Sea-Power in the Seventeenth Century I

Changes in the distribution of sea-power among the states of Europe affected large areas outside Europe more directly than ever before. For Europe’s sea communications had encompassed the world. Besides the regular trans-Atlantic routes, little-frequented ones went across the Pacific to the Philippines and from the East Indies to Macao, Formosa and Japan. Commercial exchanges with Europe might require a cycle of as long as five years, quantities were minute, in some of these cases only one ship a year reached the final destination, but a regular pattern of trade existed. Originally the Portuguese had established themselves in the East thanks to a margin of technical superiority in sea- fighting, but by the late sixteenth century they were accustomed to peaceful trading in almost unarmed ships. After 1600 both they and the native traders were to suffer from the competition and incursions of heavily armed Dutch and English ships. In particular the heavier armament, superior organization and better seamanship of the Dutch East India Company enabled them to establish a commercial supremacy in Indonesia by 1650, despite prolonged and sometimes effective resistance by the Portuguese and others. Europeans did not control the trade of the Indian Ocean or Indonesia, even the Dutch never held a completely effective monopoly of the spice trade. Nevertheless they dominated important and profitable trades, because ultimately their naval power was greater than that of the native states. If Iberian power was eclipsed in the East, their monopoly of trans-Atlantic trade, still virtually intact in 1600, was also broken. By 1621 over half the carrying trade of Brazil was in Dutch hands, by the 1650s the Dutch and English were permanently established in the Caribbean and were establishing treaty rights in Brazilian and Portuguese trade.

Distribution of sea-power was itself changed by changing distribution of trade and also by technical developments in shipbuilding and the con- duct of war. Heavily armed ships from north-western Europe began to dominate the trade and warfare of the Mediterranean. The traditional galleys were still used in war, but together with sailing ships which more and more dominated the battles. By the 1650s the battle-fleets of the English and the Dutch were dominated by specialized fighting ships with two or three gun-decks, designed for inboard-loading and for increasingly heavy and controlled broadside fire, which in turn involved the gradual adoption of line-ahead formations. There was increasing professionalization of naval officers, though in wartime seamen from the merchant marine were essential to man the fleets which still also included merchant ships. Naval strategy turned more than ever on the protection and destruction of trade, and sea-power as always depended upon both trading and fighting fleets. But the maintenance of a fighting fleet was more expensive than ever before, requiring a larger permanent organization which could design, build and maintain specialized ships, unsuitable for trade. In 1639 before the Battle of the Downs Tromp’s strength had been trebled in a matter of weeks by fitting out merchant ships. Before 1642 hired merchantmen had usually made up more than half the numbers of English fleets. Their proportion in the Parliamentary fleets during the Civil War was much smaller; in the Dutch war Blake wished to keep it down to a fifth and in fact it seldom exceeded a third. After 1653 hired merchantmen might still play a decisive part in the war between Venice and the Turks but not in wars between great naval powers.

By the 1650s the distribution of sea power had changed decisively. In 1600 the Iberian kingdoms might still claim to be the greatest maritime power, their merchant fleet was second only to the Dutch and their combined naval strength greater than that of either the Dutch or the English. Even in the 1620s Spain was the strongest naval power in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic and could hopefully plan to challenge the Dutch in their home waters. The Habsburgs could even dream of dominating the Baltic in alliance with a revivified Hanseatic League. By 1659 Spain was weaker in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean than England or Holland and was soon to be outstripped by France. The technical changes of the period seem to have largely passed Spain by. In the 1630s the English and Dutch built the Sovereign and the Aemilia, prototypes of the heavy and medium ships of the future battle lines. The Spaniards still built relatively undergunned galleons, just as they failed to adopt newer types of fishing vessels and cargo carriers, although they were more receptive to the Dunkirkers’ example in developing fast frigates. Spain’s fleets were chronically short of gunners and seamen so that their ability to fight and even to survive the ordinary hazards of the sea were both impaired. Matters were even worse for the Portuguese on the Cape route, since they persisted in using unwieldy carracks of 1,000 tons or more, though well aware smaller ships would be more seaworthy. They then persistently overloaded and overcrowded them, despite regulations to the contrary and a shortage of seamen. Losses from shipwreck increased in the late sixteenth century and continued to be heavy until 1650, after- wards the rate dropped steeply; from 1590 to 1635 some 220 sailings from Lisbon resulted in the loss of thirty-four ships, while some 130 from India lost thirty-three.

The decline of Iberian sea-power did not happen because statesmen were blind to its importance, though the general contempt for sailors and their profession found in both Spain and Portugal may have contributed to it. As with so many problems which beset Spain, the need to maintain her power at sea was understood and analysed, but the resources for effective action were lacking. To renew the war against the Dutch Spain had to accept continental commitments and communications, sending troops and money from north Italy overland to the Netherlands. To secure these communications Spain had to subsidize and assist allies in the empire whom she could neither control nor afford. Spain’s maritime resources had to be concentrated on keeping her Atlantic communications open for her treasure-fleets and the western Mediterranean safe for the transfer of funds and troops to Genoa for Milan, Germany and Flanders. The failure to continue the land campaign against the Dutch with real success after the capture of Breda (1625) meant that the risk of the Dutch wearing down Spain’s Atlantic communications by the organized attacks of the West India Company increased. To counter this pressure Olivares wanted to erode Dutch sea-power by destroying her trade. Like his predecessors he would have liked to close the Straits of Gibraltar to the Dutch and English, but there was no real prospect of establishing an effective blockade. Hopes of a potentially much more decisive counter- stroke caused the revival of projects for attacking the Dutch in the most vital area of their maritime and commercial hegemony, the Baltic. In 1624 Olivares proposed to found a company with Flemish and Hanseatic participation which would have a monopoly of Iberian trade with the rest of Europe, thus undermining the entrepot trade of Amsterdam as well as providing a fleet of twenty-four ships to challenge the Dutch from bases in East Friesland. After 1626 this last objective was changed and the fleet was to be based in the Baltic in order to harry Dutch trade there. Sigismund III of Poland had long wished to build up a fleet and was anxious to ally himself with Madrid, but none of the Hanseatic towns would entertain the project for fear of offending the Dutch. In 1628 the arrival of Wallenstein on the Baltic coast roused fresh hopes, but he refused to accept Madrid’s terms for subsidizing a fleet. He was determined to keep complete control of it himself and to use it against the Danes rather than the Dutch. The Spanish envoys did buy some ships from the Hanse, but in 1629, to the fury of Sigismund, they were sent to Flanders. The main result of these projects was to disillusion Sigismund about Habsburg plans and promises and to encourage him to make his truce with Sweden. The only real damage to Dutch trade was done by the Dunkirkers. They seldom had more than thirty ships at sea at one time, but the admiralty records show that from 1626 to 1634 they captured 1,499 ships, sank another 336 (two-thirds or more may have been Dutch), and sold booty for £1,139,000 sterling, while losing fifteen royal ships and 105 privateers to the enemy. From the late 1630s the Dutch blockade may have been more effective in reducing losses, but it was never more than partially effective.

Although Spain beat off the first Dutch attacks on Brazil and the English attack on Cadiz, her Atlantic power suffered a great disaster when Piet Heyn captured and destroyed the treasure-fleet at Matanzas in Cuba in 1628. This not only financed the West India Company’s successful conquests in Brazil, but also destroyed about a third of the ships employed in Seville’s Atlantic trade. Between 1623 and 1636 the company took or destroyed 547 ships worth some 5,500,000 gulden. Spain made a last great effort to reconquer northern Brazil in 1638, when twenty-six galleons and twenty other ships were sent from Lisbon in September, later reinforced at Bahia to a total of eighteen Spanish and twelve Portuguese galleons, thirty-four armed merchantmen and twenty-three small ships. This armada was frustrated by unfavourable weather and irresolute com- mand and was scattered by the Dutch in January 1640 without achieving anything. This final failure to protect Brazil and the Caribbean from the Dutch was overshadowed by Tromp’s annihilation of the last Spanish fleet to challenge Dutch sea-power in the Channel at the Battle of the Downs in October 1639.

This Spanish effort was a last desperate gamble by planners who had lost touch with the realities of both Dutch and Spanish sea-power. Both before and after 1639 troops were taken to and from Flanders by sea, but this was done by taking risks and evading the Dutch, not by challenging them to battle. The fall of Breisach in 1638 and the consequent closing of the land route doubtless made some attempt at reinforcement by sea essential in 1639, while the French fleet’s incursions against the Biscayan ports also needed checking. But it was reckless to scrape together all available ships from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and then in- struct the admiral, Oquendo, when encumbered with the transport of 10,000 troops, to give battle if he met the Dutch, and stake everything on destroying their fleet. Of the seventy-odd ships which sailed from Corunna some thirty had been hired from foreigners (from Ragusa, Lubeck and Hamburg, apart from at least eight English transports). In all there were some fifty warships, as usual short of gunners and seamen; Tromp with twenty-four ships established such a decisive superiority in sailing and gunnery that he drove the Spaniards to take refuge off the English coast. In the final attack the Dutch had superior numbers, but the Spaniards mostly ran their ships aground without a fight, losing forty-three ships and 6,000 men. Ironically most of the troops and treasure did reach Dunkirk along with the only efficient part of the fleet, the original Dunkirk squadron; a result which could have been achieved without destroying a large part of Spain’s navy and all its reputation.

The composition and fate of Oquendo’s armada is only one symptom of Spain’s declining sea-power. The trend of Seville’s trans-Atlantic trade suggests even more serious structural changes; comparing 1616-20 with 1646-50 the tonnage employed had decreased by about half. In the later period only some forty per cent of the ships were Spanish built, roughly the same number were American built, while some seventeen per cent came from northern Europe; before 1610 most of the ships used had been built in northern Spain. In the late sixteenth century ships from northern Spain had predominated in the fisheries off Newfoundland; their share declined rapidly in the seventeenth century and was insignificant by 1650, as was their share in Spain’s European trade. The main source of Spain’s maritime strength had begun to fail even before being subjected to further stress by war. Dr Andrews has recently suggested that this failure was due to the Elizabethan war against Spain’s shipping. Although this never seriously interfered with the trans-Atlantic routes, by forcing Spain to concentrate all her resources on protecting them, it left shipping on shorter and coastal routes, especially on the approaches to Galician and Biscayan ports, unprotected against privateers. The losses in ships and seamen were certainly serious and, whether or not it decisively undermined Spain’s sea-power, it may well have contributed to the decline of her northern ports, along with shortages of timber.

When the revolts of Catalonia and Portugal followed less than a year after Oquendo’s defeat, it might have seemed dubious whether Spain could defend her own coasts. Luckily France, her nearest enemy, was not strong enough at sea to exploit the situation. Richelieu had been at pains to build up the French navy but he started from scratch; in the 1620s the crown had to hire foreign ships against La Rochelle, in 1635 there was a Channel fleet of some thirty-five sizeable ships, though many of them were foreign-built and the Mediterranean fleet had been increased from thirteen to twenty-two galleys. By concentrating her resources, especially those of the royal squadron from Dunkirk, first in Biscay, then in the western Mediterranean Spain held the French in check. French strength in the Channel declined after 1642 and Spain was able to concentrate more effectively in the Mediterranean so that the French were usually outnumbered. Despite much hard fighting in the 1640s they were never able to get command of the sea, or seriously interrupt Spanish communications. Spain’s superiority at sea helped her to reconquer Catalonia and prevented the French establishing themselves in Tuscany and exploiting the revolt of Naples. Consciousness of France’s growing naval inferiority to Spain after 1648 made Mazarin the more anxious to secure either a Dutch or an English alliance.

By the 1650s the decline of Spain and the failure to achieve a lasting revival of the French navy meant that the relative preponderance of the Dutch and English was greater and affected a greater geographical area than had been true of leading sea-powers in the past. There were now purely local balances of power between the states bordering each of Europe’s inner seas, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, but these ultimately depended upon the new powers of Atlantic Europe. The most striking local changes were in the Baltic. There Denmark had long been the dominant naval power, but Gustavus Adolphus built up the Swedish navy to protect his communications and control the Prussian ports. After his death its growth continued and in 1644 it decisively shook Denmark’s supremacy, though both sides also hired Dutch ships. Local supremacy passed to Sweden and Charles X wished to convert this into an absolute control of the Baltic, which would have been fatal to Dutch commercial hegemony. From 1649 the Dutch supported the Danes and in 1658 their fleet defeated Charles’ ambitions. The English were always jealous of Dutch power in the Baltic, but it was also against their interest to allow any local power absolute control. Thus in 1659 the local balance of power was dictated by the Dutch and English fleets’ ability to keep the area open to their influence.

In the western Mediterranean, as we have seen, Spain was still able to enforce her interests against her local rivals. In the eastern Mediterranean the Turks had been at war with Venice for control of Crete since 1645. In the first years of the war the Turkish fleets consisted almost entirely of galleys and the mixed fleets of the Venetians were more successful. In the 1650s the Turks used mixed fleets, but they suffered a severe defeat off the Dardanelles in 1656, losing forty-six ships and forty-seven galleys. However, the Venetians were unable to maintain an effective blockade of the Dardanelles and they never established command of the Aegean for any considerable period, while the effort of maintaining fleets there contributed to the final eclipse of Venice as a commercial and maritime power. If either the English or the Dutch put their naval strength, or even part of it, into the Mediterranean they could outclass any of the local powers. All they needed, as Blake and De Ruyter showed, was the use of ports which local rivalries could be relied on to provide.

Sea-Power in the Seventeenth Century II

But the local balance of maritime trade had changed long before the mid-seventeenth century. In the long period of official truce between Spain and the Turks after 1580, Dutch and English ships entered the Mediterranean in increasing numbers. They not only dominated the trade between the Mediterranean and north-west Europe, but also captured an ever-increasing share of trade within the Mediterranean. They introduced a new type of ship, known there as the berton, and a new phase of warfare. The berton was smaller, but more heavily armed and built, faster and more manoeuvrable than the Mediterranean argosies which were similar to the Portuguese carracks. Around 1600 the northerners engaged in both trade and piracy, as opportunity offered, making the sea unsafe for native shipping. After about 1604 northerners who specialized exclusively in piracy began to appear. They mostly operated from Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and Sallee and they taught the Muslims there to use bertons. Before 1620 their pupils had become so apt that the golden age of the Barbary corsairs began, at its height they may have had 150 ships. They raided throughout the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic as far as Cape Verde, Iceland, the Azores and the Great Banks, though they usually concentrated on the approaches to the Straits and the Channel. But even after the first generation of northern captains had gone, piracy was not an exclusively Muslim enterprise; the. dukes of Savoy and Tuscany provided bases for privateers at Villefranche and Leghorn, while the knights of Malta and San Stefano took prizes indiscriminately. In these conditions only heavily armed ships, like those of the English Levant Company, could trade safely and the worst sufferers were native traders, especially the Venetians. Venice not only provided the richest prizes in the Levant, but was often unable to protect her shipping in the Adriatic from the local pirates, the Uscocchi. Piracy helped to weaken Venice and to make her increasingly dependent on northern shipping.

The amount of shipping using the port of Venice increased from 1587 to 1609, but the proportion of foreign-owned and -built ships also grew. By the early 1620s the total volume was barely half that of 1607-9 and the decline continued; interrupted during the 1630s, it became very steep during the Cretan war and the relative share of foreign shipping probably increased. The main reason for hiring foreign ships was that they were better able to protect themselves. Venice had to hire Dutch and English ships to meet the challenge of Osuna, the Viceroy of Naples, in the Adriatic in 1617-18. Both sides in the Cretan war made extensive use of foreign- built and -hired ships. Of course the northerners were not immune to piracy; from 1617 to 1625 the Algerines took some 200 Dutch ships. But the northerners increased their trade, while that of Venice declined, and in the long run they were more successful in forcing the Barbary states to respect their flags. In the mid-1650s the English and Dutch had squadrons in the Mediterranean partly for this purpose. England made treaties with Sallee, Algiers and Tunis from 1655 to 1658. After the English squadron withdrew in 1658 there were difficulties, but after 1661 the treaties were observed.

If only well-armed ships could usually trade securely in the Mediterranean, conditions in the North Sea and Baltic were different. The main cargoes of the Baltic and Scandinavian trades were bulky ones, grain, timber, salt, wine and fish. The Dutch had long dominated these trades and by the last years of the sixteenth century had developed a type of cargo carrier, the fluit, which perpetuated their domination. This was a slow, lightly built, virtually unarmed ship, with a long keel, bluff bows and a relatively flat bottom, needing only a small crew to manage its relatively small area of sails. Its cheap building and running costs meant cheap freight rates which ensured Dutch supremacy in the carrying trades so that in 1669 Colbert enviously guessed that they owned three-quarters of Europe’s total tonnage. The Dutch themselves in 1636 estimated that they had 1,050 ships trading to the Baltic, Norway and south-west France averaging a hundred lasts, 250 ships (of 120-50 lasts) in the Mediterranean and Archangel trades, 450 of 20 to 40 lasts in the Channel and North Sea as well as 2,000 fishing busses and 300 ships in the extra-European trades. This would suggest a total of 4,500 to 4,800 ships with a tonnage of 600,000 to 700,000, four or five times that of England. The basic Dutch trades were very vulnerable to the Dunkirkers so that they flourished most in peacetime. In war they were checked by losses which meant high insurance and freight rates. With the Peace of Westphalia trade boomed and the customs figures suggest that from 1648 to 1651 it reached a level which was possibly never surpassed in the seventeenth century, while Dutch shipping threatened to eliminate all rivals from the Baltic, North Sea and Atlantic trades.

This triumphant position was partly founded on the eclipse of the Hanseatic towns’ ability to assert any effective power, either collectively or individually. Their share of Baltic trade had declined in the sixteenth century. About 1600 they had about 1,000 ships amounting to some 90,000 tons, about one-third belonging to Hamburg (7,000 lasts) and Lübeck (8,000 lasts). Lübeck’s fleet was still growing in the early seventeenth century; its first fluit was built in 16182 and its shipbuilding only declined decisively after 1648. Hamburg’s fleet doubled to about 14,000 lasts between 1600 and 1650. But the shipping of Danzig declined, as did that of Wismar, Rostock and Stralsund. These last had been heavily involved in trade to Norway which after 1625 was completely dominated by the Dutch and Danes. Hamburg and to a lesser extent Lübeck were able to increase their trade to southern Europe after 1621. Although Hamburg sustained a flourishing entrepdt trade, it was dominated by foreign merchants, while after 1648 Sweden levied tolls of 350,000 thalers a year on the other Hanseatic towns, a revenue approaching that of the Sound tolls. Thus Lübeck’s and the Hanse’s rejection of Spain’s offers in 1628 lost them their last dubious chance of reversing their decline at the expense of the Dutch. The decline of Iberian sea-power meant increasing exploitation by foreign merchants. First Cromwell forced Portugal to grant privileges to English merchants both there and in the Brazil trade. Spain later tacitly acquiesced in the exploitation of her trade by Dutch, English and French merchants. The failure of the Hanseatic towns to find effective allies and their inability to mobilize naval power condemned them to exploitation by Sweden, under which only Hamburg prospered, having 277 ships (42,000 tons) by 1672.

If by 1650 the Hanseatic towns were powerless to avoid exploitation by the victors at Westphalia, the English were not. Their reply to the Dutch was war.

English shipbuilders had never attempted to imitate the fluit. Their topical product was the ‘defensible’ ship of sixty tons and upwards more heavily built, with finer lines, faster, needing a larger crew and carrying a number of guns proportionate to its size. Even colliers in the Newcastle trade conformed to this type, so that foreign ships dominated in the export of coal. Such ships were very suitable for dangerous Mediterranean waters and for privateering, but in most other trades they could not compete with the Dutch in peacetime. Nevertheless the tonnage of English shipping had probably doubled between 1582 and 1624 but the opportunity provided by the Dutch being at war after 1621 was spoilt initially by England also being involved in war from 1625 to 1629. England lost some 300 ships amounting to well over 20,000 tons and may have taken rather more prizes herself. In 1629 England’s total tonnage was 115.000 and it may have risen to about 140,000 by 1640. Until then the greatest expansion since 1600, apart from the Mediterranean and the coastal coal trades, was in the Newfoundland fisheries which came to be dominated by the English. In the early 1630s the East India Company had 9,000-10,000 tons of shipping. If the Dutch dominated the North Sea fisheries, the English held their own to a greater extent off Iceland and in whaling off Spitzbergen. After 1640 direct English exploitation of all these fisheries declined. To compete successfully even for the carrying trade of their own ports, English ships needed either government protection or the advantages of neutrality when the Dutch were at war.

The Civil War obviously hindered trade and shipping, but it increased England’s naval strength. From 1642 to 1647 Parliament sent thirty to forty warships to sea every summer and kept a winter-guard of some twenty ships, so that the fleet was more continuously manned than ever before. Then the Commonwealth expanded the fleet from 1649 to 1651 and forty-one new ships were added, almost doubling it. The ships were used to pursue the ships which had joined the Royalists in 1648, to secure the trans-Atlantic colonies and enforce respect for the Commonwealth’s flag in European waters. These efforts, meant long voyages to Portugal, the Mediterranean and America. The French not only assisted the Royalists, but also placed an embargo on English cloth. This produced an embargo on French wines and silk in 1649. Both sides proceeded to seizures of goods and ships. Convoys were needed for English ships in the Mediterranean and the Dutch became the neutral carriers of Anglo- French trade. The Navigation Act, searches of Dutch ships for French goods and exaction of salutes all annoyed the Dutch. By February 1652 the States General, alarmed by the growth of the English fleet, resolved to fit out 150 ships in addition to the 76 already available. The expansion of the English fleet continued even after the end of the Dutch war; from 1650 to 1656 80 new ships were built and many prizes added to it. In 1625 the navy had about 30 ships, in 1640 about 40, in 1651 about 95 and in 1660 about 140. Probably many fewer large merchant ships were built in the 1650s compared with the 1630s, so that the naval building may only have made up this difference.

Although Dutch resources in shipbuilding and seamen were so much greater, their ability to transform them into effective naval power was limited. The fact that they had far more trade to protect and that Britain lay across the vital routes nourishing their Baltic trade were severe handicaps. Their naval administration suffered from decentralization among five boards of admiralty and from friction between the provinces. The English had more very large ships and in general their ships were more heavily built and armed with heavier guns. They were also quicker to see the advantage of line-ahead formations and made greater efforts to found their battle tactics upon them. All these factors helped to give them the balance of advantage in the whole series of battles. The English attempt to blockade the Dutch coast in 1653 was not completely successful, but the Channel was closed to Dutch shipping from February 1653. The Dutch economy depended on the sea far more than the English and for the first time they were fighting an enemy whose naval strength was ultimately more effective. The truth of this can be seen not by claiming the last battle off the Texel as a decisive English victory-both sides could have put powerful fleets to sea again in 1654, if they had not chosen to make peace-but in the fact that the war was disastrous for Dutch trade. The English took between 1,000 and 1,700 Dutch prizes (a figure nearer the lower one seems more likely) and lost few of their own ships. The English having failed to build economical cargo carriers had now captured them in abundance. They appeared to have checked the growth of Dutch trade which had been so evident after 1647 and had acquired the means to survive in the carrying trade; it is probable ‘that between 1654 and 1675 foreign built ships were never less than a third of the total tonnage in English ownership . . ..

The immediate consequences of the effective mobilization of so much naval power were not altogether happy for English trade. Despite the Navigation Act, English trade to the Baltic remained depressed and the Dutch continued to carry a large part of English colonial trade. One of the reasons for undertaking the Western Design against the Spanish Indies was that Cromwell’s council were mostly anxious to find a use for the large navy which had been created and hoped the venture would pay for itself, as the Dutch West India Company had done in its heyday. The resulting war with Spain demonstrated the greatness of English sea-power, since Spain’s Atlantic communications were far more effectively cut than they had ever been by the Dutch. But the gains were disappointing; instead of delivering a death blow to the Spanish Empire, Jamaica was captured; Blake destroyed the silverfleet, but failed to capture the treasure. English sea-power commanded the approaches to Spain, but the Dutch as neutral carriers monopolized Spanish trade, while the English suffered severely from privateering. Anti-Cromwellian propaganda put the loss as high as 1,800 ships, more probably about 1,000 were lost as against some 400 captured by the English; in three months, May to July 1656, the Dunkirkers claimed to have taken over 100 English ships.

Cromwell’s acquisition of Dunkirk not only removed a real threat to English shipping, but also reinforced the command of the Channel, already asserted in the Dutch war. By 1659 an equilibrium existed; if Dutch naval and commercial power still dominated the Sound, they had to respect English interests there; if the English dominated the Straits of Dover more completely than before, the Commonwealth’s hopes of mobilizing naval power to destroy or capture Dutch commercial supremacy and the Protectorate’s dreams of using it to destroy the Spanish Empire in America had both proved equally illusory. Nevertheless England was enabled to share naval, though not as yet commercial, hegemony with the Dutch and to assert her power and interests in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Baltic. Temporarily England might even claim to be the strongest naval power in Europe, though this would be challenged again by both the Dutch and the French. Her achievement had altered the balance of power in Europe and was part of the process whereby power was being concentrated in north-western Europe at the expense of the Iberian and Mediterranean states.

If England had become one of the two greatest naval powers by 1660, in terms of merchant shipping her relative position is less clear, but despite losses in the Spanish war the total may have been about 200,000 tons. In 1664 French shipping, including fishing boats, amounted to about 130,000 tons. This total was probably little larger than it had been about 1570, when it was perhaps twice as great as that of England. The total of the German ports had probably fallen slightly since 1600, when it was about 120,000 tons; 2 that of Spain and Venice must have declined drastically. The years 1600-60 seemed to show men such as Colbert and Downing that the prosperity of trade and shipping depended more closely than ever on possession of effective naval power. The changes in the tactics and in organization of armies between 1560 and 1660 were so considerable that they have been held to amount to a military revolution. For sixteenth-century lansquenets war had been a seasonal occupation, for the soldiers of the Thirty Years War it was a full-time one. By 1650 many states were heavily in debt to tax-farmers and military entrepreneurs, but the future did not belong to entrepreneurs, such as Wallenstein, Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, or Charles IV of Lorraine, who raised whole armies. As the organization of armies became more elaborate, so they came more and more completely under the control of the state. In France Le Tellier had endeavoured since 1643 to reform military administration and to give the crown real control over its officers and regiments, though he did not begin to achieve anything appreciable until after the peace of 1659, when royal control grew rapidly. Taxes continued to be farmed out to contractors, but not armies and regiments. As long as naval power could be farmed out to entrepreneurs such as the West India Company and as long as hired merchant ships were a major part of battle-fleets, direct and continuous control by the state was restricted. While privateering remains an obvious exception, the growth of professionalism and specialization in naval forces in the 1650s can be seen as part of a general process in which states were beginning to exercise much more rigorous and effective control over their armed forces.

The National Fleets of the Spanish American War

By the end of 1865 the United States had perhaps become the world’s foremost naval power with its unmatched fleet of ar­mored monitors, but after the Civil War had ceased to maintain it. By 1874 the US had sold, dismantled, or retired nearly the en­tire fleet. Some lamented that hardly enough ships remained to defend the coast, let alone America’s growing interests abroad ‑ the US finally came to rank some­where behind Chile and China. In 1874, the first step was taken (by Secretary of the Navy, G. Robeson) to correct the problem. A reconstruction program was begun on the best five Civil War monitors. Officially termed “repair,” the program was partly funded by selling other monitors as scrap. Later, a great scandal developed when Con­gress discovered that the actual purpose of the program was unauthorized new con­struction. The US was not quite ready to return to sea.

During the 1870s Britain and France were the prominent naval powers. Both had world‑wide empires, and for a while they competed ship for ship. Soon, however, French naval thought became dominated by the jeune e’cole (the Young School) which believed the battleship’s usefulness had passed. This school favored heavy gun­boats and torpedo boats for coast defense and cruisers for commerce raiding, a defen­sive attitude that probably was derived from the perception that nearly all major na­val actions took place within sight of land. Interestingly, Britain was not regarded as likely an enemy as Germany, Russia or It­aly. War with the latter countries would be in coastal seas. The greatest appeal of the jeune e’cole was that its fleet and strategy were inexpensive and not technologically vulnerable.

The 1870s and 80s brought rapid tech­nological change. Construction switched from armor covering an entire ship, which had proved too heavy, to an armor belt cov­ering only the ship’s vitals (for example, the engine room and magazines). When armor piercing ammunition was developed, de­signers answered with improved metals and thicker belts. International arms manufac­turers profited immensely and, if the case of Krupp is typical, improved their profits by simultaneously developing the gun that would defeat the new armor they were then selling. Governments probably knew they were being drawn into successive rounds of buying but they emptied their treasuries anyway. In 1898, the best armor used in the US fleet was nickel‑steel hardened by the “Harvey” process.

Another technical improvement of the mid‑1880s was the development of triple and quadruple expansion reciprocating en­gines which dramatically improved steam­ing efficiency. This allowed ship designers to dispense with full sail rigging. Thus, by the 1890s, warships began to display recog­nizably modern lines.

The year 1883 saw pro‑Navy forces fi­nally prevail in Congress and the first US steel warships were approved. These were known as the “ABCD” ships: cruisers At­lanta, Boston, and Chicago and the dispatch boat Dolphin. They formed the White Squadron and showed the flag around the world. The “New Navy” was born. Whereas Americans once led the world in ship design, the design for the New Navy came from Europe. With European technol­ogy came the theories of France’s jeune e’cole and these directed the new construc­tion for the fleet.

The first two battleships, Maine and Texas, were intended as armored cruisers but were upgraded to “second‑class” bat­tleships when heavier guns were installed. The next three battleships (Indiana class) were “seagoing coast‑line battleships de­signed to carry the heaviest armor and most powerful ordinance.” The cruisers Colum­bia, Minneapolis, and Olympia were of a class termed “protected” cruisers and de­signed for “commerce destroying” as were the armored cruisers Brooklyn and New York. Essentially, none of the American ships at the outbreak of the war was de­signed for a general fleet engagement ex­cept in confined coastal waters.

At war’s outbreak the US had four good battleships, one second‑line battleship (having lost Maine), six harbor defense monitors, two armored cruisers, fourteen protected cruisers and about 30 other armed vessels. Anticipating war, the Navy acquired or chartered about 123 other ships. These included former private yachts, harbor tugs, US Coast Guard cut­ters, hospital ships, and a large miscellany of converted freighters. Eleven of the best freighters and liners were armed and given a scouting role as auxiliary cruisers.

Many ships from the merchant marine came complete with crews for temporary federal service. Fortunately, the US had a good reserve of naval manpower. By war’s end the number of seamen in uniform had about doubled to 24,242 officers and men. American crews were efficient, sturdy, well trained, and had high morale. They were not the “300 Swedish sailors” of dubious quality alluded to in one European journal nor the inefficient, polyglot crews referred to in Spanish newspapers, where it was as­sumed US gun crews would desert at the first shot.

Spain, too, was influenced by the jeune e’cole, perhaps more so than the US, as ne­cessitated by a tighter naval budget. De­spite their common frontier, Spain and France did not consider themselves rivals; indeed, a number of Spanish ships were French‑built. The most important of these was Pelayo, Spain’s only battleship. Launched in 1887, she closely followed French naval thought in sacrificing sea en­durance for greater armor protection, much like the various classes of French armored coast defense ships, although it had lighter guns. In the early 1890s, Spain launched its first three armored cruisers, these being patterned after the British Aurora class. In them, Spain had a good, efficient force, but sacrificed firepower and some armor for greater speed and endurance, a classic pattern for commerce raiders.

The Depression of 1893 stopped launchings of all types, but as it waned two more armored cruisers were launched in 1895/96 and another begun. Lack of naval funds prevented these and two protected cruisers (launched 1890/91) from being completed in time for war. However, Spain did complete many units of two important combat classes: torpedo boats and de­stroyers. France’s recognition of the torpe­do’s importance (France built 240 torpedo boats from 1890 to 1907) influenced Spain to build torpedo boats (19, but only 7 were of value in 1898) and arm with torpedoes virtually all its important gunboats and lighter cruisers. Spain took an important lead by building destroyers, a recent British invention for dealing with torpedo boats. She built seven in 1896/1897 and included torpedoes with their armament. The US had constructed no destroyers and only eight torpedo boats.

The Spanish Navy in 1897 had about 15,000 officers and men, of whom about 1,500 were in Cuba and another 1500 in the Far East manning the small gunboats and cruisers on station. The Spanish presumed they could mobilize more from the mer­chant marine to fill out ship’s crews, yet they nearly failed at this. In addition, those personnel present lacked sea experience and gunnery practice.

This inefficiency in personnel was also reflected in the state of its fleet. In January 1898, only four armored cruisers, three de­stroyers, three torpedo boats, and a handful of gunboats were combat ready. Refitting would add one battleship, one armored cruiser, one old ironclad, four destroyers, and a number of merchant ships converted to auxiliary cruisers. Spain had quite a fleet besides these: 6 protected cruisers, 9 small cruisers (more properly classified as gun­boats), 16 gunboats and torpedo gunboats, and 70 very small gunboats (38 being in Cuba and 21 in the Philippines). In all, there were some 140 armed vessels excluding armed merchant ships. In sheer numbers of armed vessels, excluding armed merchant ships, Spain could claim to be nearly the equal to the US.

Realizing that war was fast approach­ing, both navies scrambled to augment their fleets. Spain faced a major problem as so many of its ships required overhauling. In the US, the big monitors required extensive repair and, additionally, it was decided to re­fit the old Jason class Civil War monitors. These measures added some units to both fleets, but the most important pre‑war preparation was the purchase of surplus ships. For both countries, the best market was their domestic merchant marine, but as Spain’s smaller merchant fleet was critical to her economy, she deferred efforts until after the war began.

In the international market, the best source seemed to be Britain. There Spain tried to buy two well‑armed cruisers under construction for Brazil. When the US learned of these negotiations, a special ap­propriation was hurried through Congress for a competitive bid, which won. In April, the completed cruiser Amazonas was brought home. Renamed New Orleans, it joined the fleet armed and ready on May 8th. The second cruiser was still incom­plete and did not join the fleet until well after the war. The US also bought a gunboat from Britain (named Topeka), a torpedo boat from Germany, and, during the war, a num­ber of British merchantmen as colliers and supply vessels. Spain bought three mer­chant ships from Germany and converted them to well‑armed auxiliary cruisers.

Spain and the US also competed for several months to buy the efficient, British ­built armored cruiser O’Higgins from Chile. Spain won the bidding but not until June 25th, well after the Cape Verde Squadron had been trapped, and too late to participate in the war.

As war drew closer, both fleets were assembled. Spain sent Vizcaya to New York on a good‑will tour to offset the Maine at Havana, but her arrival three days after Maine’s destruction only inflamed the US public. Simultaneously, Oquendo arrived in Havana to bolster Spanish morale. She was later joined by Vizcaya, and on April 8th both left to rendezvous with a flotilla of tor­pedo boats and destroyers from the Canar­ies well out in the Atlantic. The unseaworthiness of the fight flotilla obliged the combined force to make for the Cape Verde Islands, the closest port, where they were joined by Colon and Teresa from Spain. Thus, the Spanish fleet was assem­bled. The US recalled its South American Squadron (Cincinnati and two gunboats), two gunboats intended for China, one gun­boat each from Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and Oregon from San Francisco. The voy­age of Oregon around South America is an epic of the US Navy and was later cited as an argument in favor of digging the Panama Canal.



From the late 19th century to the cusp of World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) cleaved to an idée fixe that the defense of Japan was principally its task, rather than the Army’s. For most of the period IJN leaders also clung to the idea that defense was best achieved by a powerful surface fleet centered on battleships that was capable of winning a decisive battle against the U.S. Navy (USN) or the Royal Navy (RN), its two great rivals. In 1907 the idea found numerical expression in a planning ratio of 70 percent or more of the battle power of the USN. The IJN was compelled to accept a more limited fleet under restraints imposed at the Washington Naval Conference in 1922. The Washington treaty system split IJN planners and doctrine into three competing factions. In assessing relative naval power in the 1930s, some in the IJN clung to an outdated formula that underlay the Washington treaties: counting capital warships of comparable displacement and gunnery power as the measure of fleet power. This ignored critical developments in aircraft carriers and general naval air power and in submarines, two ship classes in which the IJN was itself a leading innovator. This faction drove the decision to order two super battleships: the IJN Yamato, launched on December 16, 1941, and IJN Musashi, commissioned on August 5, 1942. In addition to super battle-worthiness, they and other armor and gun-engorged behemoths were meant to force the U.S. Navy to build matching ships that would be so large they could not pass through the Panama Canal, thereby in some sense dividing the American navy into discrete, and smaller, two-ocean fleets. Other naval officers formed a still more influential anti-treaty faction that griped angrily for two decades about the Washington treaty limits, insisting these were on Japan to leave her vulnerable with a weakened naval defense. This group wanted to break the Washington treaty limits not just in secret, as the IJN was already doing by the early 1930s, but to embark on an open naval arms race. The third faction was smaller. It belonged to the total war school, which saw a different type of war-fighting capability as partly obviating the need to match battlefleets with the Americans or British.

Interservice rivalry and differing Navy vs. Army views of who Japan’s main “hypothetical enemy” really was—the United States or the Soviet Union—meant IJN relations with the Imperial Japanese Army were openly hostile from 1936. The competition went far beyond the most severe interservice rivalries over budgets, influence, and prestige that are common to all militaries. It affected strategy, operational planning, weapons design, hoarding of oil and other strategic resources, economic competition, technical research, and virtually every other vital aspect of Japan’s ongoing war effort in China and future war in the Pacific. The pull on Japan by the Guandong Army into war for Manchuria in 1931, then more war in northern China from 1937, deeply frightened planners in the IJN. Their rather feeble effort to gain countervailing influence in Imperial Conferences was to base a small fleet on the Songhua (Songari) River in northern China. During the opening campaign of the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), the IJN was assigned to evacuate Japanese nationals from China’s coastal cities. It also supported its own Rikusentai, or marines, fighting for nine days in the streets of Shanghai, and flew air cover for the Army’s 50,000 man relief force. To interdict supplies to Jiang Jieshi, who was holed up in the southern interior at Chongqing, the IJN occupied Hainan Island and the Spratly Islands in 1939. That move was followed by an amphibious operation to land an expeditionary force on the south China coast, which moved inland to take Nanning. This coastal support role continued to the end of the war in China.

Doctrine and interservice rivalry aside, the Japanese economy was unable to sustain a capital warship building program that permitted fulfillment of the IJN’s vision of a battlefleet sufficient to defeat the Royal Navy in a “decisive battle,” let alone the more likely and generally hypothesized enemy, the U.S. Navy. The IJN kept pace with the Western powers in construction of submarines and carriers until just before war began in Europe in 1939. Its RO-class and larger I-class submarines were superior to any boats in the U.S. Navy; the I-class boats could cross the Pacific without refueling, an achievement denied to American submarines until after the war. The IJN looked to fall behind in quantity of warships of all classes as the USN received huge appropriations from Congress in 1940, while the Royal Navy expanded to meet the German threat in the Atlantic. The prospect of looming numerical inferiority in capital warships pushed IJN leaders closer to the idea of preemptive war against the Americans in the Pacific. Yet, even that prospect did not help the Japanese overcome U.S. shipbuilding capacity. From 1941 to 1945 the IJN would add 171 significant surface ships to its order of battle, about one-third the number of major surface ships launched by the USN over the same period. As the fight in the Pacific commenced, the IJN had the world’s third largest battlefleet. Its Combined Fleet was the largest plying any single ocean. In December 1941, the IJN had 10 fleet carriers and 2,200 Japanese Naval Air Force planes, including over 500 flying boats and sea planes. However, it had only 2,500 Sea Eagles, or elite pilots, to fly them. It believed it had a two-year reserve of oil for its 10 battleships, 18 heavy cruisers, 20 light cruisers, 112 destroyers, 44 modern and 21 older submarines, and 156 smaller surface craft. Wartime consumption at higher than anticipated rates reduced that estimate to a one-year supply. Oil remained a critical problem in shaping IJN operations throughout the Pacific War, with lack of sufficient tankers a severely aggravating factor that ultimately led to a naval fuel crisis that could not be solved. The IJN equivalent to USN Seabees was the ‘Shipping Regiment’ – (‘senpaku kōhei rentai’) of naval engineers.



From 1942 the Japanese floated several large new fleet carriers and built the world’s largest carrier – the IJN Shinano – utilizing the hull of an unfinished superbattleship. It would be sunk by a USN submarine while still in harbor. Deeper into the war the IJN concentrated on nine seaplane carriers and on converting various tenders and other large hulls to carriers, including three converted passenger liners. It also partially converted two battleships, the IJN Ise and IJN Hyuga. But when the Navy ran out of naval aircraft, these ships were reconverted to fight as battleships. What the IJN badly neglected before the war, and did not produce during the conflict, was sufficient purpose-built escort ships or a sound convoy doctrine. It additionally lacked advanced ship and naval aircraft radars. The gap was not made up by trying to acquire enemy naval radar technology by such desperate means as diving to British or American wrecks to recover the technology. The IJN also lacked an adequate pilot training system, so that it would be unable to maintain a supply of quality aviators after losing too many frontline pilots in the great carrier clashes of 1942-1943. Whole Japanese Army garrisons were left unsupplied by the Navy, effectively abandoned as the war passed them by. From 1937 IJN officers felt aggrieved that Japan was dragged by the Army into the quagmire of the China War. After 1941, Army officers believed they had been misled by the IJN into agreeing to a ruinous war in the Pacific. Both views were correct.

The 311,000 officers and men of the IJN at the end of 1941 were high quality: nearly 80 percent of crew had enlisted as volunteers. As the IJN embarked upon the Pacific War it was a highly motivated professional service, confident in its ships, aircraft, and excellent torpedoes. It was overconfident in its primary doctrine, however. Because IJN planners realized they could not win a long naval war against the USN, they planned for a war in which they brought the main enemy fleet to a ‘decisive battle’ and destroyed it, thereby evening the naval odds. This doctrine relied overmuch on battleships, even after the Royal Navy showed the vulnerability of large capital ships to naval air attack at Taranto in November 1940, and the Japanese demonstrated the same thing at Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and in sinking HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. The first chance to test the doctrine in a fleet action came at the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 3–8, 1942), but that encounter was indecisive. Next came the Battle of Midway (June 4–5, 1942), where the IJN suffered a catastrophic loss of fleet carriers and naval air power from which it never fully recovered. The Guadalcanal campaign (1942–1943) provided more opportunities for small fleet actions in the battles of Cape Esperance (October 11–12, 1942); the Eastern Solomons (August 23–25, 1942); Santa Cruz (October 26–27, 1942); and the naval Battle of Guadalcanal (November 12–15, 1942). As Samuel Elliot Morrison noted in his monumental history of the naval war, the old tactics of line of battle were rendered obsolete by advances in antiship aircraft, which demanded evasive action and rendered it “impossible to maintain the line under air attack.” Yet, the old battleship wing of the IJN still clung to line of battle dogma and the “decisive battle” delusion as late as the great fight at Leyte Gulf in 1944.

Just as tellingly, the IJN deployed its submarines not to intercept enemy troop and resupply columns but to attack and reduce the number of the enemy’s capital ships in preparation for the always elusive “decisive battle” it sought between surface fleets. Japanese submarines of all types, including midget submarines, were deployed to harry the ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet rather than to destroy merchantmen and force the USN to redeploy destroyers and shipyard capacity to building escorts. Even this ill-advised submarine strategy had to be abandoned from 1943, as IJN submarines were converted into supply ships for stranded garrisons along the coast of New Guinea and across the South Pacific. That need also affected construction, so that late-war Japanese submarine designs shifted away from lethality to increased cargo capacity. To partly compensate for lost naval combat power, a base for 11 German attack U-boats and a supply boat was established at Penang in mid-1943. More U-boats arrived later, as Indian Ocean hunting was safer and more profitable for U-boats by that point than plying dangerous Atlantic waters. Effective Axis submarine cooperation did not survive past the destruction of the last Kriegsmarine Milchkühe (“Milk Cows”) supply boats in Asia in the spring of 1944. The last four German and two converted Italian submarines in Asia were seized by the IJN when Germany surrendered in May 1945. Efforts to persuade Dönitz to send more boats to the Pacific failed, as he instead instituted REGENBOGEN, scuttling the U-boat fleet. At its maximum, the IJN deployed a fleet of 200 submarines. Poor doctrine and the shift from an attack to a supply role meant that Japanese submarines sank only 171 enemy ships to the end of the war. A handful were important warships and a few were military auxiliaries, but nowhere near enough warships were sunk or damaged to turn the fortunes of the naval war. The cost to Japan of that effort was to leave hardly dented the enemy merchant marine. The IJN lost 128 lost boats and crews in a submarine effort that barely registered against the enemy order of battle. The United States captured two I-400 “Toku”-class boats a week after the surrender. At 400 feet in length, they were larger than any submarine built before nuclear vessels in the 1960s. When the Soviet Union asked to inspect them, the USN took the boats to sea and sank them.

The IJN commissioned kamikaze suicide pilots in 1944. It also prepared lines of Fukuryu, or “Special Harbor Defense and Underwater Attack Units,” comprising suicide divers armed with mines or torpedoes. They would have greeted any Allied attempt at amphibious landings on the home islands. The IJN deployed suicide motor boats in the Philippines and at Okinawa, but to little effect. By the end of the war the IJN lost 332 out of 451 warships, including submarines, it put to sea. A paltry 37 warships of the once feared IJN remained operating upon the surrender, and most of those were in safe Korean or Chinese ports, hiding from enemy bombers and submarines. What was left of the Imperial Japanese Navy was formally dissolved on November 30, 1945. Japanese warships were hardly seen again in north Asian waters—beyond minimal coastal patrols—until the 1990s. On June 24, 2008, the first IJN warship since World War II docked in a Chinese port, carrying earthquake relief supplies. Its arrival on a mission of peace was regarded as a major breakthrough in Sino-Japanese relations, dating back over 100 years.

Suggested Reading: Sadao Asdada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (2006); David Evans and Mark Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887–1941 (1997

The Third Reich’s Battleship Ambitions

In what was a time of general Allied distress at sea. In the European Theater, the notorious Channel Dash of 11-13 February 1942, by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with an escort of destroyers and aircraft, might be termed a comedy of errors but for the great loss of life-almost all British. Both German warships slipped from their French bases, steamed through the English Channel past slack British defenses, and found haven in Germany. It was the first time since 1588 than an enemy fleet had managed to pass through the English Channel. This, after the Royal Navy had been at war at sea for more than two years. Two days later, on the other side of the world, Singapore ignominiously capitulated.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Scharnhorst: sunk by HMS Duke of York and others off North Cape, Norway, 26 December 1943. Gneisenau: self-scuttled 28 March 1945 as block ship after being badly damaged by RAF attacks.

KMS Scharnhorst

KMS Scharnhorst was planned as the Ersatz Elsass, fourth of a class of six planned ‘pocket battleships’. By 1933, however, the weaknesses of the ‘pocket battleship’ or Panzerschiffe were so obvious that Hitler gave the German navy permission to expand the design to 26,000 tons as a reply to the French Dunkerque.

It was hoped to arm the ship with three twin 380-mm (15-in) turrets, but to save time three triple 280-mm (11-in) turrets were used. The design was nominally of 26,000 tons, but had reached 32,000 tons; to conceal the size of the new battle-cruiser the Kriegsmarine continued to quote the lower figure.

For most of her active life the Scharnhorst operated with her sister KMS Gneisenau, and both ships made forays into the North Atlantic in 1940-1. The Scharnhorst was badly damaged by a torpedo fired by the destroyer HMS Acasta while attacking the carrier HMS Glorious in June 1940.

Although the two ships posed a considerable threat to the British while lying at Brest in 1941 and the repeated raids by the Royal Air Force were far too inaccurate to do any serious damage, Hitler felt the two units were too exposed, and ordered them to return. Operation ‘Cerberus’, the daylight dash through the English Channel in February 1942, was probably the Kriegsmarine’s greatest success, for it took the British completely by surprise, the two battle-cruisers and the heavy cruiser Prinze Eugen slipping past ineffectual air and sea attacks. Apart from slight damage to Scharnhorst from a magnetic mine during the final phase it had been a humiliation for the British and proof that audacity pays.

After repairs lasting until August 1942 the ship was sent to Norway in March 1943. She took part in the raid on Spitzbergen in September but otherwise lay in a remote fjord until December 1943, when Admiral Donitz ordered her to sea for an attack on a British convoy.

Germany, stripped of its World War I-era dreadnoughts, had only two true battleships between 1919 and the early 1930s: Schleswig- Holstein and Schlesien, pre-World War I relics that the victors had grudgingly allowed for coastal defense, presumably against the resurgent Poles (the sister ship Hannover was still in existence but apparently not in active service). Schleswig-Holstein does, however, have a claim to dubious fame: By opening fire on the Polish fortifications at Westerplatte (Danzig) at 4:45 A. M. on the morning of 1 September 1939, this elderly battleship fired the first shot of World War II. (The three units of the even older Braunschweig class [Hessen, Braunschweig, and Elsass] were rebuilt as coast-defense battle- ships and reequipped with 280mm and 170mm guns. Only Elsass, converted into a target vessel, survived into the 1930s and beyond.)

In early 1942, after repeated British bombing raids, the two ships made a daylight dash up the English Channel from occupied France to Germany. In early 1943, Scharnhorst joined the Bismarck-class battleshipTirpitz in Norway to interdict Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. Scharnhorst and several destroyers sortied from Norway to attack a convoy, but British naval patrols intercepted the German force. During the Battle of the North Cape (26 December 1943), the Royal Navy battleship HMS Duke of York and her escorts sank Scharnhorst. Only 36 men were rescued, out of a crew of 1,968.

It was a badly planned operation, and the Scharnhorst failed in her attempt to brush aside the destroyers and cruisers escorting the convoy. In- competent reconnaissance by the Luftwaffe left her with no idea that the battleship HMS Duke of York was closing fast, and she was taken by surprise when 356-mm (14-in) shells started to hit her. She disengaged but the British and Norwegian destroyers slowed her down with torpedoes, allowing the Duke of York to pound her again. She was finally sunk by torpedoes from HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica and went down with the loss of all but 46 of 1,840 men on board.

‘Scharnhorst immer voran’ (‘Ever onwards’)

The Third Reich’s battleship ambitions were every bit as grandiose as those of any other naval power. Germany’s naval chief, Eric Raeder, was in close harmony with Adolf Hitler’s global goals. Raeder and Hitler foresaw Germany eventually going to war with Great Britain, the United States, and even Japan, and envisioned a fleet for those eventualities. As a temporary deterrent to Great Britain, the aborted Plan Z (1939) envisioned 10 (some sources say six) super- Bismarcks of 56,000 tons, three battle cruisers, four aircraft carriers, and 249 submarines, with top priority over air force and army requirements, all to be completed in six years. Plan Z was the basis for the even larger blue-water battleship-based navy programs of 1940 and 1941, drawn up to take on the rest of the world’s major naval powers and featuring capital ships of 98,000-141,500 tons armed with 20-inch guns. It is also indicative of German battleship- mindedness that its navy never completed an aircraft carrier.

Thanks to post-World War I Allied policies, the Third Reich entered World War II with only fast and modern battleships (not counting those two nearly-valueless pre-dreadnoughts). Its three pocket battleships laid down in the late 1920s and early 1930s (and thus predating Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933) were Lutzow, Admiral Scheer, and Admiral Graf Spee. (Lutzow was originally named Deutschland, but Hitler, worried about the domestic reaction if a warship named after the German nation were sunk, ordered it re- named.) Although high speed was supposed to be the main advantage of these small capital ships, their average of 28 knots was soon enough surpassed by the following Scharnhorst class’s 32 knots. Nonetheless, the Deutschlands/Lutzows, a well-balanced pioneering design, served as the embryo of many later, much larger warships, such as the Scharnhorst class, and Germany’s first and only true post-World War I first-class battleships (Bismarck and Tirpitz), as well as for the Royal Navy’s King George V class, and even for the last three U. S. Navy battleship classes. The Lutzows were also no- table for their pioneering of welded construction and unique diesel propulsion, the latter a feature never repeated in any other capital ship. They could also be called cruisers (and were actually reclassified in 1940 as heavy cruisers), but their six 11-inch guns were not matched in any other cruiser until the U. S. Alaskas, which were officially classified by the U. S. Navy as large cruisers. Whatever the nomenclature, these were the Kriegsmarine’s most successful heavy units. Specifically designed as commerce raiders that were to be more powerful than any faster warship, the three destroyed some 300,000 tons of Allied shipping. Thus the Scharnhorsts and the Lutzow/Deutschlands did what battle cruisers were supposed to do- attack enemy commerce-and avoided what battle cruisers were supposed to avoid-enemy battleships-something the Royal Navy, to its cost, never learned.

The Scharnhorsts (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) were both laid down in 1935. There is little question that these two units were true battleships, but even with more than twice the displacement of the Lutzows, they mounted only the same 11-inch main guns. The German admiralty planned to up-gun these warships at the beginning of World War II, but the complexity and the costs not only of the bigger guns themselves but also of their intricate mountings precluded this proposal in the German Navy (or in any other navy, for that matter).

Bismarck and Tirpitz were the last and by far the most powerful battleships built by Germany. Although nominally still bound by the London Naval Agreement, they exceeded its tonnage limitations by a wide margin. In this case “wide” can be taken literally; they were the broadest-beamed of any contemporary capital ship, which gave them outstanding stability. (Only the aborted U. S. Montanas would have measured wider.) Their intricate internal subdivision made them extraordinarily difficult to sink. Yet at the end of the war, and in sharp contrast to World War I, not one German capital ship survived to be turned over to the Allies.


Germany’s Masterly Deception I

Germany’s Masterly Deception II

Bomber Command’s offensive against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau 1941

Sweden’s Early Navy

Gustav Vasa was determined to build up his navy as well as his army, and he sought foreign assistance not only to man his ships but also to design and build them; Scotland was one of the places he looked to for this help. By the time the king died in 1560 he had some nineteen warships in his fleet. Erik XIV continued this naval development, with the principal aim of confronting the power of Denmark, and indeed the Swedish navy, under the command of the sea-going general Klas Horn, defeated the Danes as well as the Lübeckers in 1565–66. Frederick II of Denmark wrote to Mary, Queen of Scots, in April 1566 to protest about a ship being made ready in Leith to join the Swedish fleet. Among the Swedish ships in 1566 was one called Skotska Pinckan, taken from the Danes but recaptured again; the name suggests a Scottish origin. Another, in the early 1600s, was bought from Scotland and bore the name Skotska Lejonen – Scottish Lion. Karl IX established the main naval base at Karlskrona in order to benefit for as much of the year as possible from ice-free water.

Despite these developments, by the time Gustavus Adolphus came to the throne the Swedish ships were still outgunned by the Danes. The ability to project military might overseas was essential to Gustavus Adolphus’s foreign policy in the Baltic; as navies have always done, his had to convey troops safely to foreign shores, maintain supply lines, defend trade and also impress outsiders as symbols of prestige and authority. A new threat to Sweden appeared in the late 1620s when, by the capture of north German ports, Wallenstein created the spectre of a Habsburg navy afloat in the Baltic. It was a threat real enough to persuade Gustavus Adolphus and Christian IV to overlook their rivalry and cooperate to keep Stralsund from the Imperial grasp. The Swedish king was in need of experienced sea captains and, as with his army, he found some of them from across the North Sea.

The Swedish Navy had been created in the sixteenth century as a defensive force against invasion and blockade and as an offensive force for power projection in the Baltic. From the late seventeenth century it was primarily seen as a defence of the Swedish empire. It had to be able to control the sea lines of communication within the Baltic empire in order to provide quick reinforcements and supply to Swedish provinces and garrisons threatened by sudden attack. One cornerstone of this mobilisation system was the unusual way of manning the navy which remained unchanged up to the advent of steam. Apart from a permanent core of experienced seamen and trained gunners, most of the naval manpower was recruited from the coastal provinces close to Karlskrona. They had to provide the navy with (voluntarily recruited) men who might turn up at short notice in case of an emergency. Most of these men were not experienced seamen (although the navy gave them some training) and they were probably better gun-crews than top-sail men but they gave the Swedish Navy the most rapid mobilisation system in Europe. The same system was used for the oared flotillas based in Stockholm and Sveaborg. There was no system for recruiting or conscripting seamen from the mercantile marine. In spite of that it grew into one of the largest in Europe during the eighteenth century.

The Swedish Navy emerged from the Great War of 1700-21 seriously weakened. Materially, it recovered in the 1730s, but the Swedish government and armed forces failed to readjust to the new strategic conditions. The navy still regarded Denmark-Norway as the main enemy and plans for army-navy cooperation were inadequate. A considerable galley fleet had been created in the 1710s and it was maintained in Stockholm and Gothenburg after the war but, mentally, the navy had not adapted to the fact that it had an important role to play in amphibious warfare. The war with Russia of 1741-43 revealed these weaknesses. Close strategic and even tactical coordination of the battle fleet, the archipelago fleet and the army had again proved to be the key to Russian victory in Finland. The lesson was there to be learned by Sweden.

After the war a determined effort was made to create a large oared flotilla. During the political crisis around Sweden in the late 1740s no fewer than 44 galleys were built and the fortress base of Sveaborg (Suomenlinna) was founded outside Helsinki. Sweden now had enough oared craft to equal the Russians in archipelagic warfare, even when the eastern neighbour was at a high degree of readiness. In practice, the new large oared force meant that a considerable part of the Swedish Army should serve at sea and in the archipelagos during wars. Gradually innovative efforts, from 1760 led by the naval architect Frederick Henrik af Chapman, created new and more efficient types of oared vessels, primarily gunboats. The archipelago fleet was formally transferred to the army from 1756 but in practice it became a third armed force. The development of Sveaborg provided it with an adequate base close to the main operational area. The war of 1788-90 showed that the reforms had worked.

The Swedish battle fleet was maintained at a very even level (23-25 battleships) from the 1730s to 1790. Most battleships were built with well-seasoned timber and high-quality iron and enjoyed very long lives, usually with a mid-life great repair. The high age of many ships has often been misinterpreted as a sign of neglect. Actually, the battle fleet was kept in a high or at least adequate state of readiness during most of the eighteenth century. 16 Together with the archipelago fleet and the Sveaborg fortress it was also regarded as an important asset in Sweden’s efforts to get foreign subsidies to its armed forces, forces which were very large for a small and not very rich nation. During the eighteenth century, France became the most important supplier of finance and, at least in the 1770s and 1780s, this was primarily spent on the navy. After the severe losses against Russia in 1790 it was planned to rebuild the navy to a force of around 20 battleships with the help of new subsidies, but the times had changed and no Great Power had any interest in creating a strong Swedish battle fleet. During the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain paid subsidies to Sweden but the British were mainly interested in keeping the Swedish Army in shape for Continental warfare. The Swedish battle fleet had to be maintained at a level of around a dozen units and the oared flotilla (cheap to maintain in peacetime) became a relatively more important part of the naval forces. The two navies had by now begun to fight about limited resources, a fight that would be an important part of Swedish naval policy-making for much of the nineteenth century.

The loss of Finland during the war of 1808-09 again changed the Swedish naval strategy. Sweden had now to cope with a situation where defence against sea-borne invasion from a power with a superior battle fleet was the most likely threat. The union with Norway did not change the basic strategic situation as the Norwegian parliament was not willing to recreate even a small part of the powerful battle fleet which Norway until recently had shared with Denmark. Gradually, Sweden- Norway opted for a cautious policy of non-alignment and neutrality. As events during the war period 1801-14 had shown, Scandinavia was now placed between the two superpowers Great Britain and Russia, and this was to mold strategic thinking in the Baltic for much of the nineteenth century.

The French Navy After 1815 Part I

In the post-1815 era the French Navy was employed on numerous overseas operations, supporting French colonial expansion or in the service of foreign policy objectives. In 1837-38, for example, France demanded reparations from Mexico for the sufferings of its expatriate citizens caught up in Mexico’s political upheavals. Failing to obtain satisfaction, France sent a squadron of frigates and smaller vessels to bombard the fortress of San Juan de Ulua (Saint Jean d’Ulloa) at Veracruz on 27 November 1838, which surrendered. It was an early outing for Paixhans’ new shell guns, and combined with mortar fire from bomb vessels, their success against strong stone-built fortifications took naval observers by surprise. This print is after a painting by Théodore Gudin.

A eyewitness pencil drawing from the sketchbook of Captain George Pechell Mends, RN depicting the fifteen-strong French fleet rendezvousing with the British in Besika Bay on 14 June 1853, prior to the joint squadrons entering the Black Sea. As a naval officer Mends meticulously recorded the details of the French ships, which he listed (from the head of the line, right to left) as: Ville de Paris 130 Vice Flag, Sané [paddle frigate], Jupiter 90, Bayard 100, Caton, Henri IV 100, Magellan, Valmy 130 screw Rear Flag, Napoleon screw 90, Mogador, Montebello 120, Charlemagne screw 90.

1816 to 1830: Rebuilding a Fleet

The French navy emerged from the Napoleonic Wars in a gravely weakened condition. It had lost almost a third of its ships of the line in the fall of Napoleon’s empire. Its personnel were in disarray because of a shortage of seamen and the return from exile of many royalist officers. It had no money, because France was bankrupt from the war and had to pay an enormous indemnity to the victors before their troops would leave her soil. Most important, its naval policy had not worked: after 22 years of concerted French efforts to destroy the British navy and merchant marine, at 1 January 1815 Britain had 214 ships of the line built and building and a merchant marine that was larger and more prosperous than ever, while France was left with a navy and a merchant marine that had been all but driven from the seas.

The navy’s main remaining assets were its ships and its administrative structure, but the ships disappeared rapidly. In mid-April 1814 the navy still had a large force of 104 ships of the line and 54 frigates afloat or under construction. By August this had fallen to 73 of the line and 42 frigates, due primarily to the surrender of ships located in European ports and building in shipyards outside France’s new borders. By late 1819 the fleet had shrunk to 58 of the line and 34 frigates afloat or on the ways, most of the others having been found to be too rotten to be worth repairing. In 1817 the navy estimated that, at this rate of decay, the fleet would disappear completely in ten years.

In response Pierre Barthelémy, Baron Portal, Minister of Marine from 1818 to 1821, developed the Programme of 1820, the first of the comprehensive plans that shaped the evolution of the navy during the next forty years. This programme defined the composition of a realistically attainable fleet, set a target date for its completion, and determined the amount of money required per year to meet the target. In its final form, promulgated in 1824, the programme provided for a fleet of 40 ships of the line and 50 frigates afloat. Portal calculated that this force could be created in ten years with an annual budget of 65 million francs (of which 6 million were for the colonies). He secured a political consensus to work towards this fiscal goal, even though only 50 million francs could be provided in 1820.

Portal’s programme took advantage of the few weaknesses that could be seen in Britain’s naval position. It reversed the traditional relationship between battleships and cruising ships in the fleet – as recently as 1814, France had had twice as many ships of the line as frigates. The new programme emphasised frigates to exploit the enormous problems that Britain would face in trying to defend worldwide trade and colonies. It retained a battle fleet, not to stand up to Britain alone, but to serve as a nucleus for an anti-British coalition fleet. This battle fleet was also designed to ensure that France would face no other maritime challenges: if she could not be number one, she could at least be an undisputed number two.

Refinements were soon made to the programme. The navy realised that ships left on the building ways, if properly ventilated and covered by a protective shed, would last almost indefinitely without decaying and would also have a longer service life after launching because their timbers would be better seasoned. Equally important, maintaining ships in this way was highly economical. The navy eventually decided that a third of the planned 40 ships of the line and 50 frigates would not be launched but would be kept complete on the ways. An additional 13 battleships and 16 frigates would be on the ways at less advanced stages of construction. These decisions led to a large increase during the 1820s in the number of building ways in the dockyards and in the number of ships laid down on them. At the same time the navy’s ordinary budget slowly increased, finally reaching the 65 million franc goal in 1830.

One reason the French navy survived the lean years after the Napoleonic Wars was the constant demand for its services. Within a few years naval stations were established in the Antilles, the Levant, and off the east coast of South America, and others were later created in the Pacific and in the Far East. Reoccupation and development of the few colonies left to France was given high priority. One of the navy’s most famous shipwrecks occurred when the frigate Méduse was lost in 1816 while leading a force to reoccupy Senegal. A few small ships were assigned to each of the reoccupied colonies for local duties. Among these were the navy’s first two steamers, Voyageur and Africain, built for Senegal in 1819. Scientific activities were also prominent. In 1820 (a relatively typical year), one corvette was in the process of circumnavigating the globe, two ships were surveying the Brazilian coast, three were producing definitive charts of the French coast, and one was charting the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

A series of crises gave the navy some new operational experience. In 1823 French troops invaded Spain to put down a revolution which had begun in 1820. Over 90 ships including four ships of the line supported this operation. In 1827, during the Greek war for independence, a French squadron joined British and Russian forces in annihilating the Turco-Egyptian fleet in the Battle of Navarino. In 1830, following several years of diplomatic disputes, the navy landed an army and took the city of Algiers. The invasion force included 11 ships of the line and 25 frigates.

Less sensational activities, including support for French occupation troops in Spain, Greece, and Algeria, large diplomatic missions to Haiti in 1825 and Brazil in 1828, and an expedition to Madagascar in 1829, created constant demands for additional ships and men. The active fleet of 76 ships planned in the 1820 budget exceeded the number of ships in commission in 1789, and unanticipated requirements increased the number of ships actually used during all or part of 1820 to 103. By 1828 this figure had exactly doubled to 206 ships, and it remained at this high level during the extensive operations in 1829 and 1830.

1830 to 1840: Retrenchment and Experimentation

In 1830 a liberal revolution brought to power King Louis-Philippe. The new king’s backers believed that high government spending was one of the main causes of economic distress and political disorder, and they immediately imposed major budget cuts. The navy, which had just reached the expenditure level of 65 million francs per year called for by the Programme of 1820, was ordered to cut its budget request for 1831 to 60.5 million francs. The restrictions on spending continued in effect throughout the 1830s, and the ordinary navy budget did not again reach 65 million francs until 1838. Even more serious, extraordinary appropriations, which had funded the remarkable expansion of the navy’s operations in the 1820s, were even more severely limited and did not reach the level of 1828-30 again until the crisis of 1840.

The impact of these cuts was particularly evident in the shipbuilding programme because the navy’s other expenses, notably personnel and operations, were relatively inflexible. In late 1834 the navy increased the proportion of Portal’s fleet to be kept on the ways from one-third to one-half to allow the dockyards to begin a few new ships with funds that otherwise would have been used to maintain some older ships. This change, along with other changes made to Portal’s programme during the 1820s, was formalised in a new programme promulgated by royal ordinance on 1 February 1837. The programme also confirmed the navy’s need for two ship classes, the 74-gun ship of the line and the 3rd Class frigate, which some politicians wanted to abolish.

Despite the new programme, the strength of the fleet declined in the late 1830s. The programme called for 53 ships of the line and 66 frigates afloat and on the ways, but between December 1834 and December 1839 the total number of battleships fell from 51 to 46 while frigates fell from 60 to 56. The deficit was in the number of ships under construction, a situation which was aggravated by the fact that operational requirements kept the number of frigates afloat substantially higher than in the new plan.

The distribution of the fleet during the 1830s remained essentially as it had been at the end of the 1820s. The station cruisers remained busy, and were augmented by special forces sent in response to disputes with Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, and Argentina. An expeditionary force bombarded the fortifications of Veracruz in Mexico in 1838. The South Atlantic station began a blockade of Buenos Aires in the same year, and a special expedition finally secured a treaty from the Argentines in 1840. In Africa, the navy took possession of the mouth of the Gabon River in 1839 and subsequently established a few trading posts in the Gulf of Guinea. The navy was particularly active in scientific expeditions in the late 1830s, undertaking several circumnavigations of the globe.

The navy was also very active in Europe. In 1831 a squadron fought its way up the Tagus to Lisbon in a dispute with Portugal. Another squadron supported Belgian independence against the Dutch between 1831 and 1833, and another occupied Ancona following insurrections in Italy in 1832. Naval stations in Spain were re-established in 1834 in response to the Carlist revolution in Spain. In 1836 and 1837 a fleet was maintained off Tunis to prevent interference with the French occupation of the interior of Algeria. In 1838 this force was shifted to the Levant as relations between the Sultan of Turkey and his nominal vassal, Mohammed Ali of Egypt, approached breaking point.

1840 to 1852: Ferment

The Levant crisis gave the French navy its biggest test between 1815 and the Crimean War in 1854. War between Turkey and Egypt broke out in 1839, generating a crisis between France, which supported Mohammed Ali, and Britain, which supported Turkey. The French Levant squadron reached an average level of 16 ships, including 9 ships of the line, during the first half of 1840. It also reached a level of operational readiness that was admired even by British naval officers. In the meantime, the French decided to launch three ships of the line from its reserve of ships on the ways and take other measures to raise the number in commission to the twenty called for under the Programme of 1837.

Despite this demonstration of French naval strength, the British in July 1840 succeeded in forming a coalition with Austria, Prussia, and Russia to force Mohammed Ali to withdraw. An intense diplomatic crisis between Britain and France ensued, but France found it had no choice but to back down. The British squadron in the Levant was larger than the French (it contained about 14 ships of the line to the French 9) and it was backed by much greater resources at home in money and men. France tried to launch and commission 12 frigates then on the ways but suspended the effort when it realised it would not be able to find enough seamen to man them until the fishing fleet returned from the Grand Banks at the end of the year.

The crisis showed that the naval policy followed by France since 1815 had grave weaknesses that could no longer be ignored. It demonstrated that the fleet of the 1837 programme could not cope with the British battle fleet in cases such as 1840 in which France had no allies. It also showed that the policy of retaining ships on the ways for rapid launch during a crisis was an illusion. On the positive side, the crisis led to a relaxation of the fiscal constraints on the navy-it was clear that the navy’s requirements had outgrown Portal’s standard 65 million franc budget.

In the 1840s the navy focused its attention on steam as an alternative way to offset British sea power. The programme of 1837 had included 40 steamers of 150nhp and above, but since then much larger steamers had become practicable. In 1842 the French navy established a programme for a steam navy that would parallel the sail navy. It was to include 40 combat steamers: five `steam frigates’ of 540nhp, fifteen of 450nhp, and twenty `steam corvettes’ of 220nhp. The smaller ships already on hand (mostly the 160nhp Sphinx class) remained useful for messenger, transport, and colonial duties, and thirty were included in the programme.

At first, not much progress was made with the new programme because of lack of construction facilities and money, but studies of the role of steam in the fleet continued. The most famous was a pamphlet published in 1844 by François Ferdinand Philippe Louis Marie d’Orleans, Prince de Joinville, a son of the king who had chosen the navy as his career. Joinville claimed that steam would allow France to offset British supremacy in numbers by concentrating its forces at a point of its choosing, overwhelming local opposition, and either ravaging the coast or landing an army. His pamphlet triggered a major naval scare in Britain and the construction of many new fortifications along the British coast. Joinville went on to direct a commission whose work led to a new steamer programme at the end of 1845. This programme increased the size of the planned steam fleet to 100 ships, including 10 frigates and 20 corvettes.

Joinville wanted steam frigates to be true combatants, with an armament of 30 large guns and engines of 600nhp or more. His steam corvettes were also to be combatants, but were expected to serve primarily as avisos. They were to have around eight large guns and engines of 400nhp. The plans for the frigate Isly and the corvette Roland conformed to these guidelines. The remaining 70 ships were to carry out the now-traditional messenger and transport duties of steamers and were assigned two guns at most and engines ranging from 300 to 90nhp.

The main strength of the navy remained in the sailing fleet, however. In the mid-1840s Parliament became concerned about its deterioration. The Minister of Marine, Vice-Adm. Ange-René-Armand, Baron de Mackau, took advantage of the opportunity and presented a new naval programme in 1846. In essence, it combined Portal’s sail fleet and Joinville’s steam fleet in a single programme which was to be achieved in seven years with the navy’s regular budgets and special appropriations totalling 93 million francs.

The programme contained several innovative features, all involving steam. While drawing up the programme, the navy decided to reduce the number of ships of the line under construction over and above the programmemed 40 from 13 to 4, on the grounds that the progress of steam made it prudent not to build up too big a reserve of these expensive ships. (The corresponding reserve of 16 sail frigates was retained.) It also decided to adopt one of Joinville’s recommendations and give part of the sailing fleet auxiliary steam propulsion. Parliamentary pressure caused the navy to increase the horsepower of these ships, and the final plan (not incorporated in the royal ordinance) called for four ships of the line with 500nhp engines, four frigates with 250nhp machinery, and four corvettes with 120nhp auxiliary machinery. This decision led, through many permutations, to the conversion of the ships of the line Austerlitz and Jean Bart and the construction of the corvettes Biche and Sentinelle. Parliamentary pressure also caused the navy to add to the programme two floating batteries of around 450nhp in response to the British blockships of the Blenheim type. These, however, were soon cancelled.

The execution of the Programme of 1846 was interrupted by the revolution of 1848, in which Louis-Philippe was overthrown and replaced by a second republic. The revolution ushered in a new period of fiscal retrenchment, which severely slowed down naval shipbuilding. The budgets of 1847 and 1848 had each included the planned annual instalments of 13.3 million francs, but the 1849 budget included only 2.7 million for the programme and later budgets included nothing. By the time naval activity revived in the early 1850s, further advances in steam technology had rendered the Programme of 1846 obsolete.

The navy’s operations in the 1840s were concentrated first and foremost in the Mediterranean. The Levant crisis of 1840 was succeeded by a series of operations associated with the conquest of North Africa, including an expedition led by Joinville which bombarded the Moroccan port of Mogador in 1844. A new crisis in Portugal caused the French to send another expedition to the Tagus in 1847. Elsewhere, Joinville in the frigate Belle Poule brought the ashes of Napoleon back to Paris from St. Helena in 1840. Expeditions were dispatched in 1842 and 1843 to occupy the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific, and French control was extended to the Society Islands in 1844. In 1843 the French occupied the islands of Nossi Bé and Mayotte off Madagascar, and a joint Anglo- French force bombarded Tamatave in 1845. In 1845 the French signed a treaty with Britain which required them to retain a force of 26 ships on the West African coast to help suppress the slave trade. Between 1845 and 1852 the navy was also involved in operations in Argentina, the dispute with that country having flared up again.

The 1848 revolution in France triggered revolutions throughout Europe, which kept the navy busy in European waters, especially in Sicily, at Rome, and in the Adriatic. Fiscal retrenchment, however, soon led to a substantial reduction in the number of ships in commission. Among the casualties was the West African station, which declined from 26 ships at the end of 1847 to its pre-treaty strength of around 8 ships at the end of 1849 and then to 3 ships at the end of 1851.