No Substitute for Victory: Successful American Military Strategies from the Revolutionary War to the Present Day

No Substitute for Victory: Successful American Military Strategies from the Revolutionary War to the Present Day

by David Rigby


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An important look at how America has won its wars in the past and how it can continue winning in the future.

Is there a recipe for military success? In No Substitute for Victory, author David Rigby grapples with this issue and determines that, in the case of the United States, there are a number of different strategies that have brought victory in battle to American forces over the years.

In a clear, energetic prose, Rigby explains how the dropping of chocolate bars from airplanes over Berlin turned out to be one of the most successful applications of the Cold War strategy of containment. He argues, too, that far from being a radical change in policy by a desperate President Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation was in fact an essential part of Lincoln’s plan to reunite the nation. While the focus in No Substitute for Victory is on military maneuvers that have been successful, Rigby brilliantly uses the Vietnam War as a touchstone for comparison purposes on how not to fight a war.

While the writing of military strategy is a crowded field, Rigby’s approach is unique in that he draws examples from conflicts throughout American history, from the Revolution up through the modern day. Rigby’s ability to find similarities in—and to draw conclusions from—the successes attained by American forces in battles as seemingly dissimilar as Gettysburg and Midway makes No Substitute for Victory essential reading for anyone interested in the riveting history of our nation’s military.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history—books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631440052
Publisher: Carrel Books
Publication date: 11/11/2014
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,211,019
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David Rigby is the author of Allied Master Strategists, which won the 2012 John Lyman Book Award for best US naval history. He holds a PhD in comparative history and works as an adjunct instructor at Boston-area colleges and universities.

Read an Excerpt



The defining characteristic of a defensive battle is that the defender reacts to moves initiated by an attacking force. In his classic treatise On War, Carl von Clausewitz emphasizes that a defensive battle can yield a surprisingly decisive victory for the party doing the defending. Clausewitz goes so far as to state that "the form of warfare that we call defense not only offers greater probability of victory than attack, but ... its victories can attain the same proportions and results." Armies and navies fight from a defensive standpoint sometimes by choice but usually in desperation when no other option is available.

The Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and the Battle of Midway in 1942 were both defensive victories for the United States and in both cases the victorious force fought defensively more out of desperation than by choice. One of the best examples of a defensive victory obtained by voluntarily ceding the initiative to the enemy is Kursk in July 1943. By the summer of 1943, the Red Army and air force were stronger and held the initiative over German forces on the Russian front. Intelligence data had informed the Russians that the Germans were planning to attack the Kursk salient. The Russians decided to let the Germans attack first and concentrated on building up the Russian defenses in the Kursk area. Only after the Germans had worn themselves out by attacking the strongly fortified Russian position did the Russians go over onto the offensive at Kursk, with excellent results for the Russians. At both Gettysburg and Midway, the defending forces did not hold the initiative and had no choice but to fight defensively. A common characteristic shared by the victor at Gettysburg and at Midway, the Union Army of the Potomac and the United States Navy, respectively, is that in each battle the victor concentrated virtually all of its strength at the decisive point while their respective opponents (particularly the Japanese at Midway) failed to do so. The Civil War presents a peculiar and tragic situation in that it was Americans fighting against other Americans. However, Gettysburg was a victory for the United States Army because the victorious Union Army of the Potomac was serving the national government in Washington, DC. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, which was defeated at Gettysburg, was serving a confederacy of eleven states which were in active rebellion against the government of the United States.

Gettysburg exemplifies the fact that defensive battles are not always the result of the defender being the weaker party. The Union Army of the Potomac was larger and better equipped than was the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Union forces fought defensively at Gettysburg because, prior to that battle, the successive commanders of the Army of the Potomac had been consistently outgeneraled by Robert E. Lee, resulting in a crisis of confidence in the high command of the Army of the Potomac and a consequent determination by President Abraham Lincoln that that army should stand on the defensive for the time being. In the weeks leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln was still casting about for the right commander for the Army of the Potomac and for the right strategy for the war as a whole. By way of contrast, American forces fought defensively in the Battle of Midway in June 1942 because they were weaker than the enemy. At that time, Japan's navy was more powerful than the US Pacific fleet and the Japanese held the strategic initiative.

When searching for a Civil War comparison to the Battle of Midway, Chancellorsville seems the obvious first choice as an example of the victor reacting brilliantly in defense in order to defeat a larger attacking force. At Chancellorsville in May 1863, the Army of the Potomac, then under the command of Major General Joseph Hooker, advanced southwards toward Richmond with some 120,000 troops — more than twice what General Robert E. Lee had available in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to face Hooker. Although outnumbered two to one, Lee and his ablest field commander, Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, inflicted a brilliantly executed and very sharp defeat on the Union forces. Lee was always outnumbered, but prior to Gettysburg he had often been able to achieve "local" superiority. For instance, at Chancellorsville, the superior generalship of Lee and Jackson ensured that only a small fraction of the Union forces actually got into the battle while the entire Confederate force saw action. Chancellorsville was very much a defensive victory for the Confederacy. The Chancellorsville battle is also why General Hooker is better known today for lending his name as a synonym for the prostitutes he allowed to do a brisk business quite close to his army encampments than as a military commander.

General Lee would be outnumbered again at Gettysburg, but he nonetheless held the momentum and the initiative coming out of the Chancellorsville campaign. Lee's veterans in the Army of Northern Virginia seemed invincible and the movement of such a force into northern territory was perceived by President Lincoln, his cabinet, and Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck not as a potential opportunity, but instead as a worst nightmare coming true. Lee had another reason besides holding the initiative for undertaking a second invasion of northern territory. He knew that time was not on the side of the Confederacy. From the moment Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, he knew that aggressive attack, not static defense, was the only way for the Confederacy to prevail due to the much greater economic and manpower resources of the North. In this, Lee faced the same conundrum that Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet and the architect of the Pearl Harbor and Midway operations, would confront seventy-nine years later in the months leading up to the Battle of Midway. Namely, Yamamoto in 1942 knew that his superiority over the US Pacific Fleet was only temporary and that the industrial might of the United States would make it impossible for Japan to win a long war. Like Lee at Gettysburg, Yamamoto at Midway needed a knockout blow, and he needed it fast.

When writing, historians are often confronted with the problem that history almost always defies neat packaging. Thus, at the risk of fitting a square peg into a round hole, it seems worthwhile in a book about successful American military strategies to compare Gettysburg, not Chancellorsville, with the Battle of Midway as examples of defensive victories for the United States. Unlike Chancellorsville, the victorious forces at both Gettysburg and Midway were, as the United States Constitution intended, under the command of the president of the United States. Also, there are numerous parallels between the two battles. At Gettysburg and Midway, American forces received a new senior commander just before the fighting began. There are lingering allegations that American forces failed to follow up each victory with appropriate vigor. Both battles presented the respective American commanders with a similar dual responsibility.

At Midway in June 1942, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in- Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, was expected to both defend a piece of territory from invasion — the two islets that form Midway itself — and to defeat the attacking Japanese naval fleet. In the weeks leading up to Gettysburg, the Union Army of the Potomac was expected to defend the capital and drive back the invading rebels. As Lee's Army of Northern Virginia moved north in June 1863, General Hooker, prior to being relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, was told by Lincoln and Halleck simply to keep the Army of the Potomac between Lee and Washington, DC — very much a defensive stance for Lincoln and Halleck to adopt. Those instructions were passed on essentially intact to Hooker's replacement at the head of the Army of the Potomac, Union Major General George Gordon Meade, who was expected to defend Washington, DC, and Baltimore while also defeating the invading Confederates. This was made clear to Meade in a message from General Halleck that accompanied President Lincoln's formal letter appointing Meade to the command of the Army of the Potomac. Halleck first promised not to meddle in Meade's business, but then immediately began to micromanage shamelessly:

You will not be hampered by any minute instructions from these headquarters. Your army is free to act as you may deem proper under the circumstances as they arise. You will, however, keep in view the important fact that the Army of the Potomac is the covering army of Washington as well as the army of operation against the invading forces of the rebels. You will, therefore, maneuver and fight in such a manner as to cover the capital and also Baltimore, as far as circumstances will admit.

Another parallel between the two battles is that while there would be limited offensives undertaken by other Confederate armies after Gettysburg, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was generally forced, after July 1863, to take on a defensive posture for the remainder of the war, as were the Japanese in the Pacific after the Battle of Midway. Also, at both Midway and Gettysburg, American forces had to "exorcise ghosts" from the past. In June 1942, the United States Navy and the American public were still reeling from the shock of the Pearl Harbor attack that had taken place six months earlier and which had made the Japanese Navy appear to be invincible. Similarly, according to Jeffry D. Wert, "at Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac confronted its past, a record of defeats unmatched by any American army since the American Revolution."

Admiral Nimitz did not "want" to fight the battle of Midway. That is, while Nimitz never lacked for offensive spirit, he knew that he was not ready for a major battle in June 1942. None of the new Essex class aircraft carriers were yet available, and the carriers he did have had been taking a beating. The fleet favorite USS Lexington had just been sunk by Japanese air attack during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. Yorktown had sustained bomb damage in the same battle and did not make it back to Pearl Harbor for repairs until May 27. Saratoga spent most of 1942 on the sidelines having torpedo damage repaired. Indeed, Saratoga seemed to attract Japanese submarines, which resulted in the big carrier being torpedoed on January 11, 1942 and then, after lengthy repairs had been completed, again in late August 1942. Indeed, Saratoga was beginning to get a reputation as a bad luck ship. The aircraft carriers Ranger and Wasp were in the Atlantic. Likewise, the new South Dakota and North Carolina class battleships were unavailable, either working up after their recent commissioning or already earmarked for other duty. The USS Washington, for instance, was operating with the British Home Fleet at the time of Midway. The battleships Nimitz did have access to in summer 1942 were too old and slow to operate with aircraft carriers. They were also highly vulnerable to air attack. The older American battleships dated from World War I and the early 1920s, when the threat to ships from aircraft was not yet fully appreciated. Thus, the half dozen old American battleships that had not been at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and were thus technically ready for duty, were not yet bristling with anti-aircraft guns as the newer American battleships would be later in the war. Nimitz would fight at Midway without battleships. Because of the way the battle unfolded, that was actually not a serious disadvantage. The various Japanese fleets that sortied for the Battle of Midway deployed between them no fewer than eleven battleships, but the Japanese were defeated anyway. Midway was to be a carrier battle in which naval air power would reign supreme.

Two years later the situation was quite different. By the summer of 1944, Nimitz and his Pacific fleet commanders were very eager for a fight, wanting nothing better than to bring the Japanese fleet into a decisive battle with the by then greatly augmented US Pacific Fleet. In 1944, the United States Navy was no longer reacting; it was acting. June 1942 was a very different time. During its first full year as a combatant, the United States was forced to fight a "come as you are" war. That is, the Americans had to get through 1942 primarily with the weapons that had been available at the time of Pearl Harbor. Nothing exemplifies this more poignantly and tragically than the fact that while the US Navy possessed an excellent dive bomber at Midway, the Douglas SBD Dauntless (indeed, the finest dive bomber in the world at that time), all of the American Navy pilots who flew torpedo planes from aircraft carriers at Midway had to make do with the hopelessly obsolete Douglas TBD Devastator. Lumbering along at just over one hundred miles per hour, barely enough speed to remain airborne, the Devastator had difficulty even in catching up to a fast surface ship that was steaming away from it (such as the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, which was chased by torpedo planes from the USS Enterprise approaching from astern on June 4, 1942) and had absolutely no chance of evading Japanese fighter planes. The agonizingly long, slow approach required for the Enterprise Devastators to get close enough to the Kaga to drop their torpedoes at Midway enabled Japanese fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft fire from Japanese ships to shoot down ten of the fourteen Enterprise torpedo planes. Similarly, all fifteen of the torpedo planes in the Hornet's Torpedo Squadron Eight were shot down while attacking the Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway. In all, thirty-seven out of forty-one American carrier-based torpedo planes were shot from the sky in the Battle of Midway without inflicting any damage on the Japanese fleet.

In addition to possessing the superb SBD Dauntless dive bomber, the Americans did have in 1942 one other crucial weapons-related advantage that the Japanese lacked: radar. Had even one of the Japanese ships in the Midway battle, say the flagship carrier Akagi, been equipped with an air search radar and an operator who knew how to read and evaluate radar data, the results of the battle might have been quite different. Without radar, the Japanese were forced to rely solely on visual sightings to detect the incoming waves of attacking American aircraft. These American attacks, by carrier-based torpedo planes and by Midway- based marine, army air forces, and naval aircraft came in so fast and furiously from several different directions on the morning of June 4, 1942 that the Japanese carrier striking fleet was forced temporarily into a reactive mode in which the Japanese developed a dangerous sort of tunnel vision, focusing on beating off the immediate attacks and ceasing to think of what lay beyond the horizon. If just one of the ships in Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi's advanced carrier striking force had had an air search radar on its masthead and an operator trained to use it, the forty-nine Enterprise and Yorktown dive bombers that won the battle for the Americans by delivering mortal blows to three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers in a stunning ten minute attack that began at 10:20 a.m. (local time) on June 4, 1942 could have been detected and perhaps dealt with long before they got close enough to attack.

New American ships and aircraft were in the pipeline, but were arriving in a trickle during 1942; a trickle that would become a flood in 1943. However, once intelligence data made it clear that the Japanese were preparing to invade Midway Island, Nimitz realized that he had to concentrate his limited resources at the decisive point. His dilemma in the spring of 1942 was that, as historians Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully have stated, in the months immediately following the Pearl Harbor attack, the US Pacific Fleet "had not yet recovered the ability to launch strategically meaningful operations of its own — it could only react to Japanese moves. The Japanese held the initiative everywhere." In short, Nimitz needed to do to the Japanese at Midway exactly what Lee and Jackson had done to Hooker at Chancellorsville. Nimitz had to react to moves initiated by his enemy and he needed to concentrate his numerically inferior forces at the decisive point. This he did, and brilliantly, but Nimitz had first had to get past the formidable Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations. King was obsessed with the South Pacific and had ordered Nimitz to keep two aircraft carriers south of the equator at all times. Nimitz knew he needed to bring all three of his available carriers, the Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet, back to Pearl Harbor to prepare for Midway. It was an uphill, but ultimately successful, struggle for Nimitz to get the necessary permission for this from King.


Excerpted from "No Substitute for Victory"
by .
Copyright © 2014 David Rigby.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xiii

Chapter 1 Concentrate One's Strength at the Decisive Point, Especially When Fighting Defensively 1

Chapter 2 Successful Strategy Involves Far More than Military Power 37

Chapter 3 Have Clear and Consistent War Aims 67

Chapter 4 Take Advantage of Enemy Mistakes 107

Chapter 5 Strive for Unity of Command 147

Conclusion 185

Bibliography 193

Index 203

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