The French Navy 1914-18

The French navy had emerged from the nineteenth century with what was contemptuously dubbed “a fleet of samples,” the reflection of a confused naval policy resulting from the constant turmoil caused by politics or surrounding the debate over the theories of the Jeune École. The French had seemed on the road to recovery with the passage of the naval law of 1900, which would have provided for a fleet of 28 battleships, 24 armored cruisers, 52 destroyers, 263 torpedo boats, and 38 submarines.27 The law appeared to establish a firm plan for the future, including the construction of homogeneous classes. Unfortunately the minister of marine from June 1902 to January 1905 in the government of the noted radical Emile Combes was Camille Pelletan, another radical who revived the controversies of the late nineteenth century in his attempt to democratize the navy. Pelletan retarded construction of the battleship program, for he was another believer in “cheaper” naval means, such as torpedo boats and submarines. Submarines may have been the weapon of the future, but they were no substitutes for a balanced fleet, and Pelletan played havoc with the naval program at the very moment the dreadnought-type warship was to come into service. French construction fell far behind in both quantity and quality of capital ships. The French built six semidreadnought Danton-class battleships while the other navies were building real dreadnoughts. The first French dreadnoughts were not laid down until 1910, which was not only well after the British and Germans but after the first dreadnoughts of their Mediterranean rivals as well.

The French navy returned to the proper course with a pair of able naval ministers, Vice Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère and Théophile Delcassé, and the naval law of 1912 provided for a French fleet by 1920 of 28 first-class battle ships, 10 scout cruisers, 52 destroyers, 10 ships for overseas stations, and 94 submarines. The French accelerated this program in 1913 with newer and larger dreadnought classes, but none were ever completed. When war broke out, the French had only two dreadnoughts in service and two still completing their trials. Eight more had been laid down, of which only three were completed. The French had a relatively large number of armored cruisers, but these were big, vulnerable targets, expensive to man, too slow for real cruiser work, and too weak to stand up to real battleships. The program’s scout cruisers also had not been laid down yet—they were scheduled for 1917—and the French suffered severely from lack of this type, which proved invaluable to the British and Germans in the North Sea. Lapeyrère, who followed his term as minister by commanding the 1ère Armée Navale—the major French fleet in the Mediterranean—from 1911 to 1915, also complained of the quality of the destroyers. And many of the submarines were outmoded, their achievements during the war a disappointment despite the gallantry of their crews. To compound their difficulties, the French had the problem of unstable powder, which caused the loss of two battleships before it was solved. The Austrians and Italians had a real chance to catch up, at least on paper. On the other hand, the French retained an advantage in older classes of warships.

On the eve of the war the French navy numbered:

Many of the older ships or smaller torpedo boats or submarines were of little value, suitable only for local defense. In realistic terms, in a fleet action the major French force in the Mediterranean—the 1ère Armée Navale—would probably include:

Once again it is difficult to predict how many of the older battleships and protected cruisers would actually have been included.

France’s first dreadnought-type battleships, designed to counter Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Courbet class (Courbet, France, Jean Bart I, and Paris, completed 1913-1914) had a curiously predreadnought appearance with their high freeboards and five funnels. But they were turbine-driven, carried 12-inch guns, were much larger than their immediate predecessors, and in some cases were even more long-legged than their RN contemporaries. All four units served in the Mediterranean, where the Austrian submarine U-12 torpedoed Jean Bart in its wine store, although it survived this cruel blow. Courbet sank the Austrian cruiser Zenta on 16 August 1914.

France also produced few cruisers in the years leading up to 1908, although the reason for the stagnation in construction was not the result of perceived strategic requirements. The decline of the French cruiser program was the result of the confusion in strategic thought that stemmed from the ideological conflict of the late nineteenth century between the Jeune École, which held to a navy of smaller ships no larger than cruisers, and traditionalists, who believed in a navy centered on battleships. It was also a product of the frequent changes of ministers of marine, each with a program that differed from the previous administration. Cruiser construction and the French Navy as a whole consequently experienced a period of decline.

Between 1896 and 1911, the French Navy slipped from the second most powerful to fourth place. Even so, five armored cruisers were laid down between 1905 and 1908. Only one, Jules Michelet, was completed before the end of 1908. This 13,105-ton ship was essentially a larger version of the Leon-Gambetta-class. This vessel and those that remained on the stocks by the end of this period would be the last French cruisers built until 1922. Although the French Navy would experience a revival after 1909 with the appointment of Vice Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrere as minister of marine, his program did not yield cruisers. The building schedule set out by Lapeyrere called for the completion of 10 scout cruisers by 1920, but this plan was greatly disrupted due to the onset of World War I in 1914.

By 1892, France had experimented heavily with the torpedo and built large numbers of torpedo boats as a consequence of Jeune École thought. Among the types pursued by the French, in tandem with the continued construction of torpedo boats, was a design for a ship that was much like the British Havock. France’s first true destroyers were the four ships of the Durandal class that were launched between 1899 and 1900. The hull of Durandal measured 188 feet, 8 inches by 20 feet, 8 inches by 10 feet, 5 inches and displaced 296 tons; its appearance resembled that of the British boats through its turtleback bow. Its armament consisted of one 2.5-inch gun and six 1.8-inch weapons as well as two 15-inch torpedo tubes. Like all of France’s first destroyers, the ship was equipped with triple-expansion engines that produced a maximum speed of 26 knots.

The intended use of the Durandal-class destroyers was ambiguous owing to chaos in the strategic planning of French naval officials by the turn of the century. The influence of the Jeune École had declined somewhat, but debate raged between advocates of it and traditionalists who based naval power on numbers of capital ships. As a result, the intended purpose of the early destroyers wavered between the Jeune École’s commerce warfare and the concept of protection of battleships as succeeding ministers of marine pursued their own policy on how best to combat Britain in time of war. Nevertheless, the general value of torpedo craft did not waver and resulted in the launching between 1899 and 1902 of another three classes of destroyers that numbered a total of 32 ships. Regardless of their purpose, these ships and the torpedo boats in existence continued to pose a threat to Britain.

From 1902 to 1908, the French Navy, which had been eclipsed in numbers by Germany in 1905, launched 23 more destroyers. The relatively small number in comparison to other naval powers was partially the result of construction delays that plagued French shipyards in this period. These destroyers were not wellsuited to action at sea as their hulls were very lightly built. This design aspect was the result of a French belief at the time that destroyers were primarily coastal defense vessels.

The one significant French destroyer class in this period was the Branlebas class. The 10 ships of this group, launched between 1907 and 1908, were equipped with deck armor. This was a very unusual feature in destroyers due to their relatively small hulls in comparison to capital ships that did not allow for such an increase in weight. Nevertheless, the French were among the most technologically innovative of the age and managed to incorporate it. Their armor consisted of .75-inch steel plating over the deck that covered the propulsion machinery of the craft. This feature was designed to protect against small-caliber plunging shellfire that could punch through the deck and disable the destroyer. The feat was particularly impressive, as the maximum speed of the units of this class was 27.5 knots.

These ships, however, were also too small to maintain station at sea. In an attempt to catch up with the larger destroyer designs of other powers, the French next launched the Spahi class comprising seven vessels. Launched between 1908 and 1912, the hull of Spahi measured 212 (pp) by 19 feet, 10 inches by 7 feet, 7 inches, displaced 550 tons, and was powered by a triple-expansion engine that could generate 28 knots. It mounted six 2.5-inch guns and three 17.7-inch torpedo tubes. The idea of the armored deck was discarded. Two similar classes comprising six destroyers were launched afterward that were virtual repeats of the Spahi class, although the units of the Chasseur class are significant for being the first turbine-powered and completely oil-fueled French destroyers. The final two peacetime classes of 18 ships were larger versions and carried heavier guns, but their value was limited. The ships carried only two 3.9- inch guns and had weak hulls that made their use in heavy seas a problem.

The French Navy was the most enthusiastic advocate of submarines prior to 1900. Its first boat, the Plongeur, was designed by Charles Brun and Siméon Bourgeois, entering service in 1867. It used an 80-horsepower compressed-air engine for propulsion and relied on small stern diving planes and an elaborate water transfer system, also compressed-air operated, to maintain position. This system proved ineffective, and the Plongeur soon was set aside. Electric propulsion underwater seemed a superior solution and was demonstrated by Claude Goubet in two small private venture boats that otherwise were unsuccessful. The French Navy’s return to submarine construction was also all-electric. The Gymnote , designed by Gustave Zédé, entered service in 1888 and was followed by Gaston Romazzotti’s Gustave Zédé five years later. Both boats were largely experimental, relied wholly on batteries without onboard recharge equipment to power their electric motors (severely restricting their range), and required many modifications, especially to their diving plane arrangements, to become effective.

In 1898 the French Navy announced an open international submarine design competition. Maxime Laubeuf’s design, the Narval , was the winner, and, although many of the boat’s features were short-lived, it established the essential characteristics of the vast majority of the world’s naval submarines until the end of World War II. Laubeuf designed the Narval as a double-hulled craft; the inner hull was strongly constructed to resist water pressure, while the outer hull was lightly built and optimized for surface performance. The space between the hulls accommodated ballast and trim tanks. The Narval, like almost all submarines for the next 50 years, was essentially a surface torpedo boat that could submerge to attack and make its escape. Like many French submarines of the next 25 years, it was steam powered: the French Navy was uncomfortable with using gasoline engines in submarines because of the explosion hazard. In 1904 the Aigrette became the first submarine to be fitted with a diesel engine, and with few exceptions all later French submarines used either diesel or steam plants. Steam engines remained attractive because France did not have access to sufficiently powerful diesel engines for its large boats.

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Alexander’s Four Fleets

The Fleet of the League of Corinth

One of the burdens placed on the members of the League of Corinth after the allied Greek defeat at Chaeronea, and subsequent recognition of Macedonian hegemony, was to supply ships to aid the war effort. This fleet was established in 336 or shortly before, and its main purpose was to act as support to the land operations being conducted by the field army. This support largely involved them acting as transports and maintaining the lines of supply and communication with Macedonia and Greece. The fleet must have been remarkably heterogeneous and was of moderate size, consisting of 160 ships of which a mere 20 were supplied by the strongest naval power in Greece: Athens. At this time the Athenians had around 300 ships in commission; the supply of only 20 is perhaps suggestive of their level of enthusiasm for Alexander’s expedition. Many of the smaller city-states would have supplied the merest handful. Arrian tells us that the fleet was untrained, each member state evidently only sending the worst ships and sailors at its disposal, simply to honour a commitment. The resulting fleet was effectively useless as a fighting force; it was poorly trained and consisted of large numbers of contingents who had never fought as a cohesive unit before. Coupled to this was Alexander’s total lack of knowledge of naval operations. Realistically it would have been impossible for Alexander to have operated with anything but the most basic tactics. This is strongly suggested by Arrian when he has Alexander, in debate with Parmenio as to whether to engage the Persian fleet at sea, saying that he would ‘not risk making a present to the Persians of all the skill and courage of his men’.

This can only be a reference to the potential loss of Macedonian troops, not Greek sailors, and suggests that Alexander’s naval tactics would rely on boarding Persian ships and fighting hand to hand. This would effectively be to fight a land battle at sea. These tactics are not wholly surprising in a commander who had no experience at all of naval warfare, either directly or through Philip’s tutelage. The tactics that Alexander likely would have employed are, interestingly, exactly how the Vikings fought their naval battles.

Despite the evidently poor quality of vessels supplied by his allies, Alexander’s Greek fleet had proved itself of greater use than simply for logistics and transport alone. Whilst Alexander was besieging the city of Miletus by land, the Persian fleet of some 400 vessels was heading north to relieve it. If the Persians had arrived, the city could presumably have held out against the Macedonians almost indefinitely, as reinforcements and supplies could easily be transported by sea. Nicanor, commander of Alexander’s Greek fleet, arrived three days before the Persians, however, and anchored his vessels off the Milesian coast on the island of Lade. The Persian fleet, unable to find any port suitable to meet its supply needs, and seemingly unable or unwilling to engage the Greeks in these narrow waters, set sail south again. Thus Alexander’s fleet had proved, quite convincingly, that, despite his unwillingness to offer a naval battle, his fleet could still be of considerable military usefulness. This makes the subsequent decision to disband it even more baffling.

Soon after the capture of Miletus, and before the commencement of operations at Halicarnassus, Alexander made one of the most debated decisions of his career: he disbanded his fleet. Arrian gives us five reasons:

• Lack of money.

• The Persian navy was far superior to Alexander’s own.

• Alexander was unwilling to risk any losses, in ships or men, in a naval engagement.

• Alexander believed that he no longer needed a fleet as he was now master of the continent of Asia.

• He intended to defeat the Persian navy on land by depriving it of its ports.

Lack of money is the reason most commonly accepted by modern historians as the major factor in Alexander’s decision; it is also the only reason cited by Diodorus. The conclusion that the decision was financially motivated is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, the fleet was supplied by the member states of the League of Corinth; it is therefore reasonable to assume that the cost of their upkeep would also fall on these states and not on Alexander. The fleet would, effectively, have cost him almost nothing to maintain. Secondly, Alexander should not have been short of funds at this point. Just a few months later at Gordium, during the winter of 334/3, Alexander invested 500 talents on raising a new fleet and 600 talents were allotted to pay for the upkeep of garrisons on the Greek mainland. There seems no reason why Alexander’s financial position should have improved so drastically in just a few short months, we know of no major Persian treasuries in this area that had fallen into Alexander’s hands.

Arrian is correct to say that the Persian fleet was superior to Alexander’s, both in numbers and quality. This is not a reason to demobilize the fleet, however, as this would leave the islands and the mainland defenceless from a naval assault. Miletus had also shown Alexander that a fleet was tactically useful even if he did not offer battle to the Persians. This lack of quality and numbers would be more of an argument for increasing investment in the fleet, rather than ridding himself of it.

Arrian’s second and third points are certainly linked; Alexander was unwilling to offer a naval battle because of the potential ramifications. His strategy would involve a heavy reliance on marines, most likely the hypaspists, given that these were the most versatile heavy infantry troops that he commanded. These were also the troops that were assigned to the final naval assault against Tyre, so it is most likely that they would have been chosen for this mission too. Yet he needed every one of these troops for the land campaign, making a naval campaign even more problematic. Any defeat could also have caused political problems back in Greece too; it would have been an open invitation for general rebellion throughout Greece.

The suggestion by Arrian that Alexander did not need a fleet, as he already controlled the whole continent, is extraordinary and obviously not true. Even if we take Arrian to be referring to Asia Minor, rather than the whole of Asia, then it still was nowhere near true. Besides, there was now nothing stopping the Persians from attacking Alexander’s forces in the rear, which they in fact did at Tenedos. This was a tactic that should have been employed far more effectively than it ever was by the Persians.

This strategy of defeating the Persian navy on land is famous, and, on the surface, fairly sound. In the ancient world warships could not carry any great quantity of supplies and so had to dock at a friendly port every night to resupply themselves with food and fresh water. It is also true that this strategy ultimately worked: the Persian fleet did collapse as Alexander captured key cities on the Phoenician coast. Yet the strategy had at least two serious flaws. The first was that a competent commander, as Memnon surely was, had a free hand to act as he wished in the Aegean; to overrun all of the islands and carry the fight to the mainland where several states would more than likely have revolted given the opportunity. The second was that it does not take any account of the fact that a significant portion of the Persian fleet was from Cyprus, which would theoretically have been unaffected by this strategy; although these ships would still have needed mainland ports in order to operate, they would still be loyal to the Persians and able to harass Alexander’s rear with Alexander having no possibility of using his land army to capture their ports. Alexander essentially relied upon luck to overcome these two problems, which was very uncharacteristic. His planning was usually far more meticulous than this and his strategies were well thought out, which leads me to conclude that his decision here was not a purely tactical or strategic one, but something rather different.

If the decision to disband the fleet was not taken on military grounds, nor forced upon him by lack of funds or any of the other reasons Arrian cites, why did he make this decision? I suspect that the truth lies in something that Arrian comes close to mentioning. He points out that any loss in battle could lead to disaffection and potential rebellion at home, bringing up the question of loyalty. I argued in an earlier chapter that the allied troops with the army were loyal to Alexander, although this could have been because of a fear of reprisals at home if they had rebelled. It could also have been because of the presence of thousands of heavily armed, battle-hardened Macedonians. The fleet would very quickly have been far away from the location of the king or the army, so Alexander’s personality and influence would have had far less of an impact on them and the opportunity for disloyalty would have been exponentially greater, as well as being far easier to act upon. The fact that he retained the 20 Athenian vessels is an indication that he wanted to try to retain some specifically Athenian hostages, but 160 vessels was too great a risk. It is interesting to note that all Alexander ever got from the great naval power of Athens were these 20 vessels along with 200 cavalry; these 20 vessels and their crew, then, were important hostages against the good behaviour of Athens.

The Fleet of Proteas

We know very little about this fleet, or indeed its commander, Proteas. We do know that whilst Alexander was at Gordium in the winter of 334/3, Antipater gave orders for the reconstruction of a Greek fleet. The fleet was raised principally on the island of Euboea and in the Peloponnese, and its primary purpose was to act as a defensive force against the possibility of Persian naval action against the islands or even the mainland. We know very little about the size of this fleet: Arrian simply says ‘a number of warships’ and the only evidence we have of it in action involved fifteen ships attacking a force of ten Persian vessels off the island of Siphnos. The fleet seems to have been in commission only until 332.

The Fleet of Hegelochus and Amphoterus

There is only one reference in Arrian to the construction of a Macedonian national fleet, but we know from Curtius that whilst Alexander was marching between Gordium and Ancyra in the summer of 333 he invested 500 talents in the construction of just such a fleet. This fleet was led by Hegelochus and Amphoterus, but it is evident from Arrian that Hegelochus was in supreme command. Curtius tells us specifically that the former was in charge of the troops and the latter was responsible for the ships and therefore, presumably, their crews. It seems a slight contradiction that the commander of the naval element of a fleet was subordinate to the commander of the marines, but in reality none existed. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for this to be the arrangement and it is even less surprising when we consider the wider situation with Alexander, in which the army was the totally dominant military force. We also know, however, that Amphoterus was capable of acting independently when assignments arose: for example, he was sent to Lesbos, Chios and Cos at the head of a detachment of the fleet in 332. When the Macedonian fleet joined Alexander in Egypt during the winter of 332/1 Hegelochus was reassigned, but we do not know where to. At this time Amphoterus assumed command of both the ships and the marines. The fleet then appears to have been operating off Crete and the Peloponnese. The fleet was decommissioned in 331.

The Cypro-Phoenician Fleet

During the siege of Tyre in 333, soon after the mole was partially destroyed by the Tyrian fireship, Alexander along with his hypaspists and Agrianians set off on a mission to Sidon. Arrian tells us that this mission was ‘in order to assemble there all the warships he possessed’. It is unclear what this line actually means. It could be that Alexander intended to summon his Greek and Macedonian fleets to him; if this were the case, however, there was no need to travel to Sidon, and secondly there is no evidence that any such summons was issued or acted upon by the fleets.

It is perhaps more likely that Alexander believed quite simply that, as he now possessed the ports of Sidon and Byblos, along with many others, he also owned their fleets; he therefore travelled to Sidon to await their arrival home at the end of the campaigning season. Given the slow rate at which news was disseminated in the ancient world, news of the Persian defeat at Issus in November 333 may not have reached the fleet until after the end of the sailing season, so the Phoenician and Cypriot contingents were simply in no position to defect to Alexander until early April. By the time the Phoenician fleet arrived home, the siege of Tyre had been under way for two months. Alexander’s military presence in Sidon would ensure that there would be no difficulty with his taking personal possession of the fleet.

Arrian gives us a quite detailed account of the numbers of ships Alexander acquired: the contingents of Aradus, Byblos and Sidon accounted for a total of about eighty Phoenician vessels. At around the same time he was joined by a detachment ‘from Rhodes and nine other vessels, three from Soli and Mallus, ten from Lycia and a fifty-oared galley from Macedon’. Soon after the news of the Persian defeat at Issus had reached Cyprus, the Cypriot kings also decided to join Alexander at Sidon: their fleet alone totalled some 120 ships. Arrian’s total of 224 ships at Sidon generally agrees with Plutarch’s figure of 200 and Curtius’ claim that 190 ships took part in the surprise attack on Tyre.

The acquisition of the Cypro-Phoenician fleet was undoubtedly the turning point in the siege of Tyre: before this Alexander had no effective fleet and therefore no real means of countering Tyrian naval action against him. This fleet assured that he could probe the outer defences of the city from all directions. This ability to attack from a number of positions and directions simultaneously was another hallmark strategy of Alexander. Even in his set-piece battles we can see his desire to have the Companion Cavalry attack the Persian centre from the right, at the same time as the heavy infantry was attacking from the front. Alexander realized the benefit of such tactics very early during his career and applied it to every possible situation. The ultimate breakthrough came when a group of hypaspists, operating as marines, penetrated the walls at the southern tip of the fortress, not as a direct result of the construction of the mole. The troops on the mole would have had the effect of diverting some of the defenders away from the southern section of the walls, as would the fleet that was operating around the whole perimeter of the besieged city.

Polish Submarines

WILK CLASS (1929)

Wilk (12 April 1929)

Builder: Normand

Rys (22 April 1929)

Builder: Loire

Zbik (14 June 1931)

Builder: CNF

Displacement: 980 tons (surfaced), 1250 tons (submerged)

Dimensions: 257960 x 19940 x 13990

Machinery: 2 Normand-Vickers diesel engines, 2 electric motors, 2 shafts. 1800 bhp/1200 shp = 14/9 knots

Range: 7000 nm at 7.5 knots surfaced, 80 nm at 4 knots submerged

Armament: 6 x 550mm torpedo tubes (4 bow, 1 twin trainable external mount), total 10 torpedoes, 40 mines, 1 x 100mm gun, 1 x 40mm AA gun

Complement: 54

Notes: These submarines were larger versions of the French Saphir class. The Rys and the Zbik were interned in Sweden in September 1939, returned to Poland at the war’s end, and were scrapped in 1951 and 1954. The Wilk escaped to Britain in September 1939, became a training vessel a year later, and returned to Poland after World War II. It was scrapped in 1951.

ORZEL CLASS (1938)

Orzel (15 January 1938)

Builder: De Schelde

Sept (17 October 1938)

Builder: Rotterdamse

Displacement: 1100 tons (surfaced), 1650 tons (submerged)

Dimensions: 275970 x 22900 x 13940

Machinery: 2 Sulzer diesel engines, 2 electric motors, 2 shafts. 4740 bhp/1100 shp = 20/9 knots

Range: 7000 nm at 10 knots surfaced, 100 nm at 3 knots submerged

Armament: 12 x 550mm torpedo tubes (4 b o w, 4 stern, 1 x quadruple external trainable mount), total 20 torpedoes, 1 x 105mm gun, 1 x twin 40mm AA gun

Complement: 60

Notes: These submarines were designed by the Nederlandsche Verenigde Scheepsbouw Bureaux in `s-Gravenhage, in cooperation with a team from the Polish Navy. They incorporated many features of the earlier Dutch O. 16, including the external trainable mount. The hulls were entirely welded, and all controls were hydraulically operated. The Orzel escaped the German invasion of Poland to the United Kingdom and was mined in the North Sea on 8 June 1940. The Sept escaped and was interned in Sweden until the war’s end, when it returned to Polish service until it decommissioned on 15 September 1969

The Polish Navy two U-class submarines:
ORP Dzik – (ex HMS P52)

ORP Dzik (Boar) was a U-class submarine built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down on 30 December 1941 as P-52 for the Royal Navy, but was transferred to the Polish Navy during construction. Launched on November 11, 1942, ORP Dzik was commissioned into the Polish Navy on December 12, 1942. Her name meant “Wild Boar” in Polish.
24 May 1943 Near Cape Spartivento, ORP Dzik fired a 4 torpedo salvo and damaged the Italian oil tanker Carnaro (8357 Brutto Register Tonnage). After the attack, two Italian corvettes dropped over 60 depth charges.
21 Sep 1943 ORP Dzik fired torpedoes in Bastia harbour, Corsica, France and sank the German tanker Nikolaus (6397, former Greek Nicolaou Ourania) and the German tug Kraft (333 Brutto Register Tonnage).
8 Jan 1944 ORP Dzik sank the Greek sailing vessel Elleni (200 Brutto Register Tonnage) with gunfire off Lesbos Island, Greece in position 39.37N, 25.43E.
ORP Dzik destroyed or damaged 18 surface ships both German and Italian with a total tonnage of 45,080 tons. She participated in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, and also engaged enemy surface ships with her 76 mm cannon three times and the crew boarded two enemy ships. The ORP Dzik earned the Jolly Roger.
In July 1946, the Polish Navy decommissioned her and returned her to the Royal Navy.
In 1947, the ship was transferred to the Royal Danish Navy. She sailed as HDMS U-1 and was later renamed to HDMS Springeren. She was returned to the Royal Navy in April 1958 and scrapped.
ORP Sokół – (ex HMS Urchin)

ORP Sokół (Polish: Falcon) was a U-class submarine (formerly HMS Urchin) built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness. Shortly after launching in September 1940 she was to be commissioned by the Royal Navy as HMS Urchin, but instead was leased to the Polish Navy due to a lack of experienced submarine crews. A sister boat to Dzik, both boats operated in the Mediterranean from Malta, where they became known as the “Terrible Twins”.

Shortly after her trials, the boat was handed to her Polish crew, in accordance with the Polish-British Military Alliance and amendments of 18 November 1939 and 3 December 1940. On 19 January 1941 the Polish banner was raised and the boat, commanded by Commander Borys Karnicki, was moved to Portsmouth. There she spent half a year patrolling the Bay of Biscay off the French port of Brest. In September she was moved to Malta, where she was attached to the 10th Submarine Flotilla. She took part in the naval runs on the Italian ports of Taranto and Naples. She also escorted numerous convoys in the Mediterranean. On 28 October of that year, Sokół achieved her first victory by heavily damaging the Italian auxiliary cruiser Città di Palermo. On 2 November in the Gulf of Naples she sank the 2,469-ton transport ship Balilla, with her sister HMS Utmost. On 19 November of the same year, she forced the anti-submarine nets and entered the port of Navarino, where she damaged the Italian destroyer Aviere. She was attacked by Italian torpedo boats and destroyers, but all of the depth charges missed and Sokół managed to escape from the harbour, sinking an additional transport steamer (5,600 tons) with three torpedoes. On 12 February 1942 she boarded and then sank the Italian wooden merchant schooner Giuseppina (362 tons) in the Gulf of Gabes.
On 17 April while in the port of Malta, she was heavily damaged by a German air raid and was forced to return to the shipyard in Blyth to receive repairs. By mid-1943 she had returned to the Mediterranean, where she continued to harass enemy shipment off the coasts of Italy, Northern Africa and in the Adriatic. On 12 September she rammed and sank the fishing vessel Meattini (36 tons). She took part in the allied blockade of the naval bases in Naples and Pula. Off the coast of the latter port, transferred by the Italians to Nazi Germany, Sokół sank a munitions transport (probably the 7,095-ton SS Eridania) and three days afterwards on 11 November the Italian schooner Argentina (64 tons). Between 4 November 1943 and 25 February 1944 she operated in the Aegean from the naval base in Beirut. Among the ships sunk in that period were two transport ships, four schooners and one cutter. In March 1944 both of the “Terrible Twins” left Malta for Great Britain where they were attached to the Dundee-based 9th submarine flotilla. After an additional four patrols off the coast of Norway, in the spring of 1945 she was designated as a training ship and was used by the Royal Air Force for training naval bomber pilots.

Altogether, during her wartime service Sokół sank or damaged 19 enemy vessels of about 55,000 tons in total. All of the commanding officers of the boat, (Lieutenant Commander Karnicki, Lieutenant Commander Koziołkowski and Captain Bernas) were awarded the Virtuti Militari. The full patrol records of the ORP Sokół are stored at the National Record Office, Kew, England.

TYPE 207 (1962)

These boats were very slightly modified versions of the earlier Type 201 class with upgraded sensors. To protect against the corrosion problems of the earlier boats, the first five vessels hulls received a coating of special zinc paint; the next four used a different, corrosion-resistant steel; and the U-1 and U-2 were new hulls built from magnetic steel incorporating all of the original machinery and basic equipment of the original U-1 and U-2. The U-4 through the U-8 were broken up between 1975 and 1977 and the U-1 and U-2 in 1993. The U-9 and U-10 became museum ships in 1993; the U-11 was modified as a target vessel that same year and became a museum ship in 2003; and the U-12 became a sonar trials b o a t in 1993 and was stricken in 2005. The Danish boats had small changes to suit local requirements and were decommissioned in 2003-2004. The Norwegian boats were classed as Type 207 and were built of magnetic high-tensile steel to endow them with deeper diving limits, and they had other minor variations from the German boats. The Stadt was scrapped in 1989; the Kinn was sunk as a target in 1990; the Ula was renamed the Kinn in 1988 and scrapped with the Utsira in 1998; the Utstein became a museum ship the same year; the Sklinna was scrapped in 2001. The Uthaug, the Utvaer, and the Kya were transferred to Denmark between 1989 and 1991 as the Tumleren, the Saelen , and the Springeren , and Denmark also received the Kaura for spare parts. They were decommissioned in 2004. The Skolpen, the Stord, the Svenner, and the Kunna were transferred between 2002 and 2004 to Poland as the Sep, the Sokol, the Bielek , and the Kondor, and Poland also received the Kobben for spare parts. The Polish boats remain in service.

PROJECT 613 [NATO WHISKEY] (1951)

Design work on this class began immediately after World War II as a medium submarine to replace the earlier S and Shch types. Detailed examination of German Type XXI boats strongly influenced the final design, which incorporated, in a less pronounced form, the figure-eight midsection and distinctive stern contours of these boats. There were many detail variations between different series of these submarines, mainly in the exact number and disposition of the guns. Large numbers of these boats were modified for special missions or experiments. Many also went to fleets within the Soviet sphere of influence: 5 to China (in addition to the 21 assembled there from Soviet-supplied components), 8 to Egypt, 2 to Bulgaria, 14 to Indonesia, 4 to Albania, 4 to Poland, 4 to North Korea, and one each to Cuba and Syria. By the early 1980s about 60 boats of the 215 built in the Soviet Union remained in service, and 18 still existed 10 years later.

Poland (four vessels, 1962–1986, retired)
ORP Orzeł (292)
ORP Bielik (295)
ORP Sokół (293)
ORP Kondor (294) – 10 June 1965 raising of the banner, 30 October 1985 lowering of the banner.

PROJECT 641 [NATO FOXTROT] (1958)

This class of long-range submarines was developed to replace the earlier Project 611 type. Like the Project 633 type, they were equipped with a substantially more advanced sonar outfit and could dive deeper than their precursors. In addition to the 17 boats built for export, 2 submarines were transferred to Poland in 1987 and 1988 as the Wilk and the Dzik . All the boats, both Soviet and foreign, were discarded in the 1990s.
ORIGINAL KILO (PROJECT 877)

ORP Orzeł (291) is a Polish Navy ‘Project 877E’ (Kilo-class) submarine. She is the third Polish submarine to bear the name Orzeł.
The boat was built by the Shipyard Krasnoe Sormovo in Gorky and was commissioned on 29 April 1986 at Riga. On 13 June of the same year Orzeł was transferred to Gdynia where she was named on 21 June. The submarine was assigned to the 3rd Flotilla based in Gdynia.

 

Ottoman Naval Development

In the fourteenth century, the illustrious historiographer, Ibn Khaldin recorded a prediction:

The inhabitants of the Maghreb have it on the authority of the books of predictions that the Muslims will yet have to make a successful attack against the Christians and conquer the lands of the European Christians beyond the sea. This, it is said, will take place by sea.

This prophesy was realized in the early sixteenth century in the form of the Ottoman navy. Nonetheless, the Ottomans have yet to be granted their place in world history as a seaborne empire. This is nowhere more apparent than in depictions of the reign of Bayezid II ( 148 1- 1512). Traditional historiography has characterized the reign of Bayezid as consisting of two halves: before and after the death of his brother Cem. The first half is dominated by Bayezid’s struggle to eliminate his brother, the challenger to the throne. Cem, whose unsuccessful bid for the Ottoman sultanate was supported by the Mamluk sultan Qa’it Bay, died in 1495. Bayezid’s reign after Cem’s death has been portrayed as a less than illustrious period of quiet consolidation. If, however, the second half of Bayezid’s reign is viewed as a period during which a powerful navy was built up, a navy capable of defending and supplying an empire extending far beyond the bounds of Anatolia, then the peaceful characterization of this period becomes somewhat less believable. Bayezid’s navy was used to suppress piracy, protect commodities shipping, and intimidate his enemies, present or potential. Ottoman naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean fostered the establishment of cordial Ottoman-Venetian trading relations, permitted the subordination of the Mamluk kingdoms (through naval and artillery aid) prior to the Ottoman conquest of Cairo, and allowed for a significant challenge to Portuguese seapower in the Indian Ocean. Seapower was both physical and rhetorical. The threat of the Ottoman navy was used by many states throughout the Mediterranean to gain diplomatic leverage. Nor was the Ottoman navy, as traditional historiography would have it, little more than a group of state subsidized corsairs. Seapower was a vehicle for developing Ottoman trading interests, securing the Ottoman coasts, and supporting the transport and provisioning activities required for Ottoman territorial expansion.

It was at the turn of the sixteenth century that the Ottomans firmly and decisively set out to use seapower as an avenue to “world” hegemony. Naval development began in earnest under Mehmed II. It continued under Bayezid who ordered “ships agile as sea serpents (naheng ahang gemiler)” constructed to fight the Venetians. The reign of Selim was a period during which the military and naval capabilities built up during Bayezid’s reign were utilized and expanded. The conquest of Cairo provided, in part, the revenue and the imperial ethos. Anatolia provided the construction materials and the infantrymen. Upon this foundation Selim was building a most formidable navy, and planning greater naval conquests at the time of his death. The only obstacle in his path was the shortage of skilled sailors. These aspirations became operational on a grand scale with an eastward expansion which halted only at the Indian Ocean in the reign of Selim’s son Suleiman.

After the campaign season of 1502, Sultan Bayezid launched both a major naval reorganization and a broad scale troop mobilization. This troop mobilization in the fall and winter of that year was a direct result of the military success and diplomatic challenge of Ismail Safavi in Iran. The naval reorganization was attributed by Venetian sources to the sultan’s wrath over the Venetian victory that year at Santa Maura. The overall victory in the Ottoman-Venetian wars, however, went decisively to the Ottomans and, by fall of 1502, negotiations were underway for a treaty which would leave Venice without Modon and Coron and liable for a ten thousand ducat annual indemnity to the Porte. Hence, the causes for Bayezid’s naval buildup must be sought elsewhere than in mere vengeance for the defeat at Santa Maura. These causes include the intentions to expand Ottoman Levantine possessions, to punish Rhodes for its attacks on Muslim shipping, and to provide naval support for Ottoman campaigns against the Mamluk and Safavid territories. Short years later a fourth cause was added: the provision of direct naval assistance to the Mamluks against the Portuguese in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

First, the Ottomans needed a navy revamped to fcus outside the Aegean and the Mediterranean. This navy was then directed to purposes of defense and expansion that later proceeded outward in concentric circles; the territorial conquests mirrored the spheres of Ottoman economic interest in the Aegean, Mediterranean, Red Sea, and eventually the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Vigorous shipbuilding activity was underway in the Ottoman arsenals during the wars with Venice from 1499 to 1503. Sadeddin mentions the preparation of a fleet of three hundred ships in the first year of the war. A German knight, Arnold von Harff, claimed, with considerable exaggeration, that he saw that same year eight hundred Turkish war galleys and countless other vessels in the harbor at Istanbul. Bayezid called in the entire Ottoman armada for repairs in the winter of 1500-1501 and ordered the preparation of for hundred ships including two hundred galleys mounted with large cannon, fifty heavy galleys, and for hundred fifty of the smaller galiots and fustas. This work took place at selected sites, with the armada at Midilli alone numbering some one hundred twenty vessels including forty galleys early in 1502. The sultan requisitioned laborers for the fleet, especially carpenters and caulkers, as well as building materials from Chios, a “request” that the Christian administration of the island could not afford to refuse.

This construction cannot be explained only as a requirement of the combat with Venice. By fall of 1502, it was apparent that a peace treaty was in the offing. In the intervening years before the conquest of Cairo in 1517, Venice and the Ottomans were at peace. Their naval relations, though characterized by a healthy distrust, were generally amicable. Yet, just as the peace treaty set aside the threat from the Porte’s primary opponent in the Mediterranean, Bayezid began a policy of naval expansion which would ultimately make the Ottomans the dominant naval power in the region. During this same time-, the French and Spanish were contenders for naval power in the western Mediterranean, the Portuguese gained control of the Indian Ocean, and the Rhodians remained an insistent, if essentially insignificant, naval threat of the Anatolian coast. Although the Spanish would become a formidable sea power, their success in the western Mediterranean was arguably a function of the direction-east-that the sultan chose for the utilization of his navy.

The Ottoman naval reorganization begun in the fall of 1502 was a three-stage operation. It involved the repair of the fleet, the dismantling of some ships for reconstruction and the building of entirely new ships. Reconstruction efforts were directed at the largest ships which were either taken apart or sold to private entrepreneurs. Materials from the ships, which were taken apart, were used to build heavy and light galleys. These efforts were aimed at producing lighter, more maneuverable ships, which were not only more adaptable to joint naval actions but were also less likely to be captured.

While these efforts were underway Bayezid ordered the mobilization of sixty to seventy thousand men, both oarsmen and sailors. This number is more than even a fleet of three hundred ships could utilize; however, it indicates that the Venetian authors of the reports were impressed with the sultan’s levy of seamen. The high number may also be an indication of the divergence between the number of sailors and oarsmen levied and the actual numbers who showed up. In order to finance the naval expansion, Bayezid combined a number of sources of income. He obtained some revenue from the sale of the largest ships. He ordered each of his sons to provide for the construction of six heavy galleys, and a number of his sancak begs to finance three light galleys each. In addition, the merchants of Salonica (both Greeks and Turks) were ordered to pay a tithe and to finance mariners. The fact that only the merchants of Salonica are mentioned as paying the special naval levy does not mean that it was limited to this city alone. There is, however, a certain logic to the idea of levies on the coastal merchants. They were likely to be engaged in commerce supplied by shipping along the Anatolian coast, from the Aegean islands, and across the Mediterranean from Beirut and Alexandria. This shipping was susceptible to corsair raiding especially on the part of the Rhodians. If the naval expansion was aimed, in part, at the protection of Ottoman shipping, then the merchants who profited from it were a likely source of revenue. The bulk of the financing for the fleet, however, came from the imperial treasury supplemented by the special levies such as the oarsman tax (kürekҫi akҫesi).

By the end of the year 1503, the Ottomans had an impressive array of ships at their disposal . In his report to the Venetian Senate, the returning bailo of Istanbul, Andrea Gritti, gave a detailed account of the Ottoman fleet and its activities. Gritti counted the Galata fleet as including thirty light galleys, twelve galleys bastarda, two galeazza (unnavigable), and some assorted fustas and gripos. At Gallipoli there were sixty galleys and fustas. Three of these galleys, with thirty, twenty-six, and twenty-two banks of oars respectively, had been constructed by an Italian shipbuilder named Andrea Dere. At Avlonya in the Adriatic the Ottomans had eleven galleys which had been seized during the war and nine fustas (mostly in bad order) . At Volissa on the west side of Chios were an additional eight heavy galleys and thirteen light galleys. Gritti’s account does not include estimates of naval forces at other Ottoman ports such as Macri and Samsun, but it is clear that Bayezid had a large fleet at his disposal which had not been retired at the end of the war.

The shipbuilder Dere is again mentioned in Leonardo Loredano’s report to the Venetian Senate in March 1507. His story illustrates the continuation of shipbuilding activity, gives some insight into the training of the Ottoman sea captains, and emphasizes the competition among states for skilled craftsmen. The sultan’s shipwright told Loredano that he had prospered while in the Ottoman service. He indicated, however, that he might consider leaving Istanbul if Venice came up with a sufficiently lucrative offer. This was especially so because Dere’s superior, the kapudan (captain-general of the Ottoman fleet) Daud Pasha, had died. When Daud was alive, Dere recalled, he would call his shipbuilder to his room and go over navigation charts with him, asking all about the Aegean ports, especially about Zara (a Venetian possession) and its defenses. After hearing this story, Loredano suggested that Venice would be well advised to try to persuade Dere to return to Italy, before the Ottoman navy benefited even further from his knowledge. Good shipwrights were a prized commodity in any case in the Mediterranean, even if they were not possessed of tactical information. In the end, however, Dere, saying that he had served the sultan for many years, seemed content enough to stay where he was.

Lack of a sufficient naval opponent and the expense of keeping large fleets manned insured that much of the Ottoman armada was demobilized at any given time. In the winter, the Ottoman fleet in the Bosphorus, consisting of one hundred twenty or so vessels, was beached and guarded by a large number of sentries. Meanwhile, however, the Ottomans had not ceased to manufacture great numbers of cannon, both iron and bronze, as well as other types of naval munitions. This production was facilitated by a large number of artillery masters at Istanbul working, according to Loredano, continuously. The Porte was able to produce sufficient artillery to arm its own expanding navy and to create a surplus as well. This surplus, in turn, would allow the Ottomans to provide cannon for the Mamluk fleet being prepared at Suez to challenge the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. While the bulk of the Ottoman armada remained demobilized in various naval stations, small fleets could be mobilized as needed for the various objectives of the state. Significant among these objectives was the protection of Ottoman commodities shipping through defense of the Anatolian coastal areas. Rumors persisted throughout the Mediterranean after 1503 that the Ottomans intended to launch an armada. But the Ottomans launched no major fleet offensive until 1515. During this time of relative peace, however, fleets of from fifteen to forty vessels were kept regularly cruising in the Aegean. These fleets provided transport, security against corsairs for Ottoman shipping, and general coastal defense. They were also used for commercial purposes and for special diplomatic missions.

Piracy was endemic in sixteenth-century seas, and the newly constructed Ottoman fleet seems to have been used primarily against corsairs. Piratic acts combined with a grain shortage prompted Bayezid in 1504 to send out eight armed galleys and fustas to prevent smuggling and the seizure of grain ships by pirates. These ships were instructed to punish Kara Durmuş, a corsair, who had acquired a small fleet in the course of the Venetian wars and was now operating in the waters near Chios, apparently under the patronage of the sancak beg of Manissa, Celal Beg. Kara Durmuş, with a fleet of twenty-two fustas, a brigantine and a galiota, was interfering with Ottoman shipping and raiding the Anatolian coasts. This number of vessels seems large for a single corsair, although most of the ships were the small and maneuverable fustas which could be operated in close to shore. Kara Durmuş may have formed loose and temporary alliances with other small-time corsairs, who united for defensive purposes during some raiding activities while at other times pursuing their interests individually. In 1505, a fleet, numbering fourteen to eighteen ships, under the command of Kemal Reis, a hero of the Ottoman-Venetian wars, was mobilized and charged with the task of pursuing Kara Durmuş and preventing corsairing activities based on Rhodes. This use of Ottoman vessels in patrolling activity suggests that a uniform definition of “navy” is inadequate to explain the nature of naval action in the sixteenth century. Visions of large-scale sea battles and of shipboard Muslim crusaders must give way to a more mundane version of Levantine sea power.

Union and USN Monitors

The distinction for participating in the first ironclad-to-ironclad clash must go to the Ericsson turret armorclad USS Monitor, the world’s first mastless ironclad. At the Battle of Hampton Roads (8 March 1862), Monitor faced off Confederate ironclad battery CSS Virginia in one of the very few naval battles fought before a large audience, lining the Virginia shore.

It is popularly supposed that Hampton Roads demonstrated that the day of the wooden warship had ended. It did no such thing; the armored Kinburn batteries had already taken the world’s attention almost six years before, the French La Gloire had been in service for the previous two years, and the magnificent seagoing British ironclad HMS Warrior for six months; and the world’s naval powers at the time had some 20 ironclads on the stocks. It would have been a peculiarly dense naval officer or designer who did not realize by March 1862 that ironclads would dominate the world’s fleets in the very near future. The main question would be what forms those ironclad warships would take.

The historic Battle of Hampton Roads did touch off a veritable monitor mania in the Union: Of the 84 ironclads constructed in the North throughout the Civil War, no less than 64 were of the monitor or turreted types. The first class of Union monitors were the 10 Catskills: Catskill, Camanche, Lehigh, Montauk, Nahant, Nantucket, Patapsco, Passaic, Sangamon, and Weehawken. (Camanche was shipped in knocked-down form to San Francisco. But the transporting vessel sank at the pier. Camanche was later salvaged, but the war was already over. Camanche thus has the distinction of being sunk before completion.) These ironclads, the first large armored warships to have more than two units built from the same plans, were awkwardly armed with one 11-inch and one 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbore. The Passaics were followed by the nine larger Canonicus class: Canonicus, Catawba (not completed in time for Union service), Mahopac, Manayunk, Manhattan, Oneonta, Saugus, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe, distinguishable by their armament of two matching 15-inch smoothbores and the removal of the dangerous upper-deck overhang.

The eminent engineer James Eads designed four Milwaukee-class whaleback (sloping upper deck) double-turreted monitors: Chickasaw, Kickapoo, Milwaukee, and Winnebago. (Ericsson, on the other hand, loathed multiple-turret monitors, sarcastically comparing the arrangement to “two suns in the sky.”) Eads’s unique ironclads mounted two turrets, one of the Ericsson type (much to Ericsson’s disgust), the other of Eads’s own patented design: The guns’ recoil would actually drop the turret floor below the waterline for safe reloading; hydraulic power would then raise the floor back to the turret, wherein the guns could be run out by steam power. Eads’s two paddlewheel wooden-hull monitors, Osage and Neosho, designed for work on western rivers, were also unique. Although built to Eads’s designs, the two paddlewheel monitors mounted Ericsson turrets. All of the above monitors saw action in the U. S. Civil War. Completed too late for action were Marietta and Sandusky, iron-hulled river monitors constructed in Pittsburgh by the same firm that had built the U. S. Navy’s first iron ship, the paddle sloop USS Michigan.

Ericsson designed five supposedly oceangoing Union monitors: the iron-construction Dictator and Puritan, and the timber-built Agamenticus, Miantonomah, Monadnock, and Tonawanda.

The one-of-a-kind Union monitors were Roanoke, a cut-down wooden sloop; and Onondaga, also of timber-hull construction. Ozark, a wooden-hull light river monitor, had a higher freeboard than any Union monitor and also mounted a unique underwater gun of very questionable utility. None of the seagoing or the one-of-akind monitors saw combat.

Keokuk was an unlucky semimonitor (its two guns were mounted in two fixed armored towers and fired through three gun ports-a revolving turret would seem to have been an altogether simpler arrangement). The fatal flaw was in the armor, a respectable 5.75 inches, but it was alternated with wood. Participating in the U. S. Navy’s first attack on Charleston, South Carolina, Keokuk was riddled with some 90 Confederate shots and sank the next morning.

Aside from riverine/coastal ironclads, the Federals built only two broadside wooden ironclads, New Ironsides and Dunderberg (later Rochambeau, a super-New Ironsides, almost twice the former ironclad’s displacement), both with no particular design innovation. But New Ironsides could claim to be the most fired-upon ironclad during naval operations off Charleston, perhaps the most fired-upon warship of the nineteenth century, as well as the ironclad that, in turn, fired more rounds at the enemy than any other armored warship of the time. The broadside federal ironclad was formidably armed with fourteen 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and two 150-pound Parrott rifles, as well as a ram bow. Its standard 4.5-inch armor plate was far superior to the laminated plate of contemporary monitors. Whereas the monitors off Charleston suffered serious damage from Confederate batteries (and semimonitor Keokuk was sunk), New Ironsides could more or less brush off enemy projectiles and was put out of action only temporarily when attacked by a Confederate spar torpedo boat. During its unmatched 16-month tour of duty off Charleston, it proved a strong deterrent to any Confederate ironclad tempted to break the Union’s wooden blockading fleet off that port city, becoming the “guardian of the blockade.” Still, naval historians have tended to ignore New Ironsides and its wartime contributions because of the conservative design.

In light of their technological inferiority to British turret ironclads, it is difficult to understand why the Union’s Ericsson-turret monitors were also built by other countries: Brazil, Norway, Russia, and Sweden either built their own Ericsson-style monitors or had them built in other countries. (The Swedes, naturally enough, named their initial monitor John Ericsson.) The Russians constructed no less than ten Bronenosetz-class coast-defense monitors, and the Norwegians four similar Skorpionens. The Royal Navy ordered a class of four dwarf coastal ironclads that could be termed monitors, but they carried, of course, Coles turrets on breastworks well above the height at which they would have been mounted on Ericsson monitors, and they had superstructures. Furthermore, unlike the monitors, these coastal ironclads were in fact the diminutive template of the mastless turreted capital ship of the future.

The Union monitors, although an intriguing design, were in truth merely coastal and river warships; although several ventured onto the high seas, they only did so sealed up and unable to use their guns. Their extremely low freeboard (a long-armed man could have dipped his hand in the water from the deck) and tiny reserve of buoyancy made them liable to swamping, beginning with Monitor itself, which foundered off the North Carolina coast in December 1862. Monitor Tecumseh went down in less than two minutes after striking a mine at the Battle of Mobile Bay, the first instantaneous destruction of a warship, an all-too-common event in the twentieth century’s naval battles. Tecumseh was also the first ironclad to be sunk in battle, if one discounts two federal riverine armorclads sunk earlier at the Battle of Plumb Point Bend in May of 1862.

In fact, although the monitors might have been impervious to any Confederate gunnery, Southern mines destroyed the only three such warships sunk by the enemy: Patapsco, Tecumseh, and Milwaukee.(Monitor Weehawken foundered on a relatively calm sea in Charleston Harbor.)

The monitors also suffered from an extremely slow rate of fire; Monitor itself could get off only one shot about every seven minutes. Each shot required that the monitor’s turret revolve to where its floor ammunition hatch matched that of the hull; when firing, the two hatches were out of alignment to protect the magazine. And if an enemy shot hit where the turret met the upper deck, the turret could jam, something that apparently never happened to the many turrets built with Coles’s system.

In 1865, the U. S. Board of Ordnance obtusely argued that warships intended for sea service would be best with no armor at all. Yet at that very moment the Royal Navy had deployed five seagoing ironclads, including the magnificent pioneering Warrior and Black Prince, both warships with truly oceanic range, not to mention Defence, Resistance, and the timber-hull Royal Oak, Prince Consort, and Hector. The French, of course, years before had commissioned the seagoing La Gloire as well as Magenta and Solferino, the latter two the only ironclads ever to mount their main battery on double gun decks. (Magenta also has the melancholy distinction of being the first of the capital ships to be destroyed by mysterious explosion, a fate followed by about a score of such warships in the succeeding decades.)

In view of their design faults, plus their inferior and extremely slow firing guns and laminated armor, the monitors were a dead end in naval architecture from the start. The fact that Washington would consider the British sale of just two Coles turret rams to the Confederacy as grounds for war is a strong indication that the administration of President Abraham Lincoln realized the superiority of British-built turret ships to Union monitors.

Post-Civil War USN

The United States was in basically the same geostrategic position as was Great Britain. The British Isles had no land borders to defend and could thus pour most of its defense funding into its navy. The United States had only two very weak military powers along its two land borders and could thus embark on a great naval construction program, centered on battleships, and relegate its army over the years to something about the size of Romania’s.

Yet of all the naval powers, the United States held on most tenaciously to the coast-defense idea. The armored warships of the new navy, in fact, commenced with the construction of no less than ten big-gun coast-defense monitors. The first five of these were virtually Civil War-era near-derelicts supposedly repaired but actually newly constructed in order to circumvent congressional refusal to allot monies for any new warships. (The fiscal situation was so dire that several Civil War monitors were given to shipbuilders as partial payment for the new monitors.) The remaining five new monitors were actually constructed openly as new warships, as Congress voted funds for the new navy. These bizarre warships were armed with 10- inch and 12-inch guns and were heavily armored. They would participate in the bombardment of Puerto Rico and in blockade duty during the Spanish-American War, fairly well fulfilling their coastal purpose. Within a few years, they were universally denounced in the service as practically useless; their one virtue in later years was that their very low freeboard made them excellent submarine tenders. (One unimpressed contemporary U. S. naval officer described monitor Monterey as “a double-acting, high-uffen-buffen, doubleturreted, back-acting submarine war junk. . . .,” drawing “fourteen feet of mud forward and 16 feet 6 inches of slime aft, and had three feet of discolored water over the main deck in fair weather” (Padfield, 129). The French and the Russians also built coastal minibattleships, in limited numbers, but no new monitors. The Royal Navy and the Italian Navy also built monitors, but these warships were primarily ad hoc expedients to mount heavy guns from uncompleted battleships.

Royal Navy 1803


Goodbye My Lads by Fred Roe.
Lord Nelson waves goodbye to the crowd at Portsmouth. Lord Nelson joins his ship HMS Victory before the battle of Trafalgar.

Becalmed – HMS Victory in the Doldrums by Ivan Berryman.
Two of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s ships lie becalmed together, bathed in the soft glow of the setting sun. The 74-gun HMS Captain basks ahead of the mighty HMS Victory, the ship that would ultimately lead the British fleet into battle against the combined might of the Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.

At the time of the renewed outbreak of war in 1803, however, the Royal Navy was also a highly professional force. It was (in contrast to the army) in the hands of the educated sons of gentlemen of modest means, like Nelson. Relations between officers and men were, particularly under Nelson, generally excellent. At the top Pitt had appointed, as First Lord, Admiral Sir John Jervis, who had taken his new title of St Vincent from the battle which had saved England in 1797. A close second only to Nelson, it was ‘Jarvie’ to whom Britain owed most for her survival, then victory, at sea. Already aged sixty-nine in 1803, he had joined the navy the week of his fourteenth birthday, and by the time he was twenty-four he had witnessed Wolfe’s assault at Quebec, in command of the Porcupine. He was a square, oak-like, small figure, but with twinkling eyes, a man of irresistibly forceful personality, and with a dread reputation as a most stern disciplinarian. It was reputed that he had once administered a dozen lashes to a captain of the maintop who had failed to uncover during ‘God Save the King’.

During the alarming mutinies in Spithead and the Nore of 1797, which could have devastated the fleet had they spread, St Vincent (then Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean) had had to act with extreme measures. On the Marlborough, a ‘very bad ship’, he ordered a mutineer to be hanged from the yard-arm by his own shipmates; a launch with a ‘smashing carronade’ was sent alongside to blow the ship out of the water in case the order was refused. In another ship under his command, two homosexuals were hanged for their ‘unnatural crime’. Four mutineers were ordered to be hanged immediately, but, as it was a Sunday, St Vincent’s second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Thompson, proposed a delay. He was promptly sacked. The word went round: ‘If old Jarvie hears ye, he will have you dingle-dangle from the yard arm at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.’ Yet, though severe, ‘Jarvie’ was not a cruel man, and was respected both for his rigid sense of justice and for his hatred of unfairness. Like Montgomery in a later world war – and though quite out of phase with his own times – he was much harder on the officers than on the men; and he was correspondingly loved for it.

Having suffered a crushing blow during the ‘Terror’, when the guillotine had almost wiped out its officer corps, the French Navy had never really recovered. The quality of the French ships was often superior to that of the ageing British vessels, worn out by years of service (Nelson’s Victory, for instance, had been laid down in the 1760s), but discipline on board ship was poor. Perhaps more than to any other factor, the ability of British ships to stay at sea, and endure longer than the French – which would eventually decide the war – could be ascribed to that fierce, almost inhuman, discipline maintained by St Vincent. Under him, too, far-reaching reforms of pay and conditions were also carried out. When commanding the Mediterranean Fleet, he found more than one of his exhausted men-of-war to be worn out by nonstop operations: ‘altogether in such a crazy and infirm state, as to be totally incapable of a passage back to England’. After the period of the ‘Phoney Peace’ in 1802, Addington had imposed certain ill-chosen economies, and the navy’s ships were in a terrible state when St Vincent took over as First Sea Lord; but somehow he was able to transform its ‘hulks of dubious wood and canvas into a fighting fleet’ – and just in time to meet Napoleon’s greatest threat to England. An unflappable figure, it was ‘Jarvie’ who, during the 1803 invasion scare, had declared challengingly, ‘I don’t say the French can’t come. I say they can’t come by sea.’

Body and soul, he stood for the all-out, offensive blockade of Napoleon’s ports. He was replaced, briefly, by Lord Melville, who was in turn to be succeeded in April by Lord Barham. Very much Pitt’s appointee, Barham (previously Admiral Sir Charles Middleton) had resurrected the navy after the war with America. Although aged seventy-eight, he was still full of vigour, and knew more about reactivating ships than anybody in the business. In the short time that was to elapse before the ultimate showdown at Trafalgar, Barham was to prove the greatest naval administrator since Pepys.

Just below came a galaxy of brilliant sea commanders: ‘Billy-go-tight’ Cornwallis, the sixty-year-old Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet; Collingwood, who had served so long at sea it was said his children scarcely knew him; Cotton, Calder, Cochrane and Pellew – and, above, the genius of the frail but fearless Nelson. It was they who maintained the superb standards boasted by the navy of that day. Ships-of-the-line, though minute by twentieth-century measurements, then represented the pinnacle of the high-tech and constructional skill of their age; Nelson’s Victory, for example, had been six years in building (it was already forty years old at the time of Trafalgar); it had required the felling of 2,500 oaks, had 27 miles of rigging and 4 acres of sail, displaced 3,500 tons, carried 104 guns and had cost £63,176 (about £3 million in today’s money). After decades of hard training, the British handling of these exquisite, yet primitive, pieces of equipment was unsurpassable, and so was the tactical seamanship of the commanders. When it came to the crucial factor of gunnery, nobody could concert a broadside with such deadly efficacy; it was something that Napoleon’s navy, for all its enthusiasm, could never emulate.

Yet, on the outbreak of war in 1803, England could count no more than fifty-five capital ships against France’s forty-two, though because Addington’s declaration had taken Napoleon by surprise only thirteen of these latter were ready for immediate service. Nevertheless, the margin was still uncomfortably slim by the critical spring of 1805 when – with Spain and Holland aligned against her as well – Barham had only eighty-three battleships in commission, and many of those badly in need of repair. But the spirit made up for much; putting to sea in May 1803, Nelson wrote to Emma Hamilton, ‘I have no fears,’ and the following year (to his friend, Alexander Davison):

I am expecting the French to put to sea – every day, hour and moment; and you may rely that, if it is within the power of man to get at them, it shall be done; and I am sure that all my brethren look forward to that day as the finish of our laborious cruise.

Of 1803–5 it could be said with truth that only the Royal Navy of St Vincent, Barham and Nelson stood between Napoleon and world domination. Fortunately for Britain, although sailors like the courageous, doomed Villeneuve would do their best, the French Navy, however, was never a high priority with Napoleon, any more than the German Navy was with Adolf Hitler, which was the fundamental reason why both would ultimately be defeated. Certainly, had the Royal Navy proved unable to prevent Napoleon landing a substantial force in England, her prospects would have been dim, for the British Army came out of a very different mould from the navy. It was, according to one contemporary description:

lax in its discipline, entirely without system, and very weak in numbers. Each colonel of a regiment managed it according to his own notions, or neglected it altogether; professional pride was rare; professional knowledge even more so. Never was a kingdom less prepared for a stern and arduous conflict.

The Royal Navy and the Lessons of 1914–1918 Part I


It is an axiom among historians that a knowledge of history can serve as a guide to the present. This is not to say that the present ought simply to imitate the past, for every human situation is indeed unique, but rather that individuals and groups should act to meet new situations partly on the basis of past experience. Armed forces have a particularly bad reputation for not taking this axiom seriously. Let us examine in some detail one case history, the Royal Navy after the First War, with a view to understanding how much that Service profited from 1914–18 and why it did not learn as much as it might have from its war experience.

The gruelling test of battle in the war naturally had brought to the fore a host of defects in the Royal Navy–in materiel, tactical doctrine, and system of command. What would the postwar Navy do about these shortcomings–that was the question. During the hostilities, the ‘Young Turks’, led by Captain H. W. Richmond, partly to assuage their bitter criticisms of the inefficiency of the Navy, looked forward to a postwar British version of ‘J’accuse’, to be followed by an era of reform which would capitalize on the lessons of the war. They were confident that the war would provide the will for, and create an atmosphere favourable to, reform. ‘The English won’t learn in peace,’ declared one of Richmond’s disciples, ‘but they can’t fail to learn from war. It may be 5 years, or 10 … but sooner or later the truth must come to light and a renaissance will result, followed by a sound system of education.’

Early postwar prospects were good. Before leaving the Admiralty at the beginning of 1919, the First Lord, Sir Eric Geddes, recommended to the Board of Admiralty the appointment of ‘a strong, critical, and as far as possible independently-minded Committee’ to examine ‘the naval position on the outbreak of war and the steps taken during the war to remedy defects and meet new requirements’. Captain Stephen Roskill says that this suggestion, ‘with its implied criticism of the Admiralty’s conduct of the war’, was not implemented. Early in 1919 the Admiralty took steps ‘to appoint Committees of Sea Officers to summarise the more urgent lessons of the War and to make recommendations as to future policy, whilst the experience of the War is fresh in their minds….’ Here again there was no immediate follow-up. The only two committees formed were the ‘Mitchell Committee’, appointed on 21 March 1919 to make a thorough investigation of what had gone wrong at the Dardanelles and on Gallipoli in 1915, and a Post-War Questions Committee in August 1919 (Rear-Admiral R. F. Phillimore, chairman) with narrow terms of reference. It was to ‘consider in the light of the experience of the war the military uses and values of the different types of war vessel’ and ‘consider and advise the Board of Admiralty on the part likely to be taken by aircraft, both in attack and defence’. A Government directive struck the examination of the naval air situation from the terms of reference. As regards the first charge, no doubt because of Admiralty sensitivity to what might emerge from a searching study, the Committee made a superficial examination of the pertinent experience of the war and put its imprimatur on the continuing predominance of the battleship (March 1920).

More promising was the work of the Naval Staff College, which was started at Greenwich in June 1919 on Sir Rosslyn Wemyss’s initiative to train officers for Naval Staff duties. Its very establishment proved that one all-important lesson of the war had not gone unheeded. As Lord Beatty, who succeeded Wemyss at the end of 1919, put it: ‘Such naval disasters as occurred during the war were the direct result of the lack of sufficient and efficient staff. … We paid very dearly for the experience which led to its formation and nothing should interfere with its development.’ The main object of the staff course training (the course was approximately nine months) was (and remains), in Admiral J. H. Godfrey’s words, ‘to broaden the mind to study war and to make officers think’. By 1939 the list of officers who had completed the course, or had served on the staff of the College, filled two pages of the closely printed Navy List. During the 1920s the Navy, generally, regarded staff officers with a good deal of suspicion, particularly those with really independent thoughts and ideas. This attitude had changed by the beginning of its second decade, and ‘it seemed to be universally accepted that the staff course should form part and parcel of a promising naval officer’s career, and that the qualifications for selection to the course were the same as those for promotion. Of the fifty-one executive officers who did the course during 1929 and 1930, eighteen have become Flag Officers.’ As part of its work, the Staff College did its best to study and absorb the lessons of 1914–18, and the evidence is that it made as good a job of it as could be expected. The battles of the First War were studied, Jutland above all, with personal talks by the leading admirals of that time–J. R. Jellicoe, W. E. Goodenough, and others–adding a realistic element. In 1936 Admiral Sir Reginald (‘Blinker’) Hall, the great wartime Director of Naval Intelligence, delivered a ‘magnificent’ talk on intelligence and on ways of communicating with those at sea. He also discussed trade protection, drawing on the experience of 1914–18.

The Tactical School was founded at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1924 (it was the proposal of Admiral Sir Frederic Dreyer, Jellicoe’s Flag-Captain at Jutland) to promote a more scientific study of naval tactics. It expounded the Battle Instructions (title changed in the summer of 1939 to Fighting Instructions), with a well-organized demonstration of Jutland on the big tactical board as the high spot. This was laid on to bring out the lessons to be learned. For the rest the officers did convoy exercises and staged imaginary fleet actions. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Algernon Willis has ‘always thought that the Tactical School did a good job and I believe this was the general opinion in the Service. The fact that the Navy never put a foot wrong “tactically” in World War II is generally attributed largely to the work of the Tactical School.’ I would not dispute this expert judgement, except to note that there was perhaps too much emphasis on fleet action as being the ultimate test of war. One must add that a lot of tactical experiment and investigation went on at sea, where it should, and was carefully analysed. All the same, as will be indicated below, not all the tactical lessons of the First War were learned.

The accepted doctrine of the Navy’s strategical ideas was supposed to have been enshrined in the Naval War Manual, first issued in September 1921 and revised in October 1925. There was little in it beyond a few catchwords pertaining to the ‘principles of war’ and generalities on ‘naval policy’, the ‘functions of the Navy’, ‘war plans’, and so on. A much fuller statement, completed in October 1938 by Commander John Creswell at the R.N. College, Greenwich, at the direction of the Admiralty, had not been issued when the war came.

In short, there was in the interwar years a fairly close study of the lessons–some of the lessons, at any rate–of the war, and certain principles were evolved and reforms instituted. It may rightly be claimed that British naval successes in the Second War can be attributed in part to these studies and exercises. Apart from the establishment of the Staff College, there were various ways in which the lessons of the First War had obviously been learned and were well applied. Thus, enemy reporting was much improved and the Navy had good success in solving the problem of a massed torpedo attack by destroyers on a battle fleet, which had hobbled Grand Fleet tactics. The Grand Fleet doctrine of not committing a fleet to night action was rejected, and improvements were introduced in night fighting (as through the introduction of star shell and improved searchlight control), with the reward of Matapan. Ernie Chatfield and W. W. Fisher in the Mediterranean in the early thirties placed great emphasis on night-action training. In the last prewar months the new DNI, Rear-Admiral J. H. Godfrey, was able to apply an important lesson of the First War–that Operations and Intelligence must work together, avoiding any semblance of secrecy. The neglect of this common-sense principle had had disastrous results at Jutland. There was a big improvement on the First War as regards initiative and leadership. Those in command of operations, even small ones involving perhaps only a few units, showed a high degree of initiative, in no small way regaining the confidence in, and capacity for, independent judgement of those captains of the old sailing days who usually had to rely on themselves. Staff work generally, ashore and afloat, was improved. ‘There was’, writes Admiral Sir Manley Power, ‘a tremendous change in the behaviour of Senior Officers in the period between the wars, particularly in their attitudes towards their staffs. Early ones resented having staffs thrust upon them at all. Chatfield, as C-in-C [Mediterranean, 1930–2], used his staff to the full, but officers venturing opinions uninvited were severely choked off. [A. B.] Cunningham, whom I served [1939–43], professed to despise Staff training, but thrived on controversy and encouraged it. One of his earliest remarks to me after I joined him was: “I hate Staff Officers who agree with me.” This made me a No man for the duration!’ ‘A.B.C.’ was typical of the new breed of senior officer–men like John D. Cunningham, B. H. (‘Bertie’) Ramsay, and James Somerville–who encouraged controversy.

There was after the First War tremendous room for improvement in inter-Service understanding and co-operation. ‘To appreciate the atmosphere in which the Dardanelles assault was hatched, one must accept the fact that Admiral [Sir A. K.] Wilson, Lord Fisher, and Lord Kitchener were incapable of co-operation and would have been deeply shocked at the idea of revealing a naval plan to a soldier, or a military project to a sailor.’ The lesson was learned. After the war the three staff colleges held a joint exercise every year (the one in 1935 was ‘The Recapture of Singapore’!), which welded together Royal Air Force, Army, and Navy officers from the staff and personal points of view. The creation of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1923, a body where the three Service Chiefs met as a team to work out a common strategy and advise the Government on defence, was another encouraging development in the same direction, as was the companion Joint Planning Committee. I should mention, too, the establishment in 1927 of the Imperial Defence College to ‘train a body of officers [from all three Services] and civilian officials in the broadest aspects of Imperial Strategy’. As a result, despite the fact that differences of opinion continued and good relations were bedevilled by the Navy–RAF feud over control of Naval Air, inter-Service co-operation in the last war in the strategic field, though far from perfect, particularly at the very top, was highly effectual.

But all this gives a false impression of what actually was achieved in the twenty years between wars in the way of profiting from the lessons of 1914–18. Much was done at Staff and War colleges and at the Tactical School, but it was not based on a really critical study of the past. Moreover, investigation focused on materiel problems. Ship design, questions of gunfire (success was achieved in the control and concentration of gunfire), the development of smoke screens, and the like absorbed the energies of Admiralty committees. Apart, however, from the Mitchell Committee on the Dardanelles in 1919, there was little attempt by these committees to study the larger problems and lessons of the war. The results of this neglect were most serious in the field of trade defence.