Battle of Vigo Bay, (12 October 1702)

Naval battle of the 1701-1714 War of the Spanish Succession.

En route back to England after an unsuccessful attempt to seize Cadiz, the Anglo-Dutch fleet under Admiral Sir George Rooke, carrying troops under command of General James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, attacked the Spanish silver fleet with its French naval escort under Admiral François de Rousselet, Marquis de Chateaurenault, anchored behind a protective boom and defended by fortifications at Vigo Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean on the northwestern coast of Spain’s Pontevedra Province.

The silver fleet had sailed from Veracruz, Mexico, with a cargo of silver valued at 13,639,230 pesos. At a contemporary exchange rate of about three pesos to the pound sterling, this equaled £4.5 million. Calling at Havana, where Chateaurenault and his naval escort joined together, the combined fleet of 22 Spanish vessels and 34 French vessels sailed on 24 July 1702. The English and Dutch forces had intelligence of this movement and attempted to intercept the fleet. At Cadiz, the silver fleet’s normal port, Rooke remained on the lookout while Sir Cloudesley Shovell tried intercepting the vessels at sea. Unknown to the allies, Chateaurenault safely anchored his convoy in Vigo Bay on 23 September 1702. Captain Thomas Hardy in the Pembroke heard the news when he called at Lagos Bay, Portugal, and immediately reported it to Rooke, earning Hardy a knighthood and a £1,000-pound reward.

Arriving off Vigo on 22 October, Rooke landed Ormonde’s troops and with Dutch Lieutenant Admiral Philips van Almonde divided the 15 English and 10 Dutch ships into seven squadrons, each headed by a Dutch or English flag officer. On 23 October, the squadrons commanded by Vice Admiral Thomas Hopsonn and Vice Admiral Philips van der Goes approached the narrow entrance of the bay, while the large ships bombarded the fortifications in support of Ormonde’s troops. Captain Andrew Leake in the Torbay broke the boom, for which he and Hopsonn were knighted. Allied forces took the forts and 18 French warships, of which five were incorporated into the Royal Navy and one into the Dutch navy. The remainder were burned.

Shovell’s squadron arrived on 27 October after the main action and stayed behind after Rooke’s departure to manage the final phase. Most of the silver had already been off-loaded and the Spanish treasury recorded the largest amount of silver ever obtained from America in one year: 6,994,293 pesos. Spain contributed 2.2 million of this to the French war effort and soon replaced its lost warships. The allies, however, acquired a sum of silver valued at about £14,000. Modern scholarship has yet to account for the remainder.

François Louis de Rousselet, Marquis de Chateaurenault


French admiral during the wars of Louis XIV. Born at Chateaurenault on 22 September 1637, Chateaurenault, like many young men of his class, favored a military career. He joined the French army in 1658 as a musketeer. The expansion of the Royal French Navy under Minister of Marine Jean Baptiste Colbert offered numerous opportunities to young officers, and Chateaurenault transferred to the naval service in 1661. He proved to be a capable, if somewhat difficult, officer. In the short span of only five years, Chateaurenault advanced to captain.

Chateaurenault saw his first action in the Mediterranean against Barbary pirates. In 1677 and 1678 he commanded small squadrons during fighting between France and Holland. His forces obtained the only two French naval victories during those years.

In 1688 when the War of the Grand Alliance began, Chateaurenault commanded the French fleet at Brest and led the squadron transporting soldiers to Ireland in support of the deposed James II. Chateaurenault also escorted a convoy of 3,000 troops to Bantry Bay in 1689. On 11 May, as the troops were disembarking, an English fleet attacked. Despite poor maneuvering by his captains, Chateaurenault in the Ardent was able to drive the English fleet out to sea. The action was indecisive, but Chateaurenault had accomplished his mission of providing soldiers and stores for James II, and his ships returned safely to Brest.

In June 1690 Chateaurenault led the van division of the combined French fleet under Admiral Anne-Hilarion de Cotentin, Comte de Tourville. On 10 July the opposing Anglo-Dutch fleet attacked off Beachy Head. Chateaurenault was able to double the attacking Dutch ships and he contributed decisively to the defeat of the Allies.

In 1701 upon Tourville’s death, Chateaurenault succeeded him as vice admiral of France. In 1702, during the War of the Spanish Succession, he received the delicate task of protecting the annual Spanish treasure fleet from Anglo-Dutch forces. King Louis XIV’s secret orders instructed him to bring the Spanish fleet into a French port, a difficult task given that some Spanish officers were serving aboard French ships.

Chateaurenault managed to elude a powerful Allied fleet and bring the treasure fleet into Vigo. Believing he would soon be attacked, Chateaurenault ordered the harbor fortified. On 22 October 1702, an Allied fleet under Sir George Rooke broke through the defensive boom. Every ship in the harbor was captured or destroyed, and an enormous amount of treasure was lost. Chateaurenault was not blamed for the defeat and was elevated to marshal of France in 1703. However, he never again commanded at sea. He died at Paris on 15 November 1716

Sir George Rooke

 (c. 1650-1709)

English admiral. Born about 1650, George Rooke was commissioned in 1672. He first served in the London, flagship of Vice Admiral Sir Edward Spragge, and followed Spragge to the Prince Royal, fighting in her at both the 28 May and 4 June 1673 Battles of Schooneveld and the 11 August 1673 Battle of the Texel. After the latter engagement, Rooke earned praise for bringing the damaged ship home. He served with Sir John Narbrough in the Mediterranean from 1678 to 1679, then under Arthur Herbert, First Earl of Torrington, at Tangier, from 1680 to 1681. Commanding the Deptford, he fought in the 1 May 1689 Battle of Bantry Bay. Promoted to rear admiral in 1690, he was in the Duchess at the 30 June 1690 Battle of Beachy Head. Promoted to vice admiral, he served as extra commissioner of the Navy Board from 1692 to 1694.

Rooke fought in the 19 May 1692 Battle of Barfleur under Edward Russell, Earl of Orford, then pursued the French into the Bay of La Hogue, burning 12 French ships of the line. Knighted in 1693, he escorted the 400-ship Smyrna convoy toward the Mediterranean until the French intercepted it at Lagos Bay, taking or destroying 92 ships and scattering the remainder.

Rooke became Admiralty commissioner during 1694-1702 and commander in chief, Mediterranean, from 1695 to 1696. He was appointed admiral of the fleet in 1696 and was elected to Parliament for Portsmouth, serving from 1698 to 1705. In 1700 he commanded the Anglo-Dutch-Swedish Squadron off Copenhagen at the opening of the Great Northern War. He served on the Lord High Admiral’s Council during 1702-1705 and commanded the unsuccessful Anglo-Dutch expedition to Cadiz in 1702, attacking the Spanish galleons at Vigo Bay on his return on 12 October. In 1704 he led the allied attack on Gibraltar and commanded the Anglo-Dutch Fleet in the 13 August 1704 Battle of Vélez-Malaga. Rooke resigned for health reasons in 1705 and died in Canterbury on 24 January 1709.

References Kamen, Henry. “The Destruction of the Spanish Silver Fleet at Vigo in 1702.” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 39 (1966): 165-173. Veenendaal, Augustus J., Jr. De Briefwisseling van Anthonie Heinsius, 1702-1720. Vol. 1, 1702. The Hague: Institute for Netherlands History, 1976. Calman-Maison, J. J. R. La Marechal de Chateau-Renault. Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1903. Jenkins, Ernest H. A History of the French Navy: From Its Beginnings to the Present Day. London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1973. Symcox, Geoffrey. The Crisis of French Sea Power, 1688-1697. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974. References Hattendorf, John B. “Sir George Rooke and Sir Cloudesley Shovell (c. 1650-1709) and (1659-1707).” In Precursors of Nelson: British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century, ed. Peter Le Fevre and Richard Harding, 42-77. London: Chatham Publishing, 2000. Hattendorf, John B., ed. The Journal of Sir George Rooke, 1700-1704. Publications of the Navy Records Society. London: Navy Records Society.

Kirke’s Relief Fleet: Derry I

Major General Kirke’s fleet continued to lie in the lough and the people and garrison of the beleaguered city wondered when the ships would ever make the run upriver to bring relief at last. With little information from inside the city, Kirke faced a dilemma: should he risk his vessels by sailing upriver to the city or wait until he had more information on what was happening there? First of all he sought to obtain more intelligence through reconnaissance. By now HMS Dartmouth had joined the ships in the lough and, on 15 June, Kirke asked Captain John Leake to make a reconnaissance. Leake ‘sailed within a large mile of Culmore’ with his ship grounding for about an hour on its way up Lough Foyle. Discussion in the fleet now turned to such critical matters as pilotage – these were not men who were familiar with the waters of the Foyle – and breaking the boom. Depth soundings were also taken in the lough; at high tide there was only 17.5 feet clearance. Kirke called a council of war, or court martial, on the 19th, which was attended by the army commanders, Colonels Steuart, Sir John Hanmer, Thomas St John and William Wolseley, with Richards and the four French engineers present as well as Majors Henry Rowe, Zachariah Tiffin and William Carville and the ships’ captains, Wolfranc Cornwall, of HMS Swallow, John Leake, of HMS Dartmouth, Thomas Gwillam, of HMS Greyhound, William Sanderson of the Henrietta and Edward Boyce of the Kingfisher. Kirke presided at the court martial. The subsequent report of the proceedings read

That by all we can see or hear it is positively believed that there is a boom cross the river a little above Brookhall at a place called Charles’s Fort, where one end of this boom is fixed, the other extending to the opposite point. The boom is said to consist of a chain and several cables, floated also with timbers, at each end of which are redoubts with heavy cannon. The sides of the river are entrenched and lined with musketeers. Besides this obstacle in the river, several intimations have also been given of boats sunk, stockadoes drove with great iron spikes, but in what manner we could never perfectly learn, but it’s certain that they neither want boats, timbers etc to effect any thing of this kind.

The accident that happened on Saturday the 8th instant to the Greyhound frigate is evident proof that they are in a capacity to bring down cannon anywhere they should be opposed; so that, should anything be attempted in going up this straight channel and miscarry therein by several accidents as may happen, or the shifting of a wind, striking ashore, or damages received by their great guns and there is very little reason or hopes left to think to set off. And if no other opposition should be then the boom, which, if not broke by our attempt the breadth of this river is so narrow as that the ship will certainly run ashore. This loss, though great to his Majesty, would be of much more and of greater consequence in the leaving the enemy possessors of so many great guns with our stores of war and victuals, which, if they had, they would certainly make a more formal attack upon the town of Londonderry, which to this time they have not attempted. We suppose for no other reason, than for want of artillery enough, besides the miscarriage would so dishearten the town and encourage the enemy as to be of extreme consequence. Besides since the Greyhound and the rest of the fleet’s being here, we have never received any intelligence from Londonderry, which gives us great reason and some assurance that they are not extremely pressed by the enemy or want of ammunition or provisions of mouth.

All this being considered it’s the opinion of us now sitting at this council, that it will be more prudent and for his Majesty’s service, to stay here, till a greater force join us so that we may be a sufficient number to make a descent and force the enemy to raise the siege by which means the town should have sent us advice of every particular relating to this affair by which we may safely take other measures.

The names of those in attendance, signed on the original document, include ‘all the Sea-captains whose opinions and advice would have been central to the deliberations, since it was by naval action alone that the relief fleet could overcome the Jacobite defences of the river and reach the city. Cornwall had already been to the Foyle; it was he who had, in Swallow, escorted the original relief force commanded by Cunningham and Richards in April, while we have seen that Gwillam had been there more recently and still bore the wounds to prove it. John Leake had also proved himself an outstanding officer of great bravery, as he had demonstrated at Bantry Bay; he would eventually achieve the rank of admiral. It was the opinion of Edward B Powley, a respected naval historian, that none of these sea captains held ‘so strongly’ the view that the boom could probably be broken ‘as to consider it a matter of professional importance that the opinion, if he held it, should go on record’. The weight of their experience has to be considered when judging Kirke and his apparent procrastination; his decision was based on their professional opinions.

The day after this meeting Kirke went aboard HMS Dartmouth, which was the advance ship of the fleet, and the vessel from which Richards was maintaining continuous observation. Kirke climbed to the maintop with Richards from where

we could easily discern the rippling of the Boom, and sometimes see part of it just heave upon the face of the water; along which were several boats lying stern and stem with the Boom, as if they floated it up.

Kirke was able to see the city as well as the Jacobite dispositions. The latter were now showing no signs of the concern that the first appearance of the ships had caused. His observations did not change Kirke’s view of the problems presented by the boom, nor did it make him alter his earlier conclusion that the city was not hard pressed by the besiegers; he was also able to check his earlier estimates of Jacobite strength.

Those inside the city’s walls might not have been pleased to learn of Kirke’s council of war and its deliberations, nor of his further conclusions based on the evidence of his own eyes from Dartmouth’s maintop. They would have been even less pleased to learn that Kirke entertained Jacobite officers on board HMS Swallow a few days later on 27 June. This followed a message to Kirke from Lord George Howard who had asked the major-general for a safe passage to visit him. Kirke issued the ‘passport’ and Howard and another gentleman came on board ‘and they were very civilly received by the Major-General’. This appears to have been a most convivial meeting at which the two Jacobite visitors were entertained to a meal that brought forth the comment that ‘they had not such a meal’s meat [since] the Lord knows when’. Kirke and Howard were obviously friends, and the occasion was sufficiently relaxed for the Jacobites to express their exasperation at the French officers in their army, of whose ‘insolencies’ they complained, saying that they ‘were almost weary of being under their command’. From them, Kirke learned that Rosen, rather than Hamilton, was now commanding the Jacobite forces in the area. Howard and his companion returned ashore that evening, having enjoyed their day, been well fed and having supplied Kirke with some useful intelligence on his enemies.

The ships of the fleet did not remain constantly at anchor in the one spot; Richards records that, on 29 June, his vessel ‘watered at Greencastle’ which is some distance away at the mouth of Lough Foyle. While the ship was taking on fresh water, ‘under the cannon of the Antelope’, a yacht arrived from Scotland. This was the Ferret, commanded by Captain Sanders, who brought a letter for Kirke from the Duke of Hamilton, telling the major-general that Edinburgh Castle had surrendered, the Jacobites in Scotland had been routed and their principal leaders taken prisoner.

On 1 July Richards visited Kirke, who showed him a letter he had received the previous morning. This missive told Kirke that ‘nothing of any notice had happened between Londonderry and the Irish camp’ for the past three or four days. However, a postscript included news of an attack on the city by Jacobite troops on Tuesday 25 June. In fact, this was Skelton’s, or Clancarty’s, attack which had occurred on the Friday, 28 June. The writer of the letter lived in a house, described as the parson’s, above Whitecastle, close to where Swallow lay at anchor. The scribe and his wife had devised a code to let Kirke know that they had information for him. When the pair, the lady wearing a white mantle, were seen walking back and forth along the beach before returning to their home, that would be a sign that a letter had been concealed under ‘a certain stone’ and this would be retrieved under cover of darkness by someone from the ship.

Richards includes an interesting note about Lord Dungan sending Kirke ‘a very fine and large salmon’ at 4 o’clock that afternoon (1 July). Dungan was the commanding officer of one of the Jacobite dragoon regiments, and the salmon might well have been a gift in appreciation of the meal given to Howard and his companion four days earlier. Equally, it might simply have been a gift from one soldier to another. However, Kirke’s friendship with Jacobite officers emphasizes an often neglected fact about the conflict in Ireland: that it was a civil war, the type of conflict in which brother can be pitched against brother and friend against friend. In such circumstances it is not surprising that there were some who believed that Kirke was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause and that his apparent prevaricating was quite deliberate. Of those inside the city who wrote accounts of the siege, only the Reverend John Mackenzie is critical of Kirke, suggesting that Kirke and Walker had conspired to create their own version of the siege; it is notable that Mackenzie gives the garrison, inspired by the Almighty, rather than Kirke the credit for relieving the city.

Further accusations against Kirke were made by Sir James Caldwell, one of the defenders of Enniskillen, who listed thirty charges against the general, including ‘corruption, incompetence, irreligion, and a total lack of appreciation or understanding for those who had carried on the struggle for King William in Ireland both before and during the siege’. In two queries against Kirke, Caldwell is quite clear in his allegations of treachery, asking ‘whether several officers of the late King James’s army did not wrong Major General Kirke when they often times declared that they expected no injury from him who they knew to be one of their own friends and that at length he would appear to be so’. In support of his claim, Caldwell states that the witnesses were ‘the whole soldiers of Londonderry’. He also asks if Kirke did not have a pardon from James in July 1689 ‘for not relieving Londonderry and holding other correspondence with the enemy and whether it was not a common discourse among the enemy that the said Major General Kirke was their friend’.

Caldwell’s charges seem never to have been made at an official level but they merit some reflection. Was Kirke guilty of treachery at Derry? There is no doubt that he maintained friends in the Jacobite officer corps, but this can be seen as a legacy of their having served together in the past. The argument can equally be made that such friendships allowed Kirke to garner useful information on the Jacobites’ situation while impressing upon them the strength of his own force. His seemingly lackadaisical approach may also be seen as the product of his believing that the garrison was in no great distress. The lack of communication between relief force and defenders has already been noted and it seems plausible that the signals being made from the cathedral were considered to be signs of rejoicing. However, since Kirke had already changed sides, from James to William, it is reasonable to assume that he might have done so again, had the circumstances been right. He continued to correspond with James in exile, and it seems that Kirke was determined to be a survivor, as he had always been, irrespective of the sufferings of anyone else. A pragmatic individual, Kirke was, at best, a man who looked out for himself and, at worst, a man who would have changed sides again, abandoning Derry and its garrison, had it suited him.

At noon on 2 July a Mr Hagason signed from the northern, or Inishowen, shore that he wished to speak with Captain Withers of the Swallow. Withers went ashore and spent about an hour with Hagason and others, returning with news that there had been another sally by the people of Derry the previous night, during which they had cut off some 300 Jacobites. From this it seems that Hagason might have been a Jacobite officer who seems to have been on familiar terms with Withers. There were also complaints about lack of provisions, and it seemed that Hagason and his friends were tired of the siege ‘for there was nothing but hunger and slaughter in it’. One recent writer on the siege suggests that Hagason was a Williamite and that he was relaying information from the garrison but the description of the sally would suggest otherwise.

Later that day, after dinner, Kirke called a council of war which was attended by all his field officers and the sea captains. This was to discuss sending some 500 or 600 men to Inch, an island in Lough Swilly, to create a diversion. The proposal followed a reconnaissance to Inch carried out by Captain Thomas Hobson in HMS Bonadventure when he learned from Protestants on the island that a Jacobite quartermaster was there to gather provisions for the Irish army. Inch was, and is, a fertile island, and was described as ‘abounding in all sorts of grain’. Hobson sent his lieutenant ashore with one of the Protestant gentlemen who took the sailor to the house where the Jacobite quartermaster was based. The naval officer relieved the quartermaster of his papers and a sum of £5 which he had on his person, presumably to pay for whatever he collected from the island. Having done so, the lieutenant went back to his boat but, having been admonished by the local man for not making the Jacobite officer a prisoner, returned to the house, only to find that the quartermaster had mounted his horse and made off. He was said to have had a considerable sum of money with him. For failing to make the man prisoner, the naval lieutenant was criticized severely, and Richards commented that ‘it is thought he will be dismissed’. Nonetheless, the papers he had taken provided some good intelligence for Kirke.

The papers were letters from the general officers of the Irish camp, pressing the said quarter master to send provisions with what expedition he could, for they and their horses came near starved, with intimations that he should take great care to preserve all sorts of provisions, for their dependence was wholly on that island.

Combined with the information from Howard and his dining companion, that from Hagason and other sources, this indicated that the Jacobite army was in a poor state. Furthermore, since Inch was so valuable to the Jacobites for supplies, it made sense to deprive them of that source of supply by occupying the island. This had the further advantage of providing a rallying point for local Protestants, some of whom asserted that several hundred of their number would ‘fly to us and take up arms’. It would also allow sailors and soldiers to have some liberty from the crowded conditions of their ships and, as had already been suggested to Kirke, the island would provide a location for a hospital. And thus began the Williamite expedition to Inch.

In a direct line, Inch is only a little more than six miles from the walls of Derry. An old road, part of which has been there for centuries, probably since the days when the local centre of power was the Grianan of Aileach overlooking the island, runs almost in a straight line from the city to the island. A body of men would have had to march no more than eight miles to reach the city from the island, although this would have meant marching over high ground; but this rises to less than 500 feet. The direct route would have presented no problems, especially at this time of year. Alternatively, an approach could also have been made via the flat land where once the Foyle and Swilly waters had commingled to cut off Inishowen, the island of Eoghan. Using this route the distance would have been increased but by no more than another mile or two. Thus Williamite soldiers on Inch represented a very real danger to the Jacobites about Derry who now had to be wary of an attack from behind.

Kirke’s Relief Fleet: Derry II

The expedition to Inch gave Richards the opportunity to practise his profession. Having landed on Inch strand near Burt castle on 10 July, with an escort of an ensign and twenty men, he soon identified a suitable site for a redoubt facing the mainland. But their intention to begin work on this was interrupted by the appearance of some Jacobite horsemen which prompted Richards to send for reinforcements. These arrived in the form of some men of Kirke’s regiment under Captain Collier, who drove off an attack by the Jacobites, although Richards thought that the latter might have suspected an ambush and did not therefore press any harder on the Williamites.

Earlier, Richards had sent for field pieces as well as men and tools from Colonel Steuart but these had not arrived. He now learned why. The day before some Protestants from the west bank of Lough Swilly had signalled the fleet and a boat had been sent to fetch them. They brought news of a ‘great herd of cattle’ at Tully near Rathmullan and some troops had been sent ashore to round up these animals, about 200 in number, and bring them to Inch. This had meant deploying all the boats in the fleet to ferry the cattle from Rathmullan, and thus none had been available to carry guns, men and equipment to Richards at the site for the redoubt. But Richards was soon in a much happier state, being joined by Colonel St John with about 200 men. The latter had observed what was happening and had marched to support Richards. It had been the sight of this body of men in the distance that had prompted the Jacobite horsemen to retire.

Later that afternoon Steuart arrived in Captain Rooke’s barge, bringing with him tools and four field pieces. Steuart thought that the entrenchment staked out by Richards was too large, a view in which St John concurred; the latter considered himself to be an engineer, according to Richards. Work on the first of two redoubts was begun and continued until midnight when the working party retired to the far side of the island. Richards went back on board Greyhound for the night. Work continued the next day on the second redoubt with four field pieces emplaced to deter the Jacobites, but these were later removed and the working party was taken back to the far side of the island. That evening, at 6 o’clock, the building began again and the soldiers laboured until an hour past midnight. Returning to Greyhound, Richards learned from ‘a man who told us he had been in the Irish camp’ that the Jacobites planned to attack the works with a force of horse and foot at the next morning tide. Today Inch is joined to the mainland by two embankments, whereas, at this time, it was necessary to row across or wait until low tide when the water separating island and mainland was fordable.

Richards became so exasperated with the would-be engineers’ interference, especially when St John had an outwork constructed that was effectively isolated and could provide no support to the rest of the works, that he ‘troubled [him]self no farther with the works, of which I am sure any one that pretends to be an engineer ought to be ashamed’. Eventually, by 14 July, the defensive works were completed and eight guns were emplaced in their batteries; these included six 3-pounders, possibly minions,4 and two 6-pounders, or sakers. These enabled the small garrison of Inch to discourage the Jacobites while the defences were being completed.

And it was also on 14 July that HMS Bonadventure sailed into the Swilly to drop anchor at Inch. Its commander, Captain Thomas Hobson, had taken supplies of powder and ball to the garrison of Enniskillen. Hobson’s destination at that time had been Killybegs in County Donegal, or Killy Bay as he described it in his log, since Enniskillen is an inland town. On his return journey Hobson was accompanied by several men from Enniskillen who had a proposal to put to Kirke, which explains why Hobson returned first to Greencastle on Lough Foyle before sailing into the Swilly. The Enniskilleners promised that they would relieve Derry by taking a force there that would cause the Jacobites to ‘raise their camp’. However, they lacked sufficient arms and so wanted 1,500 guns from Kirke as well as some officers to lead their force. Into the field they could put about 8,000 foot and 1,200 good cavalry while they also had enough small horses to raise a dragoon regiment, although weapons would be needed for these troops. (Kirke would report to London that the Enniskillen garrison had formed twenty-six companies of infantry, seventeen troops of cavalry and two troops of dragoons, all of whom were ready to come under the major-general’s orders.) When he had heard this proposal, Kirke ordered Rooke, who was commanding the squadron, to join him with Portland and Bonadventure. Thus Kirke was expected to arrive at Inch very soon. Even so, when news was received at the camp on Inch that the boom was broken ‘in several pieces’ and that the Jacobites had withdrawn their large guns from the riverbank, a messenger was sent over the neck of Inishowen to take the news to Kirke in Lough Foyle.

That messenger returned early next morning to say that the fleet had weighed anchor, left Lough Foyle and was at sea. But there was other news: the Duke of Berwick had left Derry to deal with the defenders of Enniskillen, and a fleet had been seen off Carrickfergus. This latter story came from the Irish camp where it was believed to be a French fleet coming with 20,000 men and ‘a vast sum of money’. Cash was a vital necessity for King James who had issued a debased coinage, known as brass money. Richards comments that a ‘small piece of copper not the value of half a farthing goes for sixpence’. These pieces of intelligence were as yet rumours with no firm evidence to substantiate them. On the other hand, there was no doubting the fact that the Williamite force at Inch had been strengthened by some 500 to 600 ‘good lusty men able to bear arms’. These new recruits had been formed into companies under local commanders but attached to the regular regiments, each of which now had eighteen companies and a grenadier company in its order of battle. Nor was there a shortage of fresh meat for the garrison at Inch since hundreds of cattle had been sent over from Rathmullan in the past week.

No serious threat to Inch was posed by the Jacobites although there was a further rumour concerning Berwick: having been trounced on the road to Enniskillen he was now going to return to Derry whence he would march on Rathmullan. In fact, a Jacobite force of about 1,500 horse and foot did march on Rathmullan, which was held by no more than 120 Williamites under Captains Echlin and Cunningham. A Williamite account puts the strength of Berwick’s force at 2,000 horse and dragoons. When the Jacobites made their first foray against Rathmullan, a small ketch anchored offshore ‘fired among the horse and killed a cornet and 3 troopers with its first shot’. This caused the cavalry to draw off with the foot soldiers following. The same account claims that forty Jacobites were killed together with ten of their horses while a colonel was wounded desperately. Since the Williamite officers had had barricades raised, the Jacobites failed to get into Rathmullan in spite of a determined attack. The retreating Jacobites left their dead; Williamite casualties were said to be no more than one officer – Captain Cunningham6 – and two or three soldiers dead. However, it was obvious that the Jacobites would attack again and that they had the advantage of numbers, and so Echlin was ordered to evacuate Rathmullan. This was completed that night although about a hundred cattle had to be left behind since there was not enough time to get them away. At least some Jacobites would feast on fresh meat over the next day or so. A deserter from the Irish army later confirmed that Berwick had led the attack on Rathmullan and claimed to have killed about 200 men.

Kirke arrived off Inch late on the 19th and, early the following morning, came ashore, having ordered the disembarkation of all his command. He inspected the defence works, with which he seemed satisfied, and brought some news for the Inch garrison: more troops were being assembled to sail for Ireland through Chester, Liverpool and Whitehaven but three French warships had captured the James of Derry, a small ship that Kirke had sent to Scotland to buy wine and other supplies for the fleet. A Royal Navy squadron, commanded by Rooke in HMS Deptford, had sailed in pursuit of the French; Rooke’s other ships were Bonadventure, Portland and Dartmouth under Captains Hobson, Leigh and Leake. When his men had disembarked, and ammunition and provisions had been stored in the magazine that Richards had had built, Kirke ordered two vessels to sail for Enniskillen with 500 fusils7 and some officers to take command of the Enniskillen garrison; the latter included Wolseley, who was to command a regiment of horse, and Major Tiffin, who was to take command of an infantry regiment.

Later that afternoon, about 5 o’clock, Kirke received a letter from Walker in Derry. According to the latter, the boom had been broken and the guns covering it had been ‘drawn away’. This brought about a flurry of activity with Kirke ordering that three ships be loaded with provisions and each manned by forty musketeers. The loading operation was carried out as surreptitiously as possible so as not to attract the attention of the Jacobites and, later that night, Kirke went back aboard the Swallow and sailed with the other three ships for ‘Derry Lough, with resolution to relieve that place or lie by it’. This report, albeit from Walker on this occasion, seems to have been the second time that the same rumour had reached Inch. Although there was no truth in it, this rumour was to have a profound effect on events: it set in train the actions that would lead to the raising of the siege and the relief of Derry.

Inch was a hubbub of activity over the next few days as accommodation in the form of huts was built for the soldiers. There was also news that the Jacobites intended to attack the island. Richards wrote that attacks were expected from three points and then detailed two of those: by Captain Tristram Sweetman’s and by Burt Castle, ‘at which two places it is very narrow but not fordable’. At both locations the guard was strengthened (which seems to confirm that Richards ‘Burt Castle’ was in fact the castle on Inch) and a ship was also posted to deter any attackers. None came, although some firing was heard at midnight from the north-west of the island; this was thought to come from a group led by Lieutenant Hart, who had been sent out into Inishowen with a foraging party of thirty men. Later it was thought to be the advanced guard at Captain Sweetman’s but it turned out to be fire from one of the ships which had spotted light from Rathmullan as the Jacobites tried to fire the village; several rounds were fired by the ship to deter them.

There is no clear indication from Richards as to the third possible direction of attack but it is more than likely that this was across the neck of water between the island and the mainland which, on the 23rd, was dry from side to side. Certainly Richards notes that on that day ‘we draw all our forces to our fortifications on the strand, to be ready to receive our enemies that have so often threatened us’. Lieutenant Hart returned with some provisions from his wife’s relations in Inishowen but without the horses, cattle and corn he had been sent for, so Captain Echlin was sent with fifty men to complete the task. He arrived too late. Jacobite dragoons had that morning escorted about a hundred horse-loads of corn from the area and Echlin was left with what remained, about a hundred bushels.

Fires from villages on Inishowen that evening suggested that the Jacobites were retreating from the peninsula while there was further rumour that Berwick was on the move towards Enniskillen again. Next morning, 24 July, Jacobite troops, both cavalry and infantry, appeared on the hills facing Inch and looked to be preparing to attack. The strand was dry and the Williamites made ready to meet an attack but it seemed that the Jacobites feared a possible attack from Inch since they withdrew as soon as the tide came in and the strand was no longer fordable, suggesting that their deployment had been defensive rather than offensive. There were also reports that Kirke’s ships had got into Derry but Richards thought this improbable due to the winds having been contrary over recent days.

While Kirke had not reached Derry he had made contact with the James, the ship that had been taken by the French. This vessel had been recovered and had sailed into Lough Swilly to drop anchor off Inch on the morning of the 25th. Its captain brought a letter from Kirke to Colonel Steuart which the latter showed to Richards to seek his opinion. Richards’ view was that if Kirke’s orders, as expressed in the letter, were followed, it would lead to disaster for the Williamites on the island since it would ‘ruin our interest here, expose some thousands of souls to the mercy of a cruel enemy, and unavoidably lose the island’. It was a view with which Steuart agreed and he called a council of war of all the field officers and captains of the regiments present to solicit their opinions.

What had Kirke suggested? He had expressed concern that the island would not be tenable if the Jacobites deployed artillery against it, and proposed to recall all his regular soldiers to the ships, there not being enough cover for them on Inch, leaving the local men to provide the garrison. He reasoned that the shipborne men would be able to move quickly to defend any part of the island that was threatened. Dispositions for a detachment to be left on Inch were also detailed, while the letter had contained the news that Rooke had retaken the ships captured by the French but that adverse winds had prevented Kirke’s ships entering Lough Foyle; however, he hoped to enter the lough on the next tide.

Steuart’s council of war decided to maintain their positions on Inch, and Richards was asked to draft a reply to Kirke. In his letter Richards pointed out that the Jacobites could not bring heavy cannon into action against Inch as these ‘cannot well be brought over the strand’ while artillery on the opposite shore would present no danger due to the distance. Furthermore, all the troops were now under cover on the island and withdrawing them to the ships would make it almost impossible to oppose any assault by the enemy. He added that Jacobite intelligence about Inch was good and that a move such as that proposed by Kirke would be known to them very quickly and would probably lead to an attack. The Jacobites would have every opportunity to ‘possess themselves of this Island, into which there is, since our arrival here, fled about 12,000 souls, who can expect no mercy at so cruel an enemy’s hands’. He related how the Jacobites had burned Rathmullan and murdered the few Protestants left there and how they had done the same on Inishowen ‘over against Capt. [Tristram] Sweetman’s house, as far as over against the Fisher ketch, which is nigh two miles that the Irish have put in flames’. Berwick was later to gain notoriety for employing the scorched-earth tactic but it appears that he may have begun using it in Donegal. Richards argued that the refugees on Inch would be safe as long as the garrison remained and that the Jacobites would not attack while Derry held out since they had already ‘neglected so many fair opportunities when our numbers were much less’.

Having despatched the letter to Kirke, Richards and Steuart continued to improve the defences of Inch. They had refused to obey an order from their commander, a serious offence in military law, but they had provided sufficient justification for their decisions, so that no action was taken against them. As the events at Derry played out to their conclusion, the two men would be vindicated in their decision. Over the next few days there would be more rumours reaching the garrison at Inch and it would be difficult to separate fact from fancy. Berwick crops up again in those reports, staving off the threat from Enniskillen; it seems that the Jacobites at Derry were now in constant worry about an attack from Enniskillen. By the end of the month the Jacobite army was being estimated at not much more than 4,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry before Derry, while Berwick at Castlefinn had about 2,000 cavalry and dragoons.

The Williamite force at Inch now threatened the Jacobites investing Derry since it could deploy within a few hours to strike the rear of the Jacobite lines. By now in London it was learned that the presence of Kirke’s men on Inch had caused the Duke of Berwick to be called back from a planned attack on Enniskillen. With Schomberg at Chester taking command of ‘his Majesty’s forces for the relief of Ireland’, the situation appeared much more positive than hitherto.

It seemed that Kirke was awaiting reinforcements from England before making his attempt to relieve Londonderry. In a despatch from Lough Foyle he reported that:

The enemy are well entrenched on both sides of the river and have batteries of 24-pounders on the narrowest part of it, which is not a pistol shot over. But if that were all, we could pass them with a leading gale, but they have secured the river with a boom cross it, made of cables, chains and timber, and have besides sunk great boats laden with stones in the middle of the channel so that being by a council of war not thought advisable to attempt the relieving the town by the river we are waiting for some more forces in order to land and force our way through the enemy’s camp.

The dangers of trying to run upriver were thus many in the minds of Kirke, his army officers and the Royal Navy captains. Believing that boats had been sunk in the channel meant that the naval officers would have been concerned about the safety of their ships as they tried to navigate the narrows. Most of the warships drew too much draught to risk them in such an enterprise, and this fact alone would have made the seamen counsel Kirke against a waterborne assault. (The frigate HMS Dartmouth was one of the few with a draught shallow enough to operate in the Foyle river, and it was this vessel that eventually escorted the relief ships.)

Kirke also reported that the besieged were holding out ‘very bravely and have placed two guns upon the church steeple, which do great execution’. Although the Irish army had made several attempts on the city, they had been beaten off each time ‘with great loss’. He reported on the two attacks on the Windmill Hill positions and noted the friction that existed between the Irish and the French officers, especially the French general. These, he recorded, had a ‘cold reception in the camp, tho’ a very warm one from the town’. As for his own men, they were ‘very hearty and in good health’ and their presence on Lough Foyle was, he believed, a great encouragement to the besieged. Finally, he noted that a messenger had succeeded in swimming from the fleet to the town as signals made from there had indicated his arrival.

Other reports coming back to London emphasized the morale and courage of the besieged. HMS Antelope had left the Foyle on 5 July and arrived at Highlake (Hoylake) two days later with a report that the ‘besieged continue to defend themselves with a bravery and resolve that exceeds all the account that can be put on it’. On 24 July a report reached Whitehall from Kirke stating that ‘Londonderry held out with the greatest bravery that can be imagined, and continued to repulse the enemy in all their attempts’. And there was also intelligence on the overall state of the Jacobite army from ‘persons in Dublin’ who claimed that the main body of that army was before Derry and ‘not above two or three regiments’ were at Dublin and that many of the soldiers of these units ‘wanted clothes and arms’. The Dublin informants also advised that ‘the town of Derry, upon the best enquiry they could make, was not yet reduced to any great distress and that the Irish soldiers deserted in great numbers’.

Thus it seemed to Kirke and to his masters that there was no great urgency in relieving the city since the defenders were in a good state and holding out so well that they were inflicting heavy losses on the Jacobites. In addition, the dangers presented by the boom and the boats that were believed to have been sunk in the narrows, never mind the Jacobite batteries along the river, militated against moving upriver towards the city. With the knowledge that further troops would soon be landing in Ireland, Kirke must have felt that his best course of action was to wait for those men to arrive before advancing overland. Those inside the city would not have agreed with him, and their frustration mounted as they looked at the masts and sails of the ships in the lough.

Sassanian Naval Capabilities: An Overview

By the onset of Sassanian rule in the early third century CE, Iranian maritime technology had resulted in the construction of vessels capable of transporting larger amounts of cargo over greater travel distances. Ardashir I was keen to establish military control over the Persian Gulf to dominate that region’s trade routes. This is corroborated by Islamic-era historians such as Thalabi, Hamza of Isfahan and Tabari, who record that Ardashir founded at least eight port cities. Note that these included ports established in the major waterways of Sassanianruled Mesopotamia and Khuzestan. The identified riverside ports include Bahman Ardashir (Forat of Maisan), Astarabadh Ardashir (former Charax), and Wahasht Ardashir, with ports on the Persian Gulf itself including locales such as Rev Ardashir (on the Bushehr Peninsula) and Kujeran Ardashir (probably opposite Kish), and Batn Ardashir (along the Arabian coast of the Persian Gulf opposite Bahrain island). The Karnamye Ardashir e Babakan provides a detailed account of the military campaign which Ardashir I fought to secure Kujaran. This success allowed the Sassanian military to effect naval landings in Bahrain as well as opposite Bahrain along the Arabian coast to subjugate the local tribes ensconced there. Ardashir I is then reported as having recruited Arab seafarers as advisors for building the Sassanian navy. Sassanian ships were known as kashtig (modern Persian: kashti) with the leader of the navy known as the navbad.

The empire’s main venue for seaborne commerce was the Persian Gulf and from there into the Indian Ocean and (by late Sassanian times) beyond into the Pacific Ocean and to China. Overseas trade was a major source of revenue for the empire, especially from the reign of Khosrow I. It resulted in the founding of a number of coastal cities along the Persian Gulf coast, from the modern-day Shaat al Arab/Arvand Rud waterway ingress in the west to the shores of modern-day Pakistan to the east. As hypothesized by Curatola and Scarcia, ‘these were fortified way stations along the coast controlled by the Persians’. The domain of studies pertaining to Sassanian coastal defences, however, is in progress at the time of writing. Nevertheless excavations thus far have provided great insight. Researchers generally agree that Sassanian coastal structures were intended to both accommodate commercial shipping and to also defend against seaborne attacks and attempted landings by hostile forces.

The vast majority of seaborne threats against the Sassanian Persian Gulf coastline were posed by Arab seaborne raiders emanating from the southern shores of the Persian Gulf in Arabia. The Arabs posed critical challenges to Iran’s military position in the Persian Gulf region and the south during the early years of Shapur II’s reign (310–379 CE). Driven by economic poverty and famine, Arab tribes from Hajar and Bahrain streamed across the Persian Gulf to attack and plunder the entire southern Iranian coastline from Khuzestan to the port city of Rev Ardashir. According to the Bundahishn, ‘in the reign of Shapur son of Hormuzd, the Arabs came and seized the banks of the River Karun (Ulay) and remained there for many years pillaging and attacking’. Southern coastal regions such as Rev Ardashir, for example, were plundered by Arab raiders who had arrived from the southern regions of the Persian Gulf. These attacks were viewed with special alarm by the spah, which assembled, under Shapur II’s leadership, a striking force at Gur. This army then boarded ships at ports along the Persian coastline that landed first on Bahrain, Ghateef and Yamama to then campaign along the northern Arabian coastline. The campaign in Bahrain was especially bitter, with Shapur II and the spah having to engage in close-quarter combat.173 After clearing the Arabs in Bahrain, Ghateef and Yamama, Shapur II struck deep into the Arabian hinterland, reaching all the way into Yathrib (later named Medina). The spah was overwhelmingly successful in defeating the Arabs, who at the height of their success had even occupied territory in Iran’s southwest. As a result of Shapur II’s military campaign, the Persian Gulf once again became safe for Sassanian maritime commerce, with Charax having been superseded by Astarabadh. Sassanian maritime ascendancy is affirmed by Ammianus Marcellinus who reported that ‘there are numerous towns and villages on every coast and frequent sailings of ships’. It is possible that the military port base at Siraf was built during Shapur II’s reign, in order to guard against future landings by Arab raiders.

By the time of Khosrow I Iranian naval technology had continued to advance, with notable innovations such as a redesigned rig and a system of five to seven sails. Sassanian vessels could now transport up to 700 passengers/troops and crew along with ‘a thousand metric tons of cargo’. The Sassanian navy is reported as having been capable of monitoring the security of Iranian maritime commerce in the Persian Gulf as well as protecting Iran’s southern Persian Gulf coastline against seaborne raids. Sassanian maritime capabilities were to prove vital in confronting a serious military threat during the reign of Khosrow I. The pro-Byzantine Abbysinian occupation of Arabia Felix (near modern Yemen) in 531 CE jeopardized Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf and even exposed Iran’s southern Persian Gulf coastline to naval attacks. The Sassanians could now be faced with a two-front war in which Byzantium could coordinate its land-based assaults into western and northwest Iran/Caucasus region with the naval landings of their Abbysinian allies along the southern Iranian coastline. Khosrow I responded by agreeing to support Yemenite anti-Abbysinian rebels led by Sayf Bin Dhu Yazan. A Sassanian fleet was launched from Iran’s southern ports to transport an expedition force led by Vahriz that landed near Aden. Khosrow I also had plans to secure the fortress of Petra along the Black Sea coast (in modern-day Georgia) to use as a Sassanian naval base on the Black Sea.

As noted by Sami, military ascendancy by the spah and the navy in the Persian Gulf had by the early 600s (1) allowed for a significant expansion in Sassanian maritime commerce far beyond the Persian Gulf; and (2) barred the Romans from dominating the Persian Gulf militarily, politically or economically. The Sassanians certainly displayed their naval capabilities during the long wars between Khosrow II and the Romano-Byzantines. As their armies reached the Mediterranean shores of modern-day Turkey, they built a fleet to attack the Aegean theatre. The Sassanian fleet attacked Constantia (Salamis) in 617 CE and then launched a naval attack against Rhodos (Rhodes) to capture this in 622 CE. The discovery of a hoard of Sassanian coins dated to 623 CE suggests that Samos may also have fallen to a Sassanian naval assault. Had Khosrow I been able to retain Petra and build a Black Sea fleet, the Romano-Byzantines would most likely have faced greater opposition to their naval landings in the Caucasus during Heraclius’ counteroffensives in 622–627 CE. The very long coastline of Armenia and northern Anatolia along the Black Sea allowed Heraclius to coordinate his naval landings in such a way as to allow him to outflank the Sassanian spah. When Heraclius launched his fleet from Constantinople towards the Black Sea’s Caucasian coastline there was no Sassanian navy in place to challenge this force. This allowed Heraclius to land his forces against no opposition in the region of modern day Circassia. Heraclius then linked up with the Khazars in 626 CE to attack the Sassanian region of Albania (modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan) in the Caucasus.

Towards the end of the Sassanian dynasty, however, the Arabs were to take advantage of Sassanian military weaknesses in the aftermath of the Khosrow II-Heraclius wars to invade Iran. Just as the Arabs were pushing into Sassanian Iran, Arab troops arrived by vessels to land along Iran’s southern Persian Gulf coastline to then push into the interior of the realm. The Arab ability to mount sea borne raids into Iran’s Persian Gulf coastline surfaced as late as the eighteenth and nineteenth century during the reigns of Iran’s Zand (1750–1794) and Qajar dynasties (1794–1925). Historically, Arab raids in the pre-Islamic and Islamic eras were made possible in those times when Iran lacked a navy and well-fortified ports an/d coastal bases.

Torpedo Development Before WWII

U.S. Navy Submarine and Aircraft Torpedos developed by the Newport Torpedo Station, Rhode Island, before and during World War II. The upper photograph shows the Mark XIV Mod. 3 type Submarine Steam Torpedo, and the externally identical Mark XXIII type. These torpedos were 20′ 6 long with a diameter of 21. The lower photograph shows the Mark XIII type Aircraft Torpedo, which was also used on Motor Torpedo (PT) Boats. This type of torpedo was 13′ 5 long with a diameter of 22′ 4. A shroud ring was later added around the tail fins of the Mark XIII torpedo. See Photo # NH 82842 for a photograph of a torpedo with this modification. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.


The torpedo now entered a stage of maturity, and concomitantly left behind the great named individuals who had imagined it, conceived it, and brought it to this maturity. From here on the developments would be driven by conflict, and the engineers were simply cogs in the machine. The notable names in this new stage would be those of the users, not the makers. There is the name of just one last designer to retain: on the eve of the Great War Lieutenant F H Sandford invented the pattern-runner. Its introduction, however, would have to wait until the following world war. Also, just before the outbreak of war, the production of British torpedoes was again moved, this time to the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory (RNTF) at Greenock, Scotland.

During the war great use was made of the popular 18in and the newer 21in torpedoes – the latter introduced in 1910 – the smaller sizes being mostly obsolete, and used only for ships’ boats in cutting-out expeditions, such as the attempts to destroy the stranded submarine E 15 in the Dardanelles. However, early RN and German submarines did retain the latest 14in models and, of course, they were the first torpedoes used successfully in drops from aircraft. The German navy introduced an interim calibre, the 50cm, which was 19.7in diameter.

The Allied blockade of Germany resulted in major non-ferric metal shortages, leading to the German occupying troops scavenging lead, brass and copper from houses in Belgium and northern France. This led them to introduce short-term expedients such as the use of cast iron instead of copper for the piping runs of their U-boat diesel engines: confiscated submarines and diesel engines in Allied hands after the Great War would cause their new owners significant problems. Despite this, the Germans concentrated on producing high-quality torpedoes, probably by taking shortcuts elsewhere, as they believed that the submarine torpedo was the decisive weapon that would help them win the war. One side effect, of course, was that they would not be producing Schwartzkopff torpedoes with phosphor-bronze bodies. Bronze would, however, continue to be used to produce U-boat torpedo tubes.

For a similar reason, having designed a stable warhead explosive in hexanite, a mixture of TNT and hexanitrodiphenylamine, the Germans continued with its production to the end of the war. This contrasted with the attitude of the British, who in 1917 were forced to dilute TNT with ammonium nitrate to produce amatol, a slightly inferior quality explosive, due to TNT being required elsewhere.

The fear of the surface torpedo was probably greater than the actual physical damage inflicted on the battle fleets. A far more dangerous development was the sinking of thousands of merchant ships by German U-boats, the majority by the torpedo.

On the Royal Navy side there were many submarine torpedo successes, but doubly galling in view of the relative scarcity of German ship targets, far too many torpedo failures. These were tracked down to inefficient exploders. Fisher became enraged, and declared he would have Assistant Director of Torpedoes Charlton ‘blown from a gun’. The reasons were the same as would reappear in the US Navy nearly thirty years later: a failure to expend expensive torpedoes in live-firing exercises involving the use of warheads against hard targets, as opposed to the standard practice of substituting a practice head. The exploders sometimes failed to go off, and it took a considerable time to find and eradicate the problem.

Thus it was infuriating for the crew of the only ‘K’– class steam submarine which ever drew a bead on a U-boat, to actually hit it with an 18in torpedo, but have it fail to explode. This class thereby failed to kill a single enemy, although accounting for a good number of RN deaths through accidents.

Again, the small, fast and highly manoeuvrable ‘R’ class, the first true hunter-killer submarines, might have made more of an impact, and promoted the future use of this new breed of submarine, had exactly the same thing not happened to one of them, seeing their torpedo hit a U-boat without exploding.

The Germans, for their part, experimented with a very large torpedo of 600mm diameter (23.6in) which they intended as the future armament of their last super-dreadnoughts and cruisers, plus the very large prototype destroyers. Very few were produced, and there is no record of their combat use. There was a proposal for an even larger torpedo, the 70cm (27.6in) J9. They did, however, make considerable advances, introducing remote control of exploding motorboats by radio, and of aerial torpedoes by wire, and they even introduced a magnetic influence exploder, which again would come to maturity late in the following world war.

In 1917 the Germans designed an electric torpedo, capable of a speed of 28 knots over 2000yds. Despite its slow speed, it had several advantages over the thermal-engined types. It was wakeless, giving escort vessels no indication of the location of the U-boat which had fired it. It did not change its mass, as did thermal torpedoes as their air and fuel were used up, so trim remained the same throughout its run. Finally, in an economy geared for war production, the electric torpedo did not require the same amount of highly-skilled man-hours in its construction as did the thermal type: it could be built by less specialised firms. Fortunately, the Armistice intervened before any electric torpedoes were fired in anger by the U-boat fleet.

The Americans produced a small experimental electric torpedo only 71/4in in diameter and some 6ft long, and followed it by a full-size 18in weapon in 1919. Then they lost interest in electric torpedoes for over twenty years. When the USA entered the war in 1917, large numbers of flush-decker destroyers were ordered, and to equip them the firm of Bliss-Leavitt produced over three thousand of their 21in Mark 8 ‘steam’ torpedoes, a production record at the time. These would remain in service with the flush-deckers through to 1945, and many would cross the Atlantic to join the Royal Navy when fifty of these veteran destroyers were delivered to Britain in 1940.


In the early 1920s the USN decided to withdraw the underwater tubes from its battleships, followed by the removal of their above-water tubes, deemed too dangerous in a big-gun battle. Above-water torpedo tubes remained standard fittings on all new cruiser designs, but except for the Omaha-class ships – which could be used in the role of destroyer flotilla leaders as in the IJN – the tubes were removed from all US cruisers in the mid 1930s. This move was not the result of a desire to reduce top-weight, as all the early Treaty cruisers came in under weight, but on the grounds that their tactical deployment did not require them, cruisers being reserved for gunfire support of destroyer flotillas.

Meanwhile, major moves were made in terms of the propulsion units. By the end of the Great War the standard British torpedo engine was a wet-heater four-cylinder radial made of bronze, with integral cylinder barrels and heads as in contemporary automobile practice. Because of the increasing weight of the air flask, required to withstand ever higher pressures, experiments were made with hydrogen peroxide, which needed a lighter containment vessel, to produce oxygen via a catalyst. These developments were shelved by the British, but taken up by the Germans, the Japanese and the Americans in the latter part of the Second World War.

To obtain more power from existing pressure vessels, thought was given to using air enriched with oxygen – up to 57 per cent by weight, or even pure oxygen. The British 21in Mark VII of 1928 was the Royal Navy’s first enriched air torpedo, carried by the London-class heavy cruisers, and this led to the 24.5in Mark 1 installed in the Nelson and Rodney. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, however, due to corrosion problems with the air vessels, both enriched air models were changed to run on normal compressed air.

At around the same time, the British were perfecting the burner-cycle reciprocating engine, which retained the classic four-cylinder radial layout. The bore/stroke ratio of these compact radial units bore little resemblance to the contemporary automobile long-stroke inline reciprocating engine, with its inherent disadvantages of piston friction and heavy, out of balance, reciprocating weights. The radial engine could thus continue to rival the American preference for the turbine engine. The first British torpedo to use the burner-cycle engine was the long-lived Mark VIII for submarine use. It was a modernised model of the Mark VIII which would be fired against the General Belgrano fifty-five years later. The corresponding torpedo for surface ships was the Mark IX.

The Brotherhood burner-cycle engine was fed with compressed air at around 840psi. A small amount of paraffin was atomised in the air and burned. The resultant gas was fed into the cylinders at a temperature of 1000°C, and additional fuel was injected just before the piston reached top dead-centre. The compression caused the fuel mixture to detonate, driving the piston down as in a diesel engine. The exhaust gas was evacuated through ports in the cylinder, but there were also two auxiliary exhaust ports in the piston crown. By 1945 this impressive power unit would have been tuned to produce up to 465bhp, sufficient to propel a 21in torpedo at 50 knots. Plans to run a version of this engine on nitric acid promised to produce 750bhp, but the outbreak of war meant that it was never built.

In 1923 German experiments with electric torpedoes continued in secret in Sweden, and the design was finalised six years later. Since the Versailles treaty banned Germany from possessing submarines, the electric torpedo was held in readiness until Hitler came to power and began repudiating the terms of Versailles.

Magnetic influence exploders had been developed during the Great War, and the Duplex exploder was fitted to Royal Navy torpedoes from 1938. But the old problem of insufficient live-firing tests cropped up, and was to seriously affect their performances. The only navy to carry out large-scale live torpedo firing was the Imperial Japanese navy, which had expended many obsolete warships in tests in the lead-up to the Second World War. The Japanese saw in the torpedo the weapon they needed to give them an edge over the numerically superior US fleet in the Pacific. Japanese war strategy involved wearing down the US Navy in a series of actions across the Pacific Ocean until parity had been reached with the Japanese battle line, when the dreadnoughts would move in for the decisive final battle. A major part of this strategy depended on the torpedo: they set to work to produce the best in the world, and in this they succeeded.

Japanese development of an electric torpedo for submarines began in 1921, inspired by the model the Germans had introduced to their U-boats just prior to the Armistice. The design was finalised by 1925. The 21in torpedo was powered by two 54-cell lead-acid batteries feeding a 95ehp motor. It could run at 28 to 30 knots out to 7000m (7660yds), carrying a 300kg (660lbs) warhead. It became the Type 92 in 1934, but manufacture was suspended, ready for mass production in the event of war.

The Imperial Japanese navy studied other German late war developments, including the 600cm 23.6in torpedo. They had previously tried out the 27.5in Fiume torpedo produced in around 1900, and in 1905 they had ordered 24in torpedoes from Fiume for coastal defence. Now they decided to produce a heavyweight torpedo of their own for the anticipated conflict with the Americans. The result was the 24in Year 8 torpedo of 1919, capable of 38 knots over 10,000m (11,000yds) and carrying a 345kg (759lbs) warhead. Ten years later the 24in Type 90 appeared, capable of 46 knots over 7000m (7660yds) with an explosive charge of 375kg (825lbs).

They had briefly tested oxygen-enriched torpedoes in 1917. Future Admiral Oyagi, during the two years (1926–27) he spent at the Whitehead factory in England, heard rumours that the Royal Navy was fitting oxygen-fuelled 24.5in torpedoes in Rodney and Nelson. In fact the 24.5in Mark 1 originally ran on oxygen-enriched air, but on his return to Japan, Oyagi headed up a team to work on producing a version of the Japanese 24in torpedo to run on 100 per cent oxygen.

There were severe problems to overcome. The oxygen had to be prevented from coming into contact with any of the lubricants in the torpedo mechanism, to avoid the risk of explosion. More serious were the explosions which occurred in the engine combustion chambers as soon as the oxygen and kerosene fuel were injected. The design team overcame this hazard by starting the torpedo on compressed air, stored in a ‘first air bottle’ and only then gradually changing over to pure oxygen. They succeeded in producing a working torpedo, which was designated the Type 93, from the year 2593 in the Japanese calendar when the design was finalised.

The Type 93 oxygen-fuelled engine produced 520 horsepower at 1200rpm, compared with the 240hp of the British 24.5in and the 320hp of the initial Mark VIII. It could run at 49 knots for 20,000m (22,000yds), an exceptional performance. At 36 knots it would reach out to a phenomenal 40,000m (44,000yds). It carried a 490kg (1078lbs) warhead, capable of inflicting devastating damage. And it was practically wakeless. To profit fully from its deadly characteristics the IJN introduced power-reloading gear to their large fleet destroyers, following the provision of multiple reloads on board their cruisers.

Since the Japanese had previously had difficulty in forging the air vessels required for their licence-built Whiteheads, they constructed a special 4000-ton press to forge the body and after end of the flasks for the Type 93 out of steel billets. The air flask forward end cover was fixed with a large copper washer, the internal pressure keeping the joint gas-tight, and the arrangement proved extremely satisfactory.

The Type 93 was too large to be carried in submarines, so a smaller 21in oxygen torpedo was designed for them in 1935, the Type 95. It could run at 49 knots for 9000m (9840yds) and at 45 knots it reached out to 12,000m (13,000yds). The Type 95 carried a 405kg (891lbs) warhead. In 1943 the Model 2 would carry a warhead of 550kg (1210lbs). The Type 95 first air bottles often leaked, and while in the tubes on cruisers and destroyers it was a simple matter to verify the pressure of their oxygen-fuelled torpedoes at regular intervals and, if necessary, top it up, in a submarine this was not so easy, a factor leading to the electric Type 92 being resuscitated.

In 1937 the Japanese designed their third oxygen-fuelled torpedo, this time an even smaller 18in model, the Type 97, designed for midget submarines. It carried a 350kg (770lbs) charge at 45 knots over 5500m (6000yds). The original Type 97 would see action only once, during the attack on Pearl Harbor, as its leaky first air bottles were impossible to check and recharge, since the torpedoes were muzzle-loaded into the tubes before the start of a mission, and the crew had no access to the torpedoes when under way.

The Japanese pre-war torpedo arsenal was completed by the excellent Type 91 aircraft torpedo. They experimented with highspeed torpedoes for destroyers, the two built reaching 56 knots, and also with turbine torpedo engines, but neither development was pursued. Up until 1940 they used round-nosed torpedo heads, but in that year the Italian streamlined torpedo head was introduced and used on all types, with a claimed increase in speed of around 2 knots, with no increase in engine power.

The US Navy produced three new torpedo designs in the 1930s, which would continue to serve throughout the Second World War. The Mark 14 submarine torpedo was designed in 1931, and was a development of the previous Bliss-Leavitt designs. The destroyer version was the Mark 15, which was longer with a larger warhead, but otherwise differed in minor details only.

The US Navy had begun experiments with alternative fuels as early as 1915, and in 1929 had started a research programme at the Naval Research Laboratory. By 1934 they had produced ‘navol’, a concentrated solution of hydrogen peroxide in water to provide an oxygen source, burning alcohol as fuel. The projected Mark 17 Navol torpedo for destroyers was interrupted by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the urgent need to produce torpedoes of the existing types.

Battle of Surigao Strait

The Japanese battleship Fusō, was a part of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the pilot ship of the Fusō-class. She was laid down by the Kure Kaigun Koshō on 11 March 1912, launched on 28 March 1914 and finished on 18 November 1915. Her 356 mm (14 in) main gun turrets were placed in an unorthodox 2-1-1-2 style (with her sister ship Yamashiro having her third turret reversed when compared to Fusō) and with a funnel separating the middle turret placement. This display was not entirely successful as the armoured section was needlessly lengthened and the middle guns had trouble targeting. Nevertheless, Fusō’s relatively fine hull form allowed her to reach a speed of 22 kn (41 km/h; 25 mph).

At 2:11 AM, October 25, 1944 Nishimura ordered his ships into battle formation for the dash up the strait. As they did so, another group of PT boats sprinted in from the southeast, hurling six torpedoes at the Japanese. The torpedoes all missed. Nishimura’s ships steamed on at 20 knots.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was one of the four separate actions known collectively as the Battle of Leyte Gulf As part of their ‘Sho-I’ plan the Japanese had sent two detachments under Vice Admiral Nishimura (designated Force ‘C’ of the 1st Striking Force and the 2nd Striking Force) towards Surigao Strait. Force ‘C’ included the battleships IJN Fusō and IJN Yamashiro, and the heavy cruiser IJN Mogami, while the 2nd Striking Force under Vice Admiral Shima had only three heavy cruisers. Their objective was the American amphibious forces of Samar, which were to be attacked in conjunction with Tice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s 1st Striking Force, comprising the battleships IJN Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna (Forces ‘A’and ‘B’).

At 2:11 AM, October 25, 1944 Nishimura ordered his ships into battle formation for the dash up the strait. As they did so, another group of PT boats sprinted in from the southeast, hurling six torpedoes at the Japanese. The torpedoes all missed. Nishimura’s ships steamed on at 20 knots.

Now came Captain Coward’s Desron 54. The sea was glassy and the temperature about 80 degrees Farenheit, and only the wind made by the tin cans’ speed brought relief to the men topside. All hands were served coffee and sandwiches after midnight.

Moving in two flanking groups south through the strait, Coward’s five destroyers plotted the Japanese approach with their radar. At 2:58 AM, Shigure illuminated Coward’s eastern group with a searchlight, and Coward assigned targets as his tin cans cranked up to 30 knots for an attack. His plan was to use torpedoes only, so as not to give away his ships’ positions with gun flashes. At 3 AM, the American destroyers loosed 27 torpedoes at a range of 11,500 yards at the Japanese.

As the torpedoes powered through the water, Fusō opened up with her 14-inch guns at a surface target for the first time in her life. Petty Officer Hideo Ogawa removed cordite charges from flash-proof storage canisters and loaded them onto the powder-cage elevator, and at 3:07 Fusō let loose at her targets. Japanese shells flew at the American destroyers. A minute later, two American torpedoes from Melvin slammed into Fusō’s starboard side with towering explosions and cascades of water. The dreadnought slowed down and began listing to starboard.

The starboard boiler rooms flooded rapidly. The dreadnought sheered out of line, her starboard side blazing. Incredibly, her skipper, Rear Admiral Masami Ban, did not radio a damage report-he may have been unable to do so or coping with too many crises at once- and her companions continued steaming north. Mogami slipped into the position Fusō vacated. Nishimura was unaware that he had just lost 50 percent of his dreadnought strength and pressed on, radioing orders to an unresponsive Fusō.

Coward’s destroyers charged in, illuminated by a Japanese parachute flare from one of Yamashiro’s floatplanes. As their torpedoes streaked off, Chief Petty Officer Virgil Rollins, manning McDermut’s No. 2 torpedo mount, calmly remarked, “It is about time for something to happen.”

At that instant, 3:20 AM, explosions and fireballs lit up the night. Two torpedoes crashed into Yamagumo’s port side, and the destroyer exploded immediately, the blast seen as far away as Oldendorf’s battleships. The hits apparently cooked off Yamagumo’s torpedoes, and the destroyer sank rapidly.

The destruction was only beginning. At 3:22, a torpedo slammed into Yamashiro’s port side. At 3:25, Asagumo took a torpedo hit forward. A startling vibration shook up Chief Engineer Tokichi Ishii. He phoned the bridge to find out what was going on but got no answer. Seconds later, a runner from the bridge appeared bearing word from the skipper, Commander Kazuo Shibayama, to check on a torpedo hit to the port bow. At the same time, torpedoes smacked into Asagumo. She rapidly took on water, her bows shredded.

The Japanese now had only one battleship, one cruiser, and one destroyer ready to hit back, and as Michishio prepared to launch torpedoes, she suddenly heaved and shuddered violently, slowing to a dead halt, the recipient of more American torpedoes from McDermut and Monssen. All power on the Japanese destroyer went out, and the machinery spaces began flooding rapidly.

For the American destroyers, it was a grand slam unmatched in nautical history: three Japanese destroyers and a battleship crippled by a single onslaught of torpedoes. Oldendorf’s report on the attack was blunt and accurate: “Brilliantly conceived and well executed.”

In the strait, Japanese warships blazed and began to founder. On Yamashiro’s flag bridge, Nishimura tried to make sense of the rapidly unfolding disaster. He reported by radio to his superiors: “Enemy DDs and torpedo boats are stationed at the northern entrance to Surigao Strait. Two of our DDs have received torpedo damage and are drifting. Yamashiro has been hit by one torpedo, but her battle integrity is not impaired.”

Tokyo got the word. So did USS Denver, which picked up the message at 3 AM. It clearly indicated that Nishimura was losing control of the situation. He seemed to assume that Fusō was still following him. The surviving Japanese pressed on.

On Fusō’s bridge, Rear Admiral Ban took stock of disastrous damage control reports: “No. 1 powder and shell magazines filling with water … the ship making only 10 knots … her bow drooping into the water … communications out.” At 3:20, Fusō wobbled onto a westerly course.

Nishimura’s force continued north. The next set of picadors was Captain Kenmore McManes’s Destroyer Squadron 24 (Desron 24), which included HMAS Arunta, her white ensigns snapping in the wind. Unlike seadogs of old, McManes fought this battle not from his flag bridge but in his combat information center hunched over a radar screen. McManes cranked his ships up to 25 knots, and at 3:23 AM, Arunta opened up with five torpedoes.

USS Killen launched her fish a minute later, all aimed at Shigure and Yamashiro. At 3:31, one of Killen’s torpedoes smacked into Yamashiro’s port side amidships. The battleship began to list to port and cut speed to a perilously slow five knots. Determined damage control on the dreadnought patched the holes, and soon Yamashiro was back at a decent 18 knots.

South of the flagship, Fusō was in agony, still moving on a wobbly course, probably trying to beach on Kanihaan Island. But the ship was so far down at the bow, Chief Engineer Captain Eiichi Nakaya could not maintain navigability. In No. 1 turret, Yasuo Kato saw water flooding in from the hatch above him. Kato sent a messenger to the bridge to report his predicament. The messenger saluted, scrambled out of the listing turret, and was back moments later. He could not walk the deck. It was spouting steam, oil, and seawater.

Below Kato, Hideo Ogawa and his pals watched seawater trickle into their space. The turret captain ordered Ogawa and 10 of his buddies to evacuate upward. They climbed into the projectile room above, closing the steel hatch behind them to preserve watertight integrity. Once there, Ogawa and his shipmates kept climbing, joining 15 more men to evacuate through another steel door of the hoist. Then came orders from the bridge: all hands of No. 1 and No. 2 turrets were to assemble at the center starboard upper deck as reserves for damage control.

McManes and his tin cans of Desron 24 were still harrying Nishimura’s battered ships. Radar screens were full of pips, from both friend and foe. While the Americans held the initiative, the Japanese fought back. Asagumo fired torpedoes at USS Daly, which sizzled just under the American’s bow.

The sound and fury in this portion of the engagement signified nothing as both sides missed each other, but Fusō’s nightmare was coming to an end. Hideo Ogawa watched his ship’s forecastle slide underwater. Crewmen struggled out of No. 1 turret onto the slanting foredeck, her gunhouse parting the seas with its shield. Yasuo Kato wiggled out of the turret and was struck by the fact that “complete silence prevailed on our ship.”

Then the thin sound of gurgling water and the distant rumble of explosions were broken by the strident notes of a bugle blaring “Abandon Ship!” Kato and his buddies started jumping into the water. As they hit the Surigao Strait, they heard a grinding clatter. Everyone looked up and saw Fusō’s bridge tilt “at an angle of 45 degrees to the left and [make] a terrible noise … it hit the water with a huge splash.”

With her bow submerged, Fusō was listing heavily to starboard. Suddenly she corkscrewed to port and upended. Kato, who had scrambled over the starboard rail, had found himself standing on the hull’s side and sliding along the blister. When Fusō spun to port he was flung into the sea on his back. He swam away.

Finally the old battleship rolled over and sank, spewing out unstable Borneo oil from her tanks, turning the sea into a gooey and deadly slime, trapping sailors. As the oil spread, it connected with flaming wreckage and started new fires. The hissing sound created by the fires reminded Ogawa of “roasting beans.” Sailors caught in the goo were killed in the inferno.

Fusō had sunk within 15 minutes of being torpedoed, between 3:40 and 3:50 AM. She went to the bottom of Surigao Strait, taking most of her crew of 1,630 officers and men with her. Only a mere 10 members of the old battleship’s crew would survive. As Fusō departed the scene, so did Michishio, at about 3:38 AM, sinking into the strait. Only four members of her crew survived.

The final line of defence was Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf’s Battle Line of six old batteships, USS Tennessee, West Virginia, Mississippi, Maryland, California and Pennsylvania. Five of them were veterans of Pearl Harbor, but all had been refitted with the latest fire-control and radar. Fire was opened by the Tennessee and West Virginia at 20850 m (22,800 yards), followed shortly afterwards by the flagship Mississippi and the Maryland.

For a while the Yamashiro seemed impervious to the hurricane of fire which lashed her as the controlled broadsides rumbled on. She had already been hit by a torpedo but had signalled, ‘Yamashiro has one torpedo hit, not handicapped in ability to fight.’ Then another destroyer torpedo hit her and slowed her down to 5 kts, and three of her six twin 356-mm (14-in) turrets had already been knocked out.

Oldendorf now turned his Battle Line to enable him to cross Nishimura’s ‘T’, the classic battleship maneuver, No ship could withstand such a pounding, and eyewitnesses described the Yamashiro as burning like a furnace. She finally rolled over and sank with all hands. There was nothing left for the battleships to do, for the destroyers and aircraft finished off Shima’s 2nd Striking Force, sinking all surviving cruisers and destroyers.

At 04:25, Shima’s two cruisers (Nachi and Ashigara) and eight destroyers reached the battle. Seeing what they thought were the wrecks of both Nishimura’s battleships (actually the two halves of Fusō), he ordered a retreat. His flagship, Nachi, collided with Mogami, flooding the latter’s steering-room. Mogami fell behind in the retreat and was sunk by aircraft the next morning. The bow half of Fusō was destroyed by Louisville and the stern half sank off Kanihaan Island. Of Nishimura’s seven ships, only Shigure survived.

Washington Naval Treaty – Winners and Losers

Two of the French Navy’s early treaty cruisers at Toulon during the early 1930s. The ship on the left is either Duquesne or Tourville; the cruiser on the right is Suffren. The two early ships were virtually unprotected, whereas the later Suffren had a narrow 50mm waterline belt over her machinery. She can be identified here by the twin aircraft catapults abaft the second funnel.


The United States attained most of its objectives at Washington: nominal parity with the world’s premier naval power, the British Empire; the termination of a financially unsustainable naval arms race at a point which favoured the US Navy; an end to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, together with a statutory margin of superiority (a ratio of 10:6) over the Imperial Japanese Navy in the crucial capital ship category; and a set of ancillary treaties backed by all the major European powers which would hopefully restrain Japanese expansionism on the Asian mainland. The only major concession was the agreement not to build new military bases (nor to fortify existing ones) in the Philippines or on Guam. This would make the defence of the latter territories against an attack by Japan more difficult, and would imply the despatch of a large expeditionary fleet supported by an array of auxiliary vessels across the broad expanses of the Pacific in the event of conflict.

The United States was a colonial power only by default, not by intention or inclination; Guam had been inherited and the Philippines purchased cheaply following the successful outcome of the war against Spain in 1898. The United States, unlike its co-signatories of the Washington Treaty, was also a nation rich in natural resources. It required only markets overseas for its manufactured goods, hence its espousal of free trade as the first principle of international relations. The great European colonial empires, on the other hand, were predicated on the need not just for markets but for the raw materials from which to produce their manufactured goods. It was the scramble for colonies in Africa and Asia which at the turn of the century had become the focus of European rivalry, whereas it was the conflict between imperialism (which implied exclusive or protected markets) and the principle of free trade which would continue to create tensions between the United States and the other powers, particularly Japan. During the 1930s an increasingly isolationist United States would attempt to resolve the strategic problem presented by the defence of the Philippines by preparing to grant that nation full independence, with its own armed forces. This would enable US security to be focused on the Alaska/Hawaii/Panama triangle favoured by the Republican administration of President Herbert Hoover.

The immense distances involved in naval operations in the Pacific: 5,000 miles or more from the West Coast of the United States to the Western Pacific, 3,000 miles from Pearl Harbor. In the period which followed the Great War the US Navy planned to develop Guam as a forward naval base. Guam could protect US interests both in the Philippines and in China, and has been compared to ‘a lancet pointed to Japan’s side’.1 Under the terms of the Washington Treaty, the USA renounced its right to develop and fortify Guam in return for Japanese acceptance of a 5:3 ratio in capital ships. The US Navy now had to accept that any military expedition to the Western Pacific would have to be conducted by large warships with great endurance, and these would have to be supported by a ‘fleet train’ of supporting vessels and large floating docks. Successive Republican administrations, the natural instincts of which were isolationist, would focus America’s defence on a Pearl Harbor/Alaska/Panama ‘strategic triangle’ which was essentially defensive in its orientation. Britain was compelled to choose between Australia and Singapore for its own forward defensive base, and opted for the latter primarily because it guarded the gateway to the Indian Ocean. This, however, left Hong Kong, halfway between Singapore and the Japanese home islands, out on a limb. Although the intention of Article XIX of the treaty was to make the Western Pacific a ‘zone of peace’, it also had the effect of making Japan the dominant military power in the region.


The British came home from Washington shaken, but having nevertheless secured an end to a naval arms race the country simply could not afford, as well as a network of treaties which on the face of it appeared to guarantee the international stability necessary for the security of the British Empire. However, numerous concessions had had to be made from what was essentially a position of economic and political weakness. The Washington Treaty marked an end to British naval supremacy, leaving Britain with less leverage when dealing with other powers. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was dead, which meant that the Imperial Japanese Navy, built largely with British expertise and assistance, would no longer be able to ‘mind the shop’ in South-east Asia on Britain’s behalf. On the contrary, with Britain’s decision to align herself more closely with the United States, Japan became a potential threat to her possessions in South-east Asia and to the dominions of Australia and New Zealand. These territories could now be defended only by the despatch of a large expeditionary fleet to Singapore, which would have to be further developed (at considerable expense) as a major base. However, whereas the expeditionary fleet envisaged by US policy would be the main US Fleet based on Pearl Harbor, any such British fleet would have to be transferred from the British Isles or from the Mediterranean, and such a transfer could take place only if there were a stable political situation in Europe. The 5:5:3 ratio (for Britain–USA–Japan) agreed at Washington made it impossible for Britain to have material superiority in both European waters and the Far East, and the growing crisis in Europe during the late 1930s would compel Britain to back-track on its assurances to the South Pacific dominions. By May 1939, the fleet to be dispatched had become a fleet, and the journey time had been extended from forty days to ninety days – by September the Chiefs of Staff were informing the military authorities in Malaya that it could be six months!

The British delegation also failed to secure the total abolition of submarines it had set out to achieve. In this they were unable to convince the French, who were adamant that they needed submarines to compensate for their inferiority in capital ships, or the Americans and Japanese, who were interested in developing submersibles based on the German ‘cruiser’ models for strategic scouting in the broad expanses of the Pacific. The British also lost their fight to preserve the G3 battlecruiser programme, these ships being so far beyond the new limits on displacement as to be unacceptable to the other contracting powers. However, they did secure permission to build two new 16in-gun battleships within the new limits, to counterbalance the Japanese and American 16in-gun ships already building.

Intransigent French resistance to other proposals at the Conference also indirectly benefited the Royal Navy. The United States failed in its efforts to extend the ratio agreed for capital ships to other categories. This meant that there was no legal restriction on the size of the force of cruisers that Britain could keep in service to police her large empire – the current requirement, set on the advice of Admiral John Jellicoe following his tour of the Empire in 1919–20, was for seventy. Unfortunately for the Royal Navy, the high level at which the qualitative limits were set for this type of vessel (10,000 tons with 8in guns) would ensure that the new ‘treaty’ cruisers were unaffordable in the numbers required. This would drive the British to seek a reduction in those limits at both Geneva 1927 and London 1930; it would also compel Britain to accept quantitative limits which effectively restricted the Royal Navy to fifty cruisers at the latter conference to secure an agreement with the United States and Japan.


Although Japan had ambitions to become a great power, and had made immense strides in that direction during the early part of the century, her industrial infrastructure was not yet fully developed, and her people were regarded by the European imperial powers and by the United States as racial inferiors. Despite her powerful modern navy, Japan therefore lacked the necessary economic and political ‘clout’ to secure a favourable outcome at the Washington Conference. Moreover, the IJN delegation to the Washington Conference was divided by personal and political antagonisms. The experienced navy minister, Kato Tomosaburo, who headed the delegation, held to the view that an arms race with the United States was not in Japan’s interest, and was inclined to accept the 6:10 ratio in capital ships offered in return for concessions on the basing of foreign warships close to Japan. However, this ran counter to the views of the ‘Young Turk’ element in the IJN, who opposed any constraint on the development of the navy and who regarded a 7:10 ratio as the minimum compatible with Japan’s security. The insistence on this 7:10 ratio by the younger Kato Kanji, president of the Staff College and chief naval aide at Washington, split the Japanese delegation and ensured that the treaty would never be accepted by the increasingly influential nationalist faction of the IJN.

Some concessions were obtained by Japan, notably the completion of the 16-inch battleship Mutsu, and the non-fortification of naval bases in the Western Pacific, which gave the IJN uncontested naval superiority in East Asian waters. However, the new imperial defence policy drafted in 1922 and published in 1923 would establish the United States as the most likely hypothetical enemy for the army and the navy, and both services would come to regard war as inevitable given US economic expansion in China and anti-Japanese agitation on the US West Coast. Japan would eventually abandon the treaty in 1936, the first of the five contracting powers so to do.

France and Italy

The Italians were quite happy with the outcomes of the conference. The wheeling and dealing on the Pacific theatre, which were fundamental to the key political negotiations for the other major powers, were peripheral to Italian interests, and Italy was flattered by the offer of parity in capital ships with France,2 an offer which constituted a recognition of her recent efforts to build a powerful modern fleet. Italy now had the naval means to support her long-standing colonial ambitions in North Africa, which would ultimately bring her into conflict with Britain and France.

The French, on the other hand, were devastated. The Marine Nationale could not be renewed during the Great War because the workforce in the dockyards had been redirected into the manufacture of guns and munitions for the French Army. By 1918 the Marine Nationale comprised a large and obsolescent fleet of predominantly pre-dreadnought vintage, fit only for the scrapyard. This was the status quo with which the unholy Anglo-Saxon alliance of Britain and the United States confronted the French at Washington. The resulting treaty placed France well below Japan in the permitted tonnage of capital ships (a ratio of nine ships to five), and on a par with the Italian Fleet. This was seen as incompatible with French security obligations. The French Empire stretched from the West Indies to the south-west Pacific, via Africa, the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia, and was second only to the British Empire in scale and importance. French Indochina was even closer to Japan than Malaya and Singapore (and in 1941–42, ironically, would become the platform for the invasion of both). Moreover, France was traditionally a major European power, straddling both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Italy, by contrast, was a relatively new country whose navy needed to operate only in neighbouring waters.

When the French delegation returned to France with the treaty, there was considerable anger at the humiliation inflicted by ‘perfidious Albion’ and its American cousins, and much heated debate took place in the French Parliament before the Washington Treaty was reluctantly ratified in 1923. This made the French even more determined to fend off the inevitable attempts by the other major powers to extend the ratios agreed for capital ships to other categories, particularly cruisers and submarines. The latter types would increasingly take on the role of the defence of French trade and the empire.

In truth France’s humiliation was a result of economic exhaustion in the wake of the Great War. When the Marine Nationale finally embarked on its programme of renewal it found that it could neither afford all the ships it wanted – of the twenty-one treaty cruisers requested post-Washington only seven were built – nor find the shipbuilding or military-industrial capacity to deliver them within the contracted time.


Such then were the successes and disappointments which the delegations took away with them in unequal measure from the conference to their respective countries. The following chapters will consider in detail the effects of the Washington Treaty on the subsequent development of the five navies in terms both of their strategic posture and of the ships they chose to design and build within the constraints of the treaty.

Kublai Khan’s Naval Power

Reconstructions of a 13th century Chinese ocean-going ships of the kind described by Marco Polo, remains of which have been found at Quanzou. Such vessels had thirteen watertight compartments, a crew of over one hundred and fifty men and a stern rudder which, though also known in the Muslim world, was as yet rare in Europe. These were the ships that took Kublai Khan’s invading armies to Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Conquest of Southern China

In 1264 Kublai Khan turned once again to the conquest of the Sung in what was to prove the greatest military achievement of his career. By his side were two skilled generals who already had considerable experience of fighting against the southern Chinese. These were the Mongol Bayan, son of Kublai’s old comrade Uriyangkhadai, and the Uighur Arigh Khaya. Once more Kublai ensured a carefully planned and meticulous campaign. It would be his own private war and he wanted to take southern China intact, not as a wasteland. Chinese aristocrats who offered loyalty to the new regime were left in possession of their lands. Cities were not sacked and destruction of agriculture was kept to a minimum. Nevertheless the Sung were once again to be the Mongols’ most formidable foes.

Mongol troops still faced particular problems in southern China. There remained the perennial problems of parasites, disease and unsuitable terrain for large-scale cavalry warfare. Even the Mongols’ hardy steppe ponies suffered from the hot, humid climate and there was virtually no open grazing to feed them. Mongol losses rose alarmingly and gaps in the ranks had to be filled with native Chinese levies, most of whom were infantry. At first these troops were despised by their Mongol overlords but they rapidly proved themselves to be not only hardy fighters but better able to cope with the debilitating climate. Progress was, however, painfully slow. The Sung capital of Hangchow fell only in 1276 and it took a further three years for Sung resistance finally to end. Attitudes were also different from what they had been in Genghis Khan’s day. Prisoners were usually treated moderately well and Kublai did all that he could to encourage defections from the Sung side. This was particularly successful where the powerful Sung navy was concerned, a vital factor in a war where ships provided communication and transport not only around the coast but up the broad rivers of southern China.

Meanwhile Bayan proved himself a master of siege warfare, a branch of the military art in which the nomad Mongols had now become world leaders. The most epic siege was that of Hsiang-yang, which lasted no less than five years and was to be the turning point in Kublai’s conquest of southern China. Hsiang-yang was held by one of the most tenacious of Sung commanders, Lü Wen-huan. Because the city stood on the banks of the wide Han river, the Mongols had to use their new-found nautical skills in an attempt to stop Sung supplies and reinforcements from reaching the garrison. Even if this could be achieved, and even if all overland relief efforts could be defeated, Hsiang-yang would eventually have to be stormed. To keep casualties to a minimum the Mongols therefore needed the very best available siege artillery. Experts were recruited throughout the Mongol Empire, from northern China, Korea and even from far distant Muslim Iraq. Meanwhile many battles were fought in the surrounding countryside and on the Han river, but still the city did not fall, for the Sung realized that the fate of their kingdom hung upon that of Hsiang-yang. The Mongol noose steadily tightened but a full-scale assault remained a very hazardous option. Newer, bigger siege machines were erected and an almost constant bombardment was maintained until, late in March 1273, Lü Wen-huan at last surrendered.

The loss of Hsiang-yang was a devastating blow to Sung morale. City after city now fell, until at last Kublai Khan’s armies closed around the Sung capital of Hangchow itself. This, the so-called Venice of the East, had a huge population, an enormous garrison, mighty walls, stone towers in nearly every street and a network of urban canals said to be spanned by 12000 bridges. It was a besiegers’ nightmare! By this time, January 1276, the old Sung Emperor had died, a child was on the throne and the land was ruled by the widowed Empress Dowager. General Bayan had a long list of victories to his credit, yet even he must have felt relieved when the Empress Dowager agreed to hand over the Sung Imperial Seal in an unmistakable symbol of surrender – Hangchow would not have to be besieged after all. Instead of a Mongol sack and massacre, Kublai’s officers made a peaceful yet triumphant entry into the ancient Sung capital. There they proceeded to collect all official seals, the finest works of art, books and maps to be sent to the Great Khan’s court.

Despite the Empress Dowager’s surrender, the Chinese of the deep south kept up the struggle. The last flicker of resistance was by a Sung fleet, aboard which was a nine-year old boy, Ti-ping, the last Sung Emperor. Even after the Mongols had captured every port along the coast this heroic fleet fought on from bases in coastal islands. But now the Mongols also had a navy of their own and on 19th March 1279 the enemy was trapped near Yai-shan. Only nine Sung ships broke out. That of the little Emperor was not among them. They say that the Sung admiral took the child in his arms and, shouting out ‘An Emperor of the Sung chooses death rather than imprisonment!’ leapt into the sea, drowning both himself and the boy ruler. With this, the final defeat of the Sung, Kublai Khan reunited China for the first time since the fall of the T’ang dynasty in the tenth century. Despite a turbulent history, mainland China has never since lost this unity. To the Mongols, Kublai had achieved a long-cherished dream, for

Kublai Khan inherited a powerful fleet from the defeated Sung of southern China. This he used to conquer the coastal islands, reduce piracy and attempt to force his suzereinty on distant lands which had once paid tribute to China. Chinese naval power and overseas trade had, in fact, grown enormously under the Sung, while there had been dramatic advances in naval technology. Some resulted from the influence of Arab ships arriving from Iraq, southern Arabia and Egypt, while others were purely Chinese developments that in turn influenced the naval technology of the Islamic world. Flourishing shipyards could now be found in Hangchow, Canton, Ming-Chou and Wen-chou. The Sung even had special government departments dealing with river patrols and coastal defence. All this was now available to Kublai Khan who had already established a rudimentary navy in northern China, as well as being able to draw upon Korean maritime resources.

Mongol nomads took to the sea with remarkable alacrity, just as the desert-dwelling Arabs had done during their period of empire building six centuries earlier. In fact a number of Arabs played a leading role in the development of Kublai Khan’s navy. One came from a long-established merchant family resident in Kuang-Chou. He is known only by the Chinese version of his name, P’u Shou-keng. This merchant first rose to become the Sung’s Superintendent of Maritime Trade and was later promoted as Kublai’s military commander of the vital coastal provinces of Fukien and Kwantung. Despite their humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese – which were largely a result of the weather being on Japan’s side – the Great Khan’s navy achieved some remarkable results.

The effectiveness of Kublai Khan’s military organization is shown, not in his over-ambitious forays across the sea or into the steaming jungles of south-east Asia, but in triumphant campaigns like that against the Sung of southern China. This had demanded far greater planning and logistical skill than any earlier Mongol conquest. Many of these massive and far-reaching campaigns required not only Mongol cavalry but the close coordination of such horsemen with Chinese infantry, not to mention the more-than-supporting role played by Kublai Khan’s newly formed Mongol navy. Contemporaries certainly recognized the Great Khan’s military capabilities. Marco Polo said he was ‘brave and daring in action, but in point of judgement and military skill he was considered to be the most able and successful commander that ever led the Tartars [Mongols] to battle.’

Chinese ships of this period also deserve mention, if only because archaeology has again confirmed Marco Polo’s description of both the design and huge size of the Khan’s ships. This Venetian traveller was, of course, an expert on shipping, and he stated that the largest vessels needed a crew of up to three hundred men. They were much larger than anything seen in Europe and also had a sophisticated internal structure of watertight compartments, making them much harder to sink. A ship of this kind, dating from around 1277, was found near Quanzhou, the medieval Zaitun, in 1973 . She was an ocean-going vessel with a deep keel and had originally been around one hundred and twelve feet long. Judging from the remains of her cargo the ship was returning from the East Indies when she was wrecked. Though only four weapons were found aboard this peaceful trading craft, comparable vessels sailed the pirate-infested eastern oceans as far as Sri Lanka, Arabia and perhaps east Africa. Others carried Kublai Khan’s troops to the shores of Japan, Indo-China, Java and, according to a probably legendary source, even the Philippines.

Kublai’s invasion of the distant island of Java was even more dramatic, if somewhat pointless. Ostensibly it was in retaliation for the mutilation of another of the Great Khan’s envoys, but in reality it probably had more to do with control of the rich spice trade of the Molucca island, which both states coveted. In 1293 , using the experience painfully gained against Japan and in Indochina, Kublai Khan sent a force of 20000 men under Mongol, Chinese and Uighur generals to the eastern end of Java. Armed with a year’s supply of grain and huge amounts of silver to purchase local supplies, they joined a Javanese rebel force to defeat the local king. But the Mongols’ Javanese ally then turned against them and forced them to abandon the island. All that they gained from this spectacular expedition were a few shiploads of spices, perfumes, incense, ivory, rhinoceros horns, maps and a register of the local population – hardly enough even to cover campaign expenses.