21stC Ellis: operational art and strategic prophecy


21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy for the Modern Era. Edited by Brett A Friedman. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD, 2015.
Reviewed by Dr Gregory P Gilbert

TO EFFECT a landing under the sea and shore conditions obtaining and in the face of enemy resistance requires careful training and preparation to say the least; and this along Marine lines. It is not enough that the troops be skilled infantry men or artillery men of high morale; they must be skilled water men and jungle men who know it can be done-Marines with Marines training.
Lt. Col. Earl ‘Pete’ Ellis, USMC, 1921

About ten years ago, when the two amphibious carriers HMAS Adelaide and Canberra were still largely in people’s minds, I recall a Royal Marine amphibious expert stating that the last thing they would do would be to deploy British Army units on their amphibious carrier HMS Ocean. He suggested armies do not have the correct mindset for amphibious operations, as marines did.

The concern of course was how the Australian Army and the RAAF would change their mindset to reflect the newly emerging marine requirements: operational manoeuvre from the sea (OMFTS), ship to objective manoeuvre (STOM) as well as more traditional amphibious operations.

Now that the Australian LHDs have been delivered it is worth considering how the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has evolved, if at all, to reflect these requirements. The conceptual foundation of the modern United States Marine Corps (USMC) is well worth consideration in this regard.

Lieutenant Colonel ‘Pete’ Ellis, USMC, is little known outside the Marines. Even within the USMC Ellis’s reputation has tended to be more rote learning than an evaluation of his original works. Luckily for us Captain Brett Friedman, USMC, has uncovered the most important works of Ellis and made them readily accessible in 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy for the Modern Era.

As Friedman explains Ellis’s writings centred upon four major subjects: counterinsurgency, coordination and liaison between Allies, the conceptual basis for the modern USMC, and a strategic assessment on how to achieve victory in a Pacific War. These topics endure into the 21st century for, although nations, armed forces and weapons have changed, the fundamental strategic geography remains the same.

Born in 1880, ‘Pete’ Ellis commenced putting pen to paper in the period before the Great War. In 1911 he studied at the Naval War College, Newport Rhode Island. He served on the Western Front in 1918 mostly as adjutant of the 4th Marine Brigade. During the war he wrote several articles for the Marine Corps Gazette.

After the war Ellis prepared the influential study ‘Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia‘ which was approved by General Lejeune as a ‘war plan’ in 1921 and which became the blueprint for the US Navy and the USMC plan to fight Imperial Japan in World War II. ‘Pete’ Ellis died in 1923 from alcohol poisoning in unusual circumstances on the-then Japanese territory of Palau.

Friedman’s final chapter on the legacy and parallels in the modern Pacific provides a good insight to the way ‘Pete’ Ellis’ thinking may be viewed in its modern context. Although his writings are not a recipe for 21st century conflict in the Pacific, they do however form a solid foundation for traditional amphibious operational planning. The modern military thinkers and planners should be able to develop and apply original concepts that build upon the framework constructed by strategists like Ellis.

For Australians the idea that any future Pacific War will be essentially a maritime war is not very well understood by many political leaders, senior policy makers and ADF commanders. Whereas Ellis wrote of island-hopping campaigns across Micronesia and the Central Pacific, Australians need to visualise much of our continent, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island Nations effectively as a series of islands linked by sea and air communications.

For instance, even though Broome is part of continental Australia it is effectively an island base separated from its nearest neighbours by sea and air. If you read 21st Century Ellis and cannot see the many parallels with the defence of Australia and its region then you just don’t get it. Some of these concepts may be common knowledge to most navy and marine types but in the 21st century we need the Australian Army and the RAAF to get onboard the maritime world.

21st Century Ellis is highly recommended.


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