Conditions of the Fleets

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At the start of the Revolutionary Wars the Royal Navy was not in top shape and it took several years before the cobwebs were shaken out of the ships and system.

Many of the leading admirals were too old and the young commanders who would rise to greatness had yet to be given their opportunity.

Britain's problems were nothing to those suffered by the French navy, which by the 1790s was but a shadow of a force that had, on occasion, looked like threatening the maritime power of the Royal Navy.

Financially strapped, the French treasury in the late 18th Century was even more penny-pinching than its British equivalent.

On top of that, the best French sailors had fled the Revolution and their replacements were hamstrung by poor quality crews and their own inexperience.

But, the French ships were - vessel for vessel - of a better quality than the Royal Navy's and were very manouevreable and fast.

As the wars progressed the largely harbour-bound French, having been bottled up by British blockades, were no match for their enemy in a fight at sea.

Regular gun practice while under sail gave the Royal Navy's gunners a huge advantage, as did the new flintlock firing mechanisms that allowed for more accurate sighting on the cannon.

In an even more desperate state than the French, however, were the Spanish.

Long a naval power, a lack of funds left Spain's massive vessels rotting and its poorly treated sailors were almost useless.

The officers were proud of their nation's maritime history but, in terms of ability, did little study to keep up with rival modern navies.

Denmark and Sweden had powerful fleets, but these were limited to local waters in the Baltic.

Holland had a fine, efficient navy but, again, a tight government purse limited it to small numbers and it could not match its across-the-North Sea neighbour.

There were two navies, however, that were on the rise - those of Russia and America. Russia kept its maritime interests to the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea and, for the main part, was anti-French in its stance.

America's small navy rivaled the British for ability and while it was never strong enough to end a Royal Navy blockade of its east coast, in one-on-one duels performed very well indeed.

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