Britain’s naval victories in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars succeeded in protecting her from French invasion, but they could not of themselves defeat France. This required the support of allied armies and necessitated the shipping of formidable numbers of troops to, and successfully landing them on, French controlled territory – a major logistical operation much akin to D-Day in these times. Wellington’s expedition to Portugal and Spain led to Napoleon’s defeat in the Peninsular War, but there were many other British expeditions before this which were not successful, in part because they were too logistically ambitious and/or they lacked allied support.
‘British Expeditionary Warfare and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1793-1815‘ by Robert K Sutcliffe
Just how did Britain manage the transportation of decisive numbers of troops to French controlled territory during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and successfully land them? Sutcliffe examines the nature of combined operations and the planning and preparation of expeditions. He highlights the navy’s crucial role in amphibious warfare and describes the often complex logistical operations which supported British expeditionary warfare in the period, bearing in mind that it was all achieved without telephones, typewriters and massive bureaucratic support.
In outlining the role of the Transport Board, he explores how it periodically chartered a large proportion of the British merchant fleet in quite the same way as happened so recently in the Falklands operation, and picking up what the effects of this were on merchant shipping. He concludes that the Transport Board grew in competence; that the failure of expeditions was invariably due to circumstances well beyond its control; and that its pivotal role in the preparation of all the major military expeditions in which hundreds of thousands of British troops served overseas was significant and effective.
I have a particular interest in this book as not only will it be a valuable resource on my library shelves for writing my Thomas Kydd tales – but in more modern times Naval Control of Shipping (the logistics of deploying merchant vessels to meet wartime objectives) was my area of expertise when I was in the Royal Naval Reserve. The photo, taken during my active Service in the RNR, shows your reviewer on the bridge of such a merchant vessel in the South China Seas during a training exercise.