Book Review: American Amphibious Warfare: The Roots of Tradition to 1865


by Gary J. Ohls

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. xxv, 278. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1682470881

Learning to Land on "That Silent Shore"

Ohls, a former Marine and retired Naval War College professor, is the author of several works on naval operations, and in this work examines early American experiences in amphibious warfare that presaged the development of modern amphibious doctrine.

After introductory remarks on the early history of amphibious activity, and the little known, but surprisingly successful experience by Britain’s colonies in America with such operations, Ohls covers this early period in the American experience with amphibious warfare in seven chapters; two on the Revolutionary War, and then one each on the Tripoli War and the War of 1812, two on the Mexican War, and one on the Civil War. Each chapter outlines overall events in the period covered, and then focuses on one illustrative operation. Impressively, unlike most writers on the subject, Ohls includes the defense against amphibious landings in his coverage. So we get fairly detailed looks at the American response to British operations against New York in 1776 and Washington-Baltimore in 1814, as well as the complex Franco-American land-sea operations during the Yorktown Campaign (1781), and the American operations against Derna in Tripoli (1805), California and Vera Cruz during the Mexican War (1846-1848), and for the Civil War (1861-1865), the two attempts to capture Fort Fisher.

Ohls’ basic thesis is that the planning and execution of these campaigns was largely based on the experience of senior officers, since neither the Army nor the Navy had a mechanism for the systematic analysis and preservation of “lessons learned” on which to build a doctrine. Ohls illustrates the point most effective by noting that it was several veterans of Fort Fisher who planned and conducted of the landings during the Spanish-American War, which went moderately well. But it was in the aftermath of that war that the amphibious mission began to attract the attention of the Marine Corps, which led to the development of modern amphibious doctrine.

A volume in the series “New Perspectives on Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology”, American Amphibious Warfare: The Roots of Tradition to 1865 is a useful book for anyone with an interest in amphibious operations, and also for anyone studying the wars which it covers.


Note: American Amphibious Warfare is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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