Napoleonic Naval Balance
naval balance of power during the Revolutionary and
Napoleonic Wars was one-sided, with Britain having
so large and powerful a fleet it could match all the
other sea-faring nations put together.
but not completely, safe behind the "Wooden
Walls" of the Royal Navy, Britain was able to
continue its world trade and empire building knowing
that an invasion by France would be extremely unlikely.
a large number of ships were allocated to controlling
the English Channel and trading routes, Britain was
the only power to actively send its vessels out to
attack enemy warships.
most nations, warships were too expensive to risk
but, for Britain, whose industrial might and wealth
were really beginning to blossom, it was a sensible
policy to weaken or destroy navies that could pose
a risk to the island nation's home shores.
authorities in London were ruthless about preventing
France getting its hands on extra ships and in 1797,
1801 and 1807 sailed to destroy the neutral or French-allied
vessels of Holland and Denmark.
Camperdown in 1797,
Admiral Duncan pitted his 16 ships against 16 Dutch
warships under Admiral de Winter and destroyed the
enemy fleet - capturing seven Dutchmen and allowing
the rest to flee.
1801, the Admirality sent an expedition against Denmark
to break up a northern European agreement, the Armed
Neutrality of the North, that threatened British
trade and shipbuilding materiel - wood, rope, grain
and tar - in the Baltic Sea.
naval battle of Copenhagen
was a British victory that saw 12 of 18 Danish vessels
captured and ended the threat to its trade.
1807, Britain again moved against Denmark when it
became known there was a French move to grab the Danish
Gambier took 20 ships of the line and an infantry
force of some 20,000 men - including Arthur Wellesley
- to prevent the vessels falling into French hands.
two-week siege began and a Danish military move to
break the blockade was ended by Wellesley's infantry.
The bombardment of the capital by the Royal Navy forced
neutral Denmark to hand over its 18 ships to London.
1809, Britain launched the Walcheren Expedition and
one of its aims was to destroy the large docks in
by its commander Lord Chatham and an appalling outbreak
of Walcheren Fever, which cost 4000 troops their lives,
meant the venture failed miserably.
Britain's efforts to maintain its naval supremacy
may have seemed obsessive, figures show that it was
right to do so.
1807, France's fleet - crippled by the disaster at
Trafalgar - could
count on 34 ships of the line. Britain, in contrast,
had more than 100.
within six years the French had 80 major warships
- with a further 35 under construction - while the
Royal Navy had 102.
the other potentially hostile, or neutral, fleets
are added to the mix, Britain no longer had such a
of Fleet Sizes.