invasion of England


Ad Honoris
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
I suspect no there is little France could have done to win the Naval war.

Its not a case of the French building a 'big enough ' fleet -- they built big fleets but they were defeated even when they had numerical advantage. So its not about building a fleet big enough to challenge the ,rather large, British fleet------ the French fleet (or allied fleets) are going to have to be substantially larger than the Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy was not technologically more advanced than any other navy to any great degree -- they were not behind either -- so its not a case of building better ships, there were differences in ship design philosophy but nothing major and French ships in particular were often taken into British service if captured.

I can not think of any 'game changing' innovation the French could introduce that would alter the balance of power.

Bigger French fleets means more sailors and they are in short supply world wide -- the British are desperately short of trained sailors but even so their crews are still mainly trained men this is not the case for the French who have high numbers of 'landsmen' in their crews. Equally British officers are ,and in the context of the late 18th/early 19th century this is unusual, promoted substantially on merit (money and influence is still important, when is it not?) this advantage in quite simply superior crews of the RN (the ships technologically are pretty much equal) will only increase as the French fleet gets bigger.

OK you expand the fleet so big that the British have a high proportion of landsmen as well but the French situation will be even worse and the British will be able to train their landsmen faster than the French. They have a bigger merchant fleet sailing around the world --vital to its survival but also a source of sailors. Also they are at sea aggressively blockading the enemy or seeking him out for action while the French sit in harbour learning very little.

If the French want to change this they must go out to sea and learn to sail and fight but if they do this they are likely to suffer defeats -- this increases their inferiority complex regarding the RN, increases the RN superiority complex (yes there is a danger of over-confidence eg war of 1812) adds to the RN's battle experience. Also the different philosophies of the two navies-- the French wanted to keep a fleet in being so if an action went well and an opponent was left defeated and at a disadvantage the French would take this as a 'points win' and use their advantage to escape and continue with their primary mission (very sensible). The British on the other hand went in for the kill and wanted to destroy and or take the enemy, this means a French defeat means the loss of the ship and the trained crews, a French victory leaves the British counting the 'butchers bill', repairing the ship and thirsting for revenge.

The French method is not cowardly and with inexperienced crew eminently sensible in fact the Americans had the same philosophy as the British (roughly) and went in for the kill but the USN navy has been critically judged for this-- yes they scored several high profile and much lauded glorious victories that the crews (officers and men), the press, the public and politicians loved but in doing so after hard fights they 'had' to bring in their 'prize' to harbour and usually needed repair -- not continuing with their primary mission of disrupting British trade and hurting Britain where it hurt most their pockets.

The French have to change the whole outlook of their sailors and change this in the face of what are likely to be ,at least initially, a string of high profile an embarrassing defeats that the British public will love the French hate and the French Emperor will be annoyed at added to which is that he is largely clueless about Naval warfare (I win victories with new conscripts why can not you!).

"I do not say the French cannot come, I only say they cannot come by sea".

First Lord of the Admiralty Lord St. Vincent
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