We’re taking a look at one of the most iconic periods covered by Black Seas – the Napoleonic Wars. This article provides an overview of the conflict.
One of the most heavily studied eras of European history, the French wars which began in 1803 were effectively a continuation of those which had preceded them, involving most European countries and their colonial possessions. Naval actions in this period were worldwide: in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Baltic, the Atlantic and as far afield as the West and East Indies. These were, of course, mainly in support of strategies and campaigns on land, but also related to local quarrels as well as to strategic, political and trade decisions.
Soon after war was declared, French control in the West Indies was quickly eroded by a small naval squadron under Admiral Samuel Hood. First St Lucia fell, then Tobago, whilst the slaves in Hispaniola carried out their own Revolution, ousting their French slave- masters, and renaming the island Haiti. By 1804 only the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique remained French possessions. However, Hood had insufficient resources to capture these islands. Conversely, French forces there were strong enough to make raids on British possessions but insufficient to consolidate those successes. The war in this arena became largely a series of raids and small-scale amphibious actions, though in 1809 Britain eventually captured both Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Whilst Britain, of course, remained Napoleon’s obdurate opponent throughout the period, the other great powers – Austria, Prussia, Russia, Spain – found themselves at times either allied to him, or one-by-one defeated by him. His early reputation was confirmed in the masterly land battles of 1805: Ulm (a superb outflanking of sluggish Austrian forces) and Austerlitz (deception then the destruction of an outnumbering Russian and Austrian army).