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This chapter argues that the conflict at sea was an important and frequently overlooked part of the Napoleonic Wars. Focusing primarily on the Royal Navy and French maritime forces, but also mentioning the navies of Spain, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and United States, it outlines the manifold ways in which maritime warfare shaped wider events on land, and helped determine the conflict’s final outcome. It demonstrates that French attempts to invade Britain were successfully rebuffed by the Royal Navy, ensuring that Britain remained in the conflict. The chapter then offers a more modern take on the commonly misunderstood Battle of Trafalgar, arguing that it was far from decisive and did little to change the course of the war. The naval conflict continued in earnest after 1805, and the war of trade became all-consuming, particularly after the inception of ‘Napoleon’s Continental system’. Here the navy offered a stubborn resistance to the French Emperor’s objectives, helping to encourage illicit trade with the European continent while also expanding Britain’s empire and mercantilist reach elsewhere in the globe. Finally, it demonstrates that maritime support was crucial to the land war, not least Wellington’s Peninsula campaign.
By comparison with the continental powers, Britain had no more than a medium-sized army, but the largest navy in Europe. This chapter seeks to explore the bases of Britain’s naval strength, going back to the seventeenth-century Navigation Acts, and then to consider how that strength was deployed in the war against Napoleon. It argues that the Royal Navy, despite the limited impact it might be thought that it could have on land warfare, played an important part in the final defeat of Napoleon.
Dissatisfaction with the Royal Navy’s World War I performance led a generation of officers to analyze the fleet’s wartime record. This analysis revealed three problems: over-centralization of authority, a reluctance to fight night actions, and an overly defensive use of destroyers. In an effort to correct these issues, the Royal Navy made changes to its doctrine, training, and professional military education that improved the Navy’s World War II performance, especially in surface warfare. Reforms flowed from a variety of sources, including First Sea Lord Adm. David Beatty, contributors to the Naval Review, and Mediterranean Fleet exercise. The interwar reforms reflected an organizational culture that pursued improvement and learning in response to the perception that in World War I, the Navy failed to live up to historical standards of success.
The Marine Corps is a complex, tribal organization. Although Marines pride themselves on “every Marine a rifleman,” subcultures, in particular that of fixed-wing aviation, present a challenge to the organization. Another issue that influences Corps organizational behavior is its partnership with the US Navy in amphibious operations. Gender and ethnicity changes have challenged “Old Corps” cultural norms. The first challenge was racial integration, which began in the 1950s and continues today. Another complication is gender integration, given the masculine dominance values in varied ethnic communities. There is also a potential cultural clash between part of the officer Corps and junior enlisted personnel. A more important potential issue is a cultural clash among Marines at the cutting edge of the Corps’s technological transformation, as well as cultural differences between millennials and older generations. Boot camp is designed to overcome these cultural differences and make every recruit a Marine. The Marine Corps uses its heroic, manufactured past to instill in its personnel a unique identity, that of spartan warrior dedicated to fighting and destroying the nation’s enemies. The Marine Corps must blend two cultures, both important to its political existence and self-image – that of its public warrior image and that of its growing technological reality.
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