Tag Archives: Naval Strategy

Sea Control 56 – Forgotten Naval Strategists

seacontrol2Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício, associate editor for our Forgotten Naval Strategists Week, joins us from Tokyo to discuss Fernando Oliveira and our other Forgotten Naval strategists – as well as how these strategists become “forgotten.” There’s a bit of Peloponnesian War thrown in too… just because.

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Remember War: Prophet Makarov Ignored in his Native Land

This article is part of CIMSEC’s “Forgotten Naval Strategists Week.”

The fleet reflected the empire it served. The centuries-old dynasty that expanded its rule with an iron fist continually fell back on its own hubris, believing its decisions like a cloak of Catholic papal infallibility and that its enemies were incapable of mounting any serious challenge. The Romanov dynasty, and its courtiers, ignored the factors that enabled their primacy, unable to foresee their own demise within a decade; and it was with this aura of invincibility that the Baltic Fleet was ordered on its months-long journey to the Far East. But that aura wore off quickly and gave way to the relentless cold, penetrating rain as the fleet got underway, foreshadowing the hail of Japanese shells that would ultimately devastate them. As one Russian officer wrote a year later, “surely this was no day to inspire hope in the hopeless…and a hopeless band it was.” (White, p. 597) The eventual battle in the straits of Tsushima, as with earlier engagements between the two powers during the Russo-Japanese War, reflected the works of Admiral Stepan Makarov. Japanese adoption of his concepts led to its victory; Russian rejection led to its defeat.

makarovpicRussia failed to prepare for war. It neglected to provide appropriate maintenance of its fleet, provision its ships, or appropriately train and educate its personnel. Russia had the opportunity to comply with their top theorist but failed to do so.   Admiral Stepan O. Makarov (or Makaroff prior to 1918), was widely published on naval theories as well as a practitioner. Makarov, who had graduated first in his military class, published his first article at the age of 19 in Morskoy Sbornick, the Russian version of Naval Institute’s Proceedings. He eventually published over fifty books, articles and major papers. He was an early proponent of wireless communication between ships – which was later used by the Japanese instead of the Russian Navy. With the advent of torpedoes, he designed torpedo boats as well as torpedo boat tactics for the Russo-Turkish War.

Makarov studied foreign wars. Writing following the Spanish-American War, he suggested the lessons showed that: navies must rely on its guns; they must never sacrifice artillery to armor; more artillery and torpedoes are necessary; armor doesn’t assure victory, it only retards the defeat; and a victory exacts the same conditions on land and sea. (Makaroff, “Views of the Lessons of Santiago”) One author evaluating Makarov in a 1965 Proceedings article noted had he “been born in other times and circumstances, he might well have been one of the world’s universal geniuses.”

Makarov’s seminal work proved as diverse in its theoretical, operational, and tactical considerations as other strategists. The first tenet, like that of Sun Tzu, was the influence of morale upon success in battle. To prove this historically, Makarov focused largely on Admiral Horatio Nelson. So close was he to Nelson’s order before Trafalgar, (“No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy”) that he developed his own corollary, “only he who does nothing never errs.” In his detailed study of Trafalgar, he notes that Villeneuve “displayed a dejected frame of mind.” (Makarov, Tactics, p. 78) He quotes Napoleon that “you must tell cowards that they are brave men if you wish them to be so.” (Makarov, Tactics, p. 81)

In studying the Battle of Santiago, Makarov again noted the importance of morale since the Americans were confident in artillery and sought combat; the Spanish, by contrast, “came out of Santiago with the absolute certainty of meeting the disaster that awaited them.” While in Port Arthur under attack, Makarov personally took command of the Novik and left the safety of the harbor to render assistance to another ship, displaying the boldness that resulted in Nelsonian loyalty throughout the Russian fleet.

He wrote that “the maintenance of proper spirit on shipboard is a matter of the highest importance.” (Makarov, Tactics, p. 45) Such was clearly not the case when the Baltic Fleet got underway there “nothing but toil discomfort, anxiety” (White, p. 597) and later learned of the Asian Fleet’s fate, having weeks more to contemplate what awaited them.

The second tent was training and education. “Officers and men must be trained so as to fit them for war,” he wrote. Lieutenant R.D. White writing in Proceedings about Tsushima suggested that one of the flaws of the Russian fleet was that the Baltic Fleet’s Admiral Rodjestvesnski held his “first practice maneuvers with his whole squadron the day before the battle.” Another officer blamed the Minister of Marine who allegedly suppressed the Grand Naval Maneuvers, condemning the squadrons “to an enforced idleness.” Furthermore, “only one staff officer had received a military education.” The Russian officer related that “every Russian will answer, ‘Ah, if Makaroff had been there.’”

The third tenet was the use of ordnance. His statement that “firing without aiming is the best way to lose” was simplistic, but given the Baltic Fleet’s experience at Dogger Bank and Tsushima, the Russians would have been better served by targeting and improving their hit ratios. In Proceedings, Bradley A. Fiske assessed as a Commander and Inspector of Ordnance that the Japanese fleet’s handling was better; Japanese gunnery was better, and they were better prepared in war.” The Russians, due largely to nervousness and inexperience, were opening fire at 10,000 yards or more, which was too far to be effective, and many shells were simply defective. The Japanese, by contrast, reserved fire until they were within 6,000 yards until they closed to 3,000 yards. One Russian executive officer who survived the battle noted that the “principal cause of our defeat was our technical proficiency”.

The fourth tenet was the use of torpedoes, on which Makarov was one of the experts among all nations. From the advent of torpedoes as a new technology, to the design of torpedo boats, to the development of tactics, to the introduction of an entirely new type of warfare, Makarov was arguably without peer. In this, the Japanese were superior to the Russians during the conflict, inflicting heavy damage or deterring ships as a result.

The fifth tenet was “preparation for war.” His motto was “Remember War” – as if war were always imminent. Makarov arrived in Port Arthur in early March 1904. According to one of his officers, the “efficiency of the fleet was improved and [his] personality and drive inspired everyone under his command.” The Russian directive for Makarov’s forces at Port Arthur was simple: “Hold until reinforced.” The expectation was that the Far East Fleet should remain at anchor in the protection of the harbor. Makarov disagreed and ordered his ships to get underway as often as possible, often engaging Japanese forces. Had Russia adopted this tenet, the Baltic Fleet might have fared better at Tsushima. Makarov wrote that “Nelson understood how to maintain the health of his crew during long sea cruises,” a factor ignored by the Russian admiralty. Another issue was that the Baltic Fleet took mostly coal for its long voyage and not enough ammunition.

Finally, he supported the concept of the fleet working with ground forces to achieve victory (Makarov, Tactics, p. xxvi). The Russian land and naval forces had little coordination, with the exception of the one month Makarov was in Port Arthur. More adept at this type of joint operation was the Japanese Navy,   Makarov’s influence and effectiveness were, however, mitigated by political and personal realities. First, some of his work wasn’t entirely original. In his Discussion of Questions in Naval Tactics, Makarov’s delves deep into Clausewitz, Jomini, Nelson, Napoleon and Russia’s own Geenral Dragomirow.

With regard to his own theories, some turned out to be outdated within years of his death. In his major work, for example, he devoted an entire chapter on the design and tactical use of ram ships, which some might suggest outlived their use with the Battle of Actium. But the 19th century was no stranger to ram ships. In 1835, Captain James Barron designed a tri-hulled, steam-driven paddle-wheel ram ship. Charles Ellet, Jr.’s ram ships found moderate success during the U.S. Civil War. Ramming was employed at the Battle of Lissa during the Austro-Italian War. Prow-configured capital ships for potential ramming continued to be incorporated into U.S. designs, such as with the USS Olympia.

Makarov also failed to successfully employ some of his own maxims. One was that one must risk to win battles. Another, as previously noted, was to illuminate harbors and employ reconnaissance boats. Ironically, a month after taking command at Port Arthur, he was advised that something was seen in searchlights outside the harbor. Believing it to be one of his own boats, he went to sleep. The following morning he risked all by getting underway; his ship soon hit a mine and Makarov was killed.


Makarov failed to gain sufficient support from his own government or fellow senior officers. Makarov was also at odds with the local Viceroy, Admiral Yevgeny Alexeiev, because he believed “politics and military matters did not mix,” a fatal flaw in someone who hoped his concepts would be implemented doctrinally. Tsar Nicholas II did not consider the Navy a priority, given Russia’s land-mass and need for a large standing army, until the waning months of the war.

Imperial Russia’s dependence on its land forces to protect its western borders and achieve its objectives in the east came at the risk of a marginal navy, ill-prepared for war, and failing to subscribe to the naval principles of one of its own admirals. That deficiency was exploited by the Japanese who not only studied Makarov’s principles but employed them at Port Arthur and Tsushima. This should not be surprising given that Fleet Admiral Heihachiro Togo “in all his travels kept Makarov’s book on naval tactics beside his bunk, until he almost knew it by heart.” (Warner, p. 238)


Works Consulted and Cited



  • Makarov, Stepan O., Discussion of Questions in Naval Tactics.
  • Podsoblyaev, Evgenii F. (translated by King, Francis and Biggart, John), The Russian Naval General Staff and the Evolution of Naval Policy, 1905-1914. The Journal of Military History 66 (January 2002): 37-70.
  • Warner, Denis and Warner, Peggy, The Tide at Sunrise: A History of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05; Frank Cass, London 1974

ARTICLES from: United States Naval Institute Proceedings.

  • Fiske, CDR Bradley A., “Why Togo Won”
  • Japanese General Staff (Official Version), “Battle of the Sea of Japan”
  • Lockroy, M., “The Lessons of Tsushima”
  • Mahan, CAPT A.T., “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea”
  • Makaroff, S.O., “Views of the Lessons of Santiago”
  • Makaroff, S.O., “Device for Minimizing the Effects of Collision at Sea”
  • Mitchell, Dr. Donald W., “Admiral Makarov: Attack! Attack! Attack!” July 1965
  • Posokhow, Admiral S., “Recollections of the Battle of Tsushima” aboard cruiser Oleg,
  • Schroeder, CAPT Seaton, “Battle of the Sea of Japan”
  • Sims, LCDR William S., “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All Big-Gun, One-Caliber Battleships of High Speed, Large Displacement and Gunpower”
  • White, LT R.D., “With the Baltic Fleet at Tsushima”


Claude Berube teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is the immediate past chair of the Editorial Board of Naval Institute Proceedings. He is the co-author of three non-fiction books and the author of his debut novel, “The Aden Effect.”



Lessons From History: Themistocles Builds a Navy

This article is part of CIMSEC’s “Forgotten Naval Strategists Week.”

“I never learned how to tune a harp or play upon a lute but I know how to raise a small and obscure city to glory and greatness where to all kindred of the Earth will pilgrim.”

Thus spoke the great warrior politician Themistocles in the 5th Century B.C. Themistocles is famous for a lot of things: his heroic actions at the Battle of Salamis, his secret plot to rebuild Athens’ walls after the Second Persian War, and his six-pack abs in “300: Rise of an Empire” (author’s note: thoroughly underwhelmed by that movie). But his biggest impact on history was his fateful advocacy early in his career for Athens to build a first-rate navy. Themistocles should be recognized as one of the earliest naval theorists because he successfully promulgated a sea-view of the world and brought Athens onto the sea.


Portrait of a naval theorist.

Athens has gone down in history as a naval powerhouse but that was not always the case. The city of Athens is actually a few miles away from the sea, could only offer up fifty ships during the First Persian War, and did not even have a defensible port until Themistocles’ rise to prominence. Athens was a continental city-state and a poor one at that; it had little to offer in terms of natural resources. The striking of silver in the mines of Laurium in 483 B.C. changed this. Athens was faced with a choice of how to divide up the windfall. The prevailing idea was to take the money and divide it equally among the population. Themistocles, apparently alone, proposed to use the funds to finance construction of a 200 ship fleet and managed to win over the population. The rationale behind his advocacy is controversial to this day: he claimed that the navy’s purpose was to challenge Athens’ island rival, Aegina, but others have attributed to him the base motivations of wanting to secure power or the foresight to see the invasion of Xerxes coming three years later.

Regardless of Themistocles’ true motivations, though the high-minded ones seem more plausible, his success is remarkable because it achieved a full reorientation of Athens’ politico-military focus from land to sea. This was all the more surprising because ancient Greek culture gave primacy to the strength and heroism of land combat. Even Plato complained that Themistocles’ actions transformed the army “from steady soldiers… into mariners and seamen tossed about the sea… [Themistocles] took away from the Athenians the spear and the shield, and bound them to the bench and the oar.”

History proved Themistocles right. The 200 Athenian ships, combined with his deft admiralship, were instrumental in defeating the Persians at the Battle of Salamis and, far more than the Battle of Thermopylae, turned the tide of the war in Greece’s favor. Moreover, once the Persians retreated across the Aegean Sea, Athens used its fleet to liberate the occupied islands and Ionian cities in modern Turkey. The new Athenian dependencies evolved into the Athenian Empire whose domination of trade in the Aegean launched Athens’ golden age. Their art and architecture are still the standard by which we judge all others classics. It is difficult to say whether Themistocles foresaw all of these circumstances playing out when he first advocated for the fleet but his strategic argument for the Athenians to take to the sea reflects an appreciation for what dominating the sea could achieve.


The Athenian Empire at its height. If not for Themistocles, they would have had to swim to build it.

Lessons Learned

1) It is never too late to become a sea power.

 History is full of examples of continental powers who failed to embrace the sea to their detriment: the Persians, Ming China, and the Ottomans are but a few. Themistocles’ success demonstrates that states, with proper planning and political determination, can alter policy and project their presence onto the water.

2) States should maintain a military force that augments their commercial interests.

For those following politics in the United States, the parable of the silver mines of Laurium might lead one to assume that Themistocles’ argument supports military spending at the expense of social programs. That is not entirely the case. Blanket military spending does not mean financial stability; the Habsburgs are a great cautionary tale for military spending becoming a money pit. The true reason why the Athenian navy was such a boon to the state was not just its military value but the commercial value in trade that it fostered after the Persian Wars ended. We conclude that the United States should be careful about making budget cuts to military forces that make the global trade system work. In particular, one needs to tread lightly around investments that are meant to counter maritime piracy; it is no accident that shipping insurance rates soar in places where the United States Navy does not patrol.

Matthew Merighi is a Masters Degree candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

The Paradox of Admiral Gorshkov

This article is part of CIMSEC’s “Forgotten Naval Strategists Week.”

It’s time to discuss the Soviet Navy, so dust off your Norman Polmar guides and your early Tom Clancy novels. Or just ask an old salt and Cold War vet if the Red Fleet used to be a big deal. You might even check with Vladimir Putin, who is well aware of this recent yet quickly forgotten chapter in Russian history. Putin would no doubt fondly recall the man responsible for the rise of the Soviet Navy and for its operational and intellectual direction in its heyday: Admiral Sergei Gorshkov.

Gorshkov took command of the Soviet Navy in 1956 at age 45 and oversaw the Soviet Union’s expansion into a global sea power until his retirement in 1985. By comparison, the U.S. Navy had eight Chiefs of Naval Operations (CNOs) during the same period (and potentially more if not for Arleigh Burke’s own unprecedented longevity). Gorshkov’s career demonstrated that he was both a survivor and an extremely patient man. He made it through five Soviet leaders in the post-Stalin period, so he knew how to play his political cards right with the Kremlin. He also survived a defense structure dominated by WWII-era communist party officials fixated on land power and Red Army marshals who were contemptuous and ignorant of naval matters in equal measure. Thus, Gorshkov clearly understood the limits of inter-service rivalry and intellectual rigor within the Soviet system.

Admiral Gorshkov waited patiently for his opportunity to transform the Soviet Navy from a submarine-dominated, sea denial force with a coastal and defensive orientation into a blue water fleet – though still a sub-centric one – that had strategic strike, power projection, and global presence missions. Above all, the Soviet Navy under Gorshkov had ambitions to challenge U.S. sea supremacy, even if his words did not always match his service’s deeds or capabilities. “The flag of the Soviet navy now proudly flies over the oceans of the world,” the navy chief warned Americans from the cover of Time magazine in 1968, and “[s]ooner or later, the U.S. will have to understand that it no longer has mastery of the seas.” But first, Gorshkov had to achieve mastery over his own navy in the post-Khrushchev era.

An inveterate hater of navies in general, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was nonetheless enamored of submarines and presided over the construction of the largest peacetime submarine fleet the world has ever seen (well over 400). After submarines on their own proved to be of limited utility, to put it mildly, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Gorshkov capitalized on the humiliation of Khrushchev and of his own navy to press for a more balanced fleet. Gorshkov specifically wanted large surface combatants as well as a greater naval role in Soviet strategy and policy.

It was during the naval expansion period from the mid-1960s through the 1970s under Brezhnev that Gorshkov authored the works that put forth his vision of sea power, Russia’s maritime heritage and destiny, and the naval component of that particular Soviet fixation, operational art. Gorshkov’s writings fueled vigorous debate amongst Soviet naval experts in the West and established a strategic discourse for the superpower naval rivalry that, in hindsight, was truly remarkable.

Contemporary naval leaders and analysts widely acknowledged Gorshkov’s contributions to Cold War naval thought. Gorshkov’s American counterpart in the early 1970s, CNO Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., encouraged the U.S. Naval Institute to publish Red Star Rising at Sea in 1974. The volume was a collection of 11 articles by Gorshkov published as the series, “Navies in War and Peace,” in Morskoi sbornik (Naval Digest). The article topics spanned from Tsarist times to the Cold War and offered insights on the direction of Soviet naval thinking. Notably, the volume was itself a compilation of earlier Proceedings articles that featured commentary by preeminent American admirals (including four former CNOs) on each of the original Gorshkov articles. As such, Red Star Rising is a time capsule of not only Gorshkov’s ideas but also U.S. perspectives on his philosophy on sea power – as strategist Rear Admiral J. C. Wylie wrote in his commentary, “a rare glimpse into the mind [of the opponent]” – and American reactions to the Soviet naval threat during a crucial period of Cold War naval history.

As the series title implied, Gorshkov presented the case for a strong, balanced fleet with substantial peacetime and wartime missions. The Soviet Navy, in his view, had an especially important role in supporting the Soviet Union’s political objectives and exerting its influence abroad. To not undertake this mission, Gorshkov argued, would cede the ideological battleground to the U.S. Navy as an instrument of “peacetime imperialism.” However, Gorshkov’s real motive, as speculated by experts at the Center for Naval Analyses at the time, was to defend the Soviet Navy’ position internally and to keep its growth trajectory heading upward in the era of SALT and détente.

Gorshkov followed up the articles with a book-length treatment of his views, The Sea Power of the State. The book appeared at the height of the post-Vietnam debates over perceived U.S. weaknesses in the face of a growing Soviet naval threat. It also solidified Gorshkov’s reputation as a dominant figure in Cold War naval thought, which was also notable for a Russian’s entry into the maritime strategy realm that was usually dominated by Anglosphere thinkers.


In the book, Gorshkov offered a non-controversial view that sea power provided “the capacity of a particular country to use the military-economic possibilities of the ocean for its own purposes.” He also took the most expansive view possible for what sea power encompasses. His definition not only included the obvious military, merchant, and fishing components, but also the scientific-technical field. Gorshkov emphasized that sea power is also about a link to the ocean environment in an “inseparable union.” To that end, Gorshkov cast himself as an advocate for oceanography and mapping. A visually stunning and expensive series of ocean atlases bore his name as editor during the same period (it was an “opus” that had “all the grandeur and majesty of a Bolshoi production of Boris Gudonov,” according to one American reviewer).

Gorshkov followed three broad principles when marketing his strategic ideas. First, ideas on sea power must be grounded in history. Gorshkov had slim pickings, admittedly, upon which to build a case for Russia as a great maritime nation – unlike Alfred Thayer Mahan’s embarrassment of riches with British history and the Royal Navy – beyond what Peter the Great briefly attempted several centuries ago. Gorshkov also burdened his readers with the usual clichéd Marxist-Leninist dialectic contortions of historical truth. Not surprisingly, his abuses of the historical record were mainly intended for domestic consumption and to overcome the strong land power dogma within Soviet society. Gorshkov vigorously promoted the idea that great powers needed great navies, and so he used history as an appeal to a national identity and a purpose far away from Russian littorals.

Second, Gorshov’s writings indicate that he understood that naval power aspirations must be firmly grounded in theory. Whether it was his earlier use of the term “naval science” in the 1960s, or his later discussions of “naval art,” Gorshkov focused on putting Soviet naval developments and the USSR’s growth as a maritime nation into a larger intellectual framework. This practice was particularly important when Soviet leaders imposed force structure decisions on the Soviet Navy that did not make for sound strategy or even operational sense. To that end, it is possible that Gorshkov likely needed ghost writing help from some brilliant theoreticians and fellow naval officers like Vice Admiral K. Stalbo to reverse engineer theory to fit a desired reality. Gorshkov, helped by allies in the Soviet leadership and by the course of world events, succeeded in carving out a strategic role for the Soviet Navy. Gorshkov made his case most strongly for the wartime missions of long-range naval operations against the enemy’s shore, such as strategic strike and amphibious landings, an area chronically neglected Soviet army strategists.

Finally, Gorshkov grasped what could be called the “optics” of sea power. He believed that ideas are best illustrated with powerful images. He knew, in the best Mahanian tradition, that navies were symbols of great power status and should be used as an instrument of policy. Gorshkov pushed the Soviet Navy’s peacetime role in promoting the interests of the Soviet state and spreading communist influence through presence missions around the globe. An impressive Soviet warship in a foreign port did not raise the same alarms as Soviet tanks or missiles showing up in distant lands. Moreover, navies with a transoceanic reach were an excellent, albeit tremendously expensive, way to coerce allies and confound adversaries. Gorshkov proved to be a master of both outcomes.

In the final analysis, Admiral Gorshkov as a naval strategist is a paradox: his impact on naval thought is at once considerable and negligible. To be sure, Gorshkov ranks among the great naval leaders of the 20th century. He was a consummate planner and innovator in addition to his political skills. He was also a proponent of salami-slicing to achieve his goals long before it became fashionable in the South China Sea. Analysts and historians asked if Gorshkov was a Russian Mahan or a Red Tirpitz to better fit him into the Western canon of naval strategy. There is also no denying that Gorshkov profoundly influenced not only the Soviet thinking on sea power, but also impacted the course of the U.S. Navy during the Cold War. So, as befits the mark of an important naval strategist, Gorshkov’s ideas mattered and were carefully weighed by allies and adversaries alike.

Yet, Gorshkov’s writings lacked the longevity of Mahan’s or Sir Julian Corbett’s works. His appeals to Russia’s sea power potential and its tenuous claims to naval greatness proved ephemeral – and likely helped to push the Soviet state to collapse. Gorshkov’s ideas, in retrospect, reflected a particular aspect of the Cold War and fulfilled their strategic purpose. As a result, Gorshkov is not a source today for timeless lessons on naval strategy, nor are his works still widely read or even discussed in the maritime nations that once followed him so closely. He has been “forgotten” in that sense. Perhaps in the case of Admiral Gorshkov, it is not his writings but his overall approach to the dilemma of a weaker navy challenging a stronger naval power, while at the same time building a maritime foundation and pursuing regional and global ambitions, that is truly instructive.

Chinese naval watchers in the U.S. naturally looked for a Chinese Mahan in Admiral Liu with the rise of China as a naval power. Another potential issue is a Gorshkov-style naval leader and thinker in Asia who understands the limits of his authoritarian state’s naval power, knows how to finesse its lack of maritime heritage, is politically adroit, and can successfully craft the words and images to at least appear to challenge U.S. naval supremacy. Gorshkov’s specific ideas may be of limited use today, but the legacy of his persistence in pounding the square peg of sea power into a land power-centered round hole lives on. His brand of strategic leadership and intellectual engagement could once again tie the U.S. in analytical and operational knots for years to come.

Jessica Huckabey is a researcher with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) and a retired naval reserve officer. She is writing her doctoral dissertation on American perceptions of the Soviet naval threat during the Cold War. The opinions are her own and not those of IDA or the Department of Defense.