Book Review – The Line Upon A wind, The Great War at Sea, 1793-1815



The Line Upon A Wind, The Great War at Sea 1793-1815.  Noel Mostert. (NY: Norton, 2007). 774 pages. Notes, biblio., maps, illus. ISBN: 978-0-393-06653-1.

Until World War I, to Britons the 22 year naval war with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France was the “Great War”. (p. xxiv). Trafalgar, the Nile, Cape St. Vincent and a world wide gazette of battles; Hood, Nelson, Sir Sidney Smith and a host of naval heroes in those wonderfully named British ships.. It was the final struggle in the 500 year series of wars between Britain and France, a struggle that began in the days of Joan of Arc and ended with Napoleon and left Britain to rule the waves. Mr. Mostert narrates the strategy, the diplomacy and the tactics of this titanic struggle on the seas and oceans of the world.. His narrative centers on Lord Horatio Nelson and the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, personifying Sea and Land and how the Royal Navy thwarted Napoleon’s dream of a French Empire reaching to Constantinople and re-establishing New France in what is now the central United States of America. However bold his dream, however masterful his generalship, the Emperor was thwarted by the “hearts of oak”.

Not left out are the skilled and devoted French, Spanish and Dutch sailors who opposed the British and the rise of the United States Navy and merchant fleet. In addition to geopolitics and diplomacy, Mr. Mostert describes the problem of the vast drain on resources to build and maintain wooden naval vessels of the time (Chapter V, appropriately named “Wood“), the tedium of blockade duty and the excitement of landing expeditions, impressments to maintain man power and the series of mutinies that threatened British naval supremacy. In this day of debate over pre-emptive warfare he reminds us that a pre-emptive strike was once termed to “Copenhagen” the enemy. He also reminds the reader of how hard it was to find and fix the opposing fleet in the absence of wireless communication, satellites and radar. The evolution of modern navies and the British adaptation and development of line of battle tactics are discussed in fine style by the author.

Mr. Mostert is a Canadian writer who lives in Tangiers.

 This work is highly reccomended for students of sea power, naval warfare in the days of sail and the Royal Navy.

 James B. Ronan II

Major James B. Ronan II writes frrequent book reviews in the publications of the Company of Military Historians


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