The Premises of Logistics: The Organisation of Warships in France in the 17th and 18th Centuries

The Premises of Logistics: The Organisation of Warships in France in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Jacques Colin (Aix Marseille University, France & ESC Rennes School of Management Aix-en-Provence, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9779-9.ch001
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Abstract

The objective of this paper is to show how the French Royal Navy, faced with multiple challenges of different kinds, has built in the 17th and 18th centuries a particularly complex military-industrial and organisational tool, which foreshadows the most up-to-date industrial and logistical organisations. By reinterpreting this pre-industrial episode, one could not only set out the major principles that constitute the foundations of the logistical and SCM backgrounds (anticipation, reactivity, standardisation, normalisation, productivity, modularity, flexibility, interoperability, fluidity, continuity), but also some logistical archetypes (strategic control of space and strategic control of time, transport infrastructures and accessibility, global sourcing and suppliers' networks, nomenclatures and production ranges, warehouses and stocks availability).
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The Navy Facing Political, Administrative, And Strategic Challenges

In case of war, especially against England, the main challenge the Navy had to deal with was a fast increasing power of a very technical military tool, able to face the “structural” numerical superiority of the English Royal Navy, which was nonetheless slower to reach its full strength. In peacetime, the fleet would only count with a reduced number of ships, less than ten, with 4.000 seafarers on the eve of the American Revolutionary war in 1778 (Meyer & Acerra, 1994). In 1790, it “theoretically” reached 81 vessels and 69 frigates with 78.000 seafarers (Acerra & Meyer, 1998), and almost 8.000 cannons according to the Tableau de la Marine Royale (1789) and regulated by almost 1.700 officers (Acerra & Meyer, 1998). By comparison, the Great Army of Napoleon in 1812 counted with less than 1.400 cannons, for more than 400.000 men (Rey, 2012). Most vessels from this fleet in 1790 were indeed already built. Some were being built and others in “kit” in arsenals1.

As such, the equipment of the fleet depended completely on the “naval munitions” (structural members, masts, sails, lines, cannons, munitions, powder, pitch, tar, food supplies, etc.) that were bought and stocked in advance in special warehouses to face any possibility. The Navy counted on a long-term strategic vision to enable the acquisition of all the necessary raw materials, and would it be required, to transform and package them. Simultaneously, the class system enabled to identify and quickly call the “seafarers” necessary to serve on the vessels (Ordonnance de Louis XIV, 1689, Chapter Eight).

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