Naval Warfare, 1815-1914

By Lawrence Sondhaus | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE

The twilight of sail, 1815-30

Contrary to popular belief, Napoleon Bonaparte's naval challenge to Britain did not end with Lord Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Indeed, during the last decade of the Napoleonic Wars, an ambitious French shipbuilding program drove the British to construct unprecedented numbers of ships of the line and frigates in order to maintain a safe margin of superiority. When the fighting ended in 1815, the British and French navies had many more warships than they needed for peacetime, but many had been hastily constructed from unseasoned timbers and would have short service lives. Both countries also had a backlog of warships on the stocks, many of which would remain there for years until being finished or scrapped. Because Napoleon had attempted to mobilize the resources of the shipyards in his satellite kingdoms, beyond Britain and France the maritime countries of postwar Europe inherited a variety of warship projects, built and building, in yards from the Baltic to the Adriatic. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United States-the only naval power beyond Europe-after 1815 proceeded with a naval program begun during the War of 1812 against Britain.

By the time of Trafalgar some of Nelson's ships of the line (Victory included) had seen forty years of service, reflecting the relative lack of innovation in battleship building during the preceding decades. Throughout the years 1815-30 the wooden sailing ship still ruled the waves, and the wooden ship of the line underwent improvements which prompted the leading navies to consider the traditional third-rate vessel of 74 guns no longer fit for the line of battle. At the same time, most navies acquired their first steamships, and some visionaries prophesied a day in which the capital ships of a fleet would move by steam. The development of the first shell guns likewise led some to question the future viability of wooden ships in close action or against coastal fortifications.


The sailing fleets after 1815

Assessing the numerical strength of any sailing fleet after 1815 is problematic, as different sources provide a variety of figures for each ship type. Even in Britain the navy list included a number of ships so old or in such disrepair that they

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Naval Warfare, 1815-1914
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Plates vi
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - The Twilight of Sail, 1815-30 1
  • Notes 24
  • Chapter Two - Continuity and Change, 1830-50 27
  • Chapter Three - The 1850s 55
  • Chapter Four - The Ironclad Revolution 73
  • Notes 104
  • Chapter Five - The 1870s 108
  • Chapter Six - The Jeune école 139
  • Chapter Seven - The Rebirth of the Battleship 160
  • Chapter Eight - The Dreadnought and the Origins of the First World War 197
  • Chapter Nine - Reflections on Deterrence 225
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 237
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