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Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 353-355

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Book Review

Navies in History

Navies in History. By CLARK G. REYNOLDS. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998. Pp. xi + 267. $35.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

Few, if any scholars, are as well prepared as Clark Reynolds to undertake the daunting task in surveying and assessing the impact of navies on world affairs from ancient times to the present. In seventeen [End Page 353] chapters, including two chapters on the period before 1500, three on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and three each on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to five on the twentieth century, Reynolds explains how continental and maritime powers have utilized their navies in the inevitable struggle to gain power. His focus is worldwide, including brief coverage even of South and East Asian naval forces from the sixth through the sixteenth centuries.

In clear, crisp prose Reynolds demonstrates that great maritime powers have traditionally acted offensively and employed strong battle fleets to defend against invasion, protect their merchant shipping and attack that of the enemy, blockade enemy coasts, engage in combined operations, and, during the twentieth century, to conduct strategic bombardment. Great continental powers have usually adopted a defensive naval posture, maintained much smaller fleets, and used them mainly to defend their coastal waters and to raid the commerce of their enemies. During the twentieth century, the Soviet Union, a continental power, also developed and maintained a strategic bombardment capability in the form of missile-firing submarines. Less powerful states, those dominated by relationships to great powers, such as the United States for at least its first fifty years of independence, have maintained relatively small navies and used them primarily to defend against invasion, police local waters, and to attack enemy commerce as well as smaller enemy warships. In major conflicts between maritime and continental powers, victory had usually gone to the maritime nation.

Reynolds most thoroughly develops his arguments in the chapters on the twentieth century. Readers familiar with comparisons of Japan to Great Britain by other historians and by geographers may be surprised at Reynolds's assertion that Imperial Japan was a continental power whose navy "had little choice but to follow the army's dictates" in a fundamentally continental strategy aimed not at establishing hegemony in East Asia but at countering the expansion of Soviet Russia. Most specialists would accept his assessment of China's contribution to the defeat of Japan in World War II, "the greatest sea war in history," but many would question the credit he assigns to Russia when he says that "critical to U. S. victory . . . was defeat by the Soviet army" (p. 217). Japan's fate was sealed by the time the Soviet Union entered the war, on 9 August 1945, the day Nagasaki was struck by an American atomic bomb, delivered, like that dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, by an Army Air Force B-29 flying from an airfield on an island captured by amphibious forces a year earlier. By August 1945U. S. carrier planes had pummeled much of Japan and aircraft and submarines had isolated the Japanese Home Islands from forces in China [End Page 354] and Korea. Japan was defeated whether Soviet Russia entered the war or not. Reynolds's assessments of the "Iberian Global Empires (ca. 1500-ca. 1600)," "Dutch Naval Mastery (1590s-1670s)," the nineteenth-century "British Pax," and the "American Pax (1946-)" are more conventional, but contain insights enough to hold the interest of even specialists.

Individuals who have read Reynolds's magisterial Command of the Sea: The History and Strategy of Maritime Empires (1974) will find little new in this volume, though most will find it a useful summary of his basic ideas. Reynolds's thought-provoking assessments of why some navies succeed and others fail are of great value to naval professionals and defense policymakers. Reynolds's intended audience, general readers and college students, will find much of value both in the main text and in the supporting maps of strategic regions, the diagrams of what Reynolds considers history's most...