Russian Heavy Frigates

Capturing of Swedish 44-gun frigate Venus by Russian 22-gun cutter Merkuriy of June 1, 1789.

Captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus.

The spring of 1789 was marked by two single-ship actions on the part of a young Irish-born Lieutenant, Commander Roman Crown, that were to have long-term consequences for Russian naval history. As commander of the 22-gun two-masted cutter Merkurii, Brown captured a 12-gun Swedish tender, ironically named Snapupp, on 29 April (10 May), a useful but unremarkable feat. He then performed the remarkable feat of surprising, engaging and capturing the much more powerful Swedish heavy frigate, the 40-gun Venus, on 21 May (1 June) of the same year. Crown would rise to become a Russian admiral in the coming years, with a record of proven valour and high accomplishment that extended into the 1820s. The captured Venus would be taken into the Russian navy under the command of the heroic young officer who had captured her. In Russian service under Crown’s command, she would accomplish great deeds against her nation of origin, fighting at Revel’ in 1789 and Vyborg in 1790 and then assisting in the capture of the Swedish 64-gun Rättvisan in the immediate aftermath of the battle. Her stout construction and excellent design characteristics would be incorporated into the designs of nearly two score Russian heavy frigates built during the nineteenth century. As for Lieutenant Commander Crown’s first command, the Merkurii, she lent her name to a 20-gun brig built in 1820 and destined for even greater fame than her name-ship by single-handedly engaging a Turkish 120 and a 74 in a four-hour battle in 1829 and emerging heavily damaged but intact.

Although the Greek Ionian Islands had been granted formal independence after the withdrawal of Russia from the war with France, they remained de facto Russian colonies. A small squadron of Russian warships made up of two ships of the line, a single battle frigate, three corvettes and two brigs remained stationed at Corfu after Ushakov’s departure. The heavy ships were veterans of Ushakov’s campaign and the small craft were all captured or converted vessels picked up in and about the Adriatic. In order to reinforce this squadron in the face of growing problems with the French, a moderately sized squadron was dispatched from the Baltic in 1804 under the command of Commodore Aleksei Greig, son of Samuel Greig. Greig’s squadron was comprised of a single Russian-built 74 and three elderly Swedish veterans of the 1788–92 war, the 62-gun Retvizan, the 44-gun Venus and the 24-gun rowing frigate Avtroil. It is unclear whether these Swedish veterans were sent because of their excellent and sturdy construction or because they were simply odd numbers in the Russian Baltic fleet. Regardless of their advancing age, they all served with distinction through the coming campaigns, with Venus acquiring the highest honours and suffering the most unusual fate.

Venus 44/50 Karlskrona

Constructor         F. Chapman

Laid down             31.3.1783 Launched 19.7.1783 Captured 21.5.1789

Dimensions          156 ft x 40 ft x 17 ft 6 in (Swedish measurement)

151 ft 6 in x 38 ft 10 in x 15 ft 9 in (Russian measurement)

Armament            Captured 26/30 x 24pdrs, 14 x 6pdrs (Veselago)

Swedish heavy frigate captured on 21.5.1789 by Russian cutter Merkurii. Attached to Vice-Adm. Kozlyaninov’s squadron at Copenhagen in 1789. Fought at Revel’ on 2.5.1790 with 1 killed and 2 wounded and 737 rounds fired. Fought at Vyborg on 22.6.1790, capturing 2 Swedish galleys. On 3.5.1790, assisted by Iziaslav (66), she captured the Swedish Rättvisan (64). Cruised in the Baltic in 1791, 1793–4, 1795–7 and 1798. To England in 1799–00. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801. Repaired in 1804. To the Mediterranean as flag to Commodore Greig (Adm. Greig’s son) in 1804. Involved in the capture of Tenedos in 1807. Engaged in the pursuit of Turkish squadron on 9.5.1807, leading the Russian attack and engaging a Turkish line of battle ship. Dispatched by Adm. Seniavin on 9.11.1807 in search of Commodore Baratynskiy’s division. Damaged, repaired at Palermo, blockaded by the British, and placed in Neapolitan custody to avoid bloodshed. Crew evacuated to Trieste.

Heavy frigates

A term applied to large and heavily armed 24-, 30- and 36pdr frigates found in significant numbers in both the Baltic and the Black Sea fleets. These larger ships were more numerous in both theatres than the smaller standard 18pdr frigates; but their respective popularity in the Baltic and the Black Seas arose from rather different tactical requirements and emphases. In the Black Sea, where the type was first introduced, heavy frigates were not regarded as traditional cruisers suited for scouting and raiding, but were rather the direct descendants of the previously described battle frigates and were intended to supplement the line of battle against similar Turkish ships. In the Baltic, on the other hand, heavy frigates were quite ironically the direct design descendants of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus, specifically designed by Fredrik Henrik af Chapman to take its place in the line of battle, and captured by the Russians during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–91. Russian heavy frigates built along the lines of the Venus were utilized in traditional frigate roles and not as battle line adjuncts as was the case with the Black Sea heavies.

During the period between 1770 and 1860, a total of 85 heavy and battle frigates joined the two Russian fleets, almost all of them armed with 24pdr cannon and ranging between 141 ft and 174 ft in length.

Arkhangel Mikhail class (3 ships)

Arkhangel Mikhail 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         M. D. Portnov

Laid down             14.7.1790 Launched 24.5.1791

Dimensions          151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

398 men

Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk on 8.7.1792. Damaged and forced to winter at Bergen. Joined Adm. Kruz’s squadron in the summer of 1793 and cruised in the North Sea. Arrived at Kronshtadt on 15.9.1793. To England in 1795–6. Wrecked while returning home on 25.10.1796 off Porkkala-udd on the coast of Finland. No casualties.

Arkhangel Rafail 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         M. D. Portnov

Laid down             14.7.1790 Launched 24.5.1791

Dimensions          151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

398 men

Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Sailed to Kronshtadt in 1794. To England in 1795–6. Operated off Holstein in 1797. Repaired in 1798. To Holland with troops with Rear-Adm. Chichagov’s squadron in 1799. Returned to Kronshtadt on 26.9.1800. Carried cargo between Baltic ports in 1802–3. Broken up in 1804.

Schastlivyi 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         G. Ignatyev

Laid down             19.12.1796 Launched 19.5.1798

Dimensions          151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

256/398 men

Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. To England with Vice-Adm. Thate’s 2nd Division on 3.7.1798, arriving at the Nore on 8.8.1798. Operated in the North Sea 1798–1800. Returned to Kronshtadt on 21.7.1800. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801–3. Cruised to Dogger Bank with Rear-Adm. Lomen’s squadron in 1804. Participated in Vice-Adm. Thate’s landing of over 20,000 troops on the German coast in 1805. Training duties in Kronshtadt Roads in 1806. Cruised with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808 and returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Stationed in Kronshtadt Roads as a guard ship in 1809. Blockship in Kronshtadt Roads in 1810–12.

Feodosii Totemskii class (2 ships)

Feodosii Totemskii 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         G. Ignatyev

Laid down             9.8.1798 Launched 24.9.1798

Dimensions          150 ft × 39 ft × 16 ft

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

Feodosii Totemskii class. Based on an amended design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk for England with Vice-Adm. Baratynskiy’s squadron in 9.1799. Returned to Revel’ in 9.1800. Cruised in the Baltic in 1803–4. Landed troops on the German coast with Adm. Thate’s squadron in 1805. Cruised in the Baltic with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808 and returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Floating battery in Kronshtadt Roads in 1809–11. Broken up in 1819.

Tikhvinskaya Bogoroditsa 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         G. Ignatyev

Laid down             19.8.1798 Launched 22.7.1799

Dimensions          150 ft × 39 ft × 16 ft

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

Feodosii Totemskii class. Based on an amended design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk for England with Vice-Adm. Baratynskiy’s squadron in 9.1799. Returned to Kronshtadt in 9.1800. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801–3. Cruised to Dogger Bank in 1804. Landed troops on the German coast with Adm. Thate’s squadron in 1805. Fire watch ship at Revel’ in 1807. Cruised with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808. Returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Stationed in Kronshtadt Roads in 1809. Fire watch ship at Riga in 1812. Broken up in 1819.

The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part I

The Campaign of 191 BC (Map J (i))

Livy (34.1.1) represents Antiochos, back in Ephesos, as ‘unconcerned about the Roman war’, in the belief that the Romans would not cross to Asia, but advised by Hannibal to expect them. ‘The fact was that the Romans were not less powerful at sea than on land’. He had heard that their fleet was ‘around Malea’ and that a new fleet under a new commander was on its way from Italy. Taking his advice, Antiochos sent the ships that were ready in commission to the Thracian Chersonese to prevent a crossing there, ordering Polyxenidas to fit out and launch the rest of the ships. Scout ships were also sent around the islands to investigate all enemy movements.

(L.36.42:191 BC) The new fleet commander, Gaius Livius, set out from Rome with 50 cataphracts for Naples where he had ordered the allies of that coast to assemble the aphracts due under treaty. From there he moved to Sicily and passing through the strait of Messana he added six Carthaginian ships and exacted the ships owed by the people of Rhegion and Lokroi and suchlike allies. The Carthaginian ships may have been cataphracts, but not the others. Arriving at Kerkyra he heard that the old fleet was in Peiraieus. He first plundered Zakynthos and Same (Kephallenia) which had sided with Aitolia, and then moved round the Peloponnese ‘in a voyage of a few days under favourable conditions’ and reached Peiraieus. ‘At Skyllaion he met Attalos’s son and successor Eumenes with three ships. He had been at Aigina in doubt whether to return to defend Pergamon, since he had heard that Antiochos at Ephesos was preparing sea and land forces, or stay on with the Romans on whose fortunes his own depended’.

Atilius handed over 25 cataphracts to Livius and returned to Rome. ‘Livius with 81 cataphract ships (constratis) and many lesser ships (minoribus), either aphract ships with rams or scout ships without rams, crossed the sea to Delos’. The total of cataphracts was made up of 50 new arrivals and 25 already in Greece. The further six are some of the nine ships of which the rating is not given, six Carthaginian and three with Eumenes. Since Eumenes’ main fleet was in Asia (see below), it seems likely that his ships were aphract and that all the Carthaginian ships were cataphract. By this time Antiochos had withdrawn and the consul Acilius was besieging Naupaktos, but the ships were needed more urgently in Asia than there.

(L.36.43.1) At Delos adverse winds delayed Livius for some days; ‘that area round the Kyklades is very windy indeed’. Polyxenidas’s scout ships told him that Livius was delayed at Delos and he informed Antiochos at the Hellespont. The king returned as speedily as he could to Ephesos with his ships equipped with rams (i.e. cataphracts and ram-equipped aphracts); and held a council to decide whether to fight a pitched battle or not. Polyxenidas advised him to fight before Eumenes’s fleet and the Rhodian ships joined the Romans, ‘when they would be about the same in number (as the Syrians) but superior in everything else both speed of ships and the varied potential of their support vessels (varietate auxiliorum). The Roman ships were inexpertly built, thus clumsy (immobiles) and came as well laden with supplies as ships are coming to an enemy country. The Syrian ships on the other hand were putting out from an entirely peaceful country and would have on board nothing but soldiers and arms. Their own knowledge of the (local) sea and land conditions, as well as of the winds, would also be a great advantage. The enemy was ignorant of all these and would be confused. The proposer of the plan convinced them all, particularly as he was also the man who was going to carry it out’.

Two days were spent in preparation; and on the third they moved from Ephesos to Phokaia with 100 ships, all of smaller size (minoris formae), of which 70 were cataphract and the rest aphract. Appian (Syr.,22) gives 200 ships, ‘very much lighter than the enemy’s, which was a great advantage to Antiochos since the Romans were still inexperienced at sea’. On news of the approach of the Roman fleet, Antiochos was not minded to be present at the battle, but went inland to Magnesia (ad Sipylum) to muster his land forces, ‘while the fleet moved quickly to Kissus, the port of the Erythraeans, supposing it to be a more convenient place in which to wait for the enemy’.

(L.36.43.11) ‘As soon as the north winds dropped – they had been blowing for several days – the Romans put out from Delos towards Phanai which was a Chian port facing the Aegean (west). From there they took their ships round to the city (of Chios) and taking on victuals crossed to Phokaia, which Appian says received them through fear. Eumenes had gone to Elaia and returned a few days later with 24 cataphracts and a slightly larger number of aphracts. Appian says that he had fifty ships of which half were cataphract. He joined the Romans at Phokaia, who were preparing themselves and making ready for a naval battle’.

(L.36.43.13) ‘From Phokaia the Romans put out with 105 cataphracts and about 50 aphracts. When at first they were driven towards the shore by north winds on the beam the ships were forced to move in a thin column with ships almost in single file. When the wind abated a little they tried to cross to the harbour of Korykos which lies north of Kissus (super Cissuntem est), the harbour of the Erythraeans’ and otherwise known as Erythras.

(L.36.44.1) ‘When Polyxenidas learnt that the enemy was approaching he was delighted at the prospect of fighting. He himself extended the left wing towards the open sea and ordered the trierarchs to open out (explicare) the right wing towards the land and thus advanced to engage in an even line’.

‘When the Roman commander (of the column under sail) saw what was happening, (leaving his foresail up) he furled his mainsail and lowered his mast, and stowing away the tackle awaited the ships that were following’. (He had to stop to allow the ships in the column behind him to catch up if he was to form line a breast).’ By this time about 30 ships (of the Roman, leading, right, wing) were in line (abreast) (in fronte); and to bring the left wing (i.e. the following ships of the column) level with them (in the line) he raised (i.e. gave orders to the ships of the right wing to raise) foresails1 and stood out to sea (to cover the enemy’s left wing under Polyxenidas) while ordering the ships (of his left wing) behind him to point their prows towards the shore (and move) against the enemy’s right’.

The foregoing passage is a most accurate and detailed account of the manoeuvre by which a fleet moving under sail in column  is transformed into a line-abreast formation (frons, ). With plenty of sea room the column could all take up stations on the left of the flagship, normally at the head of the right wing, without her having to alter course; but where, as here, sea room is tight, the right wing had to move some distance to the right out to sea so that the left wing had room to fan out as it moved towards the shore. It is interesting to note that in this description of a manoeuvre, as in the description of the battle of Chios, there is no mention of a centre, only of the two wings.

(L.36.44.4) ‘Eumenes was the rearguard; but, since the process of lowering sail initially caused some confusion, he also’ (like his commander Livius) ‘urged his ships forward with the greatest possible speed’ to get them into their place at the far end of the line . The reason why Livius used his foresails is indicated. He had to move quickly; and in suitable wind conditions the foresail would add to the speed achieved by the oarsmen. Here its use also indicates that since the north wind favoured Livius’s move away from the land to his right the lines of battle must have run roughly north east and south west with the northern ends close to the shore (which here ran roughly north west and south east) and the south western ends towards the open sea. The course being set by the Roman column was then from north west to south east and Polyxenidas’s ships were drawn up in a line of battle with the right wing near the shore. Behind them and to the east was the west-facing Erythraean port of Kissus from which they had put out. Identification of the ‘harbour of Korykos’ in which the battle took place must satisfy these conditions (see note on Maps J1 and J2).

The Battle of Korykos

As the two lines faced each other, ‘now (the combatants) were visible to all’. (This last remark suggests that until the lines were formed, one or other of the fleets was, at any rate partially, hidden from the other).

There were two of the Carthaginian ships, probably fives, out ahead of the rest of the allied fleet as the line formed up. Three of Antiochos’s ships came to meet them, and as was natural with the unequal numbers, two of Antiochos’s ships (probably threes) attacked a single Carthaginian ship first, brushing off the oars on each side. Then the decksoldiers boarded and seized the ship throwing overboard or killing the defenders. The one that fought on equal terms saw that the other ship was captured and withdrew back to the fleet before it could be surrounded by 3 ships.

(L.36.44.8) ‘Livius angrily moved against the enemy with his flagship. When the two ships that had surrounded the single Carthaginian ship began to attack him in the hope of giving him the same treatment, he ordered his oarsmen to let their oars down into the water to stabilise the ship, and grappling-irons to be thrown on to the approaching enemy ships. Then when the fighting had been reduced to the level of a land battle, he told them to remember their Roman courage and refuse to treat the king’s slaves as men. The two ships were then captured by the one as easily as the one had been captured by the two’. There was then a general melee.

Eumenes, who was the last to come up, after the battle had been joined, saw that the enemy’s left wing was being thrown into confusion by Livius, and proceeded against the (enemy’s) right wing, where the battle was more evenly balanced. And it was not long before flight of enemy ships began from the left wing. In fact, the moment Polyxenidas recognised that he was undoubtedly inferior in the courage of his decksoldiers, he raised his foresails and began a precipitate flight; and soon even those who had engaged Eumenes near the shore did the same.

Note to map J (ii): Livy gives an account of the fleet movements leading up to the battle, after Antiochos had approved the decision to seek naval confrontation with the Roman and Pergamene fleets.

Polyxenidas took the Syrian fleet out of the base at Ephesos north to Phokaia. There he appears to have had intelligence that the Roman fleet at Delos was waiting for favourable weather to move on Ephesos. He chose Kissus as the best harbour in which to wait and from which to intercept the enemy. The location of Kissus has to be inferred from what follows.

The Romans, when the weather became favourable, moved first to Phanai on the south-west coast of Chios (which Strabo 14.1.35 calls a ‘deep harbour’ confirmed by Admiralty Chart 2836 B) and from there went to meet King Eumenes of Pergamon and his fleet at Phokaia. For the allied fleet to move on Ephesos it was first necessary to move due west (with a strong beam wind) before turning south through the Chios strait. The north wind slackened (and probably their scouts told them of the Syrian fleet’s ambush); and they were attempting to turn east to find shelter in the harbour of Korykos, when Polyxenidas brought his fleet out and formed line abreast with his right wing towards the land and the left extended ‘into the open sea’. The reaction of the allied fleet was to down sail and form line abreast with the right wing extended ‘to the open sea’. The references to the wings and to the open sea indicate that both Kissus and Korykos were harbours in a west-facing coastline south of the Poseideion/Argennon strait.

Strabo’s account of the relevant area (14.1.31) begins with mention of the ‘isthmus of the Chersonese (i.e. peninsula) of the Teians and Clazomenians’. The journey (from south to north) across the isthmus is, he says, 50 stades (in fact 10 km) but the passage round is more than 1000. At about the middle of this circuit lies Erythrai, an Ionian city with a harbour and four adjacent islands. (32) On the way [from the south coast of the isthmus] to Erythrai there is first Erai, then Korykos, a high mountain [2328 ft], and a harbour below it called Kasystes, and then [after rounding the Korykeian promontory] another harbour called Erythras [= Kissus: mod. Kavaki Bay] and several others in order [mod. P. Sikia, P. Mersin, P. Egrilar as marked on the Admiralty chart]. The modern P. Sikia, which is nearest to Mt Korykos on the west side, is then to be identified with Livy’s Korykos harbour, lying a little more than 4 sm north west of Kissus. (Strabo continues:33) [Northwestwards] after M. Korykos there is a small island, Halonnesos [mod. Tavales], and then the Erythraean Argennon promontory [mod. Cape Bianco], which is very close to the Chian Poseideion (promontory) making a strait about 60 stadia (10.6 km) wide (in fact 6.5 km).

The conclusion to be drawn from Livy’s and Strabo’s text and corroborated from the Admiralty chart is that the battle of Korykos took place off the west coast (running NW and SE) of the Erythraian peninsula between Korykos harbour (mod. P. Sikia) and Kissus/Erythrias (mod. Kavaki) bay, but nearer to Korykos, which accordingly gave the battle its name.

It may be noted here that, when the Roman fleet retired northwards to Kanai (Strabo 13.1.6: the promontory on the south side of the gulf of Adramyttium) after a successful demonstration off Ephesos, (Livy 36.45.4 p. 150) they ‘set course for Chios sailing past the west-facing Erythraian port of Phoinikos’. Since Kissus is the Phoenician name (Erythras being the Greek name) for the harbour, this may be the port Livy means.

The Romans and Eumenes pursued doggedly enough as long as the oarsmen held out and there was some prospect of harassing the men of the (fleeing) column. But they saw that the speed of the enemy ships, being light, enabled them to elude the allies’ own vainly struggling ships which were laden with supplies. Appian speaks of the heaviness of the ships which prevented them catching an enemy escaping in light vessels. ‘At last they gave up the pursuit, after capturing 13 enemy ships, oarsmen decksoldiers and all, and ten swamped’. Of the Roman fleet only the one Carthaginian ship was lost.

(L.36.45.4) Polyxenidas went straight back to Ephesos. The Roman fleet remained on the day of the battle at the place from which Antiochos’s fleet put out, the Erythraean port of Kissus. On the following day it followed the enemy to Ephesos, meeting on the way 24 Rhodian cataphracts (Appian Syn.22 says 27) under the  Pausistratos. Together they drew up a line of battle off the harbour of Ephesos. After the exercise had sufficiently demonstrated that the enemy fleet admitted inferiority, the Rhodians and Eumenes were sent home. The Roman fleet then, setting a course for Chios, sailed past the west-facing Erythraean port of Phoinikos (see note to Map J (ii) and anchored for the night (offshore) and on the following day crossed to the island and the city (of Chios) itself. When they had stayed there for a few days to give the oarsmen as much rest as possible they crossed to Phokaia. With four fives left there as a garrison for the city the fleet moved to Kanai, and since winter was approaching the ships were hauled up and surrounded by a ditch and a rampart.

The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part II

Trihemiolia c. 300 BC

The Campaign of 190 BC (Maps J (iii), J (iv) and Note)

(L.37.1.10) In the winter of 191–190 both sides prepared for a further campaign on land and sea. Lucius Scipio received Greece as his consular province with his famous brother Publius Scipio Africanus as his legate. They were to lead a large army into Asia. (L.37.2.10) The maritime province was allotted to Lucius Aemilius. He was to take over from the previous praetor 20 naves longae and himself enrol 1000 socii navales and 2000 infantry ‘to serve on board the ships’ (@ 100). They would have been light warships,  with rams, i.e. liburnians, or possibly  With these he was to proceed to Asia and take over the fleet there from C. Livius. (L.37.4.5) On rumours that Antiochos after the naval battle was building a larger fleet, 30 fives and 20 threes were to be built at Rome.

(L.37.8.1) Antiochos ‘kept the whole winter free for preparations, chiefly concentrating on refitting his fleet so that he should not be driven wholly from command of the sea’. He reflected also that he had been defeated at sea in the absence of the Rhodian fleet and that the Rhodians would not let this happen again. ‘He would need then a great number of ships to equal the enemy fleet in power and size (viribus et magnitudine)’. (Polyxenidas’s fleet at Korykos had all been minoris formae) Hannibal was therefore dispatched to (Koilé) Syria (Appian Syr.22 ad fin.), Phoenicia and Kilikia to recruit Phoenician ships; and Polyxenidas, who had not been particularly successful, was ordered to take all the more pains to refit those he had, and to acquire others.

Antiochos himself wintered in Phrygia recruiting allies from all quarters. ‘He had left his son Seleukos with an army in Aeolis to prevent the defection of cities in that area which were being canvassed on the one side by Eumenes at Pergamon and on the other by the Romans from Phokaia and Erythrai’. The Roman fleet (of 30 ships) was at Kanai (Map I), from where in the middle of winter they made a successful foray after booty with Eumenes’ infanry and cavalry.

(L.37.9.5) In the early spring the Rhodians sent out a fleet of 36 ships under Pausistratos, and Livius took 30 of his ships from Kanai and moved with seven fours of Eumenes to the Hellespont to make preparations for the prospective crossing by the Roman army which was coming by land. Livius was met at Ilion by envoys from the local cities of Elaia, Dardanos and Rhoiteion offering assistance. He left 10 ships off Abydos, crossed to Sestos, which surrendered, and then returned to Abydos. Appian (Syr.23–24) says that Pausistratos, (whom he calls Pausimachos), left behind at Kanai in command of some Roman ships in addition to his own, organised various trials and exercises and devised fire-buckets. ‘He attached to long poles iron buckets containing fire, to hang the fire over the sea in such a way that it was clear of his own ships but would fall on to enemy ships as they approached’. A description of the device  employed by Pausistratos is given in a fragment of Polybios (21.7) preserved in [Suidas]. There is also a sketch of such a device in an Alexandrian tomb graffito (28).

The Panormos engagement (Note on Map J (iii))

(L.37.10.10) Polyxenidas (who was a renegade Rhodian and had a score to settle with Pausistratos) prepared a trap for him. He sent him a man, whom Pausistratos knew, with an offer to betray the king’s fleet to him if he Polyxenidas could be restored to Rhodes. Pausistratos moved to Panormos in Samian  or mainland territory and waited there to investigate the matter, carelessly splitting his fleet up, with some ships sent to get supplies at Halikarnassos and others to the city of Samos. A soldier of Antiochos’s army visiting Samos was arrested by the Rhodians as a spy and betrayed the plot, but the information was not believed.

At Ephesos Polyxenidas hauled up some ships close to the water and made preparations as if he was going to haul up others for repair. He summoned oarsmen from winter quarters not to Ephesos but secretly to Magnesia. Then quickly launching from the beach (deductis) the ships which had been hauled up (subductae) and summoning the oarsmen from Magnesia, he set out after sunset with seventy cataphract ships and in spite of a head wind arrived at the harbour of Pygela before daylight. There he rested (for the day) and crossed to the nearest part of the Samian mainland territory by night.

Meanwhile the pirate captain Nikandros had been given orders to take five cataphract ships to Palinuros and then conduct the armed men to Panormos to take the enemy in the rear, while he himself in the meantime with his fleet in two squadrons, so that he could hold the entrance to the port on both sides, made for Panormos. Pausistratos taken by surprise (and thinking that the enemy ships would try to enter the harbour) manned with his troops the horn-like promontories on each side of the entrance ‘preparing to drive off the enemy easily with missiles from both sides. But then when Nikandros’s troops appeared he ordered his men aboard the ships and tried to break out, his flagship leading the column. Polyxenidas surrounded his ship with three fives as she emerged and she was rammed and swamped. The deck-soldiers were overwhelmed with missiles and Pausistratos was killed. Some of the other ships were captured outside the harbour and some within it, others were taken by Nikandros as they were being manhandled off the beach. Only five Rhodian ships and two Coans escaped, terror produced by the flashing fire making a path for them through the press of ships. Each ship with poles projecting from her prow carried before her in iron buckets a quantity of ignited fuel’. Appian (Syr.21) says that seven ships escaped and that Polyxenidas towed 20 back to Ephesos (the number of Rhodian ships he gives is 27).

(L.37.11.14) Erythraean threes met the escaping Rhodian (and Coan) ships, which they were on their way to assist, not far from Samos and turned back to the Romans at the Hellespont. It will appear that the escaping Rhodian ships did not go north with them, but stayed on Samos, it must be assumed, with the ships which Pausistratos had sent to Halikarnassos and Samos city and which therefore had escaped the disaster. Polyxenidas, it appears, had returned to Ephesos.

Phokaia which had for some time been finding Roman occupation burdensome (P.21.6), was betrayed to Seleukos IV at this time, and other Aeolian cities, including Kyme, followed. Abydos was discussing terms of surrender with Livius when the disaster to the Rhodian fleet caused him to raise the siege and move south to protect the rest of his fleet at Kanai, which he then launched. Eumenes at the same time came down to his fleet at Elaia. (L.37.12.5) Then the whole (Roman) fleet with the addition of two threes from Mitylene moved to Phokaia. When he heard that this city was occupied by a strong royal garrison and that Seleukos’s camp was not far away, he plundered the coastal area; and quickly embarking the booty, particularly the men, he waited only until Eumenes with his fleet caught up, and then set out for Samos’.

(L.37.12.7) Rhodian grief at their disaster turned to anger when they realised that the Rhodian Polyxenidas was responsible for it. They dispatched ten ships, and shortly after ten more, under a new and more cautious commander Eudamos, presumably to join the other Rhodian (and Coan) ships probably at Samos city.

(L.37.12.10) (Map J3 and Note): ‘The Romans and Eumenes moved first to a mooring in Erythraean territory. They stayed there one night and on the following day reached (a mooring for the night at) the Korykos promontory. Since they wanted to cross from there to the nearest part of the Samian coast without waiting for sunrise when the helmsmen could take account of the condition of the sky, they put out into uncertain weather. In mid voyage the north-east wind (aquilo) veered north and the ships began to be tossed about as the sea became rough’.

(L.37.13.1) ‘Polyxenidas, thinking that the enemy would make for Samos to join the Rhodian ships, set out from Ephesos and first moored (for the night) at Myonnesos. From there (the next day) he went over to the island called Makris so that as the (allied) fleet passed by he could attack any ships that strayed from the column, or take an opportunity of attacking the rearguard. When he saw the fleet scattered by the gale (see above), he first thought that that was a good moment to attack (since they would not be in defensive formation); but a little later when the wind increased and was now raising bigger waves, since he saw that he could not reach them, he went across to the island of Aithalia, so that on the following day he could attack the ships making for Samos from the open sea’.

A small number of the Romans reached a deserted harbour on Samos at the beginning of dusk, while the rest of the fleet spent the whole night tossing on the open sea and ran into the same harbour (probably mod. Karlovassi). There they learnt from local people that the enemy’s ships were moored on Aithalia and discussed whether to engage the enemy at once or wait for the Rhodian fleet. Postponing action they went across to Korykos from where they had set out. Polyxenidas also, after waiting fruitlessly, returned to Ephesos, whereupon the Roman fleet crossed to Samos city, since the sea was clear of the enemy. The [new] Rhodian fleet also arrived there a few days later’.

(L.37.13.7) To show that they had been waiting for the Rhodians’ arrival, the allied fleet set off at once from Samos city for Ephesos either to decide the issue in a naval battle or, if the enemy refused to fight, a thing which would have most effect on opinion in the cities, to extract from him an admission of cowardice. They stood drawn up in battle order of line abreast in front of the entrance to the harbour (of Ephesos at the mouth of the river Kaystros). When no one came out to meet them, the fleet split up. Part rode at anchor in the open sea at the entrance to the harbour and part landed the decksoldiers on the coast. Since they were already collecting a vast amount of booty from the widely looted countryside, Andronikos of Macedon, one of the garrison, made a sally against them when they approached the walls and taking a large part of the booty drove them to the sea and their ships.

On the next day the Romans set an ambush at about the halfway point and marched in column up to the city’. Naturally enough there was no reaction. The men returned to their ships, and the ships to Samos, the Romans having made the point that the enemy avoided fighting by land as well as by sea.

(L.37.13.11) At this point Livius sent four threes, two from the Italian allies and two from Rhodes, with a Rhodian, Epikrates, in command, to deal with piracy in the strait of Kephallenia. Young Kephallenians led by a Spartan with the appropriate name of Hubristas (Lawless) had already succeeded in closing the supply route from Italy. The incident is interesting in showing the extent and serious effect of piracy and also indicating the wide responsibility of the praetor who held the provincia maritima.

(L.37.14.1) Epikrates did not accomplish his mission because at Peiraieus on the way he met the holder of the naval command (imperium) for 190 BC Lucius Aemilius. When Aemilius heard of the defeat of the Rhodians, anxious for his own safety since he had only two fives, he took Epikrates and his four ships back to Asia with him accompanied also by some Athenian aphracts. They crossed to Chios, where the Rhodian Timasikrates arrived on a stormy night with two fours from Samos. Brought to Aemilius he said he had been sent as escort because Antiochos’s ships in frequent raids from the Hellespont and Abydos made that stretch of the sea dangerous for supply ships. On the crossing from Chios to Samos Aemilius fell in with two Rhodian fours sent by Livius and king Eumenes with two fives.

(L.37.14.4: 191–90 BC) When Aemilius reached Samos and the fleet was formally handed over, there was a council of war. The new Roman commander, Eudamos of Rhodes and Eumenes of Pergamon had to deal with a number of demands on their limited naval resources. The Hellespont crossing had to be secured for the approaching Roman army under the Scipios, an attack on Pergamon by Seleukos had to be met; and, most important of all, the fleet of Hannibal, newly built in Phoenicia and now approaching along the coast of Asia Minor must be prevented from joining Polyxenidas’s fleet at Ephesos.

(L.37.22.2: August 190) ‘Against the fleet which was rumoured to be coming from Syria the Rhodians with 13 ships of their own, a five from Kos and another from Knidos set out (under Eudamos from Samos) to Rhodes to be on guard there’. Two days before they arrived 13 ships from Rhodes under the commander Pamphilidas, with the addition of four ships which had been on guard in Karia, had been sent against that same Syrian fleet. By attacking the Syrian forces they had relieved from siege Daidala and a number of other fortresses in the Peraia. Eudamos agreed to move on at once. Six aphract ships were assigned to him in addition to the fleet which he had. On departure (from Rhodes) he had hurried as fast as he could, and caught up with the advance ships at the harbour called Megiste. When they had reached Phaselis in one column, the best plan seemed to be to await the enemy there.

Phaselis was excellently situated for sighting the enemy from some way off, but they had not realised that it was unhealthy in midsummer. So they moved on to the mouth of the Eurymedon river. There they were told by the people of Aspendos that the enemy was at Side.

(L.37.23.4) ‘The king’s men had moved rather slowly because the season of the etesians is unfavourable, being given to north-westers (favoniis). The Rhodians had 32 fours and four threes; the royal fleet was of 37 ships of larger size including three sevens and four sixes. Besides these there were ten threes. The Rhodians saw from a watch-tower that the enemy was close’.

The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part III

Actuarius of about 200 BC, Second Punic War, from a bas-relief of the Vatican (late empire). Note the decorative spur.

The Battle of Side [Battle of the Eurymedon]

(L.37.23.6) ‘At first light on the following day each fleet moved out of harbour ready to fight that day; and after the Rhodians had passed the promontory which stretches out to sea from Side they were immediately visible to the enemy and the enemy was visible to them. On the king’s side the left wing which blocked the way on the side of the open sea was commanded by Hannibal, on the right wing Apollonios, one of the wearers of purple, was in command; they had already (when sighted) formed their ships in line of battle (i.e. abreast). The Rhodians were approaching in a long column. The leading ship was Eudamos’s flagship. Charikleitos was rearguard and Pamphilidas commanded the centre. When Eudamos saw the enemy’s line drawn up and ready for engagement, he also (as well as Hannibal) moved out to sea and ordered those that were following him one after another preserving their station to move into line abreast’.

(L.37.23.10) ‘That movement at first caused confusion, for Eudamos had not yet moved out to sea far enough [each ship following him in making a 90° turn in succession] for it to be possible for all the ships [making a 90° left turn together] to effect a line [abreast stretching] towards the shore2. Moving too fast himself, he found himself meeting Hannibal with only five ships; the rest, having been ordered to form line abreast, were not following him. At the end of the column there were no slots left [for the rearguard ships] adjoining the shore and while the ships there were sorting themselves out in a panic (trepidantibus) the battle had already started on the right wing’.

Livy’s statement (at L.37.23.5) that the Rhodian fleet at the mouth of the Eurymedon R. consisted of 32 fours and four threes can be reconciled with his earlier account (37.22.2) of the movement of ships from Rhodes, if four of the six aphracts there mentioned were threes and if the other two, smaller than threes, are not mentioned being, in the later context, of insignificant rating; and if further the four guardships from Karia were fours and in the later account the two fives are mistakenly given as fours. With those provisos the total in both cases was 38.3 It is an interesting indication of Rhodian naval policy that her ships were all fours, in the first case 30 and in the second, with the mistaken addition of the two allied fives, 32. A squadron of fours appears to consist of 12 ships with the commander’s flagship in addition. The Carian guard-ships were a detachment of four ships on special duty.

The manoeuvre described is the normal way of forming line abreast from column with the ships in column taking up stations in line abreast by first turning successively by 90° to the right (or left) and then turning together 90° to the left (or right) to form a line of ships abreast facing the enemy. But the column in this case had not sufficient sea room, since it had been moving too close to the shore. To rectify this Eudamos moved rather too quickly seaward. The fact that he now became separated with four other ships indicates that the column was (as often cf. Thuk.2.90.1) of four files and the leading ships of each file stayed close to him leaving a gap between them and the next four who were acting as ordered. The effect of his action had not yet filtered through to the shoreward end of the line-in-making where there were not enough slots for the rearguard. The clarity and precision of this description is remarkable.

(L.37.24.1) ‘However, in a short space of time the good performance of their ships and their naval experience took away the Rhodians’ nervousness. The ships moving out to sea quickly each gave a place on the left (landward) side to the ship coming after her (in the files of the column); and if a ship had engaged an enemy with the ram either she damaged the prow or she carried away the oars or by a free (i.e. unchallenged) movement along between the files (libero inter ordines discursu praetervecta) she made an attack on the stern’.

The description is again precise. If ‘each ship gave a place on the landward side to the ship coming after her’ in the column and there were four files in the column the line abreast formation must be four longitudinal files deep, a much stronger formation than a single line abreast.

The next description, after that of the successful establishment of the battle line, is of what happened when the two lines met. This is not a particular account but a generalised statement of the various possibilities.

‘When one ship engaged another she could either smash the prow or carry away the oars or passing right through between the files would attack a ship’s stern’. The ‘files’ (ordines) here are not the longitudinal files but the short files composed of individual members of the longitudinal files ranged one behind the other (four deep) and between which ships making a  would have to pass once a gap had been made.

(L.37.24.3) ‘The greatest consternation was caused when a royal seven was swamped by a single blow of a much smaller Rhodian ship, so that now the enemy right wing in no uncertain manner turned to flight. Out at sea Eudamos was hard pressed by the number of Hannibal’s ships although he was superior in other respects. Hannibal would have surrounded him had not a signal by which a fleet is usually concentrated been displayed from the flagship; and if all the ships which had been winning on the (royal) right flank had not hurried to assist their own men. Then Hannibal and the ships with him started to withdraw, but the Rhodians could not pursue them since their oarsmen were sick (p. 102) and for that reason rather quickly tired. In the open sea where they had come to a stop they refreshed themselves with food’.

The details given in this and the following passage confirm the impression that Livy has been deriving his account from a Rhodian source; and this would also explain why the account of the royal fleet and its moves is abbreviated to the point of obscurity. Although the names of the commanders of the right and left wings of the royal fleet are given (Apollonios (R) and Hannibal (L)) there is no mention of a commander for the centre as in the case of the Rhodian fleet. Nor is it formally stated that Hannibal was the overall commander and that his ship was the flagship, although it is difficult to believe otherwise. Then, Livy says, Hannibal was on the point of surrounding Eudamos and raised a signal which meant that the fleet should come together at one spot (presumably to the flagship so that he could capture Eudamos and the Rhodian flagship). The effect of this signal was to undermine the winning posture of his left wing by withdrawing the victorious ships from there; (and thus produce a deterioration of the whole position of the royal fleet including the left wing) so that Hannibal himself began to withdraw.

The outcome of the battle for the Rhodians was the capture of the one damaged royal seven which they towed to Phaselis. (L.37.24.6) ‘Eudamos’ while his crews were recovering ‘watched the enemy towing away with their aphracts their lame and damaged ships and scarcely more than 20 (of the 37 ships of larger size and ten threes of smaller size) moving off undamaged’. Since the aphracts of the Rhodians were not mentioned in the fleet inventories, it is reasonable not to identify the aphracts mentioned here with the threes in the royal inventory but to suppose that they were not mentioned there either.

From Phaselis they returned to Rhodes ‘not so much pleased at their victory as accusing each other of missing the chance of swamping or capturing the whole enemy fleet’. The effect of their victory on Hannibal was important. Although he wanted to join Polyxenidas at Ephesos as soon as possible, ‘he did not then dare to pass Lykia’; and to prevent the possibility the Rhodians sent Charikleitos with 20 ships with rams to Patara and the harbour of Megiste, while Eudamos was sent with the seven largest ships of the fleet he had commanded (at Side) to join the Romans at Samos with instructions to use his powers of persuasion to the utmost to make the Romans attempt the capture of Patara. The seven largest ships would have been the Coan and Cnidian fives, the four threes and his own flagship, the last either a specially powerful four or a five. If the two fives were wrongly classified as fours in the inventory of the Rhodian fleet before the battle, it is possible that the two flagships of Eudamos’s and Pamphilidas’s squadrons of 12 fours were also wrongly so classified.

Antiochos’s Final Effort at Sea: The Battle of Myonnesos 190 BC (Map J (iv) and Note)

The move of Antiochos to Sardis made it impossible for the Romans to move from Samos to Patara as the Rhodians wished, (L.37.25.2–3) and ‘give up protecting Ionia and Aiolis’; but the Rhodians found it possible to send four cataphract ships to join the fleet there. The diplomacy of the consul Scipio prevented Antiochos bringing Prusias over to his side to help him keep the Romans out of Asia. Antiochos accordingly (L.37.26.1) went to Ephesos from Sardis to review the fleet which for some months had been assembled and prepared ‘more because he realised that with his land forces the Roman army and the two Scipios could not be resisted than because naval action had ever been attempted by him with much success or that he had any great or certain confidence in it’.

Antiochos thought however that with a large part of the Rhodian fleet at Patara and Eumenes having taken all his ships to the Hellespont to meet the consul there was a hopeful opportunity for him. He was encouraged also by the Rhodian disaster at Samos (Panormos). His plan was to attack Notion, a coastal town in Colophonian territory, which was uncomfortably close to Ephesos, in the hope that the Roman fleet would come to support an ally and an engagement might ensue.

The last thing Aemilius at Samos expected was that Polyxenidas, after twice refusing to fight, would now come out. He wanted to move to the Hellespont but was detained by Eudamos and all his other advisers, who urged him either to stand by his allies or, if Polyxenidas offered battle, to defeat him again and win command of the sea. This was better than abandoning the allies, surrendering Asia to Antiochos by land and sea and making a quite unnecessary voyage to the Hellespont when his role in the war was to be at Samos.

(L.37.27.1) When victuals ran out there, Aemilius set out for Chios where the Romans stored their supplies, Chios being the destination of the supply ships from Italy. The fleet first moved round to the other (i.e. south) side of the island, the (north) side towards Chios and Erythrai being open to the north wind. Samos city is on the south side; the fleet must have been beached on the north side from which Ephesos and Notion could be observed. From the south side they could first tack north east. As they were preparing to cross, Aemilius learned that a large consignment of grain had arrived at Chios from Italy but that the ships carrying wine had been storm-bound. At the same time he was told that the Teians had generously supplied the king’s fleet with victuals and promised 5000 casks of wine.

When half way to Chios (on a NW tack) Aemilius suddenly changed course (NE) for Teos, ‘intending, if the Teians were willing, himself to use the stores prepared for the enemy, or, if they were not, to treat the Teians as enemies’. However, they were diverted by the sight near Myonnesos of about fifteen ships, which they first took to be part of the royal fleet but which turned out to be pirates with booty from Chios. They pursued them fruitlessly to Myonnesos and on the next day continued their voyage to Teos; and mooring the ships in the harbour called Geraistikos behind the town, presumably on the other side of the peninsula (Strabo 14.1.30) on which the town was built, began to ravage the countryside around it.

(L.37.28.4) By chance on that day Polyxenidas with the royal fleet left the siege of Kolophon (Notion) ‘and, learning where the Roman fleet was, dropped anchor off Myonnesos at a hidden harbour in an island which sailors call Makris’. From there, reconnoitring (explorans) the enemy’s movements from close at hand (the distance from Makris to Teos being 9.72 sm), ‘he was at the outset in high hopes of destroying the Roman fleet in the same way as he had destroyed the Rhodian fleet at Samos (Panormos), by stationing his ships round the harbour passage at the point of exit. The nature of the place (Geraistikos) was not unlike, the promontories on either side of the harbour mouth coming together so closely that two ships could scarcely go out at the same time. He had devised the plan of seizing the exit by night, and of attacking, as at Panormos, from land and sea at the same time. Ten ships standing at each exit would attack the ships in the beam as they came out and armed men would be landed from the rest of the fleet’.

(L.37.28.9) ‘The plan would not have failed him if the Romans, when the Teians agreed to do as they had been told, had not moved their fleet round to the other harbour in front of the city to take the supplies on board. There was also the fact that Eudamos had pointed out a fault in the other harbour when two ships broke their oars, getting them tangled together in the narrow entrance; and among other things the fact that there was danger from the land side gave Aemilius a motive for moving the fleet over, Antiochos’s camp being not far away’.

(L.37.29.1) The fleet had moved round to the city without anyone’s knowledge and the soldiers were on shore engaged in sharing the victuals and in particular the wine among the ships, when at about midday a man from the country was brought to the praetor with the news that already for two days a fleet was moored at the island of Makris and shortly before some ships had been observed moving as if to set out. Alarmed by the sudden development the praetor ordered the trumpets to sound, giving notice to return if any men had wandered off into the country, and he sent the tribunes into the city to collect the soldiers and crewmen for embarkation.

There was the usual confusion and the conflicting orders of a hurried embarkation but (L.37.29.5) ‘in the end they were assembled at the ships. In the tumult it was difficult for a man to recognise his own ship or go on board it, and there would have been a dangerous confusion (on the ships) at sea and on the land if a division of duties had not been made (among the commanders): if Aemilius in the flagship had not first moved out of the harbour into open water taking out those that followed him and had drawn them up (in column) each in his own file (there were then several files), and if Eudamos and the Rhodian fleet had not remained in position towards the shore’.

The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part IV

MAP J (iv). The Teos and Myonnesos Promontories. After Admiralty chart 3346

Note on Map J (iv): Teos and Myonnesos play a part in the events leading up to the battle named after the latter. Myonnesos had earlier (191 BC) featured in Polyxenidas’s plan for a surprise attack on the Roman fleet on its passage from the Korykos promontory to Samos. Livy (37.13.1) says that Polyxenidas then moored first at Myonnesos and then went over to the island called Makris with the intention of making a surprise attack (ut adoriretur) on any ships of the fleet that strayed from the column as it passed by or if opportunity offered on its rear. The island then, it appears, gave the cover for such a surprise attack which Myonnesos did not and was closer to the route which Polyxenidas appears to have expected the Roman fleet to take to Samos city.

Livy next mentions Myonnesos in the following year when a Roman fleet under Aemilius, on passage from Samos to Chios for supplies (and taking the easterly route), suddenly changed course for Teos and was diverted by the sight of about fifteen ships in the neigbourhood of Myonnesos which turned out to be fast and light pirate ships returning from a raid on Chios. They fled to Myonnesos on Aemilius’s attempt to capture them, giving Livy an opportunity to describe their refuge (37.27.6).

‘Myonnesos is a promunturium between Teos and Samos. The promunturium itself is a hill shaped like a cone and culminating in a sharp point from quite a broad base. It is approached from the mainland by a narrow path (arta semita), while its boundary seawards is formed by cliffs eroded by the waves. Livy’s description shows that what he describes is not a promontory but a peninsula to which the present island on the west side of the promontory answers. The result is that in some places the overhanging rocks reach higher than ships at their moorings. The Roman ships wasted a day, not daring to get close in case they were damaged by the pirates manning the top of the cliffs, and when night fell they gave up’. It appears then that the anchorage or mooring facility at Myonnesos was on the seaward side at any rate for the larger ships and was not therefore concealed. Strabo’s brief description (14.1.29) ‘an inhabited height forming a peninsula’ confirms Livy’s. The name Myonnesos suggests that it was once an island. These clues have enabled the makers of the Admiralty Chart 3446 to suggest that what appears now be a small island very close to the western side of the main promontory, 2 km from its end, was the ancient Myonnesos, and there seems to be no alternative. They propose also as Makris an island 500 metres SW of the end of the promontory. About 1250 m SE of Makris is another similar small island which may be the one called Aspis or Arkonnesos which Strabo (14.1.29) mentions as lying ‘between Teos and Lebedos’.

When a few days later Polyxenidas arrived in the area with the royal fleet he anchored again at Makris. On this occasion Livy describes the anchorage as hidden. He was able to reconnoitre the Roman fleet’s position without revealing his fleet’s presence.

Aemilius when his pursuit of the pirates proved fruitless had next day continued his intrrupted voyage to Teos and moored his ships ‘in the harbour at the back (a tergo) of the city and called by the inhabitants Geraistikos. He sent his troops to loot the cultivated land round Teos. The Admiralty chart shows that between the ancient city and the sea to the west there was a strip of high ground so that the cultivated area must have been to the east and north and that the bay north of the city making with the ancient harbour of Teos a peninsula must have been Geraistikos. Strabo says (14.1.30) that Teos was also (i.e. in the context like Myonnesos) settled on a peninsula and possessed of a harbour.

The harbour which appears to be Geraistikos has now an entrance about 750 metres wide. The horns which Livy says would scarcely allow two warships to enter side by side must have been artificially extended.

The Battle of Myonnesos: September 190 BC (Map J (iv))

‘The result was that the embarkation took place without undue hurry and that each ship moved out as it was ready. Thus the first ships (to emerge) extended their file under the eye of the praetor and the Rhodians brought up the rear of the column, and the battle order, drawn up as if the royal opponents were in sight, moved out to sea’. The final sentence, with a brevity which suggests an effortless and orderly manoeuvre unlike that attributed to the allied fleet at the battle of Korykos, describes the move from column (agmen) to the battle order (as if the enemy was in sight) of line abreast (acies) in the same number of files as in column.

(L.37.29.7) When the allied fleet of 80 ships (83 including 23 from Rhodes: Appian: Syr.27) was between Myonnesos and the Korykos promontory they sighted the enemy (they had moved due south about 7½ sm towards Myonnesos). ‘The royal fleet’ (L.89 ships: A.90 cataphracts) ‘came on in a long column of two files, and it likewise deployed a line to face the enemy with its left wing extending so far that it was able to embrace and go round the Roman right wing’. The fact that the royal fleet approached in ‘a long column’ of two files resulted in the line of battle being long, and two deep. It was also considerably longer than the allied line, for which the reason was partly that the royal fleet was more numerous by nine (or ten) ships, partly (and perhaps mainly) that the allied line was in more than two files, possibly four.

(L.37.29.9) ‘When Eudamos (Eudoros: Appian), who was bringing up the rear of the column, saw this, viz. that the Romans (led by Aemilius on the right wing) was unable to make the line equal (to the enemy’s) and thus not be turned on the right wing, he speeded up his (22 or 23) ships – and the Rhodian ships were far the fastest in the whole fleet – and bringing the wings equal put his own ship in the path of the flagship with Polyxenidas aboard’. Appian says that the Rhodian commander ‘on the left wing saw Polyxenidas outflanking the Roman line and quickly sailing round’ (behind the allied line) ‘since his ships were light and his oarsmen had sea-experience, sent his fire-ships against Polyxenidas, with flames blazing all round’.

The impression given in Livy’s account has been that the allied fleet completed the manoeuvre from column to line abreast before the enemy was sighted. But this impression is inconsistent with Eudamos’s manoeuvre just described. The place of his ships as the rearguard of a column deploying into line abreast to the left of the flagship was at the end of the line on the far left. But in the last paragraph Livy says that he was bringing up the rear when he saw the disparity of the battle lines and took the instant decision to move quickly to a place on the right of the right wing which would thus be extended sufficiently to bring the two lines to equality. In Appian’s description there is no such inconsistency.

(L.37.30.1) ‘Now in all the fleets at once the battle began. On the Roman side 80 ships were engaged of which 22 were Rhodian, while the enemy fleet was of 89 ships. They had, of ships of the largest size (maximae formae), three sixes and two sevens. The Romans were far superior in the sturdiness of their ships and the courage of their decksoldiers, and the Rhodian ships in agility and in the skill of their helmsmen and expertise (scientia) of their oarsmen. Yet those ships scared the enemy most which carried fire before them (27); and that which alone saved the ships surrounded at Panormos on this occasion made the greatest contribution to victory. For when the royal ships nervous at the threat of fire turned aside from an encounter prow to prow, they were unable themselves to strike the enemy with their rams and offered themselves sideways to (such) blows. They were more afraid of the fire than of the fighting. Yet, as usual, it was the courage of the decksoldiers which carried most weight in the battle’.

‘The fact was that when the Romans had broken through the middle of the enemy’s battle line, they swung round and threw themselves from behind on the royal ships which were fighting the Rhodians; and in a short space of time Antiochos’s centre and the ships on the left wing were surrounded and swamped. The undamaged part of the fleet on the right was terrified more by the destruction of their comrades than by their own peril; but after they saw others surrounded and Polyxenidas’s flagship raising sail and deserting her comrades, they quickly raised their foresails – there was a wind favourable for those bound for Ephesos – and fled’.

Appian, after describing the fireship attack on Polyxenidas, continues: ‘Polyxenidas’s ships had not the courage to attack the fireships because of the fire, but circling round them heeled over and were filled with water. They were hit on the  constantly. At last a Rhodian ship rammed a Sidonian and the blow was a strong one, so that the anchor of the Sidonian ship fell off and stuck into another ship, bonding the two together. The ships being impossible to separate the battle became like a land fight. Many ships rallying to each of the two ships there was a notable contest and as a result the Roman ships rowed through the centre of Antiochos’s line, that area being thinned out because of this incident; and they encircled the enemy before they realised what was happening. When they did there was flight and pursuit’.

It is interesting that both sources attribute the defeat to a classical ‘breakthrough’ () at the centre of the enemy’s line. Whether the weakness there was the result of the incident described by Appian or not, the abnormally long column, becoming an abnormally thin battle line in order to achieve an outflanking movement (the classical ), certainly risked offering the enemy the chance of a massive breakthrough, which was decisive. The moral which the reader is meant, by the Rhodian source, to draw is that Rhodian quick thinking and Rhodian quick rowing in light warships thwarted the  and led to the effective  of the heavier Roman vessels.

(L.37.30.7) ‘Antiochos lost 42 ships (Appian: Syr,.29), ten of which fell into possession of the enemy, the rest were burnt or swamped (demersae). Two Roman ships were smashed (fractae), a number received damage (polneratae). One Rhodian ship was captured in a remarkable manner’. Then Livy tells the story of the Sidonian ship which Appian also uses, concluding: ‘the anchor cable, (ancoróle), being pulled out and becoming entangled with the oars, carried away one side of them. The crippled ship was then captured by the very ship which had been struck by her and become attached. These were the tactics employed in the naval battle off Myonnesos’.

(L.37.31.1) The effect on Antiochos of the defeat was traumatic. ‘He doubted whether he could protect his distant fortresses and ordered his garrison to be withdrawn from Lysimacheia’. He also withdrew from the siege of Kolophon (Notion) (p. 105 and 104 above) and from Sardis, concentrating his efforts on preparation for the land battle with the Scipios which could not now be long delayed, since there was now nothing to prevent the Romans crossing the Hellespont into Asia. By the end of the year he had been heavily defeated in a great battle near Thyateira which put an end to his ambitions in the Mediterranean.

The peace treaty which followed (188 BC) the defeat contained a naval clause which is given by Polybios (21.42.13) and by Livy (38.38.8) but in both cases the text is imperfect. Walbank’s (McDonald and Walbank: 1969, Walbank: 1979 III p. 159) amended versions give the following sense: (Antiochos) must surrender both his long ships and the gear and rigging ( armamento) belonging to them, and he must keep no more than 10 aphracts (Livy: naves actuarias) and none of them rowed by more than thirty oars; and he may not keep those for the purpose of a war started by himself.


Under the year 185 BC Livy (39.23.5) mentions the threat of war with Perseus, the son of Philip V of Macedon. He says that the beginnings lay not with Perseus but with his father, who would have waged it if he had lived. Quintus Marcius, sent to Macedon in 183 to investigate the state of affairs there (P.23.8 and 10), reported similarly. At Rome by 172 (L.42.26.2–5) Genthios, son of Pleuratos, of Illyria was under suspicion as a Macedonian sympathiser, and Perseus was known to have sent envoys to ask for the support of Eumenes II, Antiochos IV and Ptolemy V, but all three had remained loyal to their treaties with Rome. Rhodes sent envoys to protest her loyalty in the face of suspicions to the contrary.

The reaction of the Senate (L.42.27 1–8) was to resurrect the fleet which had been laid up in the dockyards since the end of the Syrian war. 50 fives were to be inspected for seaworthiness and the Sicilian squadron was to be repaired and made ready for service if additional ships were needed. In the event 38 fives were launched at Rome and 12 in Sicily. Naval personnel were to be enrolled for the 50 ships, half from the freedmen and half from the allies, and an army of 8000 infantry and 400 cavalry put in readiness. In 171 (L.42.29.1) ‘all the kings and states in Europe and Asia were turning their minds to reflect on the Macedonian and Roman war’. Antiochus IV saw in it an opportunity, while the Roman attention was directed elsewhere, to wage war against the young Ptolemy and his guardians, who in turn were preparing for war against Antiochos to defend their right to Koile-Syria, at that time in Antiochos’s possession. The previous year (P.27.3, L.42.45) Rome had sent an embassy to Asia and among the islands to encourage her allies to join her in a war against Macedon. Rhodes was particularly important because it could provide material help, her president Hagesilochos ‘having advised the Rhodians to commission ( literally to fit hypozomata to: p. 356) 40 ships’, so that they could act instantly as the occasion arose.

(L.42.48.5) The praetor in charge of the fleet, Gaius Lucretius, left Rome with 40 ships of the fleet that had been prepared, his brother Marcus going ahead with one five to collect those due from the allies under treaty, and with orders to meet the rest of the fleet at Kephallenia. These were: one three from Rhegion, two from Lokroi and four from the district of Uria. At Dyrrachion he met ten local , 12 Issaean  and 54 belonging to king Genthios (which Marcus ‘pretended he thought had been assembled for his use’), took them with him ‘on the third day’ to Kerkyra and from there to Kephallenia. (L.42.48.10) Gaius made the voyage from Naples to Kephallenia in five days; and waited there not only until the land force had made the crossing from Italy but also for the supply ships to catch up, ‘which had been scattered from their column over the open sea’. His brother also must have joined him as ordered. Polybios says (27.7) that the Rhodian ships were also summoned at this point.

(L.42.56) Gaius then left the fleet under Marcus’s command with orders to move round the Peloponnese to Chalkis, while, with the intention of getting to Boiotia first, he took a three through the Corinthian gulf, rather slowly ‘because of illness’. Marcus reached Chalkis first and took a large military force, including a substantial Pergamene contingent, inland to besiege Haliartos, where he was joined by his brother coming up from Kreusa on the Gulf. (L.42.63.3 ff) The praetor captured it after a stubborn siege and ‘after these achievements in Boiotia returned to the sea and the fleet’. It is surprising that the ‘maritime province’ exended so far inland.

Other allied ships also assembled at Chalkis (L.42.56.6): two Carthaginian fives, two threes from Herakleia on the Euxine, four from Kalchedon, four from Samos, and then five Rhodian fours. Polybios (27.7.1) describes the mixed reaction at Rhodes to Gaius’s letter, ‘entrusted to a gym trainer’  but finally six fours were sent in support of Rome, five to Chalkis and one to Tenedos, the latter to protect commerce through the straits. The absence of Eumenes and his fleet is not significant, in view of his contribution of land forces and, together with his brother Attalos, his presence with them (L.42.57.4). In the following year his fleet took part in the naval operations off Macedonia.

However, since there was at present no naval activity anywhere, the praetor (P.27.7.16) after receiving kindly all the allies who had come by sea, relieved them of their obligations explaining that in the present state of affairs naval assistance was not required. The legate Quintus Marcius, who after he made his report had been sent back to Greece the previous year with a number of fives (L.42.47.9) and a roving mandate, appeared at Chalkis with his ships, and presumably then returned to Rome.

The assembly at Chalkis of ships of various kinds in support of Rome in 171 is interesting as indicating the standing, economic as well as political, of the various states in naval terms. The piratical  of the Adriatic, from Issa and Illyria, are at the bottom of the table. At the top are the fives of Rome and Carthage, and in between the threes of Herakleia, Chalkedon and Samos. Although Rhodes had fives, the type of ship she used most at this period was the four, from preference probably as Walbank observed (1979: III p. 336) as much as from necessity.

In 170 there is mention in Livy (43.4.8) of an assault by the fleet commander Hortensius, who had succeeded Gaius Lucretius, on the city of Abdera in northern Greece, which, being a free ally of Rome, complained to the senate. (L.43.7.10) Other cities in the area, Emathia, Amphipolis, Maroneia, Ainos, are said to have closed their gates to him. These cities must have been the objects of a naval raid similar to that reported for 169, but, perhaps because of its disreputable nature, not mentioned directly by Livy. There were complaints of the behaviour of Romans in Chalkis and the billeting of seamen in private houses.

At this time the loyalty of Genthios of Illyria was again suspect and (L.43.9.4) eight armed ships (naves ornatae) were sent from Brundisium to the island of Issa where there was a legate in charge with two Issaean ships (probably ) in support. A force of 2000 men, raised locally in that part of Italy, which had been garrisoned the previous year (L.42.36.9), was sent on board the eight ships. The type of ship is not given; they are said to be ‘armed’ in contrast to the . 250 is rather a large number of passengers even for a five used as a troopship, and it has been suggested that ‘8’ may be a scribal error for ‘18’4. The voyage is of 174 sm and at least 30 hours with favourable conditions, say a comfortable two day voyage with a stop for the night halfway on the Italian coast. In more adverse conditions speed would have been more like 4 kn overall, i.e. 45 hours or three days with stops for rest in the middle of the day.

(L.43.12.9 and 15.30) For the campaign of 169 reinforcements for the socii navales were sent, 1500 from Rome and Italy and as many from Sicily. Gaius Marcius Figulus was put in charge of the fleet at Chalkis, which went north in the spring in support of the Roman army in Thessaly and was in sight off the coast (L.44.7.10), but victualling arrangements were less effective, the supply ships having been left further south in Magnesia.

The capture of Herakleia Tracheia by the army (L.44.9.10) in the autumn provided the fleet with a forward base from which Marcius proceeded to ravage the country between there and Thessalonike, the site of the royal dockyards. It was besieged but proved too strongly garrisoned, and he moved north against the second Macedonian naval base, Kassandreia. There he was joined by Eumenes with 20 cataphracts and by five cataphracts from Bithynia. The joint forces besieged the city but abandoned the siege when it was relieved by ten  slipping along the coast at night from Thessalonike. The fleet then retired south to Iolkos for an attack, after ravaging the fields, on the third Macedonian naval base of Demetrias in the gulf of Pagasai, while the army besieged Meliboia 25 miles north (L.44.12.8–13.3) ‘conveniently theatening’ its communications. Both attacks were given up and the army went into winter quarters. While Eumenes took his ships back to Pergamon, Marcius sent part of his fleet to Skiathos for the winter and went with the rest to Oreos (in Euboia) as a good base from which to send supplies to the army in Macedon and Thessaly.

(L.44.17) Concern in Rome for the slow progress of the war in Macedonia led to a more rapid choice of the consul to hold that province, Lucius Aemilius Paulus, and of the praetor in charge of the fleet, Gnaeus Octavius. Aemilius immediately suggested that legates should be sent to Macedonia to inspect the army and the fleet and to report on the loyalty of the allies, the supply position and the achievement of army and fleet in the past year.

Their report severely criticised leadership of the army (L.44.20.2); its present position was dangerous and the supply position critical. Their report on the fleet (L.44.20.6) was that some of the socii navales had died of sickness; that some of them, especially the Sicilians, had gone home, with the result that the ships were undermanned; those in Macedonia had not been paid, and lacked suitable clothes (for the winter); Eumenes’s fleet had come and gone; he, unlike his brother Attalos, seemed wavering in his loyalty to Rome. As a result very substantial reinforcements were ordered for the army and 5000 socii navales for the fleet (L.44.21.11).

During the winter of 169/8 (L.44.23.2–10) Perseus engaged in widespread diplomatic activity, first gaining the formal adherence of Genthios through a special envoy Pentauchos (P.29.3–4) who asked him particularly to prepare for war by sea, since the Romans were entirely unprepared in this sphere in the regions of Epeiros and Illyria and he would be able to carry through easily every scheme he proposed. With Genthios he then approached Rhodes ‘with whom alone at that time resided rei navalis gloria, the prestige of seapower’. He sent letters also to Eumenes and Antiochos.

Perseus also sent his fleet commanders Antenor and Kallippos with 40 , to which were added 5  ( with rams) to protect from Tenedos the ships scattered throughout the Kyklades on their way (from the Black Sea) to Macedon with grain. These ships, launched at Kassandreia, went by way of the harbour under Mt Athos on a calm sea to Tenedos. There they came upon some aphract Rhodian ships under Eudamos which they sent away unharmed. On the other side of the island there were 50 Macedonian grain ships blockaded in a harbour by warships with rams (rostratae) belonging to Eumenes. Antenor promptly moved round and with threats removed the enemy ships. Ten  then convoyed the grain ships to Macedon with instructions to return to Tenedos when they had arrived safely. On the ninth day they rejoined the fleet which was now at Sigeion (at the entrance to the Hellespont).

From Sigeion they made a passage to Sybota, an island lying between Elaia and Chios. Next day they intercepted ‘between the cape of Erythrai and Chios where the strait is narrowest’ 35 horse transports taking Galatian horses and cavalrymen which were being sent by Eumenes from Elaia to Attalos with the Roman army in Macedonia. Eumenes’s commanders had no idea that there was a Macedonian fleet in those waters. ‘But when the lines of the approaching  were clearly visible and the acceleration of the oars and the prows pointing at them showed that enemy ships were approaching, then panic hit them’.

Resistance with ships of that nature was impossible; some who were nearer the mainland swam ashore on Erythraean territory, others raised sail for Chios and ran their ships aground. Abandoning the horses (which it would have taken too long to disembark) they fled in disorder to the city. But since they had disembarked their armed men nearer the city and at a more convenient landing place (commodiore accessu) the Macedonians caught the Galatians and cut them down, some on the road as they fled and others, shut out, in front of the gate. For the Chians, not knowing who were fleeing or who pursuing, had shut their gates. ‘Antenor ordered 20 especially fine horses and the 200 prisoners taken to be conveyed to Thessalonike by the same ten  that had been sent back before’. If the horses were taken on two of the , the remaining eight  would have taken 25 prisoners each. They must have been substantial light craft. He said he would wait for them at Phanai. The fleet moored for nearly three days before the city of Chios and then moved on to Phanai. When the ten  arrived back sooner than they had expected they put out and crossed the Aegean to Delos.

(L.44.29.1) Three Roman envoys who had been sent by the Senate to Alexandria apprehensive of an invasion of Egypt by Antiochos (p. 109) set out from Chalkis in three fives and, arriving at Delos, found there Antenor’s 40  and five fives of Eumenes. ‘The Roman, Macedonian and Pergamene seamen mixed freely under the truce afforded by the sanctity of the place’. Nevertheless Antenor sent his ships out commerce raiding ‘at night mostly in detachments of two or three ships’. His operations had their effect at Rhodes.

At this time (P.29.11 cf. L.44.29.6) envoys from Perseus and Genthios came to Rhodes. The pro-Roman party were ‘dismayed at what was happening. The presence of the  (of Antenor), the size of the (Roman) losses of cavalry (in the previous year) and Genthios’s change of allegiance, were wearing them down’. The Rhodian answer was that they were determined to bring about peace.

In the spring of 168 (L.44.30.1) Aemilius was in Macedon facing Perseus, the praetor Gnaeus Octavius at Oreos with some of the fleet and the rest at Skiathos, and Anicius with Appius Claudius at Apollonia to deal with Genthios. The latter (L.44.30.13–14) had 80  plundering the coast of Epeiros. At 44.30.15 Livy’s text is faulty, but supplemented by Appian (Illyr.9) it appears to indicate that Anicius captured some of Genthios’s ships, defeated him on land and shut him up in a fortress in which he captured him and all his family, thus ending the war on that front (L.45.43.4) ‘in a few days’.

In the meantime (L.44.32.5) Perseus was in great fear not only of the new consul on land but also of the new praetor at sea. ‘He had no less fear of the Roman fleet and the dangerous situation of the sea coast’ as a result of the admittedly often unsuccessful raids in the previous two years. He accordingly diverted forces to strengthen the garrisons of Thessalonike and other cities of the area. (L.44.35.1) When Aemilius was ready to move he planned a feint towards Thessalonike employing the fleet, when his attack was inland. It culminated in the battle of Pydna in which Perseus was heavily defeated and the war brought to an end. (L.44.44.3) Perseus fled to Samothraké from where Octavius brought him to Aemilius at Amphipolis. By this time the end of the campaigning season was reached and the army and fleet went into winter quarters.

As a postscript to the naval war it may be noted (L.45.35.3) that in the following year when Aemilius Paulus returned in triumph to Rome it was on board ‘a royal ship of huge size, which was rowed by sixteen oar-files (versus remorum), up the Tiber to the city’. This was (L.33.30.5) the ‘ship of almost unmanageable size with sixteen oar-files’ which Philip V was allowed to keep after his defeat nearly thirty years before (cf. Plutarch Aemilius Paulus 30.2–3).

(L.45.42.12) Also a number of royal ships seized from the Macedonians ‘of a size not previously seen’ were hauled up on to the Campus Martius. (L.45.43.10) 220  formed part of the booty from Illyria. Genthios seems to have taken seriously Perseus’s advice to concentrate on sea power.

Crimean War: Naval Operations in the Pacific, 1854–5

The Russian Frigate Pallad.Pallada (Russian: Паллада) was a sail frigate of the Imperial Russian Navy , most noted for its service as flagship of Vice Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin during his visit to Japan in 1853, which later resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Shimoda of 1855, establishing formal relations between the two countries. In addition to her diplomatic mission, her crew also conducted numerous geographical and natural studies in the Far East. She was scuttled by her own crew in the Crimean War due to the poor condition of her hull in 1855.

At a time when Russian imperial expansion eastwards across Siberia was still in its infancy, there were few major Russian settlements on the Pacific coast that might merit the attention of the allied fleets. The only sizeable Russian towns in the region were Okhotsk and Petropavlovsk, along with the fur and fish trading port of Sitka in Alaska. Smaller fishing and trading settlements hardly merited attention, as did the local communities on Sakhalin Island or around the estuary of the River Amur, former Chinese territory which had only recently been brought under Russian control. The port of Petropavlovsk, situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula and sheltered in Avocha Bay, was the largest Russian settlement on the Pacific coast. Founded as recently as 1740 by the Danish explorer Vitus Behring (1681–1741), after whom the Behring Sea and Strait were named, the port recalled his two ships, St Peter and St Paul. It was developing as an important fishing and whaling port, a base for voyages into the Arctic seas to the north and as a link with Russian trading settlements in Alaska. In 1854, it was also an anchorage of the Russian Pacific squadron, the Okhotsk flotilla.

Had it not been for the fact of a Russian naval presence in the northern Pacific the region might well have been left alone by the allies, since it was so remote and of little economic significance. Added to that, British (and presumably French) knowledge of the region was minimal and sea charts just about non-existent. Nevertheless, a Russian naval squadron did exist, though its exact size and location were unknown, and would have to be dealt with, since there was some concern that if unmolested Russian warships might ‘injure’ British whalers or traders operating in the Pacific or moving to and from the USA, China and Australia. It was therefore decided in the summer of 1854 that Anglo-French naval forces would indeed operate against Russian interests in the region. The aim, as in the other naval theatres, was to seek out and destroy Russian warships (in this case the small Okhotsk squadron), to attack shore-based military targets and to disrupt trade, which largely meant the fishing and whaling industry and trade with Russian Alaska.

The Russian naval presence in the northwestern Pacific was, not surprisingly, very small. Her fleet in the China and Japan seas in 1854 was commanded by Rear Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin, a highly experienced explorer, diplomat and naval officer who had under his immediate command only the aged 60-gun frigate Pallada (or Pallas), the frigate Aurora and the armed transport Dvina. The last named had only recently refitted in Portsmouth! Putyatin knew very well that his enemy could deploy a far greater force against him and wisely sought to avoid a naval engagement. The frigate Pallada he sent for safety far up the River Amur, whilst the Aurora and Dvina were dispatched to the shelter of Petropavlovsk where they could not only find a refuge but also help in the defence of the port if required.

The allied squadron deployed to operate in the north Pacific was drawn from warships usually on the China Station or patrolling the American Pacific coast, which could be rapidly diverted for active operations against Russian interests. The chosen ships gradually assembled in the Marquesas in May and June and finally concentrated at Honolulu late in July 1854, where in a leisurely manner they completed their repairs and took on water and provisions. The combined force comprised:


President (flagship), a 50-gun frigate under Captain Richard Burridge. Pique, a fifth-rate frigate under Captain Sir F.W.E. Nicolson, Bart. Trincomalee, a Leda-class frigate under Captain Wallace Houstoun.7 Amphitrite, a Leda-class frigate, under Captain Charles Fredericks. Virago, a paddle-steamer under Commander Edward Marshal.


La Forte (flagship), frigate under Captain de Miniac. L’Eurydice, frigate under Captain de la Grandie`re. L’Artemise, corvette under Captain L’Eveque. L’Obligado, brig under Captain Rosenavat.

The French contingent was under Rear Admiral Auguste Febvrier- Despointes (1796–1855) but overall command lay with the British Rear Admiral David Price commanding the British squadron in the Pacific. Having duly received his orders from the Admiralty, on 9 May Price issued instructions from President, then at Callao in Peru, to his subordinate commanders requiring that ‘we should forthwith commence and execute all such hostile measures as may be in our power . . . against Russia and against ships belonging to the Emperor of Russia or to his subjects or others inhabiting within any of his countries, territories or domains’. Having detached the Amphitrite, Trincomalee and Artemise to cruise for commerce protection off the coast of California, the allied squadron still mounted over 200 guns, with 2,000 men and was what one writer called ‘a very respectable force of ships to meet the Russians with’. Setting off from Honolulu on 25 July in search of enemy warships, the allies headed first for the Russian fur-trading port of Sitka in Alaska, hoping to locate the Russian squadron there. When nothing was found, the combined fleet turned for the Kamchatka Peninsula and on 28 August 1854 arrived in Avocha Bay.

Such is the distance between St Petersburg and Petropavlovsk that the military governor of Kamchatka in 1854, Rear Admiral Vasili Zavoyko, had only heard that a state of war existed between Russian, Britain and France in mid-July. Although Petropavlovsk already had some established fortifications, the Admiral lost no time in strengthening its defences, realising that the port would be an obvious target for a naval attack. He ordered the construction of new entrenchments, batteries, banks and ditches and enrolled local men into a form of ‘town guard’. Merchant ships already in the bay were dispersed and the only Russian warships in the port, the recently arrived Aurora and Dvina, were withdrawn deeper into the bay, moored in such a way that their guns would serve as additional batteries defending the approaches to the port. The Aurora took shelter behind a large sand spit, additionally defended by an 11-gun shore battery and both ships’ crews were landed to join the defenders. Nevertheless, Zavoyko had only 67 heavy guns and less than 1,000 armed men (including the naval contingent) to defend the entire town. He could then do no more than wait for an enemy to appear.

Having found no worthy targets in Alaska or at sea over the past five weeks, Admiral Price arrived off Petropavlovsk on 29 August and went aboard the steamer Virago to reconnoitre the port. He found it defended by four small batteries and a larger work, Fort Schakoff, mounting five heavy guns and itself defended by flank batteries, each of twelve 36-pounders. Holding a council of war aboard President, Price decided to attack the port on 30 August. Early that morning, the ships were cleared for action and the President, Pique, La Forte, L’Eurydice and L’Obligado entered the harbour. But after only a few rounds had been fired at the Russian defences, a disaster occurred. Just after the firing began, Admiral Price retired to his cabin below decks on the President and shot himself in the heart; he died some hours later. Whether it was the accidental discharge of his own pistol, as was tactfully suggested at the time, or the suicide attempt of an officer overwhelmed by his responsibilities and sense of inadequacy will never be known. On 1 September his body was taken by Virago to be buried on the nearby island of Tarinski.

The unfortunate Rear Admiral Price (1790–1854) was typical of the gerontocracy which dominated the Royal Navy in the 1850s and whose employment in the Baltic and elsewhere was to cause such comment. Universally regarded with respect as a courteous and tactful man, Price was quite out of his depth as the commander of a combined squadron on active service. He was then 64 years old, had been a post captain for nearly forty years before his recent promotion to rear admiral and had seen no service at sea for over a generation. Operations in the Pacific, 1854–5 91 a brave and resourceful officer, seeing extensive action during the Napoleonic Wars, from Copenhagen in 1801, through numerous naval clashes with the French and during the American War in 1814. But thereafter he had led a quiet life, with six years in retirement (1838–44) as JP for Brecon. Returned to service, from 1846 to 1850 he was superintendent of Sheerness Dockyard, being promoted rear admiral in November 1850, and then for some unaccountable reason, apart from the merit of his long service, given active command of British naval forces in the Pacific in August 1853. The tragedy of his sudden death at Petropavlovsk naturally caused the complete disruption of the planned attack. As next senior British naval officer, overall command of the British ships was quickly transferred to Captain Sir Frederick Nicolson of the Pique, who postponed the attack and ordered the immediate withdrawal of the squadron. Thereafter, the French Admiral Auguste Febvrier-Despointes directed operations; he too was to die aboard his flagship La Forte in 1855.

At 8.00am on 31 August, the allied squadron once again sailed into the harbour and began the bombardment of Petropavlovsk in earnest. But indecision ruined any chance of success. Fearful of serious damage to the ships, the French Admiral kept them at long range – in fact too far to do any serious damage to well-defended batteries. The main target was the large 11-gun battery, which was actually silenced by fire from La Forte and President. The Russian ship Aurora returned a damaging fire from behind her defended position, though she suffered quite severely from the allied response. Finally, a landing party from Virago under Captain Charles A. Parker, RM actually captured one 3-gun shore battery and spiked its guns before withdrawing. But by nightfall little had been achieved and the squadron again withdrew; overnight, the Russians repaired the damage to their batteries ready for the next onslaught.

In council with his officers, Febvrier-Despointes decided to launch a combined land and sea assault on 4 September. Whilst the warships bombarded the Russian defences, a Naval Brigade of 700 sailors and 100 marines drawn from the Pique and the Eurydice, nearly half of the entire manpower of the allied squadron, would be landed to seize gun positions north of the port prior to an attack on the town itself. This force was placed under the command of Captain de la Grandie`re of L’Eurydice, with Captain Burridge of the President and the marine contingent again under Captain Parker. The three warships President, Virago and La Forte would occupy the attention of the shore batteries (which incidentally did a great deal of damage to the ships’ masts and rigging), whilst the shore parties carried aboard Virago dealt with the guns at close quarters and would then attack the town. The main landing beyond the town initially went well, though the site was badly chosen, overlooked as it was by a hill which turned out to be well defended. Gunfire from President and Virago silenced two shore batteries and the immediate land objective, the Russian Battery No. 4, was quickly taken. However, it was found simply to have been abandoned by its small crew under Lieutenant Popoff, who withdrew to No. 2 battery, having spiked its three guns. The warships maintained their previous long-range barrage, especially at the Aurora and at the large No. 2 battery under Lieutenant Prince Maksutoff but the shore party soon got into difficulties and the entire attack collapsed. In face of the strong enemy landing, Russian defenders had been positioned on a wooded hill overlooking the route of the advance and in concealed positions in thick brushland. As the Naval Brigade and marines pushed inland towards No. 2 battery, impeded by dense brambles and undergrowth, they were met with heavy and accurate fire from concealed positions, followed by a counter-attack by Russian sailors. Captain Parker and two French officers, including Captain Lefebvre of L’Eurydice, were amongst the first killed and nine other British and French officers were quickly wounded. With these losses amongst their leaders and under heavy and concentrated fire, the rest fell back and a retreat to the shore was ordered. By the time the fighting stopped, 107 British and 101 French sailors and marines had been killed or wounded in what was an ignominious repulse. The survivors regained the ships by 10.45am and although a desultory firing continued until nightfall, nothing significant was achieved. The ships withdrew beyond range in the evening to repair and to treat the wounded and overnight the Russians again re-occupied or repaired their damaged gun positions.

Needless to say, this setback in the Far East was greeted with a mixture of amazement and derision in Britain, where the failure to achieve anything concrete against so remote an enemy was scarcely credited. The reputation of the Russians as defenders and as opponents capable of supplying and holding on to even the most remote Imperial outpost was greatly enhanced and greatly admired. There is no doubting the bravery of the officers and men on both sides – the casualties amongst the allied officers perhaps indicating a rather reckless disregard for their own safety – but it is equally clear that the landing was badly thought-out, with little accurate information on the nature and strength of the enemy positions they were attacking. The Russians proved to be determined and effective defenders – apparently much to the surprise of the officers of the allied fleet, who seem to have expected a complete collapse and withdrawal by the Russians.

The fleet withdrew to repair and after the allied dead were buried on Tarinski Island on the 5, 6 and 7 September the squadron simply left the area, its commanders considering it too weakened to renew the attack. The Russians reported 115 casualties – 40 killed and 75 wounded, amongst whom was Lieutenant Prince Maksutoff, mortally wounded – and damage to the town’s fish warehouse and 13 other buildings from the naval bombardment. Although Virago and President managed to capture the Russian trading schooner Anadis and the 10-gun transport Sitka on 7 September, these were slender rewards achieved at great cost. The British element sailed for winter stations in Vancouver and the French to San Francisco.

There were no further naval operations in the Pacific that year. The debacle in August and September forced a complete restructuring of the allied squadron made available for operations in the Russian Pacific and the deployment of new warships to the theatre. Rear Admiral Henry William Bruce, commanding Britain’s Pacific Squadron, was appointed to the command in November 1854 but nothing was done until the better weather of the spring of 1855. There were two British squadrons available to provide ships to tackle the Russian presence in the Pacific. The Pacific Squadron generally patrolled the western coasts of the Americas whilst the other was the established China Squadron under Admiral Sir James Stirling. Between them, they would provide a larger force for operations against the Russians and initially put under Admiral Bruce the President, flagship, the Pique, Trincomalee, Dido, Amphitrite, Brisk, screw, Encounter and Barracouta. The French element, commanded by Rear Admiral Martin Fourichon after the death of Febvrier-Despointes, comprised, as in 1854, La Forte, L’Eurydice and L’Obligado with L’Alceste.

In April 1855, Admiral Bruce ordered the Encounter and the Barracouta simply to watch Petropavlovsk and report the movement of Russian ships, if any. The city had in fact been heavily re-fortified in the early months of 1855 but the allied plans for a renewed and successful attack were suddenly rendered obsolete. The defenders of the city, under Admiral Vasili Zavoyko, were well aware of the danger they faced from a renewed onslaught by a much more powerful force. In a remarkably audacious and resourceful move, they cut passages through the ice to release their trapped ships and under cover of snow and dense fog on 17 April 1855, the entire Russian garrison of about 800 was withdrawn from the town and carried southwards to safety in the estuary of the Amur River in the Aurora and Dvina and any other available merchant ship. The remaining civil population to the number of about 1,300 people fled overland to take refuge in the inland village of Avatcha, far from the danger of naval gunnery. The town’s guns were spiked, removed or buried. It was all swiftly, efficiently and effectively carried out, without the allied observers even being aware of the movement.

When in May 1855, the new allied squadron under Bruce sailed into the harbour of Petropavlovsk, it was immediately clear that the town was deserted – apart from two American traders who hoisted the ‘Stars and Stripes’ as a friendly signal. Landing parties destroyed the remaining batteries and gun platforms and burned the arsenal and magazines, but did no damage to private property – unlike the fate of the unfortunate town of Kola in the White Sea. A stranded Russian whaler found in the inner harbour was burned but no attempt was made at any stage to follow the Russian ships into the Amur, since they were reported to be very well protected. Having nothing else to achieve at Petropavlovsk, Bruce and Fourichon directed their ships to Sitka but since it was found to be undefended and with no Russian shipping in port, it was left unharmed. The British press later leveled special criticism against the commanders of the Encounter and the Barracouta for allowing the entire garrison of Petropavlovsk to escape by ship along channels that were not even marked on the Admiralty charts. They did not, however, face any investigation by the authorities.

Despite the change of commanders and an increase in strength, the allied Pacific campaign of 1855 was to be another depressing failure, characterised by a round of seemingly pointless (and certainly ineffective) patrols in largely unknown waters. They simply could not find the Russian Pacific Squadron – or at least, could not close with it – and unlike allied ships in the Baltic and Azoff seas made little attempt to damage the largely insignificant local trade or local communities. Sporadic naval operations by various ships drawn off the China station continued throughout the year. In April, HMS Spartan was detached to patrol the Kuril Islands, with no result, and ships cruised in Japanese and Korean waters searching for Russian vessels. Allied warships visited the Japanese port of Hakodate and from there sailed north, examining largely insignificant settlements on scattered islands; at Urup in the Kuril Islands, they seized the possessions of the Russian-American Company. More alarmingly, Commodore Elliott, with the 40-gun Sybille, the screw Hornet and the Bittern, reported sighting a Russian squadron in Castries Bay on 20 May. They were identified as the ships Aurora, Dvina (both recently escaped from the Amur), Oltenitza, the 6-gun Vostok, and two other unidentified armed vessels. With his three small ships – and no charts or knowledge of the those waters – Elliott did not feel strong enough to enter the bay to try to ‘cut out’ the enemy vessels and apart from Hornet lobbing a few long-range shells at the Dvina, nothing could be done. Having failed to frighten or induce the Russian ships out of the bay to fight in the open sea, Elliott dispatched the Bittern to bring up reinforcements and spent a fruitless week cruising with Hornet and Sybille trying to watch the Russians in Castries Bay. By the time Bittern returned with part of the China Squadron under its Admiral, Sir James Stirling, the Russian vessels had escaped back into the Amur, simply bypassing Commodore Elliott’s slight blockade – a fact that caused some caustic comment in London. The Pique, Barracouta and Amphitrite, joined by the French vessels Sibylle and Constantine, were then detached under Elliott to patrol the Sea of Okhotsk, unsuccessfully searching for the vanished Russian ships.

Admiral Bruce’s squadron, having cruised to no great effect in the estuary of the Amur and then amongst the Kuril Islands in August and September, simply dispersed as winter set in; most of the British vessels headed once more for the dockyards on Vancouver Island, Britain’s nearest Pacific port, whilst the French again sailed for San Francisco. The last act of the Pacific campaign, if it can be called such, was the seizure by Barracouta of the brig Greta, out of Bremen but under US colours, which was found to have on board most of the crew of the Russian frigate Diana. The 50-gun Diana had had an exciting time. Laden with ammunition and other supplies intended to re-supply Petropavlovsk, she had come all the way from Cronstadt in 1854, eluding the allied blockade of the Baltic in its early days. After an epic journey around the world, she was eventually wrecked off the coast of Japan in November 1854 and her non-arrival at Petropavlovsk was another other reason for the town’s abandonment in May 1855. Greta was sent under Lieutenant R. Gibson to Hong Kong and claimed as a prize.

The operations in 1855 were as limited and as unsuccessful – though less costly in lives – as those in 1854 and again caused an outburst of indignation in England. That such large, expensive and powerful fleets could do so little was beyond conception in Britain. The naval authorities on the spot were accused of ‘knight-errantry’ in pointlessly cruising distant, largely uncharted seas with no apparent goal, in dividing their forces up into squadrons too small to tackle any sizeable Russian force that remained and especially in allowing the flight of the Russian squadron in Castries Bay. A correspondent of The Times summed up the whole operation in October 1855:

The result of the expedition was most unsatisfactory and indeed, its commencement was of the same character. Petropavlovski, which was found 14 or 15 months back defended in such a manner as justified a hostile attack, actually repelled the allied forces; and this year when visited, it was disarmed and of course spared. The Russian settlements in the Amoor River turn out to be a mere myth. Finally, the Russian Pacific Squadron appears before our officers just to disappoint their hopes and, when the British Admiral is ready, eludes all pursuit. The Russian ships are, no doubt, at this moment snugly ensconced behind some choice sandbanks in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Unsurprisingly, there were no significant allied naval operations in the Pacific in 1856.

Red Sea Convoys

HMS Kimberley (photographed in 1942)

Italian destroyer Pantera

The first of the Red Sea convoys, collectively the BN/BS series, consisting of nine ships including six tankers, gathered in the Gulf of Aden on 2 July. Thereafter these convoys sailed up and down the Red Sea on a regular schedule. Admiral Balsamo attempted to attack this traffic, but the war’s opening months held little but frustration for his destroyers. On six occasions in July, August, and September, they sortied at night in response to aerial reports of Allied vessels but in every case failed to make contact. Aircraft and the surviving submarines did little better. Guglielomotti torpedoed the Greek tanker Atlas (4,008 GRT) from Convoy BN4 on 6 September 1940, while high-level bombing attacks damaged the steamship Bhima (5,280 GRT) from BN5, which four Italian destroyers had failed to locate, on 20 September.

As Italian warships burned their oil reserves on unsuccessful sorties, the Allied Red Sea Squadron grew stronger, deploying by the end of August four light cruisers, three destroyers, and eight sloops. Other warships passed through on their way to and from the Mediterranean. In September, as traffic volume swelled, the Mediterranean Fleet lent the newly arrived antiaircraft cruiser Coventry, which alternated with Carlisle along the Aden–Suez route to provide extra protection against air attacks.

By October the Italian ships faced mechanical breakdowns, the increasing exhaustion of crews by the extreme climate, and a growing shortage of fuel. Nonetheless, they continued to sail. On the evening of 20 October, four destroyers weighed anchor to search for BN7, which aerial reconnaissance had spotted sailing north. The plan called for the slower and more heavily armed Pantera and Leone to distract the escort while Sauro and Nullo slipped in to send a spread of torpedoes toward the merchant ships.

Attack on Convoy BN7 and Battle of Harmil Island, 20–21 October 1940, 2320–0640

Conditions: Bright moon, calm sea

Allied ships—

BN7 Escort (Captain H. E. Horan): CL: Leander (NZ) (F); DD: KimberleyD2; DS: Auckland (NZ), Indus (IN), Yarra (AU); MS: Derby, Huntley

BN7: thirty-two merchant ships and tankers

Italian ships—

Section I (Commander Moretti degli Adimari): DD: Sauro (F), Nullo Sunk

Section II (Commander Paolo Aloisi): DD: Pantera (F), Leone

The convoy timed its progress to pass Massawa around midnight. The moon was bright, but haze reduced visibility toward the African coast. At 2115 the Italian sections separated, and at 2321 Pantera detected smoke off her starboard bow. She reported the contact to Sauro and began maneuvering at twenty-two knots to position the low-hanging moon behind the contact.

BN7 was thirty-five miles north-northwest of Jabal-al-Tair Island (itself 110 miles east-northeast of Massawa) when Yarra, zigzagging in company with Auckland, sighted Captain Aloisi’s ships ahead. Yarra challenged and Pantera replied with a pair of torpedoes at 2331 and then another pair at 2334, at ranges fifty-five and sixty-five hundred yards, respectively. Shooting over Yarra, she “lobbed a few shells” into the convoy. According to a wartime British account, “a lifeboat in the commodore’s ship was damaged by splinters, but otherwise no harm was done.” Leone, which trailed Pantera by 875 yards, never fixed a target and thus did not fire torpedoes.

Yarra saw the torpedo flashes from broad on her port bow and turned toward the enemy. Both sloops opened fire as torpedoes boiled past, narrowly missing. The Italian ships altered away, shooting with their aft mounts. Aloisi reported explosions and claimed two torpedo hits, but in fact, his weapons missed. Kimberley was trailing the convoy. She rang up thirty knots and steered northwest to close the action. Leander, sailing on the convoy’s port beam, headed southwest, while the sloops and minesweepers stayed with the merchantmen. Pantera and Leone, considering their mission successfully accomplished, continued west-southwest and broke contact. They eventually returned to Massawa via the south channel.

After the gunfire died away, Captain Horan steered Leander northwest to cover Harmil Channel believing the enemy ships had retired in that direction.

Upon receiving Pantera’s report, Sauro and Nullo had turned to clear the area while the first group attacked and to put themselves in a favorable position relative to the moon. This involved a ninety-degree port turn at 0016 on 21 October and another at 0050. The section then headed southeast, but for nearly an hour it encountered nothing. Finally, at 0148, Leander and another ship hove into view. Sauro snapped off a single torpedo at the cruiser (another misfired). In response Leander lofted star shell, and then ten broadsides flashed from her main batteries in two minutes before she lost sight of the target. Italian accounts say this engagement occurred at sixteen hundred yards, while Leander’s report stated the enemy was more than eight thousand yards away.

Sauro turned south by southwest and at 0207 attempted another torpedo attack against the convoy. One weapon misfired, and although Sauro claimed a hit with the other, it missed. At the same time Nullo detected flashes that she believed came from an enemy torpedo launch, and within minutes a lookout shouted that wakes were streaking toward the Italian destroyer’s bow. At 0212 Sauro turned north and disengaged, eventually circling behind the British and taking the south channel to Massawa. Nullo’s captain, however, put his helm over even harder, “because it was [his] intention to attack, being still in an opportune position to launch against the convoy, before taking station in formation.” However, the rudder jammed for several minutes, causing Nullo to circle and lose contact with Sauro.

At 0220 Leander’s spotlights fastened onto “a vessel painted light grey proceeding from left to right”—in fact, Nullo steaming north. The cruiser engaged from forty-six hundred yards off the Italian’s starboard bow. Nullo returned fire, first against “destroyers” spotted astern (probably Auckland) and then at Leander. The ships dueled for about ten minutes. The Italian enjoyed one advantage: she employed flashless powder (the British noted only two enemy salvos), whereas British muzzles flared brightly with each discharge. Leander fired eight blind salvos (“little could be seen of their effect”), but several rounds nonetheless hit home, damaging Nullo’s gyrocompass and gunnery director. With this the Italian destroyer abandoned her attack attempt and turned west-northwest running for Harmil Channel at thirty knots. In the two actions Leander fired 129 6-inch rounds.

Guessing Nullo’s intention, the cruiser pursued in the correct direction. At 0300 Kimberley joined, and at 0305 Leander turned back, “appreciating that the enemy was drawing away from her at the rate of seven knots and that the convoy might be attacked.” Kimberley continued, hoping to intercept.

The British destroyer arrived off Harmil Island before dawn. At 0540 her lookouts reported a shape to the south-southeast, and she closed to investigate. Nullo’s lookouts likewise reported a contact. The sharp angle of approach made it impossible to be certain, but the Italian captain assumed it was Sauro, especially when it seemed to signal the Harmil Island station. He was more “worried about the shallows scattered around the mouth of the northeast passage and above all of the 3.7 meter sandbank immediately north of his estimated 0500 position.”

At 0553 the British destroyer opened fire from 12,400 yards. Surprised, Nullo took four minutes to reply and at 0605 swung sharply from a northwest heading to a south-by-southwest course. By 0611 the range was down to 10,300 yards. Due to her prior damage, Nullo’s gunners fired over open sights, while human chains passed shells up from the magazine. Harmil Island’s battery of four 4.7-inch guns joined the action at 0615 from eighteen thousand yards. At the same time, with the range now eighty-five hundred yards, Kimberley turned south, emitting black funnel smoke, causing Nullo’s gunners to think they had scored a hit.

At 0620 Nullo scraped a reef, opening her hull to flooding and damaging a screw. Then, while the ship was setting course to round Harmil Island, a shell exploded in the forward engine room and a second slammed into the aft engine room. Nullo skewed sharply to the left and lost all power; splinters swept the upper works. The captain ordered his men to prepare to abandon ship while he angled the ship toward Harmil in an attempt to run it aground. The aft mount continued in action until the heel became excessive.

Having expended 115 salvoes, Kimberley launched a torpedo to dispatch her adversary; it missed, so she closed range and uncorked another. The second torpedo slammed into Nullo at 0635 and blasted her in two. Meanwhile, the Harmil battery finally found the range, and a shell struck Kimberley’s engine room, wounding three men. Splinters cut the steam pipes; the British destroyer lost power and came to a halt.

Kimberley’s men frantically patched the damage while the drifting ship’s guns remained in action, shooting forty-five rounds of HE from no. 3 mount, and achieving some hits that wounded four of the shore battery’s crew. After a few long minutes, the destroyer restored partial power and pulled away at fifteen knots. The shore battery fired its final shots at 0645, when the range had opened to nineteen thousand yards. During the battle Kimberley expended 596 SAP and 97 HE rounds.

After she was clear the destroyer lost steam pressure again. Finally Leander arrived and towed Kimberley to Port Sudan. Nullo remained above water; her guns ended up equipping a shore battery. On 21 October three Blenheims reported destroying a wreck east of Harmil Island. This led the British to conclude two enemy ships had been involved in the action.

The Aden command faulted the escort (except for Kimberley) for demonstrating a lack of aggressiveness, although deserting the convoy to chase unknown numbers of enemy destroyers through a murky night does not in retrospect seem the best course of action either. The Italian ships, although outnumbered, delivered two hit-and-run torpedo attacks, according to their plan. However, while using widely separated divisions increased the probability of finding the enemy, a natural consideration given the history of failed interception attempts, it also guaranteed that the Italian forces would lack the punch to take on the escort and deliver a meaningful attack. In fact, the first Italian attack seemed more formulaic than a serious attempt to cause damage.

The Italian East African squadron conducted another (fruitless) sortie on 3 December 1940. It aborted a mission planned for early January after British aircraft damaged Manin, one of the participants, and on 24 January it sortied again, without results. On the night of 2 February 1941, however, three destroyers departed Massawa and deployed in a rake formation to search for a large convoy known to be at sea.

Attack on Convoy BN14, 3 February 1941

Conditions: n/a

Allied ships—

Convoy Escort: CL: Caledon; DD: Kingston; DS: Indus (IN), Shoreham

Convoy BN14: thirty-nine freighters

Italian ships—

DD: Pantera, Tigre, Sauro

Sauro spotted the enemy, made a sighting report, and immediately maneuvered to attack. She launched three torpedoes at a group of steamships and then, a minute later, at another dimly seen target marked by a large cloud of smoke. She then turned away at speed. Her two sisters did not receive the report, but ten minutes later Pantera stumbled across the enemy and also fired torpedoes. The Italians heard explosions and later claimed “probable” hits on two freighters. Tigre never made contact.

On her way to Massawa’s south channel, Sauro encountered Kingston. Out of torpedoes, the Italian retreated at full speed. Concerned that the British were attempting another ambush, the squadron concentrated on Sauro and radioed for air support at dawn. In the event, the three destroyers safely made port. The Italian East African press reported two freighters as probably hit, but despite this claim, all torpedoes missed.

By April 1941 Imperial spearheads were probing Massawa’s defensive perimeter. With Supermarina’s approval, Rear Admiral Mario Bonetti, Balsamo’s replacement from December 1940, ordered a last grand gesture—an attack by the three largest destroyers (Leone, Pantera, and Tigre) against Port Suez, five hundred miles north, and a concurrent raid by the smaller destroyers Battisti, Manin, and Sauro against Port Sudan. The British Middle Eastern command had considered such an attack possible and had reinforced Port Suez with two J-class destroyers and sent Eagle’s experienced air group south to Port Sudan, while the carrier waited for mines to be swept from the Suez Canal so she could proceed south.

The Italian venture ran into problems early when Leone struck an uncharted rock forty-five miles out of Massawa. Flooding and fires in her engine room forced her crew to abandon ship. Her two companions returned to port, as the rescue operation left insufficient time for them to continue the mission.

On the afternoon of 2 April the remaining Italian destroyers sailed once again, this time against Port Sudan, 265 miles north. British aircraft attacked them about two hours out of port but caused no damage. Then Battisti suffered engine problems and scuttled herself on the Arabian coast. The other four continued at top speed through the night and by dawn were thirty miles short of their objective. However, Eagle’s Swordfish squadrons intervened, sinking Sauro at 0715. The other ships headed for the opposite shore, under attack as they went. Bombs crippled Manin at 0845. She eventually capsized and sank about a hundred miles northeast of Port Sudan. Pantera and Tigre made it to the Arabian coast and were scuttled there.

Caught off guard by the Italian sortie, British warships rushed north. At 1700 Kingston found Pantera’s and Tigre’s wrecks. The two ships had already been worked over by Wellesley bombers, but Kingston shelled Pantera’s hulk and then torpedoed it, just to be sure

The biggest Italian naval success in the Red Sea was a Parthian shot that occurred on 8 April, with Massawa’s defenses breached and ships scuttling themselves on all sides. MAS213, a World War I relic no longer capable of even fifteen knots, ambushed the old light cruiser Capetown, which was escorting minesweepers north of the port, and scored a torpedo hit from just over three hundred yards. After spending a year in repair, the cruiser sat out the rest of the war as an accommodation ship.

This was the Italian navy’s final blow in East Africa. The capture of Massawa relieved Great Britain of the need to convoy the entire length of the Red Sea and released valuable escorts for other duties. On 10 June an Indian battalion captured Assab, Italy’s last Red Sea outpost, eliminating a pair of improvised torpedo boats. After that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the narrow sea a nonwar zone, permitting the entry of American shipping.

However, German aircraft continued to exert a distant influence over the Red Sea, by mining the Suez Canal and attacking shipping that accumulated to the south of the canal. As late at 18 September Admiral Cunningham complained to Admiral Pound that “the Red Sea position is unsatisfactory . . . about 5 of 6 ships attacked, one sunk [Steel Seafarer (6,000 GRT)] and two damaged. . . . The imminent arrival at Suez of the monster liners is giving me much anxiety. They are crammed with men and we can’t afford to have them hit up.” In October 1941 the Suez Escort Force still tied up four light cruisers, two fleet destroyers, two Hunt-class destroyers, and two sloops. The British maintained a blockade off French Somaliland until December 1942.