The views put forward by Corbett in this collection have now been partly discredited, but the collection itself remains of fundamental importance for the study of British naval tactics. It includes both Fighting Instructions in the strict sense, and various orders and memoranda explanatory of them.
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Julian Corbett was born on 12 November 1854 was educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge where he took a first class degree in law, becoming a barrister in the Middle Temple in 1877, practising until 1882, when he turned to writing, starting with historical novels about the Tudor period. He died on 21 September 1922.
In 1896 he accepted an invitation from John Knox Laughton to edit a volume of documents on the Spanish War of 1585-87, and he soon became known as one of the Royal Navy’s leading intellectuals. From 1901 to 1922 he wrote regularly on naval strategy and history. From 1902 he lectured at the Royal Naval College Greenwich (founded in 1900). In 1903 he gave the Ford Lectures at Oxford University. In 1905 he became the Admiralty’s unofficial adviser on strategy, serving as secretary of the Cabinet Historical Office. He was knighted in 1917, and awarded the Chesney Gold Medal in 1914.
Like Mahan Corbett saw naval warfare as part of a nation’s larger policies, and was influenced by Clausewitz and Laughton. Unlike Mahan he placed less emphasis on fleet battle, which upset many in the Royal Navy. He set out to formalize the theories and principles of naval warfare, focusing on the art of naval warfare, defining the differences between land and naval warfare. His principles of sea control, focus on the enemy, and manoeuvre for tactical advantage still form the foundation of today’s naval manoeuvre warfare. Through his lectures at the Naval War College Corbett was trying to convey to those attending his ideas on limited war and strategic defence, which were very different from the accepted norms of naval theory and strategy of the time.
His publications include
• Papers Relating to the Navy during the Spanish War, 1585-87 (Navy Records Society, 1898).
• Drake and the Tudor Navy, with a History of the Rise of England as a Naval Power (Longmans, 1898).
• The Successors of Drake (Longmans, 1900).
• England in the Mediterranean: A Study of the Rise and Influence of British Power within the Straits, 1603 – 1713 (Longmans, 1904).
• Fighting Instructions: 1530 – 1816 (Navy Records Society, 1905).
• England in the Seven Years War (Longmans, 1907).
• Signals and Instructions, 1761-1794( Navy Records Society 1909).
• The Campaign of Trafalgar (Longmans, 1910).
• Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (Longmans, 1911).
• Private Papers of George, Second Earl Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, 1794 – 1801 2 volumes (Navy Records Society, 1914).
• The League of Nations and the Freedom of the Seas (O.U.P., 1918).
• History of the Great War Naval Operations, Based on Official Documents, Volumes I and II (Longmans 1920 and 1921).
Writings about Corbett include
• D M Schurman The Education of a Navy: the development of British Naval Strategic Thought 1867 – 1914 (Cassell, 1965).
• J Goldrick and J Hattendorf Mahan is not Enough: Proceedings of a Conference on the Works of Sir Julian Corbett and Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond (Naval War College Press, 1993).
• Eric Grove (ed) Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (Naval Institute Press, 1988).
• D M Schurman Julian S Corbett, 1854 – 1922: Historian of British Maritime Policy from Drake to Jellicoe (Cassell, 1981).