Vickers Valiant

The Valiant was the first of the famous V-bombers and became the first British aircraft to test-drop nuclear weapons. Ironically, metal fatigue terminated their short and rather useful service.

The aftermath of the U. S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki underscored the necessity of nuclear deterrence to maintain peace and security in the postwar period. This was especially true in a world dominated by East-versus-West confrontation. Such prerogatives were in mind when the British Air Ministry issued Specification B. 35/46 in 1946 for a fleet of jet-propelled nuclear bombers. Both Avro and Handley Page submitted designs that were extremely advanced and complicated, culminating in the splendid Vulcan and Victor bombers. However, rather than go charging off into uncharted waters, Vickers forwarded a plan that was deliberately less complicated and promised lower performance. The Air Ministry, wishing it as insurance in case the more advanced machines failed to materialized, then drew up Specification B. 9/48 around the craft. The prototype Valiant first flew in 1951 as an ultramodern, all-metal jet bomber. It was a highwing configuration, with four jets buried in the wing roots, and a high tail. The Valiant flew well enough to warrant production, so in 1955 the first 30 examples of the B 1 model became operational. These were followed by 11 B(PR) 1 reconnaissance versions, 14 B(PR) K 1 reconnaissance/tankers, and 48 BK 1 bomber/tankers. Total production amounted to 104 machines.

Operationally, Valiants highlighted all the diplomatic and military perils of the age. In 1956 several flew from Malta and dropped bombs on Egypt during the Suez Crisis. On October 11 of that same year a Valiant test-dropped the first British atomic weapon over northern Australia. The feat was duplicated on May 15, 1957, when a Valiant dropped Britain’s first thermonuclear device in the Pacific. But as the more capable and modern Vulcans and Victors became operational, Valiants gradually were transferred to refueling duties. They were thus employed until 1964, when widespread metal fatigue caused the active fleet to be scrapped.


Including three prototypes, a total of 107 Valiants were built.

    Valiant B.1: 39 pure bomber variants, including five pre-production Type 674, which were powered by Avon RA.14 engines with the same 9,500 lbf (42 kN) thrust each as the earlier Avon 201 and 34 Type 706 full-production aircraft, powered by Avon RA.28 204 or 205 engines with 10,500 lbf (47 kN) thrust each, longer tailpipes, and water-methanol injection for take-off boost power.

    Type 710 Valiant B(PR).1: eight bomber/photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Edwards and his team had considered use of the Valiant for photo-reconnaissance from the start, and this particular batch of aircraft could accommodate a removable “crate” in the bomb-bay, carrying up to eight narrow-view/high resolution cameras and four survey cameras.

    Type 733 Valiant B(PR)K.1: 13 bomber/photo-reconnaissance/tanker aircraft

    Type 758 Valiant B(K).1: 44 bomber / tanker aircraft. Both tanker variants carried a removable tanker system in the bomb-bay, featuring fuel tanks and a hose-and-drogue aerial refuelling system. A further 16 Valiant B(K).1s were ordered, but cancelled.

    Vickers also considered an air transport version of the Valiant, with a low-mounted wing, wingspan increased to 140 ft (42.7 m) from 114 ft 4 in (34.8 m), fuselage lengthened to 146 ft (44.5 m), and uprated engines. Work on a prototype, designated the Type 1000, began in early 1953. The prototype was to lead to a military transport version, the Type 1002, and a civilian transport version, the Type 1004 or VC.7. The Type 1000 prototype was almost complete when it, too, was cancelled.

Valiant production ended in August 1957.

Specifications (Valiant B.1)

General characteristics

    Crew: five – two pilots, two navigators (one navigator plotter + one navigator bomber), air electronics officer

    Length: 108 ft 3 in (32.99 m)

    Wingspan: 114 ft 4 in (34.85 m)

    Height: 32 ft 2 in (9.80 m)

    Wing area: 2,362 ft² (219 m²)

    Empty weight: 75,881 lb (34,491 kg)

    Max. takeoff weight: 140,000 lb (63,600 kg))

    Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Avon RA28 Mk 204 turbojet, 10,000 lb (44.6 kN) each


    Maximum speed: 567 mph (493 knots, 913 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,150 m)

    Range: 4,500 mi (3,910 nmi, 7,245 km) with underwing tanks

    Service ceiling: 54,000 ft (16,500 m)

    Rate of climb: 4,000 ft/min (20 m/s)



        1 × 10,000 lb (4500 kg) Blue Danube nuclear bomb or

        21 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs



Battle for Baku I

Troops of D Company, North Staffordshire Regiment, at the Mud Volcano.

Bolstered by 10,000 Armenians, Russians, Cossacks and Tartars of wildly inconsistent reliability, the British at Baku found themselves defending a shrinking perimeter against Nuri Pasha’s larger expeditionary force.

Britain’s main interest in the Baku region was the oil fields, such as this complex at Binagadi.

On the plains of Central Asia, the men of ‘Dunsterforce’ fought Germans, Turks, Bolsheviks and Persian warlords with equal verve.

All had been quiet until about 10:30 a. m., when the British defenders spotted a long line of about 1,000 Turkish infantry and cavalry marching slowly at first, then more quickly toward their positions. Suddenly the enemy struck the line with light and heavy artillery. Then all along the ridge British machine guns began sputtering in response. Five times the Turks lunged at the defenders, taking heavy casualties. At last, outflanked on the north side of the volcano and coming under machine gun fire from the reverse slope, the “Staffords” were forced to retreat to a secondary’ position among the oil derricks northeast of Baku. The final battle for the city had begun-or so it seemed. In the confused seesaw situation in Transcaucasia following the collapse of tsarist Russia, nothing could be taken as final.

Although World War l’s principal area of conflict was in Europe, the armies of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Turkey and Japan also fought in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Among the least known of those scattered battlegrounds was what at that time was called Transcaucasia and Transcaspia, an area occupied by the newly independent nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. There, secret agents from half a dozen powers prowled the streets of such legendary cities as Samarkand, Kabul and Bukhara, seeking allies and stirring up the native populations.

The Allies had suffered a major disaster when revolution overtook Russia’s creaking empire. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne on March 15, 1917. At first the new government was determined to continue the war against Germany, but then, almost in a flash, it was replaced by the more radical Bolshevik faction. With the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk by the Bolsheviks in March 1918, the Allies’ worst nightmare came true. Freed from the Russian threat in the east, Germany was able to transfer the bulk of its divisions to the Western Front.

Even worse, with the situation in revolutionary Russia still unsettled, anarchy reigned throughout much of the country. In the Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia, the Germans held sway, draining those lands of their natural resources for shipment west. Soon they were eyeing the oil fields around the city of Baku on the Caspian Sea.

Shortly before World War I broke out, London had ordered India to station troops in the Persian Gulf to protect its oil fields and the refinery at Abadan at the head of the gulf, in what is now Iran. When hostilities began, the troops went ashore. After a long and arduous campaign, the British finally occupied Baghdad on March 11, 1917. All their gains were placed in jeopardy when the Bolsheviks took Russia out of the conflict, rendering the vast landmass that stretched from the Black Sea to the Indian frontier vulnerable.

British spies throughout Central Asia began sending back disturbing signals. German agents were at work in Afghanistan and Turkestan. Turkey was seeking to take advantage of the civil chaos in the Turkic-speaking lands bordering their empire to invade Transcaspia. Furthermore, London was under the false impression that the Germans were on good terms with the new regime in St. Petersburg, making Bolshevik agitation in Central Asia and the German presence in Georgia and Armenia appear ominously coordinated.

Then in the spring of 1918 Enver Pasha, war minister, commander in chief-and de facto ruler-of Turkey, began planning an offensive to seize Baku and unite the Turkic-speaking peoples of Central Asia under Ottoman rule. Enver Pasha had cannily bided his time after the revolution until the demoralized Russian army stationed in northeastern Turkey simply melted away, leaving the way to Baku invitingly open. Enver’s scheme did not sit well with his German allies, however. When he ignored their request that he cancel the invasion, the Germans turned to the Russians and offered to stop the Turks in return for guaranteed unlimited access to Baku’s oil.

Some months before the Turkish invasion, the British, fearing a Russian withdrawal from Transcaucasia, decided to send a mission to the Georgian city of Tiflis, to help stiffen local resistance to the Germans. By the time that expeditionary’ force, called “Dunsterforce” after its commander, Maj. Gen. Lionel C. Dunsterville, reached the area, Tiflis and most of Transcaucasia was in German hands. The mission’s parameters were changed to fit the new scenario: Now Dunsterforce would seek an accommodation with local revolutionary elements at Baku in an effort to deny it to the Turks, and do what it could to aid a second mission operating farther west in Transcaspia.

Dunsterville, a boyhood friend of Rudyard Kipling and the inspiration for the character Stalky in Stalky and Co., Kipling’s novel about their schooldays together, was fluent in Russian and had commanded the 1st Infantry Brigade on India’s Northwest Frontier until he received secret orders to report lo Delhi. There, he learned the details of his new assignment. Together with a handful of 200 officers and NCOs and a small train of armored vehicles with supplies, he was to proceed north from Baghdad to the Caspian Sea. From there, his force would go to Tiflis and form the nucleus of a reorganized Russian force meant to restore the Allied line facing the Turks.

Dunsterville arrived in Baghdad on January 6, 1918, to find orders, maps and intelligence reports awaiting him-but no army. Three weeks later only 12 officers, a number of Ford vans and a single armored ear had joined him, but Dunsterville decided to carry out the first part of his orders and clear the road to Enzeli, on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, hoping the rest of his modest force would follow him in good time.

Although Dunsterville’s orders seemed clear-cut, no one knew much about the military situation in the Transcaucasus. In fact, a Turkish military mission, headed by Enver Pasha’s brother, Nuri Pasha, had arrived al Tabriz, in what is now northern Iran, in May 1917 and was organizing a Caucasus-Islam army, sometimes referred to by Enver as his “Army of Islam,” to bring Azerbaijan under Ottoman rule. Soon afterward, an advance column of 12,000 men, commanded by Mursal Pasha, was making its ponderous way toward Baku. Germans and Turks controlled most of the local railways, and Persian revolutionaries called Jangalis, led by warlord Mirza Kuchik Khan, terrorized the Enzeli road. Meanwhile, in Baku, the revolutionary central committee had reached an impasse, split between factions loyal to the Russian government at Petrograd, those eager to join with the Turks, and Armenians sympathetic to the British.

Not all the news was bad for Dunsterville, however. When the Russian army was ordered back north, Colonel Lazar Bicherakov decided to remain behind with several hundred of his Cossacks. They eventually attached themselves to Dunsterforce, which had spent the three weeks since its departure from Baghdad crossing the jungles of Gilan province and plowing its way through mountain passes filled with 12-foot snowdrifts and stray Jangalis. At last the force arrived in Enzeii, where the local Soviets insisted that Russia was out of the war and did not want anything to do with the British, including helping them to reach Baku.

That initially cool reception soon turned dangerous for Dunsterville. The local Persian population surrounded and threatened to massacre his small force. With only a single armored car to impress 2,000 Bolshevik soldiers and 5,000 rowdy Persians, Dunsterforce slipped away one night and made its way back south to the town of Hamadan, about halfway from Enzeli to Baghdad.

At Hamadan the British established temporary headquarters and a defensive line that consisted mostly of bluff until it was joined by Bicherakov’s Cossacks, who were disappointed to discover just how weak Dunsterforce really was. As winter gave way to spring and summer, however, the rest of Dunsterville’s men began to arrive, including two Martinsyde G. I00 Elephant bombers of No. 72 Squadron, flown by Lieutenants M. C. McKay and R. P. Pope, which went a long way to improve morale and impress Dunsterforces local allies. At last, with the force’s assigned complement of officers and the addition of a mobile force of 1,000 rifles of the 1/4 Hampshire Regiment and the 1/2 Gurkhas with two mountain guns, Dunstewille felt strong enough to move forward to clear the Enzeli road once and for all of Kuchik Khan’s guerrillas, who had seized the Menjil Bridge, a vital position on the way north.

Bicherakov had been agitating to attack the Turkish sympathizers for weeks, but Dunsterville had hesitated, fearing Kuchik Khan might be too much for the intemperate Cossacks. Finally he could put off the impatient Bicherakov no longer, and after talks with Kuchik Khan failed, plans were made to attack his positions at Menjil.

On June 11, Bicherakov left Dunsterville’s forward position at Qazvin, Iran, at the head of his Cossacks and elements of the 14th Hussars. At first light on June 12, the Cossacks started for the bridge expecting a hard fight, but as the Martinsydes flew over the enemy positions, their pilots discovered that the Jangalis had failed to occupy a key ridge commanding their lines. Bicherakov quickly took the ridge and sited his artillery. A German adviser with Kuchik Khan, realizing the importance of that move, called a truce and tried to bluff a victory from certain defeat, but Bicherakov refused his advances and pressed the attack. Almost immediately the Jangalis broke and ran, leaving scores of dead and wounded behind.

With the bridge secured, Bicherakov, supported by mobile units from Dunsterforce, continued northward to the provincial capital at Resht, just south of Enzeli, where on July 20 he routed the remnants of Kuchik Khan’s Jangalis in a final battle. Meanwhile, Dunsterville had established his headquarters at Qazvin, about midway between Enzeli and Hamadan.

More reinforcements reached Qazvin in July, including a group from the Royal Navy under Royal Naw Commodore David Norris, who brought with him several 4-inch guns. That happy event was dulled, however, by news of Bicherakov’s defeat east of Baku by the Turks, who had run off the newly formed Red Army and captured an armored car and its British crew, which had been on loan from Dunsterforce. By the end of the month. Mureal Pasha’s force was outside Baku. Then the Turks suddenly departed. The reason was never made clear, but the alerted German occupation forces may have posed a threat to their flanks-though that threat proved to be nothing more than a rumor. At almost the same time, the Baku Soviet was deposed and the new regime decided to make contact at Qazvin with the British, who in the meantime had received permission from London to occupy Baku.

After stressing to Baku’s new rulers, who somewhat grandiosely called themselves the Central-Caspian Dictatorship, that the British could only provide help on a small scale, Dunsterville sent Colonel C. B. Stokes to Baku with 44 men of the 4th Hampshires. They arrived just in time to help repel a desultory attack by elements of the Turkish army that had been left behind.

Two days later, Colonel R. Keyworth arrived with the 7th North Staffordshires to organize the city’s defense. He found only a few defenses there, all sited improperly. Nobody knew what supplies were available or where they were located. There was little food, fodder or oil. Worst of all, the local soldiery was little better than a disorganized mob.

Receiving this disheartening news back at Enzeli, Dunsterville was moved to commandeer three local ships, President Krüger, Abo and Kursk, and arm them with heavy guns, thus providing the means to evacuate his men from Baku if the need arose. Dunsterville himself landed on August 16, along with a battalion each of the understrength 9th Warwickshire and 9th Worcestershire regiments, which were immediately sent into the thin defensive line around the city. Dunstenville then met with the town’s new rulers to impress upon them the fact that although every effort would be made to prepare their men for battle, they could not depend solely on Dunsterforces 1,000 or so men to defend Baku.

Ten days later, Nuri Pasha, learning that the Germans had no men to spare in trying to stop him-even if they contemplated so extreme a move against their ally-once again ordered advance elements of his 60,000-man army to move on Baku. The British had used every day following their arrival to assemble the city’s stocks of weapons and ammunition and organize an army of 10,000 men. With all they had accomplished in the short time at their disposal, however, the British knew that Baku could not withstand a determined attack. Their 7,000 Armenian conscripts were unreliable, the 3,000 Russian troops would break and run at a moment’s notice and the Tartar population only waited for a Turkish victory to rise up and slaughter the defenders.

Battle for Baku II

Troops of the 7th North Staffordshire march from Baladjari to reinforce Binagadi Hill on August 31.

One of the two Martinsyde G. 100 Elephants of No.72 squadron, Royal Air Force attached to “Dunsterforce” stands by for its next mission.

A 6-inch artillery piece manned by Armenian and British gunners engages the Turks as the struggle for Baku reaches its climax. The Turks ultimately won out, though they would not hold their prize for long.

Baku sat on the southern shore of a narrow spit of land that stuck out into the western side of the Caspian Sea. A series of cliffs to the east of the city were dominated by the railroad that crept from the west to service the oil fields to the northwest of the town and then circled eastward to Baku’s seaport. Beyond the cliffs, a succession of ridges formed the high ground of the tiny peninsula, among which gathered a number of salt lakes and marshes. It was on that high ground, from which they could study the enemy’s movements, that Stokes and the other British officers decided they could best defend the city. Thus the Turkish charge that struck the North Staffordshires atop the Mud Volcano on the morning of August 26 was expected.

The Turks attacked with more than 1,000 men, supported by cavalry and artillery. Four times the Staffords threw them back, but with no sign of their expected Armenian reinforcements they were eventually forced to abandon their position atop the volcano after losing all of their officers and 80 men.

Dunsterville rushed reinforcements from Baku aboard a caravan of careening trucks. Sixty Staffords and 70 Warwicks arrived on the scene too late to help and were forced to join the dozen or so survivors as they retreated to new positions among the oil derricks east of the volcano. A company of the 9th Worcesters joined them there in mid-aftemoon.

The position atop the volcano had been the key to Dunsterville’s entire line, and when its defenders were forced to retreat, the whole 19-mile front was obliged to fall back to an inner line of prepared positions. By early afternoon, the volcano was in Turkish hands.

At the same time as they attacked the volcano, the Turks moved out from the village of Novkhany on the north side of the peninsula, where a sunken road allowed them to approach close to the British lines while under cover. They charged a hill east of the village of Binagadi, held by a battalion of Armenian conscripts. When word reached them of the attack on the volcano, a company of North Staffords was told to abandon their positions at Diga and reinforce the Armenians on Binagadi Hill. When they reached the crest, however, the British found it deserted, with 250 Turks coming up the opposite side. The company lost 10 men killed and wounded before it threw back the attack with a hail of lead from its Lewis machine guns and rifles at point-blank range. A second assault was also repelled, and the men breathed easier when they saw the Turks retire toward Novkhany.

Dunsterville found his fallback position was a crooked, unsatisfactory line, inferior to the first. In addition, the Turks now commanded the heights atop the volcano and were bombarding the city with artillery fire. Also disturbing was the news that conscripts had abandoned the Armenian hilltop. It seemed to be the same everywhere-while his men fought off the Turks, the local militia loitered in town and Russian soldiers attended political meetings. Dunsterville faced a difficult dilemma-if his men were all that stood between the Turks and Baku, they were surely doomed to failure, but if he decided to abandon the city, he would be leaving the valuable oil fields in enemy hands.

Talks with the Baku government yielded glib promises from the local commander, a General Dukuchayev, that his forces would fight to the death. The central committee adamantly resisted Dunsterville’s more realistic suggestion-that they prepare to destroy the oil fields-since its members considered them the city’s only claim to importance.

Meanwhile, the Turkish shelling increased. The Hotel d’Europe, Dunsterville’s headquarters, was reduced to rubble, forcing him to relocate to another hotel. That building too came under accurate fire, and the British began to suspect that there was a spy in their midst. After the war, they learned that a Turkish colonel, disguised as a Tartar fodder merchant, had been spotting for the enemy artillery all along.

On August 31, Mursal Pasha struck again at Binagadi Hill. Early that morning, the 7th North Staffords under the command of Lieutenant R. C. Petty brushed off a strong enemy patrol, then reported that at least 500 Turks were forming up to attack. The British quickly shifted a company of Warwicks to the center of the oil derricks near Binagadi Hill to be held in reserve, and sent an armored train filled with Russians to Baladjari village to pin down the enemy at the Mud Volcano. At 6 a. m. Turkish machine guns and artillery opened an enfilading fire on the men on Binagadi Hill, inflicting heavy casualties. With Lieutenant Petty dead, the British survivors retreated to a fallback position called Warwick Castle. A nearby Armenian unit took too long to react, arriving long after the hill had been abandoned. The Armenian reinforcements failed to hold their new position on the right, however, and the retreat of another battalion on the left made Warwick Castle indefensible. The remainder of the Warwicks then made a fighting retreat through a forest of oil derricks to the northeast. A second company of Warwicks, ordered to plug the gap in the new line, found the position amid the derricks too weak. After nightfall, everyone was pulled farther back to Baladjari.

Angry at the sight of hundreds of demoralized Russian troops streaming through the streets of Baku even as his own men were dying in their defense, Dunsterville fired off none-too-polite letters to General Dukuchayev, who tried to soothe the British officer by inviting him to attend a council of war. That meeting devolved into a series of long-winded speeches suggesting unlikely plans for the city’s defense. “Stalky” expressed his disgust with his allies by walking out of the meeting.

All this time Dunsterville had kept his navy, now grown to four ships, close at hand in Baku’s port. On September 1, he notified the central committee that there was nothing more his men could do for the city so long as its local defenders refused to join the British at the front. Over the next few days, a flurry of correspondence produced a provisional promise from Dunsterville to remain in Baku if the Russians showed more spirit.

A few days later, a deserter who identified himself as being from the Turkish 10th Division informed the defenders that the Turks planned a major attack on the 14th. In the meantime, 500 men and 10 machine guns from Bicherakov’s force had arrived and immediately found a place in the city’s new line of defense. Because their informer was unable to tell them just where the Turkish attack would come, the defenders were forced to draw their perimeter tight around Baku, in some places leaving little room for maneuver or retreat. The heights to the immediate south of the city near the Bibi Eibal oil fields were held by 60 men of A Company, North Staffords, while 100 Armenians were held in reserve. Just to the north and hugging light to Baku itself was Wolfs Gap, a narrow space between hills crucial to the city’s defense, manned by Russians with two machine guns, two howitzers and a battery of field guns. B Company of the North Staffords held the thin line from Wolfs Gap to the village of Khoja Hasan, northwest of Baku, which was held by more Armenians and a battery of howitzers. Bicherakov’s Cossacks watched the line from Khoja Hasan to Baladjari, At Baladjari two companies of the 9th Worcesters were settled in the village even as the 9th Royal Warwicks watched the line out to the Damabul Salt Lake and four machine guns and an armored car machine gun squadron guarded its eastern shore. Bad weather had grounded Dunsterville’s liny air force, leaving him guessing as to just where Nuri Pasha intended to strike next along his 14-mile-long front. Then, before dawn on September 14, a Turkish artillery barrage struck everywhere along the line. Eight to 10 battalions of Turkish infantry swarmed across the railroad tracks south of Khoja Hasan, rolled over Bicherakov’s stunned Russians, breached Wolfs Gap and gained the cliffs overlooking Baku. The 39th Brigade rushed to stem the tide but lacked the strength to throw the Turks from the heights. Lieutenants McKay and Pope, finding their Martinsydes unserviceable, burned them and joined the British infantry. Dukuchayev ordered counterattacks, but due to poor leadership his men accomplished little. The Turks poured in reinforcements and consolidated their hold along the cliffs. There, the action halted, but the Turks awaited only the arrival of artillery on the heights before swooping down into the city.

With scattered artillery fire pounding Baku and his last line of defense breached, Dunsterville decided that further resistance was futile. Accordingly, he ordered the Royal Navy to have its ships ready to evacuate Dunsterforce. At 8 p. m., with their positions around the city deteriorating fast in the face of renewed Turkish attacks, the Warwicks and Worcesters, screened on the left flank by the North Staffords, began abandoning their places in the line and streamed toward the docks. The evacuation was complicated by the knowledge that if Baku’s populace learned they were leaving, they would become hostile and an angry central committee might turn the guns of its own ships in the harbor on the British vessels. The sick and wounded were evacuated first aboard the improvised hospital ships Kursk and Abo, which then managed to slip away from the city unnoticed. Next, Dunsterforce loaded its equipment and ammunition on the 200-ton Armenian.

During a propitious lull in the fighting, the last elements of Dunsterforce found their places aboard President Krüger at 10 p. m. Just before the crew cast off, a Russian soldier noticed the activity around the British vessel, and minutes later Dunsterville was confronted by two members of the central committee. They warned him that if he was leaving, they would act to stop him. Dunsterville reminded them of his warning that if greater efforts were not forthcoming from their own men, he would have no choice but to abandon the city. He then ordered the ship to cast off.

With Baku lit by flames and its streets beginning to ring with the din of combat, Krüger began heading out to sea. Its leave-taking was not without a moment of tension, when all its lights suddenly and inexplicably flashed on. Before they were once more extinguished, a Russian guard ship spotted them. The vessel ordered Kruger to halt, then opened lire. Luckily for the British, the .shots fell short, and the ship made good its escape. Armenian, however, still lay somewhere behind Kruger, surrounded by now-alerted Russians. Twelve hour’s later, it entered Enzeli Harbor, having been struck six times by Turkish fire that miraculously had not touched off the ammunition on board.

The mission to Baku had cost Dunsterforce 180 men dead, wounded and missing. Mursal Pasha later stated that the Turks had suffered 2,000 casualties. The Turks’ hard-won victory would prove less than satisfactory, however. With its armies in Palestine and Mesopotamia smashed, the Ottoman Empire signed an armistice on October 30, 1918.

On November 17, a British military mission returned to reoccupy Baku and supervise the removal of Nuri and Mursal Pasha’s forces. In London, however, the failure of Dunsterforce to hold Baku was seen as an embarrassment, and Dunsterville became its scapegoat.

With the war ended, British forces in Transcaucasia found their mission changing, as they became involved with the tangled politics of revolutionary Russia. As the Allied intervention in that country ran its course, limits were placed on British activities in Central Asia, followed by disengagement. By April 1919, it was all over. The British soldiers who had been cast into the farthest comers of the tsar’s empire to keep it out of the hands of Germany and Turkey, then later the Bolsheviks, were reassigned to their accustomed billets in India, the Middle East and England itself. The strange saga of Dunsterforce and its courageous stand receded from the consciousness of the West for the better part of 60 years, until the tumultuous events of the 1980s, 1990s and the early 21st century once again placed Transcaspia at the center of world conflict.

Further reading, A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fronikin; Like Hidden Fire, by Peter Hopkirk; and The Baku Commune, 1917-18, by Ronald G. Suny.

The Second Battle of Newbury, October 28th, 1644

The interest of this battle resides in its strategical rather than its tactical aspect. In this it is unique among all the battles of the great Civil War.

The situation leading up to the battle is somewhat involved and needs a map of Southern England by which to follow it. Stated in the broadest terms, the Royalist army, on its return from its victorious campaign in the west over the Earl of Essex, had by mid-October, 1644, reached Salisbury. The Roundheads at this moment had three separate armies in the field. The Earl of Manchester was at Reading, the Earl of Essex was reforming his defeated army at Portsmouth, and Sir William Waller was falling back before the King and was now at Andover. In addition the Roundheads had three sieges on their hands, Donnington Castle (a mile to the north of Newbury), Basing House (a mile east of Basingstoke), and Banbury. The approach of the Royal army seemed to threaten the first two. The very threat had this effect on the besiegers of Donnington Castle, who, faced by the resolute defence of Colonel Boys, abandoned the siege and fell back on Reading on October 18th. There remained Basing House. With the object of relieving it, the King resumed his advance on October 18th, driving Waller out of Andover the same day.

Meanwhile the three Parliamentary armies were steadily converging. On the 16th Manchester reached Basingstoke from Reading. On the next day Essex, advancing from Portsmouth, reached Alresford (12 miles south of Basingstoke), and on the 19th joined Manchester there. Meanwhile Waller was also drawing near from Andover, and on the 21st all three armies were united at Basingstoke. The total now concentrated came to 19,000 men, one of the largest armies on either side that had yet appeared in the field. But if formidable in numbers it was less so in its command. Instead of appointing one commander-in-chief for this army, the egregious Committee of Both Kingdoms placed it in commission under a council composed of Manchester, Essex, Waller and other officers, and even two complete civilians; (reminding one of the Dutch Deputies that accompanied Marlborough’s army in the field).

Undeterred by this formidable concentration in front of him, the King pushed boldly forward and reached Kingsclerc on October 21st. Here he was midway between the two threatened posts, Donnington Castle and Basing House. But he was too late to relieve Basing House, so he now turned north towards Donnington Castle, entering Newbury next day, the 22nd.

From Newbury Charles sent a force of horse under the Earl of Northampton to the relief of Banbury, which was speedily effected by it. But this left him with only 9,000 men at Newbury. The Roundheads’ Council of War decided to attack the Royalist army without further delay, and set out for the purpose on October 25th. Next day they were established on Clay Hill, one mile to the northeast of Newbury.

Thus the situation on the evening of October 26th was that the Roundheads, 19,000 strong were confronting the Royalists, 10,000 strong, the two armies facing respectively west and east, immediately to the north of Newbury. It looked as if the King had been outmanoeuvred; but there were certain points in his favour which appeared to justify his decision to stand his ground. The first was the natural strength of the position that he occupied. His right flank was protected by the river Kennet and the town of Newbury in which he kept a garrison; his left by a small tributary, the Lambourn, while still further to the left rear, stood the formidable Donnington Castle, under its heroic defender, Colonel Boys (whom the King knighted on the field for his spirited defence, shortly before the battle). So much for the flanks. The centre rested on a large house occupied by a Mr. Dolman and now called Shaw House. Round three sides of the garden, forming a sort of courtyard, were some ancient embankments. The house formed a veritable fortress, like Hougoumont in a later and more famous battle. The Royalists had another but intangible advantage, namely the weak and divided command of their opponents. We have seen that the command was vested in a Council—a notoriously bad form of command in war. Moreover, the senior general on that Council was probably the most inefficient commander of a considerable army that ever fought in England. The Earl of Manchester, to do him justice, never set up to be a soldier; he preferred to regard himself as a civilian who had only assumed command at the call of duty. Apparently even the Parliamentarians were influenced by the desire to have a commander with ‘a handle to his name’; whereas Cromwell, though fresh from his triumph at Marston Moor, was relegated to a subordinate command of horse. The Earl of Essex had gone sick and his army was itself given a divided command in the persons of Skippon and Balfour.

But this peculiar council now nerved itself to a remarkable decision—one that gives this battle its distinctive interest. Not liking the look of the Royalist position from the front, the council decided—on whose proposition does not appear—to attack it simultaneously from front and rear. To encompass this would entail a wide detour by the outflanking column owing to the position of Donnington Castle on the left rear—a site that might have been purposely selected to frustrate such a manœuvre. The route decided on was as follows: three miles north-east nearly to Hermitage—west, via Chieveley to North Heath—south to Winterbourne—west to Boxford—south to Wickham Heath—south-east to Speen. Total 13 miles. It was a bold decision to take, even though the Royalist army was in great inferiority; for the council could not have known the exact strength of their opponents, and the tendency is to overrate the size of the opposing army. Including a period for rest and sleep the march would take the best part of 24 hours, and during that time the remainder of the army risked being attacked by the whole force of the Royalists. But this decision is a good example of the profound truth that in war risks must be taken. In actual fact there was never much prospect of the King attacking the main army during this period. By some means he managed to get wind of the flanking move, and in order to counter it he also divided his forces and detached Prince Maurice’s detachment to occupy a position to the west of Speen, facing west.

The reserve, consisting of horse and the artillery train, was stationed in the open in a large field, which can still be identified, stretching from the northern outskirts of the town to the banks of the Lambourn River. Maurice took up his position on the rising ground just to the west of Speen village, and spent the morning of October 27th busily entrenching his position.

Meanwhile the outflanking force—Essex’s army, under Skippon and Balfour, with Waller’s and Cromwell’s horse—was steadily plodding on its long, circuitous march. Skippon, Balfour and Waller appear to have shared the command—a strange arrangement! It had set out shortly after midnight and halted to bivouac at Heath End. This outflanking force constituted the greater part of the army—probably two-thirds of it, though exact figures are not given.

We must now for a moment consider the strategy of operations on ‘exterior lines’, such as this was: i.e. a concentric attack from two or more different directions. To make success probable, the army undertaking it should be in superior strength to its opponents, else there is the danger that the enemy, making use of his central position on ‘interior lines’, will attack and overwhelm each opponent in turn. To diminish the risk of this, and to add to the effectiveness of the blow, it is necessary that both forces should attack simultaneously. Therein lies the snag—or rather, there it used to lie before the days of improved communications, telegraphy and telephony, wireless, etc. For two widely separated forces, out of sight of each other, found it difficult, if not impossible, to co-ordinate their attacks. It is for this reason that the operation was so seldom attempted, and if attempted, so seldom was successful in olden days. Indeed, the second Battle of Newbury is the only clear-cut example of it in the course of the Civil War.

But in spite of the difficulties and hazards inherent in an operation on exterior lines in the seventeenth century, there remained one form of communication common to both ancient and modern times—sound. Manchester arranged very sensibly in my opinion, that Skippon should fire his cannon as a signal that he was in position and about to attack; on hearing that signal Manchester would also attack; thus co-ordination would be achieved in the simplest possible manner. It seemed almost foolproof—but nothing is foolproof in war.


Manchester attempted a feint attack in the early morning. The tendency of such attacks is either to be transparently feints, or to be pushed too far. The latter happened in this case and the attacking troops were only extricated with difficulty.

Skippon came into contact with Prince Maurice’s detachment at about 3 p.m. The exact time is disputed; even to-day it is difficult to ascertain exact times of occurrences in the course of an encounter battle, and naturally it was much more difficult then. It is important to fix this moment though, in view of what transpired, and anyway it cannot have been far from 3 p.m. There remained two hours of daylight (it was November old New Style). If Manchester’s attack was to prove effective against the strong Shaw House position there was no time to lose. But no sound came from that part of the field. Meanwhile the attack on Prince Maurice was being launched. In spite of their fatigue after their long march, the Roundheads attacked resolutely. The trenches to the west of Speen had not been completed, and the position was, after a sanguinary struggle, overrun, and the guns defending it, captured from Essex at Lostwithiel, were, by a curious coincidence, recaptured by Essex’s own men. The Royalist foot was sent reeling down the road into and through the village of Speen, and even further. The situation for the Royalists looked critical. The King himself was with the Royal princes, standing at the head of his reserve in the open field, when some fleeing cavalry came charging past him. Charles did his best by his own personal efforts to rally them, but without marked success. At this critical moment a small reinforcement to either side would decide the issue, as so often happens in war. There was an obvious quarter from where it might be reasonably expected. Hitherto we have not spoken of the redoubtable Oliver Cromwell, whose cavalry had added such lustre to his name on the field of Marston Moor, only three months before. He held the left, or northern flank of the line (Balfour held the southern) and hitherto had been but lightly engaged. Accounts as to his action on this day are conflicting. But though we cannot credit the assertion of Manchester that ‘on that day there was no service at all performed by Cromwell’ (for the two were at enmity), it does not seem that Cromwell exerted himself or intervened at this decisive moment. Excuses are made for him, the commonest being that his troopers were harried by the artillery fire from Donnington Castle. This will not do. Though we have no record of the number of guns in the castle it cannot have been very great; there was not room for a large number. Moreover, the fire of these guns was exceedingly slow, and even at the present day the cavalry would not constitute an easy target moving quickly across the front. The range was about 1,000 yards, and the most they can have effected was to be a ‘nuisance value’ to Cromwell’s men. I conclude, therefore, that either Cromwell feared overmuch the potential danger residing in the armament of Donnington Castle, or else his heart, to put it bluntly, was not in the affair. He gives the impression of being slightly disgruntled on this occasion. Even the greatest of men suffer from human frailties.

Whatever the cause, Cromwell failed to effect a successful intervention; on the contrary it was a Royalist, Lord Cleveland, who seized this critical moment to charge with his brigade. The battle fluctuated uncertainly for some time, but it was decided in this sector by two further charges by Sir John Cansfield and the King’s Life Guards. The Roundheads were hurled back to Speen, the King’s personal safety was secured, and the battle on this portion of the front became stationary for the remaining few moments of daylight.

Meanwhile what was happening on the opposite side of the field? Again we are in the presence of controversy. The commonly accepted story is that Manchester refused, despite the reiterated appeals of those around him, to intervene, in spite of the engagement he had made to do so. But those who assert this do not explain how it then came about that Manchester did eventually intervene. Who, or what was it that caused him eventually to change his mind? Critics are silent on this point. In point of fact, his troops did attack, though as in the previous case it is impossible to ascertain precisely at what hour this happened. Partly these conflicting accounts are due to the fact that the precise moment of the commencement of such an attack is not clear-cut or clearly defined; there would be no established ‘zero hour’ with watches synchronized, and so on. One narrator might consider the beginning of the attack the moment at which the commander issued his orders for the attack; another might consider it the moment when they actually started to advance; a third, when they got to ‘push of pike’. Moreover, the clash would come at slightly different moments in different parts of the front. What I suspect happened was that Manchester was so doubtful as to whether the attack would take place that day at all, that he did not issue any ‘warning order’ to his troops, preferring to wait until the moment actually arrived when he would issue the orders that seemed appropriate to the occasion. This would not be a prudent or far-seeing method of procedure (Manchester was a bad general), but that is very different from saying that the Earl of Manchester left his comrades in the lurch.

Assuming then that he set about launching an attack as soon as he heard the cannonade opening, it might easily take about one hour before the attackers actually came to blows with the enemy. His plan was not a particularly simple one; the attack was to be delivered by two columns, one to attack Shaw House from the north-east, and the other from the south-east. From the top of Clay Hill, where his troops were drawn up, to Shaw House is 2,000 yards. It would take the foot a good 30 minutes to cover this distance, without any delays, once they had been marshalled in order. An allowance of one hour is not in the least excessive to allow from the time when Manchester, having formed his plan, sent it out to the recipients, to the time when the first clash occurred. If Skippon’s attack started at 3 p.m. that means that Manchester’s, under these circumstances, would materialize at about 4 p.m. which is probably what actually occurred. The sun sets at 4.2 p.m. on that day, and the moon had not risen. The fight therefore took place in the gathering darkness, as is agreed on all hands. My contention receives support from Simeon Ashe, the Earl’s chaplain. According to this worthy, Manchester was able to see from Clay Hill the attack on Speen (the contours show that this should be possible) and ‘animated with this encouraging sight, the Earl prepared to descend to the more difficult work of forcing the strong position at Dolman’s house’. Money states that Manchester, ‘busy with his preparations for advancing in force, rode to and fro and spiritedly addressed his men’.

So the attack was launched, while still the action was in full swing on the opposite flank. Thus were the two essential conditions of an operation on exterior lines—superior numbers, and a simultaneous attack—observed. The enemy was thus not in a position to turn his central position to account by concentrating against first one and then the other of his opponents. I can find no evidence that Charles even attempted this. His reserves in the field to the north of Newbury nearly midway between Shaw House and Speen, were in a good position to execute this if they got the chance, and were given enough time; but the nearly simultaneous hostile attack rendered that impossible. What then saved the Royalists? Undoubtedly the night. Manchester’s attack, after a homeric contest in the garden of Shaw House, was decisively repulsed, and some of his troops were chased back as far as Clay Hill; but the far more serious attack on the west would have completely borne down its vastly inferior opponents, despite the intervention of the guns at Donnington Castle, had darkness not put an end to the battle. Thus was a risky and enterprising plan justified by its success.

The King, who had decided that morning that if he were attacked on both sides he would slip away to the north by night and try to regain Oxford, carried out his plan to the letter. He left his guns in Donnington Castle, and while he himself with an escort rode to join Prince Rupert at Bath, the army marched through the night, over King Alfred’s famous battlefield of Ashdown, to Wallingford, and reached Oxford next day. Meanwhile the Roundheads were fast asleep, and when morning dawned were still ignorant of the departure of the royal army. The upshot of First Newbury had repeated itself.


This battlefield, unlike that of First Newbury, presents few problems. The three key points, Shaw House, Speen Village, and Donnington Castle are all unambiguous. It is an extremely easy battle to follow either on foot or in a car. All that is necessary is to leave Newbury by the Hermitage road, and after crossing the Lambourn you come to Shaw House. Inside the house you may see the bullet mark in a first-floor room which, tradition relates, nearly hit the King. Round the garden the old embankment is still in existence. Immediately beyond the garden to the east is a knoll surmounted by a water-tower. From here Clay Hill, from which Manchester attacked, is plainly visible, and the course of this attack can easily be followed. A short walk through the village of Donnington then takes up to Donnington Castle. From the battlements of the Gatehouse, or even from the ground at its foot, the Speen battle can be followed in detail. It requires but little imagination to picture the excitement of the Royalist gunners as they spotted the approach of the Parliamentary army. It would be visible for over a mile along the ridge before it contacted Maurice’s entrenchments. A few shots were fired at this point, the range being about 1,800 yards. Then when Cromwell’s troopers appeared in the meadows almost at their feet the excitement must have been intensified, the range shortening to 800 yards. Sir John Boys, possibly accompanied for part of the time by the King himself, no doubt stood in the corner of the nearest (south-west) turret of the gatehouse, with his eye glued to his ‘perspective glass’—if he possessed one. In short, the layout is so straightforward that no further space need be devoted to describing this battlefield.

Alfred H. Burne


The storming of Basing House Several fortified places, such as Basing House in Hampshire, were captured by storm. After besieging the place, the attackers began to dig trenches towards the walls. As they moved closer, batteries of cannon began to bombard the walls to create a breach. Once this was achieved, an assault was made with troops charging towards the breach. The Parliamentarians under the command of Oliver Cromwell stormed Basing House on 14 October 1645.

The siege of Basing House was one of the most celebrated events of the Civil War. There were in fact three sieges the first the siege of 11 July 1644 when the Parliamentarian Colonel Richard Norton laid siege to the Marquis of Winchester. The first siege had proved difficult so the second was intended to be carried by artillery at a distance. Two large mortars were sent to the siege on 20 July with ‘divers grenadoes’ to cause the besieged trouble. It is thought that these mortars were able to fire stone as well as mortar shell. They arrived on 28 July and lobbed 361b stones into the house as well as grenadoes or shell. The shell were more likely to have been the terror weapon because their explosive capability could not be defended against. Loading the mortars was a time-consuming and dangerous business as the shell had to be loaded and then slung on a bar with two chains to be placed in the muzzle. It is not clear when the idea was hit upon that the burning of the propellant would light the fuse at the same time but some manuscripts mention it whereas others do not. The greatest fear was that the shells would explode in the mouth of the mortar before being fired and so they were often coated with a form of paint to prevent this.


At the time of the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, Basing House belonged to John Paulet, the fifth Marquis of Winchester, who was a supporter of King Charles I. As a consequence, parliamentary forces invested Basing House on three different occasions, with the Royalists successfully breaking the first two sieges.

The final siege started in August 1645 when Colonel John Dalbier, with 800 troops, took up position around the walls. The garrison held out, despite further reinforcements to the attacking force, until Oliver Cromwell arrived with a heavy siege-train. By 13 October 1645, the New House had been taken and the defences of the Old House breached. The final storming took place across the link from the New House. Many valuable goods were carried off and a fire destroyed the building. As with other houses and castles destroyed at the time, its dressed stone was sold off at auction. Local villagers were encouraged to replace wattle and daub panels in their houses with bricks from the house, or to build new houses in brick.


King Charles I faced many political and economic problems throughout the early years of his reign. By 1640, England had become involved in the Bishops’ War in Scotland and the King needed money to support his troops there. Parliament refused to grant such help without improved laws and taxes. King Charles would not comply with their terms and two years of conflict and criticism followed as the British were overburdened with what were seen as the monarch’s unjust and oppressive actions. When the King tried to arrest several members of the House of Commons, Parliament was outraged. Then he demanded control of local arsenals. He was refused. Charles left London for Nottingham where, in August 1642, he raised his personal Royal Standard and declared war upon the Parliament of England.

At this time, many families in England and Wales were now called upon to consider their loyalties. For one man, this was an easier decision than for most. John Paulet, 5th Marquis of Winchester, resident of Basing House in Hampshire, lived up to the family motto, “Aymez Loyaulté” – Love Loyalty – and supported the King.

Paulet had set about fortifying his palatial mansion and collecting arms for fifteen hundred men, some time in advance of these events; but these he was obliged to sell by order of the House of Commons. Left with only six men and six muskets at the outbreak of Civil War, he was quickly attacked by Parliamentarian forces. The small party managed to beat off these initial attacks however and the Marquis was able to strengthen his position. He began to offer shelter to friends in need: among them, the ageing Thomas Fuller and Inigo Jones.

At the end of July 1643, the Marquis was heavily attacked by Colonel Norton of Southwick Park and Colonel Harvey, ‘a decayed silk man,’ who had recently dispersed a crowd of women demanding peace in London. The attack was held off for a while but help came only just in time with the arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel Peake and one hundred musketeers from Oxford. Among the new faces at Basing were two further artists seeking sanctuary: the engraver, William Faithorne, and the artist, Wenceslas Hollar. Another was the man of letters, Thomas Johnston, the first man to write a book on English flora. He was a man of great courage but was shot and killed during the long siege at Basing.

Harvey and the Roundhead troops withdrew but, a few days later, the attack began again in earnest. The London Trained Bands, predecessors of the Royal Marines, were brought in to deal with the five hundred strong ‘Papist’ garrison at Basing. However, the house’s fortifications had been improved and the attack was held off with only eleven guns and muskets. Fourteen and a half acres were now being defended. Hollar’s etching, made during a lull, shows the extent of the grounds.


The trained bands withdrew saying that Basing House was larger than the Tower of London. So Sir William Waller advanced from Farnham Castle with seven thousand men to finish off the Marquis and his followers. Free passage out of the citadel was offered to women and children, but refused, and nine days of hard fighting began. Waller tried to storm the place but, after three days of savage fighting, was forced to retire to Farnham once more, ‘having dishonoured and bruised his army’. Besides, the Royalist General, Lord Hopton, was on the march to relieve Basing.

On 18th August 1643, Parliament declared the Marquis of Winchester guilty of high treason and his vast estates around the country were all confiscated. This had little affect on John Paulet though, after all he had been through. Basing House, with Donnington Castle near Newbury, now guarded the road to the west and Winchester was determined to hold it for as long as possible. Lord Hopton held the city of Winchester for the King and helped Basing much. As he was a Cornishman, he realised how important their position was. Many raiding parties went our from Basing for provisions and there were spies on both sides. There is record of only one. Tobias Beasley who made bullets at Basing, we are told, ‘showed great reluctance to go off the ladder.’

In December 1643, certain Royal cooks came to Basing with some of Prince Rupert’s horse. This led to the rumour that the King had removed much silver and other treasure from the fortress himself. Tradition tells us that the Marquis himself exclaimed, “If the King had no more ground in England but Basing House he would adventure it as he did and so maintain it to the uttermost, comforting himself that Basing House was called Loyalty.”

In March 1644, Waller was victorious at the Battle of Cheriton not far away, which disrupted the King’s schemes. Hopton made good his retreat to Basing and fell back to Oxford, via Reading. Winchester and Basing were now the only places left to the King in the whole of Hampshire.

Some of the garrison at Basing began to lose heart. The Marquis’ own brother, Edward, turned traitor and opened negotiations with Waller. The plot was only uncovered after the unexpected desertion of the Roundhead, Sir Richard Granville, who revealed all. Lord Edward was spared his life but was forced to act as executioner to his fellow conspirators.

All through 1644, the garrison held out against heavy assaults. They would not have lasted the winter though, if it had not been for the brave Colonel Sir Henry Gage who marched from Oxford with relief troops, having to fight overwhelming numbers on Chineham Down. They got through though, reuniting families and chasing the Roundheads out of Basingstoke, collecting their stores and taking them to Basing. But, when Gage left for Oxford again, the Roundheads soon returned. Despite famine and disease, the little garrison held out, making bullets from the lead on the roofs and refusing all forms of surrender.

On May Day 1645, five hundred Royalist Protestants marched out of Basing, after a religious dispute and travelled to Donnington Castle, still unbesieged and held by the King; but they were very properly refused admission by the gallant Sir John Boys, himself a Protestant. Only a small body of Catholics, their wives, children and a few elderly women were now left at Basing, but they lasted through the summer and all demands to surrender were again refused. Then, on 8th October, Oliver Cromwell himself arrived with a brigade of the New Model Army, fresh from the capture of one of the most ancient cities in England, Winchester. Basing House was the remaining place in Hampshire still holding out for the King. The end was in sight, but the garrison was going to go down fighting.

On the 13th, a last patrol was sent out and captured prisoners included Captain Robert Hammond, later the King’s gaoler at Carisbrooke Castle. Then, on the morning of the 14th October 1645, at dawn, the Ironsides launched a final attack and intaking of Basing House. The small garrison could never have stopped these fresh soldiers, but it is said they were surprised while playing cards. This story is unlikely, but a phrase has caught on and ‘Clubs are trumps, as when Basing House was taken’ is a, now little-known unfortunately, Hampshire saying. The final assault did not take long. Three thousand men were employed in the attack and a further four thousand ringed the house out. There was no escape. Yet men fought to the death at sword point. At the end, there were only two hundred prisoners, including women and children.

Then came the looting. All the women and most of the men were stripped of their clothes. Most of the men were hanged, certainly the four catholic priests. The Roundhead soldiers took all they could. Cromwell collected a quarter of a million pounds worth of loot at Basing that day, which he called “good encouragement”. Then the house was set on fire, some say by accident, but many of the garrison, some seventy-four still alive, perished in the flames.

Lastly, Cromwell let the villagers in and it did not take them long to cart away the bricks in order to rebuild their houses. Of the Marquis, he was held prisoner in the Bell Inn in Basingstoke before being taken to the Tower. Cromwell spared his life though and allowed him to escape to France. After the restoration, he returned to England and retired to his wife’s property, Englefield House in Berkshire. His memorial can be seen in the church there with an epitaph by Dryden. Over his actual grave lies a plain blue marble slab, but with powerful words. It reads, ‘Here lieth interred the body of the most noble and mighty prince, John Powlet, Marquis of Winchester, Earl of Wiltshire, Baron St. John of Basing, Most Marquis of England. A man of exemplar piety towards God and the inviolable fidelity to his Sovereign in whose cause fortified his house of Basing and defended it against the rebels to the last extremity.’



MUSKETEER – Suez Crisis (1956)

Royal Marine commando raiding Port Said during Operation Musketeer- Suez Crisis 1956


The Suez Crisis was one of the major events of the Cold War. It ended Britain’s pretensions to be a world superpower, fatally weakened its hold on what remained of its empire, placed a dangerous strain on U. S.-Soviet relations, strengthened the position of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, and distracted world attention from the concurrent Soviet military intervention in Hungary.

The Suez Crisis had its origins in the development plans of Nasser. The Egyptian president hoped to enhance his prestige and improve the quality of life for his nation’s growing population by carrying out long-discussed plans to construct a high dam on the upper Nile River at Aswan to provide electric power. To finance the project, he sought assistance from the Western powers. But he had also been endeavoring to build up and modernize the Egyptian military. Toward that end, he had sought to acquire modern weapons from the United States and other Western nations. When the U. S. government refused to supply the advanced arms, which it believed might be used against Israel, in 1955 Nasser turned to the communist bloc. This step incurred the displeasure of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as did Nasser’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and his frequent denunciations of the U. S.-supported Baghdad Pact.

Resentment over Nasser’s efforts to play East against West and especially his decision to turn to the communist bloc for arms led the Eisenhower administration to block financing of the Aswan Dam project through the World Bank. U. S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had earlier assured Nasser of U. S. support, but on 19 June 1956, Dulles announced that U. S. assistance for the Aswan Dam project would not be forthcoming. The British government immediately followed suit.

Nasser’s response to this humiliating rebuff came a week later, on 26 July, when he nationalized the Suez Canal. He had contemplated such a move for some time, but the U. S. decision prompted its timing. Seizure of the canal would not only provide additional funding for the Aswan project but would also make Nasser a hero in the eyes of many Arab nationalists.

The British government regarded the sea-level Suez Canal, which connected the eastern Mediterranean with the Red Sea across Egyptian territory, as its lifeline to Middle Eastern oil and the Far East. The canal, built by a private company headed by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, had opened to much fanfare in 1869. It quickly altered the trade routes of the world, and two-thirds of the tonnage passing through the canal was British. Khedive Ismail Pasha, who owned 44 percent of the company shares, found himself in dire financial straits, and in 1875 the British government stepped in and purchased his shares. In 1878 Britain acquired the island of Cyprus north of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, further strengthening its position in the eastern Mediterranean north of Egypt. The British also increased their role in Egyptian financial affairs, and in 1882 they intervened militarily in Egypt, promising to depart once order had been restored. Britain remained in Egypt and in effect controlled its affairs through World War II.

In 1952, a nationalist coup d’état took place in Egypt that ultimately brought Nasser to power. He was a staunch Arab nationalist, determined to end British influence in Egypt. In 1954 he succeeded in renegotiating the 1936 treaty with the British to force the withdrawal of British troops from the Suez Canal Zone. The last British forces departed the Canal Zone only a month before Nasser nationalized the canal.

The British government now took the lead in opposing Nasser. London believed that Nasser’s growing popularity in the Arab world was encouraging Arab nationalism and threatening to undermine British influence throughout the Middle East. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (1955-1956) developed a deep and abiding hatred of the Egyptian leader. For Eden, ousting Nasser from power became nothing short of an obsession. In the immediate aftermath of Nasser’s nationalization of the canal, the British government called up 200,000 military reservists and dispatched military resources to the eastern Mediterranean.

The French government also had good reason to seek Nasser’s removal. Paris sought to protect its own long-standing interests in the Middle East, but more to the point, the French were now engaged in fighting the National Liberation Front (NLF) in Algeria. The Algerian War, which began in November 1954, had greatly expanded and had become an imbroglio for the government, now led by socialist Premier Guy Mollet (1956-1957). Nasser was a strong and vocal supporter of the NLF, and there were many in the French government and military who believed that overthrowing him would greatly enhance French chances of winning the Algerian War.

Israel formed the third leg in the triad of powers arrayed against Nasser. Egypt had instituted a blockade of Israeli ships at the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel’s outlet to the Indian Ocean. Also, Egypt had never recognized the Jewish state and indeed remained at war with it following the Israeli War of Independence during 1948-1949. In 1955, Israel mounted a half dozen crossborder raids, while Egypt carried out its own raids into Israeli territory by fedayeen, or guerrilla fighters.

During the months that followed Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal, the community of interest among British, French, and Israeli leaders developed into secret planning for a joint military operation to topple Nasser. The U. S. government was not consulted and indeed opposed the use of force. The British and French governments either did not understand the American attitude or, if they did, believed that Washington would give approval after the fact to policies undertaken by its major allies, which the latter believed to be absolutely necessary.

The British government first tried diplomacy. Two conferences in London attended by the representatives of twenty-four nations using the canal failed to produce agreement on a course of action, and Egypt refused to participate. A proposal by U. S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles for a canal “users’ club” of nations failed, as did an appeal to the United Nations (UN) Security Council. On 1 October, Dulles announced that the United States was disassociating itself from British and French actions in the Middle East and asserted that the United States intended to play a more independent role.

Meanwhile, secret talks were going forward, first between the British and French for joint military action against Egypt. Military representatives of the two governments met in London on 10 August and hammered out the details of a joint military plan known as MUSKETEER that would involve occupation of both Alexandria and Port Said. The French then brought the Israeli government in on the plan, and General Maurice Challe, deputy chief of staff of the French Air Force, undertook a secret trip to the Middle East to meet with Israeli government and military leaders. The Israelis were at first skeptical about British and French support. They also had no intention of moving as far as the canal itself. The Israelis stated that their plan was merely to send light detachments to link up with British and French forces. They also insisted that British and French military intervention occur simultaneously with their own attack.

General André Beaufre, the designated French military commander for the operation, then came up with a new plan. Under it, the Israelis would initiate hostilities against Egypt in order to provide the pretext for military intervention by French and British forces to protect the canal. This action would technically be in accord with the terms of the 1954 treaty between Egypt and Britain that had given Britain the right to send forces to occupy the Suez Canal Zone in the event of an attack against Egypt by a third power.

All parties agreed to this new plan. Meanwhile, unrest began in Hungary on 23 October, and the next day Soviet tanks entered Budapest to put down what had become the Hungarian Revolution. French and British planners were delighted at the news of an international distraction that seemed to provide them a degree of freedom of action.

On 29 October, Israeli forces began an invasion of the Sinai Peninsula with the announced aim of eradicating the fedayeen bases. A day later, on 30 October, the British and French governments issued an ultimatum, nominally to both the Egyptian and Israeli governments but in reality only to Egypt, expressing the need to separate the combatants and demanding the right to provide for the security of the Suez Canal. The ultimatum called on both sides to withdraw their forces 10 miles from the canal and gave them twelve hours to reply. The Israelis, of course, immediately accepted the ultimatum, while the Egyptians just as promptly rejected it.

On 31 October, the British began bombing Egyptian airfields and military installations from bases on Cyprus. British aircraft attacked four Egyptian bases that day and nine the next. When Eden reported to the House of Commons on events, he encountered a surprisingly strong negative reaction from the opposition Labour Party.

Following the British military action, the Egyptians immediately sank a number of ships in the canal to make it unusable. The Israelis, meanwhile, broke into the Sinai and swept across it in only four days against ineffective Egyptian forces. Finally, on 5 November, British and French paratroopers began an invasion of Port Said, Egypt, at the Mediterranean terminus of the canal.

The Eisenhower administration had already entered the picture. On 31 October, President Eisenhower described the British attack as “taken in error.” He was personally furious at Eden over events and is supposed to have asked when he first telephoned the British leader, “Anthony, have you gone out of your mind?” The United States applied immediate and heavy financial threats, both on a bilateral basis and through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to bring the British government to heel. Eisenhower also refused any further dealings with Eden personally.

A threat by the Soviet government against Britain on 5 November to send “volunteers” to Egypt proved a further embarrassment for the British government, but it was U. S. pressure that was decisive. Nonetheless, the world beheld the strange spectacle of the United States cooperating with the Soviet Union to condemn Britain and France in the UN Security Council and call for an end to the use of force. Although Britain and France vetoed the Security Council resolution, the matter was referred to the UN General Assembly, which demanded a cease-fire and withdrawal.

Israel and Egypt had agreed to a cease-fire on 4 November. At midnight on 6 November, the day of the U. S. presidential election, the British and French governments were also obliged to accept a cease-fire, the French only with the greatest reluctance. A 4,000-man UN Emergency Force (UNEF)- authorized on 4 November and made up of contingents from Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and the Scandinavian countries-arrived in Egypt to take up positions to keep Israeli and Egyptian forces separated. At the end of November, the British and French governments both agreed to withdraw their forces from Egypt by 22 December, and on 1 December Eisenhower announced that he had instructed U. S. oil companies to begin shipping supplies to both Britain and France.

Nasser and Arab self-confidence were the chief beneficiaries of the crisis. The abysmal performance of Egyptian military forces in the crisis was forgotten in Nasser’s ultimate triumph. He found his prestige dramatically increased throughout the Arab world. Israel also benefited. The presence of the UN force guaranteed an end to the fedayeen raids, and Israel had also broken the Egyptian blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba, although its ships could still not transit the Suez Canal. The crisis also enhanced Soviet prestige in the Middle East, and the UN emerged from the crisis with enhanced prestige, helping to boost world confidence in that organization.

The Suez Crisis ended Eden’s political career. Ill and under tremendous criticism in Parliament from the Labour Party, he resigned from office in January 1957. Events also placed a serious, albeit temporary, strain on U. S.- British relations. More importantly, they revealed the serious limitations in British military strength. Indeed, observers are unanimous in declaring 1956 a seminal date in British imperial history that marked the effective end of Britain’s tenure as a great power. The events had less impact in France. Mollet left office in May 1957 but not as a result of the Suez intervention. The crisis was costly to both Britain and France in economic terms, for Saudi Arabia had halted oil shipments to both countries.

Finally, the Suez Crisis could not have come at a worst time for the West, because the crisis diverted world attention from the concurrent brutal Soviet military intervention in Hungary. Eisenhower believed, rightly or wrongly, that without the Suez diversion there would have been far stronger Western reaction to the Soviet invasion of its satellite.

References Beaufre, André. The Suez Expedition, 1956. Translated by Richard Barry. New York: Praeger, 1969. Cooper, Chester L. The Lion’s Last Roar: Suez, 1956. New York: Harper and Row, 1978. Eden, Anthony. The Suez Crisis of 1956. Boston: Beacon, 1968. Freiberger, Steven Z. Dawn over Suez: The Rise of American Power in the Middle East, 1953-1957. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992. Gorst, Anthony, and Lewis Johnman. The Suez Crisis. London: Routledge, 1997. Hahn, Peter L. The United States, Great Britain, and Egypt, 1945-1956: Strategy and Diplomacy in the Early Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Kelly, Saul, and Anthony Gorst, eds. Whitehall and the Suez Crisis. London: Frank Cass, 2000. Kingseed, Cole C. Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis of 1956. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995. Kyle, Keith. Suez. New York: St. Martin’s, 1991. Louis, William R., and Roger Owen, eds. Suez, 1956: The Crisis and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Lucas, W. Scott. Divided We Stand: Britain, the United States and the Suez Crisis. Rev. ed. London: Spectre, 1996.


British Carriers at Suez 1956

Suez Operation I

Suez Operation II

The Big Frigates

HMS Shannon and the USS Chesapeake exchange broadsides during their 15-minute battle on 1 June 1813 in Robin Brook’s painting “Duel off Cape Anne.” The Shannon’s lopsided triumph brought to an end a string of U.S. frigate victories in the War of 1812.

His Britannic Majesty’s 32 Gun Frigate ‘Amphion’ launches 1798. Artist Derek Gardner

Lord Palmerston once said, ‘Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business: the Prince Consort, who is dead; a German Professor, who has gone mad; and I, who have forgotten all about it.’ Much the same might be said about the reasons why the United States of America declared war upon Great Britain on 18th June 1812. There had been grumblings for at least four years, but nothing which could not have been settled by negotiation; in fact, was, and twice, settled by negotiation; but on one occasion the British and on the other the American government refused to ratify what their envoys had agreed. The ostensible reason was the British blockade of Europe, proclaimed by Orders in Council; but these had been rescinded before hostilities actually commenced. Historians and commentators have advanced their simplifications of the complex motivations of an emerging nation, with which fortunately we have nothing to do –

‘But one thing I’m sure

That at Sheriffmuir

A battle there was that I saw, man!’

Apart from the why, the when of the American declaration of war is hard to understand. True, the news they had from Europe was of Napoleon’s conference at Dresden, with almost all the sovereigns in western Europe tributary to his imperial power, while he reviewed an army of five hundred thousand men, superbly equipped. This may have seemed a good wagon to jump on, and they could not have known that within three days of the declaration of war, Wellington was to cross the Aguedo on the way to Salamanca, Vittoria and Toulouse; and within nine days Napoleon was to cross the Niemen, on the way to Moscow, Leipzig and Elba. But what they certainly did know was that the whole Navy of the United States consisted of 8 frigates and 12 sloops, of which 20, only 17 were available for sea service; and they also knew that Britain had 584 ships at sea in full commission, of which 102 were line-of-battle ships and 124 were frigates, with an immediate reserve of 18 battleships and 15 frigates. Moreover, the area of responsibility had diminished, since there were now no French or allied bases in all the seas of the world. The fleet with which Rear-Admiral Stopford had recently taken Java, with four line-of-battle ships and fourteen frigates, was at least three times stronger than the whole American Navy; nothing was easier than to call them home, and desire them to eat up the American Navy as they came by; but of course this did not happen.

The Royal Navy was suffering from a severe attack of superiority complex, resulting, not unnaturally, from almost twenty-two years of almost complete victories. The Navy of the United States consisted of only a few frigates: good enough, we have plenty of frigates on the West Indies and Halifax stations, let them deal with the situation. This was exactly the spirit with which, in 1914, Admiralty, with Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and Jacky Fisher as First Sea Lord, sent out Rear-Admiral Craddock to Coronel with a mixed ragbag of ships, manned mostly by reservists, to meet the crack cruiser squadron of the German Navy. It was the qualitative factor which they overlooked, and it was very difficult to tell them anything. In 1910–14, any Briton who dared to hint that the ships of the German Navy were better constructed, and their gunnery practice of a better standard, than the Royal Navy, was instantly branded as a traitor. In the same way, when Doctor Gregory, a well-known citizen of Edinburgh, said in 1808, ‘The Americans are building long 46-gun frigates, which really carry 56 or 60 guns; when our 44s come to meet them, you will hear something new some of these days’, of course nobody paid the least attention; what could a physician know about naval matters?

In fact the big American frigates were superior to any other frigate afloat, in two essentials; the ships themselves, and their crews.

The United States had in the great forests an endless supply of the finest ship-building timbers in the world. Northern white oak is only very slightly inferior to the Adriatic oak, while the pine and spruce for masts and spars was at least equal to the best the Baltic could produce. There was plenty of it, no need to scrimp, and only the selected best went into an American warship. To further ensure this, every American ship had an experienced captain standing by her during the whole course of her construction, a thing previously unknown, although now of course standard practice in all navies. Thus all American warships of whatever size were built of the very best materials, by skilled shipwrights, under strict and expert supervision. Class for class, they had no superior.

But the Americans were not content with class for class; they had to have something altogether superior to anything of the same nominal classification.

In 1794 it was decided to construct two 74-gun line-of-battle ships, and these were laid down; but due to changes in the political situation it was decided to finish them as frigates, but retaining, except for the extra gun-deck, the construction and sail-power of the 74. These were launched in 1797, as the United States and the Constitution, and rated as 44-gun frigates; in 1798 two more 44-gun frigates were built as frigates from the beginning, and therefore of slightly lighter construction and better sailing capacity, but still far bigger and more powerful than any other frigate in the world: the President, built at New York, and the Philadelphia, built at that city. All four 44-gun frigates actually mounted a main battery of thirty long 24-pounders, eighteen carronades, 42-pounders, on the quarter-deck, and on the forecastle six similar carronades and two long 24-pounders, a total of 56 guns, with a broadside of 768 pounds. By American measure they were all about 1,444 tons, but by British measure they were 1,533 tons. With their great length* and sail-power, they were the fastest warships in the world.

Not only were the big frigates larger and more powerful than anything they need meet, they were far better manned. While Britain was raking the gaols to make up the ‘quota’, the Americans were rejecting all but skilled seamen of first-class physique. The reason, of course, was the small number of ships compared to the seamen available. The north-east states of the Union produced a race of bold and hardy seamen, manning a very large merchant marine, many of whom were unemployed as the British blockade tightened. The western states produced the most highly skilled riflemen in the world, and these constituted the Marines. Lastly, the ranks were supplemented by a large number of trained seamen, deserters from the Royal Navy. There were something like 5,000 deserters every year, of which about half were Able Seamen. During the Peace of Amiens, about 70,000 men were dismissed, or liable to be dismissed, from the Royal Navy, and many took service with the United States Navy, which was at that time engaged in naval operations against the Barbary States. It is highly probable that every large American frigate had a hundred British seamen aboard. When war was declared, some of these asked to be released from their service, but many did not. In action, these could be relied upon to the death, for it was death for them anyhow if they were captured.

One of the four big frigates was lost in the Mediterranean in 1804. The Philadelphia, Captain Bainbridge, had chased a ship which escaped into the harbour of Tripoli; but, in beating out, the Philadelphia ran on a rock, not marked on her charts. All efforts were made to float her off, anchors cut away, guns thrown overboard, without effect; and on the approach of some Tripolitan gun-boats the Philadelphia surrendered without resistance. In about two days the captors managed to float her, and took her into Tripoli harbour. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, now first heard of, proposed to Commodore Preble to go into the harbour and burn her, which the Commodore at first thought too risky, but at length approved. On the 18th February Lieutenant Decatur, with seventy volunteers in a captured ketch, entered the harbour, boarded the Philadelphia, and after a sharp engagement captured her. She was immediately set on fire, and the boarding party made good their escape, having only four wounded.

There are some odd aspects of this story; if the Philadelphia could be captured by 70 small-arms men, how could she not have been defended by 300? And, having captured her, why was no attempt made to bring her out? A good deal may be put down to inexperience, but it would superficially appear that more might have been done to preserve what, after all, was more than an eighth of the whole American Navy of that date.

In those days of slow communication, it was very difficult for ships at sea to be informed of a declaration of war; the side which was going to declare war could give advance information to commanding officers, but the ships on the receiving end had to depend on unofficial rumours and otherwise wait until actually attacked. Thus when war was declared on the 18th of June 1812, a strong squadron was able to sail from New York on the 21st, the object being the Jamaica convoy, which had not the least idea of hostilities, and was making a leisurely course for Britain; a hundred richly laden merchantmen under the protection of a frigate and a brig; easy meat for the American squadron, which consisted of two of the big frigates, a 36-gun frigate and two brigs. However, when they were still some hundreds of miles west of the convoy, they came upon a solitary British frigate, and the whole squadron altered course to pursue her, the leading ship being the big frigate President, Commodore Rodgers.

The British frigate was the BELVIDERA, 36 guns, 18-pounders, Captain Richard Byron. He must have had some grave suspicions, for when the whole squadron approached him, quite unnecessarily if only for greeting and information, he stood away to the NE by E, about as close as he could haul to the wind which was at NW. Finding the squadron gaining on him, Captain Byron cleared for action, and shifted two long 18-pounders so as to fire through the sternports in his cabin, as well as bringing two 32-pounder carronades to the stern of the quarter-deck. All guns were loaded, but not primed, so that there should be no accidental shot on his part. The wind veered to WSW and decreased, so that by 4.20 the President was able to open fire with her bow-guns, three hits causing damage and casualties. The BELVIDERA returned fire with her well-prepared stern-chasers, the Captain and the First Lieutenant Sykes personally pointing the quarter-deck carronades, while Lieutenants Bruce and Campbell did the same for the 18-pounders in the cabin. Within a few minutes one of the President’s forward 24-pounders burst, a most serious accident, killing and wounding sixteen men, including the commodore, who had gone forward. The damage to the decks and side was severe, and put her chase-guns out of action for a considerable time.

Thus deprived of her forecastle armament, the President began yawing from side to side to allow her main battery guns to bear; and as this would allow the BELVIDERA to make away, the fire was directed mainly at the rigging, which was considerably damaged; however, as only the four stern-chasers could fire, the crew were set to replacing and splicing the rigging and fishing damaged spars. It requires no common steadiness and discipline to go aloft about this work with the shot of heavy broadsides screaming past the ears. The President, however, was gaining, and Captain Byron now ordered four anchors to be cut away, on which the BELVIDERA began to get ahead. The 36-gun frigate Congress, Captain Smith, now took up the chase about 6.30 p.m., and appeared to be gaining, although her shot was falling short. Captain Byron now threw overboard four of his boats and fourteen tons of water, and by 8 p.m. was two miles ahead of any pursuer; now the business was to fish the damaged main topmast, a difficult and risky job with the spar in position and the ship under way. However, it was done, and at 11 p.m. Captain Byron, now three miles ahead, altered his course to ESE, boomed out studding sails, and went ahead at such a rate that by midnight the American squadron gave up the chase.

This was a very neat little engagement, and reflects the greatest credit on Captain Byron and the ship’s company of the BELVIDERA; but as they had been engaged in running away, they received no acknowledgement whatever from their government. Nevertheless, they had scored a notable victory, the saving of the Jamaica convoy. By keeping the whole American squadron hotly engaged from dawn to midnight of a long summer’s day, in the wrong direction, and inflicting such injuries on the President that took another day to repair, they had ensured the convoy’s escape. ‘Lose not an hour’, said Napoleon; and the big frigates had lost forty-eight.

On the 19th of August 1812 the Constitution, Captain Isaac Hull, about 500 miles south of Newfoundland, came up with the GUERRIERE, Captain Dacres, on her way to Halifax for a much-needed refit. This was a 38-gun 18-pounder frigate, a powerful vessel, but under-manned and in poor condition; she had been struck by lightning, which had damaged her mainmast and bowsprit, and her hull was leaky. She was no match for the big frigate, being 1,092 tons to 1,533, a much lighter broadside, and only 244 men against 460. However, when Captain Dacres descried the enemy frigate he shortened sail to allow her to come up, and at 5 p.m. opened fire, all her shot falling short.

Ten minutes later the Constitution opened up with a broadside so effective that the GUERRIERE began dodging about, in the hope of upsetting the aim of the American gunners; but in fact it had a far worse effect on the British. After half an hour of fairly long-range firing, Captain Hull decided to bring on a decisive action, and closed in. At about 6 p.m. the mizzen-mast of the GUERRIERE was shot away; it fell right aft, knocking a large hole in the ship’s counter in which some of the rigging stuck, difficult to cut away, while the mast kept dragging astern like a sea-anchor. The Constitution, handled with great skill, now ranged athwart the bows of her opponent, raking her with tremendous broadsides to which she could only reply with a few bow-guns. Shortly the two ships fell foul, the bowsprit of the GUERRIERE tangling in the starboard mizzen-rigging of the Constitution. Captain Hull now decided on boarding, and his men assembled on the quarterdeck, while Captain Dacres went for ward to the forecastle with his determined force to repel them. The Marines on both sides kept up a sharp and deadly fire at very close range. The officers were naturally the most conspicuous targets. The leaders of the two American boarding parties, the first lieutenant and the lieutenant of Marines, were both shot down, which caused some delay in preparation; and the sailing master was wounded. On the GUERRIERE, Captain Dacres was severely wounded in the back, but refused to leave the deck, while the sailing master and a master’s mate were also wounded.

Now the GUERRIERE got her bowsprit free, and was able to get a good position across the stern of the Constitution, firing a broadside at so short a range that the burning wads set fire to the captain’s cabin. But now the foremast came down, taking the mainmast with it, so that the GUERRIERE lay quite dismasted, while the Constitution ranged ahead to make some repairs to the rigging. Without masts to steady her, the GUERRIERE was rolling enough to dip her main deck guns in the sea, and there was grave danger of their breaking loose. Captain Dacres set a division to secure the guns, another to clear the decks of wreckage, and another to set a sail on the sprit-sail yard, which warships still carried but seldom used. However, as soon as the wind filled this little sail, the yard carried away. The Constitution now came up, and the GUERRIERE hauled down her colours from the stump of the mizzen-mast.

The casualties in the GUERRIERE were terribly severe, 78 killed and wounded, as against 14 in the Constitution. The ship was a shattered wreck, so much so that next morning the prize master hailed that she was sinking. The prisoners and prize crew were taken on board the Constitution, the wreck of the Guerriere was fired, and shortly blew up. Captain Hull repaired the slight damages to the Constitution, and on 50th August arrived at Boston to a hero’s welcome, the thanks of the government, and a present of $50,000.

The United States was one of the big frigates which had been laid down as a 74-gun ship, and her construction was even more massive than usual for that heavy class; she sailed a little slower than the others, and was nicknamed ‘The Wagon’, hence, doubtless, the term ‘battle wagon’ for a more modern battleship. Provisioned for a long voyage, with an ample crew of picked seamen, and commanded by the fine officer Commodore Stephen Decatur, she was cruising in the Atlantic with no doubt the hope of intercepting some of the convoys from India. When about five hundred miles south of the Azores, at dawn on 12th October 1812, a sail was descried about twelve miles to windward, headed on a parallel track, both ships being as close-hauled as possible on a fresh wind from the SSE. This was a fine new 38-gun frigate, the MACEDONIAN, Captain John Surman Carden, rather under-manned as usual, with only 262 men and the extraordinary proportion of 35 boys; but a crew in good heart with excellent officers.

Immediately on sighting, the MACEDONIAN boomed out studding sails and bore away in pursuit. At first Commodore Decatur took her for a 74, no doubt deceived by the vast spread of canvas, and therefore wore away also, to get the wind more on the quarter, as he had, very properly, no intention of engaging a line-of-battle ship so far from any possibility of support. As the MACEDONIAN came closer, her single deck of guns became visible, and the United States put about and advanced to meet her, at the same time hoisting her colours, the broad pendant showing her to be commanded by a commodore and therefore one of the new ‘44s’. This caused no hesitation on the MACEDONIAN, for they had had no news for some time, had not heard of the GUERRIERE, did not know the power of these new big frigates, but were quite sure that a British 38-gun ship could capture any size of frigate afloat.

Being asked his opinion, Lieutenant Hope thought it would be best to continue the present course, which would bring her very close across the bows of the enemy, in the hopes of raking her; a good manoeuvre, but dangerous if the enemy were clever enough. Captain Carden preferred to keep the advantage of the weather-gauge, which he already had, and hauled closer to the wind. As the two ships passed in opposite directions, the United States fired a broadside, without any effect, the range being too great for accuracy. Having got himself into the position he wanted, Captain Carden now put about and followed the United States, coming up on her windward quarter about 9.20 a.m., when the cannonade commenced. The first exchange brought down a small spar of the United States, but took the mizzen top-mast of the MACEDONIAN, letting her driver-gaff fall; so that the United States had now the advantage in sailing, and continued with the MACEDONIAN on her quarter, at a fairly long range, where the 24-pounders of the American were much more effective than the 18s of the British. Particular aim was taken at the carronades on the forecastle and quarter-deck, which were all dismounted and the bulwark shattered on the engaged side, before Commodore Decatur closed the range to a decisive distance.

Shortly after 11 a.m. the MACEDONIAN was a wreck; mizzen-mast gone, main and fore top-masts gone; nevertheless they set the only remaining sail on the foremast, to make enough way to come against the United States and try boarding her; however at that moment the fore-brace was shot away, and the sail swung round. The United States now passed the bows of the MACEDONIAN, without firing a shot, and stood away. The crew of the MACEDONIAN began cheering this surprising deliverance, but in fact the United States went off a little way to refill cartridges, having fired seventy broadsides in the action, using up all her ready cartridges. By noon, having filled a sufficiency and repaired some rigging, she tacked around and took up a position athwart the stern of the helpless MACEDONIAN; and the colours had to come down.

In this stout defence, the casualties of the MACEDONIAN were very heavy, amounting to 104 killed and wounded, as against 12 killed and wounded in the United States, which was also very little damaged, whereas the MACEDONIAN had more than 100 shot in her hull. Indeed, the two ships had to lie together for a fortnight until the Macedonian could be made fit to sail, and it was the 4th of December before they sighted Long Island. It is quite remarkable that during this long period, two weeks lying-to and five weeks passage, the two ships were never sighted by any British vessel. The Macedonian was purchased into the US Navy, with prize-money of $200,000 to the crew; along with the thanks of both Houses, a gold medal to the commodore and silver ones to the officers. These were well deserved; with hind sight, it is clear that the action could have no other ending, but this was by no means so clear before. Some bloodthirsty historians have criticised Decatur for not closing immediately, but in that case the 32-pounder carronades of the British ship would have been very effective; he was quite right to put them out of action before he closed. He won a complete victory with minimum loss, which should be the aim of every commander. There was every possibility that some British warship might come up, while there was no possibility whatever of American support. Had he fought a close action immediately and incurred severe damage, he would have been in a very poor position. His action at Tripoli had sufficiently shown the dashing lieutenant; this one showed the clear-headed and cautious commodore.

The government of the United States now decided to put a strong squadron into the Pacific, commanded by Commodore William Bainbridge, in the Constitution, along with the Essex, frigate, and the 18-gun Hornet. They were to sail from different ports and meet at Salvador (Bahia) in Brazil, not a good arrangement. The Essex sailed from the Delaware River on 27th October 1812, and the other two from Boston on the 30th, arriving off Salvador towards the end of December, where they found no sign of the Essex. The commodore ordered the Hornet into the port to make inquiries, while he took the Constitution about thirty miles off the coast.

The Renommeé had been captured in an action off Madagascar by the ASTREA, Captain Schomberg, in February 1811, taken into the Royal Navy at Portsmouth and renamed JAVA, the former ship of that name having been lost (p. 95). On 17th August 1812 Captain Lambert, a brave and efficient officer, was commissioned to her, with orders to fit her out in order to convey to Bombay the new Governor, Lieutenant-General Hislop, with his suite, and also stores, largely copper, for ships which were building at Bombay. With the resources of Ports mouth the ship was quickly got ready; but to get a crew was a very different matter. With 140,000 seamen and Marines at sea, the barrel had been scraped clean. Officers and senior petty officers were easy, and 50 Marines were provided, 18 of them raw recruits, but good material. The 23 boys were easily found. 60 Irish landmen were put on board, along with 50 seamen suspected of mutinous intentions, from a sloop at Spithead. At length 292 out of 300 were got together. Captain Lambert naturally remonstrated about the poor quality and inexperience of his crew, but was laughingly assured that a voyage to Bombay and back, under his captaincy, would make sailors of them all; and besides, the chance of meeting an enemy was now very remote. At length, he was allowed to take eight real seamen, volunteers, from the RODNEY. He now had his complement, of whom, excluding the officers, less than fifty had ever been in action. Eventually he sailed on the 12th of November, having 397 people on board, including the Governor, his suite and servants; and having two East India merchantmen under his convoy.

As is well known, long before this period the study of winds and currents had shown that the best route to India was to make Madeira, then keep west of the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands and then S by SW almost to the coast of Brazil, then S by SE until latitude 35° South, and there pick up the great westerly wind which circles the world in 35° to 55° South; returning, the route is fairly near the African coast all the way, although it was usual, after touching at St Helena and sighting Ascension, to stand well to the westward for the Azores. Following this course, the JAVA touched at Madeira, where the officers and the Governor’s suite laid in a stock of the native product. On Christmas Eve, being at the nearest point to Brazil on the well-known route, Captain Lambert had a report that water was short; the Governor and his suite had brought such an immensity of luggage that it was impossible to get at the water casks until the upper load was taken out of the ship. Captain Lambert then decided to put into Salvador to adjust cargo and take on water, but the two East Indiamen, feeling no need of further convoy, kept on their way. He was left with the WILLIAM, an American merchant ship he had captured on the way, putting into her a master’s mate and nineteen seamen, whom he could ill spare.

On the 28th December, for the first time on the voyage, Captain Lambert ordered six broadsides of blank cartridge to be fired; for the majority of the crew it was the first time they had served a gun on ship-board. Next day, the 29th, at 2 a.m., the Constitution was seen, lying hove-to, a bad sign in those waters, where all shipping should be going about its business. Captain Lambert therefore parted with the WILLIAM, ordering her to go into Salvador while he examined the stranger, which was now seen to be making sail. In fact, it was supposed on board the Constitution that the JAVA was the expected Essex, and they kept approaching until, at about four miles away, the JAVA made the private recognition signals for British, Spanish or Portuguese ships, without reply; and the Constitution made the American one, without reply, and then wore ship away from the JAVA.

The JAVA was under a press of sail, and went in pursuit, definitely gaining in the chase; but the wind coming up quite strongly from the north-east, and the sea rising, she heeled so much that she had to take in her royals. On this, at 1.40 p.m., the Constitution also shortened sail, and hoisted her colours; the JAVA did the same, and they approached under the usual sail for fighting in moderate weather, top and top-gallant sails, one jib and the driver.

The action commenced at 2.10 p.m., with the Constitution firing a broadside at half a mile range, falling short; then, as the JAVA came close, another which whistled overhead; then the JAVA, ranging alongside within a few yards, gave a most effective broadside, which carried away the wheel, killed four men and wounded several more. The Constitution fired a third broad side, and under cover of the smoke wore away to lengthen the range. The JAVA followed, more broadsides were exchanged, and the Constitution again wore away. This time the JAVA passed close under her stern, in a most advantageous position for raking, but only one shot was fired; probably the inexperienced crew had not reloaded in time. The Constitution now had the weather-gauge, but this did not suit her tactics, so she made sail to leeward, giving the JAVA again the opportunity of crossing her stern, and this time giving her quite a raking broadside.

It was now 3 p.m., and the JAVA, with her raw crew, had given a very good account of herself; had for fifty minutes sustained the fire of an enormously superior opponent, and given as good as she got. Now, however, Commodore Bainbridge decided to close, and came alongside within forty yards, when the rapid fire of his well-served guns began to tell; the JAVA’S rigging was cut to pieces, her masts badly damaged, and men were dropping every minute. Captain Lambert saw his serious disadvantage, and determined on boarding in a desperate attempt to save his ship; before the JAVA could be laid aboard of the enemy, however, the foremast came down with a terrific crash, smashing in the forecastle and blocking most of the deck. The Constitution now attained a commanding position on the JAVA’S quarter, and poured in a tremendous fire of all arms, to which scarcely any reply could be given. At 3.30 p.m. Captain Lambert was mortally wounded by a musket-ball, and the command devolved upon Lieutenant Henry Ducie Chads, who was himself wounded but kept the deck. Still the pitiless fire continued; at 4 p.m. the mizzen-mast went, and from this or some other cause the ships fell away a little and lay broadside to broadside; immediately the men at the guns of the JAVA opened fire again, with the best broadsides they had given yet, although the flame from the guns was igniting the wreckage that hung overside. The Constitution now drew ahead to repair damages, and the crew of the JAVA cheered wildly, thinking she was retreating.

They were now set to work furiously, to get some sail on the wreck; a sail was rigged between the stump of the foremast and the remains of the bowsprit; a spare top-gallant mast was fished to the same stump, with a studding-sail set on it; the mainmast could not stand in the heavy rolling, so it was cut away, and in the strong wind the JAVA began to make headway. Now, however, the Constitution began to come down, but the JAVA’S men reloaded her guns with ball and grape-shot, and returned the fire defiantly. By 6 p.m. she had seventeen guns out of action, no spars left standing, all her boats destroyed, pumps disabled and the hull a mere piece of wreckage; when Lieutenant Chads ordered the colours to be hauled down. The raw, botched-together crew of the JAVA had acquitted them selves like veteran heroes; they had sustained a fight against fearful odds for four hours; they had 124 casualties killed and wounded; but they were ready to fight on when their commander put an end to the slaughter. Lieutenant Chads,* though wounded, remained on deck throughout the action; Boatswain Humble had his hand shot off, went below to have a tourniquet on the stump, and returned to the deck. ‘I had my orders from Lieutenant Chads,’ he explained simply, ‘to cheer up the men with my pipe.’

The Constitution had 34 casualties killed and wounded, according to Commodore Bainbridge’s account; but the British officers on board as prisoners estimated 52. She had several shot through her hull and masts, and of her eight boats only one could take the water. In this only boat Lieutenant Parker, first of the Constitution, boarded the Java and took possession; but had to send a message to the commodore that the ship was in a sinking condition and could not be salvaged. He was now ordered to remove all the prisoners and their baggage to the Constitution, and then set the Java on fire. With only one boat, the transfer was a tedious business, taking up the whole of the next day; but on the morning of the 31st January the Java was fired, and blew up about 3 p.m.

The officers of the Constitution have been criticised for the pressure brought to bear on the seamen prisoners to induce them to enter the American Navy; however, only three did so, believed to be Irish Roman Catholics, who had little cause to adhere faithfully to the British government. As the Java was about to blow up, one of these deserters informed the commodore that a large part of her cargo was gold bars, which he himself had helped to stow; Bainbridge’s chagrin at this information may well be imagined, but after having enjoyed the ameliorations of the position for some time, the British officer prisoners were able to assure him that the precious metal was in fact copper.

Part of the prize was a very splendid service of silver, suited for the pomp and dignity of a Governor of Bombay; this Commodore Bainbridge ordered to be restored to Lieutenant-General Hislop, who returned the compliment with a present of a handsome sword. Captain Lambert died on the 4th January 1813, and was buried with full honours in Fort St Pedor, attended by the Governor of the fort, the Conde’ dos Arcos. The American officers did not think it suitable to attend, but the commodore wrote to Lieutenant-General Hislop:

Commodore Bainbridge has learned, with real sorrow, the death of Captain Lambert. Though a political enemy, he could not but greatly respect him for the brave defence he made with his ship; and Commodore Bainbridge takes this occasion to observe, in justice to Lieutenant Chads, who fought the JAVA after Captain Lambert was wounded, that he did everything for the defence of that ship that a brave and skilful officer could do, and that further resistance would have been a wanton effusion of human blood.

On the 6th of January 1813 Commodore Bainbridge decided that the damages to the Constitution were beyond local repair to fit her for a voyage round the Horn, and returned to Boston, where he was naturally received with rapture, a gold medal, the thanks of Congress supplemented with $50,000, silver medals for all the officers and a triumphal procession.

Commodore Bainbridge has been criticised (by a very partial British historian) for delaying the action so long, and indeed appearing to evade it; but it must be considered that he was at any moment expecting his consort the Hornet to come up, and at any hour the Essex. Before this formidable squadron it might be expected that the JAVA would surrender without further resistance, and allow him to resume his Pacific cruise; which, by engaging, he was forced to abandon. Indeed, it has to be observed that all these tactical victories of the big frigates were in fact strategical defeats; they had to abandon their main objective in every case. By running away from the President and consorts, the BELVIDERA saved the Jamaica convoy. By fighting the United States, the MACEDONIAN, although surrendered, caused that powerful ship to leave the track of the East India convoy and return to her home port; and by fighting the Constitution to the death, the JAVA turned her back from the Pacific, where her presence might have had very serious consequences. These defeats must be aligned with the defeat of the JERVIS BAY, Captain Fogarty Fegen, V.C., by the Scheer, Captain Krancke, on 5th November 1940. In all those cases the convoys were saved; the warships were lost: they had carried out their orders.

Battle of Damme

William Longespee’s ships attacking the French ships during the battle of Damme. Artist Dariusz Bufnal

Philip II awaits his fleet.

The Battle of Damme was fought on 30 and 31 May 1213 during the 1213–1214 Anglo-French War. An English fleet led by William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury accidentally encountered a large French fleet under the command of Savari de Mauléon in the vicinity of the port of Damme, in Flanders. The French crews were mostly ashore, pillaging the countryside, and the English captured 300 French ships at anchor, and looted and fired a further hundred beached ships. The main French army, commanded by King Philip II of France, was nearby besieging Ghent and it promptly marched on Damme. It arrived in time to relieve the town’s French garrison and drive off the English landing parties. Philip had the remainder of the French fleet burned to avoid capture. The success of the English raid yielded immense booty and ended the immediate threat of a French invasion of England.

From 1211 onwards both kings were jockeying for positions in Flanders. John still hoped to reconquer Normandy, while Philip Augustus had designs on England. Both of them needed a stepping-off base in Flanders, especially access to the harbour of the Zwin, and to Flemish mercenaries. Early in 1213 the Pope, after a long altercation with John, excused his English subjects from their allegiance to him and strongly encouraged all Christian leaders to unite in efforts to depose him. This, as described by the chroniclers, gave Philip Augustus the justification he was seeking for planning an invasion of England.

Events then led up to the episode known as the Battle of Damme, perhaps better described as an important raid. In the spring of 1213, Philip Augustus moved his land forces north and invaded Flanders. He devastated Bruges and attacked Ghent, at the same time ordering a ‘large’ fleet to move north up the coast. How large this force really was is not known, but it probably consisted mainly of sailors from Poitou, who were far from home and by no means entirely dependable.

John, having decided the best form of defence was attack, sent his half-brother William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, over at the head of a considerably smaller fleet to reconnoitre and, if possible, to intercept the French. They probably sailed in mid-April, and would have reached the mouth of the Meuse (the Zwin) in a couple of days, where Longsword was surprised to find the port full of vessels. Having established that the ships were indeed French, he took the opportunity to capture or burn the larger ones anchored out in the middle of the channel leading up to Damme while the sailors had apparently gone ashore to plunder what remained of the wealth of Bruges.

Hearing the news of this disaster and concerned particularly about the fate of his pay-chests which were on board one of the ships, Philip Augustus broke his siege of Ghent and hurried to Damme, where he found the remainder of his fleet, the smaller ships, still pulled up on the mud. However, confronted with the difficulty of getting those ships away from Damme in the face of the English fleet lying in wait outside, and mistrusting the mercenaries from Poitou, who might turn traitor and change sides at any moment, he burnt the rest of his own boats rather than let them fall into English hands. As a result, he was without a fleet and had to abandon any thoughts he may have had of invading England that year.

King John Naval Campaigns

In the reign of king John whose loss of Normandy in 1205-6 had ensured the geographical separation of his territories in England and France and placed the southern coast of the Channel in the hostile hands of Philip Augustus, king of France.

The fundamental issue was the strength and power of the French monarchy. King John was determined to regain the Angevin lands seized by Philip Augustus in 1204. He found potential allies in the princes of the lands between France and Germany, many of whom – notably Ferrand, Count of Flanders, Renaud of Danmartin, Count of Boulogne, and Henry I of Brabant, whose daughter married Otto IV in May – were deeply nervous at the prospect of French domination. John’s diplomacy revived the strategy of Henry I, Henry II and Richard I, in seeking allies on the northern and eastern flanks of France. His intrigues were the more dangerous for Philip because of his family relationship with Otto IV, who claimed to be King of Germany and emperor. Philip decided to support the rival claimant to the Empire, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, who enjoyed the support of Pope Innocent III. Papal diplomacy and French money created a Hohenstaufen party and plunged Germany into a civil war, which rapidly became deadlocked. Thus Otto was drawn into the web of John’s plans for the recovery of the Angevin lands in France. Philip Augustus attempted to head off the coalition by invading England, but his fleet was destroyed at the sea-battle of Damme on 30 May 1213. At one stroke, England was freed from the fear of invasion, and Ferrand, Count of Flanders, was able to turn from the French king to an English alliance. 

John’s strategy was essentially a repeat of Henry I’s of 1124: Henry had called in his ally, the emperor Henry V, to invade France from the east while he fought on the Norman frontier.

John has also been linked with the growth of the idea that a fleet could be used in war as something more than a means of transport; in particular with the notion that `a naval offensive is the best and surest defence against a threat of invasion’. In 1213 France faced him with such a threat and, as well as using the diplomatic tactic of submitting to the Pope in order to remove Philip’s justification for his actions, John dispatched a fleet under William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury to Flanders. Both John and Philip had been actively seeking the support of Flemish lords in their quarrels and at this point Philip had invaded Flanders furious at the suggestion that the Count of Flanders had made a compact with John. He had also ordered the fleet which he had assembled in the mouth of the Seine to sail instead to the Zwyn, the area of the estuary of the Scheldt adjacent to the town of Damme. The English fleet also sailed to the Zwyn and from the tone of the chronicle it would seem that the commanders had no idea that they would find the French fleet already there. Despite their surprise they sent out scouts who confirmed that this was indeed the French fleet and also that it was virtually unguarded, most of the crews and the men at arms being on shore sacking the town and the surrounding countryside. The Zwyn at Damme was already a very shallow anchorage (the town is nowadays some distance from the sea) and it seems that some of the French ships were beached. Those at anchor were boarded, the few defenders overwhelmed, and the ships sailed back to England with their valuable cargoes of victuals and arms. Those on the mudflats were burnt once the spoils had been removed. Philip and his army on discovering this disaster were left with no option but to withdraw and to abandon the idea of invading England. In the context of the whole campaign, however, this English victory had no strategic importance; the final outcome, as in 1066, was decided by a land battle, the battle of Bouvines in 1214, a triumph for Philip.

Despite Brooks’ grand claims for a change in the perception of naval warfare, the nature of the engagement and the tactics used seem very traditional. The battle of Dover, however, which occurred in 1217 substantiates the theory of a new view of the possibilities of war at sea. When civil war broke out in England between John and the barons, the king should have been able to use his control of a relatively large group of ships to his own advantage. He failed, however to ensure the loyalty of the Cinque Ports. This made it possible for the rebellious barons, convinced that John had no intention of keeping the promises enshrined in Magna Carta, to receive help from the dauphin to whom they went so far as to offer the crown. French forces got ashore at Sandwich in May 1215. By the time of the king’s death in 1216 they controlled more than half the country.

Eustace the Monk

Eustace the Monk commanded the fleet needed to bring them to England. This seafarer called a viro flagitiosissimo (a real pain) by Matthew Paris was almost a legendary figure to his countrymen. He came from near Boulogne and may have had some early connection with the religious life. He gave it up, however, when his brother died without male heirs and by c. 1205 was in the service of king John. He seems to have conducted raids in the Channel and as far as the Channel Islands with a squadron of ships based on Winchelsea. By 1211 he was forced to flee from England and took service with the dauphin and was of great use to him in his English campaigns. The ballad written of his exploits includes many dramatic and unlikely stories involving magic and phantom ships among other things but it is clear enough that he was a skilled and experienced seaman.

For an introduction to naval tactics and combat, see: F. W. Brooks, `The Battle of Damme, 1213′ in The Mariner’s Mirror 16 (1930), 264-271; James Sherborne, `The Battle of La Rochelle and the War at Sea, 1372-1375′ in The Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 42 (1969), 17-29; Federico Foerster Laures, `The Warships of the Kings of Aragon and Their Fighting Tactics during the 13th and 14th Centuries AD’ in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration 16 (1987), 19-29; Susan Rose, Medieval Naval Warfare 1000-1500 (London, 2002); Ian Friel, `Oars, Sails and Guns: The English and the War at Sea, c. 1200-1500′ in War at Sea in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. John B. Hattendorf and Richard W. Unger (Woodbridge, 2003), 69-79; William Sayers, `Naval Tactics at the Battle of Zierikzee’ in Journal of Medieval Military History 4 (2006), 74-90; and Kelly DeVries, `God, Leadership, Flemings and Archery: Contemporary Perceptions of Victory and Defeat at the Battle of Sluys, 1340′ in Medieval Ships and Warfare, ed. Susan Rose (Aldershot, 2008), 131-150