The utility of navy in war cannot be overestimated. Throughout history navy would play an extremely important role in fighting and assuring success not only on sea but also on the ground and in the air. Navy typically is considered to be a strategic arm of the military and its presence around the globe assures dominance of a certain country in that territory. The following essay will speak about the role of naval forces in warfare.
The roles of navy are presented in the naval strategy, or the planning and conduct of warfare at sea. The naval strategy assures victory not only at sea but also on the ground through disposition of naval force by which a commander secures the advantage of fighting at a place convenient to himself and the best possible deception of the rival. The naval tactics, on the other hand deal with exact disposition of ships and maneuvering to assure victory (Keegan, 2002).
The primary aims of the navy during war are to do the following:
- Keep the coast of one’s own country free from enemy attacks.
- Secure peaceful trade at home and with the friendly countries.
- Destruction of the enemy fleet or confining it to the port.
- Preventing enemy trade with other countries.
- Support of other friendly forces from sea, transportation of army units, acquisition of superiority at the shore.
Throughout history, the fleet would play exactly the same roles in military campaigns. For instance during the Napoleonic wars Great Britain would use its navy to prevent France from attacking Great Britain and efficient trade with the American colonies. The British Royal navy would create a blockage around France to assure that no French ships be their military, transport or trade leave France. Here one can observe that the fleet plays a strategic role of preventing efficient communications of the enemy and its access to resources (Warry, 1995).
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When Denmark and Norway despite being neutral started to trade with France and created a navy, the British after the first and second Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 would capture Danish fleet to prevent it from assisting the enemy. The Danish government would engage in guerilla tactics of attacking with small yet powerful ships large British ships in the Danish and Norwegian waters. Only in 1812, Great Britain would put an end to this war by destroying all Danish ships (Asprey, 2000).
Another battle would be fought at Trafalgar, when the French wanted to break through the British naval blockage yet lost the battle. After losing in the battle the military superiority at sea was given to Great Britain which reigned at the sea throughout the XIX century.
The role of a powerful navy was understood in ancient times. During the Peloponnesian War the ships were used not only for attacking purposes to govern at sea but also for transportation purposes to move the ground troops from one area to another (Hanson, 1989). Usually these ships would carry troops directly to the enemy ports or neighboring areas and released them to wage war. The navy would constantly back up the troops and when the enemy overpowered them would pick up the remaining troops and removed them from ground operations. The navy would blockage the trade ships from moving goods to the enemy towns. For instance, one such famous blockage took place in 406 when Spartan fleet led by Callicratidas blockaded the Athenian fleet at Conon and Mitylene ports. It took the Athenian fleet to move directly from Athenian port to get into the naval battle to kill Callicratidas to remove the blockade and see Sparta offer peace (Kagan, 1987).
Later in 405BC when Lysander captured the whole Athenian fleet and cut of the grain trade from Athens by sea. Athens had little choice but to capitulate. One should noted that King Pausanius would hold a land blockade to prevent land trade. After six months of blockade Athens surrendered (Hackett, 1989).
Speaking about the Russo-Japanese war, one should note that the navy once again played an instrumental role in the war to assure superiority of one party. The navy campaign started in February of 1904 when the Japanese attacked the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. The goal was to destroy the Russian fleet in the pacific ocean and thus allow Japan to move troops to occupy the needed territories in Korea and Manchuria. The attack was indeed successful because of its surprise. The unprepared Russian fleet suffered greatly and had to move into the port to obtain support from the port canon defenses. This move prevented the Japanese from landing directly at Port Arthur, yet the absence of the Russian fleet allowed the Japanese troops to land in Korea near Incheon. Later such landing allowed the Japanese to occupy all Korea and move into Manchuria.
The modern navy is certainly more advanced than in the past, therefore, it can engage in more complex campaigns and operations and be used as a powerful attack unit on land and coastal targets. In the past the navy could not effectively attack ports due to fortifications and firepower superiority at land. Basically the ancient navy was unable to carry heavy long-range canons that one could place on shores. Furthermore, the ancient ships were unable to sustain much damage from the land-based weapons hidden by the stone walls (Keegan, 2002). It is for this reason the navy’s role was to clear the sea and assure proper landing of ground troops on the enemy territories. The wide range missiles can effectively allow navy to attack ports and fortified harbors and as in the past assure control of the sea in addition to control of the coasts. The modern day far-range missiles launched from ships can be just as powerful as those launched from the ground with no stone walls being an effective fortification. Thus, the modern navy would be more effectively in surprise attack on the harbors and ports in addition to sea control and ground troops landing support.
In conclusion it should be noted that the role of navy in war and military operations is extremely important due to the specifics of the naval force. Throughout history the navy proved to be extremely important for land defense and blockade formation purposes. Just like Sparta blocked Athens from trade during the Peloponnesian Wars so did the British during the Napoleonic war to keep the French out of Americas. The Japanese by defeating the Russian fleet in the pacific ocean virtually controlled the coast and thus kept Russia out of reach of Japan during the war and assured successful landing of the Japanese troops in Korea. The modern navy, unlike the ancient navy has more wide range weapons and therefore, can more effectively can effectively engage in attacks on ports and shores.
Hackett, General Sir John, 1989, Warfare in the ancient World, Facts on File, New York. Pp.102-104.
Hanson, Victor Davis, 1989. The Western Way of War, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Pp.58-60
Kagan, Donald, 1987, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, Cornell University Press, Ithica, pp.134-136.
Warry, John, 1995, Warfare in the Classical World, Salamander Books, NY. Pp.210-212.
Asprey, Robert 2000. The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books. Pp.367-369.
Jukes, Geoffrey, 2003. The Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905, McGraw Hill, pp.178-181.
Keegan, John, 2002. The Price of Admiralty : The Evolution of Naval Warfare, Barrons books, pp.60-61.