Sea Soldiers in the Cold War: Amphibious Warfare, 1945-1991

Article excerpt

SEA SOLDIERS IN THE COLD WAR: Amphibious Warfare, 19451991, by Joseph H. Alexander and Merrill L. Bartlett. 178 pages. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. 1996. $32.95.

In 1949, only four years after Hiroshima was bombed, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Omar N. Bradley stated that the atomic bomb precluded the possibility of another large scale amphibious operation. Yet within a year, the Inch'on invasion was launched, signaling the first of several small wars that occurred throughout the Cold War. Joseph H. Alexander and Merrill L. Bartlett provide a chronological account of the expansion in Cold War military thinking from an exclusive emphasis on strategic bombing and "blue water" operations to an appreciation of amphibious operations as a force projector in non-nuclear scenarios.

Because the principles of amphibious warfare have not changed since Demosthenes invaded Pylos during the Peloponnesian Wars in 425 B.C., assaults from the sea still provide a force multiplier that can be employed against flash points in today's multipolar world.

Although amphibious operations are difficult to execute and seldom decisive, they can regain the military initiative, open new fronts and create feints or distractions while establishing a strategic offense and a tactical defense. Sea Soldiers in the Cold War analyzes the evolution of these amphibious capabilities, using mid-intensity conflicts such as Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, the Yom Kippur War, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands as case studies.

The authors also detail the decline and subsequent resurgence of the US amphibious capability. Traditional US Navy-Marine Corps cooperation declined during the Vietnam War because the Marine Corps became preoccupied with land-based counterinsurgency warfare. After the war, the Marines had to rekindle previous fleet links and redefine their roots as "amphibious grunts" in the "gator navy.`' Simultaneously, dozens of world crises involving the military illustrated a need for humanitarian, special forces and contingency operations with sealift, maritime pre-positioning and over-the-horizon capabilities. These requirements necessitated technological innovations that emphasized speed, surprise and maneuverability to enable Marines to attack the rear and flanks of a landing beach attack as opposed to costly, time-consuming frontal assaults.

Speed and reduced vulnerability were enhanced by the helicopter, lighterthan-air assault craft, pre-assault fires and improved surfing capabilities. Research was also started on tilt-rotor technology and a NAVSTAR global positioning system. Yet interservice problems remained, and Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman described the US invasion of Grenada as "a four-5ervice extravaganza," while condemning Washington's obsession with jointness.

One of the most interesting chapters deals with the Royal Navy's amphibious operations in the Falklands conflict. Britain's amphibious capability had atrophied: The combined arms (artillery and engineer) capability of the Royal Marines was lacking; and the Royal Navy had not landed an amphibious force of brigade size since the Suez Crisis of 1956. The operation, a testimony to skilled planning and operational initiative, barely succeeded. Nevertheless, it showed that the projection of seapower ashore could succeed, even at great distances. On the international level, this small war focused the great powers on the priority of projection forces and rapidly deployable military capabilities. The invasion reaffirmed the amphibious assault as a viable option in naval warfare and reinforced the role of vertical takeoff aircraft in close air support operations. …