COMMAND AT SEA: Naval Command and Control Since the Sixteenth Century

Michael A. Palmer, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (377p) ISBN 978-0-674-01681-1

Dense and demanding, this book requires some background in naval history but will be a feast for qualified readers. A distinguished historian, Palmer offers a valuable addition to naval history with this study of the problems of how to lead a fleet into battle, revising many previous conclusions and offering superb battle narratives. From the 16th century on, Palmer shows, the goal was to train the maximum of one's own firepower on the enemy without getting too close. Over the centuries, with improvements in signaling techniques, centralized command took on more and more of the decisions that were once left to subordinates in the thick of things (although Palmer argues persuasively that centralized command never gained the stranglehold on tactics that was once believed). The primary exponent of centralization, he shows, was Nelson, last of the great commanders under sail. By WWI, radio had created whole new possibilities for centralized command and for communicating intelligence—which radio's unreliability kept from being realized. Palmer's coverage of WWII and its aftermath is broader, but his case throughout is that centralized control leads to micromanagement, slow responses and loss of initiative by subordinates, not to mention having one's communications intercepted by the enemy. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/17/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 390 pages - 978-0-674-04191-2
Paperback - 377 pages - 978-0-674-02411-3
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