The Royal Navy and Maritime Power in the Twentieth Century

By Ian Speller | Go to book overview

2

SEA CONTROL IN NARROW WATERS

The Battles of Taranto and Matapan

Jon Robb-Webb

This chapter explores the way in which two battles during the Second World War contributed to securing control of the Mediterranean. It also raises issues concerning the role of airpower, both land and sea based, in this process. The campaign reveals the interrelationship between the three services: army, navy and air force. The entire Mediterranean campaign was dependent upon seapower. If one or other side was able to achieve command of the sea then it would be able to utilise the sea for the transportation of military forces and war material and deny this to its opponent. The Mediterranean could be used as a medium to bring a nation's military power to bear upon the land washed by the sea.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, the American naval theorist, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, argued that the primary function of a navy was to secure one's own means of sea communications. 'If navies, as all agree, exist for the protection of commerce, it inevitably follows that in war they must aim at depriving their enemy of that great resource.' 1 Mahan declared:

It is not the taking of individual ships or convoys, be they few or many, that strikes down the money power of a nation; it is the possession of that overbearing power on the sea which drives the enemy's flag from it, or allows it to appear only as a fugitive; and which by controlling the great common, closes the highways by which commerce moves to and from the enemy's shores. 2

For Mahan this was ideally achieved through a decisive battle that would remove the threat from an opponent's battlefleet, thereby rendering to the victor command of the sea. This command of the sea and the subsequent ability to control sea communications was to be the Royal Navy's preoccupation during the Second World War. The strategic, operational and tactical advantages that flowed from command of the sea were immense. As the Navy's official historian put it:

[C]ontrol of sea communications [is the ability to] enable our trade convoys, our troopships, our cargo vessels and tankers, our coasters

-33-

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The Royal Navy and Maritime Power in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Abbreviations xiv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Transition to War 13
  • 2 - Sea Control in Narrow Waters 33
  • 3 - Sea Denial, Interdiction and Diplomacy 50
  • 4 - Air Power and Evacuations 67
  • 5 - Amphibious Operations 88
  • 6 - Maritime Power and Complex Crises 108
  • 7 - Quarantine Operations 129
  • 8 - Maritime Jurisdiction and the Law of the Sea 148
  • 9 - Naval Diplomacy 164
  • 10 - Operations in a War Zone 181
  • 11 - From Peacekeeping to Peace Enforcement 197
  • Select Bibliography 209
  • Index 215
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