Reading for the Weekend – A Brief History of Fighting Ships

Fighting shipsI came by a book called A Brief History of Fighting Ships – Ships of the Line and Napoleonic sea battles 1793 – 1815 by David Davies (ISBN# 9781841194691) and thought that I might as well read it – albeit I had nagging suspicion that the title perhaps enclosed more than the actual book would.

Book starts a little brief about the political situation in Europe from the covered period, very briefly outlying who was what and against whom at any given time. From the start, it is quite evident that the author is British, and the views tend to highlight constantly, up to point of annoyance the superlative qualities of British seapower – which by no doubt are correct in a way that Royal Navy greatly contributed to the victory, but not the solemnly. At the same go, author lays down the fundamentals of the ship of the line, which is quite well done, explaining the reasoning why navies at the time ended up what is today known as the ship of the line, or battleship.

At this point, it is perhaps time to note that book only has merely 200 pages, and the subject that ought to be covered, if promise in the title would be held, the events described would need to be very vague.

Author goes on to explain some of the higher principles the was against France and Napoleon were fought, and points out the fundamental problems that Royal Navy, albeit powerful, faced due to inefficiencies on the system. Additionally, the fact that while French fleets could be held in check, combined fleets of France and Spain would place serious threat to British naval superiority. However, credit is, perhaps unjustly placed on the superlative qualities of Royal Navy establishment, and not so much on the known ineptitude of Spanish, and French lack of naval enterprise.

Key battles are briefly covered, and for someone who is not familiar of the subject, or terminology, they offer nice window to the topic in a easy to read, easy to understand format. All in all, book offers quite decent overview to the era of the great sailing ships. However, it is quite biased towards British, and I would prefer the topic a bit more in depth treatment and perhaps accept that instead of British infallibility, the war at sea was won because opposition was not enterprising, and lacked vigor that was shown in the land. Demise of French navy is often contributed to the frequent use of guillotine in the Bastille square, and general favoritism of land empire but perhaps the reality was a bit less simplistic.  It was not long before Napoleon, another French figure, Suffren showed that with enterprising and vigorous spirit French could engage British in equal terms.

While not strictly incorrect, because of the final outcome, one sidedness resembles very old style. Victors write the history.

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