The British Struggle Against Napoleonic Europe and America
by Roger Knight
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Pub Date 11 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 28 Sep 2022
Yale University Press, London, Yale University Press
During the Napoleonic Wars thousands of merchant ships crisscrossed narrow seas and wide oceans, protected by Britain’s warships. These were wars of attrition and raw materials had to reach their shores continuously: timber and hemp from the Baltic, sulfur from Sicily, and saltpeter from Bengal. Britain’s fate rested on the strength of its economy—and convoys played a vital role in securing victory.
Leading naval historian Roger Knight examines how convoys ensured the protection of trade and transport of troops, allowing Britain to take the upper hand. Detailing the many hardships these ships faced, from the shortage of seaman to the vicissitudes of the weather, Knight sheds light on the innovation and seamanship skills that made convoys such an invaluable tool in Britain’s arsenal. The convoy system laid the foundation for Britain’s narrow victory over Napoleon and his allies in 1815 and, in doing so, established its naval and mercantile power at sea for a hundred years.
"Naval history at its best. A challenging text that examines the critical role of the British convoy system in the Napoleonic era, a partnership that bound the state, trade, the Royal Navy and the insurance industry, and foreshadowed the better-known, but no less vital convoy systems of the World Wars of the twentieth century."—Andrew Lambert, author of Nelson: Britannia's God of War
Formerly a deputy director of the National Maritime Museum, [Knight] possesses a vast knowledge of 19th-century naval warfare — what makes him special is that he has sailed the waters those convoys once negotiated. He knows the quirky tides, the treacherous sandbanks and the suddenly swift currents. Knowledge is enhanced by experience; he describes accurately what happened, but also senses precisely how those sailors felt. There’s probably no one on Earth better suited to write about this subject.—Gerard DeGroot, The Times ''Book of the Week'