Grand Harbour, Malta. Furthest away is the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (R38). In the centre, steaming right to left, is the Italian Navy’s guided missile destroyer Intrepido (D571). In the foreground is a U.S. Navy Casa Grande-class dock landing ship..

The Royal Navy was the only fleet other than the United States Navy that operated a carrier force immediately after World War II. With six fleet carriers and six light carriers in commission in December 1945 it possessed a much smaller force than the United States Navy. It also had a large wartime carrier construction program that was as yet incomplete. Although much of this program was cancelled with the war’s end, the Admiralty decided to continue building many of the unfinished carriers, ultimately completing two further fleet carriers and twelve light carriers, although many of the light carriers quickly transferred to the service of other navies both within the Commonwealth and elsewhere.

The problems associated with jet aircraft operation loomed large in the Royal Navy, especially because its carriers were smaller than those of the United States Navy, exacerbating the difficulties. Solutions were found in the steam catapult, angled flight deck, and mirror landing aid, but on the way a number of more radical options were explored, including landing aircraft without undercarriages on flexible rubber decks, which was tested on the light carrier Warrior in 1948. Steam catapult trials took place aboard the Perseus beginning in 1951 and the angle deck concept was tested aboard the Triumph the following year.

The only large carriers to enter Royal Navy service after World War II were the Eagle and the Ark Royal, the two carriers of the Audacious class at the most advanced stage of construction at war’s end. As de- signed, they essentially were substantially enlarged versions of the Implacable class. The Eagle, when completed in 1951, did not differ substantially from the original design but the Ark Royal commissioned in 1955 with a 5-1/2-degree angled deck, steam catapults, a mirror landing aid, and a deck edge elevator on the port side, which did not prove very satisfactory since it served only the upper hangar. The Eagle refitted in 1954-1955 to a similar standard but without the steam catapults or deck-edge lift and then underwent a major re- construction from 1959 to 1964, emerging as the Royal Navy’s most modern carrier with an 8-1/2-degree angled deck, steam catapults, an advanced radar suite, upgraded machinery and auxiliary systems, and an all-missile antiaircraft battery. The Ark Royal, too, underwent modernization refits in the early 1960s and again later in the decade, though it never quite matched its sister’s standard of equipment.

Unlike the United States Navy, the Royal Navy did not embark on a wholesale reconstruction program for its wartime carriers to make them suitable for jet aircraft operation. Only one ship, the Victorious, was reconstructed. The project amounted to a virtual rebuild, since the hull was lengthened, widened, and deepened, the machinery replaced, the flight deck rebuilt with an 8-degree angled landing zone, steam catapults, and a mirror landing aid, the superstructure replaced, and a modern radar suite installed. This seven-year project proved so expensive that plans for reconstructing the other five wartime carriers were abandoned and the Victorious remained a prototype.

The Royal Navy found its light carriers very suitable for peace- time operation. They were economical, both in terms of operating costs and as far as crew requirements were concerned, and proved most appropriate for service policing the still extensive British Empire. In the mid-1950s the first generation of light carriers gave way to newer ships of the Centaur class that had been laid down late in World War II and were completed over an extended period to an improved design with an angled flight deck and, via a refit in the late 1950s, steam catapults and mirror landing aids. By the 1960s, how- ever, these light carriers were too small to operate an adequate air group of large modern aircraft and two, the Bulwark and the Albion, became helicopter assault ships. The final ship of the class to complete, the Hermes, was very different from its sisters. It had a bigger angled flight deck, more powerful steam catapults, a much updated radar suite, and a deck edge elevator to port. The Hermes, too, transferred to assault duties in 1971, became an antisubmarine warfare ship in 1977, and then was refitted to operate Sea Harrier VSTOL aircraft, using a ski-jump ramp at the forward end of the flight deck to launch these aircraft.

In 1959 the Admiralty began planning for new carriers since the late war generation of ships that formed the carrier force would need replacing by the early 1970s. This process took place in a rather unfavorable climate: there were very stringent fiscal constraints from the Treasury, the Royal Air Force was opposed to the emergence of a powerful attack carrier, and there was strong political pressure to minimize the carrier’s size. These constraints forced some unusual approaches to the design of what became known as CVA-01. The flight deck was offset to port and incorporated only a shallow angle for the landing area. There was a wide passageway to starboard outside the island to allow movement of aircraft without interfering with the deck park. The hangar had an opening at its after end to allow aircraft to run up their engines inside the hangar. Two elevators (of a novel “scissors” type) linked the hangar to the flight deck, which carried two steam catapults and had water-spray cooled arresting gear. The power plant was sufficient only for 28 knots and used a three-shaft arrangement, similar to that seen in the Illustrious class of 1940.

Displacement: 53,000 tons (standard), 63,000 tons (full load)

Dimensions: 925’0″ (oa) x 122’0″ x 32’0″ (full load)

Flight deck: 884’0″ x 184’0″

Machinery: Geared turbines, 6 Foster-Wheeler boilers, 4 shafts, 135,000 shp = 28 knots

Aircraft: 45

Armament: 1 twin Sea Dart SAM launcher, 2 quadruple Sea Cat SAM launchers.

Complement: 3,230

Detail design work began in July 1963 but the entire project was cancelled in February 1966 when Secretary of Defence Denis Healey’s Defence Review determined that the Royal Navy should give up its fixed wing carriers and transfer the aircraft to the Royal Air Force. This decision not only ended plans for new carriers (two were envisaged) but also led to a rapid run down of existing carrier strength.

The Royal Navy continued to require a seaborne aviation capability and, in 1967, began design work on a helicopter-carrying com- mand cruiser using a gas turbine power plant. This was essentially an updated version of the Tiger class cruisers with missile and gun armaments forward and hangar and flight deck facilities for helicopters aft. It soon became apparent that a more efficient vessel would result from moving the superstructure to the starboard side and constructing a through flight deck from end to end of the ship over greatly enlarged hangar and workshop spaces. The design of the resulting through-deck cruiser was unusual in its capacious internal volume, a result of extensive use of alloys for construction and the elimination of most armor protection. This large internal volume al- lowed the incorporation of extensive modularity into the arrangements of machinery and workshop spaces. Almost all machinery and auxiliary equipment was designed to be maintained on an exchange basis, with modules being removed for repair and maintenance and replaced by new units. The modular arrangement of workshops also allowed great flexibility in operation, since new workshop blocks could be embarked to suit different air groups.

The through deck cruiser received an additional boost with the advent of effective VSTOL fighters in the form of Sea Harriers. Operations with these aircraft did not require catapults and, as a result of experiments at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, the design also received a 7-degree ski lift jump at the forward end of the flight deck, which allowed launching Sea Harriers with a short takeoff run with much heavier payloads. Just as these ships entered service they were officially reclassified as support carriers, and proved very useful in operations in the South Atlantic, Adriatic, and Persian Gulf.

In July 1998 the Defence Review included provision for the addition of two conventional aircraft carriers to the Royal Navy. Details of the design are still unclear but best estimates are that the new carrier will be 945 feet long with a beam of 125 feet and a flight deck width, depending on whether it features an angled deck or not, of 210 or 270 feet. The power plant is to be four Rolls-Royce WR21 intercooled recuperative gas turbines driving shaft-mounted electric generators for both ship propulsion and service power. At present, the navy anticipates operating an air group primarily of American F- 35 Joint Strike Fighters along with large antisubmarine helicopters as yet undefined Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control plat- forms, for a total of about forty-eight aircraft. This air group would not require catapults or arresting gear but provision for this equipment is to be incorporated and a contract has been assigned for de- sign of a novel electromagnetic drive catapult. These two 60,000- ton ships are programmed to enter service between 2012 and 2015.

Although the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers were equipped with reasonably modern aircraft, it was not until the early 1960s that they deployed an effective strike aircraft, the Buccaneer. This was a reflection of the primary mission of British carriers in the early Cold War era, imperial policing. By 1966, as Britain’s imperial commitments contracted, it was clear that its finances would not allow the deployment of large attack carriers analogous to those of the United States Navy, not least because of the costs entailed for their air groups. The primary roles of British carriers became operations in the littoral and antisubmarine warfare, requiring rather different vessels. The Royal Navy’s adoption of VSTOL technology endowed its carriers with greater flexibility and operational effectiveness within the limits of its mission profiles so, despite the British origins of the angle flight deck, steam catapults, and mirror landing aids, its new Cold War-era carrier designs have been somewhat outside the mainstream represented by the big American ships.


Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, Farragut’s Run Past – April 24, 1862 Part I

This map shows the Confederate fortifications at Fort Jackson and Fort St Philip and the Union fleet under Farragut. To capture New Orleans, the largest city and principal port in the Confederacy, Farragut overcame the Confederate warships (the massive CSS Louisiana could not move for want of her engines, while the CSS Manassas only mounted one thirty-two-pounder) and bypassed the two forts at night, but only after the river was freed of obstacles. Off Manila in 1898, Dewey employed the technique he had observed when taking part in Farragut’s attack: of passing heavily fortified shore positions at night. Farragut’s success had not been matched by the British in 1815. The map included the longest range of fire from the forts.

The capture of New Orleans was a key element in the Lincoln administration’s Anaconda Plan. New Orleans was the Confederacy’s most important seaport and its largest and wealthiest city. Beyond denying to the South this outlet for the shipment of cotton, securing the entire Mississippi would open the river to oceanic shipping for goods from the Northwest, as well as split off the trans-Mississippi West from the remainder of the Confederacy.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox was the strongest proponent of an assault on the Crescent City. He believed that Union victories at Port Royal, South Carolina, and Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, had proved that steam warships could successfully engage and defeat shore forts and that Union ships could defeat Confederate forts Jackson and St. Philip, which guarded the southern approach to New Orleans along the Mississippi. Commander David D. Porter convinced Fox and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that bombardment of the forts by a flotilla of mortar boats would be essential to success of the plan. He pledged that both forts would be rendered ineffective, if not destroyed, within 48 hours of shelling from large 13-inch mortars.

President Lincoln gave his endorsement. General in chief Major General George B. McClellan was opposed, that is until he learned that the operation was to be essentially borne by the navy with only about 10,000 troops required to garrison the city and its forts once the navy had forced their surrender. In December, Welles called Captain David G. Farragut to Washington and offered him command of the operation, which Farragut immediately accepted. Porter received command of the mortar flotilla. Farragut took as his flagship the screw sloop Hartford and arrived at Ship Island in Mississippi Sound on February 20, 1862.

Farragut spent nearly a month preparing for the expedition, ultimately assembling 17 ships mounting 192 guns. The most powerful of these were 8 steam sloops and corvettes: the Brooklyn (26 guns), Hartford (28 guns), Iroquois (11 guns), Mississippi (22 guns), Oneida (10 guns), Pensacola (25 guns), Richmond (22 guns), and Varuna (11 guns). These ships mounted in all 154 guns. There were also 9 gunboats: the Cayuga (4 guns), Itasca (4 guns), Katahdin (4 guns), Kennebec (4 guns), Kineo (4 guns), Pinola (5 guns), Sciota (5 guns), Winona (4 guns), and Wissahickon (4 guns). Farragut also had Porter’s squadron of 20 mortar schooners, each mounting a single 13-inch mortar. Major General Benjamin F. Butler com manded the 13,000 soldiers who would accompany the expedition.

On April 16, following careful planning and preparations, Farragut moved his ships from the Gulf into the Mississippi River estuary, just below and out of range of the river forts. Once the ships had passed the forts, Butler’s troops were to join the squadron by means of a bayou about five miles upriver. Welles hoped that Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote and his Union naval forces on the upper Mississippi would steam south and join Farragut at New Orleans. If that proved impossible, Farragut was to proceed north as far as possible.

Confederate leaders in Richmond bore considerable responsibility for subsequent events. They believed that the chief threat to New Orleans was from the north and thus sent there the scant resources available. This same attitude contributed to the failure to complete the Confederate ironclads Louisiana and Mississippi that were under construction at Jefferson City just north of New Orleans.

Major General Mansfield Lovell had charge of the New Orleans defenses. Initially commanding 6,000 men, he had expressed confidence that he could hold the city against any land attack. By early April, however, more than half of his men and much equipment had been siphoned off from New Orleans to Corinth, Mississippi, to challenge Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces at Pittsburg Landing. Another major problem lay in a divided command structure that included multiple army and navy commanders. Thus, Brigadier General Johnson Kelly Duncan, not Lovell, commanded Forts St. Philip and Jackson. The naval command was even more fractious.

Despite the paucity of Confederate manpower facing them, it would not be easy for Union forces to ascend the Mississippi. The Union ships would first have to pass the Confederate forts. Fort Jackson was a stone and mortar star-shaped works mounting 74 guns and situated some 100 yards from the levee on the west bank of the river. Fort St. Philip, mounting 52 guns, and located about a half mile upstream on the opposite bank, was of brick and stone covered with sod. High water in the river had flooded portions of both works, but Confederate engineers worked around the clock to control the water and strengthen the two installations against attack. Another liability was that the 1,100 men in the forts were inexperienced and largely untrained. This would impact the fighting, especially in conditions of poor visibility.

On the river itself, the Confederates assembled only 14 warships, most of which were small. They mounted a total of only 40 guns. There was no unity of command, and the vessels were in three major divisions. Captain John A. Stephenson commanded the Confederate River Defense Fleet of six small converted river tugs mounting a total of 7 guns and fitted with iron-reinforced prows for ramming. These were the Defense, General Breckinridge, General Lovell, Resolute, Stonewall Jackson, and Warrior. Stephenson was a Confederate Army officer who reputedly disliked naval officers and refused to obey orders of the senior Confederate naval officer in the lower Mississippi, Commander John K. Mitchell.

The Louisiana State Navy provided two side-wheeler gunboats in the Governor Moore and General Quitman. They mounted two guns each, while the Confederate Navy contributed six warships under Mitchell: the gunboats CSS McRae (eight guns) and Jackson (two guns) and the launches No. 3 and No. 6 (one gun apiece). The other two ships were the ironclads Manassas and Louisiana, but only the ram Manassas with a single gun was operational at the time of the Union assault.

The Louisiana posed the only real naval threat to the ships of Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron, and many in the Crescent City regarded it as the strongest defense for the city, after the forts. The 1,400-ton Louisiana was 264 feet in length and protected by four-inch railroad rail iron. Unfortunately for the South, the ship was not yet ready when Union forces began their attack. Nonetheless, when Porter’s mortars opened up on the forts, Mitchell had it towed down river with mechanics still working on it. The ship was then moored to the shore north of Fort St. Philip as a floating fort. Soldiers drawn from the Crescent Artillery worked its 16 guns.

Stephenson also had ordered fire rafts prepared so that they might be set loose in the current against any Union ships advancing upriver. Although the river was too swift and deep for obstructions, Lovell advocated and the Confederates built a river barrier. It consisted of two long chains formed from those of ships idled at New Orleans. Seven anchored hulks supported the chains, which passed across the river, over the forward part and amidships of the hulks, from Fort Jackson to the opposite shore.

Assembling off Pass a l’Outre, by mid-March all the heavier Union warships were able to pass over the bar with assistance from Porter’s steamers. A month later, all the other ships had assembled at Ship Island along with Butler’s troops.

On April 15, Farragut gave the order for the operation to begin. On the evening of April 18, Porter’s 20 mortar boats, towed into position by 7 steamers and moored along the riverbank some 3,000 yards from Fort Jackson where they were protected by a bend of the river and woods, opened a bombardment. For six days and nights the mortars fired 16,800 shells, almost all of them at the fort, without notable result. The problem seems to have been the fusing, the shells either burst in air or buried themselves in the soft earth before exploding without major effect. Although the mortar shells did dismount some of the guns in Fort Jackson, most of the Confederate crews bravely kept to their positions and were able to remount the guns. Indeed, Confederate counterbattery fire on April 19 sank the mortar schooner Maria J. Carlton, killing and wounding some Union sailors. The Confederates also sent fire rafts down the river at night, but Union boat crews grappled these and towed them off without damage.

Farragut knew that too much delay would have a negative effect and on the night of April 20, while Porter’s mortars kept up a steady fire so as to distract the gun crews in the Confederate forts, he sent the screw gunboats Itasca and Pinola against the river obstructions. Under heavy but inaccurate Confederate fire, the Union crews worked to open a gap through which the squadron might pass. An attempt to blow up one of the hulks with an electronically detonated torpedo (mine) failed, but some of the men of the Itasca managed to break the chains with a chisel, opening a passage that Farragut thought would be sufficient for his ships to pass through.

The Union crews, meanwhile, prepared their ships. The men landed anything that might be a potential fire hazard or inhibit smooth operations, including extra spars, rigging, boats, and all but a few sails. They also strung heavy iron cable chains on the outsides of the ships to provide additional protection to the most vulnerable areas housing the engines and steam boilers. These acted as a kind of chain mail armor. They also packed around the boilers bags of ashes, extra clothing, sand, and anything else readily available. Clearly, protecting the boilers was the major concern. Clouds of steam from a punctured boiler could inflict heavy personnel casualties. Also, such an event could immobilize the vessel, perhaps jeopardizing the entire operation.

The crews also worked to distribute weight so that the ships would draw more water forward than aft. This was so that if a vessel grounded while heading upstream, the bow would strike bottom first and the ship would not be turned around by the swift current. The crews also whitewashed their vessels’ decks so that the gunners’ tools would stand out more clearly at night; at the same time, they gave the hulls a coating of oil and mud to render them more difficult to distinguish from the shore.

On April 22, Farragut met with his subordinate commanders to discuss his plans in detail. The ships were to proceed single file through the obstructions. Porter’s mortars would provide covering fire to occupy the Confederate gun crews and hopefully drive them from their guns. Once the ships had passed the forts, Butler’s troops would be put ashore at Quarantine from the Gulf side through that bayou, allowing the Union land and naval forces to move in tandem to New Orleans. Farragut reserved the option of reducing the forts, but instructed his captains that, unless otherwise ordered, they were to steam past them.

The prevailing view among the captains, freely stated during the meeting, was that the risk was such that any attempt should be delayed until the mortars had reduced the forts. Farragut demurred. Porter would soon run short of shells, and his men were exhausted from the bombardment that had already extended over six days and seven nights. Farragut informed the captains that, given these considerations, he had decided on an attempt that very night. The attack was delayed for 24 hours, however, on pleas by two of the captains that they were not yet ready.

Soon after midnight on April 24, the crews were awakened, and the squadron got under way. The ships then moved upriver in two divisions to approach the opening in the obstructions made earlier. Captain Theodorus Bailey commanded the first division of the Cayuga, Pensacola, Mississippi, Oneida, Varuna, Katahdin, Kineo, and Wissahickon. The center (second) division, under Farragut, consisted of the Hartford, Brooklyn, and Richmond. The third division, commanded by Captain Henry H. Bell, included the Sciota, Iroquois, Kennebec, Pinola, Itasca, and Winona.

Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, Farragut’s Run Past – April 24, 1862 Part II

The Cayuga was the first ship through the water barrier at about 3:30 a. m. The Confederates did not discover the Cayuga until about 10 minutes later, when it was well under Fort Jackson. Understandably, General Duncan at Fort Jackson subsequently complained that Mitchell had failed to send any fire rafts to light the river at night, nor had he stationed any vessel below the forts to warn of the Union approach. The different naval commands and lack of cooperation between land and naval commanders indeed proved costly for the defenders.

As soon as they spotted the Cayuga, gunners at both Confederate forts opened up almost simultaneously, with the Union ships in position to do so immediately replying. Soon the river surface was filled with clouds of thick smoke from the discharges of the guns. This smoke obscured vision from both the ships and the shore, but on balance it favored the ships. Porter, meanwhile, had brought forward the five steamers assigned to his mortar schooners and these opened up an enfilading fire at some 200 yards from Fort Jackson, pouring into it grape, canister, and shrapnel shell, while the mortars added their shells. This fire did drive many of the Confederate gun crews from their guns and reduced the effectiveness of those who remained.

The Pensacola, the second Union ship through the obstacles, was slow to get under way, and this meant that for some time the Cayuga faced the full fury of the Confederate fire alone. Lieutenant George H. Perkins, piloting the Cayuga, had the presence of mind to note that the Confederate guns had been laid so as to concentrate fire on the middle of the river and therefore took his ship closer to the walls of Fort St. Philip. Although its masts and rigging were shot up, the hull largely escaped damage.

The captain of the Pensacola, Captain Henry W. Morris, apparently interpreted Farragut’s orders to mean that he was to engage the forts. Halting his ship in the middle of the obstructions, he let loose a broadside against Fort St. Philip, driving the gun crews onshore to safety. On clearing the obstructions, he ordered a second broadside against the fort. But stopping the Pensacola dead in the water made it an ideal target. It took nine shots in the hull, and its rigging and masts were also much cut up. The Pensacola also suffered 4 killed and 33 wounded, more than any other Union ship in the operation that day.

The leading division continued upriver, engaging targets as they presented themselves. The remaining Union ships followed, firing grape and canister as well as round shot. The shore batteries had difficulty finding the range, and damage and casualties aboard these vessels were slight.

About 4:00 a. m., the Confederate Navy warships above the forts joined the battle. The most powerful of these, the McRae, lay anchored along the shore 300 yards above Fort St. Philip when its lookouts spotted the Cayuga. Lieutenant Thomas B. Huger, captain of the McRae, ordered cables slipped and fire opened. The McRae opened up with its port battery and pivot gun, but the latter burst on its 10th round. The Cayuga continued upriver, passing the McRae. Two other Union ships, the Varuna and Oneida, then exited the smoke and steamed past the McRae without firing on it, probably taking it for a Union gunboat. Huger ordered his vessel to sheer first to port and then to starboard, delivering two broadsides. The Varuna and Oneida also sheered and returned fire. Each of these ships mounted two XI-inch Dahlgrens in pivot and these guns soon told. The explosion of one Union shell started a fire in the McRae, and only desperate efforts by the crew kept the blaze from reaching the magazine.

Although most of the remaining lightly armed Confederate warships fled upriver on the approach of the Union ships, this was not the case with the ram Manassas. Although his ship was armed with only a single 32-pounder, Lieutenant Alexan der Warley was determined to attack, even alone. Warley understood that the only chance for a Confederate victory lay in an immediate combined assault by the gunboats and fire rafts to immobilize the Union vessels long enough for the heavy guns in the forts to destroy them.

The Manassas lay moored to the east bank of the river above Fort St. Philip, when flashes in the vicinity of the obstacles indicated action in progress. Warley immediately ordered his ship to get under way. He attempted to ram the Pensacola, but skillful maneuvering by the Union pilot avoided a collision, and the Pensacola let loose with a broadside from its IX-inch Dahlgren guns as the Manassas passed. Damaged in the exchange, the Confederate ram nonetheless continued on.

Warley then spotted the side-wheeler Mississippi. Lieutenant George Dewey tried to turn his ship so as to ram the onrushing Manassas, but the latter proved more agile than the Union paddle wheeler and was able to strike the Mississippi a glancing blow on its port side, opening a large hole there but failing to fatally damage the Mississippi.

As the Union ships cleared the forts, they came under fire from the Confederate ironclad Louisiana along the riverbank. Its gun ports were small and did not allow a wide arc of fire, so the gun crews scored few hits.

Proceeding north, the leading Cayuga overtook some of the fleeing Confederate vessels and fired into them. Three of the Confederate gunboats struck their colors and ran ashore. The Varuna and Oneida soon came up, but in the confusion sailors in the Varuna mistook the Cayuga for a Confederate vessel and fired a broadside into it.

Impatient with the Pensacola’s slow progress, meanwhile, Farragut ordered the Hartford to pass it and then climbed into the mizzen rigging so as to secure a better view over the smoke. As the Hartford proceeded upriver, Farragut saw a fire raft blazing off the port bow, pushed forward by the unarmed Confederate tug Moser. Farragut ordered his own ship to turn to starboard, but it was too close to the shore and its bow immediately grounded hard in a mud bank, allowing Captain Horace Sherman of the Moser to position the raft against the Hartford’s port side. The blaze soon ignited the paint on the side of the Union vessel, which then caught the rigging. With his ship on fire and immobilized, Farragut thought it was doomed. Fortunately, the gunners at Fort St. Philip were unable to fire into the now stationary target as the fleet’s fire had dismounted one of the fort’s largest guns and another could not be brought to bear.

Farragut came down out of the rigging to the deck where he exhorted the Hart ford’s crew to fight the fire. Gunfire from the flagship, meanwhile, sank the Moser. Farragut’s clerk, Bradley Osbon, brought up three shells, unscrewed their fuses, and dropped them over the gunwale of the Hartford into the fire raft. The resulting explosions tore holes in the raft and sank it, extinguishing the flames. With the raft gone, the Hartford’s crew was able to extinguish the fires. The men cheered as their ship backed free of the mud bank and resumed course upriver.

In the confusion and smoke, accidents occurred. The gunboat Kineo collided with the sloop Brooklyn; although seriously damaged, the Kineo was able to continue on past the forts. The Brooklyn, meanwhile, plowed into one of the Confederate hulks, then suddenly ground to a halt just north of the obstructions, its anchor caught in the hulk and hawser taut. The river current then turned the sloop broadside to Fort St. Philip. With the gunners ashore having found the range and the Brooklyn taking hits, a crewman managed to cut the cable and free the sloop.

Captain Thomas T. Craven of the Brooklyn ordered it to pass close to Fort St. Philip, the sloop firing three broadsides into the Confederate works as it steamed past. The Brooklyn then passed the Louisiana at very close quarters. In the exchange of fire, a Confederate shell struck the Union ship just above the waterline but failed to explode. Later, the Brooklyn’s crew discovered that the Confederate gunners had failed to remove the lead patch from the fuse.

Smoke from the firing was now so thick that it was virtually impossible to see and take bearings. Craven merely conned his ship in the direction of the noise and flashes of light ahead. But the tide carried the sloop over on the lee shore, perfectly positioned for the guns of Fort Jackson. As the sloop touched bottom, Craven saw the Manassas emerge from the smoke.

Warley had previously tried to ram the Hartford without success. The Manassas had taken a number of Union shell hits and its smokestack was riddled and speed sharply reduced. Warley decided to take the ram down river to attack Porter’s now unprotected mortar boats. But when the Confederate forts mistakenly opened up with their heavy guns on the Manassas, Warley decided to return upriver. At that point he spotted the Brooklyn lying athwart the river and headed for Fort Jackson. Warley ordered resin thrown into his ship’s furnaces to produce maximum speed and maneuvered the ram so as to pin the Brooklyn against the riverbank.

Seamen aboard the Brooklyn spotted the ram’s approach and gave the alarm. Craven ordered the sloop’s helm turned, but this could only lessen, not avoid, the impact. Only moments before the collision, a shot from the Manassas crashed into the Brooklyn but was stopped by sandbags piled around the steam drum.

The Manassas struck the Union ship at a slight angle, crushing several planks and driving in the chain that had been protecting the ship’s side. Craven was certain his ship would go down, but the chain and a full coal bunker helped lessen the impact. Meanwhile, the Manassas disengaged and resumed its progress upriver.

The tail of Farragut’s force, Porter’s mortar flotilla, was also under way. When his vessels came under fire as they approached Fort Jackson, Porter ordered the mortar boats to stop and open fire. This was about 4:20 a.m. The mortars fired for about a half hour, sufficient time it was thought for the remainder of the Union squadron to have cleared the forts. However, when Porter signaled a halt, some of the Union ships were still engaging the forts.

In the thick smoke the Wissahickon, the last ship in the first division, grounded. As the sun rose, Lieutenant Albert N. Smith, the Wissahickon’s captain, discovered he was near three third-division ships, the Iroquois, Sciota, and Pinola, but also in the vicinity of the Confederate gunboat McRae, soon hotly engaged with the much more powerful Iroquois. The McRae was badly damaged in the exchange and Lieutenant Huger was mortally wounded; 3 men were killed outright and another 17 were wounded.

At this point the Manassas came on the scene. Warley tried without success to ram first the Iroquois and then the other Union ships. Realizing the danger if their ships were to be disabled close to the Confederate forts, the Union captains then broke off firing on the McRae and resumed their passage upriver.

Three of Farragut’s ships failed to make it past the forts. The Kennebec and Itasca ran afoul of the river obstructions. In an effort to back clear, the Itasca then collided with the Winona. The Itasca then took a 42-pounder shot through its boiler and had to abandon the effort. The Winona was able to retire before dawn. The Kennebec, caught between the two Confederate forts at daybreak, also withdrew. Fourteen of the 17 ships in Farragut’s squadron had made it past the forts, however.

Farragut lost one ship, the screw steamer Varuna, in the first division. At about 4:00 a. m., Lieutenant Beverly Kennon of the Louisiana state gunboat Governor Moore spotted the Varuna, which was faster than its sister ships and was advancing alone. Kennon immediately ordered the Governor Moore to attack; but in order to reach the Varuna, it was obliged to run a hail of shot and shell from the other Union ships, which cut it up badly and killed and wounded a number of its crew. But the exchange of fire also produced so much smoke that the Confederate gunboat was able to escape and follow the Varuna upriver.

Some 600 yards ahead of the trailing Union ships, the Governor Moore trailed the Varuna by 100 yards. The Union warship engaged its adversary with its stern chaser gun and repeatedly tried to sheer, so as to get off a broadside, but Kennon carefully mirrored the motions of his adversary and was thus able to avoid this. Nonetheless, the Governor Moore took considerable punishment. Shot from the Varuna’s stern chaser killed or wounded most of the crewmen on the Confederate vessel’s forecastle. With his own ship then only 40 yards from his adversary and his bow 32-pounder unable to bear because of the close range, Kennon ordered the gun’s muzzle depressed to fire a shell at the Union warship through his own ship’s deck. This round had a devastating effect, raking the Varuna.

Kennon ordered a second shell fired, with similar result. With the two ships only about 10 feet apart and after firing a round from its after pivot gun, the Varuna sheered to starboard so as to loose a broadside, but Kennon could see the Union ship’s mastheads above the smoke and guessed what was intended. Swinging his own ship hard to port, he smashed it into the Union vessel. The Governor Moore then backed off and rammed the Varuna again, taking a full broadside from the Union ship in the process that made casualties of most of the Confederates on the weather deck. Shortly thereafter, however, another Confederate warship, the Stonewall Jackson, appeared and rammed the Varuna on its opposite, port, side. This blow produced such damage that the Varuna’s pumps were unable to keep it afloat, and Commander Charles S. Boggs ran his ship ashore. Having absorbed two broadsides from the mortally wounded Union vessel, the Stonewall Jackson was itself in a sinking state, and its captain ordered it also run ashore and burned to prevent capture.

As he watched the Varuna ground, Kennon was faced with a new problem in the remaining rapidly closing Union ships, which soon subjected the Confederate gunboat to a devastating fire. His own ship in danger of going down in the river, Kennon grounded it just above the stricken Varuna and ordered it fired. The casualty toll on the Governor Moore was appalling. Fifty-seven men had been killed in action and 7 more wounded out of a crew of 93.

As dawn broke, between 5:30 and 6:00 a. m., the Union ships assembled at Quarantine Station. At this point the Manassas suddenly appeared, heading for the squadron. Standing on the hurricane deck of the Mississippi, Lieutenant Dewey saw the Hartford, blackened from the recent fire, steaming by. Farragut was in its rigging and calling out “Run down the ram!” But when Warley saw the extent of his opposition, he knew the battle was over. The speed of the Manassas was now so much reduced, and it had sustained such damage that an attack would have been suicidal. Warley headed his ship ashore and ordered his crew to scatter.

The battle for the lower Mississippi was over. With the Union fleet past the forts and the Confederate gunboats destroyed, there was now no barrier between Farragut’s squadron and New Orleans. Union casualties had been surprisingly light: the total from April 18 to April 26 was just 39 killed and 171 wounded. Farragut reported to Porter: “We had a rough time of it . . . but thank God the number of killed and wounded was very small considering.”


1 Construction split between Riva Trigoso and Muggiano yards.

2 Italian ships are being built in general-purpose and anti-submarine variants; data refers to the GP type. Eight broadly similar vessels have been built or are building for France, which has also sold a ship to each of Morocco and Egypt.

3 Orders have been placed for additional ships of modified variants.

4 First of class.

Multi-Mission Frigates: The completion of the air-defence ship projects initiated in the 1990s has allowed the major European navies to contemplate renewal of their fleets of general-purpose surface combatants, most dating back to the Cold War era. Many of these programmes remain in the pre-production phase, notably the United Kingdom’s Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Spain’s F-110 frigate and a proposed joint project between the Netherlands and Belgium to replace their remaining multi-purpose ‘M’ class frigate fleets. Germany is somewhat further advanced, being in the course of constructing four large c.7,500 ton F-125 stabilisation ‘frigates’. These are optimised towards undertaking lengthy peacekeeping duties in low threat areas, a specialisation that appears something of a luxury given renewed tensions on European borders. The following MKS-180 design will have more of a combat orientation.

The most significant programme to deliver ships to date has been that for Franco-Italian FREMM multi-mission frigates, which followed on from Project Horizon. Again, this has produced ships of c.6,000 to 6,500-ton destroyer size. However, in contrast with Project Horizon, the participating countries have been given considerable flexibility in adjusting the design to meet national military and industrial requirements. This has resulted in national variants of significantly different appearance in spite of a basically common design approach. Whilst, therefore there has been considerable pull through of equipment from previous designs – for example, Aster missiles – to reduce costs, equipment outfit differs significantly. For example, the Italian ships use an upgraded active version of the EMPAR phased array whilst the French FREMMS are equipped with the less capable Herakles radar previously used in the Formidable class frigates exported to Singapore. The original programme called for no less than ten Italian and seventeen French ships. Whilst Italian numbers have been maintained, the French requirement has been steadily cut back to just eight units. By way of compensation, France has managed to export single ships to both Morocco and Egypt Export Designs: The success of the French FREMM variant in export markets reflects the fact that European warship construction has traditionally extended beyond the requirements of its own fleets. In comparison to the Cold War years, export contracts were less than plentiful in its immediate aftermath, largely because of the availability of surplus but still relatively modern tonnage from shrinking NATO fleets. However, markets have improved in recent years and have undoubtedly help secure the future of some facilities in the absence of domestic orders.

In addition to its recent successes with FREMM sales, France had previously achieved considerable exports based on its associated La Fayette class stealth frigate design. The first of these was laid down just as the Cold War was ending. Six modified versions were subsequently sold to Taiwan as the Kang Ding class in 1992, marking one of the few major contracts of the immediate post-Cold War era. Further success was achieved with the somewhat larger Al Riyadh design for Saudi Arabia under a programme confirmed in the mid-1990s but not formally commenced until the first of three ships was laid down in September 1999. An order for six Formidable frigates from Singapore – five to be assembled locally – was placed in the following year. These c.3,500-ton ships resemble miniature versions of the French Aquitaine class FREMMs but have a simpler diesel propulsion system and a lower missile capacity.

Although the United Kingdom has also achieved exports of major surface combatants through the Royal Malaysian Navy’s two Lekiu class frigates that were delivered in 1999, it is Germany’s modular MEKO series that has been the principal rival to France in the twenty-first century. These have previously been detailed in Chapter 5. Earlier ships closely resemble the first MEKO – Nigeria’s Aradu commissioned in 1992 – but the more recent A-200 series exhibit considerable stealth characteristics. Four of these were commissioned by South Africa as the Valour class between 2006 and 2007. A pair of similar vessels will soon be delivered to Algeria.

The collapse of the Soviet Union after the end of the Cold War brought an effective end to the construction of new Russian major surface combatant designs for a number of years. In addition to a severe lack of funding, the dispersal of naval shipbuilding infrastructure across the union’s various republics caused significant dislocation once these republics became independent. This legacy of the Soviet era continues to cast a shadow to the present time, not least in the cessation of supplies of marine gas turbines from Ukraine following Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and intervention in the Donbass region. When naval construction did resume, the immediate priority was modernisation of the nuclear deterrent and the assets needed to protect it, the latter including the Project 2038.0 Steregushchy class corvettes/light frigates.

Project 2235.0 Admiral Gorshkov Class: Russia, did, however retain a significant warship design capability after the Cold War in the form of the various research institutes and design bureaux established in Soviet times. This had two important consequences. First it has allowed Russia to recommence major warship construction as greater stability and economic prosperity has returned. The foremost example of this is the new Project 2235.0 Admiral Gorshkov class, the first of which was laid down in February 2006 and is currently running final trials. The new 4,500-ton general-purpose design has a much greater emphasis on stealth than seen in previous Russian ships but retains the Soviet-era propensity for a heavy weapons outfit. This includes the ‘Poliment-Redut’ air-defence system that benefits from a four-faced phased array and a thirty-two cell VLS, believed to be for the 9M36 surface-to-air missile that is derived from the S400 (NATO: SA-21 ‘Growler’) land-based weapon. This is supplemented by sixteen additional strike-length cells for long-range surface-to-surface missiles, as well as anti-submarine torpedoes and a flight deck and hangar for a Ka-27 Helix sea-control helicopter. A total of four of the class are currently under production and an extended series is planned. Nevertheless, the ten-years taken to complete the first ship is an indication of the difficulties of restarting warship production once key skills are lost.

India: The availability of warship design expertise in Russia was also significant in that it was drawn upon heavily by both India and China to develop their own indigenous warship building capabilities. This has typically taken the form of limited acquisitions of entire warships, supplemented by larger purchases of equipment and associated technical know-how. In India’s case, a total of six Project 1135.6 Talwar class frigates, a significant enhancement of the Cold War ‘Krivak III’ design, were commissioned between 2003 and 2013.8 The principal rationale behind the acquisition was to make good a shortfall in warship procurement during the 1990s. However, the experience gained from the possession of modern warships will undoubtedly have helped indigenous programmes. So far, as major surface combatants are concerned, these have been focused on two main series of warships; the Project 15 and successor destroyers and the Project 17 series frigates. Both series display the heavy influence of Russian design principles in their basic design but incorporate a bewildering mix of Russian, Western and indigenously-designed equipment. The reliance on Russia has had an unfortunate side-effect in so far as the disruption of equipment supplies that has impacted the Russian fleet has also been felt by Indian shipbuilders. This has been a significant factor in producing extended construction times, which have averaged around nine-years or more.

The most modern designs currently in service are the 6,200-ton Project 17 Shivalik class generalpurpose frigates and the larger 7,400-ton Project 15 Kolkata class destroyers, the latter having a heavy emphasis on anti-air warfare. Three of each type have been – or are close to being – commissioned and improved variants are planned. The former class were ordered at the end of the 1990s and commissioned between 2010 and 2012. They incorporate some stealth features and a Western propulsion system. However, enhancements to automation are not fully reflected in a crew of c.270 once a helicopter is embarked. The main weapons systems are of Russian origin. Whilst the ‘Klub’ export variant of the SS-N-27 ‘Kalibr’ cruise missile provides a powerful anti-surface punch, the Shtil-1 (SA-N-12) medium-range surface-to-air system – with just a single launcher – does not have the capability of more modern Western designs to combat saturation attacks. The use of the vertically-launched Israeli Barak 1 surface-to-air missile system for point defence may reflect its limitations. The Indo-Israeli-developed Barak 8 medium-range missile, which is deployed in conjunction with the EL/M-2248 MF-STAR active phased array on the Kolkata class appears to be a far more potent system. The Kolkata class also carry the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which will be retrofitted to other types.

The drawings represent four of the PLAN’s most important surface combatant classes. The Type 022 missile-armed fast attack craft and larger Type 056 corvettes have both been built in large numbers and play an important part of China’s A2/AD strategy in littoral waters, where they would likely be used to swarm opposing surface forces with their powerful batteries of surface-to-surface missiles. The Type 056 also offers a more balanced range of general-purpose capabilities, with the Type 056A variant (not depicted) fitted with a towed array for a more potent anti-submarine capability. The significantly larger Type 054A frigates and Type 052C destroyers benefit from possessing area air-defence capabilities and can support the PLAN’s ‘near seas’ defence concept at greater distance. They are also increasingly being used in support of the PLAN’s growing interest in blue-water operations

China: China’s naval construction programmes have followed a slightly different track than India’s in so far as the Western ban on imports of military systems following the Tiananmen Square massacre has resulted in a rather less diverse approach to procurement. This appears to have accelerated a transition from imported, largely Soviet-era technology, to the deployment of designs fielding almost entirely indigenous weapons and sensors. The extent to which the underlying technology has been acquired by entirely legitimate means has divided the opinion of commentators.

Direct imports of Russian surface vessels were limited to two pairs of Project 956E/EM Sovremenny class destroyers commissioned between 1999 and 2006. However, these acquisitions appear to have been supplemented by additional purchases of entire systems, such as the Shtil-1-based air defence system used in the Type 052B ‘Luyang I’ destroyers, the Rif-M (SA-N-20) missiles of the Type 051C ‘Luzhou’ class and the Fregat MAE (Top Plate) search radar found on many current surface combatants. Russian influence remains particularly strong in the Type 054A ‘Jiangkai II’ or Xuzhou class frigates, which have been in series production from 2005 onwards. Over twenty of these ships have been commissioned to date and they provide the mainstay of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s blue water deployments. However, the larger Type 052C and Type 052D destroyers that form the ‘high end’ combatant force use largely indigenous equipment, including the Type 346 (Dragon Eye) series phased array and the vertically-launched HHQ-9 surface-to-air missile.9 Interestingly, however, HHQ-9 reflects Russian practice in being derived from a land-based system and has been reported to rely heavily on technology found in the ‘Luzhou’ type’s Rif-M.

In contrast to India, China appears to be able to produce its warships at considerable speed. Build times for major combatants of around three years are comparable with the most productive Western and Japanese yards. It is also starting to enter the market for exports of major surface combatants. Pakistan’s F-22P Zulifiqar class possibly represents its most important export success to date.

Japan: Elsewhere in Asia, China’s principal naval rival, Japan, has long-established warship design and build capabilities. Whilst Japan’s most advanced surface combatants – notably its Aegis-equipped ships – have been heavily influenced by overseas designs, it has otherwise built a series of anti-submarine optimised surface escorts that reflect local operational requirements. These tend to use a mix of Western – largely US Navy but some European – weapons and propulsion systems that are then integrated into Japanese platforms that benefit considerably from local electronics ‘know-how’. Orders have been purposely placed to a regular ‘drumbeat’ of one to two major units each year. This protects the industrial base and facilitates incremental improvement.

The latest surface escorts to be commissioned are the Akizuki (DD-151) class. Four of these were brought into service between 2012 and 2014. Displacing some 6,800 tons in full load condition, the class is derived from the previous Takanami (DD-110) and Murasame (DD-101) classes but exhibits a general enhancement in stealth features and has an upgraded propulsion system. Most notably, however, the class has enhanced air-defence capabilities based on the indigenous Melco FC-3 phased array. This was first installed in the ‘helicopter-carrying destroyer’ Hyuga and incorporates some elements of APAR technology. The incorporation of more sophisticated air-defence equipment reflects the class’s primary role as general-purpose escorts for the helicopter carriers and Aegis-equipped destroyers, particularly when the latter are carrying out BMD taskings.

South Korea is also a major shipbuilding nation and its KDX-I and KDX-II series destroyers are another important example of Asian designed major surface combatants. The subsequent Aegis-equipped KDX-III series was heavily influenced by the DDG-51 class. However, a planned second batch will probably incorporate more local ideas. Local industry is also heavily involved producing the new FFX Incheon class littoral combatants. These approach major surface combatant status in terms of size and capability.

British Naval Power

British military expenditure focused on its fleet. The rise of the big-gun ship in the sixteenth century meant that temporary use of converted merchantmen was not viable. So, just as standing armies were becoming fashionable across Europe, permanent directly controlled fleets came into being. The ship-of-the-line, which would dominate warfare until the mid-nineteenth century, was a multi-decked wooden box constructed in such a way as to carry the maximum number of cannon while retaining manoeuvrability. By the late eighteenth century, the two-deck ‘74’, named for the number of guns, was the staple of the line of battle. By sailing in line and delivering their broadsides, fleets of this kind could drive an enemy from the seas, exposing his commerce to attack and isolated outposts and colonies to annexation. In many ways the ships-of-the-line and the infantry of the line were parallels, units designed to work together to deliver savage close-range volley-fire against their enemies. And after the cannonade boarding parties armed with edged weapons were vital to seize enemy ships. Lighter ships had their uses, preying upon or protecting trade, but naval domination depended on the ships-of-the-line.

The British, because of their geographic location, quickly appreciated the connection between commerce, industry and naval supremacy, and grasped the notion that force could exclude rivals from these important sources of wealth. An elaborate structure mobilised and sustained maritime power. The Board of Admiralty coordinated the work of many specialist boards like the Navy Board which was primarily in charge of dockyards, the Board of Victualling, the Ordnance Board and the Commission of Sick and Wounded. The fleet was hideously expensive. In 1664 parliament voted £2.5 million for the Dutch War, the largest single tax before the eighteenth century, but even so by 1666 the Admiralty had spent £3,200,516. This debt, and the lack of success, persuaded Charles II (1649–85) to negotiate for peace and to lay up the fleet, but before negotiations were finished the Dutch admiral, De Witt, made a great raid on the Medway ports, burning a number of ships-of-the-line and towing away the flagship, the Royal Charles. This disaster triggered a parliamentary inquiry, but essentially cemented the consensus of support in parliament which continued to vote money for the fleet.

Between 1688 and 1715 the number of cruisers designed to protect commerce rose from eight to sixty-six and ships-of-the-line from 100 to 131. At a time when most armies had only one cannon per 500 men, the greatest of these ships carried eighty. The 3,000 oaks needed for a man-of-war had to come from inland forests, and road transport more than doubled costs. Masts were imported from New England, spars and pitch from the Baltic and hemp from far overseas. When the French wars prevented the import of the best sails from Brittany, a competition, eventually successful, was held to provide substitutes of good quality. To accommodate and service such ships, stone docks had to be built and protected with great forts. The new Plymouth Yard, completed in 1700, cost £67,000 and by 1711 the royal dockyards were employing 6,488 officers and men. The navy was by far the greatest single enterprise in the British Isles.

Manning was a major problem because in peacetime many ships were mothballed and men paid off – there were limits to the peacetime navy just as there were to peacetime armies. Ships were relatively complex weapons systems and navigation was a delicate art, so that officers had to be educated. For the younger sons of petty gentry and bourgeoisie the navy offered good training and an honourable career, but one that, unlike the army, did not involve heavy investment in the purchase of a commission. And unlike the Church, the law and the academic life, a long and expensive education and a predisposition to scholarly activity were not required. For families, the prospect of unloading a young son at the age of 12 to be a petty officer was attractive. Moreover, such was the demand for special skills that non-commissioned officers and merchant sailors could earn commissions. The distinguished explorer Captain James Cook (1728–79), a farm manager’s son, served on Whitby coal ships before entering the Royal Navy in 1755 and, indeed, his famous ship, the Endeavour, was a converted collier. Officers were usually paid in arrears but with reasonable regularity, and the commander of a major ship-of-the-line could expect 20 shillings per day. Prize money from captured enemy shipping offered prospects of real wealth. In 1758 Captain Elliot took a French privateer, receiving £2,000 as his share. As against this, periods of half-pay were common when ships were decommissioned after wars.

But recruiting the ‘other ranks’ was a major problem, because ships ran on human expertise which took time to develop: native skills had always been a brake on military development. In peace, demand for manpower was fairly stable and time could be taken to train, but when war came ships had to be commissioned and men found quickly. The obvious source was the merchant marine, but in time of war this competed with the navy for trained seamen. There was a limit to what the government could afford to pay. As a consequence, conscription was introduced in the form of the ‘press-gang’ which operated in the streets of ports or at sea by boarding. Its prey was not just anybody – the law allowed ‘pressing’ only of sailors and the navy wanted skilled men. In a sense ‘the press’ was a tax on the huge success of British shipping which had been promoted by legislation such as the Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1663. Manning the navy was a perennial problem, but so it was for the main enemies, France and Holland. A substantial navy was bound to be expensive. In the second half of the seventeenth century France poured enormous resources into building a fleet. French ships in the eighteenth century were highly regarded and often used as models by the British, but their fine design gave relatively few additional advantages compared with the brute English drive to build and keep at sea numerous warships.

The battlefleets with masses of ships and great weights of cannon dominate our vision of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century naval warfare just as mass infantry formations are central to our view of land warfare. But there was an equivalent to the light troops of the armies of this period. The great ships were clumsy, relatively slow, and could only undertake long journeys with great difficulty and careful preparation. In 1693 an Anglo-Dutch fleet, allied against Louis XIV of France, was ordered to escort through the Channel a convoy of merchant ships from both countries bound for Smyrna. The allies had recently won a substantial fleet action over the French at Barfleur-sur-Hogue in 1692, and this may have inspired the governments to order the departure of this convoy at short order. The great battle fleet, however, was short of provisions and accompanied its charges only beyond Brest. The French ambushed the convoy off Cape St Vincent, capturing or sinking ninety-two ships in a disaster which cost more than the total losses of the Great Fire of London in 1666. By the late 1690s the French realised that they could not match the building programmes of their Anglo-Dutch enemies and so could not challenge them in fleet actions. Instead they resorted to the guerre de course, war against commerce, which, as the Smyrna incident shows, could be highly effective. Privateer captains fitted out their ships at their own expense, though with government aid. Prizes, captured ships and cargoes, were divided between the state and the privateer captains. This stimulated the British to build cruisers, later called frigates, fast light ships which could take on privateers.

HMS Bellerophon was a 74 gun English warship – a third rater

Clausewitz commented rightly that ‘Very few of the new manifestations in war can be ascribed to new inventions.‘ This was about to change under the impact of new wealth and new technology. ‘England,’ Napoleon is supposed to have remarked, ‘is a nation of shopkeepers.‘ But in that despised nation a revolution in wealth production was taking place which would also transform the battlefield. Cheap wool and cotton garments, often produced by coal-driven machinery, dressed armies. Iron, and increasingly steel, offered the prospect of mass production of better weapons. In 1809 Napoleon had offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could invent a good method of preserving food to feed the troops. A Frenchman, Appert, devised bottling, but it was in England that Peter Durand developed the much more robust tin. By the 1850s widespread production was bringing down costs and making tins the practical means to feed armies which had been sought in 1809. On 15 September 1830 the Liverpool MP and former minister, William Huskisson, was killed by the locomotive Rocket. This was an accident, but the railway would lead to literally millions of deaths. In 1859 Napoleon III of France chose to intervene on behalf of the nascent Italian kingdom against Austria, whose armies were badly surprised by the speed with which the new French railways transported their army to war in the plain of the Po. Industrial development made it possible to clothe, feed, arm and transport armies in a way hitherto impossible. Moreover governments soon had the means to control them over long distances. In 1844 Morse connected Washington and Baltimore with his electric telegraph, providing instant communication irrespective of distance. By 1875 London was at the centre of a network of over a million miles of electric telegraph and connected to virtually all the major world centres.

The new technology had an enormous effect upon navies too. The application of steam power to shipping had begun in the late eighteenth century, and by 1833 a screw-driven vessel, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western, was plying the North Atlantic, and European navies were experimenting with steam power. A French artillery officer, H-J. Paixhans, invented a high-velocity flat trajectory gun firing a 60-pound explosive shell of 22 cm (8.5 in.). By 1838 this was sufficiently developed to be recognised as a threat to all navies, and in the early 1840s an American, Dahlgren, improved it. On 30 November 1853 a Russian squadron armed with thirty-eight Paixhan guns totally destroyed a Turkish fleet at Sinope, demonstrating the vulnerability of ‘wooden walls’. This attack on Turkey was one of the factors which precipitated the Crimean War (1854–6), in which the Anglo-French navies swept the Black Sea clear of Russian ships, but were quite unable to overwhelm the port of Sebastopol whose artillery was reinforced by many of the new naval cannon. This failure gave urgency to the quest to develop iron ships. In 1859 France launched La Gloire, a wooden steam screw-driven ship clad in iron, but a year later this was trumped by the British Warrior, an entirely iron-built ship of immense strength, capable of more than 14 knots. These ships were still partly dependent on sail, but the end of the long tyranny of wind was now in sight. The Crimean War brought other signs of things to come.

A colonial empire was the ‘must-have’ status symbol of the early twentieth century, and the need for it could be rationalised by reference to acquiring strategic places and materials. How far the mass of German people worried about this is uncertain, but the Leagues waxed indignant, and they operated with the sympathy of ruling powers. The new Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888–1918) was easily influenced by this atmosphere and lacked the strength to direct policy. One unfortunate consequence was the Anglo-German naval race. In 1897 Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz became naval secretary. He established the Navy League in 1898 and in that year an ambitious naval construction campaign was begun. The British Empire, whose very basis was naval supremacy, perceived this as a threat and reacted very strongly. After the failure to resolve the tensions by negotiation in 1901, the British accelerated their building programme. Even more seriously, in 1904 Anglo-French negotiations launched a series of understandings known as the Entente Cordiale which gradually drew Britain into association with the Franco-Russian alliance, giving them the name of the Entente powers. Tirpitz achieved naval expansion by exploiting German political culture, but the costs were high.

Because the warship is a specialised weapons system it has always been extremely expensive. The wooden ships of the Nelson era had at least lasted a long time: HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, was commissioned in 1765 and remained in service until 1812. But by the 1840s the pace of change was accelerating. Steam power was introduced, and the experience of the Crimean War prompted the British to produce the iron-built Warrior. But for the world’s premier navy technological progress produced conundrums. Big, inefficient engines needing vast quantities of coal were hardly suitable for a fleet whose ships had to travel to far-flung imperial stations, so sails continued to be necessary. Iron armour and muzzle-loading guns were immensely heavy and made ships clumsy, but they were essential. In 1862 the Confederacy had built the Merrimack, a steam-driven iron-plated ship with ten guns, which threatened to destroy the Union fleet in Chesapeake Bay. But to the rescue came the USS Monitor, a small iron steamship with two heavy muzzle-loaders in a rotating turret. The two fought out a drawn battle, but demonstrated that iron vessels with heavy guns were deadly against other ships.

The problems arising from all this became clearly visible in 1870 with the sinking in the Channel of the Captain. This British battleship had 8-in. armoured sides, and mounted four 25-ton 12-in. guns in two turrets protected by 10-in. armour, and although she was steam-powered she also had a full rig of sails. Her freeboard (distance above water level) was only a little over 6 feet. The committee of inquiry established that she had failed to trim her sails in a rising wind. Gradually the problems were overcome. Steel offered greater protection for lighter weight, commercial developments like the triple expansion engine used less coal and drove ships faster, while the establishment of a worldwide network of coaling stations made refuelling easier. Recoilless rifled breech-loaders made of steel using smokeless powder were lighter and easier to work.

The naval race came at a bad time for Britain. Until the 1870s she had dominated the world’s tropics cheaply with a dispersed fleet of assorted ships. But the onset of ‘colonial mania’ in the late nineteenth century meant that European powers like France carved out numerous colonies, effectively reducing Britain’s inexpensive and informal dominion and forcing costly conquest in competition with other empires. At the same time the growth of railroads cut the advantages of sea-power and enabled continental states like America, Germany and Russia to develop their economic potential. The British share of world trade fell from 25 per cent in 1860 to 17 per cent in 1898. British firms failed to invest in the new technology, and as a result Britain fell behind in steel production and machine-tools. In the booming chemical industry her pre-eminent firm was Brunner Mond (later Imperial Chemical Industries) whose founders, significantly, were German. In optics and many other fields Britain lagged badly behind Germany and the United States. It is not difficult to perceive the sense of ebbing power. In 1897 Kipling chose to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in ‘Recessional’, a poem replete with this sense of failure:

Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire: Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

But at governmental level this simply reinforced the determination to dominate at sea.

War in the second half of the nineteenth century was transformed by two interacting forces – the French Revolution with its ideas of nationalism and democracy, and the huge surge in industrial development. This last gave rise to an extraordinary technological revolution which utterly changed the conduct of war. In 1854 Britain went to war against Russia with a fleet of ‘wooden walls’. In 1906 she launched HMS Dreadnought, a steel battleship of 17,900 tons capable of 21.6 knots and carrying ten 12-in. guns with ranges of over 12,000 metres.

On 1 October 1906 the Anglo-German naval race entered a new dimension when the British launched HMS Dreadnought. The Germans responded to this challenge by launching dreadnoughts of their own, and technology developed apace, so that by 1910 Superdreadnoughts were mounting 13.5-in. guns. In 1912 Britain laid down the first of the Queen Elizabeth class of 27,000 tons firing 15-in. guns and powered by oil. The world went dreadnought-mad and the British became the primary builder of such monsters. By the start of World War I she had conclusively won the naval race, with 32 battleships and 10 battle cruisers to Germany’s 21 + 8, but at a price. Dreadnought cost £1.79 million but Queen Elizabeth raised this to £2.5 million and the naval estimates went up from £18.7 million in 1896 to £40.4 million in 1910, inevitably limiting what Britain could afford to spend on her army. This mighty battle fleet brought little assurance because the floating mine, fast torpedeo-armed gunboats and, above all, submarines, threatened the behemoths. The pressure of the naval race forced Britain into an alliance with Japan in 1902, enabling her to withdraw ships from the Pacific, while also leaving the Mediterranean to France. By 1907 a series of understandings with Russia ended tensions over imperial ambitions with that power.

HMS Dreadnought British Battleship 1907

Early Warship Rating 18th Century

Ship technology

So far as the warships were concerned, there was very little technical difference between the various states. The overall dimensions of ships and particularly their drafts varied, but the battles of 1664-78 had convinced almost everyone that in a clash of battlefleets, firepower and particularly the number of cannons was crucial. The question was how was maximum firepower to be married to the other requirements of a ship-speed, manoeuvrability, seaworthiness, endurance and cost. The preferred option was the development of the three-decked warship. Colbert had been particularly concerned with the quality of French warships. In 1673 he established Councils of Construction in each naval port to advise on the theoretical proportions of the perfect warship. In 1677 a survey of the French warships had revealed that few came close to an ideal vessel. When his son, Seignelay, succeeded him in 1683, he was probably one of the most well-informed Ministers of Marine France ever possessed. He had seen at first hand the strength of English warships and their heavier guns. In 1684 he established an Inspector of the King’s Ships whose task it was to explain to shipwrights how to prepare and work to plans. The Ordonnance of 1689 specified that first- and second-rate ships (120 to 70 guns) should be three-deckers and their main gundeck armament should be uprated from 24lb to 36lb on the first rates and from 18lb to 24lb on the second rates. The ships were built with closer framing which made them more resistant to cannon shot, but their sailing qualities might not have been good. The Dutch also built 15 three-deckers of about 90 guns between 1683 and 1695. The English continued the practice, even converting some of their 80-gun two-deckers into three-deckers. The result was not good and real problems occurred in later years when England still had these ships while her rivals were building a new generation of well-designed two-deck warships. Some technical changes did occur. The steering wheel replaced the tiller on most English ships after 1700, giving greater control over ships. The invention was not followed by France until the 1720s. Greater manoeuvrability was also provided by the development of the sail plan. Mizzen topgallants, staysails and a jib-boom gave ships better control in turning and close order manoeuvre, but they hardly provided a decisive advantage to one side or the other. The other main vessel in the fleet was the frigate. Once again, French design was to lead. At the end of the century any ship up to 50 cannon might be called a frigate, but the French decision to concentrate on commerce-raiding led to the building of two ranks of two-deck frigates mounting 6lb to 12lb cannons, which performed extremely well and to which the English responded with their own “40s” in the 1700s. Bomb ships, sloops and small vessels were gradually added to the states’ fleets during the course of the wars, but no decisive advantage was obtained by any power.

The Royal Navy Breakthrough – Mid-Century

For Britain, the war of 1739-48 had caused profound disappointment. The discipline and professionalism of the officer corps and the naval administrators had been questioned throughout the war. Had things remained unchanged, there may have been good grounds for the Bourbons to assume that their growing numbers of large, fast battleships and well-armed frigates would be enough to sustain operations in colonial waters. However, significant modifications were being undertaken, under the direction of Admiral Lord George Anson, the First Lord of the Admiralty. The precise role Anson played in the changes is very difficult to establish, given the absence of personal papers that could have shed light upon his thinking and influence. However, there is a lot of indirect evidence to suggest that his influence was crucial. His personal achievements in the war, his patronage of officers who had performed well with him, his distaste for officers that did not perform adequately, his training and discipline at sea and his work with Sandwich on the Admiralty Board indicate that he established for himself a central role in the decision-making of the navy. During 1755 Anson was instrumental in the establishment of a new Navy Board that would support reform. Thomas Slade and William Bately were appointed joint Surveyors of the Navy. Slade’s innovative approach to design and his constant desire to improve had a major impact on the fleet. His work on large three deckers, the 74-gun battleship and the new, large single-deck 32-gun frigate established new classes of warship for the navy. By 1757, the Bellona class of “74s” had perfected a new, large, two-deck battleship that matched the French for durability and seaworthiness. By 1759, 14 “74s” were in service and more were laid down until 1762, to provide the backbone of the British battleline in the last half of the century. His “90s”, Sandwich, London and Barfleur and his famous “100”, the Victory, combined improved seakeeping with more powerful broadsides and began the re-emergence of the three-decker as the most powerful battleship in Europe’s navies. Slade’s Southampton and Alarm classes of 32- gun frigate, carrying 12lb cannons, rather than 9lb guns, were based upon French models, but also showed that he was aware that French policy had shifted towards larger, more heavily gunned frigates which Britain had to match. In 1757 substantial building began, so that by 1759 Britain could put to sea ships that were individually as good as her enemies’.9 Furthermore, although Britain had laid up most of her battleships during the peace, she had maintained her small ships and cruisers. These smaller vessels were to play an important role in the coming conflict.

By 1754, the British ministry, including Anson, was seriously concerned by French naval expansion and activity in Canada. Spain showed no sign of joining France which meant that, unlike 1739, Britain could rely upon a substantial numerical advantage. British battleships outnumbered the French by 2 to 1, cruisers by 2.4 to 1 and smaller ships by 2.5 to 1.10 However, mobilizing these ships would take time and the British had no distinct advantage in speed at the beginning of a war. British ships were scattered across the seas from the East Indies to the Mediterranean and the West Indies. There was no certainty that they would be able to stop the powerful little squadrons sailing from France at will.


French raid on Brighton, 1514 Anglo-French naval conflict in the early sixteenth century was a period of transition from medieval naval warfare, which had been dominated by coming alongside and boarding, to stand-off tactics in which warships put more of an emphasis on firepower and did not come into direct contact. In the war of 1512–14, the English and French fleets fought in the Channel in the traditional fashion, whereas off Portsmouth in 1545 they engaged in a gunnery duel. This shift had important implications for naval tactics (although truly effective ways of deploying naval firepower were not found until the next century), and it further encouraged the development of warships primarily as artillery platforms. Carvel building (the edge joining of hull planks over frames) replaced the clinker system of shipbuilding using overlapping planks, contributing to the development of stronger hulls better able to carry heavy guns. The Anglo-French War of 1512–14 saw Henry VIII support Spain, Venice and the Pope, and naval operations were a part of this wider struggle, one ultimately determined by developments in Italy. The Channel was in practice a sideshow.

The precise date of the attack is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place in the first few days of June. In his book Life in Brighton, Clifford Musgrave, a former director of the Royal Pavilion and Museums, notes that ‘State Papers dated from Calais 5 June 1514… speaks of arrangements for a raid to be carried out in France “in revenge for the burning of Brighthelmstone”‘

The attack was led by a feared foe of the English, a French naval commander known by various forms of ‘Prior John’. An account of the raid was published in Holinshed’s Chronicles, a popular Tudor history book that was used as a reference by Shakespeare and others.

According to Holinshed, Prior John and his men succeeded in burning and looting most of the village before English reinforcements arrived. The invaders were attacked by a hail of arrows, and Prior John was struck in the eye. Miraculously, Prior John survived the wound, and as a gesture of thanks, presented a wax image of his face, also depicting the arrow in his eye, to a church in Boulougne.

In spite of this moment of piety, Prior John and his men seem to have had little respect for religious buildings: the Priory of Bartholomew, which has given its name to a street next to Brighton Town Hall, was mostly destroyed by the raiders. St Nicholas’ Church was one of the few buildings to survive the raid, and this may be because it stood at the top of the hill overlooking the old town. If Holinshed’s account is correct (it was first published in 1577, over sixty years after the original attack), the invaders may have been unable to reach it before English reinforcements arrived.

Although the town was almost completely destroyed, it was rebuilt along the lines of the original streets, and the layout of the Lanes still reflects the shape of the town prior to the invasion.

War of the League of Cambrai