DOUGLAS MACARTHUR – A Man Deeply Flawed: How Did He Do It? Part I

“It would mean a great deal to me if you have a moment in which to favor me with a letter from the man who, I think, is the greatest general in the history of the United States Army.”


February 1946

“Thanks—I only wish I merited so high an opinion.”


DOUGLAS MACARTHUR’S BATTLEFIELD career rates him a seat of honor in any military Valhalla. But generals nowadays not only have to win wars, they have to win the peace. For his performance in Japan, Douglas MacArthur rates a seat of honor in the peace Valhalla as well. Richard Nixon, in his list of seven twentieth-century leaders who changed the world, cited Douglas MacArthur (along with Shigeru Yoshida).

Leaders can be classified as two types, normal and extreme. Normal leaders fit well in an organization and seek minimal risks and incremental returns. Extreme leaders are self-centered and narcissistic, and attribute success to their own unique capabilities. More than normal leaders, they will take risks that may have a low probability of success but offer exceptionally high rewards. When they are successful in concluding an enterprise nobody else would have undertaken, they are called geniuses—and fabulous reputations are made.

Military organizations rarely have an egotist like MacArthur at the top. They are, after all, highly homogenous institutions in which officers have gone to the same types of schools and undergone the same rigorous training and the same intense evaluations at every step of their careers—meaning that potential wild cards get weeded out. MacArthur in 1935 was essentially “finished,” and so he took a job with Quezon in the Philippines. Only the onset of World War II brought him back into the U.S. Army full-time, and the only reason Truman chose him to run Japan was that he had just come back from Potsdam and knew he needed a general who would be tough with the Russians. In a sense, therefore, MacArthur owed his appointment as much to Joseph Stalin as to President Truman.

Truman knew he was taking a risk with MacArthur, but Japan was ten thousand miles away, a place safe to assign a man who might succeed brilliantly—or fail catastrophically. Said George Marshall to Henry Stimson in 1944: MacArthur was “so prone to exaggerate and so influenced by his own desires that it is difficult to trust his judgment.” Be that as it may, no one could question the man’s idealism, intellect, or capacity for hard work. The job was a big one, and called for a man who was aggressive and daring, not a yes-man. Japan in 1945 was in desperate straits. It needed a man capable of making a huge impact.

One might describe this situation as the “plight of the conqueror.” In a book about her service during the occupation, Honor Tracy identified what MacArthur was up against:

The people of an occupied country can have no sincere feeling towards the conqueror, except to wish him gone. No matter how laudable are his intentions, or even how useful he may sometimes be, his presence is odious; he is a blot on the landscape and a constant reminder of disgrace and defeat, and of the fact that one is nothing but a second-class citizen in one’s own country.

The conqueror undertaking this task was a man with serious flaws. He compared himself to Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon and excelled all of them, or so he thought. He was unsociable and not particularly likable, though he could also be a charmer and could pour it on thick in a one-on-one meeting. He was isolated and lived in his own dream world, reinforced by a wife who called him “General” and ate up every word he said. He was self-centered, egocentric, and vain. He told a group of historians: “I don’t care how you write history, gentlemen, so long as it agrees with my communiqués.” When he heard the band playing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” he told his wife, “Listen, Jeannie, they are playing our song.” He thought grandiose. He dreamed of being president of the United States. He wanted to be George Washington. The only reason he was not a tormented, unhappy man was that he loved to work and got immense satisfaction from doing it well.

Ironically for such a peacock, he tended to be underestimated. He invited derision and occasional scorn for his antics, such as the time he had a pontoon bridge flown all the way from the United States to Korea so he could cross a river, thus giving his enemies and skeptics another opportunity to exult: “Whatever else MacArthur could do he could not walk on water.” So when he pulled off a brilliant stunt like Inchon and proved he sometimes could perform miracles, his mockers were doubly amazed. He insisted on total control of his image. Unlike the navy where the head commander, Nimitz, shared the glory with Halsey and King and Spruance, with MacArthur there could be only one ray of light—and woe to any man who might share part of it. The great jungle fight in the South Pacific was Buna—100 percent won by Eichelberger. MacArthur later told him, “Bob, those were great days when you and I were fighting at Buna, weren’t they?”—and he laughed. It was a veiled warning: Woe to anyone who dared disclose that MacArthur had had nothing to do with Buna. When Eichelberger appeared on the cover of Time, MacArthur called him into his office and read him the riot act: “Do you realize I could reduce you to the grade of colonel tomorrow and send you home?” In 1948, Eichelberger got ready to leave Japan and came to MacArthur’s office to say good-bye. MacArthur was too busy to see him.

As the most famous American general of the 1930s and 1940s, MacArthur had powerful enemies—not just Truman. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, State Department advisor George Kennan, and Army Secretary William Draper were out to get him—and George Marshall was no friend. World War II secretary of war Henry Stimson observed:

MacArthur stands out as the manifest personality who has won the right to command the final land attack on Japan by virtue of his skillful work in the Southwest Pacific and the Philippines, but his personality is so unpleasant and has affronted all the men of the Army and Navy with whom he has to work that it is difficult to get combined assent on the proposition.

Secretary of State and former general George Marshall accused MacArthur of surrounding himself with sycophants and creating a court befitting a satrap—biting words from someone as reserved and taciturn as Marshall. Another name given to MacArthur’s men: “the Knights of MacArthur’s Round Table.” Eisenhower, who had worked for MacArthur in the Philippines for seven years, said he was a “man of no character” who had “spent a life of hate and envy.” The list grows. Robert Eichelberger called his boss a “strange character who wonders why he has so few friends and eternally blames the other fellow.” The Australian head representative to SCAP, Macmahon Ball, said the real fault of the occupation was not that it accomplished so little but that it claimed so much. Omar Bradley once teased Eichelberger that if he teamed up with Marshall and Eisenhower to write an exposé of the occupation, he would become the hottest item in Washington (an offer Eichelberger had the good grace to refuse).

The British historian Lord Acton is famous for the epigram “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”—a saying that most definitely did not apply to Douglas MacArthur, who until Korea was careful not to step on any Washington toes while enjoying the prerogatives of an emperor, a shogun, and a president all rolled into one. But Acton was closer to the mark in his next comment: “Great men are almost always bad men.” With MacArthur the order needs to be reversed: a man of major weaknesses who managed to accomplish extraordinary things.

How did he do it?

FIRST A FLASH-FORWARD to a more recent occupation. After the victory in the Gulf War of 1991, the secretary of defense argued against taking over the country:

Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United States military when it’s there? How long does the United States military have to stay?

So spoke Dick Cheney, who ten years later would have to answer these questions in the Iraq War. There is no evidence he ever examined the record of MacArthur, who called his occupation of Japan “the greatest reformation of a people ever attempted.” Nor, it would appear, had Cheney considered how MacArthur would have handled an enemy on the run. A MacArthur fighting the 1991 Gulf War would not have stopped at the first victory and let Saddam Hussein escape and stay in power. Had MacArthur been fighting the 2003 Iraq War he would have fought just as Gen. Tommy Franks did: a “light footprint” blitzkrieg. But once in control, he would have had a plan and enough troops for the difficult part: the occupation. MacArthur’s concept of “total victory” meant not only the fighting part, it also meant the follow-up. If you attack a country and you win, you have to repair and fix it, even if it involves top-to-bottom changes in the system of governance, the constitution, the civil code, the penal code, the status of women, the school system, censorship of the newspapers, property rights, separation of church and state, food distribution, and repairing the infrastructure. If he were around in 2013, he would be horrified about the 1,000 people killed by chemical warfare in Syria, but he would be even more appalled by the Obama administration’s loose talk of using airstrikes and drones “to send a message.” War is not a legitimate tool of statecraft. Nor is there any such thing as “war on the cheap.”

When MacArthur started his assignment as supreme commander, the prospects of success were dismal. Military occupations are notorious for their lack of permanent impact. Japan looked like an especially difficult case, given how ferociously it had fought the war. Even after the occupation was up and running and MacArthur was saying it was time to go home, naysayers like Ball, the Australian delegate to the Allied Council, were claiming the exact opposite: “In my own view some form of Allied control of Japan will be necessary for many years.” Talk of twenty, even fifty years was commonplace. The Japanese could stymie MacArthur, knowing time was on their side, as Shigeru Yoshida did when he told local authorities there was “no need of adopting SCAP’s costly new education system, because the Americans soon will be gone anyway.”

MacArthur understood this. Military occupations don’t last long. He must move quickly and decisively. “The minute I left Japan,” he said, “so would the changes. These things had to come from the Japanese themselves, and they had to come because the Japanese people sincerely wanted them.”

Japan in late 1945 was a country where the red light had suddenly turned green. Due to the shock of the atom bomb and the final, belabored realization of total defeat, supported by the emperor’s ability to influence people to accept the surrender, the spirit of militarism had miraculously evaporated overnight. Into this void stepped MacArthur, literally dropping out of the sky in his plane. Observed Rovere and Schlesinger: “The overpowering need was for faith, for a mystique, for a moral revival in the midst of moral collapse. The powerful and dedicated figure of MacArthur filled that need” in administering “neither a soft peace nor a hard peace.”

All leadership is largely situational, the right man in the right place at the right time (Winston Churchill is a perfect example). What makes MacArthur an unusual leader is how significant his success was throughout his entire life. He was not a one-shot wonder. Beginning with West Point, where he was first in his class, he had always risen to the top. He was America’s most decorated soldier in World War I. After delivering an even more brilliant performance in World War II, he faced a totally different challenge: winning the peace. Fortunately for him the factors for continued success were in place: a country that had surrendered without being invaded, an industrious people who admired success (as opposed to resenting it), a fully functioning local government, a cooperative emperor, and substantial Washington support in terms of staff, resources, and money. And, of course, unlimited power to feed his colossal ego and keep him happy. He was in his element.

In the late 1950s William Ganoe, a former aide to MacArthur at West Point, identified MacArthur’s treatment of subordinates as key to his leadership. He shared his ideas with Gen. Jacob Devers, head of the 6th Army in Europe during World War II and one of America’s top generals. Interestingly, Devers had never worked with or even met MacArthur, he only heard about him through his friend Ganoe and through Robert Eichelberger, his West Point classmate. But MacArthur’s reputation was so well known throughout the army that Devers agreed to collaborate with Ganoe on a book about MacArthur’s leadership. Together they developed what they called the “MacArthur Tenets.” No explanation of the tenets was provided, just a list of questions. There were seventeen of them, mostly dealing with obvious fundamentals such as delegation and responsibility: Do I act in such a way as to make my subordinates want to follow me? Do I delegate tasks that should be mine? Do I arrogate everything to myself and delegate nothing? Do I understand my subordinates by placing on each one as much responsibility as he can stand? Is my door open to subordinates? Other tenets address matters of personal comportment. Am I a constant example to my subordinates in character, dress, deportment, and courtesy? Do I correct a subordinate in the presence of others? Am I interested in the personal welfare of each of my subordinates, as if he were a member of my family?

Several other tenets were quite specific, inviting response concerning MacArthur’s performance:

Do I heckle my subordinates or strengthen and encourage them?

MacArthur looked after his men and let them know how much he valued them—at least when he needed them. He told Eichelberger: “Bob, if you get a bloody nose, I’ll give you every man I have.” When Cappy Harada came up with the idea of inviting American baseball players to Japan for a series of exhibition games, he put Harada on the plane to America and told him, “Get it done.” In 1950 America’s greatest baseball star came to Japan. The crowds went wild as the great Joe DiMaggio came onto the field, and the man escorting him and basking in the limelight was not MacArthur, it was Harada.

He never threw his subordinates to the wolves to boost his own position. Informed by the president of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain that so long as he kept “radicals” like labor advisor Theodore Cohen he could not hope to get the newspaper chain’s support for the presidency, MacArthur stood his ground and gave his beleaguered employee a big promotion. Such supportive treatment of subordinates applied also to senior Japanese officials. When he had to overturn their draft of a new constitution and have his men redo it, he resisted attempts to call it “a MacArthur constitution” and insisted that the Japanese be given full credit.

Do I use moral courage in getting rid of subordinates who have proven themselves beyond doubt to be unfit?

MacArthur had a problem with his long-standing Bataan chief of staff, Richard Sutherland, because Sutherland was too narrow-minded and inflexible to handle diplomatic duties. When Sutherland committed the double sin of having an affair with a WAC officer and trying to go around his boss and build his own coterie of loyalists, MacArthur fired him on the spot.

Whenever someone was unfit, MacArthur always dealt with him face-to-face. “To take up a painful matter by letter or other communication,” he said, “is not only the rankest cowardice but the ruination of morale.”

Have I done all in my power by encouragement, incentive, and spur to salvage the weak and caring?

From day one, MacArthur made it clear that he was on a humanitarian mission. One of his very first commands was that American troops not consume any of Japan’s precious food supplies. He ordered food and medical supplies to be brought into the country, and set up local distribution centers throughout Japan to provide relief and to stamp out the local black markets. It was done quickly, and compares in size only to Herbert Hoover’s massive food relief in Belgium and France after World War I.

MacArthur knew that helping the weak and vulnerable required more than just providing handouts and freebies. In supporting the formation of labor unions and women’s equal rights, he gave people who could not protect themselves the means to become self-reliant and independent.

Do I know by NAME and CHARACTER a maximum number of subordinates for whom I am responsible? Do I know them intimately?

MacArthur had a phenomenal memory that dazzled his staff. Just as he could read a memo and recite it back an hour later almost word for word, he carried in his head a huge bank of names and other valuable information from many years in the past.

Did MacArthur know people intimately? No. In Japan he adopted a totally different style of management from his days as a general, when he was everywhere, mingling with his troops and running to the scene of gunfire. No longer was he the general who had once said “a commanding officer is best when he has observed the situation himself.” Instead he withdrew into the four walls of his office and ventured outside only for lunch. Observed General Willoughby: MacArthur “knew his authority would be greater if it came from a Jovian distance.” Such distance would create a “deliberate mystique.”


DOUGLAS MACARTHUR – A Man Deeply Flawed: How Did He Do It? Part II

Am I thoroughly familiar with the technique, necessities, objectives, and administration of my job?

That there were no major foul-ups or charges of corruption during his reign is a tribute to his superb ability as an administrator. He may have been remote as a person, but as an administrator he was thoroughly involved and hands-on. None of his SCAPINS were half-baked or had to be recalled because they were poorly conceived.

Like a president of the United States, he knew the most important person in his administration was the chief of staff. In Courtney Whitney, he had a superb one. He divided his organization into sections, appointed top-class officers, and let them run the show. SCAP was a remarkably lean organization. Personal initiative and responsibility took precedence over procedure. “Rules,” said MacArthur, “are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”

More important than his performance as a manager was his performance as a leader. The two roles are different. The Harvard Business School professor John Kotter defines the difference in succinct fashion: One copes with complexity, and the other—leadership—copes with change. “Most organizations are overmanaged and underled,” he says.

Nobody would say this about MacArthur’s SCAP. It was an organization determined to shake up the status quo, rid Japan of feudalism and militarism, and protect the country from its major external threat, the Russians. These were extremely ambitious goals, the kind of goals that call for leadership rather than management.

Do I lose my temper at individuals?

MacArthur was a master of self-control. The same fearlessness he displayed in battle he carried over into his office. When he got word he had been fired by President Truman, he evinced no anger or outrage. No matter how upset he must have been at the callous way it was handled, he did not lash out. Minutes after he had left Tokyo for good, John Foster Dulles’ plane passed by, coming from the opposite direction. By telephone in midair, they had a lengthy talk about what needed to be done in Japan. Dulles noted: “I never had greater admiration for a man. Under such provocation, he still uttered not a word of personal bitterness; he considered only the cause of his country. . . . As long as America can produce men of that stature and caliber it will be safe.”

Have I the calmness of voice and manner to inspire confidence, or am I inclined to irascibility and excitability?

In keeping with the above tenet about self-control, MacArthur was a master of serenity—a quality rarely mentioned in books on leadership. MacArthur possessed what Voltaire praised in Marlborough: “that calm courage in the midst of tumult, that serenity of soul in danger, which is the greatest gift of nature for command.”

He never lost his temper. He radiated calm and self-assurance throughout his tenure. According to John J. McCloy: “He was most impressive as he talked about the future and the forces that were playing around the Orient with which he was quite familiar. He was a man of tremendous discernment. . . . He was a thoughtful man, he was not a poseur.”

Am I inclined to be nice to my superiors and mean to my subordinates?

Here the evidence is mixed. MacArthur was not a butt-kisser who toadied to the powers that be in Washington. He followed his own drummer, and got away it by being extremely charming with visitors from Washington. He was a master at seeming to agree with people when in fact he didn’t. People could get frustrated with MacArthur, but it was hard to get angry at him.

Asked by his military secretary Faubion Bowers how he managed to make such a powerful impression on people who came to see him, he said: “I just give ’em a shot of truth. They’re so unused to it, it knocks ’em for a loop.”

There’s a wonderful story about MacArthur in World War I that showed his compassion toward subordinates. Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was in the trenches just before dawn; he took the Distinguished Service Cross ribbon from his own tunic and pinned it to the chest of a young major about to lead his battalion into battle, explaining that he knew the major would do heroic deeds that day.

Such displays of personal concern can spur followers to excel. MacArthur treated his subordinates decently; he never bullied or browbeat them. He had his personality differences with Eisenhower, his long-standing aide in the Philippines, but never let that interfere with his professional judgment. In a fitness report on Eisenhower, he wrote: “This is the best officer in the Army. When the next war comes, he should go right to the top.”

With men his equal, however, MacArthur could be tough, even mean. He went after generals who beat him and demanded revenge. Instead of treating Yamashita and Homma like honorable warriors, he made sure the U.S. Military Tribunal sent them to the gallows. One of his closest colleagues was Robert Eichelberger, who had won the pivotal battle at Buna and who he insisted be the first to greet him at Atsugi. The two men had known each other since 1911. When Eichelberger emerged from the jungle after winning Buna, MacArthur was there to greet him—with a chocolate milk shake. Their relationship cooled in 1946, when Eichelberger expressed his wish to leave and go work in Washington for Eisenhower and hopefully succeed him as army chief of staff. MacArthur blocked the move, and when Eichelberger left Japan two years later, MacArthur gave him only a perfunctory send-off.

Do I think more of POSITION than JOB?

Twice he turned down invitations from Truman to appear in Washington as a hero, with all the publicity and visibility it would have generated. He was absolutely right: The situation in Tokyo was critical; this was not a time to run off and play crowd-pleaser. He couldn’t even be bothered to pick up a Harvard honorary degree.

Other than president, there was no job big enough for a man of his ambition and talents. He knew his post in Japan was a last stop in his career, with no opportunity for promotion. Yet he took the job seriously, and put in hours that would have exhausted younger men.

MACARTHUR MADE EIGHT bold moves when he went against or vastly exceeded Washington’s wishes, any one of which could have seriously jeopardized his tenure. They were:

  • recommending an immediate, major reduction of troops
  • initiating a massive food relief program
  • rejecting repatriation demands
  • pushing for Article 9
  • blackballing the Japanese version of the new constitution
  • giving free license to Communist agitators in labor unions
  • vetoing Dulles’s proposal for a 300,000-man police force
  • launching the surprise amphibious attack at Inchon

In every single one of them MacArthur was right, and Washington was wrong.

He had “the gift of command,” said William Randolph Hearst. The components of this gift were mastery of sound policy, sensitivity to the local culture, and personal traits of flexibility, persuasiveness, and idealism.

Sound Policy

AS EVERY CEO will agree, more important than “strategy” (goals and means) is “policy” (purpose and rationale). MacArthur’s job was to develop permanent peace and democracy in Japan. Everything he did was directed toward this mission. When superiors in Washington wanted him to pursue specific Cold War objectives (preserve the zaibatsu, build up the Japanese military), he did so only with the greatest reluctance. Such objectives were not consistent with his mission.

He undertook bold new measures—labor unions and women’s rights—that were disruptive but consistent with his mission. In promoting prodemocracy measures even more liberal than current practices in the United States, he was a man ahead of his time. He was a master of “soft power” in communicating America’s culture, political ideals, and aspirations.

Walter Lippmann once said that effective leadership consists not of giving people what they want, but of giving them what they will learn to want. MacArthur was very much an agent of change, attempting to push Japan toward a new future. He ran a highly disciplined, well-behaved organization. His troops, on the whole, behaved superbly and became popular ambassadors for America and its values.

He was not reckless or impulsive. He took a tremendous risk at Atsugi, but it was a gamble based on a careful reading of the Japanese mood and situation. It was a risk worth taking because the rewards would be so extraordinarily high. Almost everything he did was according to plan. He announced eleven specific objectives to his fellow generals on the Okinawa-to-Atsugi flight—and he accomplished them all.

Sensitivity to the Local Culture

FROM THE MOMENT he landed at Atsugi not wearing a firearm, he let the Japanese people know he trusted them. They were a beaten people; he would not humiliate them by showing up with a lot of guns. He never strutted around in public wearing all his medals, reminding them he was a victorious general. He always dressed informally, like he did in his first meeting with Hirohito.

He jumped immediately to meet their desperate need for food. He preserved the emperor, even if he had to perform considerable gymnastics to do so. He let almost all Japanese government employees keep their jobs, and motivated them by giving them important tasks to do, under American guidance and supervision. He reduced American troop levels (making Japan happy, Washington unhappy). He read every single letter sent to him by the Japanese people, and went so far as to meet with a man who tried to assassinate him, so as to glean deeper insight into Japanese sensibilities, even perverted ones. He quashed public exposure of the atrocities of Unit 731, not only to keep the biological research away from the Russians but also to avoid damaging Japan’s international image.

Seeing how the Japanese were having trouble developing a new constitution, he ordered his staff to jump in and do it in one week—no messing around. He never insulted the Japanese or put them down. He did not blow up and insist it was his way or no way. He entertained modifications, and when the final version finally came out he gave the Japanese full credit. According to Shigeru Yoshida:

General MacArthur’s headquarters did insist, with considerable vigor, on the speedy completion of the task and made certain demands in regard to the contents of the draft. But during our subsequent negotiations with GHQ there was nothing that could properly be termed coercive or overbearing in the attitude of the Occupation authorities towards us. They listened carefully . . . in many cases accepted our proposals.


WARNED THAT GEORGE Atcheson might be a State Department “pink,” MacArthur kept an open mind and gave the man a chance. On another occasion when he issued three directives and Mamoru Shigemitsu came to him and said it wouldn’t work, MacArthur revoked them immediately and set about revising them. When George Kennan came to see him with new demands from Washington, MacArthur cooperated. On the other hand, when the Communists stepped over the line and went too far in taking advantage of his labor union reforms, he went after them vigorously. He did not bluff.

The son of a general, and a military man all his life, he was unlike most generals who “think of the last war.” He was always thinking ahead. Of all the World War II generals, he was the most aggressive in advocating new technologies in motorized transport, fast boats, and aircraft. He recognized the obsolescence of Clausewitz’s “war is policy by other means” in a world of atom bombs, and became a fierce opponent of attempts to build up “offensive” military operations intended solely to intimidate.

Considerable credit for his success belongs to the Joint Chiefs in Washington, who gave him good plans to work with. But planning can only do so much. The idea of exhibition baseball games didn’t come from Washington, or even from MacArthur, it came from a lowly lieutenant. Knowing a good idea when he saw one, MacArthur pounced on it—on the spot.


HE WAS AN extremely hard worker. Officials who conferred with him were astounded how well prepared he was and how much he knew about their particular areas of expertise. He outdueled Nimitz in persuading the president how to wage the Pacific war. One on one with important visitors like Hirohito, Shigemitsu, Yoshida, McCloy, Kennan, Dodge, and Dulles, even lesser visitors like Choate and Griffin, he dazzled them all. At the Wake Island meeting, where neither protagonist was at his best, he still managed to astound his audience with his mastery of distances, temperatures, artillery, aircraft, and number and configuration of troops. Army Secretary Frank Pace, who had never met him before, concluded MacArthur “was indeed a military genius . . . the most impressive fellow I ever heard.” Added Truman’s special counsel Charles Murphy: “I believed every word of it.”

His speeches to the Japanese public, beginning with the surrender signing, were inspirational and uplifting. He expressed big ideas—nothing pedantic or parochial. He was a serious man: He never started a speech with a silly joke or how honored he was to be there. He was a superb communicator, with a rich vocabulary and a mastery of cadence. He could be mesmerizing. Who else could write like he could? “He died unquestioning and uncomplaining, with faith in his heart and victory his end.”

As manager of a large enterprise, he communicated his wishes to his thousands of employees fully. Everybody knew what the boss wanted done, and they did it. He assembled a staff that covered all the political bases. He had liberals and New Dealers under Whitney, counterbalanced by conservatives under Willoughby. Somehow they all managed to work under one roof. There was remarkably little backstabbing. Why? Because everyone feared him, they knew they must act professionally.

A number of visitors, observing how loyal MacArthur’s staff members were to him, accused him of surrounding himself with yes-men. This was a simplistic observation. MacArthur was so smart he usually was right. People who rebutted him were welcome so long as they knew their facts. Eisenhower stated that he argued with his commander for the nine years they were together and they had no problem.


“WARRIOR RAGE” WAS never part of his temperament. He was no William Tecumseh Sherman whose scorched-earth policies created Southern hatred that lasted for decades (as a Southerner, MacArthur was very much aware of this). He had none of the attitude of Admiral Halsey, who had posted signs in a Pacific seaport on the way to Japan: “Kill Japs. Kill Japs. Kill All the Lousy Bastards.” Like Ulysses Grant, he fought relentlessly like a warrior, but had no admiration for generals who incurred massive casualties and needless deaths in pursuit of victory. He set a standard for moral conduct toward an enemy who in war had shown hardly any honor at all. He was betting—correctly, it turned out—that in peace the enemy would respond positively to his overtures and cooperate.

But it wasn’t easy. The Japanese military and zaibatsu—with the government looking the other way—were having a field day stealing wartime supplies for their personal aggrandizement and benefit, while the masses were starving. Corruption was rampant. Ishii was playing games. The Communists were making trouble at every opportunity. The economy was a shambles. No country in Southeast Asia wanted to trade, they all wanted revenge.

Yet throughout it all, MacArthur never wavered. He was imbued with a strong sense of idealism and purpose. It may be fashionable in certain political circles today to knock idealism as causing America to get into foreign policy excesses, but properly applied in places like Japan after World War II, idealism brought out the best in American influence. For the final word on MacArthur as a transformational leader, a comment by the historian Kazuo Kawai:

One reason for his influence on the Japanese was his dedicated sense of mission. The egoism fringed with mysticism, with which he regarded himself as the chosen instrument for the reformation and redemption of the Japanese people, might sometimes be ludicrous and sometimes irritating. But there was no mistaking the sincerity and intensity of his idealism. . . . He lifted the tone of the Occupation from a military operation, to a moral crusade.

BRITISH HEROIC FAILURE # 3 – Major General Robert Rollo Gillespie

The death of General Gillespie at the siege of Kalunga

In 1814, Major General Robert Rollo Gillespie died in the Battle of Kalunga in the Anglo-Nepalese War. From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, the Kingdom of Nepal had become increasingly expansionist, as its powerful military forces pressed westwards into the Punjab and eastwards into Tibet. The Gurkha army, though not large, combined European-style discipline with a toughness bred from living in some of the world’s most rugged terrain. By the early nineteenth century, a collision between Nepal and an equally expansionist East India Company was inevitable. The flashpoint came at Oudh (or Awadh, today in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh), one of India’s wealthiest and most fertile provinces, which shared its northern border with Nepal and which the Nepalese had long coveted. The British had controlled half of Oudh since 1801, while the other half remained under the nominal control of the nawab, in reality a British puppet. Tension mounted over the control of disputed villages along the border, and in 1814 war broke out.

The British had 21,000 men available to send north, twice the number that military experts estimated were necessary to defeat the Gurkhas. The campaign, however, presented unique challenges due to the terrain and weather. The British advanced in four columns, a strategy that was intended to achieve a swift victory by cutting off the Gurkha army from Kathmandu. Led by Gillespie, the easternmost column had as its first objective the hill fort at Kalunga (called Nalapani by the Gurkhas), which protected the route west across the Dehra Dun from Srinigar. Garrisoned by six hundred Gurkhas, Kalunga was a formidable obstacle, but Gillespie was confident in the ability of his artillery to blast a breach in the walls and of his numerically superior force to take the fort quickly. He divided his force of 4,500 into four columns, which were to attack simultaneously two hours after hearing a prearranged signal. Gillespie’s final order stressed the importance of `cool and deliberate valour’ over `wild and precipitate courage’, though he was to ignore his own advice, with fatal consequences. On the morning of 31 October, the artillery opened up at daybreak, but the guns were too far away to inflict significant damage. The main attack was not supposed to occur until noon, but just before nine, a party of Gurkhas attempted to take some of the British guns. They were quickly repulsed, but when Gillespie saw them heading back towards the fort, he sent messages to the commanders of the other columns, ordering them to attack immediately. The columns were impossible to locate quickly in the rugged terrain, however, and none of the messages reached its destination in time. Gillespie’s own column charged forward nonetheless, and were met by Gurkhas who swarmed over the walls of the fort to meet them. The attack rapidly lost momentum as the Gurkhas wielded their kukris, or curved knives, with devastating effectiveness in hand-to-hand combat. Fifty-eight dragoons were slaughtered within minutes.

Frustrated and unable to countenance even a temporary defeat, Gillespie declared his intention to take the fort there and then or to be killed trying. One of his officers had spotted a small gateway in the side, and he now focused his attention upon it, despite the fact that it was heavily defended. After a six-pound gun was brought up but failed to clear the gate, Gillespie tried to convince his men to attack it from the flanks. Recognizing that this was suicidal, they refused to follow him. Gillespie charged forward anyway and was shot in the chest. He died almost immediately. The attack collapsed, and it would take another month for the British to capture the fort. It was not until the garrison was almost completely out of food, water and ammunition that it slipped away under cover of darkness. When the British entered the fort, they discovered that 520 of the six hundred Gurkha defenders had been killed, or were so badly wounded or weak from starvation that they could not escape with the survivors.

Gillespie’s actions had been foolhardy, as the governor general of India, Lord Hastings, recognized. On 10 November, he wrote to Lord Bathurst, secretary of state for war and the colonies, that

the good fortune which had attended him in former desperate enterprises induced him to believe, I fear, that the storm of the fortress of Kalanga might be achieved by the same daring valour and readiness of resource whereby he had on other occasions triumphed over obstacles apparently insuperable. The assault in which he was killed at the foot of the rampart, involved, as I conceive, no possibility of success; otherwise the courage of the soldiers would have carried the plan notwithstanding the determined resistance of the garrison.

As more details became known, however, it emerged that the soldiers from the 53rd Regiment had refused to follow Gillespie in his attack on the gateway. Feeling guilty about maligning the conduct of a brave officer who had died in battle, Hastings now began to sing Gillespie’s praises. The prevailing view of his actions shifted accordingly: Charles Metcalfe, British resident in Delhi, wrote in 1815 that `the gallant Gillespie would, I am sure, have carried everything, had he not been deserted by a set of cowardly wretches’.

Back in Britain, where Gillespie was regarded as a colourful and popular soldier, the news of his death occasioned an outpouring of grief. He was the subject of a fulsome memoir which held him up as an example to future generations: `So long . . . as military virtue shall be held in esteem, and so long as our national history shall be read with pride and emulation, so long will the name of this heroic character be mentioned with enthusiasm, and his exploits pointed out as examples of imitation.’ Instead of leading an ill-advised attack, he was pictured as having made a gallant attempt to pull victory from the jaws of defeat:

The general considered it to be his duty to expose himself in the most conspicuous manner, that, if possible, his example might inspire and rouse the emulation of his troops into another vigorous and effectual attack upon the place. The heroic sentiment which occasioned this sacrifice has carried the renown of the British arms to a height of splendour, that, in point of radical virtue, and permanent utility, has far exceeded the Grecian and Roman glory. That daring spirit of bold enterprize, which in Europe has stamped with immortality so many illustrious names, will be found particularly needful in the vast and complicated regions of the East, where, from the character of the people, and the tenure of our possessions, we shall be continually obliged to maintain a high military attitude.

The author also included a hagiographic poem about Gillespie by `an amiable and accomplished lady in this country’ that sought to inspire Britons to follow his example:

These tender tears, to cherish’d virtue due,

This unavailing flood of genuine grief,

Gillespie! Shall thy sacred name bedew,

And give fresh verdure to each laurel leaf.

But ye who mourn the honor’d hero’s death,

Arouse from woe, and lead the life he led;

Practise his virtues till your latest breath,

To be like him illustrious when ye’re dead.

An impressive column was erected over Gillespie’s grave in Meerut, and in 1820 a statue was installed in St Paul’s Cathedral. Though it took three decades, a group of local grandees in his native town of Comber in County Down collected funds for a memorial in the form of a 55-foot-high (17 m) column topped by a statue of the dead hero. It was unveiled in 1845 before a crowd of 25,000 people.

Gillespie’s actions at Kalunga were undeniably foolhardy. Even so, he became a hero. Why? There were a number of reasons. First, he was already a famous soldier who had fought in the West Indies, India and Java, playing key roles in the suppression of the mutiny at Vellore in southern India in 1806 and the conquest of the Dutch city of Batavia in 1811. A diminutive man with an outsize personality, he was known among his acquaintances for his drinking, gambling and debauchery, but at a distance he seemed a merely colourful and courageous figure. The most important reason for Gillespie’s posthumous fame, however, was provided by the context in which his death took place.

The war against the Gurkhas in which Gillespie died was another bloody and hard-fought struggle. On the one hand, his death reassured the British that, led by such brave commanders, their military forces would ultimately prevail, even if it took longer and cost more soldiers’ lives than they initially expected. And, on the other, it reassured them that their efforts to bring more of India under the authority of the East India Company – an entity that could be seen as profitable far more readily than it could be seen as benevolent – represented a fair fight rather than a one-sided affair in which a despotic power was crushing anything and anyone that dared stand in its way


This French SPAD XIII wears the crowing cockerel insignia of Escadrille SPA 48 along the rear fuselage. French squadron numbers were prefixed by the basic type of aircraft flown by the unit, ‘SPA’ in this case designating the SPAD fighter.


The insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille is worn on the fuselage of SPAD XIII C.1 serial number S7714. Many members of Lafayette joined the 103rd Aero Squadron after the U.S. entered the war.

Famed as the colourful mount of the American Expeditionary Air Force’s 94th Aero Squadron, the French SPAD XIII was one of the finest Allied fighting scouts of the war, and was also flown by renowned aces Guynemer and Fonck.

First flown in April 1917, the SPAD (Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés) XIII was designed by Louis Bechereau as a development of the earlier SPAD VII and added a new powerplant in the form of a more powerful, geared Hispano-Suiza 8a that drove a propeller in the opposite direction to that of its predecessor. This power unit was markedly superior to the inline Benz engines that powered German Albatros fighters of the time. Other modifications made to the SPAD XIII compared to the earlier aircraft included inverse tapered-chord ailerons, a slightly increased wingspan and rounded tips to the tailplane and vertical fin. Increased rudder area served to enhance the fighter’s manoeuvrability. The revised armament consisted of a pair of Vickers guns, using synchronizing gear to fire through the propeller arc.

Introduced in the summer of 1917 as a successor to the SPAD VII, the SPAD XIII was better armed with twin-synchronized Vickers guns. Slightly larger and heavier with a wingspan of 27 ft, a length of 20 ft 8 in., and a loaded weight of 1,808 lbs, the SPAD XIII was powered by a series of Hispano-Suiza engines, beginning with the 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8Ba V-type engine and ending with the 235 hp Hispano-Suiza 8Be V-type engine. Those powered by the former could reach 131 mph and climb to 2,000 m (6,562 ft) in 5 minutes 17 seconds, whereas those powered by the latter could reach almost 140 mph and climb to 2,000 m (6,562 ft) in 4 minutes 40 seconds. Although the SPAD XIII may not have been equal in quality to the more highly regarded Sopwith Camel and Fokker D. VII, it more than made up for any shortcomings in the sheer number produced, which reached approximately 8,400, compared with 5,490 for the Sopwith Camel and 1,000 for the Fokker D. VII. An improved version, the SPAD XVII, which was powered by the 300 hp Hispano-Suiza 8Fb V-type engine, was introduced toward the end of the war and supplied to France’s most famous squadron, Les Cigognes (the Storks). Only twenty SPAD XVIIs were produced by war’s end.

Rugged Construction

The SPAD VII was already a potent fighter, heavier and faster than many of its contemporaries and although less agile it was of notably rugged construction. These same qualities were inherited by the SPAD XIII, which offered similarly sparkling performance, a result of the SPAD’s heritage in the successful line of Deperdussin racers (SPAD being the successor organization to Deperdussin when the latter declared bankruptcy in 1913). However, the fighters proved trickier to handle during take-off and landing, a result of the considerable torque generated by the engine. In order to counter this, the pilot was required to make liberal use of left rudder. In contrast to many fighters of its era, the SPAD was also unable to glide, which required full engine power on landing. Once on the ground, the pilot had to be careful to avoid ground-looping.

The first examples of the new SPAD fighter reached the Western Front by the end of May 1917. It was in the cockpit of a SPAD XIII that the French ace Georges Guynemer (53 victories) met his mysterious death over Poelcapelle in September 1917. Shot down seven times prior to his final mission, the exact circumstances of Guynemer’s demise have never been fully established, and neither the body of the pilot or the wreckage of his aircraft were ever recovered.

Meanwhile, René Fonck, the leading Allied ace of World War I, scored most of his officially credited 75 victories in the SPAD XIII (Fonck put his personal tally at 127 victories). In one famous incident, Fonck’s marksmanship and use of deflection shooting despatched three enemy aircraft with just 27 rounds fired. In a separate incident, Fonck despatched three enemy aircraft and troops on the ground found their wreckage all within a radius of just 400m (1312ft). On two separate occasions, Fonck succeeded in downing six enemy aircraft in a single day. Another leading French ace to fly the type was Charles Nungesser, who finished the war with 43 victories. The SPAD was not agile enough to take on the Fokker Dr.I on its own terms, but excelled in the dive, lending itself to ‘hit and run’ tactics, engaging the enemy in a single, high-speed diving manoeuvre.

American Service

The U.S. decision to adopt the SPAD XIII was taken in July 1918, seeking a successor to the problematic Nieuport 28. Of the American pilots to serve in World War I, the most celebrated was Eddie Rickenbacker of the American Expeditionary Force’s 94th Aero Squadron ‘Hat in the Ring’. Rickenbacker was the much decorated leading ace of the Expeditionary Force, with most of his 26 victories coming in a period of a few weeks at the end of the war.

In the word’s of Rickenbacker himself, the SPAD XIII was ‘the best ship I flew’. Meanwhile, Frank Luke Jr was the fastest-scoring American pilot, with a tally of 18 achieved flying SPAD XIIIs, including a number of observation balloons.

At the outset, production of the SPAD XIII was somewhat slow. By the time of the last major German offensives of the war, in March 1918, SPAD XIIIs were still outnumbered in service by SPAD VIIs. By this time, the earlier aircraft was outclassed by the German Fokker D.VII. However, during the last 14 months of fighting, a total of 81 French escadrilles were flying the SPAD XIII, and these were joined by two squadrons of the British Royal Flying Corps, as well as additional Belgian and Italian units. In the case of Italy, the SPAD XIII was flown by Francesco Baracca, the leading World War I ace of that country, with 34 aerial victories. By the time of the Armistice a total of 16 American pursuit squadrons were operating SPAD XIIIs.

Post-war Service

Ultimately, an impressive total of over 8000 SPAD XIIIs were completed. Post-war operators included Japan, Poland and Czechoslovakia, while SPADs remained with the U.S. Army Air Service until the mid-1920s, latterly in the fighter training role.


MANUFACTURER: Société Anonyme Pour l’Aviation et ses Derives

TYPE: Fighter


DIMENSIONS: Wingspan 27 ft; Length 20 ft 8 in.; Height 7 ft 11.75 in.

LOADED WEIGHT: 1,808 lbs

POWER PLANT: 1 x 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8Ba V-type or 1 x 230 hp Hispano-Suiza 8Be V-type

PERFORMANCE: 131 mph maximum speed (200 hp) and 140 mph (230 hp)

SERVICE CEILING: 6,645 m (21,801 ft)


ARMAMENT: 2 x 7.7 mm fixed forward-firing synchronized Vickers machine gun

TOTAL PRODUCTION: Approximately 8,400

SERVICE DATES: 1917–1923

Innocent III and the Origins of the Order of Sword Brothers

The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were a military order established by their second bishop, Bishop Albert of Riga, in 1202. Pope Innocent III sanctioned the establishment in 1204 for the second time. The membership of the order comprised German “warrior monks”. Following their defeat by the Samogitians and Semigallians in the Battle of Schaulenin 1236, the surviving Brothers merged into the Teutonic Order as an autonomous branch and became known as the Livonian Order.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century a new military order, later called the Order of the Sword Brothers, was created in Livonia to support the mission and crusade in that region. In c.1185, Maynard, a canon regular from Segeberg in Mecklenburg, began to preach the Gospel to the heathens in Livonia, present-day Latvia. Maynard’s preaching was by no means an isolated activity, but it must be set in the context of the Drang nach Osten, pursued by Henry the Lion as well as the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen in the second half of the twelfth century in north-central Germany. It also involved the German traders of Mecklenburg’s harbour towns, who were interested in gaining renewed access to the Baltic Sea in order to facilitate trade with Russian merchants. In the second half of the twelfth century, as a result of Henry the Lion’s expansionist policy and the interests of German traders, Livonia was chosen as fertile territory for a mission to be undertaken by some Cistercians and by several canonical foundations in central Germany. Their aim was to preach the Gospel to the heathens verbo vel exemplo.

In 1190, in support of the mission to the heathen, Clement III granted an indulgence concerning their observance over food and drink. In 1193, Celestine III declared that the proposita, or way of life of monks and canons regular who were going to Livonia to preach the Gospel ex diversis ordinibus, should be of equal value. Subsequently, several pagan attacks took place against the preachers in Livonia, while news of the active preaching of a crusade to the Holy Land in 1195 by Archbishop Conrad of Mainz encouraged a similar movement against the heathen of Livonia between 1196 and 1197. Clerics, soldiers, traders, and laymen, drawn widely from the whole of Saxony, Westphalia, and Friesland, all participated in this crusade.

Thus, by the end of the twelfth century, the Livonian mission had been transformed into a crusade. The Saxon nobility and Berthold, the new bishop of Livonia, together with the preachers, associated this movement with pilgrimage (peregrinatio) and the crusade against Muslims in the Holy Land. Milites and laymen, interested in gaining remission of sins through their pilgrimage to Livonia, joined those traders and clerics who had preached to the heathen in the early days of the mission. Furthermore, on 5 October 1199, Pope Innocent III once again sought the support of laymen and milites from Westphalia, Saxony, and the lands beyond the Elbe, who were already settled in Mecklenburg and the Baltic region from the second half of the twelfth century. He granted remission of penance to anyone joining the crusading army or exercitus, gathered together in God’s name (in nomine Domini) for the purpose of defending potenter et viriliter not only converts, but also Christians living in Livonia. As a result of Innocent’s decision, a group of pilgrims (peregrini) began to form a fighting force in order to create a lasting organization to defend preachers in Livonia under the leadership of Albert, their new bishop. At Albert’s request, Innocent III addressed all the faithful residing in Westphalia, Saxony, and the lands beyond the Elbe, where in 1199 the bishop had initiated his preaching mission to Livonia.

Both the Scandinavian Church and the Danish monarchy had become involved in this mission, following King Valdemar I’s attempt from the 1170s onwards to convert Estonia to Christianity. However, no evidence exists to show that any Templar or Hospitaller brother from houses in north-central Germany or in Scandinavia participated in the Livonia crusades in 1196/1197 and 1200. All that can be said is that in the last quarter of the twelfth century, the Templars and the Hospitallers were indeed present in Scandinavia and in Germany. In Scandinavia, Tore Nyberg has demonstrated the influence of the Hospitaller houses in Antvorskov in Denmark (1167), in Lücke, in Verne or Vara, close to Oslo in Norway (1177), and in Eskilstuna in the bishopric of Strängnäs in Sweden (before 1185). The Templars and the Hospitallers were also thriving in northern Germany, and were considerably involved in preaching the Livonian crusade. As Schüpferling pointed out, Templar houses were established in Lippsringe in the bishopric of Paderborn in Westphalia, related to the family of the Count of Lippe, which had been involved in crusading in Livonia from the beginning of the thirteenth century. Templar houses also existed in Saxony, linked to Henry the Lion and to Cistercian foundations in Riddagshausen and Loccum, which were supported by the same Duke of Saxony and which had sent preachers to Livonia from the end of the twelfth century. The Templar house at Brunswick in Ostphalia could also be cited, founded as it was by Henry the Lion following his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and by the Cistercian Abbot, Sigebodus of Riddagshausen. Henry the Lion also established the Templar house in Supplingenburg, and it is likely that there was another house of the Temple in Loccum, close to the eponymous Cistercian abbey, even if some scholars claim that it had never been a Templar possession.

Furthermore, in 1200 a hospital, established in the bishopric of Schwerin in Mecklenburg, received some donations from counts Guzelinus and Henry of Schwerin. The Hospitallers were equally well established at Eichsen in the bishopric of Ratzeburg (1200). According to Nowak and Borchardt, there were also three Hospitaller houses in Pommern – Stargard on the Ferse, Stargard on the Ihna, and Schlawe, settled in the 1180s; all three participated in the conversion of Prussia at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Finally, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Templars too set up two houses in Schlesien – Klein-Oels and Liegnitz.

All these records indicate that there was a massive Templar and Hospitaller presence within those same areas where the Livonian crusade was preached in the early thirteenth century. The first reliable evidence that a group of peregrini, following a different propositum of regular life, was indeed active in Livonia, together with monks and canons regular, consists of a letter sent by Innocent III on 19 April 1201. In it, the pope responded to questions addressed to him by the Livonian Bishop Albert, who had sent the Cistercian monk Theodoric to Rome to ask for a proclamation of a new crusade against the heathens. Taking up papal provisions over compliance with drinking and eating regulations, given to preachers in Livonia by Clement III and extended to clothing by Celestine III in 1193, Innocent III now stated that the propositum of the monks leading a regular life and wearing the monastic habit should be united with that of the canons regular vel alii etiam regularem vitam sub alia districtione professi. Accordingly, it might be suggested that among the alii regularem vitam sub alia districtione professi, there were also some brethren from the foundations of the military orders in north-central Germany working on behalf of the German preaching mission of Bishop Albert. They probably represent the original group of the Militia Christi de Livonia created between 1202 and 1203. At that time, according to Henry of Livonia’s Chronicon, Theodoric, Cistercian abbot of Dünamünde, close to Riga, established the Militia Christi. Preoccupied with pagan attacks and their numerical superiority, Theodoric organized a group of the faithful in accordance with Bishop Albert’s aim to carry out Innocent III’s stated aim of 1199, when he had asked the bishop to assemble an army. As Arnold of Lubeck also points out in his Chronica, Theodoric gathered round him those milites who came to Livonia and decided to stay, ‘voventes continentias et soli Deo militare cupientes’. From the beginning, the Sword Brothers adopted their propositum of regular life, taking the vows of chastity and poverty, and following the existing Templar Rule, which was closely related to the Cistercian tradition as represented by Theodoric himself. Both he and Albert gave shape to the new military order, organized sub obedientia episcopi with the duty of converting the heathen and defending the Church in Livonia.

In the summer of 1203, Theodoric went to Rome to give Innocent III notice of the achievements gained by Albert’s preaching and by the hard work of the many pilgrims in Livonia. It was probably at this time that the pope made the acquaintance of the new military order. On 12 October 1204, soon after Theodoric’s visit to Rome, Innocent III addressed a letter to Archbishop Hartwig II of Hamburg-Bremen. He highlighted the fact that Albert’s division of the preachers had resulted in three religious orders (tres religiosorum ordines) – the orders of monks and canons regular, ‘who were fighting the heathen with the spiritual weapons of discipline and doctrine’, and that of the laymen (fideles laici), who adopted the habit of the Templars and defended the mission viriliter et potenter against the heathen. The fideles laici, brought together by Albert and Theodoric into the Militia Christi and clothed in the Templar habitus, were indeed concerned to defend the mission (novella plantatio fidei) against pagan attacks viriliter et potenter, employing the material sword. Once more, Innocent III cast his mind back to the letter of 5 October 1199, by which he had left the defence of preachers and faithful in Livonia to the army gathered in God’s name (in nomine Domini) using the same expression potenter et viriliter with relation to the army (exercitus).

Shortly after 1204, as Henry of Livonia points out, the Militia Christi joined up with crusaders from Germany and, since 1206, those from Denmark. They vowed to take part in the Livonian crusade, which was once more being preached by Albert in Germany. By 1207, the whole of Livonia had almost been converted to Christianity as a result of the work of the missionaries and the brothers of the Militia Christi. Subsequently, the bishop divided the converted lands on the east bank of the Düna River into three ecclesiastical districts. Treiden was given to Caupo, one of the first heathens converted to Christianity; Riga was placed under the care of the bishop; and Methsepole, the easternmost region exposed to pagan attacks, was granted to the Militia Christi. Nevertheless, the Sword Brothers asked Albert for one third of the bishop’s tithes, collected from the lands of converts and pagans, in order to support themselves and in return for their duties. Albert agreed to leave to the milites just one third of the bishop’s tithes accrued from the converts’ lands, but denied them dues on those of the pagans’. His only partial consent to the Brothers’ request to receive one third of the bishop’s tithes brought about a serious dispute between the same bishop and the milites Christi.

Between 1208 and 1209, the mission to Livonia had been extended to include the northern coast of the Baltic Sea, inhabited by Estonians. The Sword Brothers of the Militia Christi were first and foremost involved in this, since Bishop Albert had given them the lands of Methsepole and Wenden, bordering on Estonia. The earliest Livonian document was thus drawn up, providing evidence of the presence of the Sword Brothers in that area – a donatio iure feudi of some lands close to Ydowen, in the Methsepole’s area, which Wenno, the first master of the Militia Christi, granted to the Livonian Manegintes and his brethern between 1207 and 1209.

The dispute between Bishop Albert and the Militia Christi grew worse as a result of further military conquests undertaken by Christians against the heathen and, in October 1210, the situation was brought to the attention of Innocent III. Bishop Albert and Volquinus, the new master of the Militia Christi, went to Rome to seek papal intervention in the sharing out of the lands of converts and pagans in Livonia. Innocent III mediated, giving the Sword Brothers one third of the lands of the converts in Lectia seu Livonia. The milites were to offer no temporal service, other than their defence of the Church in Livonia, but the master of the Militia Christi was to render obedience (obedientia) to his bishop. The Pope also exempted clerics, engaged in the cure of souls of the brothers, from paying the bishop’s tithes and oblations. Furthermore, the coloni of the Militia Christi had to pay tithes to their parish churches, one-fourth of which would go to the bishop. Finally, the Sword Brothers were given the right to nominate to their bishop suitable persons, personae idoneae, to perform the cure of souls. On his part, the bishop was awarded the right to visitation, while the Brothers would be entitled to one-third of those lands settled and converted outside Livonia. Innocent III also allowed the Sword Brothers to follow the Rule of the Temple, even though they were distinguished by the sign (signum) on their habit. This meant that the Militia Christi de Livonia was an exempt order of the Church. The Milites were also granted burial rights.

In the second of his letters addressed to Master Volquinus, Innocent III granted the requests submitted to him by both parties – the Militia Christi and the bishop. Actually, the Pope seemed anxious to grant the Brothers’ requests to have their rights recognized to converted lands as well as over lands which would be settled in the future. Moreover, Innocent III confirmed the rights of Bishop Albert concerning obedience and stressed that the Militia Christi had been set up to defend the Church against pagan attacks and to assist Livonia’s conversion to Christianity. Additionally, the Pope stressed the right of the Sword Brothers to choose the clerics performing the cure of their souls. In the end, according to the situation in Livonia, Innocent III confirmed that the Militia Christi de Livonia had adopted the Rule of the Temple, but declared that they should henceforth be distinguished from the Templars by the sign (signum) on their clothing, just as the Brothers had requested.

In 1210, the new military order was officially established and recognized by the Apostolic See on the basis of agreements reached in Livonia since 1203. In spite of the above-mentioned papal arbitration, conflicts between the bishop and the Sword Brothers in Livonia continued throughout the thirteenth century. Then, between 1316 and 1318 a new controversy broke out, involving Frederick, archbishop of Riga, and the Teutonic Knights, whose order had joined with the Sword Brothers in 1236. The new allegations were discussed at the Papal Curia in Avignon. To defend their rights against the archbishop, the Teutonic Knights turned to the two letters Innocent III had issued in 1210. Their report, however, omitted the three clauses which had ensured the Sword Brothers’ servitium temporale to their bishop. Instead they sustained an account which completely favoured their order, enabling it to prove its case against that of the archbishop’s.

When in the first half of 1211 the papal judgment over the dispute between the bishop and the master of the Militia Christi was known in Livonia, John, the Provost of Riga’s cathedral chapter, and the Brothers of the Militia reached a new agreement. As a result of this, Livonia was indeed divided into three ecclesiastical districts: two, the southern and western lands, were given as part of the bishop’s revenue; the third, consisting of the north-eastern region, was allotted to the Militia Christi.

Innocent III concurred with this new state of affairs that the mission and the crusade had brought to Livonia. The Christian mission to Livonia had originally aimed at preaching the Gospel to the heathen and converting them to Christianity by means of the ‘spiritual sword’. For this purpose, in 1199 and 1204 the Pope allowed Bishop Albert of Livonia to preach the crusade against the Livonians. Nevertheless the pilgrimage had become an instrument of defence for preachers and converts alike, in accordance with the handling of the ‘material sword’. It was under these circumstances that a completely new military order was established, symbolically and in name identified by the sign (signum) of the Sword.

Destroying the Enemy’s Forces by a Decisive Action at Sea I

The Battle of Iquique (Spanish: Batalla de Iquique or Combate Naval de Iquique) was a confrontation that occurred on 21 May 1879, during the naval stage of the War of the Pacific, a conflict that pitted Chile against Peru and Bolivia. The battle took place off the then-Peruvian port of Iquique. The Peruvian ironclad Huáscar, commanded by Miguel Grau Seminario, sank Esmeralda, a Chilean wooden corvette captained by Arturo Prat Chacón, after four hours of combat.

The destruction of the enemy’s naval forces could be accomplished by a decisive action or their weakening over time. Normally, these two methods are used in combination. The most effective but also most difficult method is by engaging a major part of the enemy forces at sea and/or their bases and destroying them in a short and decisive action. A decisive action should be optimally executed at the beginning of the hostilities at sea. Until the advent of submarines and aircraft, control of the sea was obtained by destroying enemy surface ships. Today, this objective is more difficult to accomplish because control of the surface could be disputed also by enemy submarines, aircraft, and mines.

In the past, a decisive naval battle was considered the principal method of employment of naval forces to obtain control of the sea. A decisive naval battle was understood as a clash between major parts of the opposing fleets that results in such damage to one side that it drastically changes naval situation. Still, what mattered the most were not initial intent and the losses inflicted on the opposing fleet or one’s losses but whether the ultimate objective was actually accomplished. Sometimes one side inflicted larger losses in materiel and personnel, but that did not necessarily mean that the ultimate objective was accomplished; the opposite was also true. In several notable cases, the results of a decisive naval battle were inconclusive, but one side was able to accomplish its ultimate objective. In a war between two numerically weak fleets, the loss of even a single or a few ships might have a decisive effect on the course of a war at sea, as the example of the War of the Pacific between Chile and Peru/Bolivia (1879–1883) shows.

Naval classical thinkers emphasized the critical importance of a decisive naval battle for obtaining control of the sea. Mahan was perhaps the most consistent and strongest believer in the absolute importance of a decisive battle. He claimed that control of the sea’s communications could be obtained only through “decisive battle.” Mahan stressed that the “fleet’s destruction is an essential prerequisite for the conquest of the enemy’s territory and attack on his commerce. The same result would be achieved, though less conclusively and less permanently if the enemy fleet is reduced to inactivity by the immediate presence of a superior force.” Similarly, Admiral Philip Howard Colomb (1831–1899) believed that “…it serves no purpose to try to obtain the mastery of the sea by any means than by battle and this is so serious that no other objective can be put in comparison with it.”

Castex agreed with Mahan that the enemy “fleet must be defeated in order to obtain command of the sea.” He observed that one’s actions should be directed against the enemy fleet because its destruction “will very probably irreparably compromise the rest of the enemy’s organization.” The best method of disposing of the enemy fleet is to wage a decisive naval battle. In case the enemy chooses to “shut himself up in a port,” then he should be tightly blockaded in order to prevent his escape or “…to force him to do battle as soon as possible if he does.” After having dealt with the enemy fleet, the stronger fleet can exercise command of the sea. Yet Castex also cautioned that the stronger fleet should not exercise command of the sea prematurely because that might undermine the freedom of action essential to the destruction of the enemy fleet.

French Navy captain and well-known theoretician René Daveluy (1863–1939) emphasized that to “reduce an enemy to impotence it is necessary to disarm it, that is to say, destroy the established force which is a guarantee of its power. The necessity of attacking the established force of an enemy leads directly to battle.” Another French Navy captain, Gabriel Darrieus (1859–1931), wrote that to consider the fleet of the enemy as the principal force that must be destroyed or reduced to impotence is to fulfill most surely the object of the war.

A well-known and influential British theorist, Admiral Herbert Richmond (1871–1946), wrote that the “the first and fundamental step toward gaining the command of the sea is always the destruction of the massed forces of the enemy. If these forces are unwilling to fight, the possibility exists of putting the enemy in the dilemma of either fighting at what may appear to him as a disadvantage or of sacrificing some essential element in his national economy, trade, a vital position, or the assistance of an ally.”

In contrast to Mahan and other classical naval thinkers, Corbett contended that to obtain command, it is not always necessary to fight a decisive naval battle. He wrote that “under certain conditions, it may not be the primary function of the fleet to seek out the enemy’s fleet and destroy it, because general command may be in dispute, while local command may be with us, and political or military considerations may demand for us an operation for which such local command is sufficient, and which cannot be delayed until we have obtained a complete decision.” However, Corbett erred because one cannot obtain local control of the sea without destroying at least a part of the enemy fleet. A stronger side should also avoid the state of disputed, or contested, control. Experience shows that, as in a war on land or in the air, the best way to proceed is in most cases to focus one’s efforts on destroying the strongest part of the enemy forces – or the enemy’s operational center of gravity. Once this is successfully accomplished, a stronger side would not have great difficulties in accomplishing other operational tasks. Corbett also noted that as long as the weaker fleet remains in existence, it will try to avoid a major clash with its superior opponent. This is probably true. But, again, a stronger side should not just accept that situation without trying to entice or lure a weaker side into a major clash.

Corbett also emphasized difficulties in seeking a decisive battle. He wrote that in land warfare, it is possible to specify with some precision the limits and direction of the enemy movements because they are determined by roads and physical obstacles. This is not the case at sea. In Corbett’s view, “seeking to strike out at the enemy at sea the chance is greater that we would miss him. However, experience shows that only a few decisive naval battles have taken place far from the shore. Hence, it was very rare that the opposing fleets did not locate the whereabouts of each other.

In the seventeenth century, opposing fleets fought major battles with a large number of ships of the line. For example, in the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654), each side in a battle had on average some 70 to 120 ships. However, with the increased size, seaworthiness, and greater effectiveness of guns, fleets became numerically smaller. For example, in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, the British had only 27 ships of the line against the Franco-Spanish fleet of 33 ships of the line. The ships of the line were the mainstay of the battle fleets in 1652, as they were in 1805. Yet their lethality was, of course, far less than that of first-rate ships of the line in Nelson’s times.

In the era of the oar/sail, a large number of major naval battles were fought. By the eighteenth century, the number of major battles in a war was progressively reduced because the ships of the line became larger, and hence it took much longer time to build them than it did in the seventeenth century. Normally, a decisive naval battle was fought in a single day and lasted for only a few hours. However, in several notable examples, decisive results were achieved by fighting a series of successive minor tactical actions spread over two or more days and sometimes over a relatively large part of a given maritime theater. For example, the British victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 was achieved through a series of small-scale clashes conducted over seven days in the English Channel. Afterward, a large number of the Spanish ships wrecked in stormy weather while rounding Scotland and Ireland.

In the era of oar/sail, relatively few ships were sunk in major naval battles; most of them were captured. For example, the first three Anglo-Dutch Wars (1652–1654; 1665–1667; 1672–1674; the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War was in 1780–1784) were perhaps the bloodiest of all naval wars; not many ships of the line were sunk, but great damage was inflicted, on both sides, to the masts and riggings and personnel. Only a few commanders, notably Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter (1607–1676) and the Danish Admiral Niels Juel (1629–1697), inflicted disproportionate losses on their enemies. In most cases, major parts of the opposing fleets escaped to fight again.

Prior to the era of steam, only relatively few major naval battles were “decisive,” that is, either resulting in the destruction of a major part of the enemy fleet or having decisive results on the course and outcome of war at sea or on land. Yet in several cases, a decisive naval battle had a major impact on the course or even outcome of the war on land. In a few notable cases, as, for example, the battles of Salamis in 480 bc and Actium in 31 bc, it has changed world history. However, the decisiveness of a major naval battle apparently declined in the medieval era. As the Anglo-Dutch Wars show, a strong opponent was able to relatively quickly reconstitute its navy and then resume struggle for disputing command of the sea. In the War of Grand Alliance, 1688–1697, naval battles became less decisive than they were in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Although the French Navy had a combined strength of the British and the Dutch navies, it missed every opportunity to achieve a decisive victory.

A major reason for the lack of decisiveness of naval battles was the relatively low effectiveness of the shipboard guns and the rigid application of the line ahead formation. For more than one hundred years, a war at sea had shown the futility of fighting in an unbroken line ahead with van, center, and rear trying to engage the respective parts of the enemy line. One of the reasons for such a profound lack of thinking was the general lack of interest in the theory of naval tactics by many naval officers. Corbett observed that the reason for the sterility of naval tactics in that era was that “unintelligent admirals, pedantically absorbed in preserving their formation, contented themselves with fighting ship to ship and trying to manoeuvre for a concentration on part of their adversaries’ line.” He claimed that the system of engaging two battle lines was fully adopted in the Battle of Texel in 1665 (fought on 13 June). It replaced the older system of fighting in groups of ships.

The situation gradually changed for the better in the late eighteenth century when some aggressive and very innovative commanders, specifically British admirals Edward Hawke (1705–1781), Samuel Hood (1724–1816), John Jervis (1735–1823), Adam Duncan (1731–1804), and above all Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), introduced tactical innovations that allowed for far more decisive results. They used maneuver to achieve local concentration and attack exposed parts of the enemy fleet.

In fact, it was a Scottish landlubber and amateur scientist, John Clerk of Eldin, who, in his book Essay on Naval Tactics, Systematical and Historical (written in 1779 and published in 1782), gave an answer on how to improve tactics of the battle line. Clerk analyzed fighting instructions and concluded that the Royal Navy’s naval tactics were all wrong.  He pointed out that during the Anglo-Dutch Wars, naval instructions were much improved but that they were “…admirably fitted for fighting in narrow seas, where these battles were fought but not for bringing on an action with a fleet of French ships, unwilling to stand a shock, having sea room to range in at pleasure, and desirous to plays off maneuvers of defence, long studied with the greatest attention.” Clerk argued that decisive action can be fought only by concentrating superior forces on weaker forces. In other words, decisive victories could be won only by close, concentrated fighting. Yet his book met with derision by admirals, who believed that they cannot be taught by an amateur. According to some sources, Nelson read Clerk’s book. In fact, the commanding officer (CO) of Admiral Nelson’s flagship Victory, Captain (later Vice Admiral) Thomas M. Hardy (1769–1839), stated that

Lord Nelson, read Mr. Clerk’s works with great attention and frequently expressed his approbation of them in the fullest manner. He also recommended all the captains to read them with attention and said that many good things might be taken from them. He most approved of the attack from to-windward, and considered that breaking through the enemy’s line as absolutely necessary to obtain a great victory.

Major changes in the way of how to fight war at sea had its origins in the English Navy (renamed the Royal Navy in 1660). During the Anglo-Dutch Wars a belief took hold in the English Navy that, in a war at sea, one’s efforts should be focused on the enemy fleet, not on maritime trade, and thereby on destroying the enemy’s power of resistance. Such warfare required the effective use of state-owned ships specialized for war with as little as possible assistance from privately owned ships. It required discipline, fleet tactics, and a navy of warships to make war in the modern sense of the term. The experience in combat led the Royal Navy to adopt the first Articles of War that provided statutory regulations regarding the Royal Navy’s crews. The first fighting instructions were issued in 1678. They were revised several times (in 1688, 1690, 1695, and 1702) to allow more initiative on the part of subordinate commanders. The first Permanent Sailing and Fighting Instructions was issued in 1703 during the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714). They were for the first time used in the naval battle of Málaga on 24 August 1704 and with slight modifications until 1783.

The first three Anglo-Dutch Wars had a major influence on the evolution of the concept of the control of the sea. In the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654), the British attacked the Dutch convoys and blockaded the Dutch coast. Naval battles came as result of one side or the other trying to protect a convoy or making a way free for the convoy. Reportedly, the Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp (1598–1653) was the first who realized in 1653 the best way to protect a large convoy is to obtain command of the sea.

In the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667), the Dutch partially stopped their maritime traffic. Both sides tried to obtain command of the sea. Only afterward they would attack maritime trade and blockade the enemy coast. In the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), the British and the French attempted to threaten Holland with seaborne invasion in addition to land invasion. A defender was much more under threat than in the previous wars. The struggle for control of the sea in the intervening waters was much more important than in the previous wars. The Anglo-French fleet had to transport and land an invasion army. The Dutch were forced on the defensive because they had a smaller fleet. Hence, they had to make greater efforts to obtain sea control.

Corbett wrote that the English focus of fighting a decisive action in the First Anglo-Dutch War was carried to the extreme. Not much thought was given to exercising control of the sea. Also, the British emphasis on offensive action was the main cause for neglecting the need to sustain combat by bringing in fresh reinforcements. Hence, the British Navy suffered from exhaustion. After the battle, its fleet had to return to its home bases. In some major naval battles, the British inflicted larger losses on the enemy fleet but either failed or were unable to pursue the Dutch fleet. This, in turn, gave the Dutch sufficient freedom of action not only to secure their maritime trade but also to deliver severe blows on British trade. The question was how to induce the Dutch to fight a decisive action. To seek the enemy off his coast and thereby force him to leave his protected bases would not lead to a decisive action. One way was to attack the enemy maritime traffic instead of carrying out sporadic attacks. An effort to stop completely the enemy trade but far away from his coast led to a major naval battle, as the example of the Four Days’ Battle in June 1666 illustrates. In the Seven Years’ War, Admiral George Anson (1697–1762) tried for two years to secure a decision by seeking out the enemy fleet. Yet he failed, and the British fleet was exhausted.

In a war between two strong opponents, a single or even several major naval battles did not necessarily secure absolute and permanent control of the sea. As the example of the first three Anglo-Dutch Wars illustrate, a strong opponent was able to relatively quickly reconstitute its fleet and then resume the struggle for disputing command of the sea. Sometimes, a weaker fleet was still able to challenge the presence of the stronger fleet even after suffering a major defeat. But even when a weaker fleet was kept under observation, it did not follow that a stronger fleet had secured undisputed control of the sea. An active and energetic enemy, operating from a long coastline endowed with numerous harbors, invariably would take the opportunity to launch attacks and cause a diversion of one’s efforts. For example, the Royal Navy, after its great victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, still faced the threat posed by the remaining French/Spanish naval forces. Between November 1805 and June 1815, some 87 warships were sunk or captured by the enemy. Also, the victory at Trafalgar did not negate the need to escort merchant ships. In another example, Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō (1848–1934) had to keep close watch on the movements of the remaining Russian ships based at Port Arthur and Vladivostok after his decisive victory at Tsushima in May 1905. The experience also shows that decisive victories at sea were largely wasted if the remnants of the enemy fleet were left at large or if not followed by an invasion of enemy-held territories.

In the era of oar/sail and the early era of steam, most major battles that turned out to have a “decisive” result occurred when one or both sides were carrying out missions that are today considered part of exercising sea control. Most major battles that had decisive results took place while one of the fleets provided cover for or attempted to prevent a large landing, supported army troops operating in the coastal area, protected/attacked a large convoy, or imposed/lifted a naval blockade. In contrast, attacks aimed to destroy an enemy fleet in its anchorage/port did not happen by an accident. Also planned were major battles aimed to prevent an enemy large-scale seaborne invasion, as the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805 illustrates.

In the era of sail, a large number of major battles between the opposing surface ships took place because of the need to defend/attack convoys of merchant shipping. This was especially the case during the first three Anglo-Dutch Wars. For example, in the inconclusive battle off Plymouth on 26 August 1652, both the British and the Dutch claimed victory. Admiral Michiel de Ruyter commanded 30 warships while the British General-at-Sea George Ayscue (ca. 1616–1671) had 40 large warships, eight smaller and four fireships. The Dutch lost more people, but the British fleet suffered more damage. In the aftermath of the battle, Ayscue sailed for Plymouth while de Ruyter assembled the convoy and sailed home.

In the Battle of Kentish Knock on 8 October 1652, the Dutch fleet of 64 warships led by Admirals de Ruyter and Johan de Witt (1625–1672) engaged some  British warships under General-at-sea Robert Blake (1598–1657). This battle took place in the areas between Dunkirk and Nieuwpoort. The British claimed to have captured two Dutch warships, and one was burned at no losses for themselves. The Dutch sources claimed 600 dead and wounded and heavy damages to the British ships. De Witt wanted to resume the fight the next day, but a war council decided against doing so because of damages on other Dutch ships. The next day (9 October), the British attempted to pursue the Dutch fleet but abandoned the chase because of the shallows close to the Dutch coast. De Witt’s attempt to secure the Dutch maritime trade by attack on the enemy naval force failed. In the aftermath of the battle, the British had greater control of the English Channel.

One of the most decisive naval battles of the First Anglo-Dutch War was fought off Dungeness on 10 December 1652. Because of their victory in the Battle at Kentish Knock, the British expected (wrongly) that the Dutch would not be able to repair their damages and would not reappear at sea. In the meantime, a small English squadron in the Mediterranean was worsted by the Dutch squadron, and the English Mediterranean trade became wholly unprotected. Hence, the British detached some 20 ships to the Mediterranean. This proved to be a big mistake. On 9 December, Blake, with only 37 warships and some small craft, was at Dover when Admiral Tromp, with a fleet of 73 warships plus small craft and fireships, left a 300-ship convoy off the Flemish coast and appeared near Goodwin-Sands. Both fleets clashed the next day at Dungeness. Blake lost five warships (two were captured and three sunk), while Dutch lost only a single ship. For some reason, Tromp did not try to pursue and complete the destruction of the enemy fleet. Such energetic warfare was unknown to him. He was mainly concerned with the safety of the convoy and was satisfied with partial success in the battle.

After the battle off Dungeness, control of the English Channel was for a few weeks in Dutch hands. The English ships were driven into the Thames Estuary. The port of London was closed. The British trade in the Channel was brought to a standstill. The lessons of dividing a fleet were not lost on the British. Afterward, they focused their efforts on defeating the enemy main body, and their Dutch opponents did the same. The Dutch concluded that their fleet should not escort large convoys in the Channel and narrow seas in the presence of a strong British fleet. As for the British, they put all their energies into strengthening their navy and on maintaining superiority in the decisive area.

The situation changed for the better for the British in the aftermath of their victory in the three-day Battle of Portland on 28 February–2 March 1653. This was one of the most decisive battles aimed to protect a large convoy. It encompassed the sea area from Portland to Cap Gris-Nez. The British had ready some 70 warships, many of them newly built. This fleet was under the command of three generals-at-sea: Robert Blake (2598–1657), Richard Deane (1610–1653), and George Monck (1608–1670). Admiral Maarten Tromp (1598–1653) had some 80 ships. Tromp also had the problem of protecting a 250-ship convoy. The Dutch acknowledged the loss of three ships sunk, one captured, and several others burned. The British losses were a single ship sunk and several others, including three or four large warships, damaged. The Dutch had 1,500–2,000 men killed, while the British had some 2,000 dead and wounded. Both sides had large personnel losses. On the last day of the battle, on 1 March near the Isle of Wight, the British captured two Dutch warships and 10 to 12 merchant ships. Many ships that subsequently left the convoy were captured by the British. On 2 March, more Dutch ships were destroyed or captured. By the end of the day, both fleets were near Cap Gris-Nez. The Dutch losses in these three days of fighting were about a dozen warships while the British lost only a single ship. Other sources claimed that the Dutch lost only four warships and 30 merchant vessels; the rest of the convoy managed to escape. The result of this battle was unfavorable for the Dutch because the British fleet obtained control of the Channel.

In the aftermath of the victory at Outer Gabbard in 2-3 June 1653, Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland) demanded the loss of Holland’s sovereignty as the price for peace. The Dutch were unwilling to accept that demand and raised a new fleet to lift the British blockade of their coast. On 8 August 1653, Admiral Tromp with 90 ships came to fight Monck with 100 ships at Katwijk. Tromp was joined the next day by a squadron under de Witt from Texel in the vicinity of Scheveningen. The Dutch penetrated the British blockading line, and in the subsequent mêlée both fleets suffered great losses. The Dutch lost 12 to 13 ships, 500 killed, 700 wounded, plus 700 captured. The British had half of the Dutch losses in ships. Monck won a big victory, but he was unable to conduct a pursuit. He had to leave for England to reconstitute his forces and thereby was forced to lift the blockade of the Dutch coast. This was then used by the Dutch to bring in a large convoy from the Sund and Norway.

Several decisive battles resulted in obtaining local control of the sea, although initially the main purpose was to support a landing on a hostile shore. For example, the Battle of Mylae (Milazzo today) in 260 bc during the First Punic War (264–241 bc) took place when the Roman fleet of some 130 ships led by Second Consul Gaius Duilius was on its way to land troops in Sicily. The Roman fleet was opposed by the Carthaginian fleet of some 120–130 ships under Hannibal Gisco (c. 300-290–258 BC). The Carthaginians were overly confident in their better seamanship and had contempt for the Romans as sailors. The Romans were using for the first time the corvus, a boarding device that allowed them to transform the fight at sea into land combat. They were successful in grappling some 50 Carthaginian ships, while the remainder of the Carthaginian fleet escaped. Duilius did not pursue the Carthaginians but instead sailed to the western tip of Sicily, where he landed troops just in time to relieve Segesta (Calatafimi-Segesta, southeast of today’s Trapani), which was under siege by the Carthaginian commander Hamilcar Barca (ca. 275–228 BC). Afterward, First Consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio (b. ca. 300 BC) landed on Corsica and captured the city of Aléria and expelled the Carthaginians. In 258 bc, Second Consul Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus made several successful attacks on the African coast.

In the Battle of Cape Ecnomus (Poggio di Sant’Angelo, Licata, Sicily, today) in 256 bc, the Roman fleet achieved a decisive victory. Despite vastly exaggerated claims, both the Roman and the Carthaginian fleets probably did not include more than 100 ships. The Carthaginians lost some 30 ships, and 64 other ships were captured, while the Romans lost only 24 ships. The Carthaginian fleet left the area while the Roman fleet returned to Sicily to rest its crews, repair the ships, and repair as many as possible captured enemy ships. After few days of refit on Sicily, the Romans resumed sailing and landed their army on the coast of Africa. However, they were not particularly successful on land. After few years, the Carthaginians restored their strength.

The Battle at Actium

The Battle at Actium on 2 September 31 bc during the Roman Civil War (32–30 bc) between the two leaders of the Second Triumvirate, Gaius Octavius (Octavian) and Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) (the third triumvir was Aemilius Lepidus) had a decisive effect on the subsequent history of Rome and Western Civilization. Antony (83–30 bc) was assigned to rule Rome’s eastern provinces including Ptolomaic Egypt, ruled by Queen Cleopatra. His military and naval resources were drawn from Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. However, he had to leave a strong occupation force in these territories (four legions in Cyrenaica, four in Egypt, and three in Syria). Antony depended on the sea for supplying his army in Epirus. He was unable to carry the war to Italy without possessing control of the sea. His army of about 100,000 men marched from Macedonia to the shore of the Gulf of Ambracia (also known as the Gulf of Arta). Antony’s fleet consisted of about 800 ships, including 500 warships (200 were provided by Cleopatra). He embarked some 20,000 legionaries onboard his ships and burned all the ships for which he lacked personnel.

Octavian’s naval commander, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa commanded some 230 beaked ships and 30 unbeaked. The majority of his ships were triremes and quadriremes. Many were light, swift galleys – liburnae (built by the Dalmatian pirates).

In the ensuing battle, Antony lost some 200 ships while about 5,000 men were killed. Cleopatra and Antony fled the scene of battle with about 60 ships. Afterward, the opposing armies faced each other for one week before terms of surrender were agreed. After Antony’s legions in Cyrenaica and Syria heard about the defeat in the battle of Actium, they went over to Octavian. It took Octavian another year before he invaded Egypt and finally defeated Antony.

Octavian’s victory in the battle at Actium transformed the Mediterranean into a Roman lake and established Pax Romana on both land and sea. It secured the unity of the Roman Empire for some three hundred years and saved the Roman Empire from probable dissolution. For the first time in history, a single people held absolute sway over the entire Mediterranean.

Destroying the Enemy’s Forces by a Decisive Action at Sea II

Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada; the Apothecaries painting, sometimes attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. A stylised depiction of key elements of the Armada story: the alarm beacons, Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury, and the sea battle at Gravelines.

One of the most important decisive naval battles in history was the British defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The strategic objective of the Spanish King Phillip II (1527–1598) was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) and the Tudor dynasty and rule England by force. The main reason for Phillip II’s decision to invade was to stop England’s interference and subsidies to rebels in the Spanish possessions in the Low Countries, principally the Dutch provinces and thereby stop English interference in the Spanish Netherlands. The Spanish King Phillip II directed the commander of the expedition, Duke Medina Sidonia (1550–1615), to sail up to the Thames Estuary and then to cover a landing on English soil of about 17,000 men [led by General Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma (1635–1689)], deployed in Flanders. Medina Sidonia would be involved in combat only if Farnese’s troops could not be landed without enemy opposition.

The Spaniards assembled a large fleet to cover the projected invasion of England. When it sailed out from La Coruña on 23 July 1588, Medina Sidonia had under his command 137 warships and 27,500 men (including 7,000 seamen and 17,000 soldiers), plus some 60 cargo vessels with 6,000 men. The Armada included 20 galleons, four galleasses and galleys each, 44 armed merchantmen, 23 transports, and 35 smaller vessels. The British fleet consisted of 197 ships (including 23 ships that voluntarily joined during the fight) with about 16,000 men.

After many delays, the powerful armada approached the western entrance to the English Channel. The British main fleet was then deployed at Plymouth while one squadron was at the Thames Estuary. The first clashes between the British ships and the Armada took place off Plymouth and Portland on 21 and 22–23 July, respectively. Yet Medina Sidonia continued to sail up the Channel and anchored off Calais. On 29 July, the largest battle took place near the small port of Gravelines in the Flanders. The Spanish losses were very heavy. By the nightfall of 29 July, they lost 11 ships and 3 ships sunk from English gunfire that evening plus 8 ships lost from other causes. A large number of the Spanish ships were heavily damaged. The Spaniards had much larger personnel losses than the British: 600 dead and 800 wounded. The British losses were only 50–100 dead. The Armada never recovered from the losses it suffered from the English guns in the Battle of Gravelines.

In the aftermath, Medina Sidonia was unable to make a junction with the army in Flanders and effectively gave control of the Channel to the British fleet. The British ships went home to replenish stores, fearing another Spanish attempt to land. Because the return route to Spain via the Channel was blocked, Medina Sidonia decided to take advantage of the southerly wind and return home by sailing through the Channel, across the North Sea, and then around Scotland and Ireland. However, he lost some 50 ships in a heavy weather while rounding Scotland and Ireland. The remaining 65 ships, with some 10,000 starved and fever-stricken men, reached home waters by the end of September. The total Spanish losses in personnel were very heavy – some 20,000 dead. The British victory led eventually to the collapse of the Spanish power. It restored the strategic initiative to England. It led England to create a large maritime empire and ultimately acquire the status of world power. Also, the defeat of the Spanish Armada led to the rise of Dutch sea power.

In the Battle of Solebay (also called the Battle of Southwold Bay) on 7 June 1672 (during the Third Anglo-Dutch War), the Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter (1607–1676) defeated a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet and thereby prevented the landing of an invasion army and broke up England’s attempt to blockade the Dutch coast. The Anglo-French fleet under the Duke of York, consisting of 71 ships (45 English and 26 French), faced the Dutch fleet of 61 ships led by Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. The allies also had 16 small ships, 35 transports, and two dozen fireships, while the Dutch fleet had 14 small ships, 22 transports, and three dozen fireships. The Anglo-French ships carried 5,100 guns and 33,000 men while the Dutch ships had 4,500 guns and 21,000 men. In addition, the allies had some 2,000 soldiers ready for embarkation at Dunkirk. In the ensuing battle, the British lost four and the Dutch only two ships. Yet both sides suffered heavy losses in personnel: 2,500 killed and wounded on board the English ships, while Dutch losses were about 2,000 killed and wounded. Both sides claimed victory. However, de Ruyter was a clear victor. He remained another night in the vicinity of the enemy fleet and left the area on the second night without being pursued.

In two battles off Schooneveldt (near the Scheldt River Estuary) on 7 June and 14 June 1673, the Dutch fleet under de Ruyter engaged a much stronger combined Anglo-French fleet commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619–1682). The Dutch fleet had some 64 ships and about 14,700 men. The Anglo-French fleet consisted of 86 ships and some 24,300 men. The first battle ended inconclusively; the Dutch lost a single ship while the allies lost two. Both sides suffered almost equal damage. The second battle was also inconclusive; neither side lost ships. However, a dozen of the British ships suffered heavy damage, while the Dutch had only a few ships damaged. The British lost nearly 2,000 men while Dutch losses were half that many. As a result, the allies had to abandon their plan for landing in the United Provinces. Also, the route for the arrival of a large Dutch convoy became open. This dual naval battle is considered a Dutch victory. De Ruyter obtained control of the sea for the next six to seven weeks. He was able to keep scouting ships close to the British coast, while his main fleet was at anchor at Schooneveldt. He also sent a squadron of 28 ships to reconnoiter the Thames Estuary. On 3 July 1673, he left his anchorage with the entire fleet to demonstrate to the British that the Dutch held command of the sea and was not destroyed, as the rumors were then circulated in England and Europe.

During the War of the Grand Alliance, the French fleet was preparing to transport a Franco-Irish army to Ireland to restore James II to the English throne. The plan was that Admiral Anne-Hilarion de Costentin, Count de Tourville (1642–1701) would command some 50–60 ships of the line (13 of these would come from Toulon). However, the Toulon squadron under Admiral Victor-Marie D’Estrees (1660–1737) never arrived. Tourville had available only 44 ships of the line. Yet he received a direct order from Louis XIV that he had to engage the enemy regardless of the size the enemy force. To prevent invasion, the Anglo-Dutch fleet of 82 ships engaged Tourville’s squadron near Cape Barfleur on 29 May 1692. The battle was tactically inconclusive. The French did not lose any ships, although they suffered heavy damages. In the battle off La Hague on 2 June, some 99 Anglo-Dutch ships of the line engaged 44 French ships. In the initial clash, neither side lost a single ship. It was only during the four-day-long retreat that Tourville lost some 15 ships of the line. The British pursued the withdrawing French fleet all the way to Cherbourg. In the aftermath, the Anglo-Dutch fleet controlled the Channel. However, except for some minor actions, the Anglo-Dutch fleet was generally passive.

The main reasons for the French defeat were the rigid orders issued by King Louis XIV and the execution of those orders by Tourville.96 Although the French replaced the lost ships of the line, far more important was the psychological effect of the defeat on the French king, the Navy, and population at large. The public was accustomed to the glories and successes of Louis XIV. In the aftermath of the Cape Barfleur/La Hague battles, the French radically changed their strategy. They gave up on the employment of their navy against the enemy fleet and focused on the war against the enemy maritime commerce. For the next five years, the French Navy mostly conducted commerce raiding (guerre de course, “war of the chase”) against the allies. As result, it decayed as a combat force. Mahan wrote that the main reason was not defeat at Cape Barfleur/La Hague but the exhaustion of France and the great cost of the continental wars. Admiral Richmond wrote that the French losses were not greater than what the allies suffered in the battle of Beachy Head. However, the allies with their greater resources could recover from their defeat, while the French, lacking such resources, could not. The French fleet continued to operate at sea, but attempts to regain control of the Channel were abandoned.

Painter Nicholas Pocock’s conception of the situation at 1300 hours.

One of the most decisive naval battles in the era of sail was the Battle of Trafalgar on 20 October 1805, fought to indirectly prevent an enemy landing. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s 27 ships of the line met and decisively defeated 33 Franco-Spanish ships of the line (15 were Spanish), led by Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve (1763–1806). The British objective was to prevent the Franco-Spanish fleet from reaching Brest and then cover the then widely believed Napoleon I’s intent to invade England. Although the British lost no ships, many of their ships were badly damaged. Their casualties were about 1,700. The British captured 14 enemy ships while 11 ships withdrew to Cádiz, where they were promptly blockaded by Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood (1748–1810). Four surviving French ships of the line were captured on 4 November. The Franco-Spanish casualties were 2,600 dead and 7,000 prisoners (including Admiral Villeneuve).

Victory at Trafalgar freed England from further threats of invasion, secured its naval predominance, and offered the prospect of more energetic efforts in the war on land. However, that was not immediately known because of Napoleon I’s decisive victories at Ulm in October and at Austerlitz in December 1805. It was only later that the British forces took a conspicuous part in the Peninsular Campaign and elsewhere.

Many influential historians believed that the defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar ruined Napoleon I’s plan to invade England. However, Napoleon I had decided even before Villeneuve arrived in Cádiz in August 1805 to move his army against the Austrians (which eventually led to the siege of Ulm and the surrender of some 27,000 Austrian troops on 19 October 1805). Mahan wrote, “Trafalgar was not only the greatest and most momentous victory won either by land or by seas during the whole Revolutionary War…No victory and no series of victories of Napoleon produced the same effect on Europe…. A generation passed after Trafalgar before France again seriously threatened England at sea.” For Napoleon I, the prospect of defeating the British Navy vanished. In Mahan’s view, the defeat at Trafalgar forced Napoleon I either to impose his rule on all Europe or to abandon the hope of conquering Great Britain. Hence, he tried to compel every state on the continent to exclude British commerce and thereby exhaust the British resources if it continued the war. Napoleon I issued the Berlin Decrees on 21 November 1806, which imposed a Continental Blockade against all trade with Britain. They were followed by the Milan Decrees in December 1807. The blockade stretched from Spain to Russia. The ultimate objective was to weaken Great Britain and force it to accept peace.

A well-known and highly influential British general and theoretician, J.F.C. Fuller (1878–1966), asserted that Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar on 20 October 1805 had a profound effect. Among other things, it shattered forever Napoleon I’s dream of an invasion of England. It allowed England to become an undisputed master of the oceans that eventually led to Pax Britannica. Without Trafalgar, there would be no victory in the Peninsular War (1807–1814), and it is “hard to believe that there would ever have been a Waterloo.

In the Battle of Lissa on 20 July 1866, a weaker but much better led and trained Austrian fleet defeated the Italian fleet and thereby obtained command of the Adriatic. The original intent of the Austrians was to prevent the Italians from landing and capturing the critically important island of Lissa (Vis today) in the central Adriatic. Italian Admiral Carlo Pellion di Persano (1806–1883) commanded a force consisting of 12 modern ironclads (totaling 46,000 tons), and 23 wooden ships (frigates, gunboats, dispatch vessels, and transports totaling 28,000 tons). However, instead of focusing on the destruction of the incoming enemy fleet and thereby obtaining sea control, he unwisely engaged shore batteries as a preliminary to the landing ashore. Persano was surprised by the sudden appearance of the Austrian squadron under Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff (1827–1871). The Austrian squadron was greatly inferior to the Italians in the number of modern ships and guns. Its total tonnage was some 47,000 tons. It consisted of seven screw frigates (totaling 27,000 tons), seven screw wooden frigates, one steam-powered two-decker, and nine gunboats (totaling 20,000 tons). Tegetthoff realized before departing the Fasana roadstead in Pola (Pula today) on 19 July that the only way to achieve victory was to use some unorthodox method of engaging the enemy fleet. In the ensuing clash that quickly became a mêlée, the Austrians rammed and sunk two Italian ironclads while two other ships were heavily damaged. The Italians also had 38 officers and 574 men killed and 40 wounded, plus 19 captured. The Austrian losses were only one steam-powered two-decker damaged, 38 dead, and 138 wounded. However, Tegetthoff was unable to pursue the enemy fleet because his ships were slower. The Italians had forgotten that the true strength of a fleet resided not in excellence of weapons alone but also in the training and quality of personnel. The Italian fleet lacked organization, discipline, and sea training. Its crews were raw and unskilled in gunnery, and its officers were inexperienced.

The Austrian victory not only determined the question of command in the Adriatic but also had a highly positive effect for Austria on the peace settlement. On the same day that the Battle of Lissa was fought, the armistice ended the hostilities between Austria and Prussia on the land front. The Austrians withdraw to the Isonzo River and thereby left Venice in Italian hands. France and Prussia pressured Italy to conclude an armistice on its own with Austria. Yet the Italian Prime Minister Bettino Ricasoli refused the call and insisted on obtaining “natural” frontiers for Italy. These included the direct cession of Venice and the South Tyrol and a guarantee that Italian interests in Istria would be respected. However, the Italian government ignored the fact that Tegetthoff had won command of the sea and that the Austro-Prussian armistice had strengthened Vienna’s hand. On 12 August 1866, Austria and Italy signed an armistice at Cormons. The peace treaty was signed on 3 October 1866. Although Austria was forced to cede Venice to Italy, it was able to retain control of the rest of the Adriatic coast.

The Battle of the Yalu River on 17 September 1894 was the largest naval engagement of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. It ended in a decisive Japanese victory. The battle was the result of the Chinese landing of some 5,000 troops at the estuary of the Yalu River on 16 September. The transports were escorted by Chinese warships. The Chinese squadron consisted of 14 ships (two armorclads, four cruisers, six protected cruisers, two corvettes and torpedo boats each), while the Japanese squadron was composed of 12 ships (three armorclads, seven protected cruisers and one corvette, plus one gunboat and transport each). The Chinese losses were heavy: five ships sunk and three damaged. The Japanese had only four ships damaged. The Chinese crews fought bravely but lacked skills. Perhaps the most important effect of the battle was that the Chinese fighting spirit had been broken. In the aftermath of the battle, the Chinese fleet withdrew to Lueshunkou for repairs and then to Weihaiwei. The Japanese did not attempt to pursue the Chinese ships. The Chinese fleet was later destroyed in the Battle of Weihaiwei on 20 January–12 February 1895.

Some decisive naval battles were fought to recapture an important position and/or to prevent further enemy conquest, as was the Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571 in the Gulf of Corinth, the Ionian Sea. The Christian fleet of the Holy League, composed of Venice, Spain, Sardinia, Genoa, and the Papal States, plus several other Italian states under the command of the Hapsburg Prince Don John of Austria (1547–1578), inflicted a heavy defeat on the Ottoman fleet. Venice’s objective was to destroy the Turkish fleet and thereby regain Cyprus (lost in 1570). Spain was not particularly interested in the Mediterranean commerce because its interests were primarily in Peru and Mexico. However, the Spaniards wanted the Turks to be crushed so that they would not threaten its possessions in Italy (Kingdom of Sardinia) and the Spanish commerce in the Mediterranean. On 7 October, the Christian fleet consisted of 108 Venetian and 81 Spanish galleys, along with 32 galleys provided by the pope and other smaller states, plus six Venetian galleasses. The Christian ships carried 84,000 men, including 20,000 soldiers. The Turkish fleet under Sufi Ali Pasha (d. 1571) consisted of 210 galleys with about 75,000 men (50,000 sailors and 25,000 soldiers). The Turks had the numerical superiority, but their perhaps greatest advantage was psychological. The Ottoman armies and fleets were the terror of Europe. Nevertheless, the Christian ships were better armed and their soldiers better armed and protected.

In the ensuing Battle at Lepanto (Naupaktos or Nafpaktos today) on the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth, the Christian fleet inflicted huge losses on the Ottoman fleet. The Turkish losses were heavy: 107 galleys were captured, and 80 burned and sunk. They had 25,000 men killed and 3,500 captured. About 15,000 slaves (12,000 were Christians) were liberated. Only about 60 Turkish ships, with 10,000–12,000 men, escaped. The Christians lost only 13 ships, but about 7,700 men (4,800 Venetians, 2,000 Spaniards, and 800 Papalini) were killed in combat, and about 8,000 were wounded. Defeat in the Battle of Lepanto was a major blow to the Turkish sultan Selim II’s prestige. The Christian victory saved the Venetian-controlled islands of Corfu and Zante in the Ionian Sea and most of Dalmatia from Turkish conquest.

A relatively large number of major naval battles were fought to provide support to the army operating in the coastal area. For example, one of the most decisive naval battles in history, the Battle of Salamis in August (or September) 480 bc, was aimed to cut off the Persian army’s retreat from mainland Greece. In the Second Persian Invasion of Greece (480–479 bc), King Xerxes I (519–465 bc) led an army of only about 20,000. The Persians had about 1,000 ships and the Greeks 367 ships. Athens and its allies (Sparta and Corinth) The battle was conducted over three days and coincided with the land battle at Thermopylae. The Persians lost about 200 and the Greeks about 40 ships.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Salamis, the morale of the Persians was broken. The Phoenician contingent, terrified of harsh treatment and the reproaches of Xerxes I, slipped their cables secretly at night and sailed for home. In 479 bc, the Greeks won a great victory at Mycale (east of the island of Samos) on or about 27 August 479 bc by destroying the remnants of the Persian fleet. The Battle of Salamis ended all Persian attempts to conquer Greece. It essentially saved the Greek and Western Civilization and thereby changed the history of the world.

In the Peloponnesian War (431–404 bc), Sparta’s commander Lysander (d. 395 bc), with an inferior force, captured all but nine (some sources say 20) out of 180 ships of the Athenian fleet off the mouth of the Aegospotami River (across from the Hellespont) in 405 bc. The battle lasted about one hour. This victory allowed the Spartans to advance to Athens and force the Athenians to surrender in April 404 bc.

During the First Punic War (264–241 bc), in the battle of the Aegetes Islands (near Lilybaeum) in 242 bc, the Romans inflicted a heavy defeat on the hitherto much more successful Carthaginians. The Romans did not decide until 243 bc to build a fleet. Afterward, they constructed some 200 quinqueremes. The Carthaginians assembled a fleet of some 250 ships and sent it to Sicily. The Romans proved to be much superior in seamanship than were the Carthaginians. They sunk some 50 enemy ships and captured another 70. They also taking some 10,000 prisoners. Their own losses were 30 ships sunk and 50 crippled. Many Carthaginian ships escaped, and the Romans were unable to pursue them. This naval battle decided the outcome of the struggle on Sicily. The Carthaginian army under Hamilcar Barca and the few strongholds left in Sicily were utterly isolated. The Romans starved the Punic garrisons on Sicily. Both Rome and Carthage were exhausted. However, it was Carthage that sued for peace. Carthage was forced to evacuate Sicily. Afterward, the Romans were masters of both the sea and land. Carthage lacked either the will or resources to restore its previous naval dominance.

The Battle of Naoluchus (at the northwestern tip of Sicily, some ten miles from Messina), on 29 or 30 August 36 bc, had a decisive effect in the civil war between Octavian [later emperor Augustus (63 bc–AD 14)] and Sextus Pompey (67 –35 bc), which was also called the “Sicilian Revolt” (44–36 bc). Octavian’s fleet, led by Agrippa (64/63–12 bc), defeated the fleet led by Sextus Pompey. Octavian landed three legions on Sicily, and these forces were supplied by the sea. Pompey’s position became desperate, and he assembled some 280 ships at Messana. Agrippa’s fleet consisted of some 130 vs. Pompey’s 150–160 ships. Pompey’s fleet was predominantly composed of smaller and faster ships that were better suited for fighting pirates. Agrippa won a decisive victory. He lost only three ships, while Pompey lost 28 ships, 17 ships escaped, and the remainder were captured. Pompey escaped to Messana and then fled to the east, ending Pompey’s resistance to the Second Triumvirate.

The outcome of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) was essentially decided by the British defeat and subsequent surrender of some 8,000 British troops under General Charles Cornwallis (1738–1805) in the Siege of Yorktown on 19 September 1781. This defeat was not militarily catastrophic but had an enormous political and psychological impact. Among other things, it fatally undermined Parliament’s confidence in the British government. The French fleet under Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse (1722–1788) made a major contribution to that victory in the Battle of the Chesapeake (or Virginia Capes) on 5 September 1781. This battle was a result of an agreement between General George Washington and the French General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur de Rochambeau (1725–1807) on 21 May 1781. Both then agreed that the effort of the French West Indies Fleet should be directed against either New York or the Chesapeake. De Rochambeau notified de Grasse that he personally would prefer Chesapeake because the French government refused to provide force for the siege of New York. By 15 August, the allied generals knew that de Grasse’s fleet would reach Chesapeake. The French governor of Cap Francoise (Cap-Haïtien today) spared a force of 3,500 men upon the condition that the Spanish squadron would anchor at the place that de Grasse had procured. The governor also raised money for the Americans from the governor of Havana. De Grasse arrived at Lynnhaven within the Chesapeake (near Cape Henry) on 30 August. He had 28 ships of the line. On 25 August, the French squadron of eight ships of the line led by Commodore Jacques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Count de Barras (1719–1793) sailed out of Newport, Rhode Island, to join de Grasse.

Some 2,500 American troops under Washington and 4,000 French troops under de Rochambeau crossed the Hudson River on 24 August and then continued their advance toward the head of the Chesapeake Bay. Their objective was to defeat the British troops under Cornwallis. After he heard about de Grasse’s departure, British Admiral George Brydges Rodney (1718–1792), then in the West Indies, sent 14 ships of the line under Admiral Samuel Hood (1724–1816) to the North American waters. Because of his illness, Rodney left the West Indies for England. Hood reached Chesapeake Bay three days before de Grasse did. After reconnoitering the Chesapeake Bay and finding it empty, he sailed to New York, where he met five ships of the line under Admiral Thomas Graves (1725–1802), who as a senior officer took command of the entire force. Graves left for Chesapeake Bay on 31 August. He hoped to intercept de Barras before he joined de Grasse. De Grasse, expecting de Barras to arrive, remained outside Chesapeake Bay for five days without taking any action against the British fleet.

On 5 September, Graves appeared with 19 ships of the line in the vicinity of Cape Henry. Graves was surprised not to find the enemy fleet in Chesapeake Bay. He believed that de Grasse had 14 ships of the line. However, de Grasse had under his command 24 ships of the line. That same day, de Grasse received a request from George Washington to support his troops on the move from Philadelphia to Virginia. De Grasse assigned seven ships of the line to that task but wanted to wait on the return of his boats before deploying them. In the meantime, de Grasse received information about appearance of the British fleet.

In the ensuing clash, only Graves’ van and center became heavily engaged; yet de Grasse extricated his ships and returned to the Chesapeake Bay. Graves left the scene of action for New York with 18 ships of the line in order to repair damaged ships. The British lost some 90 men killed and 246 men wounded. The French losses were about 200 men. Graves failed to bring badly needed reinforcements to Cornwallis. The lack of naval support made Cornwallis’s end inevitable. On 14 September, de Grasse transported American and French troops to the proximity of Yorktown, where they joined with troops of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834). By 28 September, Yorktown was completely encircled by the American and French troops. De Grasse remained in the area until 5 November, when he left for West Indies.

De Grasse suffered eventual defeat in the Battle of Saints (between Dominica and Guadalupe) on 12 April 1782. His fleet of 29 ships of the line met 34 British ships of the line under Rodney and Hood. Seven French ships were captured, including the flagship. Within a week two, more ships were captured. However, this great British victory came too late to affect the outcome of the American Revolutionary War.

Some major battles have taken place when a weaker side tried to either prevent the establishment of, or lift the existing naval blockade by a stronger side. For example, in the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Battle of Lowestoft on 13 June 1665 was fought because the Dutch tried to prevent a second blockade of their coast by the British. The British fleet of some 110 ships under the Duke of York inflicted a heavy defeat on the Dutch fleet under Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam. The Dutch lost some 17 ships and 4,000 men while the British lost only two ships and 800 men. Yet the Duke of York, for some reason, failed to pursue the withdrawing Dutch ships.

The British victory in the Battle of Cape of St. Vincent on 14 February 1797 allowed the subsequent blockade of the Spanish fleet. The British fleet of 15 ships of the line plus five frigates and two smaller ships under Admiral John Jervis encountered the Spanish fleet of 24 ships of the line, seven frigates plus one brig and four armed merchantmen led by Admiral José de Córdoba y Ramos (1732–1815) on the way to Cádiz. The Spanish fleet had passed the Strait of Gibraltar on 5 February 1797. Its task was first to cover a convoy carrying quicksilver and then to join the French squadron at Brest for the planned invasion of England. However, because of unfavorable winds, Córdoba’s squadron was pushed much farther into the Atlantic than intended. As result, it was unable to reach Cádiz before it was intercepted by the British fleet. In the ensuing clash, the British captured four ships of the line, including two three-deckers. Some ten Spanish and five British ships of the line were heavily damaged. The Spanish had 260 dead and 350 wounded. The British losses were only 73 dead and about 400 wounded. Jervis did not pursue the beaten enemy. He was not a commander who would take a substantial risk for a doubtful further gain. In the aftermath of the battle, Jervis imposed a blockade on Cádiz. The Spanish fleet at Cádiz remained blockaded until the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802.

Only relatively few decisive naval battles were planned from the outset to obtain control of the sea. For example, at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), the British obtained command of the “narrow sea” (the English Channel) after decisively defeating the French fleet in the Battle of Sluys (on the inlet between west Flanders and Zeeland) (also called the Battle of l’Ecluse). In 1338, the French King Phillip VI started hostilities at sea. Two years later, the British King Edward III declared himself king of France. He wanted to start new conquests, although he did not have a navy. Hence, he demanded from various parts of England that all ships 100 tons and larger to be in his service. Edward III also planned to have a strong army to be transported to the port Sluys, near Damme in Flanders. He put some 200 ships to sea on 22 June 1340. The next day, this force was joined by some 50 ships. The French fleet of some 400 ships (only 190 were large ships) appeared at Blankenberge, about 10 nm west of Sluys. In the battle on 24 June, the French fleet suffered a major defeat, and the British suffered no losses. This battle was decisive because the British for the first time obtained one of four narrow seas washing their shores.