La Doutelle & L’ Elisabeth meet HMS Lion: July 9th 1745

In the spring and summer of 1745, Britain faced a growing crisis in Flanders. On 11 May, Saxe defeated Cumberland in the long, bloody duel of Fontenoy. Ghent and Bruges were lost in July, and Ostend capitulated on 23 August. This was very bad indeed and distracted British attention away from the plans of Charles Edward who appeared to be a very small player in the midst of such grand manoeuvres. However, on 22 June, the prince boarded the frigate Le du Teillay and sailed from St Nazaire. He was about to take centre stage. Nearly three weeks before his departure, the prince had written to Louis XV, whom he addressed as ‘uncle’ intimating that he had resolved single-handedly to make himself known by his deeds. To embark on an enterprise to which even a very moderate amount of help would ensure success, and being so bold as to think that the King of France would not refuse this:

I would certainly not have come to France if the expedition which was planned to take place last year [1744] had not shewn me that your Majesty wished me well . . . and so I go to seek my destiny which, apart from being in the hands of God, is in those of your Majesty.

This would clearly seem to indicate Charles had confidence in the eventual certainty of French aid, once his expedition should be seen to stimulate results. What he had not taken into account was the fact that Fontenoy and the gains in Flanders had conferred the strategic initiative on France. There was no real need for any sideshow, other than it might sow further confusion. Certainly, the French could not pretend they were unaware of what was afoot. One of the vessels the Prince’s entrepreneurial friends had chartered was the 64-gun L’Elisabeth. It was quite customary for the French Navy to grant charters with letters of marque to enterprising merchant raiders, who might seek a profit from the wars. It appears unlikely that L’Elisabeth could have been hired for the expedition to Scotland without the direct authority of the minister concerned.

The ship carried a naval complement, and large stores of arms, accoutrement, powder and shot had been amassed, which required ministerial authorisation. From the French perspective, the expedition was a low cost extension to the war which had the potential to increase the pressure on Britain, with whom France was tentatively seeking to negotiate. Charles had, on 12 June, written to his father to explain the desperate venture on which, without James’s commission, he was about to embark:

I believe your Majesty little expected a courier at this time, and much less from me; to tell you a thing that will be a great surprise to you. I have been, above six months ago, invited by our friends to go to Scotland, and to carry what money and arms I could conveniently get; this being, they are fully persuaded, the only way of restoring you to the Crown, and them to their liberties . . . After such scandalous usage as I have received from the French Court, had I not given my word to do so, or got so many encouragements from time to time as I have had, I should have been obliged, in honour and for my own reputation, to have flung myself into the arms of my friends, and die with them, rather than live longer in such a miserable way here, or be obliged to return to Rome, which would be just giving up all hopes . . . Your Majesty cannot disapprove a son’s following the example of his father. You yourself did the like in the year ’15; but the circumstances now are indeed very different, by being much more encouraging, there being a certainty of succeeding with the least help. . . . I have tried all possible means and stratagems to get access to the King of France, or his Minister, without the least effect . . . Now I have been obliged to steal off, without letting the King of France so much as suspect it for which I make a proper excuse in my letter to him; by saying it was a great mortification to me never to have been able to speak and open my heart to him. Let what will happen, the stroke is struck, and I have taken a firm resolution to conquer or to die . . .

Brave words, appropriate in the romantic, if not the pragmatic, sense, Charles, in this apologia to his father, suggests he has been drawn to the Scottish venture by the assurance and entreaty of sympathisers there, but his initial reception in the Highlands would indicate otherwise. On the other hand, the expedition may be seen to represent the final throw of the despairing gambler, determined to risk all on a last roll of the dice. The fact that the fount of overt French support had dried up should have indicated to a wiser man how the land lay in that direction. Hubris is a poor reason for campaigning without some more substantive bedfellows. On 2 July, the sleek du Teillay was joined by the heavier and ageing L’Elisabeth off Belle Isle, and the pair sailed north-west until, with typical misfortune, they ran foul of HMS Lyon (58 guns). The English man-o’-war, if under-gunned, was faster, having just been refitted. Captain Dan of L’Elisabeth ran out his guns to make a fight of it. The French ship cleared for action, exchanged token shot and hoisted her colours. The Englishman gave chase and presently the two warships were exchanging broadsides. No subtlety here, but a grinding, yardarm to yardarm, attrition of screaming round shot.

At one point in the action, Lyon was able to rake her opponent, causing fearful loss, yet she certainly did not have matters all her own way, and the Frenchman shot away her rigging and partly dismasted her. The battle raged until darkness when L’Elisabeth limped back towards Brest with 57 dead, including her gallant skipper, and nearly twice as many wounded. Though she was neither sunk nor taken, her priceless cargo of supplies and quota of volunteers was lost to Charles Edward. Diminutive du Teillay, with the prince’s equally modest entourage on board, sailed on alone. Despite the continued vigilance of the Royal Navy, Captain Durbe steered his ship north and west, around the treacherous coast, past the bastion of Cape Wrath and, on 23 July, sighted the Outer Hebrides. The vessel made landfall off Barra, where the steep hills crowd down to the anchorage. The Highlander turned financier, Aeneas MacDonald, went ashore to establish contact with his brother-in-law and staunch Jacobite, Macneil of Barra: The Forty-Five had begun.

It did not begin particularly well for the prince. Macneil was away and it was feared the government had rumbled the whole affair. Undeterred, Charles was for pressing on. There was a further fright when what appeared to be a large man-o’-war was sighted and du Teillay took shelter among the necklace of islands. More alarums followed. Charles and his tiny band received a taste of the fury of a West Coast summer storm. The laird of Boisdale was the first man of consequence the prince spoke to on the barren strand of Eriskay. His advice was as harsh as the wind, but the Jacobite counsels were disturbed by the renewed attentions of supposed British warships.

On 25 July the swift French frigate nosed into Loch nan Uamh and the prince, with his tiny entourage, stepped ashore at Arisaig. Charles was now upon his native land, the arms and stores were unloaded and local gentlemen consulted. Having revictualled, du Teillay made ready to put out to sea. If Prince Charles Edward was having any second thoughts, now was definitely the time. If he lacked wisdom and judgement, he lacked for neither courage nor energy. Durbe and Walsh, who had accompanied the voyage, said their farewells, the latter departing with a letter of commendation from the prince in his pocket. It was time for Whether the prince possessed sufficient intellectual wherewithal to contemplate the wider, European picture, must remain doubtful. That he first allowed himself to be deceived before proceeding, in turn, to deceive others may be quite likely. The Forty-Five, therefore, was born out of false optimism and launched on pious hopes, presented as sure. In short, it was founded on an entirely false premise that the Highlands had but to show the white cockade and the French would be sufficiently enthused to intervene, as had been so tantalisingly close the previous year. None of those chiefs, seduced by the prince’s easy charm and charisma, which would hold only as long as he was seen to be winning, seriously envisaged that the clans must bear the weight of the whole campaign unaided.

Monday 19 August saw the prince with his following at Glenfinnan, where the high hills crowd the loch. Apart from a pair of local shepherds, the tranquillity was undisturbed by the tramp of marching feet. After what must have been an increasingly anxious wait, a small MacDonald contingent, no more than 150 broadswords, came in and, with them, James Mor MacGregor, son of the celebrated Rob Roy and as much a rogue. It was not until around four in the afternoon that Cameron of Lochiel finally made an appearance, bringing in perhaps 700 of his affinity, to be followed by Keppoch with, at best, half as many. It was scarcely an army, hardly sufficient for two weak battalions.

What followed was a formidable feat of arms. Charles’s ragged forces defeated Cope at Prestonpans. Despite the chiefs’ misgivings, the army was soon tramping in good order down the western spine of England. They took, firstly Carlisle, then, on 27 November, Preston. Despite a remarkable dearth of recruits, the clan regiments pressed on initially to Manchester and, finally, on 4 December attained Derby. Whether the decision forced upon Charles by his officers to withdraw was the correct one remains open to debate. But the prince, his brittle personality bruised by this reverse, took more and more counsel with his Irish cronies, and a widening chasm opened with his Highland commanders, particularly Lord George Murray. If Charles had significantly misrepresented the actual level of likely French support, his core belief that victories won by the Highland army might stimulate their enthusiasm to the point of significant military intervention was not so wide of the mark. Even as the rebel army was setting its face towards north and beginning a long retreat from the high-water mark of Derby, some modest French reinforcements succeeded in eluding the Royal Navy blockade and entering Montrose.

This was not an army; the Royal Ecossais was merely a weak composite battalion of companies drawn from the regiments in the Irish Brigade. Nonetheless, as far back as 13 October, Louis had taken a decision to support Charles with a force of several thousands. By mid November, the ubiquitous Walsh was instructed to assemble transports and the Irish were moved up to Dunkirk. Any chances of the expedition setting sail were hampered by adverse winds, while the RN waited in the Downs. A landing either on the south coast or further west seemed the likeliest option. So heightened was the tension in England that on 10 December a French descent was announced – somewhat prematurely – the supposed invaders were nothing more than local smugglers plying their illicit trade off Beachy Head! As ever, the RN took the fight to the enemy, the French shipping constantly subjected to enterprising cutting-out raids, which relieved the French of a score and more of vessels.

On land, the Duke of Cumberland and his officers were determined that this affair, which had seemed to shake the very roots of his family’s dynasty, should not peter out with the clans melting back, unscathed, into the heather. It was time for a final and decisive reckoning. On 17 January, a further battle was fought at Falkirk, a confused and untidy fight in which the government forces, led by General ‘Hangman’ Hawley, were again worsted. Almost three months later, on 16 April, the last great battle to be fought on British soil erupted at Culloden. The Jacobites, depleted, hungry, exhausted and footsore, confronted the larger Hanoverian army, well-formed, well-drilled and competently led. In the driving sleet, the clans charged for the last time, winnowed by round shot, grape and musketry. They fell by companies, by mid afternoon it was all over, and the Stuart cause was in ruins. Charles, who had commanded in person, fled the field, and his corpulent cousin, Cumberland, enjoyed the only victory of an otherwise failed military career.



A few weeks before the battle, a French sloop, aptly named The Prince Charles, formerly HMS Hazard, which the Jacobites had taken in Montrose harbour less than six months before, had attempted to land additional detachments from the Irish Picquets. These reinforcements would have been welcome. Even more welcome would have been the quantity of gold coin on board; that the prince’s war chest was empty may have been a spur to his accepting battle on Culloden Moor. Captain Talbot, who had attempted to run the blockade and make landfall at Portsoy on the Moray Firth, came up against a quartet of British men-of-war: the 40-gun Eltham, Sheerness (24 guns) and the fast sloops Hawk and Hound. The odds were unfortunate, and Talbot crowded sail to run northwards along the coast. Pursuit was relentless and, as a fitful wind dropped, the fine sailing qualities of Le Prince Charles were of little advantage. Only by taking to the oars and rowing for their lives did the ship’s company escape into the darkness. By dawn, she was off Caithness preparing to run the Pentland Firth, when her pursuer once again hove into view. This was a classic sea chase of the age of sail. The sloop had to try and outrun her tormentor. If the frigate closed, the ship was lost, for Le Prince Charles was heavily outgunned. Worse, Talbot’s Jacobite pilots were all Islesmen, unfamiliar with these waters. As she now fled westwards, the Frenchman was moving ever further away from the HQ of Charles’s cash-strapped army at Inverness.

Talbot encountered a small fishing smack and took the crew as unwitting and unwilling guides. Knowing he could probably not now outrun the frigate, he sought any haven where his shallow draft would confound the pursuit. As the tide ebbed, the French captain ran his small vessel into the shallows of the sands of Melness at the western opening of the Kyle of Tongue. O’Brien of Sheerness took the risk of fouling as he swept in behind. A standoff now ensued, both ships riding at anchor, guns run out. Talbot could not match his adversary’s broadside, six-pounders against nines, but he was game and full of fight, his crew perhaps less so. For three hours battle raged, the smaller ship maintaining a gallant but ultimately one-sided fight. Sheerness’s gunners dismounted her deck guns and riddled Le Prince Charles’s masts and rigging; the decks a mess of tumbled yards and cordage, garnished with blood and entrails. With Le Prince Charles crippled, O’Brien stood off to finish the job at longer range. Talbot’s surviving crew had by now had quite enough and bolted for temporary sanctuary in the hold. Undismayed, Talbot drew his sword to beat them back to their posts, using the Picquets as marines. Despite such near-fanatical gallantry, there was no remedy for the fact his ship was badly holed and sinking. Cutting the cables, he allowed her to drift inshore and come aground.

Lugging their sacks of coin, the Irish soldiers, led by Captain Brown of Lally’s regiment, climbed down from the shattered hulk, disembarking all of their arms and powder, while still under intense fire. Talbot, remarkably unscathed, spat defiance at Sheerness and literally nailed his colours to the stump of the mast. The Frenchman’s wounded had to be left on the shot-scoured deck, while the fit survivors followed the Irish on to the beach. O’Brien had sent a commanded party of marines to cut off the landward exits. To escape they had now to move inland, over rough terrain, of which they knew nothing. A providential encounter with one of the few Jacobites in the vicinity, William Mackay of Melness, was encouraging, but his news was not. These French and Irish were in a hostile land. Lord Reay was a Whig and had raised two companies of militia to fight for King George. Mackay provided horses to carry the gold and his son as a guide. He could do no more. O’Brien had by dawn inspected the damaged vessel to see if she could be salvaged.

Lord Reay’s people too were not inactive. A forlorn hope of seven locals, led by his factor Daniel Forbes, were stalking the French column while the militia was mustering. Talbot had his own survivors from Le Prince Charles, many of the wounded left on board had succumbed during the night, six officers and three score other ranks from Berwick’s with a motley of volunteers from Clare’s, Royal Ecossais, the French Guards and some from Spanish service. Forbes, undeterred by the odds, kept up a steady harassing fire in the course of which his marksmen dropped eleven Irish, three of them fatalities. The fight spilled along the Jacobites’ intended line of march towards a high pass skirting the flank of Ben Loyal. Here 50 militia arrived to bolster Forbes seven. More potent than their numbers were their drums, a great rolling, dolorous tumult reverberated around the cockpit of the pass. The Jacobites, now cornered in the narrow arena, decided enough was enough and prepared to lay down their arms, first dumping their coin into Loch Hacoin. Factor Forbes, or so the story goes, salvaged 1,000 guineas as compensation for his efforts; not a bad morning’s work. As for the Jacobites, a vital resource was denied them. The Royal Navy, despite a most spirited and gallant opponent, had once again performed its role.

Final cannonades and the death rattle of the execution squads were not the final echoes of the Forty-Five. On 30 April 1746, two French privateers, Mars and Bellone had anchored in Loch nan Uamh, where it had all begun the previous year. The Frenchmen were initially sniped at by Jacobites onshore who believed them to be Royal Navy. These Highlanders, including Perth, Lord John Drummond and Lord Elcho, quickly acquainted their newly arrived allies with tidings of the disaster. The visitors were able to provide much needed supplies and took time to come ashore and marvel at the desperate poverty and general wretchedness of their hosts.

Captain Noel RN, on board the sloop Greyhound, was stationed barely 30 miles from Loch nan Uamh and was aware of the privateers’ presence. The rest of the captain’s small flotilla was widely dispersed but, by dawn on 2 May, both Greyhound and another sloop, Baltimore, were under sail and were later joined by a third, Terror. At first light, a little after three in the morning, these three small British vessels crept into the still waters of the loch.

John Daniel, a Jacobite volunteer, was, that night, sleeping among the other fugitives on the shore, and the sight of the British men-o’-war provided a most unwelcome jolt. The French, however, alerted by the sighting of an earlier patrol boat, were ready to fight. Captain Rouillee of Mars remained, unwisely, at anchor while Lory of Bellone got underway. To receive Greyhound’s broadside while thus immured was very nearly fatal, and Mars took a substantial pounding. Nearly a score of the privateers were killed, her decks, according to an eyewitness, awash with blood. One of the Jacobite refugees, Major Hales, was among the dead: having been bidden to throw himself to the deck to avoid injury, he preferred the upright pose of quixotic contempt, which, in his case, proved lethal. Baltimore now bore down on Mars, while Greyhound attacked Bellone. The two smaller British vessels were heavily outgunned and began, in turn, to suffer some serious punishment. Both suffered damage to their rigging, and Lory was manoeuvring to board. He failed, but the respite enabled Rouillee to slice cables and get his battered ship underway. The tiny Terror weighed into the fray, but was seen off by a broadside from Bellone. The two Frenchmen were now under sail, heading up the narrow confines of the loch with Mars taking shelter in a small bay, the three English ships, like terriers, snapping at Bellone.

For a good three hours the Jacobites on the shore were treated to the spectacle of a fierce little battle raging on the normally placid waters. It seemed as though Mars was crippled and could be picked off at leisure while the sloops directed their attention towards Bellone. Noel was not blind to the scurrying Highlanders on the shore, busily removing inland cargoes of arms and cash, the latter amounting to some £35,000 in bullion. Such a sum would have very possibly enabled the prince to stave off the defeat at Culloden and guaranteed the continuance of rebellion. Flying round shot from Greyhound added urgency to the work. Having managed to jury-rig repairs to his damaged sails, Captain Howe of Baltimore once more brought his vessel to the attack. Both his sloop and the gallant little Terror suffered grievously, Baltimore’s rigging and sails cut up, Howe himself among the wounded. After some six hours of battle, the fight petered out. All of the English ships had suffered damage, if relatively few casualties. Bellone unleashed a final broadside to speed the retreating ships on their way. Mars was by now in a bad state, hit repeatedly below the waterline, and with 29 dead and 85 wounded littering the decks, slippery with their spilled blood.

The French, knowing that other British ships could soon be expected to enable Noel to renew the assault, worked feverishly to ensure their badly holed vessel was seaworthy. Jacobites onshore meanwhile enjoyed the plentiful liquor their guests had left them. MacDonald of Barisdale, whose regiment had missed the fight, had by now appeared and began by appropriating a portion of cash before departing. The remaining Macleans too, dispersed, while one of the inebriated rebels unwisely elected to smoke his pipe in close proximity to a barrel of powder and succeeded in blowing himself to bits, his befuddled comrades mistaking the noise for a fresh alarum! As the privateers nursed battered ships back towards their Breton lairs, they took off the fugitive Duke of Perth, his brother and Lord Elcho.

John Fergusson was skipper of Furnace and, in April, before Culloden, his marines had engaged in a drink-fuelled foray against hapless MacDonald womenfolk on the island of Canna. Having finished with Canna, Fergusson moved his attentions to Eigg, where the business of rounding up rebels was leavened with additional pillage and rape. Captain Felix O’Neill, of Lally’s regiment, in the French service, was one of his victims, captured and about to be tortured until an officer of the Royals intervened and faced the brutal captain down. In their hunt for the prince, the soldiers and sailors of the crown even descended in force upon St Kilda, the most remote and westerly of the isles, whose terrified inhabitants must have seen these swarming redcoats as a vision of Hell. Needless to say, the prince was not to be found.

It would have been far better for Prince Charles Edward Stuart had he died on the field at Culloden, so history might remember a handsome, if flawed, young man, whose army came within an ace of unseating the House of Hanover. Better by far than the long years of an embittered, wasted life, his cause in ruins, increasingly an unwelcome anachronism, whose only succour came from a bottle; he died, also forgotten, in Rome in 1788.


The Latin American Wars for Independence: Naval History

Painting of the First Chilean Navy Squadron commanded by Cochrane

Naval power played almost no role in the initial fighting after the revolutions of 1810. Local patriots engaged Spanish garrisons and local royalists in relatively small battles. Spain’s makeshift naval presence included armed merchantmen and privateers commissioned by the viceroy in Peru, a royalist stronghold; several of the new republics likewise issued letters of marque and armed some merchant vessels. The first naval action on the Pacific coast came in May 1813, when the Peruvian corsair Warren blockaded Valparaiso, a port defended by the Chilean armed merchantmen Perla and Potrillo. Spanish merchants in Valparaiso persuaded the officers and men of the Perla to defect to the royalists, and at the onset of the ensuing battle the Perla joined the Warren in forcing the Potrillo to surrender. Spanish forces then occupied Valparaiso and used it as a base to supply their reconquest of Chile. In exile across the Andes in Argentina, bitter Chilean patriots were impressed with their need for a navy and convinced that, to operate it, hired foreigners would be more trustworthy than veterans of the Spanish navy or merchant marine.

The Argentinians subsequently commissioned a small navy led by William Brown, a former officer of the British navy. In the summer of 1815-16 Brown took two corvettes and two smaller warships around Cape Horn and up the Pacific coast, attacking Callao and Guayaquil. He did little real damage, but did demonstrate the vulnerability of Spanish commerce and communications. In the summer of 1816-17 generals José de San Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins crossed the Andes with an Argentinian-Chilean army that defeated the Spanish at Chacabuco in February 1817, opening the way for the restoration of the republic in Chile under the presidency of O’Higgins. On the field at Chacabuco, O’Higgins remarked that “this triumph and a hundred more will be insignificant if we do not control the sea.” He soon sent agents to Britain and the United States, countries where the return to a peacetime footing after 1815 left naval personnel seeking employment abroad.

By 1818 hundreds of foreign seamen had entered Chilean service, many of them aboard ships purchased for the new navy. These included a corvette, two brigs, and the former British East Indiamen Cumberland and Windham, refitted as the 60-gun ship of the line San Martin and 46-gun frigate Lautaro, respectively. To command the navy a Chilean agent hired Thomas, Lord Cochrane, later 10th Earl of Dundonald, a decorated veteran British officer living in exile in France after being disgraced in a stock market scandal in 1814. Cochrane left for Chile in August 1818, three months after the former Russian frigate Maria Isabel left Spain for Chile at the head of a force including eleven transports carrying 2,000 troops. The Chileans received word that the Spanish reinforcements were on the way and resolved to interdict their convoy rather than wait for Cochrane to arrive. Command of the Chilean squadron went to Manuel Blanco Encalada, a 28-year-old artillery officer from Buenos Aires who had served the previous seven years in the armies of Argentina and Chile. O’Higgins appointed him because he had been an ensign in the Spanish navy for four years before that, and thus had more naval experience than any other patriot officer. In October 1818 he left Valparaiso with the five warships, to search the seas for the approaching Spanish force. The Maria Isabel managed to evade him, making it through to the port of Talcahuano with two transports, only to be trapped there on 27 October by Blanco’s flagship San Martin, to which the Spanish frigate surrendered after a brief duel. The remaining Spanish transports were captured as they straggled in, completing the triumph.

Thus Chile was secure by the time Cochrane took over the navy, in December 1818, with the rank of vice admiral. Blanco agreed to become his subordinate as rear admiral, impressing Cochrane with his “patriotic distinterestedness” in the matter of command. They turned their attentions to an assault on royalist Peru, which had to be conquered to secure the independence of both Chile and Argentina. Because the coastal Atacama Desert separating Peru from Chile posed an obstacle more formidable than the Andes, naval power was essential to transport the patriot army northward for the attack. First, however, Cochrane had to establish Chile’s command of the sea off the western coast of the continent. In the summers of 1818-19 and 1819-20 he imposed blockades on Callao and seized Spanish-flagged ships on the high seas, using the captured Maria Isabel (renamed O’Higgins) as his flagship. But the Spanish were more afraid of the San Martin, the only ship of the line in the theater; they refused to come out of Callao to fight, even though the two navies had equal numbers of frigates and smaller warships. In May 1819 Spain dispatched two ships of the line and a frigate as reinforcements, but only the frigate made it to Callao. The leaky Alejandro I, formerly a Russian battleship, had to turn back to Cadiz, and the San Telmo was lost with all hands in a storm off Cape Horn. Further additions to the Chilean navy included a corvette built in the United States, two more brigs and a schooner. In February 1820 Cochrane briefly turned his attention to Valdivia, a Spanish outpost in southern Chile, which he captured with the O’Higgins, a brig and a schooner, in the process losing the brig.

A painting of the Capture of Valdivia in the Chilean naval and maritime museum

The invasion of Peru finally began in late August 1820. Cochrane, in the O’Higgins, led a force of one ship of the line, two frigates, one corvette, three brigs, and one schooner, escorting seventeen transports carrying San Martin and 4,000 troops. The fleet included every available Chilean warship less one corvette, which was deployed to keep watch over the last royalist stronghold in the south, the island of Chiloé. The Spanish squadron in Callao did nothing to challenge the Chilean landings. The frigates Prueba and Venganza departed before the invaders arrived, to avoid being blockaded, and the hopelessly outnumbered force they left behind suffered a crippling blow on 5 November 1820, when Cochrane captured the remaining Spanish frigate, the Esmeralda, in a bold raid on the harbor. The aggressive Cochrane clashed with the cautious San Martin throughout the campaign. Cochrane wanted the navy to assault Callao while the army marched on Lima, but San Martin preferred to negotiate his way into the Peruvian capital. The viceroy in Lima finally agreed to an armistice in April 1821, and three months later San Martin declared himself “protector” of an independent Peru.

Many years passed before Spain recognized the independence of any of the Latin American republics, and Cochrane correctly refused to consider the war ended, Rejecting San Martin’s offer to become admiral of a new Peruvian navy, he remained loyal to Chile and put to sea in search of the last significant Spanish warships in the eastern Pacific, the two frigates that had escaped capture at Callao the previous year. Several of Cochrane’s British officers and seamen declined to go with him and instead entered the service of Peru, in part because San Martin refused to pay them as long as they remained in Chilean service. After a pursuit of five months, ranging as far north as Baja California, in March 1822 Cochrane finally blockaded the Prueba and Venganza at Guayaquil. There the two frigates surrendered to local authorities loyal to San Martin and thus ended up in the Peruvian navy. The Prueba, renamed Protector, became the flagship of one of Cochrane’s former captains, George Martin Guise, now serving as Peruvian naval commander. Denied these ultimate prizes of war, in June 1822 Cochrane returned to Valparaiso with the remaining ships of the fleet. By then the Chilean navy showed the strains of years of continuous operations. The numerous desertions at the end of the campaign in Peru forced Cochrane to abandon the ship of the line San Martin, and a brig badly in need of repair was given up for lost. This left the fleet with a core of three frigates, three corvettes, and two brigs.

Scots in Swedish Naval Service

Battle of Oliwa 1627

Most Scots who sought martial fame in Europe did so on land but a considerable number also made a name for themselves at sea. This should come as no surprise for, in common with all the nations around the North Sea, the Scots have always been seafarers. Neither should it come as a surprise to learn that many were active as pirates or privateers, and it is a short step from piracy in one’s own interest to applying the same skills in the pay of a foreign monarch. In 1534 a Scots captain whose name remains unknown to us offered his services to Gustav Vasa of Sweden in conflict with the city of Lübeck over trade in the Baltic. In the War of the Three Crowns – between Lübeck, Denmark and Sweden – the four great ships of the Hanse city, the Angel, the Joshua, the Marian and the Eagle of Lübeck, the largest warship of the day, it is said, were defeated in a sea battle off Gotland in 1566.

Gustav Vasa was determined to build up his navy as well as his army, and he sought foreign assistance not only to man his ships but also to design and build them; Scotland was one of the places he looked to for this help. By the time the king died in 1560 he had some nineteen warships in his fleet. Erik XIV continued this naval development, with the principal aim of confronting the power of Denmark, and indeed the Swedish navy, under the command of the sea-going general Klas Horn, defeated the Danes as well as the Lübeckers in 1565–66. Frederick II of Denmark wrote to Mary, Queen of Scots, in April 1566 to protest about a ship being made ready in Leith to join the Swedish fleet. Among the Swedish ships in 1566 was one called Skotska Pinckan, taken from the Danes but recaptured again; the name suggests a Scottish origin. Another, in the early 1600s, was bought from Scotland and bore the name Skotska Lejonen – Scottish Lion. Karl IX established the main naval base at Karlskrona in order to benefit for as much of the year as possible from ice-free water.

Despite these developments, by the time Gustavus Adolphus came to the throne the Swedish ships were still outgunned by the Danes. The ability to project military might overseas was essential to Gustavus Adolphus’s foreign policy in the Baltic; as navies have always done, his had to convey troops safely to foreign shores, maintain supply lines, defend trade and also impress outsiders as symbols of prestige and authority. A new threat to Sweden appeared in the late 1620s when, by the capture of north German ports, Wallenstein created the spectre of a Habsburg navy afloat in the Baltic. It was a threat real enough to persuade Gustavus Adolphus and Christian IV to overlook their rivalry and cooperate to keep Stralsund from the Imperial grasp. The Swedish king was in need of experienced sea captains and, as with his army, he found some of them from across the North Sea.

In June 1612, Sir Robert Anstruther wrote from Copenhagen to James VI to report how ‘much greeved’ were the Danes about some Scots ships that had ‘done great hurt’ on the Norwegian coast, adding the important information that one of the ships belonged to the Earl of Orkney and that ‘one Stewart is Captane of herre’. The Stewart in question was Simon Stewart, although no relation to Earl Patrick Stewart of Orkney. The latter, whose father was an illegitimate son of James V, is remembered to this day in Orkney for his avaricious, oppressive rule, and he certainly was not averse to pursuing ill-gotten gain at sea. His motive may have been simple piracy but suspicion remains that it may have been tied in with the mercenary expedition. Be that as it may, there were three Scots ships active off the Norwegian coast that summer; the second also had a skipper called Stewart and the third was captained by a Dutchman. Simon Stewart hailed from Ayrshire and at a young age had found his way to Orkney, possibly as an ‘enforcer’ in the service of the earl. His piracy brought his name to the attention of both the British and Danish kings, and it was probably to escape the law that he decamped to Sweden, where he turned up in June 1616 in Gustavus Adolphus’s navy and found employment in reconnaissance and transport missions in the eastern Baltic.

Already sailing under the Swedish flag were Alexander and Hans (John) Forrat. Their surname suggests they may have originated from Fife, and Hans was a Dundee burgess. Alexander appears as a captain in Swedish records in January 1611 and later that year he was in command of a ship called Lejoninnan. He was clearly held to be a responsible man, as he was charged with carrying some important passengers on various occasions in the following years – an envoy to Lübeck in 1616 and Gustavus Adolphus himself in 1618 and 1620. Hans became a captain possibly as early as 1604, and in 1610 and 1611 he led attacks on Danish ships. In 1620 he was captain of the vice-admiral’s flagship Svärdet, a vessel on which Simon Stewart served as an ensign.

Another prominent Scottish officer in the Swedish navy was Richard or James Clerck. He seems to have gone first to Norway, where a man of his name was accused of illegal shipbuilding in 1605–06; soon after this incident a master shipwright called Jakob Clerck appears in Sweden. By 1610 he had become a captain and, only some months later, an admiral in charge of a small fleet in the Riga area. He carried out several sea-going missions in the following decade and also served as holmadmiral or admiral of the Stockholm shipyard.

In April 1622 occurred an incident that gives some insight into the character and way of life of these hard-bitten men of the sea, as well as of the tensions that could brew in a close-knit expatriate community. Clerck, Alexander Forrat, Simon Stewart, another captain called James Muir and an ensign by the name of James Logan, who was related to Muir and who had recently been appointed in the navy, visited the house of Hans Clerck, Richard Clerck’s brother, to drink some beer. Logan came late, and Forrat asked him if he could now pay money he owed, seeing he had been appointed as an ensign. Clearly Logan was not abashed by the seniority of his companions, or the teasing may have struck a sore point of honour, for, after going to another house where more beer was drunk, ill-feeling boiled over into violence. Forrat either hit Logan with his drinking cup or punched him; Logan retaliated, threw Forrat down and held a knife to his throat and the others piled into the fray. Clerck may have tried to separate the combatants but was wounded for his pains, while Muir took a sword and ran Logan through the body, possibly accidentally, but he soon died in any case. Logan’s widow brought Forrat and Muir to court. The trial imposed a fine and the liability of further royal punishment on Forrat for starting the quarrel and a death sentence on Muir for the murder of his relative, although there is doubt over whether or not it was carried out.

Gustavus Adolphus clearly considered Alexander Forrat to be a valuable officer for in the following year he was commanding a vessel called the Engel in spying missions to Danzig and, after two years in charge of the Göteborg shipyard, was again patrolling off the Danzig coast. Here, in November 1627, Forrat achieved lasting fame for a selfless act of courage that is recorded in a letter James Spens wrote to England. Spens, who was as active in securing men for the Swedish navy as he was for the army, said that Gustavus Adolphus had reduced his blockade of Danzig ‘for winter storms of frost and snow often lead to loss of ships in the narrow rocky waters’. As six Swedish ships set sail with the offshore wind to return to their home ports, the Poles sallied out in ten vessels to engage them. The three Swedes in the van were unable to beat back against the wind to the assistance of their companions. In the subsequent action [Battle of Oliwa], which spread over two days, the Swedish ship, Solen, was boarded after a brief exchange of fire with the Polish Meerman. Rather than let the vessel fall into enemy hands, Alexander Forrat set fire to the magazine and blew up his ship in a desperate, suicidal act of defiance.

Apart from Forrat, and possibly Muir, the Scots officers survived their campaigns in the Swedish navy and most reached high rank. Simon Stewart was a lieutenant admiral in 1644, and before his death in 1646 he may have reflected that he had not done so badly since starting out as a pirate for the rascally Earl of Orkney. The Clerck and Forrat families provided Sweden with several officers, ashore and afloat. In early 1628 around nine Scottish-born captains graced Swedish decks, some two thirds of the total in regular service, and more followed. Some English captains also joined the Swedish navy but they did not number as highly as the Scots, except for a brief time in 1658–60 when Cromwell’s Parliamentary navy was in formal alliance with Sweden. Scots also held significant posts in shore establishments and administrative departments.

Two captains, Alexander Muir and Michael Kloch, who are also described as pirates, are known to have been in the Polish navy in 1622 when Colonel James Murray was working to improve it as a fighting force. Murray first appears in Poland in 1601 or 1603 at the court of Sigismund, and by 1609 he was employed as an envoy from the Stuart court. Murray oversaw the construction of ships for the Polish fleet, after Sigismund appointed him as senior naval architect in 1620. The first, a two-masted, fourteen-gun pink, was launched in 1622; some of his ships later took part in the battle off Oliwa in which Alexander Forrat was killed. Murray himself was absent from this clash, as he had taken umbrage at being passed over to be admiral. He was versatile enough, however, to command troops in the field, seeing action at Smolensk, and to be an administrator, as mayor of the town of Puck near Danzig.

Scots in Russian Naval Service

Samuel Greig, or Samuil Karlovich Greig as he was known in Russia (30 November 1735, Inverkeithing, Fife, Scotland – 15 October 1788, Tallinn, Estonia, Russian Empire) was a Scottish-born Russian admiral who distinguished himself in the Battle of Chesma (1770) and the Battle of Hogland (1788). His son Alexey Greig also made a spectacular career in the Imperial Russian Navy.

Battle of Chesma, by Ivan Aivazovsky

Peter the Great recruited officers and shipbuilders from Britain, the Low Countries and Denmark to help fulfil his ambitions for a Russian navy. For example, shipwrights went to Russia from Davenport. In the early 1700s Peter ousted the Swedes to acquire control over the head of the Gulf of Finland and embarked on the building of the great capital city named after him. The island of Kotlina was fortified to become the naval base of Kronstadt and the growth of the Russian fleet in the Baltic began. By 1713, the year of the indecisive naval battle with Sweden at Högland, Peter had a fleet that included fourteen ships of the line and several frigates. One of his captains was Andrew Simpson, who, in command of the 52-gun St Michael, took part in several brushes with the Swedes in 1714. Other Scots were Thomas Gordon, William Hay and Adam Urquhart. In the autumn of 1718 Gordon was promoted to rear-admiral of the Red (the Russian navy adopted colour names for its squadrons, as did the Royal Navy) and became involved in the disputes that seem often to have broken out among the members of an officer corps drawn from different nations. Probably emboldened by booze, Gordon complained to Peter in 1721 about preference being given to Danish and Dutch officers, to the detriment of the British and their ships. The Russian general-admiral, Feodor Apraxin, let his emperor know that ‘he looked upon Gordon and his associates as men of turbulent dispositions and malevolent principles; that having set their native country in a flame . . . some of them were forced to fly from justice and were now caballing to foment divisions in Russia’. This was a reference to the fact that some of the British were Jacobites. Despite these opinions, Peter, sensing Gordon’s talents, appealed to his officers to live in peace with each other. In the summer of 1722 Lord Duffus arrived in St Petersburg to become superintendent of the shipyard and magazine at an annual salary of 1,000 roubles (around £500). For general officers the pay Peter offered was slightly less than that they received in the Royal Navy (£20 per month against £21 per month) but seamen and warrant officers obtained a higher remuneration from the Russians. Andrew Simpson was dismissed from the service in 1714 for unknown reasons. Adam Urquhart was killed accidentally in the service in 1719 while cutting masts free after his ship, the Portsmouth, had run aground in bad weather on a sandbank 5 leagues from Kronstadt. More Jacobites went over to Russian service in the 1760s.

Two Scots in particular stand out in the annals: John Elphinstone and Samuel Greig. John Elphinston may have been born at Lopness on the island of Sanday, a low, windswept finger of land and rock reaching out towards Scandinavia, and if this is so it was a highly appropriate birthplace for this fighting captain. At the age of seventeen, in 1739, he joined the Royal Navy. By 1760 he had reached the rank of captain. In the following year he captured a French frigate. His combat experience, combined with demonstrated skills in hydrography and combined operations, made him, when he was put on half-pay after the Seven Years War – the normal method adopted by the Admiralty when it had to reduce its manpower – a prime catch for the Russian navy when it launched a recruitment drive. Elphinstone received a commission as a rear-admiral in the Baltic in May 1769. Samuel Greig was born in 1735, the son of a shipowner in Inverkeithing. He went to sea in the merchant service before joining the Royal Navy, where he quickly reached the warrant rank of master’s mate. He was still rated thus in 1762, although he had passed his examinations to be a lieutenant, and he also was attracted to transfer to the Russian navy, where swifter promotion beckoned.

Catherine II was crowned in the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin in September 1762. As a young Prussian woman, she had come to Russia to marry the heir to the throne, Peter, a grandson of Peter the Great and Catherine I. It was still a land of contrasts, in the view of a French diplomat, ‘two different nations on the same soil . . . simultaneously in the fourteenth and the eighteenth centuries’.9 Catherine II had great plans for her adopted country and, once she had disposed of her estranged husband (he was murdered in the summer of 1762 by officers loyal to her) she set about their implementation. In all she brought thirty British naval officers into her service. One of her ambitions was to continue the policy of Peter the Great to strengthen Russia and gain access to the Black Sea. The land war against Turkey was prosecuted successfully until Crimea was almost within Russia’s grasp, and as part of a broader strategy against the Ottomans the decision was taken to send a Russian fleet from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.

Count Alexei Orlov, a scar-faced man of immense stature who was said to be able to down a bottle of champagne in one, was appointed to command this fleet, although he readily admitted he had little experience of the sea. Samuel Greig, who had already quietly made an impression as a competent and innovative officer and had risen in rank, was placed in command of a division of the fleet under Vice-Admiral Grigory Spiridov, and was taken on as adviser and flag-captain by Orlov. Whereas Greig exercised tact, Elphinstone made no secret of his opinion of the poorly equipped, poorly led fleet, and in essence he had good grounds for his complaints. The first fleet sailed from Kronstadt, while Elphinstone stayed behind to prepare a second of three 66-gun ships and two 32-gun frigates, ‘the fitting out of which was likely to be attended with delay and many difficulties’. Spiridov had gone away with most of the stores and the best officers, and Elphinstone also had to contend with the ‘very tedious’ Russian ‘forms of office’ until Catherine gave him the power to cut through the red tape. Once at sea, Elphinstone had other problems. One ship had to turn back, but she later caught up with the others at Copenhagen, and a frigate sank in the Gulf of Finland. Some officers enjoyed the delights of the Danish capital and neglected their duties to the extent that the fleet sailed on just before winter choked their passage with ice. Stormy weather in the North Sea scattered the ships and drove them into various English ports, and Christmas was upon them before they re-assembled at Portsmouth to effect repairs and recuperate from the rigours of the voyage.

At last, in the spring of 1770, the Russian ships assembled at Livorno. Elphinstone and Spiridov quarrelled vigorously until Greig dropped a word in Orlov’s ear that it might be a good idea to let the fiery rear-admiral go off in command of an independent squadron to hunt on his own. After the capture of Navarino (now Pylos) Elphinstone, sailing in the 84-gunned Syvatoslav, along with the Ne Tron Menya and the Saratov, and the frigates Nadezhda and Afrika, found out that a fleet of Turkish ships was lurking off Nafplio on the east Peloponnese coast and engaged them on 27 May. ‘We bore down upon them with all the sail we could croud, with colours flying, whilst the drums and trumpets animated us to battle.’ The Na Tron Menya and the Saratov put three Turks out of action before a change of wind direction made them vulnerable to galley attack, but then Elphinstone attacked with explosive shells. The Turks withdrew into Nafplio. Although Elphinstone had had to fire on his own ships to encourage the reluctant commanders into the fray, he thought that the ordinary sailors ‘fearless of danger . . . fought at their guns like lions’. On the following day, after another attack ending with a bombardment of the port, he sailed off to rejoin the main fleet.

On 3 July the Russians tracked down the main Turkish fleet to the bay of Çesme, opposite the hilly island of Chios, where some sixteen ships of the line with a large number of smaller vessels were anchored in three lines. At nine on the morning of the 5th Elphinstone went aboard Orlov’s flagship to propose his plan of attack but found to his surprise that everything had been already decided: that the Russians would attack from the south, with Spiridov having the honour of leading the van, followed by Orlov and Greig in the centre, and with Elphinstone’s squadron bringing up the rear. Elphinstone did not like this but Orlov was adamant, and the Orkneyman had grumpily to agree to obey orders, although he made it clear he thought the whole venture ‘too uncertain for him to risque his reputation upon’.

At noon Orlov hoisted the red flag to signal the attack. The Russian ships ranged up and formed their battle line, gliding northwards alongside the enemy. Some of the Russian ships had difficulty in maintaining their position, and left and rejoined the line as the exchange of broadsides thundered across the sea. At one point the Sv. Evstafii, Spiridov’s flagship, was fired on in error by Orlov’s flagship, Trech Ierarchov, and then sailed into a fierce, close-range cannoning with the Turkish battleship Real Mustafa. The Turk’s mainmast fell on the Russian’s deck, and both ships blew up as fire took hold on them. Spiridov had already transferred to another ship before this happened. After over two hours of fighting, the Turkish fleet cut their cables and retreated into the bay to adopt a defensive battle line.

On the following day, the Russians subjected the ships and the shore to a bombardment but it must have been clear that something more effective would be needed to overcome them. Greig now masterminded a devastating blow to the Turks. Shortly after midnight on the 7th, he hoisted his broad pennant aboard the Ratislav to lead the Netromena and the Europa into the jaws of the bay, taking on the guns of the batteries and covering the advance of fireships. The Authentic Narrative, a near contemporary account of the event, says there were three of these, prepared from commandeered Greek boats, but the map in the same book plainly states there were four, two of which did not go in as the Russian officers were ‘dead Drunk’. The largest of the fireships was commanded by Lieutenant Robert Dugdale. As it neared its target at the north end of the Turkish line, Dugdale’s crew deserted him, either because they misunderstood their orders or because they panicked – they ‘jumped into the boat and rowed away as fast as they could . . . whilst [the fireship] was going with all her sails set down the enemy’. Dugdale carried on alone until he was sure his doomed vessel would reach its target, ‘fired a pistol into the train [the gunpowder], stayed to see it take fire, then boldly leaped into the sea and was fortunately taken up by a Greek boat (that was passing among the ships) just as he was sinking with fatigue.’ In his understandable haste, he had fired too soon, and his fireship drifted ashore ‘to little purpose’. In the second fireship, Lieutenant Thomas Mackenzie’s crew stayed with him until the right moment. They abandoned the burning vessel to sail down on the southern end of the Turkish line, where it caused a ‘conflagration, which soon raged with irresistible fury’. In the crowded anchorage the fire spread, provoking the author of the Authentic Narrative to write: ‘A fleet consisting upwards of one hundred sail, almost in one general blaze, presented a picture of distress and horror, dreadfully sublime.’ The damage to the Turkish navy was irrecoverable.

Catherine II heaped honours upon Orlov, although he was honest enough to admit privately that he owed everything to Greig, who was now promoted to rear-admiral. Elphinstone boiled with resentment at being overlooked – he had proposed a combined operation ‘to pass the Dardanelles and burn Constantinople, and should now think myself morally certain of success’, which had been rejected – and in 1771 he left the Russian service to return to the Royal Navy. The discreet Greig kept his thoughts to himself and prospered in Orlov’s good books. In 1775 he became vice-admiral and was placed in command of the Kronstadt base; various honours and decorations also came his way and Catherine dined aboard his flagship after a fleet review. Greig oversaw many improvements to the main Baltic base and the fleet, but, predictably, his use of foreign experts provoked grumbling.

In 1788 other British officers in the Russian service persuaded him to support them in an effort to prevent John Paul Jones being promoted to rear-admiral. Jones had been born a Scot before emigrating to the Americas as a teenager and thereafter making a considerable name for himself in the American navy in the War of Independence, defeating the Royal Navy frigate HMS Serapis off Flamborough Head and at one point threatening to bombard Leith. In 1788 he joined the Russian navy. The ever-tactful Greig changed his mind over opposition to Jones’s promotion, and Jones did become a rear-admiral and served in the Black Sea in June of the same year before he left the service.

War broke out in 1788 with Sweden again and in this conflict Greig played a leading part. His fleet blocked the Swedes in the Gulf of Finland and fought them off Högland on 17 July. The engagement was indecisive, with roughly equal losses on both sides, but the thwarting of the enemy’s ambition to wipe out the Baltic fleet and to descend on St Petersburg determined the strategic outcome was in Russia’s favour. For the rest of the summer and autumn Greig kept the Swedish ships bottled up in Sveaborg, at the entrance to Helsinki harbour, until in early October he fell ill aboard his flagship, the Rotislav, and died. Catherine wept for the loss and gave her rear-admiral a state funeral in Reval (now Tallinn). His son Alexis Samuilovich Greig became an admiral in the Russian navy.

Queens of the Lake I

German gun crew manning Graf Goetzen′s 10.5 cm SK L/40 naval gun

Hedwig is sunk

Odebrecht spotted the approaching vessels, but continued to advance. He initially mistook them for Belgian craft, but the white ensigns revealed that they were British. He continued toward the shore until making a sharp turn to port at 09:30, either attempting to lure them toward Götzen, or having been fooled by an optical illusion into thinking the approaching vessels were larger than he had first thought. The pursuing vessels chased Hedwig, with Fifi opening fire with her bow-mounted 12-pounder. The recoil stopped her dead in her tracks; Odebrecht used this situation to pull away. Hedwig could do 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph) to Fifi′s 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph), but as Fifi fell behind, Mimi sped past, firing on the retreating German vessel with her three-pounder gun. The shots missed, but Hedwig′s stern guns did not have the range of Mimi′s weapon, and Odebrecht was forced to come about and try to hit her with his bow-mounted six-pounder. The two circled for a time, unable to score hits, until Fifi closed. Spicer-Simson, commanding aboard Fifi, was down to three shells on his 12-pounder, and risked being outclassed if Hedwig could bring her own six-pounder to bear. At this moment, a shell jammed in Fifi′s gun, and in the 20 minutes that it took to clear it, Hedwig again pulled away, searching for Götzen. With her second to last shot, Fifi fired again. The shell hit Hedwig′s hull, causing flooding, while moments later her last shell hit the engine room, bursting the boiler and killing five African sailors and two Germans. As fires began to spread through the stricken craft Odebrecht gave the order to abandon ship, and set explosive charges to destroy the sinking vessel. (Three of the dead were the engineer and two native stokers in the boiler room; the others were a warrant officer and three natives). Of the remaining ships company, a European stoker and native seaman were slightly wounded when two of the ships boats were hit by shells; Twelve Europeans, including the captain, and eight natives were captured by the British. Besides the 20 survivors the British also captured a large German naval ensign, the first to be taken in the war.


If anyone thought that the sinking of the Konigsberg ended naval operations in German East Africa, they were gravely mistaken. Four hundred miles inland from the coast was Lake Tanganyika, the longest lake in the world, measuring 400 miles from north to south and 47 miles across at its narrowest point. The lake provided a natural boundary between German territory, the Belgian Congo (Zaire) to the west and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) to the south. The Germans enjoyed complete control of the lake because since 1914 they had fitted out three armed steamers whereas the British and Belgians had none. Since the disastrous landing at Tanga there had been no further attempts to invade the German colony and any attempt to do so from the west or south was, for the moment, out of the question because the enemy would promptly threaten the Allied rear with an amphibious landing wherever he chose.

An indefinite stalemate on the lake seemed quite probable until, in April 1915, a big game hunter named John Lee requested and was granted an interview with Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, the First Sea Lord. Lee was familiar with every aspect of central Africa and he was seriously concerned that Lettow-Vorbeck’s raiding activities might provoke tribal uprisings in Rhodesia and the Congo. He knew that the German flotilla on the lake presented Allied commanders with a serious headache, but he was able to offer a solution to the problem. This involved shipping out an armed motor boat that could sink the enemy’s warships. It was almost certainly in Jackson’s mind to have Lee politely shown the door, but the latter forestalled him by unrolling a detailed map of the Congo.

First, Lee’s finger traced a railway line 175 miles long joining Kabalo with Lukuga on the western shore of the lake. Of course, getting the motor boat to Kabalo would involve shipping it by rail from South Africa to the Congo, then a difficult overland journey that would require the assistance of steam traction engines, teams of oxen and hundreds of native labourers. Lee confirmed that he had travelled the entire route and believed that it offered a real possibility of getting at the Germans. Jackson was sufficiently interested to take the opinions of the War and Colonial Offices, both of whom confirmed Lee’s view. No better idea of dealing with the enemy on Lake Tanganyika had been forthcoming and Jackson, now converted to it, decided to carry it through with the purchase of two petrol-driven mahogany motor boats, capable of 15 knots. These were each fitted with a 3-pounder gun on the foredeck and a Maxim machine gun aft.

John Lee, given the rank of lieutenant commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, was permitted to accompany the expedition as its Second-in-Command. The problem now was to find a suitable officer to command it. Of those officers of appropriate rank available, none wished to become involved in an apparently suicidal venture which, at best, would turn out to be nothing more than a fool’s errand – with one exception. His name was Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson and he was the oldest lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy, claiming, with some justice, that he had been repeatedly passed over for promotion. His early service took place aboard China gunboats and he had carried out a survey of the Gambia River in West Africa, but his career was marred not only by the ramming and sinking of a liberty boat but also by a very unfortunate manner. He was autocratic, overbearing, unpredictable, opinionated, knowledgeable on every subject under the sun, eccentric and vain, none of which increased his popularity. Nor did the fact that his trunk and limbs were tattooed with snakes, nor his use of a cigarette holder, which was considered to be a trifle effeminate in a naval officer. On the outbreak of war he was appointed commander of the Downs Boarding Flotilla, consisting of two elderly torpedo gunboats, the precursors of the modern destroyer, and six armed tugs. This phase of his career ended a fortnight later when, having ordered the gunboat Niger to anchor east of the Deal Bank Buoy, he disappeared to entertain some ladies in a hotel. Unfortunately, a prowling U – boat took advantage of the stationary target to torpedo and sink it. In the circumstances it was no surprise that the Admiralty should decide that he would be better employed manning a desk in its Personnel Department. Equally, it accepted with pleasure his offer to command the Lake Tanganyika expedition, believing that the risk of losing Lieutenant Commander Spicer-Simson was probably justified. He immediately enraged Their Lordships by announcing that he would call his motor boats Dog and Cat and was ordered to choose other names. In the event, they went to war as Mimi and Toutou. After carrying out trials on the Thames the expedition, consisting of four officers and twenty-four ratings, sailed for Cape Town from Tilbury aboard the Union Castle Line’s Llanstephan Castle on 11 June 1915. Also aboard, for quite different reasons, was the Astronomer Royal, who was forced to sit in openmouthed astonishment while Spicer-Simson lectured him on the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.

At Cape Town the boats were lifted on to railway flats and the party began an apparently endless journey by train on 2 July. Some 2,700 miles later they reached Fungurume in the Congo, where they found Lee waiting for them. He had left England some time ahead of them to make arrangements for the next and most difficult phase of the journey through 120 miles of bush. The boats would be carried on trailers made from the fore carriages of ox wagons, which were capable of the hardest usage. Some 50 tons of supplies had to be loaded into wagons that were hauled by over forty oxen. Large numbers of natives were hired as drivers, cooks and general labourers. Not least, a quantity of tools had to be assembled as Lee knew that in places the track ahead would need strengthening and widening while bridges and culverts needed strengthening to cope with the weight that would be imposed on them. On 14 August the railway delivered two steam traction engines. These were checked over and four days later the column set off. Hard physical work, heat, insects, dust and water shortage made the journey anything but pleasant. Once again, it was Lee’s foresight that kept the expedition moving. Without water for their boilers the traction engines could not be used, so he recruited large numbers of native women to carry pots on their heads from the nearest water source, which could be as far as 8 miles away. Six weeks after leaving Fungurume the column reached Sankisia having negotiated bush, forest and a mountain range.

At Sankisia the boats and supplies were transferred to the flats of a narrow gauge railway. The line only ran to Bukama on the Lualaba River, just 15 miles distant, where everything had to be off-loaded again. The sense of anti-climax must have been enormous and probably generated a shortness of temper. Whatever, Spicer-Simson had a row with Lee, without whom he would not have got this far, and gracelessly sent him packing.

However, the worst of the journey lay behind the expedition. From Bukama its route took it 200 miles along the river to Kabalo, from whence a railway ran the last 175 miles to Lukuga on the western shore of Lake Tanganyika. The principal difficulty lay in the fact that at this time of year there was little depth of water in the river. However, Jack Tar has always been a man of considerable ingenuity and the two motor boats were floated by lashing empty casks to their keels, thereby increasing their buoyancy. Even so, there were places where the water was so shallow that the boats had to be manhandled. Simultaneously, the supplies were loaded into canoes and anything else that would float and propelled downstream by teams of native paddlers. At Kabalo trans-shipment was completed for the last time and on 28 October the expedition’s train steamed into Lukuga.

Naturally the Belgians were delighted by the expedition’s arrival. Many of them had received no news from home for well over a year and were grateful for anything that the sailors could tell them. They were more than a little startled by Spicer-Simson’s version of shirtsleeve order in which his shorts were replaced by a skirt, while the natives were deeply awed by the tattooed snakes on his thighs and forearms.

Regarding the German flotilla on the lake, the Belgians were able to supply much useful information. The largest was the Graf von Gotzen, named after the former governor of the colony. She was said to be armed with at least one 4.1-inch and two smaller guns salvaged from the wreck of the Konigsberg, but her maximum speed was limited to six knots. The Hedwig von Wissmann could reach ten knots but was much smaller, mounting two 6-pounder guns forward and one 37mm Hotchkiss aft. The smallest of the three was the Kingani, capable of seven knots but armed with only a single 37mm Hotchkiss forward. The flotilla was based at Kigoma on the opposite shore of the lake, to the north. It was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gustav von Zimmer who, thanks to Central African gossip, had been informed of the expedition’s approach. His view was that such an undertaking was physically impossible and that the rumours were preposterous and should be ignored.

Queens of the Lake II

Graf von Goetzen

German East Africa and Lake Tanganyika.

Spicer-Simson’s first task was to secure his base. He was aware that the lake was subject to sudden, violent storms that could wreck his frail boats. The Belgians were asked to build a breakwater, which they did by blasting rock from the nearby cliffs. By late December the newly formed harbour, named Kalemie, was ready for use. On Christmas Eve Mimi and Toutou were launched and completed their trials satisfactorily. Christmas Day was spent in the traditional manner, but on 26 December the Belgians reported a steamer moving down the lake from the north. As the distance closed, the image hardened into the Kingani, engaged in a routine examination of the Belgian fortifications at Lukuga.

Spicer-Simson let her pass, then followed at a distance with Mimi and Toutou, widely separated so that the enemy would have to split his fire between them. A sudden belch of smoke from Kigani’s funnel and a steady turn to port indicated that she was simultaneously trying to escape and bring her gun into action. At 2,000 yards the motor boats opened fire. Immediately, their crews made the unwelcome discovery that unless their 3-pounders were fired directly ahead their recoil could cause damage to their flimsy hulls. Coupled with the need to dodge the German fire, this meant that at first their rate of fire was limited to about one round per minute. Kigani was engaging Toutou with her 37mm gun and firing small arms at Mimi, without hitting either. The advantages of speed and firepower possessed by the British boats now began to tell. With the range down to 1,100 yards, Mimi slammed a shell through the enemy’s gunshield, killing the ship’s captain and two petty officers. When another round killed the warrant officer who had attempted to take command, Kigani’s native crew began jumping overboard and swimming for the shore. The ship’s chief engineer then emerged and hauled down the German colours. Toutou came alongside to escort the prize into Kalemie where, taking in water rapidly from a shell hole in her port bunker, she was beached in just sufficient time to prevent her sinking.

It was unfortunate that Spicer-Simson chose this particular moment to boast openly to his men about his prowess as a gunnery expert, for it had been the 3-pounder gun layers who deserved all the credit, such corrections as he had given being drowned out by the roar of the Thornycroft engine. This was bad enough as they had little enough liking for him anyway, but he could hardly have avoided the contempt in their eyes when he took an ornate gold ring from the finger of the dead German captain and slipped it on his own.

Having been patched up and made watertight, Kingani was given the new name of Fifi and suitably rearmed. The Belgians contributed a 12-pounder gun from one of their coast defence batteries and this was mounted forward while the blind spot aft was closed with a spare 3-pounder. On 14 January 1916 one of the lake’s periodic storms swept down its length, battering Toutou against the breakwater and causing sufficient damage for her to remain out of commission for a while. Fifi began dragging her anchor but good seamanship got her clear of the harbour and, having put out a sea-anchor, she managed to ride out the gale.

Shortly after dawn on 9 February the Belgian lookouts reported Hedwig von Wissmann coming down the lake. The day’s heat was building up when Spicer-Simson boarded Fifi and immediately set off to intercept her, accompanied by Lieutenant A.E. Wainwright in Mimi. The Germans believed that the former Kingani had been sunk by Belgian coast defence batteries and were looking for some evidence to support the theory. Heat haze and thermals above the flat surface of the water prevented the German captain, Lieutenant Odebrecht, from seeing his opponents until they were only 4 miles distant. He immediately reversed course and headed for Kigoma.

The funnels of both steamers began to pour black smoke as oil-soaked wood balks were flung into their furnaces to raise boiler pressure quickly. Wainwright, taking full advantage of Mimi’s speed, forged ahead, opening fire at 3,000 yards range, beyond which the enemy’s stern-mounted 37mm gun could not reply. This seems to have produced results, for Odebrecht began making a series of short turns to starboard to bring his forward 6-pounders into action. Whenever this happened, Wainwright turned to starboard and the enemy shells burst in empty space. These brief pauses enabled Fifi to catch up. Wainwright drew alongside and shouted to Spicer-Simson that his 12-pounder shells were falling well ahead of the enemy. No doubt the seamen concealed their pleasure that their resident gunnery expert had been found wanting by a junior reserve officer, but the appropriate correction was made and the 12-pounder’s next round produced dramatic results. It punched a hole into the enemy’s hull to explode in his engine room and blew a hole in her side. Burning fiercely, her steering gear wrecked and her engines stopped, Hedwig von Wissmann fell away to starboard in a sinking condition and fifteen minutes later disappeared below the surface of the lake. Odebrecht, fifteen Germans and eight native crewmen were rescued from the water.

It would have been quite natural for Zimmer to wonder what had happened to the rest of his flotilla. When, the following day, Graf von Gotzen came down the lake, the British crews were confident that they could deal with her, despite her much larger size. Inexplicably, Spicer-Simson stubbornly refused to leave the harbour although repeatedly urged to do so by his officers. No reason was offered for his decision and the German ship was permitted to retreat back over the horizon. Not for the last time, the British officers and men felt that their commander had brought shame on them.

As the balance of power on the lake had now shifted in favour of the Allies, it was decided to commence land operations against German East Africa. The British invaded from Kenya in the north and Rhodesia in the south while the Belgians invaded from the north-west. Spicer-Simson, now promoted to commander, a recipient both of the Distinguished Service Order and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Three Palms, was ordered to ferry stores north to Tongwe where the Belgians were constructing a seaplane base. From this a number of air attacks were mounted on the Graf von Gotzen which, it was claimed, had sustained bomb damage. Whatever the truth, Zimmer scuttled her outside Kigoma harbour.

In the meantime, Spicer-Simson had been ordered to take his flotilla south to Kituta in Rhodesia and support operations to capture the German base of Bismarcksburg, with the specific task of ensuring that the enemy garrison did not escape by means of the lake. On 5 June his three craft arrived off the enemy port but were unable to make contact with any of the Rhodesian troops. On the other hand, inside the harbour there were five dhows that the German regularly used to transport their troops. They were a sitting target but Spicer-Simson refused to open fire on them, nor would he permit his officers to do so on the grounds that this would bring their craft within range of the guns in the whitewashed fort overlooking the harbour. The flotilla withdrew to Kituta and did not return to Bismarcksburg until 9 June, the day before Spicer-Simson believed that the Rhodesians would reach the area. To his horror, he found that the Germans had gone, as had the dhows, and it was the Union Flag that now flew above the fort. On entering the harbour the flotilla was met by an infantry officer who clearly had little respect for Spicer-Simson. Why, he wanted to know, had he permitted the Germans to escape the previous night when the Rhodesians had them boxed in the landward? Obviously, no reasonable explanation could be offered and Spicer-Simson was told to report to a Colonel Murray in the fort. Unwisely, the Commander chose not to change out of his skirt so that when he entered the courtyard he was subjected laughter and yells of derision from the Rhodesian infantrymen relaxing in the shade. No one knows what passed between Murray and Spicer-Simson but the latter emerged from the discussion ashen and incoherent.

After this, his actions became so erratic that the expedition’s medical officer recommended that he should be sent home on the grounds of nervous debility, which covered a multitude of sins. Following his treatment, he returned to his desk at the Admiralty, still sporting the ring he had taken from the dead German captain. In due course he received prize money for the capture of the Kingani and some smaller craft, as well as head money, based on the number of enemy casualties inflicted. Yet more money resulted from press interviews and lectures in which a very different gloss was put on the Graf von Gotzen and Bismarcksburg episodes. Finally, he had his portrait painted in naval full dress, including a cocked hat. Despite his unfortunate personality, these rewards should not be begrudged him as he had successfully executed a mission many of his peers thought impossible, without losing a man. Yet John Lee, the architect of the mission, received nothing.

The story inspired the author C.S. Forester to write his novel The African Queen, which became a film of the same name. Two of the original story’s participants survived the war. Toutou was despatched by rail to Cape Town where she was installed at Victoria Docks having received a wash and brush up and a polished plate inscribed as follows: ‘This launch served in the East African Campaign as an armed cruiser. Captured and sank two German gunboats with the assistance of sister launch Mimi.’ Before the Germans scuttled Graf von Gotzen outside Kigoma harbour they applied a thick coating of grease to her machinery, clearly intending that one day she should be raised and taken back into service. That day came in 1924 when she was raised by a Royal Navy salvage team. Disarmed, restored, renamed Liemba and given a slightly more modern appearance, she plied the lake until 2010 when she was finally withdrawn after a century of service.