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21st Century Corbett: Maritime Strategy and Naval Policy for the Modern Era,, by Andrew Lambert, editor

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 158. Notes. $21.95 paper. ISBN: 1682471683.

How a Long Dead Strategist Can Help Modern Naval Thinkers

Although not as well known in American circles as his friend, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Julian S. Corbett (1854-1922) was arguably the better naval thinker. The case for him is rather well made in this selection of essays from Corbett’s works, with a commentary by Prof. Lambert (King’s College London).

Corbett differed from Mahan in several ways. The principal difference was that Corbett argued that that “command of the seas” is never absolute. That is, one cannot control the seas the way one controls land.

Perhaps the best illustration of the importance of his argument is the Mediterranean Campaign from the “Operation Torch” landings in northwestern Africa in November of 1942 through the surrender of Axis forces in Tunisia in early May of 1945, despite overwhelming Allied naval – and air – superiority from late 1942 onwards, the Allies could not prevent Axis use of the seas to reinforce their troops in North Africa, albeit at a steep price. This argument can be bolstered by noting the remarkable success the Japanese had in getting reinforcements to Guadalcanal despite increasing maritime dominance, and later in evacuating the remnants of their forces from the island, albeit at cost.

A volume in the Naval Institute Press series “21st Century Foundations”, these seven essays and Lambert’s commentary, offer important insights into Corbett’s thinking, which were essential for the development of the concept of “sea control” underpinning modern American naval policy.

Note: 21st Century Corbett is also available in several e-editions

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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