The Transformation of British Naval Strategy, James Davey

The Transformation of British Naval Strategy, James Davey

Seapower and Supply in Northern Europe 1808-1812

Although the fleets in the Mediterranean, the Channel and the Western Approaches get most of the attention, one of the biggest British naval commitments of the Napoleonic Wars actually came in the Baltic. Vast quantities of essential naval supplies flowed into British ports from Sweden and Russia, and as Napoleon's power spread east across Europe this supply link was threatened. The British response was to post a sizable fleet in the Baltic, starting in 1808 and only ending in 1812 when the outbreak of war between Napoleon and Russia transformed the situation in the area. This fleet had three main roles - first to prevent the Russians from invading Sweden, second to blockade the Russian fleet and third to protect British merchant ships operating in the Baltic.

The main focus of the book is on the supply systems that allowed the Royal Navy to operate in distant seas for long periods of time without having to send warships home to collect fresh food. This was a complex organisation with two main parts - the Victualling Board, which had the responsibility for gathering the supplies and the Transport Board, which had the job of getting them to the active fleets. There is also an examination of the importance of the Baltic, the campaigns themselves and the impact this great expenditure had on the British state.

Events in the Baltic helped demonstrate the limitations as well as the possibilities of naval power. Most accounts of the Napoleonic Wars mention that the Continental System damaged the Russian economy, thus helping to cause the rift between France and Russia. Here we see how the Royal Navy contributed to that by imposing a blockade of Russian ports and thus massively cutting trade. In contrast the navy was unable to protect Britain's Swedish allies from a land invasion via Finland, and in 1809 Sweden was forced to make peace with Russia and join the Continental System.

This work is a valuable contribution to our understanding of British naval power in the Napoleonic period - what it was used for and how it was supported.

1 - The Forgotten Theatre: Britain, Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea
2 - 'To keep a fleet above a fortnight': The Evolution of Naval Logistics during the Eighteenth Century
3 - The Challenges of the Baltic Sea
4 - The Administration of Power Projection
5 - The First Year in the Baltic, 1808
6 - The Escalation of Seapower, 1809
7 - The Navy, Reform and the British State
8 - Logistics and Seapower, 1810-1812

Author: James Davey
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 248
Publisher: Boydell
Year: 2012

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