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Guerre des Cotes - War of Coasts

The Italian Naval Maneuvers of 1893 were avowedly based on the views propounded in "Les Guerres Navales de Demain," a work published in 1892 by two distinguished leaders of that school, Commandants Z and H. Montechant, whose " Essai de Strategic Navale " was the accepted textbook of the school.

Assuming that the naval war of the future would be mainly a war of coasts, the writers in question seemed to think that the problems it presents will be comparatively simple of solution. Both propositions were open to considerable dispute. Neither can be accepted without large reservations and limitations. An Italian critic of the same maneuvers, writing in I' Italia Militare e Marina, accepted the first and disputed the second. He was perhaps too much absorbed in the naval situation of his own country. It is probable enough that a war between Italy and any other naval Power in the Mediterranean would be, if not essentially a war of coasts, at least capable of being represented as mainly a war of coasts. But this results rather from the geographical situation and relations of the Powers supposed to be in conflict on the sea than from any development of the principles of naval strategy or from any recent changes in the methods and appliances of naval warfare.

All naval warfare involves territorial enterprise, or, at any rate, freedom to undertake territorial enterprise without maritime impediment, as its ulterior end. No Power seeks to command the sea except for the purpose of traversing it in security ; and there is no principle more firmly established by the whole course of naval history than this, that in time of war the sea cannot be traversed in security either for military or for commercial purposes unless the Power which seeks to traverse it has established a strategic command over it.

If these views are sound, it follows that, although a naval war between Italy and another Mediterranean Power is capable of being represented as a war of coasts - because the Mediterranean is, so to speak, all coast, and neither Power would be likely at the outset to attack the extra-Mediterranean possessions of the other - yet it would really be a struggle for the command of the sea affected by the operations. As such its operations would be governed by those broad principles of naval strategy which are essentially immutable, being inherent in the nature of things, and not by any narrower considerations specially founded on the incidents and conditions of a so-called war of coasts. Only in the sense that territorial enterprise across the seas is the final cause of all maritime conflict can naval warfare in any case be regarded as a war of coasts ; and whether the coasts to be reciprocally assailed and defended are separated by a few miles or by half the circumference of the globe, the command of the sea between them is essential to the successful attack of either, though not, perhaps, in like measure, to their successful defence.

In other words, any Power which seeks to assail another across the sea, but not on the sea, must first secure the command of the sea which separates its own shores from those of its enemy, as a condition precedent of such military enterprise as it contemplates. The ulterior success of the enterprise then becomes for the most part a military and not a naval problem, and depends, as such, not on the naval strength of the Power assailed, which ex hypothesi will have disappeared or been rendered strategically of no account,but on the relative military strength and capacity of the two combatants.

Thus from one point of view we may call naval warfare a war of coasts ; from another, a struggle for the command of the sea. But to call it a war of coasts is merely to describe it by one of its geographical accidents ; to call it a struggle for the command of the sea is to define its essential nature.

It is surely a strange misreading of history for any of the countrymen of Persano to regard their Naval Manoeuvres from the point of view of a so-called war of coasts. The disastrous experience of Lissa must have taught them that a war of coasts undertaken in defiance of the historic principles of naval strategy is certain to end in disaster. On the other hand, it is doubtless a sound instinct which leads them to study the naval problems which would arise in the event of a war between Italy and France. This they appear to do without the lightest disguise. Of course England and France did exactly the same thing, and though some disguise is occasionally attempted, it never deceives any one. Each paid the other the compliment of thinking it the only Power capable of contending against itself at sea, and each makes its dispositions accordingly.

In like manner, Italy must regard France as its only formidable naval rival in the Mediterranean, and must consider how the undoubted superiority of France at sea might best be dealt with by the Italian Navy in the event of war. This, with all respect for the jeune ecole and its partisans, is the real naval problem which Italy has to study, and not the untested strategy of a new-fangled guerre des cotes. in this series of operations the guerre des cotes had shown itself to very little advantage.

The proceedings wore an air of unreality, and suggested the suspicion that, for reasons possibly rather political than strategic, the result was in some way pre-ordained. The plan of operations would seem to have been not very judiciously nor even very fairly framed. If the result was to be determined by the mere presence of a given number of torpedo-boats in a position favorable for attack, then the issue was practically decided at the outset by giving the required number of torpedo-boats. If, on the other hand, the result was to be determined by the actual performances of the torpedo-boats, we can form no judgment on the matter without knowing exactly and in detail what those performances were.




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