Amphibious warfare, as outlined by American Rear Admiral James E. Jouett in 1885, was a relatively straightforward affair: to project power from the sea, all one had to do was offload soldiers, animals, equipment, and supplies from their transport vessels and deposit them on the nearest beach. Once on the sand, these ground forces would then form up and fight their way to victory—nothing could be as simple. Jouette, of course, can be forgiven his naïveté; when he articulated these principles of amphibious operations, the United States’s gaze was still firmly directed inward. Policing and pacifying the interior of the American continent was more important than developing the competencies, tactics, and technologies necessary to successfully generate combat power from the ocean to the shore. By 1900, however, these priorities were reversed. The frontier was “closed,” rapid industrialization was inexorably transforming American life, and the United States emerged as a major player in a tense geopolitical landscape.
Given these new realities, argues David S. Nasca in The Emergence of American Amphibious Warfare, 1898 to 1945
(Naval Institute Press, 2020), evolving a formidable amphibious capability became an existential imperative. Failed amphibious operations, Nasca observes, could have a devastating impact on a nation's geopolitical fate. Only those states that succeeded in mastering the complexities of amphibious warfare were able to defend their interests; those that came up short quickly found themselves subject to a foreign will.
Tracing the evolution of the United States’s amphibious capability, from the first disorganized attempts in the Spanish-American War to the successful landings in the Pacific and at Normandy in World War Two, The Emergence of American Amphibious Warfare
offers a novel examination of the relationship between amphibious warfare, American strategic interests, and the United States’s rise to prominence in the first half of the twentieth century. The concatenation of American industrial might, great power competition, and a more proactive American involvement in global affairs in the early 1900s, Nasca argues, prodded American statesman, naval officers, and amphibious theorists like Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis to view amphibious warfare as a fundamental tool of American foreign policy. The efficacy of this tool, Nasca asserts, was demonstrated time and again on shores as distant and varied as Haiti and Saipan. Today, Nasca observes, this tool has lost none of its punch: amphibious warfare remains an essential skillset for any modern, industrialized military operating in a volatile geopolitical environment.
David S. Nasca is a second-generation Marine Corps officer who holds graduate degrees in international relations, diplomacy, history, military studies, and national security, and recently earned his PhD from Salve Regina University.