‘Naval Warfare’, J. Thursfield

I thought of writing about dreams, about illusions, of people, possibly about anger/disappointment. Those are, briefly, what I’ve thought about in the last few days. There was also the possibility of perfection. But then I remembered, I finished sir James Thursfield’s ‘Naval Warfare’ earlier today, and that kind of told me that I’ll speak of that book.

Firstly, I feel it important to say that despite being written in the beginning of the previous century, Thursfield manages to convey the fact that most of it that he writes there may well be outdated in a short amount of time but that he will not devolve into speculation — even though the claims he makes (mostly on the differentiation of ships, and how different types will evolve) are well reasoned and logical.

Well reasoned. That is the pair of words that can best describe the book — nearly everything that the naval historian mentions is supported by a daunting amount of logical reasoning which might just make the book a horrific read but somehow it survives this. Truth be said, I nearly did fall asleep while reading it, but that was more a fault of mine than the book’s for I was tired indeed at that specific moment.

Thursfield begins the book by explaining why it is worth to explain naval warfare to the average reader, a quote which I will very happily repost for anyone:

In these days when national policy is at the mercy of the ballot-box, it is not too much to say that a right understanding of the principles of maritime warfare is almost as desirable amongst civilians as amongst professional sailors.

This, in more than one way, captures the soul and spirit of the work — much of it explains what a certain aspect of naval warfare is meant for and how is it used, bringing about quotes by both Alfred Thayer Mahan and other notable admirals (all the rest British though) with examples of the theory at use from mostly Nelson and Togo and a mention of Torrington (of whom I had previously not heard). Likewise, as with the concentration of naval personae being mostly British so also are most of the theoretical situations that are described — which is understandable and does not detract from the value of the book.

To add to the previous explaining bit, what Thursfield does is that he takes the common (and usually misunderstood) claim of what a naval term is meant to mean, and rebuilds it with what it really is. This is true for both the necessary phrases “fleet in being” and “command of the sea” the latter of which he also uses to display a MP being rather not aware of the realities of warfare. This professionalism might well be said to be overly present (as he himself acknowledges in the epilogue) but I would say that he does what he promised to do.

I have therefore lost no opportunity of insisting on them, knowing full well  that it is only by frequent iteration that sound ideas can be implanted in minds not attuned to their reception.

The topics that he covers are rather straightforward: we are introduced to the concept of the command of the sea, then how naval warfare works (all carefully proven with both logic and examples), after which the special occasions of invasions are considered alongside maritime commerce as well as the future of naval warfare in a brief setting.

I will quote another passage which relates directly to the matter at hand:

It is unbecoming to assume that in the crisis of his country’s fate an admiral will act either as a fool or as a poltroon. It is the country’s fault if a man capable of so acting is placed in supreme command, and for that there is no remedy. But it is sounder to assume that the admiral selected for command is a man not incapable of disposing his force to the best advantage. “We must,” said Lord Goschen, on one occasion, “put our trust in Providence and a good admiral.” If a nation cannot find a good admiral in its need it is idle to trust in Providence.

And on that note, I conclude. In short: a perfection of a different sort.

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  1. Good review. I still don’t get his argument about the ballot box. Frankly, it sound great, but it makes no sense :). It does sound like an interesting book.

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