Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control Since the Sixteenth Century

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Harvard University Press, 2005 - History - 377 pages

Commanders at sea struggle not only with the unpredictability of natural elements, but also with a shroud of uncertainty often referred to as the "fog of war." Over the centuries most admirals yielded to the natural temptation to find in new technologies a means to assert centralized control over their forces. But other commanders have recognized the fog for what it is: a constant level of uncertainty resistant to mere technological solution.

In this grand history of naval warfare, Michael Palmer observes five centuries of dramatic encounters under sail and steam. From reliance on signal flags in the seventeenth century to satellite communications in the twenty-first, admirals looked to the next advance in technology as the one that would allow them to control their forces. But while abilities to communicate improved, Palmer shows how other technologies simultaneously shrank admirals' windows of decision. The result was simple, if not obvious: naval commanders have never had sufficient means or time to direct subordinates in battle.

Successful commanders as distant as Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and Arleigh Burke (1901-1996) accepted this reality. They sought solutions to the dilemmas of command in the personal indoctrination of subordinates through discussion, comradeship, and displays of trust and confidence. Such leaders created a commonality of vision and fostered a high degree of individual initiative. Their decentralized approach to command resulted in a resiliency that so often provided the key to success in battle.

Palmer's exciting and enlightening history reveals the myriad efforts of naval commanders to navigate the fog of war.


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User Review  - Shrike58 - LibraryThing

This survey of naval command and control in the modern age is at its best when the author is writing about the efforts to impose order on the barely-controlled chaos of squadrons of sailing ships ... Read full review


Land Warfare Afloat Before 1650
The AngloDutch Wars
At the Dawn of the Enlightenment
The Conundrum of the Line Ahead
The Advent of Numerary Signaling Systems
The Zenith of the Age of Fighting Sail
The Age of Steam through the Great War
From 1918 through the Second World War
The Cold War and Beyond
The Crucial Paradox of Knowledge

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Page 15 - The exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission. Command and control functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating, and controlling forces and operations in the...
Page 13 - Nelson touch, it was like an electric shock : some shed tears — all approved. ' It was new — it was singular — it was simple ; ' and from admirals downwards it was repeated. " It must succeed if ever they will allow us to get at them. You are, my Lord, surrounded by friends whom you inspire with confidence.

About the author (2005)

Michael A. Palmer is Chair of the History Department and Professor of History at East Carolina University.

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