- Sea Power Ashore and in the Air
Today, argues Andrew Lambert in the opening salvo of this book, "Nowhere on earth is safe from maritime power projection" (p. 30). Indeed, he continues, further clarifying the book's theme, expeditionary warfare must be our "current concern" (p. 31). In nineteen essays, including Lambert's, authors examine why this is so. In the process, they discuss more than one hundred years of naval power projection, from the blockade of Weihaiwei in the Sino-Japanese War to recent operations in East Timor, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The products of a naval history conference held in Canberra in 2005, most of the essays concern the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) or the Royal Navy – including their air arms - often as integral parts of joint or multinational forces. Predictably, Gallipoli receives considerable attention, as do World War II amphibious operations from North Africa to Okinawa, and Cold War efforts in Korea and Vietnam. Among the less familiar topics are RAN Beach Commandos in the Pacific, the role of the US Navy in the civil war in China (1945-47), submarine "virtual" warfare under the northern ice cap, sea power in peace operations, and naval contributions to the conflicts in Lebanon-Jordan (1958), Kuwait (1961), the East African Mutiny (1964), and the Somalia campaign (1992-93). For this reader, part of the refreshing appeal of the volume is the opportunity it affords to view even familiar engagements from the less familiar Australian point of view.
Perhaps inevitably, this book- like most collections of essays - is of mixed quality. On the whole, though, the standard is high. The essays vary in length [End Page 586] from six pages to twenty, and some still bear the marks of compression common to conference papers. This is a handicap when it precludes context, as it does in one or two, although the best, like David Hobbs's three case histories of joint and coalition warfare, or Sarah Paine's "Weihaiwei," manage to convey the essence of the historical and theoretical setting in a few sentences. The weaknesses have little to do with sources. Whether based on primary or secondary sources, personal experience, or some combination of these, the essays are well-researched and appropriately supported. A few, however, are too narrowly focused, weak on analysis, or tentative in their conclusions. Most of the contributors are naval historians and some are retired naval officers whose writing is informed by practical experience. A fine example of this is David Farthing's humorous yet incisive firsthand account of the RAN's air mobile operations in Vietnam.
In general, the contributors agree on the lessons hammered home in the book. Although blue water fleet engagements are – for now – a thing of the past, navies have never been more important because of the prevalence of expeditionary warfare and the asymmetry of 21st century conflicts. This ensures that maritime forces can increasingly influence events ashore. What John Connor calls the "wide repertoire of naval capabilities" (p. 247) suits them perfectly for the multi-role and joint nature of future operations. The authors argue convincingly that the continuing relevance of navies in the post-Cold War world will depend on the skill with which they exploit this reality.