incorrect—the battleship was eclipsed by a number of developments including long-range missile systems; underwater operations have become as important as surface operations; and the aircraft carrier combined with naval air power allowed the U.S. Navy to project significant power throughout the Cold War. Mahan’s near obsession with decisive naval battles had a negative impact on U.S. naval strategy at least up until the start of the Second World War. His influence on naval leaders led to the U.S. Navy’s role changing, beginning in the late nineteenth century, from protecting commercial lanes and interests to patrolling sea lanes in an effort to sink enemy fleets, despite the successful lessons learned about countering the submarine threat with organized convoys. Mahan only saw the classical form of grand warfare—a zero-sum contest of wills and military forces—which meant that he also accepted that warfare was by its nature, unlimited. Corbett, on the other hand, understood that wars could be unlimited or limited, which led him to examine the roles of naval forces beyond just destruction of opposing navies. Like Jomini, Mahan overvalued the ability of decisive battle, leading to the complete destruction of the enemy primary naval force—the enemy’s center of gravity, in the classical view—to collapse enemy will to resist and end warfare on advantageous terms. Mahan overstated the impact of command of the sea in warfare, just as Douhet later overstated the impact of air power.
Similar to Mahan, Corbett developed distinct naval theories out of broader historical studies—both were well positioned to broadcast their ideas to interested audiences, Mahan at the Naval War College, and Corbett as a founding member of the Navy Records Society. Corbett borrowed directly from his primary source, Clausewitz, especially in the area of the subordination of war to politics, and was the first to apply Clausewitzian theories to naval warfare, but also synthesized entirely new ideas that went beyond the Clausewitzian framework. Corbett extended his warfare theories to take in the economic and technological dimensions, subjects that did not win Clausewitz’s attention. Corbett’s theorizing about sea power, beginning with Clausewitz’s underdeveloped theory of limited war, took him in an entirely different direction than Mahan—away from large, offensive-oriented fleets, to an emphasis on limited war and defensive strategy—and took him even beyond Clausewitz’s essentially limited view of limited war. There was a shift from Mahan, who focused on major powers and powerful, sea-going fleets, and Corbett, who saw naval power as significantly more complicated, involving smaller powers and an equally important littoral dimension to naval operations.
At the time that Corbett was writing, steam propulsion, explosive conical shells, and rifled breach loading cannons had greatly expanded effectives ranges for weapons and permitted larger operating areas. Warfare during Corbett’s time, the first half of the twentieth century, was significantly more complicated than the so-called golden age of sail, and of Lord Nelson, the era that dominated Mahan’s thinking. Corbett was strongly influenced by his observations of small powers that felt they could employ smaller naval forces, exploiting the benefits of mines and torpedoes, to challenge the major maritime powers for command of certain territorial waters, and even use raiding warfare to disrupt the commercial interests of major powers. As things turned out, the U.S. Navy employed the theories of both Mahan and Corbett during the Second World War, blending aspects of command of the sea and control of the sea, especially when German submarines forced the allied navies to fight Germany for control of the sea. Where Mahan influenced the U.S. Navy to pursue massive fleets and large numbers of capital ships, Corbett influenced naval theory by emphasizing a variable concept of sea control and the importance of maneuver to achieve advantages at the tactical level.
Corbett’s concept of control of the sea went beyond Mahan’s command of the sea. “[Mahan] saw command of the sea as the control of maritime communications for a specific purpose. Control of the sea on the other hand, embraced the concept of having the ability for fleets to move across the sea without significant interference from the enemy.” Corbett envisioned control of the sea as a selective application of forces to key points throughout the world’s seas, according to strategic calculus, and achieved through engagement or deterrence—a view that is surprisingly contemporary. Corbett diverged from Mahan by advocating a multi-functional navy built around three types of missions. “When Britannia ruled the waves with a global navy to protect the empire,” according to one author, “Sir Julian Corbett specified three components of the Royal Navy: the battle fleet to defeat any challenge to command of the sea; ‘cruisers’ to patrol the sea lanes and protect British trade; and ‘the flotilla’ of small combatants capable of fighting inshore, where battleships, with all their offensive firepower, could not venture because torpedo boats, submarines, and mines threatened cheap kills.” Corbett and other theorists of the twentieth century have shown how “small war”—or guerilla—methods can defeat larger powers by avoiding decisive battle and achieving strategic aims by other means including raiding, and submarine and mine warfare.
Corbett was a genuinely original thinker and was the most provocative of the four theorists, especially toward the leading naval personalities of his time (the same people who one would assume would be most friendly to his assertions). Corbett was provocative specifically because he challenged the orthodoxy of his day by discounting the efficacy of decisive battle, challenging the supremacy of mass and concentration in naval warfare, and extending naval warfare theory to areas, such as commerce raiding and coastal defense, that Mahan considered unimportant. Unlike Clausewitz, Jomini, and Mahan, Corbett did not fixate on decisive battle. Corbett argued that concentration at sea makes it easier for the weaker force to avoid engagement; the less concentration is apparent to the enemy force, the more likely one is to achieve a decisive battle. Unlike land warfare, warfare at sea is especially vulnerable to threats against lines of communication, and due to the wide open terrain of naval warfare, Corbett correctly emphasized the importance of surprise and deception in maneuvering an enemy into battle—topics that even Clausewitz tended to overlook or undervalue. Corbett’s controversial and unwelcomed analysis of Nelson and the role of British naval power during the Napoleonic wars also tended to upset especially British naval proponents. Like Clausewitz, the subtleties of Corbett’s thought made him destined to be misunderstood.
Like Clausewitz, Corbett developed strongly held beliefs that did not automatically translate to popular ideas during their times, and both spent time arguing their beliefs to what they believed were doubtful audiences. Clausewitz was at least irritated by what he saw as the fashionable simplicities espoused by writers such as Jomini, and Corbett was equally impatient with what he saw as Mahan’s simplistic equation of armies on land and fleets at sea. Corbett was facing a general sentiment among naval authors and leaders that decisive battle at sea was the legitimate aim of naval warfare—in the way that Nelson prevailed at Trafalgar—the deliberate approach to annihilation of the enemy. Mahan built on the concept of mass to emphasize concentration of naval forces at sea, very similar to the art of Napoleonic warfare, whereas Corbett specifically eschewed concentration as a prime concept—he considered it to be distracting to a more balanced appraisal of military art at sea. Unlike Mahan, Corbett set about to explain the proper relationship between forces at sea and forces on land, and the importance of naval operations in relation to the actions of primary land forces. Corbett argued that naval strategy should be directed toward theater isolation in support of the defeat of enemy land forces. Corbett saw the action of land and naval forces as being closely integrated toward achievement of a common goal, as demonstrated by the close cooperation between Grant’s army forces and Union naval forces during the Vicksburg campaign. In deemphasizing the importance of fleet actions alone, placing emphasis on joint army and navy operations, and in his astute understanding of the dominant role limited warfare plays in history, Corbett was much more forward looking than Mahan, and in fact presaged a lot of post-1945 history. Corbett goes far beyond Mahan or Douhet in understanding that one form of military power—in this case, sea power—does not reign supreme, but instead must be used alongside other forms of military and national power in the pursuit of political objectives.
General Guilio Douhet of Italy, rightly considered a “father” of airpower doctrine, was more of a visionary than a philosopher of war. He clearly saw the tremendous impact airborne fighting machines would have on warfare in an age of so-called unlimited wars. He was a pioneer, the first to propose an actual design for a bomber, who theorized about aircraft characteristics and employment before the necessary technology was even available. Douhet clearly articulated the need for an independent arm for air forces, even though he went too far in predicting the demise of land and naval forces. “He predicted that air fleets would be constituted on an equal status with the other services, and command of the air would be at least as significant as mastery of the seas. Three years later, in a staff study to the army Chief of Staff, he strongly recommended the activation of a new branch of the service to handle all military activities related to airpower.” He side-stepped institutional resistance to his ideas by building a bomber prototype on his own using his unit’s workshop. Just as Mahan and Corbett did with sea power, Douhet offered a comprehensive theory—if still imbalanced—of the use of air power as an instrument of national power and strategy. Douhet placed so much importance in command of the air because he was convinced that air power was not only a critical element in the pursuit of victory in war, it was in fact the sole necessary element.
Air power enthusiasts were multiplying quickly following the First World War, but it was Douhet who provided an especially strong theory for the enthusiasts to rally around. Douhet’s theory was founded on the concept of command of the air which in fact appeared to parallel Mahan’s command of the sea. According to the theory of command of the air, the destruction of enemy air forces and the industrial network that supports them leads more or less directly to victory in war. Like Mahan, who emphasized large-scale fleet on fleet battles for control of the seas, Douhet also emphasized the overriding offensive use of air power. Similar to Mahan’s large battleships with large-caliber guns, Douhet emphasized massed bombers, operating at a speed and altitude that made them nearly invulnerable. Douhet clearly envisioned the flying fortress concept used successfully by the U.S. Army Air Corps years later, with his prediction that a heavily armed and armored bombing aircraft could prevail against pursuit aircraft. Douhet’s ideas—considered essentially the fruits of a futurist’s mind—were considered extreme even by some air power supporters, but his ideas were employed, even in modified form, to support the beliefs and interests of those who were working for an independent air force and who were laboring to create a comprehensive and workable air warfare theory.
Douhet made the mistake of oversimplifying complex phenomenon. Douhet was dealing theoretically with the implications of what he saw as an awesome offensive weapon system that was free of the inherent restrictions of land warfare, fast, and to his mind, nearly invulnerable—and on these assumptions, his analysis was strikingly thorough. His assumptions proved to be incorrect though. Douhet’s views of strategic air operations against an opposing nation to completely destroy its will to resist, made sense in the era of general war, but do not apply very well at all to the post-1945 world of limited wars such as Korea and Vietnam. Citing the Korean example, Michael J. Eula points out that even though Fifteenth Air Force enjoyed overwhelming air superiority, it was unable to strike the decisive blows advocated by Douhet because the material base of the communist war effort was located in Mainland China and the Soviet Union. The U.S. Air Force also took heavy losses while bombing Haiphong and Hanoi during Linebacker II (December 1972), due to very effective SAMs, MiGs, and antiaircraft batteries. Furthermore, the will of the North Vietnamese was not broken as Douhet would have predicted. Douhet’s ideas were too skewed by the assumptions of general war, especially as he experienced it during the First World War, and not fine-tuned to the nuances of international relations. In struggling to understand the implications of entirely new realms of warfare, it is not surprising that some of the sea and air theorists went too far and lost sight of the human element in war; the side of war that cannot be completely predicted or clearly reasoned.
Douhet erred on three basic accounts, and all three of his errors have been demonstrated by air operations since the formulation of his ideas: he discounted the effectiveness of air defense, he assumed too much demoralization on the part of the bombed populace, and his so-called mathematical certainties did not hold up to closer analysis. As one author puts it, Douhet’s calculations on the effectiveness of bombing seemed “precise to a fault.” His mathematical formulas about the destructive capabilities of his bomber planes were never realized. Douhet made the fundamental mistake of thinking the enemy’s will to resist could be destroyed as easily as bridges and buildings. Being high profile advocates for new approaches to war that threatened existing orthodoxies, both Mitchell and Douhet emphasized the offensive over the defensive, seriously underestimating the importance of antiaircraft technology. The development of Axis air defense measures including radar, flak, and large numbers of multi-role aircraft, during the Second World War, were not adequately foreseen or accounted for by Douhet. “Well coordinated and executed Luftwaffe attacks, using high performance fighters, shattered the viability of the Army Air Force (AAF) doctrine of unescorted daylight precision bombing.” As things turned out, developments in the defense rendered Duhet’s offensive bomber theories effectively useless.
In missing the primacy of the human element in war, Douhet failed to account for the significant role of culture in shaping a nation’s martial capabilities and behavior. The 1999 NATO air offensive against Serbian civilian and military targets following several years of Serbian repression in Kosovo did not follow Douhetian lines of reasoning. The national will of the Serbian people was not broken in any significant sense, but instead NATO actions were aimed at influencing the calculations of Slobodan Milosevic and his military leaders, and ultimately shaped the decisions they made. Douhet’s views on war are too narrow and based on unreliable assumptions, they assume a degree of unity of command and effort on the part of the nation wielding air power, and assume too much centrality of command on the part of the nation being attacked from waves of bomber forces. Douhet’s ideas about command of the air are also hopelessly outdated because they are predicated on a level of intelligence that experience has shown cannot be obtained. Douhet, who was very quick to discount any importance afforded to defense against air power, made the simple error of overlooking that a dominant weapon system like strategic bombers will in time produce its own antidote (and his studies of military history should have showed him that).
Douhet’s ideas heavily influenced—or at least motivated and intellectually stimulated—the air power cliques in the nations that pursued air forces between the world wars, even though his ideas about the primacy of massed bombing were ultimately proved wrong. Douhet’s ideas directly and indirectly influenced Mitchell and the developing U.S. air forces, and influenced the early development of the British RAF. Douhet also influenced Goering and the Luftwaffe: “Under Herman Goering’s leadership, the Luftwaffe gained political if not actual military autonomy as a service. Goering, in themes reminiscent of Douhet, emphasized airpower as a moral imperative for the developing new Riech.” He greatly broadened the acceptability of extending warfare to the third dimension, and provided many practical air power advocates with an impressive theoretical justification, so much so that by 1933, the United States Air Corps accepted Douhet’s writings as their unofficial ‘bible’ on strategic air operations. Though visionary in his ideas of what massed bombing forces could achieve from the air alone, Douhet also actively attacked or dismissed almost every other form of air force mission, downplayed air defense, and denied a place for fighters in air operations. Williamson Murray points out that Douhet’s ideas precluded all of the present day missions of air forces other than strategic bombing. “Douhet excluded the possibility of air defense, denied fighter aircraft a place in future air forces, argued that close air support and interdiction of the battlefront would be a waste of air resources, and claimed that the only role of an air force would be as a strategic bombing force.” Although he was a futurist who could not see warfare outside the parameters of general war, Douhet’s theoretical influence should be overlooked.
Mahan and Douhet both emphasized concentration of forces, employment en masse, and decisive strikes, as opposed to ancillary operations to inflict attrition on the enemy. Both saw war in extreme terms; attack first, spare no effort, and always seek the complete destruction of the enemy; anything short of this is wasteful and ineffective. This unitary view of war has not been borne out by experience, especially since 1945, in limited wars, operations other than war, guerilla warfare, and counterinsurgency. Both Mahan and Douhet were ‘evangelists’ for their military beliefs—both saw their dimension of warfare as predominant for the twentieth century—strategically decisive, able to win wars conclusively for the powers that properly acted according to their recommendations. Mahan advocated the concept of dominant sea power, and he wanted his readers and followers to see the single, decisive fleet engagement as the “arbiter” of dominant sea power. The advent of the submarine as a means of carrying out commerce raiding “raised serious doubts about the validity of Mahan’s argument that guerre de course was incapable of producing decisive success.” Neither Mahan’s nor Douhet’s ideas were particularly sophisticated, complex, or difficult to grasp, which gave them wide-spread appeal especially to those already inclined to share their larger aims—their ideas prompted clear-cut action, and they also admitted of very little qualification or balance—their ideas were ‘jingoist.’
Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell was an energetic, colorful, and controversial figure but not an original thinker; he was greatly influenced by Trenchard directly and by Douhet indirectly. Although evidence of a direct influence by Douhet on Mitchell is not conclusive, Douhet’s The Command of the Air was available in English in time to play a role in the formulation of American strategic bombardment theory. Like Douhet, Mitchell perceived air power as a means of reasserting the offensive in warfare and bypassing the destructive tendencies of static, trench warfare. Mitchell echoed Douhet in insisting that air power could win wars with little help from other services, and that ground and naval forces were no longer relevant because the strategic reach of air forces made ground invasion unnecessary. “Like Douhet, Mitchell saw the people as the most vulnerable to air attack. By killing them from the air and destroying the food, water, electricity, housing, and sewage of the survivors, an air force could destroy the will of a nation without having to fight the army or navy.” Mitchell developed an elaborate theory explaining how strategic air power could demolish cities, precipitate wide-spread refugee flows and humanitarian disasters, but like Douhet, he never explained how these circumstances would actually force an opposing national leadership to submit. The predictions of Mitchell and Douhet about the effectiveness of precision bombing, especially mass area bombing, and the ability of air power to collapse enemy national will, did not play out during the allied bombing campaigns of the Second World War. There were effects, to be sure, but nothing like that predicted by the early advocates. In the Second World War, allied air forces defeated the Luftwaffe, gained unchallenged air superiority, and crippled certain German economies including oil production, but the air forces never incapacitated the enemy enough that ground and naval forces were not required for final victory.
The Tactical School at Langley Field, Virginia, later at Maxwell Field, Alabama, was the center of the explicit formulation of the American doctrine of precision daylight strategic bombardment, a direct product of Douhet’s legacy. Tactical School instructors, lectures, and texts were influenced by Douhet’s ideas though many were unaware of the source of this influence. Douhet’s writings helped Mitchell to cement his own ideas. “In 1922 Mitchell made a tour of European air forces and for the first time met Douhet in person. The men struck up an easy friendship and readily exchanged ideas. Douhet, fresh from publication of Command of the Air, doubtless hardened Mitchell’s belief that for airpower to reach its full potential it had to operate unfettered by the plodding ground commanders.” Mitchell’s thinking led him to substitute the enemy’s vital power centers, economic, social, and military, for the enemy’s main field army as the focus for military action. Mitchell left his meeting with Douhet determined to change the course of air power development within the American military establishment. The air power revolution is a prime example of theory driving practical reform and development in warfare.
Although there are some similarities between Douhet and Mitchell, such as both faced court martial for speaking out in opposition to their government’s air policies, there are also key differences. Where Corbett diverged significantly from Mahan, Mitchell essentially echoed Douhet’s ideas but added some further clarifications of his own. “[Mitchell] neither accepts uncritically the ideas of others nor fails to make contributions to the theories about employment of air power that developed during World War I and the 1920s. Mitchell’s contribution is considerable, for he accommodated the thinking of the European theoreticians to the American environment an environment quite different―in geography, attitude, and strategy―from the European milieu.” Mitchell diverged significantly from Douhet in his advocacy for a multi-role air force—a far better prediction of future developments than Douhet. U.S. Army Air Forces went into the Second World War postured according to Douhet’s ideas—adamant about autonomy and organized for precision, daylight bombing—but experience showed that Mitchell’s multi-role air force was a far superior operational doctrine. Mitchell was correct in expanding the scope of air power from the bomber-centric views of Douhet, but he did not go beyond the essentially classical model also espoused by Mahan. Mahan’s fundamental views on war revolved around the decisive battle of annihilation, and Mitchell voiced a similar bias when he focused the aim of air power on either a decisive battle for air superiority or the complete destruction of the enemy’s air forces on the ground.
There are many striking similarities between Mahan’s and Douhet’s ideas. One championed command of the sea, the other, command of the air. One was fixated on the battleship, the other, the ‘battle plane.’ One became synonymous with decisive battle at sea, the other, for strategic bombing, another form of decisive land battle. Both early theorists developed lopsided theories that were readily picked up by advocates. Both deplored what they saw as the wasteful nature of ancillary efforts (such as raiding and commerce interdiction) or duplicated capabilities in other services (such as naval air power). Mahan continuously advocated rapid decision in naval operations and discounted the role of smaller naval forces in achieving operational advantages over larger opponents by means other than general battle. Douhet—in a clear failure to foresee future warfare—discounted the importance or efficacy of close air support or air interdiction. Each argued, in fact overstated their argument, for the role of sea power and air power in the success of the nation’s political and economic pursuits. Douhet believed categorically that an armored bomber would always be superior to a fighter, while Mahan advocated the biggest, most heavily armored warships possible, while dismissing smaller, faster, and less armored ships as hopelessly outmatched. Both Mahan and Douhet were extreme advocates of a lopsided theory—Mahan’s battleship-heavy fleets seeking decisive battle, and Douhet’s armadas of air bombers crippling enemy nations so much that defense becomes impossible—and had U.S. military forces followed their ideas more closely, disaster could have ensued. Instead Mahan’s ideas were tempered by Corbett’s, and Douhet’s were tempered by the so-called air power moderates.
Corbett seems to have been overshadowed by the wide-spread acclaim of his American counterpart, and overlooked because his theories of naval power do not appear either dramatic or applicable to the golden age of sail—dominated by images of great warships and heroic, gentlemanly commanders. At the dawn of the post-Cold War era, in 1992, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps published a joint strategic white paper entitled “…From the Sea.” This document is wholly consistent with Corbett’s ideas on maritime strategy, according to a report from the National War College. Corbett wrote about certain “functions of the fleet” which “closely parallel the current and future roles for naval forces laid out in ‘…From the Sea’: Operate forward to project a positive American image, build foundations for viable coalitions; Bring to bear decisive power on and below the sea, on land and in the air; Deny access to a regional adversary, interdict the adversary’s movement of supplies by sea, and control the local sea and air.” The following quotation, also from “…From the Sea,” indicates the significant and lasting impact Corbett’s ideas have had on contemporary naval theory: “The phrase constantly used by senior Navy leaders for the past four years has been that naval forces do not win wars: their role is to deter conflict by forward presence and, if that fails, to secure the airfields and ports that will be used to bring the ‘war winning’ forces to the fight.” Where Mahan saw naval warfare as a zero-sum game for command of the seas, Corbett saw naval warfare as almost always more limited, control of the seas could be local or general, lasting or temporary, but in any case, control of the seas was relative.
Of the four, Corbett would be most at home in today’s operating environment and would be most amenable to contemporary joint doctrine. Mahan’s ideas were not validated by subsequent warfare experience; a ‘decisive battles’ period of naval warfare has not occurred again since his publications. Corbett’s ideas have been borne out it many ways from the rise of submarine and naval air warfare to the spread of guerilla naval operations. Douhet advocated an independent air force at the expense of ground and naval forces, instead of predicting the close cooperation between air and ground forces, and the effective application of air power at sea in conjunction with naval forces. The most dramatic element of Corbett’s theory which makes him so relevant today is that he was writing specifically about the kinds of limited wars which seem prevalent today, even though in his day, most writers were concerning themselves with general war—or unlimited war, as was often the term. Corbett saw naval forces as a multi-functional asset to be used in conjunction with other services to project national power, police littoral waters, and decisively shape international relations by influencing crises and providing or enabling humanitarian assistance. Corbett was writing beyond his own times with remarkable clarity and foresight.
1. Michael I. Handel, “Corbett, Clausewitz, and Sun Tzu,” Naval War College Review (Autumn 2000), n.p., http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/navy/art7-a00.htm.
2. Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, “Japanese Maritime Thought: If Not Mahan, Who?” Naval War College Review, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Summer 2006), 26-27.
3. Jon Sumida, “New Insights From Old Books: The Case of Alfred Thayer Mahan,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Summer 2001), 103.
4. Ibid., 102.
5. Jonathan T. James, Countering Naval Guerrilla Warfare - Are Convoys Obsolete? (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1991), 18.
6. Teddy C. Cranford, A Methodology for Developing U.S. Naval Doctrine for the 21st Century (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1995), 22.
7. Ibid., 16.
8. Wayne P. Hughes, “Implementing the Seapower Strategy,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Spring 2008), 52.
9. See Handel.
10. John G. R. Wilson, An Examination of the United States Navy’s Ability to Conduct Operational Fires (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1992), 14.
11. William H. Tomlinson, “The Father of Airpower Doctrine,” Military Review (September 1966), 28.
12. Donald A. Streater, Airpower Theory and Application: An Historical Perspective (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1980), 9.
13. Ibid., 10.
14. Michael J. Eula, “Giulio Douhet and Strategic Air Force Operations: A Study in the Limitations of Theoretical Warfare,” Air University Review (September-October 1986), n.p., http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1986/sep-oct/eula.html.
16. Richard H. Estes, “Giulio Douhet: More on Target Than He Knew,” Airpower Journal (Winter 1990), n.p., http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj90/win90/6win90.htm.
17. Jay Luvaas, “The Great Military Historians and Philosophers,” in A Guide to the Study and Use of Military History, eds. John E. Jessup, Jr. & Robert W. Coakley (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1988), 83.
18. Robert F. Gass, Theory, Doctrine, and Ball Bearings: Applying Future Technology to Warfare (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1997), 3.
19. See David MacIsaac, “Voices from the Central Blue: The Air Power Theorists,” in Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 635.
20. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., In Search Of Quick Decision: The Myth Of The Independent Air Campaign (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1991), 11.
21. Williamson Murray, “British and German Air Doctrine Between the Wars,” Air University Review (March-April 1980), n.p., http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1980/mar-apr/murray.html.
22. On Douhet, see William D. Franklin “Douhet Revisited,” Military Review (November 1967), 67-68.
23. Yoshihara and Holmes, 30.
24. Jon Sumida, “Geography, Technology, And British Naval Strategy In The Dreadnought Era,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Summer 2006), 98.
25. Perry M. Smith, “Douhet and Mitchell: Some Reappraisals,” Air University Review (September-October 1967), n.p., www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1967/sep-oct/smith.html.
26. Henry A. Arnold, The Pegasus, The Dragon, and Air Power: Winged Myths? (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1998), 8.
27. Ibid., 12.
28. Ibid., 9.
29. Streater, 35.
30. Michael J. Forsyth, Defended By Reason: Can Theory Provide Another Approach to Transformation? (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2003), 11.
31. Ibid., 7.
33. The U.S. Navy’s “…From the Sea” Strategy: Sir Julian Corbett Revisited? (Washington, D.C.: National War College, report, 1997), 3-4.
34. Ibid., 7-8.
35. Ibid., 6.
- “A nation is only as strong as its people. To ensure national strength there must be adequate military forces, properly equipped to repel any attacks upon our sovereignty, and such forces must be backed up by a well organized civilian population of high morale which can produce all the necessities for carrying on modern warfare. This unity of military and civilian strength will be only as strong as its weakest component, therefore, we must ensure that all parts of this combination are equally strong.” --- Admiral Chester W. Nimitz quoted in Military Review 27, no. 10 (January 1948): 11.