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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Books on military subjects

Napoleonic Naval Armaments: 1792 - 1815

Henry, Chris. Napoleonic Naval Armaments 1792 1815. (New Vanguard Series #90.) Illustrated by Brian Delf. Oxford: Osprey, 2004. 48 Pages. ISBN# 1841766356. Softcover. $14.95.


As the Head of Collections at the Museum of Royal Artillery, Mr. Henry brings a unrivalled expertise to the topic! He knows his subject matter and is able to draw on the resources of his and other museums --primary source documents, contemporary images of guns and their carriages, and photographs of the weapons -- to bring it to life! He does a great job describing the differences between various naval armaments, including guns, carronades, swivel guns, howitzers, rockets, and numerous small arms. For each type of weapon, Mr. Henry provides great detail on its manufacture, carriage, ammunition, capabilities, employment doctrine, tactics, and drill. Napoleonic Naval Armaments is lavishly illustrated with photographs of the weapons and many contemporary drawings and paintings. The author draws heavily on contemporary sources -- such as ship captains reports, gunnery manuals, and even a ship gunners personal notebook -- to show how drill was conducted, weapons were maintained, and ammunition was stored. This combined with the technical information provides the reader with a wealth of information. Whether he intended to do so or not, Mr. Henry has developed a primer on naval weapons.

Although the bulk of the material concerns the British navy, Mr. Henry devotes several sections on gunnery in both the French and Spanish navies. He compares their guns, ammunition, carriages, and drill to the British and concludes that the difference between the three nations lies not with the quality of the armaments. Rather, the main reason for British dominance of the seas during the era was due to the superior ability of their gun crews.

Napoleonic Naval Armaments has eight pages of color plates by Brian Delf showing the armaments and ammunition of the various countries. I found particularly useful the two plates of the British and French gun crews in action. These plates serve as visual glossaries. Major parts of the guns, tackles, carriages, and ammunition are numbered with a corresponding legend on the plate itself, rather than the normal Osprey practice of explaining the illustrations in the back of the book. This permitted me to see quickly what the author was referring to in the text. Other color plates included carronades and light guns; schematics of the Congreve rocket system and different kinds of ammunition such as link shot, chain shot, bar shot, and knife-bladed shot. Unfortunately there is no key on these plates the reader has to refer to the back of the book to find an explanation for what each item is.

Those looking for information on the U.S. Navy of the era will be disappointed. There is little information on American guns and armaments. Despite this shortcoming, the book fills a gap in my library. I strongly recommend Napoleonic Naval Armaments for both the serious scholar of the navies of the Napoleonic Era and for those whose interests extend only to the rich literature of the period.

Napoleonic Naval Armaments is available in bookstores everywhere, through Classic Motorbooks at (800) 826-6600 or at their website: MBI Publishing.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2004