Britain’s Naval Future by James Cable

By James Cable

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When Mahan published his gloomy comment on popular governments in 1890, he added: 'there are signs that England tends to drop behind'. 8 He did not foresee that, under the spur of a foreign challenge, British naval expenditure would be more than tripled in the next two decades. He might even have been surprised that much of this increase was the work of the most 'popular' governments Britain had yet experienced: the Liberal administrations of Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith, with their extensive programmes of social reform.

Nevertheless they do not invalidate the concept: they illustrate the difficulty of its application. This has to depend on the resources available, the nature of the conflict and the priority attaching to the particular uses of the sea which it is intended either to protect or to deny. It is the first of these factors that has received most attention and traditional theory assumed that sea control and ultimate victory could be expected to reward the stronger navy. Even the experience of the two 38 Britain's Naval Future world wars is often interpreted in terms of British failure to provide materiel of the right kind and in sufficient quantity.

When this was later reinforced by the British Pacific Fleet, the latter could only contribute 1 battleship, 3 fleet carriers (only 6 were in commission in the entire Royal Navy), 6 cruisers and 15 destroyers. What was worse, British aircraft carriers were mainly equipped with aircraft of American manufacture and the logistic support of the British fleet depended heavily on American help. This was a curious reversal of the situation in the First World War, when the US Army had depended on Britain and France not merely for aircraft, but for artillery and tanks.

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