Naval Art, the

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Naval Art, the


the theory and practice of preparing for and waging battle at sea; a component part of the art of war.

The Soviet naval art includes the strategic use of the navy, naval operational skill, and naval tactics. A close relationship and mutual dependence exist among these parts of the naval art. The strategic use of the navy is the highest province of the naval art; although it is primarily concerned with the missions of military strategy, it also exerts a decisive influence on the development of naval operational skill and tactics and presents them with their missions. Operational skill and tactics are concerned with the strategic use of the navy and ensure the achievement of its goals and missions in war.

The elements of the naval art originated in ancient times with the appearance of navies, and they were refined in connection with the development of society, weaponry, combat materiel, and the forms of armed battle. In the slaveholding states (ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and others) the navy consisted of rowing vessels. The military strategy of the slaveholding states allotted the navy a subsidiary role in wars and limited its action to coastal regions. The methods of achieving victory in battle were ramming and boarding, and the main tactical form of battle was the frontal clash of fleets, which would end in single combat between individual war-ships. The first attempt to draw generalized conclusions from the military experience of slaveholding Rome was the work by Vegetius (start of the fifth century) The Military Institutions of the Romans. In addition to his treatment of other questions, he gave a description in this book of the primary methods of waging combat operations at sea that were known at that time.

In Europe during the age of early feudalism (up to the tenth century) navies and the naval art did not develop substantially. Progress in shipbuilding was made during the period of the flourishing of feudalism in Europe. Starting in the tenth and 11th centuries sailing ships began to appear, and later came navigational equipment (the compass, the sextant, and naval maps), which made extended voyages on the open sea possible. In the 15th and 16th centuries the transition from a rowing fleet to a sailing fleet took place, which was completed by the middle of the 17th century. In the 14th century sailing ships began to be equipped with artillery. The strategy of the colonial empires that arose during the 15th and 16th centuries (Spain, Portugal, and later England, France, and Holland) increased the role of the navy in wars, changed the nature of its operations, and assigned the navy the independent missions of disrupting enemy lines of communication and defending the country’s own sea routes. Nonetheless, the tactics of the first sailing fleets in the 15th and 16th centuries still did not differ much from the methods of waging battle employed by the rowing fleet.

In the 17th century permanent navies were formed and became an important military means for the implementation of the state’s foreign policy. The further development of ship artillery and its use as the primary weapon in the naval battles of the wars between England and Holland in the 17th century brought about radical changes in the organizational structure and the effective strength of the sailing fleet for combat and in its tactics. The classification of ships was established and their missions were defined. Ships of the line constituted the basis of the naval striking power. Frigates, artillery-equipped rowing vessels, and fire ships were allotted a subsidiary role in sea battles and blockading operations. The combat organization of the navy took shape. Ships began to be combined into squadrons under the sole command of a squadron commander. The waging of combat operations with large naval forces of nonuniform composition increased the demands for control of the squadron in naval battles, the outcome of which was now determined to a much greater degree than before by the skill of the squadron commander. The primary tactical form of waging battle with naval squadrons became linear tactics, which provided for the maneuvering of ships on a line of battle (wake column). This tactical form ensured the most effective use of the artillery mounted in several rows along the sides. Ramming began to be used less and less. Boarding continued as long as sailing fleets existed. Linear tactics predominated throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Russian naval art made a significant contribution to the development of the naval art of the first quarter of the 18th century. This was manifested in the Northern War of 1700-21 against a powerful naval enemy, Sweden. Instead of the practices followed by the fleets of the Western countries at that time—attacks on the coast, battles over lines of communication, and general naval battles—Peter I used a more decisive and reliable method of waging war by capturing enemy naval bases and coastlines through joint army and navy action. Typical features of his tactical art were the organization of permanent coordination between the army and navy and decisive naval action to destroy enemy forces using forms of maneuvering that were unexpected by the enemy (enveloping the flanks, cutting through the formation, encir-clement, boarding, and so on). The generalized conclusions drawn from the experience gained in navy combat action under Peter I were set forth in the Naval Regulations of 1720. By the middle of the 18th century the increased effectiveness of ship artillery (greater firing range, armor-piercing and destructive force of the shot, and accuracy of fire) began to be at variance with the tactical form of its use—linear tactics. Russian admirals G. A. Spiridov and F. F. Ushakov were the first to reject the stereotypes of linear tactics in the practice of naval battle and laid the foundations for a new form of the combat use of the navy—mobile tactics. Their naval art was distinguished by great aggressiveness, decisiveness in action for the achievement of the assigned goals, and good organization of coordination among all forces. Their naval art showed itself in the Russian Navy’s victories over the Turkish Navy in the battles of the Bay of Çeşme (1770), the Island of Tendra (1790), and the Cape of Kaliakra (1791).

The first attempts at a theoretical substantiation of the mobile form of waging naval battle found expression in the Englishman J. Clerk’s work Essay on Naval Tactics (parts 1-4, 1790-97; Russian translation Dvizhenie flotov, 1803). In it, based on an analysis of the causes of the failures of the English Navy in battles during the middle of the 18th century, he presented certain recommendations for the operation of linear tactics and the introduction of mobile principles of waging naval battle. But linear tactics continued to predomi-nate in the naval art of the largest sea powers (Great Britain, France, Spain, and Holland) until the end of the 18th century. The naval victories of the English admiral H. Nelson at Abu Qir (1798) and Trafalgar (1805) and of the Russian admiral D. N. Seniavin in the Battle of Ayion Oros (1807), in which the principles of waging mobile battle were applied, brought about the firm establishment of mobile tactics in the naval art. These tactics provided for greater independence in carrying out maneuvers with individual ships, as well as the maneuvering of the squadron for fuller use of its artillery and for disrupting the enemy’s control of his naval forces. This was the introduction of something new in individual ship tactics, and it made increased demands on the commander in regard to his skills in control and use of ship weaponry in combat.

The further development of capitalist production, science, and military technology made it possible to improve the design of warships, their sailing equipment, and artillery armament. The experience of the Crimean War of 1853-56 demonstrated the advantages of steam-powered ships over sailing ships in waging mobile naval battle. In the second half of the 19th century steam-powered ships with armor protection were built in Great Britain, the USA, and France. Armored ships with powerful artillery armament and strong armor be-came the primary striking power of navies. Cruisers, minelayers, and destroyers also appeared. Basic changes in the materiel and technology of the navy demanded that tactics for the application of armored squadrons in naval battle be developed. Russian scholars made a substantial contribution toward the solution of this problem. In his work New Foundations of Steam-powered Tactics in 1863, Admiral G. I. Butakov summarized the experience gained from the combat activity of steam-powered ships and set forth regulations concerning the changing of their formation in the squadron for waging naval battle. These regulations gained recognition in all the navies of the world. Using experience gained in the Crimean War, Admiral A. A. Popov was the first to correctly estimate the great significance of the armored fleet in combat action at sea. Based on experience in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Admiral S. O. Makarov was the first to set forth the tactics of using mine and torpedo weapons. In his work Discussions on Questions of Naval Tactics in 1897 he was the first to undertake the development of the tactics of the armored fleet as a science. In this work and in others Makarov substantiated the need for coordination between artillery and mine-torpedo ships in naval battle, theoretically substantiated the expediency of using the wake formation when constructing the combat formations of armored squadrons, and formulated the principles of antimine and anti-submarine defense.

In the 1890’s Rear Admiral A. Mahan, one of the creators of American imperialist naval strategy, and Vice Admiral P. Colomb, military ideologist of the English capitalists, tried to substantiate the theory of “command of the sea.” They related this “theory” to the establishment of American and English world domination by the creation of an overwhelming superiority of naval forces in line armored ships and by the destruction of hostile navies in one all-out battle. Colomb propagandized the “eternal and unchanging” laws of waging naval war, mechanically transferred the methods and forms of waging military operations at sea with sailing fleets to the steam fleet, and failed to take account of the development of new naval combat forces and means. He contrasted the navy with the army, underestimated the significance of ground forces, and did not consider the general course and outcome of military operations as a whole on land and at sea. This “theory” was entirely refuted by the experience of the two world wars. Despite this, military ideologists in the USA and Great Britain turned again to the works of Mahan and Co-lomb to substantiate their ideas of world domination after World War II (1939-45).

During the course of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 the naval art was enriched by the experience of waging combat action to defend naval bases (the defense of Port Arthur) and carrying out antiblockade action in which naval ships, coast artillery, mines, and torpedoes were used. The first attempts to use torpedoes and mines demonstrated that artillery, while remaining the primary weapon for delivering a thrust, had ceased to be the only means of combat influence over the enemy. The need arose to create new classes of ships (battleships, minesweepers, and others) and new models of mine and artillery weapons. Foundations were conceived for the tactics of waging large-scale naval battles with the participation of significant forces of armored ships (battle of Tsushima, fighting in the Yellow Sea, and the operations of the Vladivostok detachment of ships). Based on the experience of the Russo-Japanese War, battleships were recognized as the decisive force in battle at sea by many of the world’s navies. The experience in antimine operations pointed to the need for the navy to organize daily combat activity so as to ensure favorable conditions in the areas of its own bases. Light cruisers began to be used in the navies of many countries to carry out reconnaissance, to fight destroyers, and for action on naval lines of communication. The military doctrines of the naval powers did not undergo fundamental changes after the Russo-Japanese War. As before, it was considered that command of the sea would have to be achieved through an all-out battle of the main forces of the navies.

During World War I (1914-18) destroyers were recognized as general-purpose ships, light cruisers and especially submarines (which became an independent combat arm of the naval forces) were employed, and both technical and operational problems were successfully resolved. This led to the creation of patrol vessels and submarine chasers. Other classes of ships also appeared such as aircraft carriers, torpedo boats, and landing vessels. The role of large surface artillery ships in combat action decreased. The outlines of naval aviation, a new combat arm of naval forces, were basically formed. Achieving strategic goals by conducting one all-out battle, as envisioned in the Anglo-American doctrine of “command of the sea,” became impossible. A new form of fleet combat action in the naval art was suggested—the operation—and this made appropriate measures to support it necessary, such as operational reconnaissance, camouflage, the defense of large surface ships against submarines (when both crossing the sea and in battle), and logistic support. Everyday fleet combat activity for the establishment of favorable operating conditions in the area of the navy’s own bases, along the coastline, and in the region of combat action was further developed. In the Russian naval art methods were worked out for conducting naval battle on a mine and artillery position prepared in advance as an emergency measure in the struggle with a more powerful enemy. Such a position was created in the Baltic Sea on the Nargen Island-Porkkala Udd Peninsula line in order to pre-vent the German Navy from breaking through to the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland. It consisted of several lines of minefields set up across the Gulf of Finland and of coast artillery batteries on the flanks of the positions. The main naval forces were deployed and operated at the rear of this position. Experience in the war confirmed the effectiveness of this form of waging naval actions in the coastal region against superior enemy forces.

Elements of the Soviet naval art were born during the years of the Civil War and military intervention (1918-20) when the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Navy, formed by the young Soviet Republic, defended the sea approaches to Petrograd, supported Red Army units on the shore with artillery fire, supported the suppression of the White Guard rebellion at the Krasnaia Gorka and Seraia Loshad’ forts, landed assault parties, and carried on the struggle against enemy forces on the rivers and lakes. The extensive development of the navy, which was made possible by successes in socialist industrialization during the years of the prewar five-year plans, moved in the direction of building surface ships that were modern for that time, submarines, naval aviation, and coast artillery.

In the period between the two world wars the Soviet naval art established the foundations of operational use of the navy in different types of combat action and in joint action with ground forces along coastal operational axes, the tactics of action by combined-arms naval forces, and the fundamentals of coordination among them in sea battle. These were reflected in the Instructions on Waging Naval Operations, the Navy Combat Manual, and other documents published just before the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).

After World War I the naval art of the capitalist states was characterized by different, often opposing views on the use of naval forces in war. The “omnipotence” of the battle fleet was undermined during World War I, and this led to a situation where many military theoreticians began to contrast one naval combat arm with another, trying to find the arm that could ensure command of the sea. In addition, they defended the principles of an all-out battle, which had been refuted by the course of the war. At the same time the development of existing forces and means of combat and the appearance of new ones made it necessary to revise outdated views. Before the start of World War II the navies added aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, and naval aviation. Radar and sonar were developed. At first the developing means of combat at sea (aviation, submarines, and so forth) and new methods of combat action did not receive the attention due them in the military doctrines.

Despite the fact that the outcome of World War II (1939-45) was decided on land, the scope of armed battle at sea was significantly greater than in previous wars.

Military action in the Pacific Ocean during 1941-45 consisted mainly of landing and antilanding operations, thrusts against enemy naval forces at sea and on base, and fighting over lines of communication. In the Pacific Ocean basin landings were made on the island of Leyte (1944), the Marshall and Mariana Islands (1944), and Okinawa (1945); in the Mediterranean theater of operations there were landings in Algeria and Morocco (1942), the island of Sicily, southern Italy (1943), and elsewhere. In all, more than 600 major landings were made; six of them were strategic in scope. The largest was the Normandy landing operation of 1944. By the start of the war an essentially new force—aircraft carriers—had appeared in the composition of the navies, and the role of shore-based aviation had increased. Carrier-based aviation moved forward into the category of a main naval force. Encounters between large aircraft carrier units grew into the largest naval battles of World War II; in these battles aircraft carriers were both the main striking force and the primary targets. The use of carrier-based aviation made it possible to carry on naval battles under conditions in which the groupings of ships of the belligerents were hundreds of miles from one another. Groupings of surface forces covered by carrier-based fighter planes were able to operate near the enemy coast. The characteristics of military-geographic conditions in the Pacific Ocean theater of operations (the existence of large island archipelagoes) made it necessary to wage extended combat action in island regions, where by disrupting enemy lines of communication and neutralizing aviation at airfields and in the air one of the sides could completely deplete the island garrisons and then land an as-sault party against weak enemy resistance.

The uniqueness of the situation that took shape during the course of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) on the Soviet-German front demanded that the navy be used primarily for joint action with ground forces. The navy also carried out independent operations and waged combat action over enemy lines of sea communications and in defense of its own lines of communication. Naval combat activity was characterized by the extensive use of combined-arms forces, in particular naval aviation, which developed greatly during the course of the war. Naval art was enriched by experience in conducting landing operations (the Novorossiisk and Kerch’-El’tigen operations of 1943, the Moonzund operation of 1944, the Kuril landing operation of 1945, and others), using submarines, and fighting enemy submarines.

During World War II the operation became established as the primary form of use for combined-arms naval forces in fighting at sea. Conducting operations over enormous sea and ocean areas according to a single concept and under a single command increased the requirements for the organization of coordination among groupings of forces (operational coordination) and among forces in naval fighting (tactical coordination) and for the control of forces during operations and battles. Certain aspects took on special significance, such as secrecy in preparing for the operation, careful reconnaissance, swift maneuvering, gaining domination of the air in the region where the operation was being conducted, and organizing combat, special, and rear support. Submarines and naval aviation were recognized as the main striking force of the navy. New tactical procedures in the naval art were developed for using submarines (group action) and aviation (massive attack from several directions). As the navies were supplied with radar observation equipment and more highly refined sonar devices, the fire methods and artillery combat tactics of surface ships were improved, and submarine tactical maneuvers for searching for and attacking targets at sea and evading aviation and antisubmarine ships were worked out. Because of their great vulnerability to submarines and especially to aviation, the large artillery ships (battleships and cruisers) lost the role of main striking force in military action at sea. Their military activity amounted primarily to assisting ground forces (fire support for landings, artillery shelling of a coast, and so on). Forms of coordination between naval forces and ground troops during landing actions were improved, and new methods of carrying out the landing and forms and methods of waging the battle for the landing were developed. For the naval art the results of the war led to the conclusion that navies can exert a significant influence on the course of the war in certain sea and ocean theaters.

The postwar development of the navies of the states that are most highly developed in the economic and technical military senses has led to the appearance of essentially new ocean-going fleets equipped with nuclear missile weaponry.

Atomic submarines and naval aviation equipped with missile and torpedo weaponry have become the striking force of the Soviet Navy. The development of modern means of combat, in particular nuclear missile weaponry, has brought about radical changes in the naval art and has affected all areas of it. The navy now has a capability of delivering nu-clear missile strikes against enemy territory, naval forces, and naval bases from distances of up to several thousand kilometers and can exert a decisive influence on the achievement of strategic goals during fighting at sea. The naval art has been enriched with a new component part—the strategic use of the navy in modern warfare. Developments include new forms and methods for the strategic use of naval forces and for the operational and combat use of the navy; tactical methods and maneuvers using submarines with missile and torpedo weaponry and using naval aviation, surface ships of various classes, naval infantry units, and other forces in combat action; and measures to maintain naval forces at a high level of combat readiness to repulse a sudden enemy attack and fulfill assigned missions. The experience gained in the Soviet naval art is studied by the navies of the socialist countries, who make their own valuable contribution to its further development.

The naval art of the navies of the USA, Great Britain, France, and the other capitalist countries devotes primary attention to developing methods of waging combat action with submarines and carrier-based naval striking forces during an all-out nuclear war; they are simultaneously developing methods for using naval forces in local wars. It is felt that the successful fulfillment of the main naval missions will depend significantly on the effectiveness of the fighting against enemy submarines. In this regard, intensive scientific research work is under way in the navies of the USA, Great Britain, and other NATO countries to discover methods for combating submarines, especially when they are armed with ballistic missiles. It is considered that the form that this type of combat will take will be the carrying out of major operations with combined-arms forces on antisubmarine lines, in equipped zones on submarine deployment routes, and directly in the regions of submarine combat activity. Special significance is attached to nuclear missile strikes against submarine bases at the very beginning of the war. Methods are being developed for the antisubmarine defense of aircraft carrier striking forces when crossing the sea and in regions where their aircraft are employed. Special large-scale operational commands of antisubmarine forces have been formed in the US Navy for combating submarines.

As was demonstrated by the aggressive war of the USA against the Vietnamese people that began in 1964, the naval art of the navies of the imperialist states makes practical use of highly destructive weapons, ignoring generally accepted international norms and laws of waging war.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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