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The Western Squadron and the Blockade of Brest

In the wars with France from 1745 to 1815, writes Richard C. Saxby, the French naval base was blockaded from English Channel ports miles to its leeward.

The credit for being the first man to suggest the creation of what Lord Barham in 1805 called ‘the mainspring from which all offensive operations must proceed’ is usually given to Admiral Vernon who, writing to the Admiralty on September 6th, 1745, said,

‘A western squadron, formed as strong as we can make it... and got speedily out into the Soundings, might face their united force, cover both Great Britain and Ireland and be in condition to pursue them wherever they went, and be at hand to secure the safe return of our homeward bound trade from the East and West Indies’.

The general idea was not entirely new, but it had never been set forth before in such clear terms. Not that putting it into practice was so simple as Vernon made it sound. Indeed, the complexities were so great that they were never fully mastered, and so fascinating that historians have been arguing about them ever since.

Most of the underlying problems were geographical, and so, before discussing Vernon’s proposal, it is advisable to survey the area concerned - the English Channel and its western approaches.

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