The Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the century saw the zenith of the age of fighting sail, with wooden-hulled vessels mounting muzzle-loading guns firing projectiles weighing up to 68 lb. By the early twentieth century warships were of steel and powered by oil-fired boilers driving screw propellers and mounted breech-loading guns - the heaviest of which could hurl projectiles of up to a ton.
Spencer Tucker's narrative account of this crucial transitional phase in naval history opens with a summary of technology, tactics and strategy at the end of the eighteenth century, followed by accounts of the wars of the Napoleonic period and the factors that led to British naval supremacy. The revolutions that followed in naval ordnance, propulsion, iron hulls and underwater warfare are described in detail, and the author looks at how these were used mid-century in both the Crimean and American Civil Wars. He reviews the naval situation before the First World War, examining naval thought and international attitudes towards battleship size and speed versus armour, and shows how these important changes were put into practice in the Sino-Japanese, Spanish-American and Russo-Japanese Wars. The book concludes with an overview of the world naval balance on the eve of the First World War.