Before I read Clive Wilkinson’s British Navy and the State in the 18th Century (Boydell, 2004), I never realized how complicated a task it was to maintain a large fleet. Silly me. Wilkinson’s book, though, convinced me that the navy was in fact an immense, floating, nausea-inducing Weberean bureaucracy, albeit one that involved floggings and mutinies, as well as budgets and ledgers.
My biggest surprise came about midway through the book, when I realized how important timber supplies, and the amounts of properly seasoned timber available in the yards, were for mobilizing, and yet these were factors over which the Navy had relatively little immediate control. Ships had about a 12-15 year working life, and so it was important that repairs and replacements be distributed across the fleet, and across time, rather than concentrated during buildups.
What Wilkinson’s account makes really clear is how crucial large-scale bureaucratic planning and organization were to wartime and diplomatic successes. Another nice confirmation of Brewer’s arguments in Sinews of Power.