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.
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. --Publishers Weekly
Command at Sea is an important book, which fills a gap in the literature of strategy and admiralty...[A] sweeping tour de force. --Peter Hore, Warships
The treatment of the era of combat under sail at the tactical level is little short of masterly. Palmer's arguments to support his thesis that decentralized command is generally more effective than centralization are well supported by coherent narratives and careful analysis. All this suggests that Professor Palmer has engaged in very much a labour of love. --James Goldrick, Northern Mariner
A seriously intellectual but nevertheless readable study of naval command and control over the four centuries since the modern concept of naval warfare commenced. --World Shipbuilding
A spellbinding history [told] through the eyes of those who stood on the decks of some of the most famous ships of the past. --Thomas Vallar, Pirates and Privateers
Michael Palmer's newest volume takes on what is perhaps the fundamental question in the long history of naval warfare: how can a commander best position his warships to effectively and efficiently engage the enemy? In seeking an answer to the question, Palmer walks the reader briskly through some four centuries of war at sea. Using an entertaining and informative style, he provides multiple examples from key battles to help the reader understand the complexities of command at sea...Palmer provides a first-rate walk through the world of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson's 19th century navy in particular...This is a volume full of gorgeously told history that does a fine job helping to stir the debates of today--such as jointness and centralization. It also does a marvelous job illuminating the ongoing questions of command at sea, and offers some salient thoughts for command ashore and in the air as well. In the search for the right balance in centralized command, and in determining how far what Palmer terms "the crucial paradox of knowledge" can help pierce the fog of war, the author provides a highly readable and most enjoyable volume. --Vice Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy, Proceedings
A spellbinding history [told] through the eyes of those who stood on... the most famous ships of the past. --Thomas Vallar, Pirates and Privateers
Within these pages, in a masterful control of subject matter, Dr. Michael Palmer analyzes the evolution of naval fleet command and control from the Anglo-Spanish battle in the English Channel in 1588 to the Persian Gulf War...This work is deeply researched, written concisely and with flair, and the author's opinions are not hidden. This is an essential book for the libraries of Navy officers, policy makers, naval scholars, and military history buffs. --William S. Dudley, Sea History
Palmer has produced what seems to be the only work ever specifically devoted to the problems of command a sea. A highly original volume, fascinating from beginning to end. --Martin van Creveld, author of Command in War
Command at Sea is a lucid and engaging book which represents a much-needed new approach to the history of naval warfare. Michael Palmer's work makes interesting reading for anyone and essential reading for the professional. --Ronald Spector, author of At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Warfare in the Twentieth Century
In this sweeping tour de force, Michael Palmer illustrates the impact that signaling systems had on command decision making during four centuries of naval combat. Citing a score of pivotal naval engagements from Kentish Knock in 1652 to Desert Storm in 1991, Palmer shows dramatically how success at sea depended on effective communication, whatever the dominant technology. --Craig L. Symonds, U.S. Naval Academy
Naval culture is very different from military culture. The difference is the result of four centuries of autonomy of command at sea. Michael Palmer explains this brilliantly. --John Lehman, Former Secretary of the Navy, 1981-1987
East Carolina University| Department of History
East Fifth Street | A-316 Brewster Building | Greenville, NC 27858-4353 USA | Phone 252.328.6587 | Fax 252-328-6774 Contact Us