Book Review: Combined Operations: A Global History of Amphibious and Airborne Warfare


by Jeremy Black

Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017. Pp. xiv, 240. Notes, biblio., index. $35.00 paper. ISBN: 1442276932

A Survey History of Amphibious and “Triphibious” Operations

Prof. Black (Exeter), author of The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon, The Great War and the Making of the Modern World, and many other works that examine events and trends in history within their larger framework, considers the origins and evolution of amphibious – and “triphibious” – warfare, from the earliest times to the present, with some thoughts on its future. He deals with the projection of military power from the water – the sea, rivers, even lakes – to the land, and eventually to the development and rise of airborne forces. As appropriate Black discusses technology, doctrine, and organization.

Black approaches the subject chronologically. His first two chapters offer an overview of developments from antiquity through the seventeenth century. The subsequent chapters deal with more recent events in greater detail, so that World War I and the interwar period each get a chapter, while World War II has two, as does the post-war era.

Black does not limit himself to the Western experience. He looks at trends and events not only across the ages, but also almost literally in every corner of the world. So, for example, Black notes that the decline of northern Canada’s Paleo-Eskimo Dorset culture resulted from the use of superior watercraft by the invading Thule people from Alaska around 1,000 BC, while in more recent times non-state actors such as the Tamil Tigers, Al-Qaeda, and Laskar-e-Taiba have conducted successful operations from the sea, even as their opponents used the sea to support operations against them. In between he gives us looks at riverine warfare on the Niger, the protracted Christian-Moslem struggle for control of the Mediterranean, Mongol efforts to invade Japan, the unification of Hawaii, and much more. He examines the role of sea-borne forces in the Anglo-French contest for North America and the American Revolution, through operations from the sea during the Napoleonic Wars, amphibious operations in the civil wars in the U.S. and Spain, and, of course, covers the world wars in considerable detail.

In his analysis, Black comments on the fact that the combined operations aspects of some events are not always obvious: for example, the protracted Venetian defense of Candia (1648-1669) and Wellington’s campaigns in the Peninsula (1807-1814) depended wholly on support from the sea, while the Allied campaign in northwestern Europe in 1944-1945 was essentially a combined operation, sustained by both naval and airborne forces, from D-Day to VE-Day.

Given that this is a survey of the evolution of combined operations, it’s likely that Black’s treatment of some events will be found wanting by those very familiar with them. Nevertheless, this volume, one of a series that Black is writing on the several dimensions of warfare (land, sea, air, and now combined) is an essential read for anyone interested in military operations from the sea.

Note: Combined Operations, is also available in hardback and e-editions.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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