So if I were going to write a history of modern Europe with the insouciantly glib broad brush that I'm not afraid to apply to the Iron Age, how would it look?
Well, I'd start with the effects of the forward movement into the Atlantic, tie it to the Price Revolution, note that we now think was a sixfold rise in prices between 1460 and 1610, and suggest that if the story of the Price Revolution is a story of increasing agricultural surplus (spoiler: it is) that it starts with lutefisk and ends with the potato. That'll be your syndoche here, so that I don't wander off and waste time in the cassava fields of the Gold Coast, the peanut fields of Siam, the prickly pear plantations of the Maghreb and the sunflower plantings of Old Russia.
And, oh look, I have, anyway. So what's a guy to do when potatoes make feeding peasants cheaper? Offer them work. Because now that they don't have to buy wheat on the open market to make up for time lost not raising wheat, they can work for lower wages than ever. I know, it sounds exploitative. It is exploitative. But it ends up with better-fed peasants with more money in their pockets.
What will that work look like? The Price Revolution is an increase in government revenues. And what does an early modern government do with more money? It fights desperate wars over existential issues like whether people will be allowed to wear a scarf while showing people a plate of crackers. (No, really, it's important.) And those wars turn on sieges. Which are attacks on vital communications nodes that happen to be able to afford strong fortifications. Which, ta-da, describes cities on Europe's plentiful flooding lowlands, and not, say, castles on hills.
So you're getting down in the ditches, and learning to work in this wet, muddy environment. There's nothing new in this learning, but it's new to you, by whom I mean a young striver of "upper middle class" social origin. Which means, just to extend the thought experiment illegitimately extended without establishing evidence, that your family owns a manor in a hamlet on the Northampton Sand.
So you come back from the wars in the Netherlands, brimming with new experiential knowledge of drains and dykes. Your family land doesn't happen to hold a prosperous manufacturing town on a cross-roads by a river crossing, or you would be much richer than you are. But it is on flooding ground, which means that you are less rich than you could be, because your neighbours, with land of much the same quality, but a little higher up, are using theirs for up-and-down husbandry .
What's the problem? Water doesn't drain off your land. Well, now you know how to fix it. You put in french drains.* No-one's done it before because the work wasn't economical. Oh, and because your land is actually lower than the drainage canal. Well, no problem, because they actually have a solution for that over in Flanders, too. Just put a windmill on the top of the rise and run a pump with it. Sound expensive? No problem. Put a watermill on the canal at the mouth of the spume, and set it to running, say, a trip hammer. If you're really ingenious, you can run a shaft back up the rise and put a reservoir on the crest so that you can run the pump from the water mill. Hey, it's no Machine of Marley, but wind power is free. The ROI depends mainly on getting labour costs down, and there's the potato, and also you: Lord of the Manor, and master millwright.
Is that a crazy combination, I hear you say? Have you been told, in strident terms, about how aristocrats aren't inclined to such things, that only virtuous members of the middle class do that? Hmm. Who told you that? John Wesley, you say? Yeah. About that. If you don't have time for the links, I'm allusively suggesting that you've bought one of two competing ideological visions of how science happened, as laid down in the pre-Reform Britain of the 1820s and 1830s. The Anglicans fought the Nonconformists for credit for "science," and lost.
That's one insufferably broad brush history, taking us from cod drying on a Norwegian shore to a windmill/watermill regenerative power cycle floating on a broad-bottomed dyke above a Lincolnshire bottom. Another, the one that I just sketched the other day, features a story about the emergence of the post-WWII automobile engine, with its high-octane performance, reliable electrics and automatic transmission out of the Fokker Panic of 1915. The notion is that governments, galvanised by the existential question of whether or not the assassination of an eminently disposable Archduke by some rather obnoxious young students should be met by Very Stern Measures, spent vast amounts of money on internal combustion engine performance in the course of three years, far too short a time frame to actually see results, and that that money, to all appearances, went down the drain, only to reappear in 1939.
The idea is that today I follow it down the drain.
Founded at Colchester in Essex in 1865 as Davey, Paxman & Davey, General Engineers and Contractors, it entered the "heavy oil engine" business in the halcyon days when you didn't have to explain that they were really just Diesel engines, and that you didn't call them that because you were a Germanophobe, even if you totally were.
Some time after taking his hioty-toity Cambridge degree in 1924, "Ted" Paxman, unaware that as the grandson of one of the founders, he was supposed to become a Tory country gentleman, joined the family business (See also this, and this for the guy I'm arguing against with snide links.). Fellows with Cambridge degrees are supposed to swan about meeting Very Important People in exclusive clubs, but I don't think that the stereotype extends to Major General A. E. Davidson, through various organisational changes basically the guy in charge of engines at the Woolwich Arsenal labs, who allowed over a nice brandy that he would like a compact, high speed diesel for possible use in tanks. The upshot, the company history that I'm linking to suggests, is that in 1935 they premiered a high-speed V-configuration marine diesel engine, the 12-Vee-RA, This was clearly a step down the road to meeting Davidson's suggestion, but, not to look the gift horse of an awesome web site in the mouth, it might have been the slight upgrade, the RE, that was intended. It was the RE that went into a 5 boat experimental Motor Gun Boat class that quickly proved to the Admiralty that perhaps the time was not yet ripe for a lightweight diesel V-12 running at almost 2000rpm at full power.
Maybe it was the crankshafts arcing through the air. Anyway, having proved to be somewhat disappointing for their original purpose, they were redesigned as blockade runners for the Swedish ball bearing run. They made 8 successful runs during the 1943 boating season, bringing out 347 tons of ball bearings, which, I gather, is a lot. Also, they used up a fair number of crankshafts, including one episode leading to a boat being captured by the Germans on the return trip, which was maybe a bit impractical. Given that the RAF brought out 80 tons in transport aircraft in the same period, one might perhaps concede that the idea was more along the lines of finding a problem for the fast diesels to be a solution to than a really practical employment.
So did all that effort go to waste? It did not. Paxman developed the RE into the TPM, of which 3,500 were built in the course of the war, not for MTBs, but for Landing Craft, Tanks, with the war effort required rather more. It seems that in all the high declinist concern trolling, someone forgot that these actually got built. Landing Craft Tanks are much less sexy than Motor Gun Boats/high speed blockade runners (literally in this case: we're talking about the "Gay Viking-class** here) but they're a touch more important, and the TPM series was a little more reliable.
Which is to say a class of steam-turbine powered vessels numbering two-thirds the size of the "Hunt" order (19,000hp on 1000t, just to remind ourselves). So these would be boats, basically designed to hang around with motor torpedo boats powered by jumped up Liberty engines, otherwise best know for underpowering unfortunate tanks. Due to scaling issues, they wouldn't absorb that much less in the way of resources than a destroyer, and the result was a hull packed full of steam fittings. Sure, it was a light and fast power plant for its size, and it worked well as long as no-one was shooting machine guns at it, at least before some overstressed part broke from being run too fast for too long. Have I fully described the point of Coastal Forces yet?...
So why I am I calling this a 'manpower' issue? Good question, and one that benefits from the cogitations of twelve hours of sleep. Consider a country that could turn a relatively small army into twelve divisions in four corps within 8 months of the outbreak of war, but which couldn't get its own aeroengines into service in the course of over four full years of war. That is Britain in WWI. Now consider a country that couldn't, but which introduced the turbojet revolution in less than five years, and along the way produced these fun little projects, basically as jeux d'esprit. This is a different country, with a very different labour skills base. This is the change that we're marking through 20 years of peace, the change that, in France, was not managed well enough (for whatever reason) to save that country defeat and occupation by the Nazis. That's the manpower issue.