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War as it might have been: British Sea Power and the First World War

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1095-1131
JournalJOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY
Volume83
Issue number4
Accepted/In press2 Jan 2019
PublishedOct 2019

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Abstract

This article asks whether British maritime power could have been used more effectively in the First World War. This has been a controversial issue since the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, with many at the time and since arguing that the sea offered Britain an opportunity to avoid the costly battles of the Western Front. Recent scholarship has rejected the notion that adhering to a ‘British Way in Warfare’ was a realistic option between 1914-1918, owing to the declining potency of sea power and the importance of Britain’s continental allies. Yet in taking this stance historians risk obscuring important aspects of how strategy was made in Britain during the conflict. By re-examining contemporary arguments in favor of a more ‘indirect approach’, this article argues that legitimate alternatives to the strategy of attrition on the Western Front did exist, but that they never received adequate consideration owing to shortcomings in Britain's strategic decision making apparatus. Britain might have fought the First World War very differently, and it might have been in her interests to have done so.

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