Sunday, January 5, 2014

On the water: Does the Kabinettskriege period have anything to do with Naval Warfare?

Kabinettskriege Era Landing Craft from the Art Gallery of Ontario
Dear Readers,

Today, I wanted to take a look at something that I've been thinking about for a while. You are reading a blog entitled Kabinettskriege, which is a term that covers land warfare from 1648-1789.  But does this period really have anything to do with naval warfare? After all, doesn't the Age of Sail last from the Battle of Lepanto (1571) to about 1850? Surely the Kabinetskriege period only holds up on land?

After doing a bit of digging, I seem to have found some evidence that naval warfare was distinct during the Kabinettskriege era. I would not say that this term should replace, the age of sail, but that it should be viewed as a subcategory of this larger period. After all, the Kabinettskriege period on land is a subset of the larger, "horse and musket," age, which lasted from about 1550 to 1865. Let me explain why I think that the Kabinettskriege era, (1648-1789) could be used on sea, as well as on land.

In the lower portion of this picture, you can see two opposing fleets in line of battle

The first large battles between ships of the line occurred between 1639-1653, or, close to the end of the Thirty Years' War. In fact, the term, "ships of the line," refers to these large ships' place within the "line of battle," which was a evolving concept in this time period. By the end of the Thirty Years' War, two opposing fleets would attempt to approach each-other in a line, and fire as they passed the opposing fleet. This development, the line of battle, forms the beginning of the Kabinettskriege era at sea. This was the basis of Kabinettskriege era naval warfare. In the eighteenth century, this led to many naval battles without decisive outcomes.

From 1648 to the 1780s, there were not many large tactical changes. Technology progressed, with the introduction of the carronade and the flintlock cannon. However, there were not many radical changes in large fleet actions. The two sides formed line of battle until one side fled. Much like warfare on land, sea battles in the Kabinettskriege era were not designed with annihilating the opponent in mind. Rather, they were designed to create a system were one side to slightly higher causalities, and then withdrew.

Battle of Trafalgar, 1805

Toward the end of the 18th century, in the Global Eight Years' War, and French Revolutionary Wars, this changed. Lord Nelson, and other British commanders began advocating for a more one-on-one style of combat, where British naval superiority could have a more decisive effect.  Note the distinct lack of battle-lines in the map of the Battle of Trafalgar above. By the French Revolutionary Wars, some forward thinking British commanders were beginning to advocate for battles such as the above, which relied on breaking the enemy line and engaging in single ship actions. While some naval battles in the French Revolutionary Wars employed the linear formation, it was going out of style by this time.

Thus, at sea, there is a good reason to use the Kabinettskriege period. It marks when the line of battle was going into favor, and falling into disuse.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

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