Western Squadron

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Western Squadron/Channel Fleet
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
CountryUnited Kingdom
BranchRoyal Navy Red Ensign 1801 to 1864.gif Royal Navy
Trade Protection
Garrison/HQPlymouth Dockyard, England
EngagementsFirst Battle of Cape Finisterre (1747)
Second Battle of Cape Finisterre (1747)
Battle of Quiberon Bay
Battle of Ushant (1778)
FirstVice Admiral Lord Anson.
LastRear-Admiral, Armar Lowry Corry.

The Western Squadron previously known as the Channel Squadron and sometimes unofficially called the Channel Fleet[1] was a squadron or formation of the Royal Navy based at Plymouth Dockyard.[2] It operated in waters of the English Channel, the Western Approaches, and the North Atlantic. It defended British trade sea lanes from 1650 to 1814 and 1831 to 1854.[3] Following Admiralty orders to Lord Anson he was instructed to combine all existing commands in the English Channel those at the Downs, Narrow Seas , Plymouth and the Spithead under a centralized command under the CINC Western Squadron in 1746.[4] The squadron was commanded by the Flag Officer with the dual title of Commander-in-Chief, English Channel [5] and Commander-in-Chief, Western Squadron[6]


In 1650 Captain William Penn, was charged with guarding the Channel from Beachy Head to Land's End with six ships. This system continued following the Restoration, (1660–85). It was the start of what was to become a Western Squadron.[7] In 1690 the Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford was given command of a fleet in the channel.[8] From 1705 until the 1740s it was essentially Cruising Squadron before it changed to blockading duties.[9] In 1746 the Admiralty authorised Admiral Anson to combine all the Channel commands into the Western Squadron, based in Plymouth.[10] During the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) the Western Squadron was one of Britain’s most critical military assets frequently patrolling [11] the entrance to the English Channel and making regular sweeps into the Bay of Biscay and the waters off Ushant.[12] One of its responsibilities was trade protection ensuring the safe return of inbound trade from the East Indies and West Indies.[13] The squadron was involved at the Second Battle of Cape Finisterre (1747), the Battle of Quiberon Bay (1756),[14][15] and the Battle of Ushant (1778).[16] By 1801 its main role was still to stop French ships from French naval bases at Brest, Le Havre and elsewhere in the Bay of Biscay from entering the English Channel.[17] The Western Squadron was the forerunner of the Preventative Squadron later renamed the Channel Squadron which in turn became the Channel Fleet.[18]

Influence on British naval policy, strategy and thinking

British Naval policy in the 18th century had not changed that much in the previous centuries, however as the Britains trade interests were growing the need to find a solution to the problems faced by French Naval expansion since the 1660s-1670s.[19] English War planners were constantly dealing with the threat of war with France but had no strategy had been put in place to provided sufficient infrastructure in place to meet the challenge. The majority of the navy’s manufacturing capacity and dry-docking facilities were concentrated on the South East coast which had expanded to meet the demands faced by the Anglo-Dutch wars.[20] In 1689 when war with France eventually came the only dry dock facility in the channel was located at Portsmouth. In 1692 the main focus of naval activity shifted to west because the French moved their primary fleet to Brest.[21] In 1698 the Admiralty authorised a complete new dockyard be built at Plymouth housing a dry dock and wet dock. Having both of these facilities allowed Western Squadron to grow fast and by the early 1740s it had become the navy's main battle fleet.[22] The British were concerned with maintaining control of their own sea lanes – particularly the English Channel - while restricting the activities, both military and economic, of their rivals and foes.[23] In 1747 Admiral Hawke suggested the squadron should be used for containment purposes and developed the idea that it keep an almost continual watch on the French Navy and French coast. This was agreed by the Admiralty and the naval blockade developed as a consequence of this policy.[24] During the 1759 blockade of Brest, Admiral Hawke was the first to establish a system of replenishment at sea in order to maintain a blockade.[25]

In Command

Commander-in Chief, Western Squadron

Commander-in-Chief, English Channel


  1. Robson, Martin (2016). A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War. London, England: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. p. 228. ISBN 9781780765457.
  2. "Royal Navy Dockyards: Plymouth". rmg.co.uk. Royal Museums Greenwich, 2017. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  3. Duffy, ed. by Michael (1992). Parameters of British naval power : 1650-1850 (1st publ. ed.). Exeter: Univ. of Exeter Press. pp. 60–81. ISBN 9780859893855.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  4. Palmer, Michael A. (2005). Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control Since the Sixteenth Century. Harvard, Mass, USA: Harvard University Press. p. 100. ISBN 9780674016811.
  5. Harrison, Simon. "Commander-in-Chief at English Channel". threedecks.org. S. Harrison 2010–2018. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  6. Harrison, Simon. "Commander-in-Chief at English Channel". threedecks.org. S Harrison, 2010–2018. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  7. Saunders, Andrew (1997). Book of Channel defences. London: Batsford [u.a.] p. 32. ISBN 9780713475944.
  8. "Admiral Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford". The Peerage. 26 May 2012.
  9. Charters, Erica (2014). "The Royal Navy's Western Squadron". Disease, War, and the Imperial State: The Welfare of the British Armed Forces During the Seven Years' War. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press. pp. 125–128. ISBN 9780226180007.
  10. Young, Andy. "Anson: The man who built a Navy". academia.edu. Academia 2017. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  11. Braddick, Michael J. (2000). State Formation in Early Modern England, C.1550-1700. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 225. ISBN 9780521789554.
  12. Robson, Martin (2016). A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War. London, England: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. p. 228. ISBN 9781780765457.
  13. Saxby, C. Richard. "The Western Squadron and the Blockade of Brest | History Today". www.historytoday.com. History Today Magazine, Volume 23 Issue 1 January 1973. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  14. Tucker, Spencer C. (2009). A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East [6 volumes]: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East. Santa Barbara, USA: ABC-CLIO. p. 830. ISBN 9781851096725.
  15. Harding, John (2014). "Toll for the Brave, Spithead, England 1782". Sailing's Strangest Moments: Extraordinary But True Stories From Over Nine Hundred Years of Sailing. Pavilion Books. ISBN 9781849941785.
  16. Grant, R. G. (24 October 2017). 1001 Battles That Changed the Course of History. Book Sales. p. 461. ISBN 9780785835530.
  17. "Desertion, identity, and the North American squadron 1784-1812". Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Nova Scotia Museum, Canada, 2017. 29 May 2014. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  18. Mackesy, Piers (1964). The War for America: 1775-1783. Lincoln, Nebraska, USA: U of Nebraska Press. p. 192. ISBN 0803281927.
  19. Duffy, Michael (1992). "The Establishment of the Western Squadron as the linchpin of British Naval Strategy". Parameters of British Naval Power, 1650-1850. Exeter, England: University of Exeter Press. p. 60. ISBN 9780859893855.
  20. Duffy.p.614.
  21. Duffy.p.63.
  22. Duffy.p.62.
  23. Engerman, Lance Davis (2012). Naval blockades in peace and war : an economic history since 1750 (1st paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 620. ISBN 9781107406155.
  24. Davis & Engerman.p.614.
  25. Morriss. Roger. (2001). The Channel Fleet and the Blockade of Brest 1793 - 1801: based in part on transcripts made by the late Richard C. Saxby. Ashgate. Aldershot ISBN: 9780754602682. p.281.