The starting point is the beginning of the 18th century, when the Order of St John introduced its second element to the fleet: the so-called vascelli squadron. Henceforth, the fleet was composed of men-of-war and galleys, divided into two distinct squadrons that could operate individually or together but which necessitated the formation of two organisational set-ups. This century saw a decline in the number of galleys until its number was settled at four in 1725, and a fluctuating number of men-of-war which could consist of as many as three third-rates and a frigate at the outset but was reduced to one third-rate and three frigates in the 1780s, with fluctuating numbers in between. The tracing of the organisational aspect of both squadrons throughout the 18th century was logically concluded in 1798, when the Knights of St John were forced to leave the Maltese Islands.
This study is divided into two, albeit unequal, parts. Part I is about the actual vessels – the galleys, the third-rates and the frigates with their uses, advantages, shortcomings, replacements, costs, maintenance and shore-based administration including the organising commissioners and their secretariats, with their checks and balances designed to promote smooth organisation and prevent fraud. Part II deals with the actual ‘muscle’ of the warships – the personnel serving on board who include the Officer-Knights, technical and deck officers, all crewmen, oarsmen, and officials together with the religious and material considerations including discipline, health and a social aspect where possible. A short chapter about the squadrons at sea imparts an idea of what happened during a cruise. Throughout, there is a delineation of the job description for the various expertise inherent to these warships together with comparisons to the British and Mediterranean squadrons or fleets. In fact, one has to consider whether the Order’s warships were differently organised from other contemporary squadrons or not.