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As First Lord, however, while Anson sat in cabinet, there was an understanding that he would not continue Sandwich's pressure for higher funding. He abandoned Sandwich's dockyard reform, and navy estimates fell sharply until the outbreak of hostilities along unstable, ill-defined frontiers in North America prompted a turnaround in 1754. 

Anson dispatched a squadron under Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen to intercept and turn back French warships carrying reinforcements to Canada, and authorised the use of force if necessary, although war had not yet been declared. Boscawen met the French squadron on 10 June 1755 off Newfoundland, captured two ships, and managed to provoke a war, without striking an effective first blow.

Still, the next few years saw the British take Canada from the French, but elsewhere the fortunes of war were less satisfactory. While the first blow had caught the French unprepared, by the spring of 1756, the Royal Navy was back on the defensive thanks to the perennial problem of manpower and the manner in which the fleet had been allowed to run down. 

While the French were known to be preparing to invade Britain and launch an assault on Britain's bases in the Mediterranean, the Navy lacked the resources to counteract both threats.

While the threat in the English Channel was by far the more dangerous, they also needed to protect their base in Minorca, and Vice-Admiral John Byng set out from Gibraltar on  6 April with a squadron of ten ill-prepared and undermanned ships of the line to cover Minorca. 

His squadron had grown to thirteen vessels by the time he arrived off Port Mahon to find that French troops transported by the Toulon squadron had already overrun the island and had the remaining British stronghold, St. Philip's Castle in Port Mahon under siege.

© Ian Hughes 2017