Alfred Thayer Mahan

Last updated
Alfred Thayer Mahan
Alfred Thayer Mahan.jpeg
Born(1840-09-27)September 27, 1840
West Point, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 1, 1914(1914-12-01) (aged 74)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1891-1896).svg  United States of America
Service/branchUS Naval Jack 44 stars.svg  United States Navy
Years of service18591896
Rank U.S. Navy captain rank insignia (1864-1866).png Captain
USN Rear Admiral rank insignia.jpg Rear admiral (post retirement)
Commands held USS Chicago
Battles/wars American Civil War
Signature Signature of Alfred Thayer Mahan.jpg

Alfred Thayer Mahan ( /məˈhæn/ ; September 27, 1840 – December 1, 1914) was a United States naval officer and historian, whom John Keegan called "the most important American strategist of the nineteenth century." [1] His book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 (1890) won immediate recognition, especially in Europe, and with its successor, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793–1812 (1892), made him world-famous and perhaps the most influential American author of the nineteenth century. [2]

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. With the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

Historian person who studies and writes about the past

A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past, and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is concerned with events preceding written history, the individual is a historian of prehistory. Some historians are recognized by publications or training and experience. "Historian" became a professional occupation in the late nineteenth century as research universities were emerging in Germany and elsewhere.

Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan was an English military historian, lecturer, writer and journalist. He wrote many published works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries, covering land, air, maritime, intelligence warfare and the psychology of battle.


Early life

Mahan was born on September 27, 1840, at West Point, New York, to Dennis Hart Mahan (a professor at the United States Military Academy) and Mary Helena Okill Mahan (1815–1893), daughter of John Okill and Mary Jay (daughter of Sir James Jay). Mahan's middle name honors "the father of West Point", Sylvanus Thayer. Mahan attended Saint James School, an Episcopal college preparatory academy in western Maryland. He then studied at Columbia for two years, where he was a member of the Philolexian Society debating club. Against the better judgment of his father, Mahan then entered the Naval Academy, where he graduated second in his class in 1859. [3]

West Point, New York CDP in New York, United States

West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States. Located on the Hudson River in New York, West Point was identified by General George Washington as the most important strategic position in America during the American Revolution. Until January 1778, West Point was not occupied by the military. On January 27, 1778, Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons and his brigade crossed the ice on the Hudson River and climbed to the plain on West Point, from that day to the present, West Point has been occupied by the United States Army. It comprises approximately 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) including the campus of the United States Military Academy, which is commonly called "West Point".

Dennis Hart Mahan American military academic

Dennis Hart Mahan [məˈhæn] was a noted American military theorist, civil engineer and professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1824-1871. He was the father of American naval historian and theorist Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. Of his other four children, his son Frederick August Mahan also graduated from West Point in 1867.

United States Military Academy U.S. Armys federal service academy in West Point, New York

The United States Military Academy (USMA), also known as West Point, Army, Army West Point, The Academy, or simply The Point, is a four-year federal service academy in West Point, New York. It was originally established as a fort that sits on strategic high ground overlooking the Hudson River with a scenic view, 50 miles (80 km) north of New York City. It is one of the five U.S. service academies.

Early career

Commissioned as a lieutenant in 1861, Mahan served the Union in the American Civil War as an officer on USS Worcester, Congress, Pocahontas, and James Adger, and as an instructor at the Naval Academy. In 1865, he was promoted to lieutenant commander, and then to commander (1872), and captain (1885). As commander of the USS Wachusett he was stationed at Callao, Peru, protecting US interests during the final stages of the War of the Pacific. [4] [5]

A lieutenant is the junior most commissioned officer in the armed forces, fire services, police and other organizations of many nations.

Union (American Civil War) United States national government during the American Civil War

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the Union, also known as the North, referred to the United States of America and specifically to the national government of President Abraham Lincoln and the 20 free states and four border and slave states that supported it. The Union was opposed by 11 southern slave states that formed the Confederate States of America, also known as "the Confederacy" or "the South".

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North (Union) and the South (Confederacy). The most studied and written about episode in U.S. history, the Civil War began primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people. War broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North, which also included some geographically western and southern states, proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Alfred T. Mahan as a captain ATMahan.png
Alfred T. Mahan as a captain

While in actual command of a ship, his skills were not exemplary; and a number of vessels under his command were involved in collisions, with both moving and stationary objects. He had an affection for old square-rigged vessels rather than the smoky, noisy steamships of his time; and he tried to avoid active sea duty. [6]

Dry dock A narrow basin that can be sealed and pumped dry to allow work on a vessel

A dry dock is a narrow basin or vessel that can be flooded to allow a load to be floated in, then drained to allow that load to come to rest on a dry platform. Dry docks are used for the construction, maintenance, and repair of ships, boats, and other watercraft.

In 1885, he was appointed as a lecturer in naval history and tactics at the Naval War College. Before entering on his duties, College President Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce pointed Mahan in the direction of writing his future studies on the influence of sea power. During his first year on the faculty, he remained at his home in New York City researching and writing his lectures. Though he was prepared to become a professor in 1886, Luce was given command of the North Atlantic Squadron, and Mahan became President of the Naval War College by default (June 22, 1886 – January 12, 1889, July 22, 1892 – May 10, 1893). [7] There, in 1888, he met and befriended future president Theodore Roosevelt, then a visiting lecturer. [8]

Naval War College staff college of the United States Navy

The Naval War College is the staff college and "Home of Thought" for the United States Navy at Naval Station Newport in Newport, Rhode Island. The NWC educates and develops leaders, supports defining the future Navy and associated roles and missions, supports combat readiness, and strengthens global maritime partnerships.

North Atlantic Squadron

The North Atlantic Squadron was a section of the United States Navy operating in the North Atlantic. It was renamed as the North Atlantic Fleet in 1902. In 1905 the European and South Atlantic Squadrons were abolished and absorbed into the North Atlantic Fleet. On 1 January 1906, the Navy's Atlantic Fleet was established by combining the North Atlantic Fleet with the South Atlantic Squadron.

President of the Naval War College

The President of the Naval War College is a flag officer in the United States Navy. The President's House in Newport, Rhode Island is his official residence.

Mahan's lectures, based on secondary sources and the military theories of Jomini, became his sea-power studies: The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890); The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793–1812 (2 vols., 1892); Sea Power in Relation to the War of 1812 (2 vols., 1905), and The Life of Nelson: The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain (2 vols., 1897). Mahan stressed the importance of the individual in shaping history and extolled the traditional values of loyalty, courage, and service to the state. Mahan sought to resurrect Horatio Nelson as a national hero in Britain and used his biography as a platform for expressing his views on naval strategy and tactics. Mahan was criticized for so strongly condemning Nelson's love affair with Lady Emma Hamilton, but it remained the standard biography until the appearance of Carola Oman's Nelson, 50 years later. [9]

Antoine-Henri Jomini Swiss general and military scholar who fought on belhalf of Switzerland, France, and Russia

Antoine-Henri, Baron Jomini was a Swiss officer who served as a general in the French and later in the Russian service, and one of the most celebrated writers on the Napoleonic art of war. Jomini's ideas were a staple at military academies, the United States Military Academy at West Point being a prominent example; his theories were thought to have affected many officers who later served in the American Civil War. He may have coined the term logistics in his Summary of the Art of War (1838).

Carola Oman was an English historical novelist, biographer and children's writer, best known for her retelling of the Robin Hood legend and for a 1946 biography of Admiral Lord Nelson.

Mahan struck up a friendship with pioneering British naval historian Sir John Knox Laughton, the pair maintaining the relationship through correspondence and visits when Mahan was in London. Mahan was later described as a "disciple" of Laughton, but the two were at pains to distinguish between each other's line of work. Laughton saw Mahan as a theorist while Mahan called Laughton "the historian". [10]

Origin and limitation of strategic views

Mahan's views were shaped by 17th-century conflicts between the Dutch Republic, England, France and Spain, and by the nineteenth-century naval wars between France and Great Britain. British naval superiority eventually defeated France, consistently preventing invasion and an effective blockade. Mahan emphasized that naval operations were chiefly to be won by decisive battles and blockades. [11] In the 19th-century the United States sought greater control over its seaborne commerce in order to protect its economic interests which relied heavily on exports bound mainly for Europe.

Mahan's emphasis on sea power as the most important cause of Britain's rise to world power neglected diplomacy and land arms. Furthermore, theories of sea power do not explain the rise of land empires, such as Bismarck's Germany or the Russian Empire. [12]

Sea power

Mahan believed that national greatness was inextricably associated with the sea, with its commercial use in peace and its control in war; and he used history as a stock of examples to exemplify his theories, arguing that the education of naval officers should be based on a rigorous study of history. Mahan's framework derived from Antoine-Henri Jomini, and emphasized strategic locations (such as choke points, canals, and coaling stations), as well as quantifiable levels of fighting power in a fleet. Mahan also believed that in peacetime, states should increase production and shipping capacities and acquire overseas possessions, though he stressed that the number of coal fueling stations and strategic bases should be limited to avoid draining too many resources from the mother country. [13]

The primary mission of a navy was to secure the command of the sea, which would permit the maintenance of sea communications for one's own ships while denying their use to the enemy and, if necessary, closely supervise neutral trade. Control of the sea could be achieved not by destruction of commerce but only by destroying or neutralizing the enemy fleet. Such a strategy called for the concentration of naval forces composed of capital ships, not too large but numerous, well-manned with crews thoroughly trained, and operating under the principle that the best defense is an aggressive offense. [14]

Mahan contended that with a command of the sea, even if local and temporary, naval operations in support of land forces could be of decisive importance. He also believed that naval supremacy could be exercised by a transnational consortium acting in defense of a multinational system of free trade. His theories, expounded before the submarine became a serious factor in warfare, delayed the introduction of convoys as a defense against German U-boats during World War I. By the 1930s, the US Navy had built long-range submarines to raid Japanese shipping; but in World War II, the Japanese, still tied to Mahan, designed their submarines as ancillaries to the fleet and failed to attack American supply lines in the Pacific.

Mahan believed first, that good political and naval leadership was no less important than geography when it came to the development of sea power. Second, Mahan's unit of political analysis insofar as sea power was concerned was a transnational consortium, rather than a single nation state. Third, his economic ideal was free trade rather than autarky. Fourth, his recognition of the influence of geography on strategy was tempered by a strong appreciation of the power of contingency to affect outcomes. [15]

In 1890 Mahan prepared a secret contingency plan for war between Britain and the United States. Mahan believed that if the British blockaded the eastern ports, the US Navy should be concentrated in one of them, preferably New York, with its two widely separated exits, and employ torpedo boats to defend the other harbors. This concentration of the US fleet would force the British to tie down such a large proportion of their navy to watch the New York exits that other American ports would be relatively safe. Detached American cruisers should wage "constant offensive action" against the enemy's exposed positions; and if the British were to weaken their blockade force off New York to attack another American port, the concentrated US fleet could capture British coaling ports in Nova Scotia, thereby seriously weakening British ability to engage in naval operations off the American coast. This contingency plan was a clear example of Mahan's application of his principles of naval war, with a clear reliance on Jomini's principle of controlling strategic points. [16]


Timeliness contributed no small part to the widespread acceptance of Mahan's theories. Although his history was relatively thin, based as it was on secondary sources, his vigorous style, and clear theory won widespread acceptance of navalists and supporters of the New Imperialism in Africa and Asia.

Given the rapid technological changes underway in propulsion (from coal to oil and from reciprocating engines to turbines), ordnance (with better fire directors, and new high explosives), and armor and the emergence of new craft such as destroyers and submarines, Mahan's emphasis on the capital ship and the command of the sea came at an opportune moment. [14]


Mahan's name became a household word in the German navy after Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered his officers to read Mahan, and Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930) used Mahan's reputation to finance a powerful surface fleet. [17] Tirpitz, an intense navalist who believed ardently in Mahan's dictum that whatever power rules the sea also ruled the world, had The Influence of Sea Power Upon History translated into German in 1898 and had 8,000 copies distributed for free as a way of pressuring the Reichstag to vote for the First Navy Bill. [18]

Tirpitz used Mahan not only as a way of winning over German public opinion but also as a guide to strategic thinking. [19] Before 1914, Tirpitz completely rejected commerce raiding as a strategy and instead embraced Mahan's ideal of a decisive battle of annihilation between two fleets as the way to win command of the seas. [18] Tirpitz always planned for the German High Seas Fleet to win the Entscheidungsschlacht (decisive battle) against the British Royal Navy somewhere in "the waters between Helgoland and the Thames", a strategy he based on his reading of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. [18]

Great Britain

Mahan and British admiral John Fisher (1841–1920) both addressed the problem of how to dominate home waters and distant seas with naval forces unable to do both. Mahan argued for a universal principle of concentration of powerful ships in home waters with minimized strength in distant seas. Fisher instead decided to use submarines to defend home waters and mobile battlecruisers to protect imperial interests. [20]


Though in 1914 French naval doctrine was dominated by Mahan's theory of sea power, the course of World War I changed ideas about the place of the navy. The refusal of the German fleet to engage in a decisive battle, the Dardanelles expedition of 1915, the development of submarine warfare, and the organization of convoys all showed the Navy's new role in combined operations with the army. The Navy's part in securing victory was not fully understood by French public opinion in 1918, but a synthesis of old and new ideas arose from the lessons of the war, especially by Admiral Raoul Castex (1878–1968) who synthesized in his five-volume Théories Stratégiques the classical and materialist schools of naval theory. He reversed Mahan's theory that command of the sea precedes maritime communications and foresaw the enlarged roles of aircraft and submarines in naval warfare. [21]


The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660–1783 was translated into Japanese [22] and was used as a textbook in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). That usage strongly affected the IJN's plan to end Russian naval expansion in the Far East, which culminated in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). [23] It has been argued that the IJN's pursuit of the "decisive battle" contributed to Imperial Japan's defeat in World War II, [24] [25] because the development of the submarine and the aircraft carrier, combined with advances in technology, largely rendered obsolete the doctrine of the decisive battle between fleets. [26] Nevertheless, the IJN did not adhere strictly to Mahanian doctrine because its forces were often tactically divided, particularly during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway.

United States

Mahan believed that if the United States were to build an Isthmian canal, it would become a Pacific power, and therefore it should take possession of Hawaii to protect the West Coast. [27] Nevertheless, his support for American imperialism was more ambivalent than is often stated, and he remained lukewarm about American annexation of the Philippines. [28]

Later career

Between 1889 and 1892, Mahan was engaged in special service for the Bureau of Navigation, and in 1893 he was appointed to command the powerful new protected cruiser Chicago on a visit to Europe, where he was feted. He returned to lecture at the War College and then, in 1896, he retired from active service, returning briefly to duty in 1898 to consult on naval strategy during the Spanish–American War.

Mahan continued to write, and he received honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, and McGill. In 1902, Mahan popularized the term "Middle East," which he used in the article "The Persian Gulf and International Relations," published in September in the National Review . [29]

As a delegate to the 1899 Hague Convention, Mahan argued against prohibiting the use of asphyxiating gases in warfare on the ground that such weapons would inflict such terrible casualties that belligerents would be forced to end wars more quickly, thus providing a net advantage for world peace. [30]

In 1902 Mahan was elected president of the American Historical Association, and his address, "Subordination in Historical Treatment", is his most explicit explanation of his philosophy of history. [31]

In 1906, Mahan became rear admiral by an act of Congress that promoted all retired captains who had served in the American Civil War. At the outbreak of World War I, he published statements favorable to the cause of Great Britain, but in an attempt to enforce American neutrality, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that all active and retired officers refrain from publicly commenting on the war. [32]

Religious life

Mahan was reared as an Episcopalian and became a devout churchman with High Church sympathies. For instance, late in life he strongly opposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer. [33] Nevertheless, Mahan also appears to have undergone a conversion experience about 1871, when he realized that he could experience God's favor, not through his own merits, but only through "trust in the completed work of Christ on the cross." [34] Geissler called one of his religious addresses almost "evangelical, albeit of the dignified stiff-upper-lip variety." [35] And Mahan never mentioned a conversion experience in his autobiography.

In later life, Mahan often spoke to Episcopal parishes. In 1899, at Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, Mahan emphasized his own religious experience and declared that one needed a personal relationship with God given through the work of the Holy Spirit. [36] In 1909, Mahan published The Harvest Within: Thoughts on the Life of the Christian, which was "part personal testimony, part biblical analysis, part expository sermon." [37]

Death and commemoration

The Mahan Hall at the United States Naval Academy is named for Mahan. Mahan Hall-US Naval Academy.jpg
The Mahan Hall at the United States Naval Academy is named for Mahan.

Mahan died in Washington, D.C., of heart failure on December 1, 1914, a few months after the outbreak of World War I.


Alfred Thayer Mahan married Ellen Lyle Evans in June 1872. They had two daughters and one son.

Dates of rank


In fiction

In 1901 , an alternate history by Robert Conroy, the main character is a young United States Army officer named Patrick Mahan, a fictitious nephew of Admiral Mahan, who himself appears briefly in the story as well.

In Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory , another alternate history, Mahan is frequently mentioned but never appears. He is spoken of as having been President of the United States from 1889 to 1897, and the Mahan Bedroom is a famous room in the Powel House in Philadelphia, analogous to the actual Lincoln Bedroom in the White House.

The protagonist in G.C. Edmondson's novel The Ship that Sailed the Time Stream frequently mentions Mahan and/or Mahan's ghost as an exclamation.


See also

Related Research Articles

Imperial German Navy Navy of the German Empire between 1871 and 1919

The Imperial German Navy was the navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy, which primarily had the mission of coastal defence. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded the navy, and enlarged its mission. The key leader was Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who greatly expanded the size and quality of the navy, while adopting the sea power theories of American strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan. The result was a naval arms race with Britain as the German navy grew to become one of the greatest maritime forces in the world, second only to the Royal Navy. The German surface navy proved ineffective during World War I; its only major engagement, the Battle of Jutland, was indecisive. However, the submarine fleet was greatly expanded and posed a major threat to the British supply system. The Imperial Navy's main ships were turned over to the Allies, but were sunk at Scapa Flow in 1919 by German crews.

Alfred von Tirpitz German Admiral and Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office

Alfred Peter Friedrich von Tirpitz was a German Grand Admiral, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, the powerful administrative branch of the German Imperial Navy from 1897 until 1916. Prussia never had a major navy, nor did the other German states before the German Empire was formed in 1871. Tirpitz took the modest Imperial Navy and, starting in the 1890s, turned it into a world-class force that could threaten the Royal Navy. His navy, however, was not strong enough to confront the British successfully in the First World War; the one great engagement at sea, the Battle of Jutland, ended in a draw with both sides claiming victory. Tirpitz turned to submarine warfare, which antagonised the United States. He was dismissed in 1916 and never regained power.

Akiyama Saneyuki Imperial Japanese Navy officer

Akiyama Saneyuki was a Meiji-period career officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He was famous as a planner of Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese general Akiyama Yoshifuru was his elder brother and the Japanese politician Hisako Ōishi was his granddaughter.

Fleet in being

In naval warfare, a "fleet in being" is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port. Were the fleet to leave port and face the enemy, it might lose in battle and no longer influence the enemy's actions, but while it remains safely in port, the enemy is forced to continually deploy forces to guard against it. A "fleet in being" can be part of a sea denial doctrine, but not one of sea control.

John Brewster Hattendorf, D.Phil., D.Litt., L.H.D., FRHistS, FSNR, is an American naval historian. He is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of more than fifty books, mainly on British and American maritime history and naval warfare. In 2005, the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings described him as "one of the most widely known and well-respected naval historians in the world." In reference to his work on the history of naval strategy, an academic in Britain termed him the "doyen of US naval educators." A Dutch scholar went further to say that Hattendorf "may rightly be called one of the most influential maritime historians in the world." From 1984 to 2016, he was the Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He has called maritime history "a subject that touches on both the greatest moments of the human spirit as well as on the worst, including war." In 2011, the Naval War College announced the establishment of the Hattendorf Prize for Distinguished Original Research in Maritime History, named for him. The 2014 Oxford Naval Conference - "Strategy and the Sea" - celebrated his distinguished career on April 10–12, 2014. The proceedings of the conference were published as a festschrift. In March 2016, Hattendorf received the higher doctorate of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) from the University of Oxford. Among the few Americans to have received such designation, Hattendorf remained actively engaged on the Naval War College campus after his formal retirement in 2016.

Eduard von Capelle German admiral

Admiral Eduard von Capelle was a German Imperial Navy officer from Celle. He served in the navy from 1872 until his retirement in October, 1918. During his career, Capelle served in the Reichsmarineamt, where he was primarily responsible for writing the Fleet Laws that funded the expansion of the High Seas Fleet. By the time he retired, Capelle had risen to the rank of admiral, and had served at the post of state secretary for the Reichsmarineamt. From this post, he oversaw the German naval war during the latter three years of World War I. Capelle retired to Wiesbaden, where he died on 23 February 1931.

Naval warfare in World War I was mainly characterized by the efforts of the Allied Powers, with their larger fleets and surrounding position, to blockade the Central Powers by sea, and the efforts of the Central Powers to break that blockade or to establish an effective blockade of the United Kingdom and France with submarines and commerce raiders.

The Naval Laws were five separate laws passed by the German Empire, in 1898, 1900, 1906, 1908, and 1912. These acts, championed by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Secretary of State for the Navy, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, committed Germany to building up a navy capable of competing with the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom.

Naval strategy is the planning and conduct of war at sea, the naval equivalent of military strategy on land.

Satō Tetsutarō Japanese politician

Satō Tetsutarō was a Japanese military theorist and an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy.

<i>The Influence of Sea Power upon History</i> literary work

The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783 is a history of naval warfare published in 1890 by Alfred Thayer Mahan. It details the role of sea power during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and discussed the various factors needed to support and achieve sea power, with emphasis on having the largest and most powerful fleet. Scholars considered it the single most influential book in naval strategy. Its policies were quickly adopted by most major navies, ultimately leading to the World War I naval arms race. It is also cited as one of the contributing factors of the United States becoming a great power.

Admiral Sir Herbert William Richmond was a prominent Royal Navy officer, described as "perhaps the most brilliant naval officer of his generation." He was also a top naval historian, known as the "British Mahan", the leader of the British Royal Navy's intellectual revolution that stressed continuing education especially in naval history as essential to the formation of naval strategy. After serving as a "gadfly" to the British Admiralty, his constructive criticisms causing him to be "denied the role in the formation of policy and the reformations of naval education which his talents warranted", he served as Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at Cambridge University from 1934 to 1936, and Master of Downing College, Cambridge from 1934 to 1946.

Sir John Knox Laughton was a British naval historian and arguably the first to argue for the importance of the subject as an independent field of study. Beginning his working life as a mathematically trained civilian instructor for the Royal Navy, he later became Professor of Modern History at King's College London and a co-founder of the Navy Records Society. A prolific writer of lives, he penned the biographies of more than 900 naval personalities for the Dictionary of National Biography.

<i>Kantai Kessen</i>

The Decisive Battle Doctrine was a naval strategy adopted by the Imperial Japanese Navy prior to the Second World War. The theory was derived from the writings of American naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan. In the Decisive Battle Doctrine the Japanese navy would win a war by fighting and winning a single, decisive naval action. The idea gained broad acceptance following the Russo-Japanese War, where a well-trained, smaller Japanese naval force gained a decisive victory in the Sea of Japan at the Battle of Tsushima, defeating their rival the Russian Empire, a western naval power. Operational plans thereafter were influenced by the effective naval gunnery Japan demonstrated at Tsushima.

German Imperial Naval Office

The Imperial Naval Office was a government agency of the German Empire. It was established in April 1889, when the German Imperial Admiralty was abolished and its duties divided among three new entities: the Imperial Naval High Command, the Imperial Naval Cabinet and the Imperial Naval Office performing the functions of a ministry for the Imperial German Navy.

Anglo-German naval arms race early 20th-century arms race between the United Kingdom and Germany

The arms race between the United Kingdom and the German Empire that occurred from the last decade of the nineteenth century until the advent of World War I in 1914 was one of the intertwined causes of that conflict. While based in a bilateral relationship that had worsened over many decades, the arms race began with a plan by German Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz in 1897 to create a fleet in being to force Britain to make diplomatic concessions; Tirpitz did not expect the Imperial German Navy to defeat the Royal Navy.

High Seas Fleet Naval battle during WWI

The High Seas Fleet (Hochseeflotte) was the battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy and saw action during the First World War. The formation was created in February 1907, when the Home Fleet (Heimatflotte) was renamed as the High Seas Fleet. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was the architect of the fleet; he envisioned a force powerful enough to challenge the Royal Navy's predominance. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Emperor, championed the fleet as the instrument by which he would seize overseas possessions and make Germany a global power. By concentrating a powerful battle fleet in the North Sea while the Royal Navy was required to disperse its forces around the British Empire, Tirpitz believed Germany could achieve a balance of force that could seriously damage British naval hegemony. This was the heart of Tirpitz's "Risk Theory," which held that Britain would not challenge Germany if the latter's fleet posed such a significant threat to its own.

William Dilworth Puleston was an American naval officer and author. He served as Director of Naval Intelligence, 1934-1937. He was considered "a popular, articulate and aggressive officer" and "an ideal planner, a student of world history and foreign affairs."

Erich Johann Albert Raeder was a naval leader in Germany before and during World War II. Raeder attained the highest possible naval rank—that of Großadmiral — in 1939, becoming the first person to hold that rank since Alfred von Tirpitz. Raeder led the Kriegsmarine for the first half of the war; he resigned in 1943 and was replaced by Karl Dönitz. He was sentenced to life in prison at the Nuremberg Trials, but was released early due to failing health. Raeder is also well known for dismissing Reinhard Heydrich from the Reichsmarine in April 1931 for "conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman".

Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Carl Borckenhagen was an Admiral in the Imperial German Navy. He was also an influential writer on naval strategy, and pivotal in introducing the ideas of geostrategist Alfred Thayer Mahan into the German Empire.



  1. Keegan, John. The American Civil War Knopf, 2009, 272.
  2. Suzanne Geisler, God and Sea Power: The Influence of Religion on Alfred Thayer Mahan (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015), 1.
  3. Geissler, 24–26.
  4. Richard W. Turk, The Ambiguous Relationship: Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan (Greenwood Press, 19870, 10.
  5. Larrie D. Ferreiro, 'Mahan and the "English Club" of Lima, Peru: The Genesis of The Influence of Sea Power upon History', The Journal of Military History72: 3 (July 2008), 901–06.
  6. Paret, Peter (1986). Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 445.
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-05-17. Retrieved 2006-05-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. Geissler, 99–100.
  9. ODNB entry for Carola Oman: Retrieved 8 July 2012. Pay-walled. (subscription required)
  10. Knight, Roger (2000). "The Foundations of Naval History: John Knox Laughton, the Royal Navy and the Historical Profession, Review of book by Professor Andrew Lambert". London: Institute for Historical Research. Retrieved April 3, 2007.
  11. Vego, Dr. Milan (2009). "Naval Classical Thinkers and Operational Art". Naval War College: 4. Archived from the original on January 31, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
  12. Paret, Peter (1986). Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 453–55.
  13. Crowl, Alfred Thayer Mahan, 451, 460.
  14. 1 2 Philip A. Crowl, "Alfred Thayer Mahan: The Naval Historian," in Paret, Peter, Gordon A. Craig, and Felix Gilbert, eds. Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (1986), ch. 16.
  15. Jon Tetsuro Sumida, Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command: The Classic Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
  16. Kenneth Bourne and Carl Boyd, "Captain Mahan's 'War' with Great Britain," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 94:7 (1968), 71–78. ISSN   0041-798X
  17. Holger Herwig,"The Failure of German Sea Power, 1914–1945: Mahan, Tirpitz, and Raeder Reconsidered", The International History Review, 10:1 (February 1988), 72–73.
  18. 1 2 3 Herwig, 69–105.
  19. Herwig, 72–73.
  20. , Jon Tetsuro Sumida, "Geography, Technology, and British Naval Strategy in the Dreadnought Era." Naval War College Review 2006 59(3): 89–102.
  21. Martin Motte, "L'epreuve des Faits: ou la Pensee Navale Française face a la Grande Guerre", Revue Historique Des Armées 1996 (2): 97–106. ISSN   0035-3299.
  22. Mark Peattie & David Evans, Kaigun (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1997).
  23. , Mahan, Proceedings article 1906.
  24. Donald Goldstein and Katherine Dillon, The Pearl Harbor Papers (Brassey's, 1993)
  25. Marc Parillo, The Japanese Merchant Marine in WW2 (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1993)
  26. Crowl, "Alfred Thayer Mahan: pp. 474–77.
  27. Brinkley, Alan (2010). "19: From Crisis to Empire". The Unfinished Nation. Columbia University: McGraw-Hill. p. 499.
  28. Geissler, 134–35.
  29. Adelson, Roger. London and the Invention of the Middle East: Money, Power, and War, 1902–1922 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 22–23.
  30. Barbara Tuchman, The Proud Tower, 246.
  31. Geissler, 151–52;"Subordination in Historical Treatment."
  32. Giessler, 189. Mahan unsuccessfully appealed the order to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, arguing that retired officers were no different from private citizens and should not be "silenced".
  33. Geissler, 178-185.
  34. Geissler, 78.
  35. Geissler, 149.
  36. Geissler, 149. He concluded with "the reiteration of my sure and joyful confidence, that I have tried God these many years and found Him ever faithful...that all I have, all that I am, all that have accomplished, has been of Him and through Him."
  37. Geissler, 167.
  38. Ebarb, Matthew A. "Midshipmen Learn Lessons from the Fleet Archived 2009-01-14 at the Wayback Machine " (story number NNS071020-04),, October 20, 2007.
  39. Geissler, 1
  40. Mahan Division website.
  41. "Review of The Life of Nelson, The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain by Captain A. T. Mahan". The Quarterly Review. 187: 126–52. January 1898.


Primary sources

Further reading

Military offices
Preceded by
Stephen Luce
President of the Naval War College
Succeeded by
Caspar F. Goodrich
Preceded by
Caspar F. Goodrich
President of the Naval War College
Succeeded by
Charles Herbert Stockton