From galleys to square riggers: The modernization of the navy of the Kingdom of Sardinia
By the middle of the eighteenth century most navies operating in the Mediterranean had replaced their galley fleets with sailing navies. The Kingdom of Sardinia was one of the last to make the transition, acquiring its first square rigged ships in 1763. The galleys were decommissioned and a completely new naval administration was created. The existing officers and crew of the galley fleet were not qualified to command the new sailing ships and instead British naval officers were recruited to command the ships and train the Sardinian officers. Christopher Atkins was appointed to the largest ship, San Vittorio, and assumed overall command of the Sardinian navy. The first two ships were Spanish prizes purchased from the British Admiralty, but they proved to be of poor quality and were soon condemned. A new frigate was ordered from a Dutch yard in 1770 and another was built at the naval base of Villafranca in 1780. With a lack of skilled men or facilities to maintain them, these vessels also deteriorated quickly. It was only when Genoa was incorporated into the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1815 that it became possible to sustain a sailing navy. The role of the Sardinian navy in the eighteenth century was primarily to protect against Barbary privateers, which it managed up to a point. Despite its many difficulties the sailing navy was still able to achieve its rather limited goals.