“Amphibious Warfare: Strategy & Tactics from Gallipoli to Iraq”

by Ian Speller & Christopher Tuck (2014)
Amber Books Ltd

I was excited to be asked to review this book. When I was growing-up I was enthralled by the stories that my Grandfather used to tell me about serving on a Landing Ship Tank (LST-214) during WWII. He told me about being at the Anzio and the Normandy landings, and this gave me a fascination for this aspect of amphibious warfare from an early age.

Dr Speller and Dr Tuck both have strong credentials for producing a book of this nature: Dr Speller is the Director of the Centre for Military History and Strategic Studies at National University of Ireland Maynooth, and Dr Tuck is a lecturer in the Department of Defence Studies at King’s College. This is a hardback, 176 page book with over 150 photographs and a 16 page colour plate section illustrating amphibious vehicles, landing craft and ships. I found the layout of the text pleasingly clear and the layout well-formatted, although the size of the main text is quite small, so make sure you have your specs on if you need them! Published in 2014, it was first published in 2001. The RRP is £22, but the hardback edition currently retails on Amazon for £17, and the Kindle edition is £7.98.

The introduction makes it clear that the authors have adopted a different approach to the topic than many similar books. Instead of adopting a more narrative history approach and overviewing historical conflicts that involved amphibious warfare in a chronological manner, they examine the different stages of an amphibious campaign, chapter-by-chapter, utilising different historical examples to illustrate each stage. Over nine chapters, the different stages are examined: planning, passage, and pre-landing operations, securing the beach, and consolidation and exploitation of gains; this is followed by a closer examination of the logistics and equipment involved. Two particularly useful additions to the book are a chapter on amphibious withdrawals, which is an aspect of amphibious warfare that can sometimes be overlooked in similar texts, and a chapter on the future of amphibious operations.

Each stage of amphibious warfare is examined in turn and illustrated using an historical case. For example, “choosing a landing site” is analysed by highlighting the need to understand the nature of the objectives inland, the need to plan the operation backwards from this, the level of support required, logistical requirements, analysis of the capabilities and disposition of enemy forces, the use of helicopters to facilitate amphibious landings from the 1950s onwards, a breakdown of naval, air, and landing force considerations, and the importance of timing. The case studies that follow are: Operation Overlord (1944), which is unsurprising giving its magnitude and importance to WWII, the shortcomings of the proposed Operation Sealöwe (1940) and how it was unlikely to every be successful within the context of the elements discussed earlier in the chapter, and Operation Chromite (1950) – the Inchon landings in Korea in 1950. Although each case study is brief, the performance of each is evaluated within the context of the chapter as a whole as it pertains to that particular stage of amphibious warfare. Although quite a few of the examples do refer to WWII, this period does not dominate and there are other examples from Gallipoli, the Falklands, and Iraq, amongst others, although there is a bias towards operations conducted by Western forces.

The book as a whole is well-written by two experts in the field. It is an enjoyable and easy read, and I found I could happily immerse myself in it with a cup of tea. For those wargamers who are intimately familiar with amphibious warfare it is possibly too general a text to offer many new insights, but is likely to be a pleasant read nonetheless. Similarly, the case studies, although well-evaluated within the context of each chapter, are unlikely to offer enough detail for wargamers who hope to plan out a recreation of a particular battle. However, if you are not overly familiar with this form of warfare this would be an excellent place to start. In addition, even if you are, the structure of the book into the stages of amphibious warfare lends itself to inspiring potential campaigns, particularly a series of linked battles involving planning, landing, consolidation, and resupply. This may also involve an amphibious withdrawal! The chapter on the future of this form of combat could inspire “near future” scenarios for some wargamers, and the imaginative amongst us can extrapolate some of the case studies and the general principles of amphibious warfare to space-to-ground operations for sci-fi scenarios.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and it has given me some ideas for a campaign that I’d like to put together. I also found the approach taken, with each chapter reflecting the stages of amphibious warfare, to be a refreshing change from the more common approach of an historical narrative.

Ian S. Baker