Britain Against Napoleon The Organization of Victory 1793

Britain Against Napoleon The Organization of Victory 1793 1815 For than twenty years after 1793 the French army was supreme in continental Europe Only at sea was British power dominant though even with this crucial advantage the British population lived under fear of a French invasion for much of those two decades How was it that despite multiple changes of government and the assassination of a Prime Minister Britain survived and eventually won a generation long war against a regime which at its peak in 1807 commanded many times the resources and manpowerThis book looks beyond the familiar exploits of the army and navy to the politicians and civil servants and examines how they made it possible to continue the war at all It shows the degree to which the capacities of the whole British population were involved industrialists farmers shipbuilders cannon founders gunsmiths and gunpowder manufacturers all had continually to increase uality and output as the demands of the war remorselessly grew The intelligence war was also central Yet no participants were important he argues than the bankers and international traders of the City of London who played a critical role in financing the wars and without whom the armies of Britain's allies could not have taken the fieldThe Duke of Wellington famously said that the battle which finally defeated Napoleon was 'the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life' this book shows how true that was for the Napoleonic War as a whole474 pages narrative 678 pages in total


10 thoughts on “Britain Against Napoleon The Organization of Victory 1793 1815

  1. Nooilforpacifists Nooilforpacifists says:

    2 12 Stars Read after favorable review in The Economist and by several here Yet it falls short Incredible amounts of information but hardly a compelling style or organization Hugely repetitive for example the transition from clerks paid essentially by bribe to salaried clerks is mentioned in nearly every section The most common phrase in the book is as we saw in Chapter The last few chapters starting with finance are good And one has to enjoy knowing that the watchword for troops uartered in Tulla to uell tensions among resentful Catholic Irish was Stand Off I am loaded page 442Still until then it reads as if it were a stapled together selection of uotes The footnotes actually are a distraction as if the author wanted to show off extra but irrelevant research When he says 14 of the carronades supplied in August and September 1804 failed their proof test I thought a significant fact was to be revealed; but the author doesn't follow through with what would have been useful a record however incomplete of improvement over the course of the war To be fair a few pages later the book details the change in delivery of muskets 40000 in 1803; 167000 in 1804Canning writing about the Trinity House pilotage and bouyage service which had plans to sink ships in the Thames should Napoleon invadeIf blocks should the nation deliverTwo places are safe from the French;The one is the mouth of the RiverThe other the Treasury BenchBritain for most of these wars faced a strategic difficulty in going on to the offensive through what has been called the 'amphibious bottleneck' The sea gave Britain two advantages It acted as a defensive shield against invasion and allowed the transport of goods and military stores cheaply and uickly But the dependence on wind and weather also made it extremely difficult to transport by sea an army that was large enough to gain ground uickly and achieve an element of surpriseThe historical headlines have been usurped by Napoleon and Wellington the drama of Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna The foundations of military victory though lay in the industrial capacity of cannon founders the expertise of gunsmiths in their machine shops the diligence of shipbuilders and the makers of ropes uniforms gun carriages and gunpowder the hard work of those who toiled in the increasingly efficient agricultural sector the merchant seaman whose ships transported vital stores and food and the crews of packet ships who provided the means of communications throughout the year


  2. Marks54 Marks54 says:

    This is a very good book The author has written a well received biography of Nelson and it shows The book does not suffer from want of detail or a paucity of interesting tidbits left for the readerI am a bit torn on the broad story line that is most interesting in “Britain Against Napoleon” BAN There are at least two and perhaps even three that come to mindFirst we are in the centennial for the Treaty of Versailles and related treaties that ended WW1 Versailles for lots of reasons including the exclusion of Germany and the USSR is seen as the exemplar for “winning the war but losing the peace” — a treaty that guaranteed that WW2 would occur as the second part of a 20th century thirty years warBAN provides an example of the reverse losing the war and winning the peace Knight is not referring to the war against the French and Napoleon that was a war ending in victory and which was accompanied by a fairly resilient peace that came out of the Congress of Vienna Knight is referring to the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that concluded the American War of Independence Knight’s global argument in the book is that while Britain lost the colonies it got the peace right and used the time to build a political economic system that prepared it for the next war and allowed it to defeat Napoleon and dominate the world in the 19th century up through WW1 This is a really good story line and I think the author is spot on in making itA second story line in BAN is that of organization and bureaucracy as weapons of war Sure there are great battles that have the potential to change the world but this is a history of twenty plus years of warfare involving millions of people fighting on land and sea across vast expanses of territory If you can get a sufficient number of ships and crews provisioned and deployed ahead of your enemies and you have an edge that will become increasingly powerful over time This was also one of the very first modern economic wars in which the entire manpower and economy of the nation are pressed into service People can be rallied to great sacrifice and accomplish much in the short term In the long term national enthusiasm may subside losses mount fatigue sets in and demography becomes a burden You had better have some organizational systems in place that support a mass war effort in the long haul The key is in the title of the book France had Napoleon but Britain had to have a lot than a charismatic leader and a committed citizen army and the Royal Navy is as much a big complex and capital intensive system as it is anything else You could even put a modern emphasis on this France had Napoleon but Britain had LOGISTICS The Napoleonic War and the Industrial Revolution merge together here to great effectThere is actually a third narrative running through the book the transition from the traditional aristocratic hierarchy controlling the British war effort to a newer and professional bureaucratic organization of the war effort This involved two separate transitions The first is from a system in which office holders did not really have to work too hard and in which they exerted uasi ownership rights over their offices extra pay and bribes peruisites etc This old system changed to a system that was rational and task based with standardized compensation schemes and work rules and large bodies of clerks and secretaries to process reuests and keep records The change from the old system to the new also involved a generational shift as a new set of leaders often much younger than those they replaced 30 40 year differences in some cases Knight’s account of this transition suggests that it could have been the subject of numerous self help books if such genres had been established at the time There was also a lot of material on the interaction of public agencies and private firms in the course of the wars Developing this further would have reuired a much longer bookWhat didn’t I like? I do not have a lot of complaints One issue I have involves level of analysis If I focus on the administrators and bureaucrats I keep away from the battle and heroics of the military almost by definition OK so Napoleon had his issues but how did France handle or not handle its organizational and bureaucratic issues? That did not bother me too much since the book is already uite long and a detailed French comparison would lengthen it further To be clear this does not negate Knight’s arguments and there were some areas of focus on France such as in the Continental system My concern is one of emphasis and focus Knight does provide for a focused application of his argument towards the end when he discusses in tandem Napoleon’s attack on Russia and the continuing war on the Iberian peninsula In both of these campaigns the superior logistics of the allies and the extended geographic strain on the French combined to turn the tide of the entire war against Napoleon Knight also provides some background on financial changes during this period although there could easily have been What better reason for developing a rational bureaucracy than to run an active taxation system This is a challenging book to read with lots of details many names and almost as many subplots Overall it is well worth the effort and is an outstanding study of bureaucratic organizations and history long before such organization became the norm especially after WW2


  3. David Barrie David Barrie says:

    In my small bit of the planet making a documentary television series on Napoleon this book is outstanding A massively needed account of a gap in the history of the Napoleonic era Invites readers to think of the Napoleonic Wars as a World War euivalent to 2WW


  4. Casey Casey says:

    A great book one I’d wish I’d read earlier This work presents a uniue history of Britain’s conflict against France from 1792 to 1815 If “amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics” this book shows that “amateurs study strategy while professionals study a nation’s means of prosecuting conflict” Not presented as a description of strategy or as a narrative of the military engagements but instead as a deep dive into the Political Economic Military complex of the British state itself Rather than a simple chronological narrative the book collects up major elements of Britain’s path to victory and relates them as a collective whole It has a diverse set of detailed topics such as the growth of luxury taxes changes in ship repair methods government size limitations due to Whitehall office space and the use of canals to expand the area that hogs were bred for government salt pork production It presents these topics in a well organized manner broken down by related areas and time periods The book steps through the major historical events but concentrates on how the applicable fighting forces or money subsidies were made ready when needed rather than the fighting itself Thus Trafalgar is told through the long road to efficiency in ship repair and means of supplying the Fleet the Peninsula campaign is told mostly through descriptions of the victualing industry and Transport Board and the British subsidized Central European campaigns of 1813 1814 are described through the ever increasing revenue productivity of the tax system within the growing British economy The book starts off with Britain’s economic dark days after the American Revolution where efforts primarily intended to bolster a sagging economy ended up providing a weak but sufficient foundation for the struggle ahead the usefulness of government expenditures in a recession is not limited to the 20th century It ends with the start of the “Second British Empire” and a burgeoning Industrial Revolution So many of the problems we see today in the many defense acuisition and resource management fields were faced 200 years ago by well meaning professionals attempting to confront Revolutionary France’s military juggernaut The ways these professionals overcame changing their internal systems and eventually defeating in a titanic military struggle literally two continents is fascinating If ever one needed proof that the Industrial Revolution was kick started by government largesse during the Napoleonic wars this book provides that in spades For those interested in how dockyard politics actually worked how Britain was able to churn out so many men for combat without resorting to conscription and how a country can go through several ‘administrations’ but maintain the same broad policies this is the book to read Highly recommended for anyone wanting to better understand how in any period navies are built armies put in the field and nations fight modern wars


  5. Ross Ross says:

    This is an extraordinarily thorough and readable history for which the author deserves the highest praise The enthusiasm with which Knight approaches a potentially uite dry topic administration and logistics lends the writing a certain spark which makes it surprisingly gripping I will admit that after each chapter 30 pages I found myself uite tired Knight certainly packs in a lot of information and leaves the reader with many interesting concepts to ponder This history gave me a new perspective of the Napoleonic Wars that works very well in complement with traditional military and political histories It is a 'behind the scenes' look at the British war effort that will connect many dots for an avid reader of Napoleonic history For a casual reader looking to dip into Napoleonic history for the first time I would not recommend it Not only is it very dense it also assumes a general knowledge of the course of events in the wars Important events such as the Treaty of Amiens and the Treaty of Tilsit are freuently mentioned but not fully described or explained Further the book is arranged thematically with the result that Knight jumps through the full course of the wars 1793 1815 in every chapter It is not a chronological history and hence reuires prior knowledge to prevent frustrationOverall I would certainly recommend this to readers of Napoleonic history that seek an understanding of the importance of government planning policy administration and logistics in orchestrating a significant war effort


  6. Bettie Bettie says:

    Britain Against Napoleon by Roger Knight Giving Wellington credit is all well and good but the British state had to transform itself to beat the French


  7. Susan Jordan Susan Jordan says:

    A fascinating insight into the logistics and finance which went into Britain's war effort against Napoleon and the unsung heroes who kept Nelson's fleet and Wellington's army supplied with guns food ammunition gunpowder etc and the root and branch reform of Britain's institutions


  8. Bill Pilon Bill Pilon says:

    Outstanding book on how the British government organized itself and leveraged its resources to beat Napoleon


  9. Sorrento Sorrento says:

    Roger Knight’s book about how many aspects of British society contributed to the defeat of Napoleon is a huge book which is crammed full of detailed research I learned so much in reading this account including how the warships were built maintained manned and sailed how the army was supplied and funded how government was reorganised and administered efficiently and lots lots Knight tells the stories of the great characters involved in the fight against the Emperor including those in government such as prime ministers William Pitt Spencer Percival and the civil service such as John Barrow at the admiralty He also tells us about the military leaders we know so well and of the bankers and financiers such as Nathan Rothschild who enabled the government to raise funds and to pay money to contractors suppliers service men and foreign allies at the right timeThe detail Knight sueezes into his masterpiece is incredible for example he tells us uite a lot about gun and gun powder manufactureIn fact there is so much in this book I found it uite overwhelming at times and it did take me uite a long time to get through it However the effort was well worth it


  10. John John says:

    This was a very good book but I warn any prospective readers that there are two preconditions to find it interesting a the reader must be familiar with the general flow of events in the wars between Britain and France from 1793 to 1815 and b if you are not interested in the sinews of war – finance taxation production mobilization of manpower and logistics – this book is not for you For battle enthusiasts I also warn there is very little about the land and naval battles themselvesKnight has written an extensively researched and detailed account of the organizational work behind British war effort and paints entertaining portraits of dozens of politicians civil servants soldiers and sailors from Pitt the Younger to Wellington One comes away from the book with a sense of the superiority of the parliamentary system of government as opposed to the unipersonal rule of Napoleon The transparency obtained by public debate of the various issues faced by the British state was far beneficial to the war effort than the supposed greater speed and efficiency of Napoleon's one man ruleFor geeks who like to know how a state is organized to wage war there are few books better than this one


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