Naval War College
TRUE OR FALSE:
“THE ABILITY OF AMPHIBIOUS FORCE TO INFLICT GRAVE INJURY UPON THE FOE IS USUALLY IMMENSE. THE CAPABILITY OF PURELY NAVAL FORCE TO CAUSE THE ADVERSARY DAMAGE IS OFTEN VERY LIMITED.”
A paper submitted to the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College in partial satisfaction of the Department of Strategy & Policy.
The contents of this paper reflect my own personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by the Naval War College or the Department of the Navy.
4 March, 2005
To suggest the ability of amphibious force to inflict “grave” injury on the foe is “usually immense” is probably an overstatement. The degree to which “grave” injury can be inflicted is dependent upon several factors, while the regularity with which this has been successfully achieved has varied throughout history. To suggest the capability of a “purely” naval force to cause the adversary damage is often very limited is probably accurate, however, there are historical exceptions and the statement’s accuracy depends somewhat on how one defines “purely naval force”.
First and foremost, both Mahan, and especially Corbett would agree that the ability to conduct successful amphibious operations is dependent upon achieving, and usually maintaining at least a local command of the sea. Assuming this criterion is met, amphibious force does offer great flexibility in one’s ability to inflict damage upon the enemy, but often not without limitations and not without risk. While amphibious ops can inflict grave injury to the enemy, sufficient ground (and possibly air) forces are necessary to achieve success. Committing such forces puts them at risk of their own destruction. Finally, amphibious invasion often implies the opening of another, sometimes periphery front. If this is the case, the opening of a second front can have larger positive and negative strategic implications that can enhance or detract from the relative value of the damage inflicted upon the enemy and upon one’s own forces by the amphibious invasion.
Assuming a local command of the sea, amphibious capability provides strategic options to inflict damage upon the enemy. By merely possessing amphibious capability, a nation can inflict a weakening affect upon the enemy by forcing him to disperse his forces disproportionately in order to meet the various potential threats presented by invasion. Examples of this include Britain vs. France when Napoleon was force to tie up 300K troops, and similarly Germany in WWII. In both cases, significant forces were prevented from being used elsewhere, thus weakening the enemy over all. Even as recently as the Persian Gulf War, the threat of a Marine Corps invasion north of the main action tied down significant forces, causing dispersion and thus weakening the enemy. In this case, merely the threat of amphibious invasion enhanced the damage inflicted upon the dispersed enemy that was engaged directly by traditional ground forces.
A nation possessing amphibious capability may engage in periphery actions designed to inflict limited damage upon the enemy, or in rare cases where sufficient land (and sometimes air) force is available, to employ the Clauswitzian approach of concentrating on an enemy’s center of gravity. Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and Britain’s invasion of the Spanish Peninsula are examples of unsuccessful and successful periphery operations. The damage inflicted by amphibious invasion can be particularly effective (or “grave”) in a limited war where its impacts are often magnified and less likely to be “periphery” in nature. Such was the case with the Japanese invasion of the Liaotung Peninsula that isolated Port Arthur. Although the damage inflicted by this and subsequent actions was not decisive in the sense that it directly threatened...
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