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Thursday 7 July 2022

Land Power Over Sea Power

An interesting observation by Hilaire Belloc from his book The Crusades: The World's Debate. 

"Thus the first very great and victorious march of the Crusade was made entirely by land save for the ferrying across the Bosphorus and the short crossing of the Straits of the Adriatic by but a portion of the Crusading armies. The rest of the work was foot slogging and horse mastership. It is remarkable that the one main Crusading effort, the earliest one, which was alone really successful, thus neglected, or was unable, to use, sea power. It is the more remarkable because the distances involved were so great. A manorial lord taking the Cross in lower Normandy as we know so many of them did—covered well over 2,500 miles first and last before he reached Jerusalem, if he had the good fortune to be among the few that did achieve that avowed object of their advance. A man from one of Godfrey’s central districts, say from Bouillon itself, in the Ardennes, covered perhaps some 200 miles less. Even the nearest group, the men from Sicily and southern Italy, covered well over 1,500 miles. The effort was greater than that of the Grand Army (in 1812) only the furthest units of which had marched near 1,500 miles before they reached Moscow; while the nearest units, drawn from the Napoleonic garrisons in Germany, covered only from 800 to 1,000 miles. 

That the first successful effort was made by land while the later unsuccessful efforts were made in part by sea and at last mainly by sea is an illustration of something which you find running all through military history, to wit, that dependence upon sea power in military affairs is a lure, leading to ultimate disappointment. In the final and decisive main duels of history the party which begins with high sea power is defeated by the land power: whether that sea power be called Carthage, or Athens, or the Phoenician fleet of the great King, it loses in the long run; the land wins."

Another example that comes to mind for me is how quickly Britain was soundly defeated by Germany at the start of World War 2, and driven off the continent. Britain only gained the upper hand after the land armies of the Soviet Union and America turned their guns on Germany. Of course the sea power of Britain did defeat Napolean on land at Waterloo, but it was again strengthen by a massive alliance, including an entire second army under Prussian command, a notable land power. 

Belloc's observation is fascinating considering the state of our modern world. We have a situation where the dominant World Power, the United States, is a sea and air power with the backbone of their military might being their aircraft carriers, which rule the seas. Whereas China has the largest land army in the existence of mankind, and is allied to Russia which has endless resources to share with it to resupply it. 

America's great advantage for some time has been its ability to project on blue water. But it's record against even fourth rate militias in the Middle East would indicate its reliance on sea power would turn out to be relying in a paper tiger against a peer enemy with land superiority. 

Interesting days ahead. 

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