10 DECEMBER 1948, Page 34

British Sea Power

THE Lees Knowles Lectures on Military History given by Admiral James at Cambridge in 1947 bear a title which does little to indicate their contents. The first of the three lectures begins by arguing the need to study past wars as a preparatory step to understanding the military problems of today and foreseeing those of tomorrow. In the course of the argument, Admiral James refers to a belief, which has often received much favour, that existing weapons are rendered obsolete by the appearance of a radically new one ; and he adds a useful warning against it. He does not, however, commit himself definitely to the opinion that this applies equally in the case of the atomic bomb. The remainder of this lecture is devoted to a rapid survey of naval history from early times to the end of the Napoleonic Wars ; and the third carries the story to June, 1944- a date chosen, perhaps, to exclude the implications of atomic warfare.

This survey, which contrives to be clear and well-balanced in spite of its necessary brevity, establishes beyond doubt the influence of sea power on our ability to wage war. This is certainly the primary influence of sea power on our history, the most easily demon- strated and the most universally admitted. It has been responsible for our national survival, and hence for the whole pattern of British history and the direction of our fortunes. But it was surely unneces- sary to recount, even in brief, the loRg chronicle of British supremacy at sea, to dwell on innumerable episodes, or to expend so large a proportion of the lectures on irrelevant issues, to make this single point.

This is what Admiral James has done ; and, consequently, he has been unable to delve any deeper into his subject. What of the influence of sea power on the history of our wealth and commerce, our expansion overseas, our political evolution and international relationships ? What of its effect on our national prestige, character, way of life, language and literature, outlook and thought ? The influences here are much less obvious ; and Admiral James would have rendered a valuable service had he more fully developed the theme implicit in his title.

Sandwiched between the first and last is a lecture wholly devoted to the life of Nelson. It corresponds almost word for word with passages in the author's recently published biography, and its inclu- sion here is difficult to justify. Once again, Admiral James has a point to make—that good seamen are essential for the exercise of sea power, and in this respect we have been particularly well served. This proposition would be more relevant to a discussion of the materials of sea power than of the effects. Its proof, anyhow, scarcely calls for the details of Nelson's career. It is impossible to discover what purpose Admiral James had in mind when he wrote these lectures ; tlge.g3ppear to lack any trace of a connecting theme, and reach no specific conclusions. It can be said of them that they are pleasantly written, but not that they contain anything of particular note. The author is wrong in stating that Trafalgar forced Napoleon to abandon his invasion plans ; they were abandoned