The James River 1864

CSS Fredericksburg and CSS Virginia II, under fire from Union shore batteries and the USS Onondaga, in 1865.  Tom Freeman

James River Operations, May–June 1864

The James River also became an active theater of operations again in 1864. After the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from the Virginia peninsula in August 1862, the James was a relatively quiet sector as the main action moved to northern Virginia and Maryland. For a time in the spring of 1863, however, actions along the Nansemond River, which flowed into the James from the south about fifteen miles west of Norfolk, had seemed to portend major fighting in this theater. Reports that Union troops planned an advance on Petersburg from their base at Suffolk on the Nansemond alarmed General Robert E. Lee. He sent General James Longstreet with two divisions to the south side of the James to counter this anticipated thrust.

When no movement by Union forces materialized, Longstreet converted his operations into a foraging expedition to obtain provisions for the Army of Northern Virginia from this region as yet lightly touched by the war. With 20,000 men, Longstreet also contemplated an attack on Suffolk. Detecting Confederate movements to the Nansemond, Federal commanders feared an effort to recapture Norfolk itself. “If Suffolk falls,” Acting Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee warned Welles on April 14, “Norfolk follows.”

To help the army defend Suffolk, Phillips Lee sent a half dozen shallow-draft gunboats—converted ferryboats and tugs—into the narrow, crooked river. These fragile craft became the Union’s first line of defense, doing more fighting and suffering more damage in artillery duels with Longstreet’s guns than did the Union soldiers. In one brilliant operation led by navy Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson on April 19, a gunboat landed troops plus boat howitzers manned by sailors and captured five field guns and 130 prisoners. The loss of this battery was “a serious disaster,” Longstreet reported. “The enemy succeeded in making a complete surprise.” Two weeks later, after the battle of Chancellorsville, his divisions were recalled to the Army of Northern Virginia on the Rappahannock. The James River lapsed into quiescence again.

But with the opening of Grant’s Overland Campaign in May 1864, the James became a key focal point of Union operations. For political reasons, President Lincoln had felt it necessary to give General Benjamin Butler another command after his removal from New Orleans. In November 1863 Butler became head of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, the army counterpart of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Butler formed the Army of the James in April 1864. Grant gave him the assignment of moving up that river against Richmond, while the Army of the Potomac began its campaign against General Robert E. Lee across the Rapidan River. Phillips Lee’s gunboats on the James would have a crucial role in this effort.

On May 5, 1864, Butler’s 30,000-strong army boarded transports and steamed up the James River to a landing at City Point nine miles from Petersburg. Convoyed by five ironclads and seventeen other gunboats, several of which dragged for torpedoes, the meticulously planned movement went off without a hitch. The next day, however, a 2,000-pound torpedo blew the USS Commodore Jones into splinters with the loss of forty men killed. And on the following day, the USS Shawsheen, dragging for torpedoes near Chaffin’s Bluff far up the river, was disabled by a shot through her boiler and captured along with most of her crew.

Confederates had planted hundreds of torpedoes in the river and had prepared torpedo boats to attack Lee’s ships. Lee decided to create what amounted to a minesweeping fleet of three gunboats, which he named the “Torpedo and Picket Division.” He put Lieutenant Lamson in charge of this division. Lamson had been assigned to command of the USS Gettysburg, a captured blockade-runner converted into the fastest blockading ship in the squadron. Lee asked Lamson to give up this plum assignment, at least temporarily, to take up minesweeping duty.

Lamson threw himself into this dangerous task and in his first day fished up and disarmed ten torpedoes, one of them containing almost a ton of gunpowder. Within three weeks his minesweeping fleet had expanded to eight gunboats, ten armed launches, and 400 men. Lamson explained how he turned the Confederates’ weapons against them. “I have had some of the large torpedoes we seized on our way up refitted and put down in the channel above the fleet” as protection from Confederate ironclads at Richmond if they came down. “I have [also] made some torpedoes out of the best materials at hand here, and have each one of my vessels armed with one containing 120 pounds of powder. . . . The Admiral expressed himself very much pleased with them and is having some made for the other vessels.”

Butler had advanced up the James as far as Drewry’s Bluff only eight miles from Richmond. But the Confederates under General Beauregard attacked and drove him back to the neck of land between the James and Appomattox Rivers. Meanwhile, Grant had been fighting and flanking Robert E. Lee’s army down to Cold Harbor east of Richmond. Rumors and reports abounded that the Confederate James River Fleet of three Virginia-class ironclads and seven gunboats would sortie down the river to attack the Union fleet. Phillips Lee reported “reliable” intelligence that the “enemy meditate an immediate attack upon this fleet with fire rafts, torpedo vessels, gunboats, and ironclads, all of which carry torpedoes, and that they are confident of being able to destroy the vessels here.” The Confederates did indeed “meditate” such an attack, but they were delayed by difficulties in getting the ironclads through their own obstructions at Drewry’s Bluff. They found the Union fleet on alert and called off the sortie, instead exchanging long-range fire with Union ironclads across a narrow neck where the James made a large loop creating a peninsula known as Farrar’s Island.

The possibility of such a sortie caused Union officials to consider sinking hulks at Trent’s Reach to create obstructions to prevent it. Phillips Lee was opposed; he wanted to fight enemy ironclads, not block them. “The Navy is not accustomed to putting down obstructions before it,” he declared. “The act might be construed as implying an admission of superiority of resources on the part of the enemy”—in other words, Lee might be accused of cowardice. Instead, he and his officers “desire the opportunity of encountering the enemy, and feel reluctant to discourage his approach.” Lee also hoped that a successful fight with enemy ironclads would get him promoted to rear admiral.

General Butler urged the sinking of obstructions; Phillips Lee told him bluntly that if they were to be placed, “it must be your operation, not mine.” Butler responded that he was “aware of the delicacy naval gentlemen feel in depending on anything but their own ships in a contest with the enemy,” but “in a contest against such unchristian modes of warfare as fire rafts and torpedo boats I think all questions of delicacy should be waived.” Exasperated, Lee countered that he would only sink the hulks “if a controlling military authority [that is, Grant] requires that it be done.”

Grant did so order it when he decided to cross the army over the James and attack Petersburg. Phillips Lee reluctantly ordered Lieutenant Lamson to do it, which he did on June 15. And sure enough, the Northern press accused Lee of being afraid to fight the rebels. Lee was especially outraged by an article in the New York Herald, his chief tormentor, which declared that the placing of obstructions “has called an honorable blush to the cheek of every officer in his fleet. . . . [Lee] has ironclad vessels enough to blow every ram in the Confederacy to atoms; but he is afraid of the trial.” The Herald subsequently backed down and admitted that Grant had ordered the obstructions, but in a parting shot the newspaper stated that he did so because “he has no confidence” in Lee.

By late June 1864, Grant had troops in place in front of both Petersburg and Richmond and settled in for a partial siege. Affairs on the James River also settled into a stalemate in which the two fleets remained behind their respective obstructions. The Union warships continued to convoy the steady stream of supply steamers up the river to Grant’s base at City Point. Welles ordered Lee to turn over the James River Fleet to Captain Melancton Smith and to move his own headquarters to Beaufort, North Carolina, where he could give more attention to the blockade.

With the concentration of so many vessels on the James River in May and June, the blockade off North Carolina had suffered some relapse. More and more runners were getting through. One of the most egregious violations of the blockade was accomplished by the CSS Tallahassee. Built in England as a fast cross-channel steamer named Atalanta, it became a blockade-runner in 1864 and made several successful runs to and from Wilmington. Because of its speed and strong construction, the Confederate navy purchased it in July 1864 and converted it into a commerce raider armed with rifled guns. Renamed the Tallahassee, she slipped out of New Inlet on the night of August 6, avoided two blockaders that fired on her in the dark, and cruised north along the Atlantic coast on the most destructive single raid by any Confederate ship. In the next nineteen days, she captured thirty-three fishing boats and merchant ships, burning twenty-six, bonding five, and releasing two. Naval ships hunted her from New York to Halifax and back to the Cape Fear River, which she reentered August 25 just ahead of pursuing blockaders.

The Tallahassee’s exploits intensified Northern criticism of Phillips Lee and the Navy Department. Lee issued a flurry of new orders to tighten the cordon of ships off the two inlets of the Cape Fear River. By September these measures were paying off. Major General William H. C. Whiting, Confederate commander of the District of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, lamented “the loss of seven of the very finest and fastest of the trading fleet” in September. “The difficulty of running the blockade has been lately very great. The receipt of our supplies is very precarious.” One reason for the navy’s success in catching these runners was that the Tallahassee had taken all the anthracite coal available in Wilmington for her cruise. Left with only bituminous coal, the runners spewed clouds of black smoke that revealed them to the blockade fleet.

Postscript 1865

The capture of Fort Fisher closed the last blockade-running port except faraway Galveston. (A few runners had been getting into Charleston in recent months by using Maffitt’s Channel close to Sullivan’s Island. The last one got in just before the evacuation of Charleston on the night of February 17–18, 1865.) Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens considered the loss of Fort Fisher “one of the greatest disasters which has befallen our Cause from the beginning of the war.” The advance up the river by Porter’s gunboats and army troops to capture Wilmington on February 22 was something of an anticlimax. The same was true of the occupation of Charleston when the Confederates evacuated it on February 18 after Sherman’s army cut the city’s communications with the interior on their march through South Carolina. Clearly, the end of the Confederacy was in sight. But action continued on several fronts during the winter and spring of 1864–65.

While part of the James River Fleet was absent on the Fort Fisher campaign, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory ordered Flag Officer John K. Mitchell, commander of the South’s own James River Fleet, to attack Grant’s supply base at City Point. Heavy rains in the James River’s watershed raised the river level enough that Confederate ironclads had a chance to get over the Union obstructions at Trent’s Reach twenty river miles above City Point. “I regard an attack upon the enemy . . . at City Point to cut off Grant’s supplies, as a movement of the first importance,” Mallory told Mitchell. “You have an opportunity . . . rarely presented to a naval officer and one which may lead to the most glorious results to your country.”

With three ironclads carrying four guns each—the Virginia II, the Fredericksburg, and the Richmond—and eight smaller consorts, including two torpedo boats, Mitchell came down on the night of January 23–24. The Union fleet of ten gunboats, including the double-turreted monitor USS Onondaga with its two 15-inch Dahlgrens and two 150-pound rifles, dropped several miles downriver to a spot where they had maneuvering room against the enemy—or so their commander, Captain William A. Parker, later explained. But to General Grant, it looked like a panicked retreat. Grant himself untypically pushed the panic button. He fired off telegrams to Welles and ordered naval vessels back up to the obstructions on his own authority, complaining that “Captain Parker . . . seems helpless.” Two of the three Confederate ironclads ran aground at the obstructions; army artillery blasted them and the Fredericksburg, which had gotten through but was forced to return; the Onondaga came back upriver and added its big guns to the heavy fire that sank two Confederate gunboats and compelled the rest to retreat.

In the end, this affair seemed like much ado about very little. But it resulted in the replacement of both fleet commanders. Lieutenant Commander Homer C. Black replaced Parker despite the latter’s pleas for a second chance. He was later tried by court-martial and found guilty of “keeping out of danger to which he should have exposed himself.” But the court recommended clemency in view of his thirty-three years of honorable service, “believing that he acted in this case from an error of judgment.” Welles accepted the clemency recommendation, but Parker’s career was essentially over. On the Confederate side, Mallory replaced Mitchell with Raphael Semmes, recently promoted to admiral and without a command.30 Semmes’s principal accomplishment as chief of the James River Squadron was to order its ships blown up when the Confederates evacuated Richmond on the night of April 2–3, 1865.


The Tirpitz and the War in the Arctic

The bombers from the 9th and 617th Squadrons landed in Scotland during the afternoon of 13 November, their mission having been accomplished. One aircraft was missing, as it had been forced to land in Sweden. Another had flown to the Shetlands, after an engine had been hit by German Flak and fuel consumption had risen alarmingly. Eight bombers had to land on other fields than those they had taken off from. Among the latter was Tait’s Lancaster. When he and his crew climbed down from the bomber, they were asked if they had been on a cross-country training flight.

Next day, at the 5 Group morning conference, the officers present waited to see whether the outcome of Catechism might cause a temporary change in Cochrane’s stern exterior. He sat down behind his desk, glanced at the report, and then said in a matter-of-fact voice: “Last night’s raid … successful. Tirpitz sunk! Now, about tonight’s operations … the Dortmund-Ems canal …”

But if Cochrane appeared to regard Operation Catechism as little more than a navigation exercise, the 9th and 617th had finally put an end to British fears that the Tirpitz would threaten Allied shipping. They had done their utmost to prevent the German battleship from breaking out onto the Atlantic—air attacks by heavy bombers, torpedo bombers, human torpedoes, midget submarines, carrier aircraft, and further operations by heavy bombers. They had initiated deception operations like Tarantula and the pre-emptive attack on St. Nazaire. After all these efforts, success was finally achieved. In the shallow water where the Tirpitz had capsized, her hull, which had become a grave for almost 1,000 German seamen, would remain visible for many years. A Norwegian company later began to dismantle the wreck and sell it as scrap metal. The work continued well into the 1950s, when the war was already fading into the past.

In fact, when the Tallboys hit their target near Tromsø, the outcome of the Second World War had already been decided for some time. Most likely, the German defeat was already inevitable when the midget submarines penetrated into the net cage on 22 September 1943. The battleship would not participate in any operation after Sizilien. Her remaining career was characterised by German attempts to keep her battleworthy, while the British strenuously strove to damage and destroy her before she became fully operational again.

Perhaps Hitler’s negative attitude toward the heavy warships made the efforts to repair the Tirpitz less energetic than they might otherwise have been. On the other hand, it was difficult to repair such a large warship in northern Norway, as suitable facilities were mainly absent. As is known from many other warships—not least German—long periods of maintenance and repairs were often needed even if no battle damage had been sustained. Almost always, such work was conducted at well-equipped shipyards.

Against this background, it appears unlikely that the Tirpitz could have significantly influenced the course of events after the summer of 1943. The outcome of the war had been effectively decided and, at most, the German battleship could hardly even have delayed it. Largely, the war was decided on the Eastern Front, where the Red Army firmly dictated the main events from 1943 onwards. Valuable goods were unloaded from the convoys that arrived in Murmansk and Archangelsk after the summer of 1943. Above all, these products enabled Stalin to speed up his advance west, as the equipment provided by the Western powers improved Soviet mobility.

At most, an active use of the Tirpitz would have prevented some merchant ships from reaching their destination, but when the battleship was finally destroyed, even this rather remote possibility vanished. At this stage of the war, the Tirpitz was no longer an important component in the German war effort. The British were not fully aware that the Germans had written off the Tirpitz as an offensive weapon in autumn 1944, but even so, their final efforts appear almost overzealous. Perhaps this is an example of how wars develop their own logic. When a process has begun, it tends to carry on by its own inertia.

With the destruction of the Tirpitz, the last German battleship was neutralized. Admittedly, the Gneisenau remained in Gdynia, but she lacked her heavy guns. They had been removed for use in Norway as coastal artillery. The work to fit her with new 38cm guns had been discontinued after the Scharnhorst was sunk. She was not a battleworthy warship, and as she lacked her heavy guns, was hardly even useful as a floating battery. In March 1945, the Germans sunk the Gneisenau to block the port of Gdynia as the Red Army was about to capture it. The autumn of 1944 did not only see the end of the German battle fleet. In the Pacific, the Battle of the Surigao Strait was fought on the night of 24–25 October, about three weeks before the destruction of the Tirpitz. This night action between American and Japanese battleships would turn out to be the last occasion when battleships fought each other. The battleship era had come to its end, although the ships were still used for coastal bombardment.

During her career, the Tirpitz did not receive significant modifications. Her radar equipment as well as her anti-aircraft defenses were improved, but otherwise she underwent no major changes. She remained very similar to her sister ship Bismarck. However, few modern battleships were significantly altered during World War II. The most important shortcomings the Tirpitz suffered from could not be attributed to her construction, but to the concept she was supposed to fit into.

Raeder had worked to create a powerful German Navy, and the heavy warships had consumed most of its resources. He had hoped to use them against British transoceanic shipping. The Tirpitz had been designed for this concept, but she was never permitted to fulfill the role Raeder had conceived for her. Except when she narrowly missed PQ12 and QP8, she never even came close to an enemy convoy. All other Allied ships retained a healthy distance from the Tirpitz’s heavy guns. Why did events unfold in such a way?

The Tirpitz was the last German battleship; in fact she was the last heavy German warship completed during the war. When she was commissioned, Hitler had adopted a strong aversion to using the heavy warships on any mission that entailed risk. The constraints resulting from Hitler’s attitude did not make the German Navy officers inclined to use the warships with daring and innovation.

On the other hand, Hitler’s caution may have been fostered by the events of 1939–41, when many German warships had been lost without having achieved any major triumph. Perhaps he valued a fairly intact fleet more than insignificant successes on the sea, in particular if the latter were won at high cost.

If Hitler argued along these lines he was not detached from the reality, because the mere existence of the Tirpitz in Norwegian fjords tied up significant Allied resources. For over three years the British made considerable efforts with all arms to destroy the German battleship. In a sense, the Tirpitz can serve as an example of a fleet in being. It is, however, difficult to judge if these effects on the British justified the resources spent by the Germans in building the battleship and maintaining it. Once the ship was completed, it was perhaps wise to make the most of her, but nevertheless the German program on heavy warships, at least later in the war, appears wasted.

Lack of fuel seems to have been a major constraint on German naval warfare. An ocean warfare concept of the kind envisaged by Raeder would have required substantial quantities of oil, or else the impact on the enemy would have remained slight. It is doubtful that Germany could have acquired the necessary quantities. Thus a common notion—that Germany began the war before her naval build-up was completed—can be called into question. The so-called Z-Plan, which Raeder put forward during the second half of the 1930s, envisaged a much larger fleet, but not until a decade later; that is, not reaching fruition until after 1945. The sources do not agree entirely on the composition of the German fleet according to the plan, but it was projected to encompass about 10 battleships, 12 unspecified armored ships, 4 carriers, and at least 20 cruisers. As it proved difficult to supply the small German fleet in World War II with sufficient fuel, a much larger fleet along the lines outlined in the Z-Plan would have been almost impossible to use effectively.

The fact is that the German strategic position before World War II placed her between two land powers: France and Poland. They were the most likely enemies, and against them the Germans above all needed a strong Army supported by air power. The Navy could not be expected to contribute significantly in a war against France and Poland and was consequently allotted only a minor portion of the defense budget. But it must also be remembered that the other major powers were accelerating their naval programs during this period. Great Britain, the United States, Japan, France, Italy, and even the Soviet Union had initiated large naval production programs. Clearly, it cannot be taken for granted that the German Navy would have been in a better position if the war had begun later. Other countries, particularly those with overseas possessions, would have progressed further. Most importantly, many of the other powers controlled much larger sources of fuel.

The German effort to produce heavy warships could hardly have contributed significantly to defeating any of its major enemies. Probably the conquest of Norway was the most important German success to which the Navy contributed significantly. By controlling Norway, the Germans had removed the threat against the Swedish iron ore deposits, which were very valuable to the German war economy. However, the occupation of Norway took place before the Bismarck and Tirpitz were completed.

If the expansion of the German Navy before World War II was a blunder, it was not without precursors. In the decade before World War I, the Imperial German Navy expanded considerably, even more than before World War II. In the end, the German surface fleet in World War I obtained very meager results, and it seems that Germany’s expansion of its Navy before the war significantly contributed to the British decision to declare war.

The men who were caught inside the Tirpitz’s hull had more mundane problems to consider than naval strategy in distant waters. Bernstein’s group had survived inside the sickening oil tank for more than eight hours when Sommer’s men cut a hole in the hull. Fearing the oil might catch fire, Bernstein ordered some of the men to go for a few fire extinguishers he had seen in an adjacent compartment. They sprinkled the area where the welding flames cut through the plates. Soon a hole had been created, and the rescue party poured water on the edges to chill them. When Bernstein had got up through the hole and stood trembling while breathing the fresh air, Sommer approached him and asked, “Are there more men down there?”

“Yes, next to us,” Bernstein replied. “They were banging and we could hear a piece of metal falling.”

“They have already been saved,” Sommer said. “They were inside the workshop above one of the tanks. We got them out before you.”

Bernstein looked at the devastation surrounding the ship. Below him, remains of the torpedo nets floated in the oily water and small boats were picking up the bodies of dead seamen. On the beach, he could see small groups of survivors who had not yet found shelter from the cold. The German repair ship Neumark had been positioned alongside the battleship, as had the Norwegian pilot boat Arngast, on which more sophisticated welding equipment was carried. Everywhere on the keel, both rescuers and rescued congratulated each other. Bernstein recognized Sub-Lieutenant Wache, one of the engineers who had participated in the rescue work. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He did not weep over the lost comrades, but shed tears of joy over the saved.

“I am sure there is another group rather close to us,” Bernstein said. “I heard them knocking on the bulkheads.”

“You have done enough now,” Sommer said. “Take one of the boats and row ashore with your men. Get some rest. We are still working at the bow and I have to go there.”

The rescue work continued during the night and well into the morning, when the last survivors were brought out from the interior of the battleship. Altogether, Sommer and his men had saved 87 men from the wreck. At last he would find some rest.

When Sommer sat in the boat which brought him to Tromsø and looked at the huge keel, which resembled an enormous dead whale, he watched the sad remnants of the German efforts to create a powerful battle fleet. The efforts had been initiated at the end of the 19th century, and the results had been tested in two world wars. The man who set the program in motion was Alfred von Tirpitz, Secretary of the Navy in the Imperial German Cabinet, 1897–1916. It is ironic that the last German battleship carried his name.

The Bismarck had been the last German battleship endeavoring to cut off the British transatlantic trade routes and thus cripple the British economy. The Tirpitz had been given the less ambitious task to halt Allied Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union.

Neither of these aims had been achieved.

U-Boat Activity Around WWII Bermuda

As with any battlefield, the human toll is the saddest element. Steel on steel is one form of warfare—the young men who cling to life on a barren life raft for weeks in the Atlantic tell another type of tale, one of tenacity and of perseverance. The men from ships like the Muskogee, abandoned by their antagonists to die a slow death on the windswept crests of North Atlantic waves, would of course never live to tell their tale. They leave it to others to piece together.

Were it not for Bermuda sticking its stubborn, reef-strewn hide out of the northern seas astride the Gulf Stream, over a thousand Allies would likely have perished, two U-boats escaped, and the carnage in the nearly half-million-mile-wide region been vastly more devastating. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of strangers, the men and women from disparate backgrounds who landed on the island were treated humanely, welcomed by kindred souls whether in the African Methodist Church, the Anglican graveyard, a sailor’s canteen, the hospital or the Sailor’s Home, not to mention private homes. The fact they were not treated like commodities (shipwrecked Allied sailors in Archangel Russia were forced to work in factories), speaks volumes to the spirit of hospitality of the tight-knit island community.

These exemplary characteristics can still be found today, and tenets of which are still practiced by members of the Guild of Holy Compassion, as they patiently tend the graves of those lost nearly three generations ago, with no thought to the recognition they are unlikely to receive in any event. No offspring having been borne of the survivors’ short sojourns in the Somer’s Isles, these white-washed grave sites stand silent sentinel for the hundreds more who made it off the island’s war-ravaged coast and back into the fray. There are not likely to ever be U-boats waging war off Bermuda again, and the hulks of most of the victims lie still tantalizingly beyond our grasp.

The Allied ships came from all over—mostly British, US and Norwegian flagged, they also hailed from Latvia, Canada, the Netherlands, neutral Sweden, Uruguay, and Argentina. They steamed ploddingly from Portuguese East Africa or raced from New York, from the Caribbean to Canada, the Pacific to the US, from up South American rivers to US ports like Baytown and Weehawken. Most of them were on their way between Europe and the Americas, ports like Liverpool and Halifax or New York, or the islands and US Gulf to Halifax to convoy east.

During World War Two, there were 1,224 survivors landed in Bermuda from 24 ships (one US Navy, one Canadian Navy), between 17 October 1940 and 27 February 1943. Most of them were passengers on liner ships, followed by merchant sailors and then naval officers and men. The largest number of survivors was from the City of Birmingham (372 landed 1 July 1942, nine fatalities), and the Lady Drake (256 landed 6 May 1942, twelve deaths). The fewest were the schooner the Helen Forsey and the Melbourne Star with four each. Some men from the following ships were landed by air: the Derryheen, USS Gannet, the San Arcadio, and the Melbourne Star. Only the following succeeded in rowing and sailing their way to Bermuda on their own: the Helen Forsey (four Canadians) and the James E. Newsom (nine Canadians).

While other merchant ships picked up most survivors, a number were rescued by naval vessels: the Jagersfontein, the City of Birmingham, the Lady Drake, HMCS Margaree, the British Resource, and USS Gannet. Of those landed in Bermuda, most (twelve ships with 243 men) came from British ships, five ships from the USA accounted for 506 survivors and three Canadian vessels for 299 persons. Other ships whose men landed in Bermuda had been flagged to Uruguay, Sweden, Norway, and Netherlands (one ship each). Six ships experienced the longest survival voyages on open boats or rafts: the Melbourne Star for thirty-eight days; the Empire Dryden for nineteen days; the Fred W. Green for eighteen days; the San Arcadio for fifteen days; the Helen Forsey for twelve days; and the Stanbank for ten days. All the other eighteen ships experienced voyages of nine days or less, with five ships’ crews on the water for one day or less. There were several weeks of particularly intense activity on shore when several ships’ survivors arrived in Bermuda:

Late October 1940: the Uskbridge on 28 October and HMCS Margaree on 1 November 1940.

Mid-March 1942: the British Resource on 16 March and the Oakmar on 24 March 1942.

Late April 1942: the Agra and the Derryheen on 22 April, the Robin Hood on 25 April, and the Modesta on 26 April

Early May 1942: the Lady Drake on 6 May, the Empire Dryden on 8 May, the James E. Newsom on 10 May, and the Stanbank on 15 May.

Mid-June 1942: the West Notus on 5 June, USS Gannet on 7 June, the Melbourne Star on 10 June, the L. A. Christiansen on 12 June, and the Fred W. Green on 17 June 1942.

Early July 1942: the Jagersfontein on 28 June, and the City of Birmingham on 3 July 1942.

Some, like the Derryheen, Maldonado, Uskbridge, and West Notus, only had a portion of their crew landed in Bermuda. The others were rescued by ship or air and taken to different ports. Excluding the passenger ships, the average number of men per ship with survivors landed in Bermuda was 27. Including all ships attacked around Bermuda, but excluding the Uskbridge and HMCS Margeree, which happened before Operation Drumbeat, the attacks began on 24 January with U-106 under Rasch’s attack on the Empire Wildebeeste and ended on 27 February 1943 with the attack by U-66 under Markworth on the St. Margaret some 1,140 nautical miles from Bermuda.

Attacks inside the central circle lasted eighteen months, though the U-boat patrols lasted longer—into 1944. The busiest month of attacks was April 1942 with twenty, followed by May 1942 with fifteen and March 1942 with fourteen. The only months during which there were more than one attacks were January to July 1942, generalizing that the sustained attacks lasted for the first seven months of 1942, though many patrols transited the area and random attacks were made after that period.

Four attacks took place on 20 April 1942: the Agra, the Empire Dryden, the Steel Maker, and the Harpagon; another four happened on 5 May 1942: the Lady Drake, the Stanbank, the Santa Catalina, and the Freden.

There were 3,942 people aboard eighty ships attacked by U-boats between 24 January 1942 and 27 February 1943 (thirteen months—excluding the Uskbridge, sunk off Iceland). A total of 957 men were killed, or a mortality rate of roughly twenty-five percent. Luckily, 2,985 men survived. Of the survivors, approximately forty-one percent of the survivors and thirty-one percent of the overall number of people attacked landed in Bermuda. The majority, or forty-four, of Allied ships were steamships laid out to carry general, or dry bulk cargo, as opposed to tankers or other types. There were eight motor ships that carried dry or general cargo, meaning fifty-two out of eighty (sixty-five percent) were dry cargo ships. There were twenty-one tankers, of which eighteen were the more modern motor tankers, and three were steam tankers. Thus, twenty-six percent of the ships carried liquid cargoes, and most of them were motorized, whereas steam-driven machinery propelled most of the dry ships.

Additionally, there was a US Navy minesweeper, two schooners, and four passenger ships, of which three (the Lady Drake, the San Jacinto, and the City of Birmingham) were steam and one (the Jagersfontein) was motorized. Some other ships, including the Fairport and the Santa Catalina, carried passengers as well as freight. There were only five ships (the Frank B. Baird, the Leif, the Astrea, the Anna, and the Freden) between 1,191 and 1,748 tons, and two—both schooners—less than 1,000 tons: the James E. Newsom at 671 tons and the Helen Forsey at 167 tons. The total gross registered tonnage of all eighty ships was 473,420 tons, so the GRT of the average ship would be 5,918 tons. The largest ships were the San Gerardo (12,915), Victolite (11,410), and Montrolite (11,309). There were four ships between 10,000 and 10,389 tons: the Narragansett, the Opawa, the Jagersfontein, and the Koll.

Generally, the tankers were larger than their dry-bulk cousins; of the top twenty-five ships by tonnage, all except the Lady Drake, the Westmoreland and the Hardwicke Grange were either tankers or motor ships. Out of eighty ships, twelve of them, or fifteen percent were proceeding in ballast—in other words, their cargo holds or tanks were empty except for water or sand, carried to keep them at a safe trim for ocean passages. The Halcyon, for example, was 3,531 tons and carried 1,500 tons of ballast to keep the ship steady in rough seas.

On the dry cargo side, the cargoes were the most varied. They included coal, motor boats, military stores, beer, nitrates, motor trucks, chrome ore, cement, bauxite ore, phosphate, aircraft, locomotives, timber, manganese ore, mahogany, anthracite coal, refrigerated cargo (i.e. meats, butter), gas storage tanks, metal piping, flour, automobiles, wine, cereal, canned meat, wool, eggs, leather, fertilizer, explosives, and bags of mail. The variation continues, with ships carrying wheat, tungsten, nitrate, fuel in drums, steel, tires, small arms, fats, flax seed, tobacco, licorice, rugs, ‘war supplies,’ construction equipment, cigarettes, tanks, lead, asbestos, chrome ore, copper, resins, cotton, zinc concentrates, asphalt, burlap, rubber, linseed, and tea.

On the tanker side, cargoes varied from petrol and paraffin to linseed oil, crude oil, fuel oil, aviation spirit, high-grade diesel oil, gas oil, lubricating oil, gasoline, heavy crude oil, benzene and white spirit, kerosene, furnace oil, and petroleum products. The Helen Forsey was not a tanker, but rather a schooner; nevertheless, she carried molasses and rum—presumably in barrels, not in bulk.

Ships attacked in the Bermuda area flew the flags of eleven countries: Great Britain (thirty-four ships), USA (fifteen), Norway (twelve), Canada (five), Sweden (four), Netherlands (three), Panama (two), Uruguay (two), Argentina (one), Latvia (one), and Yugoslavia (one). Great Britain accounted for forty-three percent of ships lost in the region, the US eighteen percent, and Norway fifteen percent, with the others trailing significantly. Nine out of the thirty-four British ships, or twenty-five percent of them, were tankers. In contrast, only two out of fifteen US-flagged ships (thirteen percent) were tankers. On the Norwegian side, five out of twelve (forty-two percent) were tankers.

Eleven ships left from New York, followed by ten from various ports in the UK and ten from Trinidad—the three lead destination ports. Eight left Bermuda, and seven left Curacao in the Dutch West Indies (invariably tankers loaded with petroleum or distillates), five from the US Gulf, and two from British Guyana. Five ships had made stops in Cape Town on their way from Middle Eastern and Indian ports. Four ships sailed from Halifax. Ten ships had last called at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to receive bunkers, or fuel, on long voyages from South America or South Africa. One sailed from Buenos Aires, with another four from Norfolk or Hampton Roads. Three sailed from Panama (having left New Zealand or Australia), and four left Philadelphia. One left from Savannah, another three from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. One ship left Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), and another from Recife, Brazil. Yet another sailed from Montevideo, Uruguay. Small ports like Turks and Caicos and Barbados were hailed by the schooners. Ship destinations are somewhat clouded by the reality that, if the ship is included in this study, it was attacked by an Axis submarine and most likely never made it to port. Twelve were going to Halifax, but sixteen were going to Canada; two to St. John, as well as Sydney Nova Scotia and Montreal.

Sixteen were going to New York. Six were destined for Bermuda, one for Aruba, one for Baltimore, one for Iran, eleven to Cape Town and thence the Middle East or India. Two were destined for Venezuela, one for Cuidad Trujillo, Dominican Republic, three for Curacao Dutch West Indies to load petroleum products, one to Freetown Sierra Leone, one for Georgetown, British Guyana. One was bound for Iceland, two for Norfolk, two for Philadelphia, one for Pernambuco, another for San Juan and yet another for Rio de Janeiro. One ship was bound for Texas City and another for Trinidad, and yet another for Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

The average distance of victim vessels from Bermuda (excluding the Uskbridge), was 350 nautical miles. The Modesta, sunk on 25 April 1942, was the closest to Bermuda at 121 miles, or ten hours’ steaming at 12 knots. Next came the Harpagon the same week, at only 164 miles distant, followed by the Raphael Semmes and theWestmoreland, both 175 miles away. The Tonsbergfjord was sunk 176 miles from Bermuda by the Italian submarine the Enrico Tazzoli in March 1942. The Astrea was sunk the same week by the same sub 194 miles from the island, and the Ramapo and the Fred W. Green roughly 185 miles away. There were twenty-two ships struck between 200 and 300 nautical miles from Bermuda, and thirty-three between 300 and 400 miles away. Eight Allied merchant ships were attacked between 400 and 500 miles from Bermuda, and four between 500 and 600 miles away; more if Cape Hatteras was included in this study. These ships would have been sunk to the east and south of Bermuda. Five ships were sunk more than 600 miles from the island, but were included in this study because their survivors were landed on Bermuda: the Uskbridge and the St. Margaret. The other three ships were the Pan Norway (sunk 743 miles away), the Triglav (919 miles), and the Athelknight, sunk 1,000 miles away. Since this study is about the men and women who landed in Bermuda during World War Two, their stories are included.

Ultimately, history is told not so much in statistics as through the eyes of the participants. Behind every number in this analysis are the tales of men and women caught unawares and pitched into the merciless North Atlantic. The fact that the majority of them survived and a good number made landfall in Bermuda is a testament not only to the tenacity of their rescuers, who came across the seas and from the clouds, but also to the survivor’s good fortune. For many, the ordeal was not over, as they had to ship out on other vessels and brave the same seas again to reach North America or Europe.

The people of Bermuda—both civilian and those in uniform—did the very best they could under the circumstances to welcome, accommodate, and resuscitate the survivors so that they could sally forth and adjust back into their individual roles in an all-consuming, global war that continued for a further three years. These are the victors of the campaign; men and women who were given up on by both Germans and perhaps by their colleagues ashore, but who battled to survive—and did. By comparison, in the Bahamas only 257 sailors made it ashore from many more ships (130). And in New England 547 landed from thirty-five vessels.

Were it not for fortress Bermuda providing a welcome landing platform for these desperate souls, who would have faced some 650 more nautical miles to make the mainland, most of them would undoubtedly have perished. Bermudians managed the integration of over 1,000 people into a population of 30,000 with aplomb and grace, tending to survivors of all creeds and ages, ranks and genders—the living and the dead. Not only that, but even before the United States joined the fight, they had fortified the island colony with runways and air bases for land as well as sea planes, so that they could not only collect survivors from the air, but avenge the attackers as well. What more could Allied mariners, their passengers, and navy sailors ask of any small and isolated populace?

Western Approaches – Coastal Command

During November 1942 Admiral Sir Percy Noble, who had been C.-in-C., Western Approaches since February 1941, was succeeded by Admiral Sir Max Horton. Starting with miserably inadequate resources, Noble had done a magnificent job in creating a viable AS defence for the convoys. Churchill, however, found him lacking sufficient aggression, wanting a man who would use the Allies’ growing strength to carry the war to Dönitz. In Horton he made the perfect choice. A career submariner, he had been in command of the whole Royal Navy submarine force and well understood Dönitz’ problems and weaknesses. Horton was ferocious with erring subordinates yet knew that the war against the U-boat was one of patience, for which the maintenance of morale was top priority. In pursuit of this he regularly sailed on operational cruises and flew with Coastal Command crews.

First Wellington variant to be developed specifically for Coastal Command was the GR. VIII, a general reconnaissance/torpedo-bomber version of the Pegasus XVIII-engined Mk IC. Equipped with ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) Mk II radar, it was identified readily by the four dorsal antennae and the four pairs of transmitting aerials on each side of the fuselage. A total of 271 torpedo-bombers for daylight operation was built at Weybridge, together with 65 day bombers, and 58 equipped for night operation with a Leigh searchlight in the ventral turret position. In these last aircraft the nose armament was deleted and the position occupied by the light operator.

There was, however, still an important role for the Wellington to play with Coastal Command. Maritime operations had started with the four DWI Wellingtons: these had been converted by Vickers in the opening months of 1940 to carry a 52-ft (15.85-m) diameter metal ring, which contained a coil that could create a field current to detonate magnetic mines. Eleven almost identical aircraft, with 48-ft (14.63-m) rings, were converted by W. A. Rollason Ltd at Croydon, and others on site in the Middle East.

No. 172 Squadron at Chivenor, covering the Western Approaches, was the first to use the Leigh Light-equipped Wellington VIII operationally, and the first attack on a U-boat by such an aircraft at night took place on 3 June 1942, with the first sinking recorded on 6 July. From December 1941 Wellingtons were flying shipping strikes in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East No. 36 Squadron began anti-submarine operations in October 1942.


The Coastal Command of the RAF, which was eventually to prove such a potent obstacle to Dönitz’ plans, enjoyed a painfully slow expansion. Until early in 1941, invasion was the primary threat to the nation. In denying the Luftwaffe the necessary air supremacy for such an undertaking, Fighter Command took an indisputable top priority. Bomber Command, with its deeply ingrained strategic bombing theories, could equally claim that it alone could strike directly at the enemy, reducing his capacity to continue the war through the destruction of his industrial base and the morale of his populace.

In July 1940, as Dönitz’ boats extended their range by beginning operations from Biscay bases, Coastal Command had 500 aircraft, but only thirty-four of them were Sunderlands, capable of operation beyond a 500-mile radius. The enemy increasingly operated at the fringe of these limits.

Further to the all-important anti-invasion patrols, there were others to watch for attempted breakout by raiders, and the establishment of an AS reconnaissance line running north-westward from Cape Wrath. Patrols were gradually set up on a regular basis from Iceland, and then from Freetown, the busy southern terminal of the SL convoys.

For nearly two years, poorly equipped and lacking experience, Coastal Command spent thousands of hours patrolling, seeing U-boats aplenty but sinking none except in support of surface AS escorts. Then, on 27 August 1940, they captured one. With what appeared to be the most incompetent crew that ever sailed, the U-570, a Type VIIC, surfaced south of Iceland almost beneath a patrolling Hudson. Four shallow-set depth charges caused extensive superficial damage and created panic. With the boat unable to dive, the aircraft kept the crew below with strafing runs until further aircraft and, eventually, the Navy arrived. With some difficulty, the U-570 was recovered and repaired. Although all sensitive material had been destroyed, the boat provided valuable operational data when re-commissioned with a Royal Navy crew.

Slowly, Coastal Command accumulated new aircraft – Sunderlands and Catalinas, Beaufort torpedo bombers, Blenheims and the new Beaufighter. As Bomber Command expanded its four-engined, heavy bomber fleet, it passed down some still-useful twin-engined aircraft – Hampdens, Whitleys and the versatile Wellington.

The useless AS bombs had been superseded by depth charges, modified for air drop but yet lacking a reliable ultra-shallow fuse. As U-boats were usually attacked while on or near the surface, this was an urgent requirement. To evaluate new weapons and to establish correct attack procedures a Development Unit was created.

Although the ASV Mark II, the first practical air-to-surface radar set, was introduced in August 1940, Bomber Command took first priority. When the development of the magnetron oscillator then facilitated a high-power centimetric radar, the discovery was shared with the Americans, who began production of sets with trainable antenna but small enough to be airborne. For these, Coastal Command’s priorities ranked below those of the night fighters of Fighter Command.

Radar gave an aircraft the ability to surprise the U-boat, surfaced at night to recharge batteries and to refresh on-board air. Unfortunately, like Asdic-equipped ships, the aircraft was ‘blind’ over the very last stage of the approach, as the synchronously-switched transmitter and receiver units could not cope with near-simultaneous returns.

The solution was the brilliantly simple ‘Leigh Light’, a 24-inch naval projector mounted in a turret ring and controlled by the standard gun mounting servo system. When trials began in March 1941, a Wellington was required to accommodate the associated generator, but later variants were powered from a bank of trickle-charged accumulators. Entry into service of a device so important was inexcusably slow, it seeing action for the first time in June 1942.

From the middle of 1941, U-boats commissioned at an increasing rate while mercantile losses fell off considerably. This false dawn led to demands that Coastal Command’s heavier aircraft be diverted to assist in Bomber Command operations. But this was to ignore that these same aircraft were a major reason for the improvement. Air cover extended some 700 miles westward from the British Isles, 600 miles eastward from Canada and 400 miles southward from Iceland. Within these limits, surfaced U-boat skippers found that they could be caught with little warning. Around the fringes life was safer, for the longer-range aircraft remained scarce and could not dally so far from base. The U-boats correspondingly congregated in what was known as the Gap, an aircraft-free zone, several hundred miles in width, occupying the central one-third of a line drawn from Iceland to Newfoundland. The Admiralty’s Submarine Tracking Room thus sought to use intelligence to direct convoys in a great northerly arc, to avoid known submarine concentrations and to remain a maximum time within the limits of air cover.

Noting the decrease in interceptions, Dönitz initiated the first of several inconclusive enquiries to establish whether naval codes had been compromised, how to reduce the number of radio transmissions and to evaluate the accuracy of the known British D/F system.

By the end of 1941 a first Coastal Command squadron was converting to the American-built B-24 Liberator. This aircraft proved vulnerable as a daylight bomber over the Continent but was remarkably successful when converted for long-range maritime patrol duties, being well able to cover the Gap.

As the Bay of Biscay had to be traversed by every U-boat leaving or returning to its French base, it was divided into sectors by Coastal Command. These sectors reached down to Spanish coastal limits and each was covered in a planned patrol programme. Submarines increasingly had to submerge during daylight hours, slowing their progress and reducing their endurance.

Mid-1942 saw the strength of RAF Coastal Command stand at over fifty flying boats (Catalinas and Sunderlands) and nearly 500 other aircraft. These included Hudsons, Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hampdens for general reconnaissance but only two squadrons of B-24 (Liberator) and B-17 (Fortress) Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft. As the Luftwaffe was now operating Ju88 and Me110 heavy fighters over the Bay of Biscay, there were also deployed eight squadrons of Beaufighters and the more vulnerable Blenheims.

In addition, four naval squadrons were attached to the Command, together with specialist units for photographic, meteorological and air-sea rescue duties. Based around the British Isles (with Group headquarters at Liverpool, Chatham, Rosyth and Plymouth), at Iceland and Gibraltar, the Command’s aircraft were complemented by those of the US Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operating from Iceland, Newfoundland and the Canadian mainland. Despite increasing offensive capacity, however, the Gap yawned as wide and as deadly as ever.

With the reduction in scale of submarine attack, it became the practice to reduce the degree of evasive routing and to follow more closely the shortest Great Circle routes. There came also an inevitable relaxation in vigilance, so that it came as an unpleasant surprise when Dönitz set up the occasional pack attack. This he did in order to prevent the transfer of escorts to assist the beleaguered Americans.

One such attack fell on HG.84, a twenty-three ship convoy which sailed northbound from Gibraltar on 9 June 1942. Barring its route were the nine U-boats of Group Endrass, named for the ‘ace’ lost in these waters some six months earlier. The group itself contained one ace skipper in Erich Topp of U-552. It was he that had earlier sunk the American destroyer Reuben James and, by virtue of surviving the war, would accumulate a ‘score’ of 185,000 GRT, earning him the Ritterkreuz with Oak Leaves and Swords.

By coincidence Endrass’ nemesis, Captain F.J. Walker, was again the Senior Officer of the escort, although EG.36 was at a reduced strength of Walker’s sloop Stork and three Flowers. Included in the convoy was the fighter catapult ship, Empire Morn.

Enemy agents in Spain duly reported HG.84’s departure. Twenty ships sailed from Gibraltar, the final three joining from Lisbon on 11 June. These were tracked by Kondors, which thus discovered the main convoy. The reported position proved to be thirty-five miles in error, prompting a tart comment from Dönitz.

With the convoy’s slow progress, Dönitz was able to deploy his boats in two search lines and it was Topp himself that made the first sighting on the afternoon of the 14th some 400 miles west of Cape Finisterre.

In vectoring-in the three colleagues, Topp generated radio traffic that was noted by the rescue ship Copeland at the rear of the convoy. Rescue ships did not enjoy any special immunity and were equipped with ‘Huff-Duff’, the existence of which was suspected by the enemy but not yet confirmed. The Copeland alerted Walker who ordered away the Empire Morn’s solitary Hurricane to disperse the snoopers while his four escorts pursued three separate contacts.

With darkness, Topp had worked himself into an attacking position. He launched a full, four-tube bow salvo, then swung to fire the stern tube. Three ships went down, the Norwegian tanker Slemdal and two British ships, Moss Hutchinson’s Etrib and MacAndrew’s Pelayo. Reloading rapidly, he was able to repeat his attack, this time destroying two Ellerman ships, Hall Line’s Thurso and the Papayanni vessel City of Oxford. The four British ships aggregated barely 8,500 GRT but typified the valuable little Mediterranean traders which, working cargo with their own equipment, could use the most minor ports.

Despite the number of boats in contact with the convoy by the 15th they were kept at a safe distance by the escort, Topp and one other receiving sufficient damage to cause them to break off.

On the following day the escort was reinforced by three fresh ships, including two of the new River-class frigates. The convoy also came within the range of Coastal Command Liberators. Continuous air cover and calm conditions caused the remaining enemy to abandon the operation. Topping-up from a pair of U-tankers, they resumed their interrupted passage to the United States.

That the enemy was thus being ‘let off the hook’ was of great concern to the Admiralty which, as soon as suitable vessels could be mustered, initiated the Support Group concept. This comprised an independent group, accompanied by its own oiler, which could be directed to reinforce the escort of any threatened convoy. First tried in September 1942, the idea immediately faltered with the need of every available ship to cover the North Africa landings in the November. Requirements here consumed not only every possible AS escort but also the first escort carriers (CVE) that were coming forward. It was thus a further six months before Support Groups would become a reality, for which reason the Admiralty initiated the emergency Merchant Aircraft Carrier (MAC) programme. This, however, would produce no result before May 1943.

Deployment of escort carriers pitted U-boats against that most unlikely of killers, the Fairey Swordfish. Often portrayed as an obsolescent stopgap, the aircraft was nothing of the sort, having entered service with the Fleet Air Arm only in July 1936. Designed to handle well at very low speeds, it could lift off a short flight deck with a relative wind speed of only 55 knots. A rare example of a successful multi-purpose design, the Swordfish could deploy torpedoes or mines, and even engage in divebombing in the face of light opposition. Fitted with ASV radar, it carried depth charges or, later, hull-piercing rocket projectiles, to deadly effect against submarines. Often ‘superseded’, it nevertheless remained operational throughout the war.

Although ASV Mark II radar had first been flown in March 1941, Fighter Command’s night fighters enjoyed higher priority than Coastal Command, and it was June 1942 before the enemy became convinced that his surfaced submarines were being surprised because of airborne radar rather than poor watch-keeping. In this same month came a further alarming report of a U-boat, surfaced at night in the Bay of Biscay, being surprised by a sudden illumination and almost simultaneous bombing. The Leigh Light had arrived.

From their French Atlantic bases, all U-boats had to deploy and return across ‘the Bay’ and the growing attentions of Coastal Command were a matter of concern to BdU. Where early 1942 had been casualty-free, June had seen three boats damaged sufficiently to abort their deployments and return. Unusually, Dönitz over-reacted, ordering boats to remain submerged at night, surfacing by day only to recharge and refresh. This was intended to be only a stopgap measure, pending the improvisation of a suitable radar warning receiver. Its result, however, was to more than double the number of sightings and to begin a slow attrition as odd boats were picked off.

Following complaints about lack of Luftwaffe cover, two dozen fighter versions of the Ju88 were transferred to Lorient and Bordeaux. Additional automatic weapons began to appear on U-boats, starting a trend to growing topside clutter that had a cumulative and adverse effect on surfaced stability and submerged manoeuvrability.

Ironically, a couple of French firms, Metox and Grandin, were already producing electronic equipment which, with the addition of a crude antenna, could receive signals over a bandwidth that included the frequency range of ASV Mark II. Known simply as ‘Metox’, the first sets were rushed to completion within six weeks. On surfacing, boats so equipped would hoist a wooden-framed antenna (the ‘Biscay Cross’) and submerge again hastily on the reception of a train of signals at around 200 MHz. Metox-equipped boats escorted those without and, once again, sightings dropped almost to zero.

With their superior electronic industrial base, the Americans were keen to apply technology to AS warfare. Airborne magnetic anomaly detectors were shown to work in principle but the distance from detector to the ferrous mass of the target could not exceed 600 feet. Even the lowest and slowest of aircraft could thus detect a transient lasting only milliseconds.

Expendable air-dropped sonobuoys appeared to be more promising. Released around a suspected target position, these detected target noise, amplified it and re-transmitted it to the circling aircraft. By the end of 1942 they were in use by both US Army Air Corps and US Navy aircraft, and were about to go into mass production.

As sonobuoys could give only an approximate position for the target, precision-dependent weapons such as depth-charges were not appropriate. For this purpose, the self-homing acoustic torpedo was developed. For submarines, too, this was a useful weapon for, launched against a threatening escort, it allowed a skipper to concentrate on a convoy. The Germans had been working on the device since 1933 but progress had been slow. Targeting depended upon matched pairs of sensitive and highly-directional hydrophones. As these, in a fast torpedo, would be swamped by self-generated noise, the weapon was electrically-propelled at about 25 knots. Wrongly assuming that the Allies were already using acoustic torpedoes, German scientists managed to deploy them operationally during 1943.


Disembarkation of the Spanish tercios in the Terceiras islands (26 july 1583) (detail). Fresco by Niccolò Granello, Sala de las Batallas, Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain.

THE STRUGGLE FOR THE AZORES, 1582-3 The map on the right highlights the strategic importance of the Azores as a stopping-over point and provisioning base for returning Spanish treasure fleets and Portuguese spice carracks. In hostile hands, the Azores would not only have deprived the Spanish and Portuguese of a vital place of refuge, but would have been perfect bases for corsairs. The routes of outbound Spanish and Portuguese vessels were further south to take advantage of prevailing winds and current patterns.

Although it might easily have been otherwise, the Ottoman-Habsburg struggle for Mediterranean dominance now trailed off into stalemate. Uluj Ali Pasha’s capture of Tunis and La Goletta in 1574, although operationally brilliant, yielded modest strategic dividends. For its part, Spain commanded inadequate resources for major offensive action, but, in the absence of a significant threat, adopted an aggressive posture. Alvaro de Bazan’s galleys ravaged the North African coast with impunity in 1576, showing that war could still cost the Turks. But as the threat diminished in the Mediterranean, Spain’s difficulties in the Netherlands grew apace. At the same time, the Ottomans nervously eyed their eastern frontier, where 1577 began a thirteen-year war with the Safavids. That same year, Sultan Murad III concluded an armistice with Philip of Spain that would be periodically renewed until the negotiation of a definitive peace in 1587.

But Spain was not the only Catholic nation with crusading impulses and Mediterranean ambitions, and in 1578 the young Portuguese king, Sebastian, led an army into Morocco to overthrow the sharif, an Ottoman surrogate, and install his own client. The Moroccans were as well supplied with gunpowder weapons as the Portuguese and as skilled in their use, and won a crushing victory on 4 August at Alcazarquivir. Sebastian died in the battle, and his entire army, including the cream of the Portuguese nobility, was killed or captured. The Portuguese throne fell by default to Cardinal Henry, ageing and in ill health, the last legitimate descendant of the Avis line. These developments were noted with alacrity by Philip of Spain, who had a solid claim to the throne through his mother, a Portuguese princess. Henry died in February 1580, having spent much of Portugal’s treasure to ransom (idalgas, members of the nobility captured at Alcazarquivir. Philip had used the intervening years to good advantage, discreetly negotiating his terms of succession with Henry, arriving at an arrangement that preserved Portugal’s empire and governmental institutions and secured the acquiescence of the nobility and wealthy merchants.

There was, however, considerable anti-Spanish sentiment among the ordinary Portuguese, and Sebastian’s illegitimate cousin, Dom Antonio, a wealthy friar, proclaimed himself king with considerable popular support. Philip responded by invading Portugal and dispatching envoys to Portugal’s imperial possessions to press his case. The invasion had two arms: an army driving on Lisbon from the east through Estremadura, and a smaller force working its way along the southern coast with naval support. Philip again displayed his skill at selecting subordinates, assigning the main force to the Duke of Alba, ageing but still widely respected; the southern army to the Duke of Medina Sidonia; and naval command to Bazan, getting on in years but thoroughly competent. It was Philip’s finest hour as commander-in-chief. Henry’s expenditure for ransoms had left little for defence; the Spanish moved swiftly and, in Alba’s case, with remarkable restraint. The Spanish forces united and, after a short, stiff fight – Alba’s last battle, and perhaps his best – Lisbon surrendered on 18 July 1580. Dom Antonio fled north and on 23 October left the country aboard an English ship.

Philip’s lieutenants had left Portuguese governance intact, and internal resistance evaporated. The Indies and Brazil accepted Spanish rule, the latter with some enthusiasm in the light of French designs on its trade. Of the Portuguese empire, only the Azores, excepting the island of Sao Miguel, held for Dom Antonio, a matter that quickly aroused interest in London and, of greater import, Paris. That interest was heightened when a small Spanish expedition that had been sent in 1581 to reclaim the islands was repulsed. This was a serious matter, for the Azores were vital to the operation of convoys from both the East and West Indies; the Flota de Tierra Firme, Flota de Nueva Espana and Carriera das Indias, the treasure and spice convoys, used them for watering and provisioning on their way home and as a rendezvous point for their escorts. They were a perfect base from which to prey on Habsburg commerce.

Sensing opportunity, Catherine de Medici, dowager queen of France, resolved to support Dom Antonio’s claim and, in the spring of 1582, dispatched an expeditionary force under Philip Strozzi of some 60 ships, half of them large, carrying 6-7,000 soldiers, the largest French maritime expedition until the age of Louis XIV: Sailing with the implicit blessing of Queen Elizabeth, it included several English ships. Alive to the danger, Philip dispatched a fleet under Bazan. Consisting of 2 large Portuguese warships, 19 armed merchantmen and 10 transports carrying 4,500 soldiers, it met Strozzi’s force on 24 July 1582. After an indecisive encounter, the two fleets met two days later, some 18 miles south of Sao Miguel, in a fierce engagement named after the island’s capital, Punta Delgada. The French initially had the advantage of the wind and attacked the Spanish rear with superior forces, but Bazan doubled with his van, precipitating a melee. Although the French enjoyed advantages in terms of weatherliness and, initially, in order, the Spanish prevailed by sheer hard fighting. The galleon San Mateo, the focal point of the battle, was assailed by no less than seven French ships, including Strozzi’s Capitana (flagship), in an action that ultimately drew in Bazan’s Capitana. While the major warships on both sides were amply provided with cannon, it was a battle of boarding and counterboarding that was decided by small arms, edged weapons and valour. The French lost ten ships, including Strozzi’s flagship, which was boarded and captured. Strozzi himself took a Spanish arquebus ball and died a captive aboard Bazan’s Capitana.

Punta Delgada was the first major naval engagement fought far from any continental landmass and would be the last until the battle of Midway in 1942. Although modern historians have largely ignored Punta Delgada, the English sea dog Sir William Monson was quite right to cite its importance. Although French adventurers and Dom Antonio’s partisans still held the Azores, save for Sao Miguel, Punta Delgada was decisive. Bazan returned the next year with a massive armada: 5 galleons, 2 galleasses and 12 galleys, together with 79 sailing ships, 30 large and the rest small, carrying some 15,372 soldiers. Uniting his fleet at Sao Miguel on 19 July 1582 – the galleys sailed independently, arriving eleven days ahead of the rest – Bazan directed his force at Terceira, the largest of the Azores in French hands. After a careful reconnaissance, he selected the least heavily defended of three feasible beaches and mounted a model amphibious invasion, the galleys providing fire support for infantry carried ashore in small craft. Bazan’s account of the action has a strikingly modern tone:

… receiving many cannonades … the [flag] galley began to batter and dismount the enemy artillery and the rest of the galleys [did likewise] … and the landing boats ran aground and placed the soldiers at the sides of the forts, and along the trenches, although with much difficulty and working under the pressure of the furious artillery, arquebus, and musket fire of the enemy. And the soldiers mounting [the trenches] in several places came under heavy arquebus and musket fire, but finally won the forts and trenches.

With Spanish infantry ashore in superior numbers resistance on Terceira collapsed, the other islands following suit. Dom Antonio got off with his skin and little else. The Azores held for Spain, and the Indies convoys continued unhindered. Flushed with victory, Bazan advised his imperial master that England could be invaded by sea. Thus stimulated, Philip asked his commander in Flanders, Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, about the feasibility of such a project. Parma was unenthusiastic, preferring a surprise attack across the Channel to Bazan’s proposal to invade from Iberia; Parma did not, however, rule it out.

Dealey – The Destroyer Killer II

After depositing Ensign Galvin with his comrades, Dealey continued Harder’s patrol. As he cruised the area north of the western Caroline Islands, Dealey’s sub was spotted by Japanese planes, which called in the destroyer Ikazuchi to hunt the American down. By this time in the conflict the Japanese had themselves developed accurate sonar and the Japanese destroyer sent “ping” (the sound of the sonar’s emission) after “ping” in an attempt to find the US submarine. Destroyers were (and are) fast maneuverable ships, heavily armed and usually commanded by an aggressive captain. Killing an enemy destroyer was not only a feat, it was incredibly dangerous. One of the primary purposes of the destroyer in both WWII and today is that of submarine hunter. This time however, the Ikazuchi met her match.

Diving to avoid the spotter planes, and only coming to periscope depth briefly to chart the course of the Japanese destroyer, Commander Dealey let the Japanese ship get within 900 yards before opening fire. Harder’s torpedoes struck home and the Japanese vessel was torn apart, sinking in five minutes time and taking her crew with her to the bottom of the sea. At Navy Headquarters, Dealey’s after-action notice brought smiles. “Expended four torpedoes ad one Jap destroyer.” The legend of the Destroyer Killer had begun, and on the way the naval base at Fremantle, Australia, Harder added to her luster by sinking another Japanese freighter and bombard the island of Woleai with her deck gun for added measure. After three weeks of rest, resupply and repair in Fremantle, Dealey was ordered to take his sub on her fifth patrol, this time to lurk in the waters off the Japanese base at Tawi Tawi at the very southwest tip of the Philippine Islands.

While the men of the Allied forces were dropping into, landing on and shelling the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944 the war continued in thousands of different actions around the globe. Busy also on the night of June 6th was Harder, which had been ordered to approach northwestern Borneo from her station off Tawi Tawi and pick up friendly guerrilla fighters from the Indonesian island.

As he passed through the Sibutu Strait between the island of Tawi Tawi and Sibutu Island, Dealey spotted three tankers and two destroyers – plum targets. As he was planning his attack, one of the Japanese destroyers noticed Harder and made full steam to attack her. As he had previously, Dealey let the submarine get close – 1,100 yards.

To illustrate how close this really is, imagine a 16-inch shell from a battleship. Just one shell can level an average house and leave a crater 200ft wide and many feet deep. The concussion from the explosion of a 16-inch shell can sometimes be felt for miles. Now realize that the torpedoes carried by most submarines in WWII were 21-inches in diameter, and packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives. Any closer than what Dealey had already chanced in his encounters could result in the sub being damaged or even sunk by the explosion or concussion of its own torpedoes.

At flank (full) speed, a Japanese destroyer could cover 1,100 yards in a minute or so. Once a destroyer closed to within one hundred yards or so, she would start to drop or launch her depth charges, and then the submariners were thrown into a nightmare that might end with the ocean rushing into their broken ship and extinguishing their lives far from another living soul.

When the Japanese warship was almost too close, Dealey fired three torpedoes that struck the enemy vessel (IJS Minatsuki) sinking her quickly, and almost losing his boat as the wreckage of the Japanese destroyer passed over his ship. By this time, the convoy and the remaining Japanese destroyer were miles away, and Dealey’s attempt to pursue came to naught.

On the morning of June 7th however, Dealey spotted another Japanese destroyer, IJS Hayanami, which she sank with another salvo of three torpedoes. On June 8th, Harder made the rendezvous with the guerrilla force, and began to head back to base.

As Harder entered the narrowest part of the strait between the islands, Dealey observed two more destroyers who were likely looking for him. Turning the tables on his pursuers, Dealey approached the destroyers undetected. As they passed by each other in his periscope, Dealey fired four torpedoes at the two subs. One destroyer, Tanikaze went shortly to the bottom. Dealey and his crew believed they had sunk the other Japanese ship as well, hearing further explosions, but this was likely the sound of the Tanikaze’s ammunition exploding as she sank.

Harder’s after action report relating this event reads:

Commenced firing the bow tubes. No. 1 appeared to pass just ahead of the first destroyer, No. 2 struck it near the bow, No. 3 hit just under the destroyer’s bridge, and No. 4 passed astern of the near target. The sub was now swung hard right to avoid hitting the first destroyer and fire was withheld on remaining tubes until a new setup could be put into the T.D.C. for an attack on the second destroyer. About thirty seconds after turning, the second destroyer came into view just astern of what was left of the first one, then burning furiously. Just then No. 4 torpedo, which had passed astern of the first target, was heard and observed to hit the second target. – (No more torpedoes were needed for either.)

Meanwhile, a heavy explosion, believed to be caused by an exploding boiler on the first destroyer, went off and the sub (then about 400 yards away) was heeled over by the concussion. At almost the same time a blinding explosion took place on the second destroyer (probably his ammunition going off) and it took a quick nosedive. When last observed, by the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, the tail of the second destroyer was straight in the air and the first destroyer had disappeared. “Sound” now, reported, “No more screws.”

The above listed pandemonium may not be in exact chronological order but is as accurate as the happenings over that eventful few minutes can be remembered.

CDR Dealey wearing the Navy Cross presented to him by Vice Admiral Lockwood 19 October 1943.

On June 10, having deposited his passengers, Dealey returned to station near Tawi Tawi and it was there that she ran across the kind of prize a submarine captain dreams of – a convoy of three battleships, four cruisers and a number of escorting destroyers. A target like this was not going to be easy and unprepared and the Japanese had a number of observation planes aloft, one of which spotted Harder. As one of the screening destroyers steamed toward his position, Dealey sent three torpedoes her way and dove deep. Though they heard explosions of some kind, the Harder did not sink a Japanese ship that day. What did happen was that she had to endure the nightmare described on the preceding page? Two hours of Japanese depth charges and prayers that none of them would crack the Harder in two below the waves, or destroy her engines, in which case the crew would suffocate after their oxygen was depleted.

Luckily, for Dealey and the crew of the Harder, none of the enemy’s depth charges hit home and after two tense hours, Dealey surfaced the boat to find the Japanese vessel gone. On June 21st, Harder reached home. News of her exploits had preceded her and her captain was informally referred to as the “Destroyer Killer”. An indirect effect of Dealey’s success was the decision made by the Japanese Navy to abandon the Tawi Tawi base as untenable – and when the Japanese fleet there left, it was decided by the Japanese High Command to attempt to chase the Americans from the Philippine Sea. The resulting battle of the Philippine Sea and the aerial battle known famously as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” were in a way caused by Dealey and his success in the Sibutu Strait. For his actions in the Tawi Tawi area, Dealey was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

While in Darwin, Dealey had the unenviable job of taking a desk bound admiral out on a short combat patrol so that officer could at least say he had seen some action during the war. In the course of the weeklong sortie, Dealey pursued a number of targets, including a cruiser, but was not able to close within range. He was also forced underwater for close to two days by Japanese observation planes overhead.

When he returned the admiral back to Australia, it was suggested to Dealey that he retire from combat command and allow a younger man to take over his sub. While Dealey knew he was pushing the odds, he asked to take Harder out on one more patrol to train new crewmen who had never seen combat.

Dealey’s sixth war patrol began on August 5, 1944 with Dealey in command of a five submarine wolfpack. The son and namesake of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, one of the great leaders of World War II, commanded one sub, the USS Haddo. At Paluan Bay in the Philippines, Dealey’s wolfpack sank four merchantmen to no losses, but Harder did not score any of the kills herself.

Dealey and Nimitz then split from the other three subs and headed towards Manila Bay, where they picked up three survivors of the convoy they had attacked shortly before. Both commanders racked up one kill each and shared another, sending more ships and supplies to the bottom.

The two commanders then moved north along the Philippines’ largest island of Luzon and were to rendezvous with another sub, the USS Hake, when they ran across the destroyer Asakaze. Nimitz slammed two torpedoes into the Japanese ship and turned for base, out of ammunition. Dealey, met by Hake, remained outside the bay where they believed the destroyer had been towed waiting for it or other Japanese ships to emerge.

The next morning, August 24 1944, a Japanese destroyer and minesweeper emerged from the bay. As Dealey’s comrades on the Hake pursued her as she turned back into the bay (and escaped), Harder was left to deal with the minesweeper that was unusually aggressive and was pinging her sonar madly in apparent pursuit of Harder. The Commander Frank Haylor and the crew of the Hake heard the sonar pings as the Japanese ship moved out of the bay towards Dealey and his boat. At 6.47am, Haylor caught sight of Harder’s periscope – the last trace anyone ever saw of Dealey and his crew. A bit more than a half hour later, Hake heard fifteen explosions as the minesweeper dropped depth charges near where Harder had last been seen. Evading Japanese ships through the day Hake stayed in the area and surfaced at night to look for any trace of the Harder or its crew and found none. Over the next two weeks, Hake patrolled the area, hoping that somehow members of Harder’s crew had made it to shore, but no one was ever found. After the war, the report of the Japanese minesweeper was found and her captain reported oil, wood and cork floating in the area where Harder had been.

Captain Dealey and his crew had been lost forever. Harder had been responsible for the sinking of 18 Japanese ships making Captain Dealey the fifth ranking US Navy submarine ace of the war.


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.