‘Naval Leadership’ docks at Greenwich

‘Naval Leadership’ docks at Greenwich

The University of Westminster’s Richard Harding delivered the keynote address at ‘The State of Maritime History Research’ at the University of Greenwich 9 September organised by The Society of Nautical Research with understanding maritime history research the theme of his address. UWP were pleased to make available for sale print copies of Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World: The Age of Reform and Revolution co-edited by Professor Harding and Agustín Guimerá to attendees. The book is also free to download. Recently reviewed by The Mariner’s Mirror praising the book for its ‘transnational scope. Here is an extract from the book’s Afterword on questions still to be addressed in maritime research on naval leadership and some contrasts with land warfare.

There is no doubt that the period between 1700 and 1850 saw major social, political and economic changes. There is equally no doubt that naval leadership penetrated far more deeply into the public consciousness by the end of the period, principally as a result of the wars of 1793–1815. However, what is far less clear is how far the practice of officership actually changed in the period. Compared to the dramatic tactical and operational changes in land warfare brought about by the ‘levée en masse’ and Napoleonic organisation, the war at sea seems to have retained its essential character from the ancien régime. The totality of land warfare, with societies engaged more fully in all aspects of conflict from large-scale conventional armies to guerrilla wars and intense economic engagement, seemed to be of a different character from the wars that had dominated the previous 100 years. From it there seemed to emerge a more professional approach to war and a desire to establish a universal theory of war which developed during the nineteenth century. Social background and courage in the field were still vital attributes, but there were the faltering first steps towards a more professionally educated army officer and a more ‘scientifically’ organised military force; the latter eventually being exemplified by the Prussian Great General Staff. Navies appear to have been untouched by this military revolution. The technologies remained largely unchanged. The organisation of navies, their operational imperatives and tactical concepts were very similar to those that had been inherited from previous generations. The idea of a universal theory of naval warfare only really attracted interest in the last decade of the nineteenth century. This needs far more investigation across a range of navies, and it is probably wise to be cautious at this stage about drawing too large a distinction between the higher education of naval and army officers in this period. Progress in military education was slow and varied greatly between states. Officers in both armies and navies had to master the essentials of their professions. Surviving at sea required a far more demanding and formally tested initial education than that required on land. This understanding applied to both naval officers and the common seaman. Both services relied on the ability of officers to command a disciplined performance from soldiers and sailors. Both services were strongly influenced by a geometric approach to movement and manoeuvre. There was always a fundamental difference in the demands placed upon army and naval officers, however. Armies are essentially people who have weapons, and in the chaos of combat people have options. Maintaining control in a crisis was an important role for an army officer. Conversely, ships are weapons that have people. The weapon only works when the people are carrying out their function exactly as demanded. Individual options in combat are very limited and the nature of control in a crisis consequently differed. While this is a highly simplistic distinction, it points to the fact that from daily routines of existence to the ultimate crisis of battle, armies and navies were different.

Image from book cover:  Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University, USA 



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