Anson’s Navy – Building a Fleet for Empire, 1744-1763, Brian Lavery

Anson’s Navy – Building a Fleet for Empire, 1744-1763, Brian Lavery

This book focuses on the period from Admiral of the Fleet Lord George Anson’s return to Britain in 1744 after his circumnavigation of the globe to the end of the Seven Years War, just after his death. During this period he served on the board of Admiralty and as First Lord of the Admiralty, and thus had a major impact on the Royal Navy during the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War.

I must admit I was expecting rather more on Anson and his direct impact on the navy, but it turns out that this was also the case for the author. Anson’s direct influence turns out to be frustratingly difficult to pin down – we know that many key developments took place while he was in charge of the Navy, but can rarely actually prove he had much to do with them (he almost certainly did, but it simply isn’t recorded). As a result Lavery has chosen to take a different route, and look at the Navy itself during Anson’s period of dominance – what sort of ships did it have, how were they manned, how were they sailed, how did they fight, and how did that change over the twenty years in question. We get sections looking at Britain’s allies and enemies, the nature of battle, and the impact of victory or defeat (but not narratives of the naval aspects of the two main wars of this period – plenty of those exist elsewhere). 

The result is a picture of a navy that is almost, but not quite, familiar. Nelson’s navy is very familiar, and at first glance Anson’s navy looks similar, with the same sort of ships, same sort of guns etc. However when one looks in more detail you find lots of differences – at the start of this period naval officers didn’t yet have a formal uniform, the famous 74 gun ships of the line had yet to appear, scurvy was a major killer and the longitude problem hadn’t been solved. Naval battles tended to be inconclusive affairs, with the official rules of engagement dominanting tactics. During Anson’s time in charge most of these things began to change, but the focus here is on how things were during this time, rather that just seeing this as a preliminary to the later period, which makes this a much stronger book. This is an excellent read, focusing on the nature of the Navy that won the key victories of the Seven Years War, and all aspects of life in that Navy.

1 – The Roots of Naval Power
2 – The Ships
3 – Officers
4 – The Ship’s Crew
5 – The Craft of the Mariner
6 – Shipboard Life
7 – Dockyards and Bases
8 – The Fleets
9 – Merchant Shipping
10 – Allies and Enemies
11 – Strategy and Tactics
12 – Amphibious Warfare
13 – Defeat, Victory and Anson’s Legacy

Author: Brian Lavery
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2021

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