Book Review:
French Warship Crews, 1789 to 1805

By Terry Crowdy
Artwork by Steve Noon

With so much information around about the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Era, it great to have a view of the other side via Osprey's French Warship Crews 1789 to 1805.

This is an excellent addition to any Napoleonic library as it gives you a superb look at the French revolutionary and Napoleonic navy. That is before the great disaster that befell it at Trafalgar.

There are so many new and interesting facts available for myself in the book it is hard to really know where to start.

French Warship Crews 1789 to 1805 details the upheavals the navy went through during revolutionary times and how it lost its most senior and best officers.

To crew the ships with experienced men of the sea France had the Inscription Maritime whereby certain numbers of commercial sailors had to sign up for the navy on a temporary basis of service. If there was a shortfall of volunteers for the navy then a levy was begun calling up bachelors, widowers without children, married men with kids and finally fathers of families.

One of the biggest drains on the French naval manpower was the lure of being a corsair, or privateer, which would pay a lot better and also provide a life with much more excitement. It was so popular a service Napoleon had to limit sign-ups to an eight of the number of conscripts.

Life at sea was as tough for the French sailor as his British counterpart and Terry Crowdy details their conditions aboard a vaisseau, their food, discipline, drills and punishment.

The eyewitness accounts included in the book are terrific and bring to life a section of the French military that is rarely covered in English.

You also get a run down of French naval ranks from gabiers and matelots (sailors) a capitaine de vaisseau (captain) and learn about their training, status and education.

French ships (vaisseau) were rated in two main ways. The large battleships of the line were on the number of guns, like the Royal Navy, and were known as vaisseau de 118 or vaisseau de 80, but frigates were listed by the calibre of their weapons. For example a fregate de 18 would carry 28 18-pounders and a fregate de 12 would have 26 12-pounders.

French Warship Crews 1789 to 1805 has a superb coloured ullustration section by Steve Noon that covers aspects of a sailor's existence from recruitment, to relaxing ashore and being in battle. I particularly appreciate the yardarm view of a sharpshooter raising his musket while overlooking a certain Admiral Horatio Nelson.

French Warship Crews 1789 to 1805 is filled with great information presented in a very readable and interesting way.

- Richard Moore


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