Through the Lens of Sea Power and Maritime Strategy: Alfred T. Mahan and Julian S. Corbett on the Napoleonic Wars


  • Kevin D. McCranie



Napoleonic Wars, Sea Power, Maritime Strategy, Julian S. Corbet, Alfred T. Mahan


Both Alfred T. Mahan and Julian S. Corbett used the Napoleonic Wars to provide concrete illustrations of their theoretical arguments. This should not be surprising. When the two wrote at the dawn of the twentieth century, the Napoleonic Wars were the most recent great power conflict with a significant naval element. Though both explained the wars through a combination of naval, land, diplomatic, and economic tools of power, Mahan and Corbett weighted these instruments differently. This reflected Mahan’s theory of sea power and Corbett’s ideas about maritime strategy. Understanding how they explained the Napoleonic Wars and interpreted the outcome allows for a stronger understanding of their arguments and agendas while serving as a powerful corrective to land power-centric interpretations of those wars.

Alfred T. Mahan et Julian S. Corbett ont tous deux invoqué les guerres napoléoniennes comme illustrations concrètes de leurs arguments théoriques. Cette constatation n’a pas de quoi surprendre. Lorsque les deux auteurs étaient actifs à l’aube du 20e siècle, les guerres napoléoniennes étaient le plus récent conflit entre grandes puissances qui comprenait un élément naval important. Bien que Mahan et Corbett aient expliqué les guerres à l’aide d’une combinaison de visions navales, terrestres, diplomatiques et économiques du pouvoir, ils ont pondéré ces questions de différentes façons qui reflétaient la théorie de la puissance maritime de Mahan et les idées de Corbett sur la stratégie maritime. En apprenant à connaître leurs explications des guerres napoléoniennes et leurs interprétations des résultats, l’on peut mieux comprendre leurs arguments et leurs raisonnements qui servent d’excellent correctif aux interprétations axées sur la puissance terrestre de ces guerres.

Author Biography

Kevin D. McCranie

Kevin D. McCranie is the Philip A. Crowl Professor of Comparative Strategy at the United States Naval War College. He is the author of Mahan, Corbett, and the Foundations of Naval Strategic Thought (2021); Utmost Gallantry: The US and Royal Navies at Sea in the War of 1812; and Admiral Lord Keith and the Naval War Against Napoleon (2006).


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Painting of The Battle of Trafalgar by William Clarkson Stanfield




How to Cite

McCranie, K. D. (2024). Through the Lens of Sea Power and Maritime Strategy: Alfred T. Mahan and Julian S. Corbett on the Napoleonic Wars. The Northern Mariner Le Marin Du Nord, 33(3-4), 335–352.