Admiral Lord Rodney

William James assesses the tumultuous naval career of George Brydges Rodney, the British admiral first credited with the tactic of 'breaking the line'.

The period of British history when the outcome of major war depended on the professional competence of the Admiral commanding the main fleet, extended from the early part of the eighteenth century to the termination of the First World War — about 200 years.

Before that period fleets consisted of as many as 100 ships and, though the Admiral exercised control during the approach to the enemy fleet, after the first broadside had fired the battle became a pell-mell affair.

With the introduction of twentieth-century methods the great fleet of battleships, battle-cruisers, cruisers and flotillas, which up to the end of the First World War were under the control of a single man, disappeared, never to be revived.

During those 200 years a severe defeat of our main fleet would have been ruinous to our war effort. Not only would it have left the control of the sea-lines of communication in the hands of our enemy, but the navy, once vanquished, would have taken many years to rebuild. No man bore a heavier responsibility than the Admiral commanding the fleet.

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