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If Mahan Ran the Great Pacific War

An Analysis of World War II Naval Strategy

John A. Adams

Publication Year: 2008

Alfred Thayer Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1660--1783) was one of the most influential books on military strategy in the first half of the 20th century. A core text in the naval war colleges of the United States, Britain, and Japan, Mahan's book shaped doctrine for the conduct of war at sea. Adams uses Mahan's ideas to discuss the great Pacific sea battles of World War II and to consider how well they withstood the test of actual combat. Reexamining the conduct of war in the Pacific from a single analytic viewpoint leads to some surprising conclusions about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of the Coral Sea, the recapture of the Philippines, and the submarine war. Naval historians and armchair strategists alike will find much food for thought in these engrossing pages.

Published by: Indiana University Press

List of Maps

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

"As a graduate student in the early 1970s, I had the privilege of studying economic history under the tutelage of Dr. Stanley Engerman. He taught his students that history should be more than a compilation from the records of an extended 'he said, she said.' Many historical events occur because more or less..."

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1. Sink Ten Ships and We Win the War!

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pp. 1-33

"Ironically, Alfred Thayer Mahan was born at West Point in 1840. His father was on the faculty of the United States Military Academy. From an early age, Alfred was exposed to martial thinking, but he eschewed the army for a career at sea. After attending Columbia he received appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, His career as a naval line officer drew little attention. While his competence..."

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2. Initial Japanese Strategic Choices

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pp. 35-60

"The underlying causes of, as well as the buildup to, the summer of 1941 are beyond the scope of this work. Only a few salient points that emotionally and culturally frame the strategic thinking of the period will be touched on. Needless to say, the antagonists didn't like each other."

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3. Pearl Harbor

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pp. 61-98

"In 1948, Admiral Morison summed up the impact of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor: “One can search military history in vain for an operation more fatal to the aggressor. On the tactical level, the Pearl Harbor attack wrongly concentrated on ships rather than on permanent installations and oil tanks. On the strategic..."

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4. Yamamoto Defies Mahan

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pp. 99-124

"Nagumo’s strike force steamed into Japanese waters from its Hawaii strike on 23 December. The Home Islands were awash in great news. On 10 December destruction of battlewagons Prince of Wales and Repulse had gutted British naval power in the Pacific. General Yamashita, “the Tiger of Malaya,” was racing toward Singapore. That British bastion was doomed. Thailand had capitulated...."

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5. Guadalcanal

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pp. 125-167

"Midway shocked Japan’s naval leadership. Four carriers had been lost. This was a major reverse, but their job was to recover and again seek decisive battle. The disaster was concealed from the Japanese public—and from the army as well. Many senior naval officers saw it as the result of a cruel turn of fate rather than the prowess of the American navy."

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6. Central Versus South Pacific

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pp. 169-218

"As the vein-popping tests of strength in and around Guadalcanal faded toward the end of 1942, America worldwide grand strategy had become firmly set. Germany was the greater treat. The first priority was, in concer with our British and Soviet allies, to defeat Hitler."

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7. Two Prongs Divide the Fleet

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pp. 219-255

"Finally the signal flags had been set to gather the American fleet into the central Pacific. Much has been made of the educational value of the invasion of Tarawa. In 1942 Nimitz made desperate moves to confront the Japanese fleet at Coral Sea and Midway. By mid-1943, the correct solution was to force the Japanese fleet to deal with the U.S. Navy. Just as Nimitz was about to take a giant leap into what..."

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8. Decisive Combat in the Marianas

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pp. 257-297

"To Admiral King, the Marianas had long seemed the way to the western Pacific. Their significance could not be impressed upon General Marshall, but after more than a year of discussion Hap Arnold eventually came to see that his B-29 bombers would find roosts in the Marianas to be far more utilitarian than the..."

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9. From Honolulu’s Conferencetable to Leyte’s Mud

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pp. 299-330

"By 1944, the American navy had learned much about sustaining fleets that ranged a long way from home port. Despite a shortage of refrigerated replenishment ships, naval supply officers could provide fresh provisions over 80 percent of the time. Ships could stay at sea as long as 'sixty days before the sailors began serious grumbling about their food.'1 Refueling at sea had long since been mastered. The Big Blue Fleet had eight..."

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10. The Naval Campaign for the Philippines

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pp. 331-361

"Previously it was not considered feasible to send carriers into areas defended in depth by land-based air. However, Nimitz was ready to do this in the Philippines. 'He hoped the attacks on the Philippines might precipitate another fleetaction' and destroy enough Japanese airpower, thereby 'creating an opportunity for the Allies to secure control over the approaches to the Luzon-Formosa-China..."

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11. Mahan and the Submariners

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pp. 363-378

"In the age of sail frigates could be assigned to one of two alternative missions. Either they could scout for and support the battle fleet or they could be assigned to commerce raiding. Through a good part of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British had the dominant fleet. The French, not being able to compete on the gun line, emphasized commerce raiding as a way to win the naval aspect of a war."

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12. Dulling the Mighty Blade

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pp. 379-398

"After the great sea battles around the Philippines, the Japanese surface navy ceased to exist as a threat to massed American sea power. Japanese submarines posed little threat. They had no capability to conduct a commerce raiding campaign against the Americans. On the other hand, the American submarine campaign was strangling the Land of the Rising Sun."

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13. B-San

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pp. 399-415

"The first ones looked to some Japanese like small silver sailing toys hanging way up in the air. Somehow they were beautiful as they crawled across the sky 30,000 feet above the ground. Another of America’s scientific achievements; a technological marvel."


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pp. 417-440


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pp. 441-446


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pp. 447-458

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000293
E-ISBN-10: 0253000297
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253351050

Page Count: 472
Illustrations: 2 b&w photos, 13 maps
Publication Year: 2008