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In military strategy, a choke point (or chokepoint) is a geographical feature on land such as a valley, defile or a bridge, or at sea such as a strait which an armed force is forced to pass, sometimes on a substantially narrower front, and therefore greatly decreasing its combat power, in order to reach its objective. A choke point would allow a numerically inferior defending force to successfully prevent a larger opponent because the attacker would not be able to bring their superior numbers to bear.

Historical examples

Some historical examples of the tactical use of choke points are King Leonidas's defense of the Pass of Thermopylae during an invasion led by Xerxes I of Persia, the Battle Of Stamford Bridge where Harold Godwinson defeated Harald Hardrada, William Wallace's victory over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (Wallace had around 2,300 men against the English army of about 9,000 to 12,000 men and the bridge collapsed during the battle), and the Battle of Agincourt, where Henry V of England decisively defeated the French when they were forced to attack his smaller army through a narrow gap in the Agincourt Woods. It was the suitability of the Caribbean as a chokepoint that attracted pirates and buccaneers during the 17th century. The Spanish treasure fleets leaving the Americas would need to pass this way in order to pick up the strong, prevailing, westerly winds that would take them back to Spain.

The most important naval choke points were first identified by John Fisher in his defense of continued British colonialism (important colonies in parentheses):[1]

  • Hormuz Strait between Oman and Iran at the entrance to the Persian Gulf
  • Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia
  • Bab-el-Mandeb passage from the Arabian Sea to the Red Sea (Yemen and Socotra)
  • Panama Canal and the Panama Pipeline connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (British Honduras)
  • Suez Canal and the Sumed Pipeline connecting the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea (Egypt)
  • The Turkish Straits/Bosporus linking the Black Sea (and oil coming from the Caspian Sea region) to the Mediterranean (Turkey)
  • The Strait of Gibraltar (Gibraltar)
  • Cape Horn (Chile)
  • The Cape of Good Hope (South Africa)

The Fulda Gap was seen as one of the decisive bottleneck battlegrounds of the Cold war in Germany.

Royal Navy choke points

In the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, the sheer size of the Royal Navy meant they had control over much of the world's oceans and seas. Choke points were of huge importance to the British Empire, which often used them to control trade in British colonies and, to a lesser extent, for defense. Choke points have also been a source of tension, notably during the Suez Crisis. Post-British Empire, the Royal Navy still deems its choke points as strategically vital. Indeed, the importance of choke points were first recognised by British Admiral John Fisher.[1]

Major British choke points today:

  • The English Channel
  • GIUK gap (between Greenland, Iceland, and UK)
  • Strait of Gibraltar

These choke points carry significant strategic importance for the Royal Navy to this day. The GIUK gap is particularly important to the Royal Navy, as any attempt by northern European forces to break into the open Atlantic would have to do so either through the heavily defended English Channel which is also the world's busiest shipping lane or through one of the exits on either side of Iceland. When also considering British control over the strategic fortress of Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean, Spain (northern coast), France (Atlantic coast) and Portugal are the only mainland European nations that have direct access to the Atlantic ocean in a way that cannot be easily blocked at a choke point by the Royal Navy. The GIUK gap was also a strategically important part of the Cold War as the Royal Navy were given the responsibility of keeping an eye on Soviet submarines trying to break into the open Atlantic.


Choke points remain a prominent issue today in the global economy and shipments of goods, particularly oil. Twenty percent of the world's oil is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, which has seen previous conflicts such as the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by American missiles in 1988. The Suez Canal and Sumed pipeline carry 4.5 million barrels (720,000 m3) a day, while the canal carried a total of 7.5% of world trade in 2011.[2] The canal was closed for eight years after the Six Day War in 1967. In many instances, alternate routes are non-existent or unpractical. For example, an alternate to the Suez/Sumed route required an additional 6,000 miles (9,700 km) around to Cape of Good Hope.[3] The Royal Navy also deem their choke points to the Atlantic as strategically important to this day.

See also


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