The Royal dockyards in England at the time of the American War of Independence
The six dockyards in England were engaged in building, repairing and refitting the fleet. Hitherto the word of the sea service has been taken in judging their performance; since the sea officers were themselves involved, and could often be faulted, in servicing the ships, this unfavourable evidence should be treated with some reservation. Nevertheless, there were many weaknesses in the yards. The first among their organisational defects was the split in executive control between the Admiralty and Navy Boards, which led to inefficiency and delay. Instructions had been formulated in the previous century, and subsequent orders were confused; in an organisation where respect for precedent was decisive, much was left in doubt. The yard officers were thus allowed a damaging amount of independence, and this in turn caused mistrust and a lack of understanding of yard problems between these officers and the boards in London. The first difficulty lay in the inadequate pay structure and consequent lack of incentive of the shipwrights. It also proved impossible to administer the huge amount of naval stores without a large degree of waste. Other problems included navigational troubles and inadequate facilities, particularly at the allimportant western yards. These problems led to delay, particularly in the refitting which was vital in wartime. The application of copper sheathing went some way to lighten this burden. Inefficiency was primarily caused by the fact that the yards were overstretched by the increased size and number of the ships in this war, and by the failure to utilize inadequate resources more effectively. The system was at fault. Individuals, such as Lord Sandwich and Charles Middleton, worked hard to keep it going, while trying at the same time to improve it. Fortunately, defeat in the war encouraged the start of this reform in the 1780's.