War at sea in the age of sail if they had had ships to fit out and man. This remarkable performance, the culmination of a sustained six-month blockade of Brest, was based on the effective defeat of scurvy by the regular supply of fresh victuals, and the rotation of ships to Plymouth and Torbay for rest, repair and recuperation.
Having secured their war aims, the British captured the French West Indian islands to ‘beat the French into a peace’, as Pitt put it . In the absence of any significant opposition at sea, these attacks could be launched quickly, in the ‘healthy’ season, relying on overwhelming force to secure an easy victory.
Guadeloupe fell in 1759, Dominica in 1761 and Martinique in 1762. The French West Indian economy was further disrupted by the seizure of the slave stations at Senegal and Goree. In June 1761 a combined operation took the island of BellelIe as a bargaining counter for the peace negotiations. In India the politico-military success of Robert Clive in securing control of the immense revenues of Bengal was based on seapower. Calcutta and the French enclave at Chandernagore were taken by the fleet in January 1757. French attempts to reverse these successes were blocked by a succession of indecisive, destructive battles in which Commodore George Pocock forced the French Admiral d’Ache to leave the coast in search of supplies, while the British, with a local base at Madras and a dockyard at Bombay, were able to remain on station.
Command of the sea again gave the British a decisive advantage. The death of King Ferdinand in 1759 brought his half-brother Charles III to the throne of Spain. Charles loathed the British, having been humiliated by them in 1742 while king of Naples. Although the opportunity for a combined Bourbon effort had passed, the signature of a new Bourbon ‘Family Compact’ in August 1761 was a clear threat, and Pitt argued for another pre-emptive strike. Anson provided a grand plan to take the port of Havana, the greatest fortress in the New World. In October the Cabinet, arguing that such an act would increase international hatred of Britain’s dominion of the oceans and believing that the culminating point of victory had been reached, rejected Pitt’s advice. Pitt resigned. However, Spain declared war in early 1762, but, despite building 80,000 tons of new battleships since 1748, her fleet did not dare face the Royal Navy at sea. After Lagos and Quiberon there could be no doubt that the British had the right doctrine, the right officers and men, and the right ships. Anson’s plan to capture Havana was adopted after all, although he did not live to see it carried into effect.