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The Transformation of British Naval Strategy

The Transformation of British Naval Strategy: Seapower and Supply in Northern Europe, 1808-1812

James Davey
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Transformation of British Naval Strategy
    Book Description:

    After the Battle of Trafalgar, the navy continued to be the major arm of British strategy. Decades of practice and refinement had rendered it adept at executing operations - fighting battles, blockading and convoying - across the globe. And yet, as late as 1807, fleets were forced from their stations due to an ineffective provisioning system. 'The Transformation of British Naval Strategy' shows how sweeping administrative reforms enacted between 1808 and 1812 established a highly-effective logistical system, changing an ineffective supply system into one which successfully enabled a fleet to remain on station for as long as was required. James Davey examines the logistical support provided for fleets sent to Northern Europe during the Napoleonic War and shows how this new supply system successfully transformed naval operations, enabling the navy to pursue crucial objectives of national importance, protect essential exports and imports and attack the economies of the Napoleonic Empire. 'The Transformation of British Naval Strategy' is a detailed study of national policy, administrative and political reform and strategic viability. It delves into the nature of the British state, its relationship with the private sector and its ability to reform itself in a time of war. Bureaucratic restructuring represented the last stage in a century-long process of logistical improvement. As a result of the reforms, the navy was able to conduct operations beyond the realms of possibility even twenty years earlier and saw the reach of its power transformed. Military and Napoleonic historians will find this book invaluable. JAMES DAVEY is Research Curator at the National Maritime Museum and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Greenwich, where he teaches British naval history.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-093-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    James Davey
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 secured an unprecedented mastery of the seas for Britain but did little to halt the continental hegemony of Napoleon. Under his leadership, the French empire continued to expand, ultimately stretching from Spain to the Danube. By 1808, virtually all of mainland Europe was in a state of enforced hostility to Britain. Political antagonism became economic hostility, as Napoleon set up the Continental System, a continental blockade aimed at removing British economic power from Europe. Unable to defeat Britain at sea, he resorted to economic warfare. The Berlin Decree of 1806 and the...

  7. 1 The Forgotten Theatre: Britain, Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea
    (pp. 13-34)

    The second half of the eighteenth century saw the European state system transformed by the military rise of Russia. Until this point, Western European issues had dominated international relations. By the 1770s, however, Russia was emerging as the leading continental power in mainland Europe. This prompted a mixture of satisfaction and fear in British political circles. For some, Russia’s rise was seen in a positive light, not least by Tories, who saw the country as a counter-balance to French power. For others, though, growing fears over Russia’s hegemonic ambition prompted anxious insecurity. As early as 1775 Sir Nathaniel Wraxall had...

  8. 2 ‘To keep a fleet above a fortnight’: The Evolution of Naval Logistics during the Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 35-54)

    Anaval fleet relied on its supplies; navies, like armies, moved in aaccordance with their stomachs. A naval ship could expect to carry four months of provisions in its hold; its ability to maintain operational effectiveness depended on its receiving further supplies. In other words, the quantity of food and water on board a ship directly dictated its ability to remain at sea: while it was adequately supplied, it was able to pursue its objectives. Without adequate food and water though, ships were forced to return to port, abandoning their operations. In 1703 the secretary of the Admiralty, Josiah Burchett, made...

  9. 3 The Challenges of the Baltic Sea
    (pp. 55-73)

    The Baltic Sea provided formidable obstacles to both naval commanders and administrators. Although closer to Britain’s home ports than further flung stations, the Baltic Sea provided challenges that exacerbated the existing problem of moving large amounts of provisions to ships on station. In 1801 and 1807, fleets had briefly been sent to the Copenhagen, in the former case involving a brief voyage across to the Gulf of Finland. These short expeditions aside, there had not been a sustained British fleet in the Baltic since 1727 and Saumarez was faced with a considerable challenge to ensure the provisioning of his fleet...

  10. 4 The Administration of Power Projection
    (pp. 74-98)

    The conception of British strategy, and its ultimate execution, required the involvement of personnel from across government, from cabinet ministers to the lowliest departmental clerk. At the head of government was the Cabinet, the executive branch comprised of members of the legislature, the House of Commons and House of Lords. It was here that government policy was determined. In 1808 it was a Cabinet decision to send a fleet to the Baltic. This marked a much broader movement to ratchet up the British war effort. In March 1807, following the collapse of the misleadingly named ‘Ministry of All the Talents’,...

  11. 5 The First Year in the Baltic, 1808
    (pp. 99-124)

    In October 1808, towards the end of his first year in the Baltic, Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez visited the Swedish squadron and witnessed first-hand the devastating consequences of an ineffective victualling system. ‘On board their ships’, he informed the Admiralty, ‘I found 1500 Sick all much affected with scurvy, accompanied with dysentery, low fever, and a few Catarrhal complaints . . . all apparently sinking under general debility and despondency; in many instances amounting to insanity, which too frequently terminated in the unhappy sufferer committing suicide’. The situation was worse on land: ‘in their hospitals I found 3864 suffering under...

  12. 6 The Escalation of Seapower, 1809
    (pp. 125-148)

    Command of the sea did not confer automatic dominance of the Baltic region. In early 1809, having re-entered the Baltic Sea as the ice melted, Saumarez spoke of his fears for the defence of Sweden. With a weaker army and navy than her neighbour, Sweden had ‘not the means to defray the expenses of the war’. Russia invaded Sweden by land through Finland, making significant advances through the winter of 1808–9. With the Baltic Sea frozen over, the Royal Navy could do little to assist its ally. Structural inefficiencies in the Swedish administration were exacerbated by an unstable domestic...

  13. 7 The Navy, Reform and the British State
    (pp. 149-172)

    The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars saw long years of bitter contest between the two major powers of Europe, Britain and France. Both were forced to throw off ingrained traditions in a quest for greater military effectiveness and governmental efficiency. The British state was reshaped by the needs of war. The collection of customs and excise duties and taxes grew in scale and efficiency, while the first income tax was introduced. Government sought to gain an effective control over its workings and outputs, in the process undermining traditional hierarchical arrangements.¹ There was an enormous expansion of taxes, public debt and...

  14. 8 Logistics and Seapower, 1810–1812
    (pp. 173-192)

    The reforms during the winter of 1809–10 made crucial and lasting improvements to the victualling service. The planning of victualling shipments was now centralised at the Victualling Board, in the hands of those with expert knowledge and experience of arranging supplies. Planning ahead, unheard of in 1808–9, meant tonnage could be secured in advance, with increased amounts of money available for transport hire. The Victualling Board was organising the distribution of resources before commanders requested them; efficiency became the overriding objective of the board. If 1809 had been a year in which shortage had become a significant issue,...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-196)

    The Napoleonic War became a conflict between rival economies. Napoleon’s assault on British mercantile trade, the life-blood of its financial system, threatened the relationship between the state and the City that underlay British naval and political might. In response, the last ten years of this war saw a global projection of naval power. Fleets were sent to North America, the Caribbean, the East Indies, the Cape of Good Hope and the Brazils to protect British trade routes. The principal naval effort though remained in European waters. No sooner had Bonaparte started an economic conflict than it was escalated by the...

  16. Appendices
    (pp. 197-208)
    (pp. 209-226)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 227-238)