Britain’s Naval Future by James Cable

By James Cable

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Sample text

The initial continental commitment and the bombing offensive seemed retrospectively- it was nearly posthumously- justified. Yet neither the expeditionary force nor the long-range bombers came near achieving the original objectives of deterring Germany from war and preventing her conquest of Europe. The continent was lost and with it substantial British forces. What is more, the diversion, before and during the war, of resources to these two unproductive tasks left too little to provide sufficient ships and aircraft of the right kind to ensure the defence of the British Isles and their seaborne communications.

What acceptable compromise is there between the assured superiority demanded before the First World War and the pacifist abnegation widely favoured since the Second? In this dilemma the Treasury have undoubtedly secured a tactical advantage. They have arrogated to themselves the privilege of questioning the strategic judgments of the Ministry of Defence. I do not say they are wrong. The conventional wisdom should always be subjected to challenge. Unfortunately the process has not been reciprocal.

This alternative strategy of insuring against a British defeat was rejected in favour of gambling on the chances of deterrence and ultimate victory. Fortune favoured the reckless decision and it can never be proved that the two options were mutually exclusive or that the first offered rather better prospects than the second. The possibility nevertheless deserves to be remembered, as does the subordinate role actually allotted to British sea-power, by anyone tempted to invoke past precedent as a guide to future choice.

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