Reply To: West Africa Squadron / Preventative Squadron

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David Hepper

    ”…it would seem prudent to keep a task force engaged in active duty relatively nearby … I am unsure how practical quickly recalling ships from tropical Africa would be…”
    Why would the government wish to do so? What was the threat? Surely Europe post-1815 was unlikely to offer any immediate threats to the UK. Should any threat arise, then rather than recall ships from abroad, which would take weeks, the Admiralty could use the dozens of ships held at naval ports “in Ordinary” – in reserve in modern parlance, that could be brought forward far quicker than any vessel from abroad. The main problem was not the ships, but the men: With no continuous service, the Navy relied on recruiting men when they were needed, and until CS was introduced at the time of the Crimean War in the 1850s, it was the biggest headache. The West Africa squadron was largely made up for much of its time of small vessels – sloops, brigs and schooners – if a crisis were to arise, then it would be ships of the line and frigates that would be needed, rather than a handful of small vessels from a foreign station.

    ”…given the economic slump after the wars would it not make sense to maintain a large complement of ships in active service so that the money the Navy pumped into local port economies would be maintained thus avoiding a collapse of their maritime economies?”
    Which ‘local port economies’ are meant? The Navy was concentrated on three areas in the South of England – Portsmouth, Plymouth and Thames/Medway. The outlying ports – such as Bristol, Liverpool, Hull etc. would have benefitted little from maintaining ships in commission. The naval ports mentioned were kept employed in maintaining the ships that were kept ‘in Ordinary’ (i.e. laid up), and the seamen easily moved from naval to mercantile service.
    Where there is an economic slump and the Government of the day is pursuing what would now be referred to as ‘austerity’, every pound spent is scrutinised. I suspect that the cost of maintaining several ships of the line and accompanying frigates and sloops at sea, with crews that needed to be paid, would probably cancel out any stimulus to the trade at the naval ports.

    I would also strongly recommend Opposing the Slavers by Peter Grindal (2016) for an excellent history of the west Africa squadron