Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755-2009

Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755-2009
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The book of sixteen case studies examining commerce raiding, or guerre de course, shows that this strategy has time after time proven itself a most efficient way for sea powers to exert pressure on an opponent, especially a lesser sea power or land power, but that land powers have had little success using this strategy against sea powers. Topics include: international piracy; international trade; and historical background for the American War of Independence, the Civil War, and both World Wars.

Commerce raiding, or guerre de course, is associated with major wars such as the U.S. Civil War and the two World Wars, but has been used effectively in smaller conflicts, as well. As a military tactic, commerce raiding has time after time proven itself a most efficient way to exert pressure on an opponent. This edited book of sixteen case studies examines how and why guerre de course strategies are adopted and conducted.

When re-examining examples from 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, several factors become apparent. First, while dominant sea powers have frequently conducted commerce raiding—most notably, the American campaign against Japan in World War II—weak naval powers or continental powers have also attempted to cut off an opponent’s international trade, as the American revolutionaries did in the 1770s or as Napoleon tried to do to Britain from 1803-1815, usually with much less success.

Second, guerre de course campaigns often protract, especially if the victim, particularly a continental country, opens alternate land lines of communications. When attacking sea powers, however, speed is essential, as shown by Germany’s failure to defeat Great Britain in either World War. The more time a sea power has to create the means to protect its sea trade, the less effective the guerre de course strategy will be.

Third, changes in technology greatly affected commerce raiding, including: the transition from wood- to copper-hulled ships in the early 19th century, the change from coal to oil combustion in the early 20th century, and the development airplanes and submarines. Most recently, Somali “pirates” used small fiberglass skiffs and hand-held GPS devices to capture enormous oil tankers, bringing low-level, but highly affordable and dependable, technology to the fore.

Conducting commerce by raiding and protecting one’s own shipping from attack was a traditional mission for all major navies, and played a particularly important role in Western maritime history. Post-World War II, however, the international community has tended to band together whenever any country or regional war interfered with international trade. This was best shown during the Iran-Iraq Tanker War of the 1980s and the current Somali piracy threat.


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Historians, students and professors involved with the history of piracy/Naval and sea powers/international trade/the American War of Independence/the Civil War/WWI and WWII, members of the general public interested in the same topics will enjoy this detailed publication.  In addition, members of the military, especially the Navy and Navy Veterans, and governmental members and policymakers interested in the history of international trade may want a copy of this publication. Public, community college, and academic libraries should have a copy of this book in their collections.


Rated 4 out of 5 stars on!
"Very interesting discussion about the history of piracy."

Naval Historical Foundation - Article: BOOK REVIEW - Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755-2009 by Joseph James Ahern, dated July 31, 2014
"Commerce Raiding takes a fresh look at this topic in naval history, and is a valuable addition to any bookshelf, regardless if the reader is interested in the broader topic or its specific case studies. As a whole, the work shows how in over two hundred years commerce raiding has had its own strategic, technological, and diplomatic evolution."

International Journal of Naval History - Article: BOOK Review - Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755-2009, by Jason W. Smith
"This is comparative history executed at a high level. The insights derived from it transcend the extant scholarship on the subject and will prove valuable to historians in the military, the government, and the academy alike."

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Defense Dept., Navy, Naval War College
  • Elleman, Bruce A.
2014: 351 p.
Key Phrases:
  • Newport Paper 40
  • Maritme Security
  • Maritime Security, and Military Escalation
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