In later life, Napoleon tried to pass off the planned invasion of Britain as a feint to pull attention away from his real plans with the Army of the Rhine. I don’t quite buy that one. At unheard-of expense, from 1801 to 1805 he built up a fleet of nearly two thousand transport and light gunships along with assembling a navy of some thirty four warships, complete with newly trained crews and newly built ports to accommodate them.
So how did it all go so wrong? Well, part of it was that Napoleon fired out no less than six different battle plans, each more complicated than the last, causing no end of delay as the admirals tried to figure out exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Part of it was that the guys Napoleon entrusted with the job were entirely dishonest, often reporting double the amount of ships and construction as had actually been accomplished (“We totally have two thousand boats, sir. Right out that window, see ‘em? No, don’t bother counting. Matter of fact, let’s just close this curtain here…”) And then there’s the small fact that he expected to build from scratch a force that could take on the ass-kicking-British-Navy using primarily old fishing boats that had been converted into transports by charlatans.
But Napoleon was Napoleon, and he pulled it off. He built his fleet, his warships, his ports, all as he said he would, and then watched the fleet diminish by a third with each winter that his plans were delayed until finally, in 1805, Lord Nelson sunk seventy percent of his warships in a single battle without losing a boat of his own. With that, the invasion of Britain was over before it even started.
So, to feel better about himself, Napoleon whooped Austria again. And everything was great.
– Count Dolby von Luckner