J. Sills O'Keefe - The Role of Amphibious Warfare in British Defence Policy, 1945-1956 (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 292-293

The Role of Amphibious Warfare in British Defence Policy, 1945-1956. By Ian Speller. London and New York: Palgrave, 2001. ISBN 0-333-80097-4. Tables. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xi, 250. £50.00.

Amphibious operations have long played an important role in British military history. Indeed, they remain one of the Royal Navy's "core capabilities" and the largest addition to the surface fleet in the last decade was the new amphibious assault carrier, HMS Ocean. While much of the history of these operations is well documented, the period immediately following the Second World War has been largely ignored. In this revision of his doctoral dissertation, Ian Speller has begun to fill that important void.

The primary goal of this well-written monograph is to discuss the reasons why the British lacked any substantial amphibious forces through the immediate postwar decade and how this situation placed significant limits on the options available when faced with various crises throughout the period. Speller begins with a brief account of British amphibious warfare through World War II and the strategic theory behind it. His account is both interesting and vital to an understanding of the postwar situation. Unlike the United States Marine Corps, the British had no single service responsible for amphibious operations. Instead, they had the interservice Combined Operations Headquarters, later Amphibious Warfare Headquarters (COHQ/ AWHQ). The author rightly, and repeatedly, argues that this situation was seriously flawed in that "being the general responsibility of all, amphibious [End Page 292] warfare was the particular responsibility of none" (p. 12).

Speller is particularly strong in his account of the organization of COHQ and the service antipathy it faced. With the severe postwar cutbacks, COHQ was the unwanted stepchild of the services, particularly the Royal Navy. While the Army wanted to plan for future operations based on a return to the Continent, as in the last war, the navy bore the brunt of the costs. The Admiralty had been suspicious of COHQ since the July 1940 appointment of irascible old Admiral Sir Roger Keyes as Director of Combined Operations; it did not relish the manpower and shipping requirements for such an unglamorous role. This lack of urgency and the severe financial restrictions were largely responsible for the lack of operational capability. The consequences of this in the Abadan and Suez crises are also well explained.

This book is not without its flaws, however. For one thing, the tale is told in somewhat of a situational vacuum. There is practically no discussion of Britain's strategic situation, which would give this account a much-needed sense of "place." Furthermore, while he discusses amphibious training in a general way, Speller goes into little detail regarding the specifics of this training or the doctrine upon which it was based. Finally, Speller has an annoying habit of introducing individuals while not mentioning their first names, often not even in the index.

The more substantial of these criticisms could be due to the monograph's length. In the end, however, Speller has produced a very solid foundation upon which to begin the study of Britain's postwar amphibious policy and organization. This book will be a useful addition to staff college and other service libraries. It should also be useful to those interested in the postwar Royal Navy, British defense policy, and anyone interested in the formulation of policy, particularly in "joint-service" organizations.


J. Sills O'Keefe
Norfolk Academy
Norfolk, Virginia

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.