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- March 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Development of Mobile Logistic Support in Anglo-American Naval Policy, 1900-1953
By Peter V Nash.
University Press of Florida, USA. ISBN 978 0 8130 3367 9
Reviewed by Tony Howland
With a title like that, you can be quite sure that this book will not leap out at you from the shelves of your local book store. Indeed, you will simply not find it there. It will more rightly be found under the ‘must read’ section of the library of any self-respecting Staff College, War College or military seat of learning.
It is an erudite volume of some 320 pages, complete with maps, diagrams and numerous black and white illustrations.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Britain was well experienced in the management of her Empire, principally through her ownership of what was then the biggest navy in the world. The task of managing this fleet had driven her to establish an extensive network of coaling stations across the vastness of the world’s oceans.
America on the other hand had at that time, a large and powerful navy, but without an empire had little by way of strategic imperative or direction upon which to base any kind of logistic planning. Whilst still vaguely suspicious of Britain’s intentions with regard to her Empire and the rest of the world, America moved uneasily in step with Britain as a probable ally in all but the very worst of circumstances.
It was not until the 1930s that some appreciable degree of warmth was evident in the relationship between the two countries. Thereafter they moved forward with some measure of cooperation as far as the planning and implementation of logistic support for their fleets.
WW II, however, found both countries still largely unprepared for the type and scale of warfare they found themselves involved in. Neither country could, at the beginning of the war, have envisaged the implications of what it was to be involved in the new World War. Both countries, but particularly America, quickly recognised however that if the war was to be won, it would only be won at sea, and that, given the distances and fleet sizes and compositions involved, would necessarily require massive logistic support – support which clearly, at the outset, they did not have.
The war years, 1939 to 1945, saw a necessary explosion in every aspect of logistic support, from the design and building of an enormous range of different support ship types to the development and testing of a vast array of new equipment and replenishment methods, and inevitably considerable concentration on the philosophy, tactics and doctrine associated with the huge task of maintaining a number of fleets at sea. The total process of this expansion is examined and explained in fascinating detail, accompanied by a range of diagrams, charts, maps and pictures
The end of WW II very nearly saw the loss of all that had been achieved. The inevitably savage economic strictures, the loss of experienced personnel well-versed in the new science of Logistics, and the mothballing of so many of the specialized ships which had supported the fleet during the previous six years, had a disastrous effect. Sadly, it was only the coming of the Korean War in 1952 which forced the resurrection of the art and science so hardly won.
Through periods of uneasy peace and several ‘hot’ wars – Vietnam, the Falklands War – and the creation in the USN of Carrier Task Groups, totally self-supporting fleets, the doctrines of Mobile Logistic Support have advanced apace. Today, for instance, more than one third of stores are delivered to ships in company by ‘vertrep’, delivered from new ‘one stop shop’ supply ships.
Logistics has become a vital component of any nation’s capacity to wage effective war. To quote from the book’s conclusion, ‘Logistics play an important part in determining a nation’s capacity to sustain war. The control, distribution and availability of materiel will directly influence the tempo, shape and outcome of any campaign.’
Indeed, to put it more succinctly, again from the book’s conclusion, ‘Logistics is no longer a specialisation, it is a core competency.’