On Contested Shores
The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare
Timothy Heck and B A Friedman (Eds)
Quantico, Virginia USA: Marine Corps University Press 2020
Paperback 430pp RRP $60.00
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, June 2021
There have been decades of speculation over the future of amphibious operations in times of conflict and humanitarian assistance. Heck and Friedman have compiled 23 diverse papers from 16th century operations in Tuscany (a siege) and the Netherlands (assault by land, and relief by ships over deliberately-flooded land below sea level) through to consideration of the changing physical, climatic, demographical, and technological landscapes that come with the 21st century. As so much has been written about the major amphibious landings of last century, the authors have deliberately lightly treated their inclusion. All writers acknowledge that mounting amphibious operations are extremely demanding and require incredible attention to detail.
The events of ‘9/11’ in the US has resulted in a shift in focus of many military forces from traditional force projection to counterinsurgency. In the last two decades many non-state actors are resorting to insertion of their terror forces by sea. General David Berger, the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, has tasked the Marines with ‘a return to the sea, increasing naval integration, and expanding is ability to fight not just from the sea but for sea control from the shore’. Five types of amphibious operations are in current American doctrine: the assault, the withdrawal, the raid, the demonstration, and amphibious support to other operations.
Amphibious operations cannot be conducted in isolation. Reconnaissance and securing a beachhead before a landing or evacuation are essential. So too is having the firepower to prevent interdiction during the operation. One of the earliest amphibious multidomain operations was Germany’s Operation Weserubung (the invasion of Norway in April 1940). The land, sea and air services were all involved in planning the five-objective assault: with heavy German warships providing protection for the landing vessels, paratroopers seizing airfields for air resupply, and the Luftwaffe protecting the troops on the ground. Germany was also involved in huge naval evacuations from the Eastern Front during 1943-45.
The final six papers examine the role of amphibious operations in conjunction with naval forces, operating in various environments such as the Arctic, the Cold War and the Information Age, and a summary of the Marine Corp’s advanced base operations in the past, present and future. The editors, in their conclusion, look at the impact of precision-guided munitions, unmanned systems, machine learning and artificial intelligence in influencing opportunities and threats for amphibious warfare.
This is a thoughtfully compiled work on historic, current and future amphibious operations. It ’ticks all the boxes’ as an academic work: with excellent footnotes, included original maps, an extensive Further Reading list, Index and CVs for all the contributors. It deserves its place in any collection of military history.
The RUSI- Vic Library thanks the publisher for furnishing a copy for review.