The Sri Lankan Government Forces – Sri Lankan War I

Red area shows the approximate areas of Sri Lanka controlled by the LTTE and the Government, as of December 2005.


The regular Ceylon Defence Force (CDF) was founded in 1910 although a reserve volunteer force had existed since 1881. The CDF came under the command of the British Army. It was mainly British officered and the other ranks were Ceylonese. An exception was the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps, which was made up of Europeans. This rifle corps took part in the South African war of 1899 – 1902, as did the Ceylon Mounted Infantry. During the Great War many Ceylonese of all races volunteered to join the British Army fighting in France. Ceylonese units served in Egypt and in the Gallipoli campaign. During the Second World War the regular units came under the control of Britain’s South East Asia Command, headed by Lord Louis Mountbatten. The island was fortified extensively in anticipation of a Japanese invasion. In April 1942, for example, Japanese bombers, escorted by Zero fighters, mounted a large-scale surprise attack on Colombo and on a nearby Royal Air Force base, knocking out eight Hurricanes. Ceylon’s colonial forces deployed to occasional exotic garrison duties in the Seychelles, and also in the Cocos islands (where it had to put down a small Trotskyite mutiny among its own ranks; three soldiers were court-martialled and hanged, making them the only ‘Commonwealth’ soldiers executed by the British during the war). By 1945 the CDF numbered around 20,000.

After the war the CDF, in one case supported by British Royal Marines, countered left-wing strikes. On independence, technically the colonial force was disbanded but it was reconstituted into a new regular and reserve force structure. The formal foundation of the post-independence army dates from 9 October 1949 (now celebrated annually as army day; the navy and air force celebrate different foundation days). In contrast with the rapid mobilization of 1939 – 45, the CDF was reduced to around half its previous size. A defence agreement of 1947 offered the new colony British protection in the event it was attacked by a foreign state. British military advisers were provided and in effect a British brigadier commanded the fledgling army. Promising young Ceylonese officers were sent to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and more senior officers were trained at the British Staff College at Camberley. Some officers were sent to accompany the British Army of the Rhine for cold weather, and Cold War, experience. The emphasis on foreign military training was to continue as a hallmark of staff-officer education into the twenty-first century, though Britain was to give way to the US, China, India and Pakistan. Likewise, insignia, rank structure and officer ethos were long influenced by the British Army, though the dictates of ethnic war transformed some of the rules and standards taught at Sandhurst and Camberley. Ironically, Sri Lanka much later offered to instruct NATO armies in jungle-warfare skills.


The Ceylonese army, now under an indigenous comma nder, led its first major operation (Operation MONTY) to stop the influx of illegal South Indian immigrants smuggled into the country. The army co-ordinated with what was then the Royal Ceylon Navy. The army was busy in support of the police throughout the 1950s during strikes and domestic riots. Trade union and left-wing parties were active in much commercial disruption, most notably the 1961 Colombo port strike which caused major food shortages. Against this background of left-wing agitation a number of officers planned the 1962 coup. It was squashed just a few hours before it was due to be enacted. Fear of military intervention undermined political confidence in the forces for decades. The immediate result was the reduction of the military. In 1972 the three main services were renamed to reflect the republican status. From 1983 the main focus of the army was COIN against the Tamil insurgencies, although the two JVP Sinhalese insurrections (1971 and the late 1980s) also demanded extensive military operations. Few armies have had to fight a series of civil wars for over three decades. The ruling politicians were forced to learn to love their armed services and pump men and money into them – just to survive.

Like many developing countries Sri Lanka contributed to UN peacekeeping operations, in the early 1960s in the Congo and then, after 2004, a series of missions in Haiti. The average Haitian deployment was around 1,000 personnel. In 2007 over 100 members of the mission, including three officers, were accused of sexual misconduct including child abuse (though the latter related to women under eighteen paid for sex). The UN investigation found all the accused Sri Lankan military personnel guilty of the charges, although in Colombo nationalist politicians talked of an international conspiracy, related to criticisms from NGOs involved in the Tamil insurgency at home. Colombo promised an official inquiry and prompt punishment while replacing the offending regiment with 750 troops from the Gemunu Hewa Regiment. In 2010 – 11, small deployments were also sent to Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Western Sahara, while maintaining its major mission in Haiti. In November 2010 a mechanized infantry company (around 150 troops) was sent to join UN forces in Lebanon.

Structure and size

The army’s organization is based on the British Army model. And, like the Indian army, it has maintained in particular the regimental system inherited at independence. The infantry battalion, the basic unit in field operations, would typically include five companies of four platoons each. Platoons usually had three squads (sections) of ten soldiers each. In 1986 a new commando regiment was formed. Support for the infantry was standard – armoured regiments, field artillery regiments, plus signals and engineering support etc. In addition to commando forces, of interest were the special forces and a rocket artillery regiment.

Official and unofficial Sri Lankan figures and ORBATs (orders of battle) tend to differ from the standard Western data provided, for example, by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). The IISS put the current strength of the army at 117,000 comprising 78,000 regulars and 39,000 recalled reservists. That is a big army for a small country (with a population of just over 20 million), but not in the context of a long war. The army was certainly much larger, however, during the intense fighting in 2006 – 09. Interviews with a range of officers at or above the rank of brigadier all confirmed that the immediate post-war strength was around 230,000. Many senior officers insisted that the army should not be reduced, despite the potential post-war peace dividend, although they accepted, grudgingly, that natural wastage would reduce their ranks. When the same officers were asked their guesstimate of the size of the British Army, they all opined that it was much larger than theirs. They were stunned to discover that it was just over 100,000 and being reduced to 80,000. They then stopped complaining about possible reductions in the Sri Lankan army. The 1983 strength was roughly 12,000 regulars. Aggressive recruitment followed the outbreak of the Tamil war.

Today’s high figure of about 200,000 includes nearly 3,000 women. In 1979 the Army Women’s Corps was formed as an unarmed, non-combatant support unit. Inspiration and early training came from the British Women’s Royal Army Corps. Women in the British Army – except medical, dental and veterinary officers and chaplains (who belonged to the same corps as the men) and nurses (who were members of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps) – were in the WRAC from 1949 to 1992. Initially the Sri Lankan equivalent was similar to its British parent. Enlistment involved a five-year service commitment, (the same as men) and recruits were not allowed to marry in this period. They did basic training and drill, but not weapons and battle training. Females, however, were paid at the same level as the men, but were generally limited to communications, clerical and nursing duties. The long war prompted the expansion of the Women’s Corps; two women reached the rank of major general. By 2011 the Women’s Corps comprised one regular and four volunteer regiments.

Since Sri Lanka forces were all-volunteer – that is, there had been no conscription – all personnel had volunteered for regular or reserve service. Conscription had been regularly debated and since the 1985 legislation the government has had the legal power to enforce national military service. Economic pressures, patriotism, religious nationalism and local, familial or caste traditions had managed to fill the ranks, however. Recruitment was in theory nationwide, though this did not apply in the northern and eastern provinces during the war (some Tamils, however, joined pro-government militias as well as the regular forces). After the war, plans were announced to form a ‘Tamil regiment’ to promote integration in the army. (Another exception was the Rifle Corps which recruited from a specific area.)

The Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force (SLAVF) was the main volunteer reserve of the army. It was the collective name for the reserve units as well as the National Guard. The SLAVF was made up of part-time officers and soldiers, who were paid the same as the regular forces when on active duty. This was in contrast to the Regular Army Reserve, which comprised people who had a mobilization obligation for a number of years after their former full-time service in the regular army had been completed.

Operational command varied according to the tempo of the COIN war. The Army General Staff had been based at the Army HQ. Troops were deployed to protect the capital – which suffered a series of major terrorist attacks. Troops to defend the capital were based at Panagoda cantonment, the headquarters of a number of regiments, as well as a major arsenal and military hospital. The majority of infantry troops were deployed into the northern and eastern provinces during the war; they were placed under six commands known as Security Forces Headquarters: in Jaffna (SFHQ-J); Wanni (SFHQ-W); East (SFHQ-E), Kilinochchi (SFHQ-KLN); Mullaitivu (SFHQ-MLT) and South (SFHQ-S).

For officer training Sri Lanka largely adopted the British model. The local equivalent of Sandhurst was the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) based in Diyatalawa, where the young officer cadets trained for ninety weeks, much longer than their UK equivalents. Following the British model (set up in the UK in 1997) middle-ranking officers from all three services were educated at the Defence Services Command and Staff College. Just outside Colombo, the Kotelawala Defence University was established in 1981, as a tri-service college for young cadets (aged eighteen to twenty-two) to pursue a three-year course. Foreign senior-officer training migrated from the UK to more friendly, or generous, allies in Pakistan, China, Malaysia, the US and more recently the Philippines. More covert was the COIN training received from the Israelis, who have had a close intelligence and procurement relationship with Sri Lanka since the mid-1980s. In the early period the Israelis assisted with instruction in FIBUA (Fighting In Built-Up Areas).

Army’s weapons

The army’s equipment was initially British Second World War surplus, although some post-war armoured fighting vehicles such as the Saladins, Saracens and Ferrets were also added to the inventory. By the 1970s the USSR, Yugoslavia and China had displaced Britain; Chinese support was the most consistent. Modern counter-insurgency demanded modern military hardware, including heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 106mm recoilless rifles and 60mm and 81mm mortars as well as up-to-date sniper rifles and night-vision equipment. Armoured mobility was also needed. The old Saladins and Ferrets and the like were too vulnerable to anti-tank weapons let alone mines. China provided an array of tracked and wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs) including the Type 85 amphibious variant. From Moscow came forty-five of the BTR-80 APCs to replace the trusty old BTR-152s. After 1985 South Africa provided Buffels which had proved very effective in apartheid’s bush wars, especially against land mines. Sri Lanka then developed its own variants, the Unibuffel (300 were locally manufactured) and the Unicorn. The Soviet Union provided nearly 300 infantry fighting vehicles (variants of the BMP). The Czechs shipped in around eighty T-55 medium battle tanks, while China matched the supply of tanks (Type 59s). The army also used Chinese Type 63 amphibious tanks. Sri Lanka claimed it had sixty-two MTBs (Main Battle Tanks). Much of the imported kit was obsolete or obsolescent, but it was refitted and often proved useful in combat.

Artillery came largely from China, especially 122mm, 130mm and 152mm howitzers introduced from the mid-1990s. From 2000 the deadly offspring of the ‘Stalin Organs’, 122mm multi-barrel rocket launchers, were deployed. Colombo acquired around thirty RM-71s from Czechoslovakia and a handful of BM-21s from Russia. Rocket artillery may not be very accurate but it can have a devastating effect, physically and morally, at the receiving end. The army was also well equipped with the standard array of mortars, from 60mm light mortars to 120mm towed versions — all courtesy of Beijing. It also used fairly sophisticated radar counter-battery equipment, the US-designed AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder at first. But the American system was old and the Sri Lankans had problems with spare parts. Then the Chinese stepped in with better equipment. When I asked the army commander, Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya, what he regarded as his most useful bit of kit, he did not hesitate: ‘Artillery locating radars. We could locate friend and foe. That was the most important. We had five of them [systems]. With interlocking systems, we had total coverage. From 2008, it was in position. ’ Most of the army casualties had been from LTTE mortars and artillery.

A senior artillery expert in the army, Brigadier A. P. C. Napagoda, summarized the 2006 – 09 campaign thus:

From the battle of Marvil Aru to the final battle at the Nandikadal lagoon the artillery brigade employed a sufficient number of light field medium guns, MBRL [multi-barrel rocket launchers] and locative radars … which facilitated the creation of high gun density over any given area.

The Sri Lankans patched together local and imported signals systems. Perhaps the most important was the provision of live feeds from unmanned drones to the army HQ and divisional HQs. The other primary means of communication were radio and CDMA (code division multiple access technology); the latter allowed commanders at all levels secure and interactive full ‘duplex’ communication. VHF and UHF jammers were deployed to disrupt enemy networks. The army also used locally manufactured manpack bomb jammers to nullify LTTE improvised explosive devices.

Sri Lanka acquired a wide range of infantry weapons. The Beretta M9s and Glock 17s were frequently used handguns. The communist-sourced AK-47 assault rifles were very common, and, from the West, Heckler and Koch G3s, FNs and American M16s. Machine guns were varied too: ranging from the classic British Sterling to German MP5s and also Israeli Uzis. The vintage FN MAG gun was a traditional and reliable workhorse. The Chinese versions of the Russian RPD (Type 56 LMG) were also in evidence. Grenade launchers arrived from South Africa and Germany as well as the M-203 from the US. Many of the RPGs (man-portable rocket launchers) came from China and anti-tank missiles were sourced from Pakistan.

Army tactics

On land and sea the government forces fought conventional war unconventionally, sometimes aping and mastering the asymmetric tactics of the insurgents. Above all they used small-group long-range tactics by special forces to destabilize the enemy rear. The Commando regiments were set up in 1980, but the most effective troops were the special forces (SF) set up in 1985.

The special forces comprised around 5,000 troops in five regiments. They trained originally with the Israelis, mainly in urban warfare, but soon the Sri Lankan SF became arguably the best jungle fighters in the world. They fought in eight-man teams, although sometimes two teams of eight would combine, especially in an emergency or for logistical purposes. For example, one surveillance team might overlap with a team establishing a forward-supply cache (usually of ammunition, water and medicine) and then join forces if they met hostile elements. The SF did not use helicopters for insertions, partly because of the jungle terrain and partly because of stealth. They would walk in and often penetrate up to forty to fifty kilometres behind the lines. The air force was used only five times in emergency casevacs, usually by Mi-24 choppers. Nor did the SBS or navy work directly with the army SF. The SF commander told me: ‘We did no landings by sea – ground penetration was safer for us.’ Paradrops were not considered, not least because of the Indian army debacle in Jaffna.

The long-range patrols (LRPs) could last up to a month. They would act as spotters for air and artillery strikes. They would also disrupt LTTE movement not least by targeting their leaders and communications. The SF were also used defensively to plug successful LTTE counter-attacks or to staunch the occasional LTTE spectacular. For example, on 29 September 2008, the LTTE elite Black Tigers hit an air force base in the rear of army operations. Two Tiger aircraft also bombed the base. SF squadrons were rushed in to halt further LTTE exploitation of the surprise attack.

Interestingly, the special forces did not utilize captured insurgents, partly because many Tigers took suicide pills rather than surrender. Even when they were captured, the SF were extremely reluctant to accept any ‘turned’ insurgents. Despite the widespread and effective use of so-called ‘turned terrorists’ in the Rhodesian Selous Scouts, itself based upon British ‘pseudo-gang’ techniques applied in Malaya and Kenya, the Sri Lankan SF deployed only a handful of Tamil-speaking former Tigers and then very reluctantly and very occasionally. According to SF sources, there was only one example of a pseudo using his insurgent knowledge and the Tamil language to enable SF troops to disengage from a position where they were vastly outnumbered.

The army’s massive recruitment drive – attracting 3,000-5,000 men per month in the last two years of the war – allowed for attack and defence in depth. Combined services provided two or three infantry lines to prevent the previous LTTE tactic of outflanking or penetrating the lines, and then attacking from the rear. This would imply an unimaginative linear type of mentality. In fact, the ethos of the SF and commando long-range patrols were applied throughout the infantry in the focus on small-unit initiative. Special Infantry Operations Training (SIOT) – the initial courses were forty-four days – allowed the small units to carry out complex operations in often difficult terrain. The insurgents knew their own territory and so the army sought infantrymen who had been born and bred in the villages and who might also possess the same familiarity with jungles and endurance as the guerrillas they encountered. The small group approach from the SF down to the ordinary infantry created flexibility and often area dominance. Ability, not least from NCOs, was rewarded; promotion of good NCOs to officers was also encouraged. Mission command was to be seen at most levels, certainly best practice in COIN.

A close observer of the war, Dr David Kilcullen, an acknowledged authority on COIN, commented on the final stages:

The Tigers chose to confront the government in a symmetrical way, in terms of open warfare. In response, the Sri Lankan army destroyed them with a combination of conventional and counter-guerrilla tactics that denied the Tigers a comparative advantage while the tempo of operations prevented the Tigers from regrouping.

The basic approach of the LTTE was to combine guerrilla warfare, positional defence and IEDs to slow down and inflict heavy casualties by indirect fire – artillery and mortars. The LTTE erected numerous ditches and bunds which were often heavily, and randomly, mined. Army sappers had to devise all sort of means of dealing with these fortifications, including the use of improvised Bangalore ‘torpedoes’. An independent bridging squadron was also formed as part of the combat engineering effort. On a smaller scale, the infantry used spring-loaded ladders to deal with bunds. Engineers modified tractors to compensate for the lack of roads, especially during heavy monsoons and flooding. Often rations had to be airdropped. The much larger army required a massive logistical back-up.

One engineering challenge was met by installing steel mesh in the Iranamadu and Udayar Kattu reservoirs to protect against underwater Tiger infiltrators. Water was also a challenge for the Army Medical Corps. Near drowning, an unexpected type of casualty, was encountered when the LTTE blasted the bund around the Kalmadukulam Tank (reservoir). Frontline medics had to deal with 60 per cent of casualties from mortar and artillery blasts and 40 per cent from gunshot wounds. They also had to treat tropical diseases, especially Hepatitis A. Post-traumatic stress disorders also took their toll.

In short, tactical flexibility plus the massive numerical superiority (as well as air supremacy) allowed the army to dominate and then overwhelm the Tigers towards the end of the campaign.

Sri Lanka Navy Fast Attack Craft
Sri Lanka Navy turns 68

The Navy

As befits an island in the middle of crucial sea lanes, naval defence has always been a major security issue. In 1937 the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force (CNVF) was set up. The Second World War meant a rapid absorption into the Royal Navy. In 1950 a small nucleus of officers and men forged the Royal Ceylon Navy, to change its name, as with the other services, when the country became a republic. Initial naval expansion depended upon purchase of ex-British and Canadian ships. The navy suffered perhaps even more than the army from the fallout from the 1962 coup conspiracy. Ships were sold off and manpower reduced, as was training in the UK. The navy was therefore ill-prepared for the first JVP insurrection and the beginning of the Tamil revolt. The immediate stopgap was the gift of initially one of the more advanced Shershen-class torpedo boats from the USSR and purchase of the unsophisticated Chinese Shanghai-11-class fast gunboats for coastal patrols and port protection. New bases were built primarily to interdict smuggling operations from southern India. The navy also developed a land component for base defence, becoming known later as Naval Patrolmen and capable of offensive operations. The navy also replicated the British SBS – the Special Boat Service. As the LTTE war expanded – and the Tigers relied on extensive overseas procurement – Sri Lanka developed a blue-water strategy capable of sinking large ships, even just outside the territorial waters of Australia.

The naval HQ was based in Colombo; this controlled six naval command areas. After the war some of the coastal defence was transferred to a newly formed Coast Guard.

The 2012 fleet consisted of over fifty combat, support ships and inshore craft, sourced from China, India, Israel and, more recently, from indigenous build.

The IISS put the size of the navy as 9,000 personnel, both active and reserve, but this appeared to be an underestimate. Probably the more accurate figure was 48,000, of whom approximately 15,000 were dedicated to land deployment. Women served in regular and reserve roles. Initially women were limited to the medical branch but the tempo of war led to females serving in all branches. A female doctor reached the rank of commodore in 2007.

The navy’s weapons

The navy boasted about 150 vessels, but the core consisted of around fifty combat and support ships. In addition, the navy rapidly manufactured 200 small inshore patrol craft. The majority of the larger vessels came from China, India and Israel, though the Sri Lankans began building their own bigger ships. The largest warships were five offshore patrol vessels, with the SLNS Jayasagara built in Sri Lanka (and commissioned in 1983). All the blue-water vessels could operate naval helicopters (but insufficient funding and air force opposition prevented any such deployment). The offshore patrol ships played a vital role in interdicting and finally sinking the major Tiger supply and storage ships. In 2001 two Israeli Saar 4-class fast missile boats were procured. Dubbed the Nandimithra class by the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN), they carried Gabriel 11 anti-ship missiles as well as a range of guns which augmented the conventional warfighting capability.

The workhorse of the navy – involved in regular coastal combat – was the fast attack flotilla. It was formed in the early 1980s with Israeli Dvora-class boats to counter LTTE gun-running in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. Two Dvoras were purchased in 1984 and another four in 1986. Around twenty-five metres long, and displacing about forty-seven tons, able to reach 45 knots and bristling with rapid-fire guns, they were able to deter the ‘swarming’ wolf-pack tactics of the Sea Tigers – a major element in asymmetric naval warfare. Small fibreglass Sea Tiger suicide craft would attack naval and civilian convoys. The fast-attack flotilla also patrolled the many creeks and landing points in LTTE territory to disrupt smaller boats securing resupply from the larger blue-water Tiger ships. The flotilla was made up of a variety of fast-attack craft types: four heavier Israeli Super Dvora (Mark 11) were delivered in 1995 – 96. The navy also used the Israeli Shaldag-class design to construct its own Colombo class. Ten other fast-attack craft originated in China.

Compared with their counterparts in other navies, the SLN fast-attack craft were much more heavily armed. They started with two or three machine guns but became more heavily armed to counter the arsenals fitted on Sea Tiger craft. Eventually, the fast attack craft had Typhoon 25 – 30mm stabilized cannon as the main armament. They were connected to day-and-night, all-weather, long-range electro-optic systems. The recent Colombo class was equipped with an Elop MSIS optronic director and the Typhoon GFCS boasted its own weapons control system. They also sported fancy surface search radar systems. In addition they carried weapons such as the Oerlikon 20mm cannon, automatic grenade launchers and PKM general purpose machine guns. This sounds over-armed but heavy firepower was required to protect the crews from suicide Sea Tigers trying to ram them or explode themselves close by. The fast-attack craft typically had eighteen crew members and operated in group patrols, usually, but not always, at night. The Tigers fought very hard and would not retreat; occasionally the flotilla had to withdraw from engagements. A fast-attack captain said, ‘Flak jackets were no good, except for bits of shrapnel; the heavy calibre [Tiger] guns would tear people in half.’

Inshore patrol craft were much smaller (fourteen metres long). They were used for harbour defence and amphibious operations. In addition, the seven-metre-long Arrow class were heavily armed speedboats manufactured in Sri Lanka and used by the SBS and its variant, the Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS). The SBS, formed in 2005, comprised around 600 men. Those who passed the tough training for the SBS but who were not good enough for the final selection phase could join the RABS, which numbered around 400 men.

To support larger amphibious operations the SLN had a tank landing ship and other utility craft. The Yuhai-class ship could transport two tanks and 250 troops. There were also smaller Chinese-made landing craft. The SLN had several auxiliary vessels for personnel transport and replenishment.

During the war the navy had no dedicated air assets or UAVs. Afterwards, the embryonic fleet air arm based on the offshore patrol ships started experimenting with HAL Chetak (the Indian revamp of the venerable French Alouette III) and HH-65 Dolphin choppers, used extensively by the US Coast Guard in short range air-sea rescue roles.

Most of the naval assets and SBS units were based during the war at Trincomalee, one of the best and most attractive harbours in the world. It was attacked consistently during the war, from and under the sea, and from cadres who had infiltrated the nearby wooded hinterland. Any British visitor to the base would be struck by its colonial heritage: the streets and junctions are named after Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. Monkeys clamber over verandahs of Seymour Cottage in Drummond Hill Road. It is very orderly, very Royal Navy, including the smart waiters in the mess/wardroom serving up a perfectly chilled gin and tonic in the sticky heat.

Maritime tactics

It is very rare for an insurgency’s naval forces to reach parity and even on occasions outmatch the conventional COIN power’s force. The naval war was long, active and intense: it involved the biggest tonnage of ships sunk since the Falklands war of 1982. To defend the 679 nautical miles of coastline the navy grew to nearly 50,000 (including 15,000 Naval Patrolmen for land-based security), almost the same size as the Indian navy. But for most of the war the Sea Tigers proved more flexible and destructive especially with their swarming tactics mixing suicide and attack boats. They sank a Dvora fast attack craft in August 1995 and another in March 1996. The Tigers filmed their sea victories for their propaganda outlets. They destroyed a further six of other classes of fast attack craft. After the ceasefire ended in 2005, the Sea Tigers sent out larger and more craft, mixing suicide craft among the wolf pack. The Black Tiger suicide crews and boats were difficult to detect, with their low profiles and 35 – 40 knot speed.

Just as the army developed the small-group concept, the navy advanced its own small boat variant. They tried to ‘out guerrilla’ the guerrillas. The navy copied the Sea Tigers’ asymmetric swarm but on a much larger scale. Hundreds of small inshore patrol craft were built from fibreglass; the smallest was the twenty-three-foot Arrow. Large fourteen-metre and seventeen-metre variants were also built. The larger boats had double-barrelled 23mm guns and a 44mm automatic grenade launcher (the latter acquired from Singapore). The fast-attack craft had more endurance, reach and firepower, but they were unstable in heavy seas and often needed to be augmented by the small boats to defeat swarms. The inshore patrol craft (IPCs) were based in strategically important locations ready for rapid-reaction forays against surprise assaults by the Sea Tigers. Although much of the fighting was at night, the navy had to maintain twenty-four-hour surveillance. Several squadrons could unite to form an anti-swarm of sometimes up to fifty or sixty boats. Echoing infantry tactics on land, they used an arrowhead formation to expand the arc of fire. Or they would attack in three adjacent columns in single file to mask their numbers and increase the element of surprise.

The SBS operated in four- or eight-man teams, deploying in Arrow boats or rubber inflatable boats for covert insertions. The SBS provided vital surveillance but also took part in land-strike missions. SBS basic training was for one year, with the majority dropping out before the end. Their training was said to be augmented by Indian Marine Commandos, as well as US special forces, including SEALs. The RABS manned the large number of anti-swarming boats, a tough and dangerous role.

The navy’s lacklustre performance was much improved after 2006. It contributed immensely to the government’s war effort by coastal interdiction of arms supplies to the Tigers, then it went further by adopting an extended blue-water strategy by sinking eight ‘Pigeon’ ships, the LTTE floating warehouses. Crucially, it also provided the umbilical supply line to the garrison in Jaffna. Towards the end of the war it prevented escape by sea of the surviving Tiger leadership, as well as engaging in humanitarian missions for civilians fleeing the fighting.

The keys to LTTE logistics were the unflagged merchant ships which would loiter 1,600 kilometres from the island, and then advance to 150 or so kilometres off the coast to liaise with LTTE fishing trawlers, escorted by armed Sea Tiger boats. The navy initially attacked the logistic trawler fleet, sinking eleven in the first year of renewed fighting. With the help of Indian and, sometimes, US intelligence, the navy sought out the LTTE Pigeon ships. The navy deployed its most up-to-date offshore patrol vessels, the Sayura (ex-Indian navy, re-commissioned in 2000) and Samudura (formerly the USS Courageous, transferred from the US Coast Guard in 2004); it quickly converted old merchant ships and rust-bucket tankers as replenishment vessels. The long-range fleet sank the first floating warehouse on 17 September 2006, 1,350 nautical miles from Sri Lanka. A further three were sunk in early 2007. Then audaciously the navy extended itself 1,620 nautical miles southeast, close to the Australian territory of the Cocos Islands off the coast of Indonesia, to destroy three ships in September 2007 and a fourth in early October.

Vice Admiral D. W. A. S. Dissanaayake, the naval commander, was sitting in his splendid office in Naval HQ in Colombo, with a fine view of the sea and the lighthouse built by the British. He was a poet and songwriter in his spare time. ‘We are not a big navy – we don’t have frigates. We improvised,’ he said. ‘But we went nearly all the way to Australian waters and sank the last four vessels.’

The Pigeon ships did not possess heavy-calibre weapons but they would open up with machine guns, mortars and RPGs when challenged by the navy. The Vice Admiral explained how – after initial resistance – the LTTE seamen did not offer to surrender. They either swallowed their cyanide tablets or simply drowned. On both sides in the naval war, there were few stories of capture at sea or rescue of survivors. Little or no quarter was given in littoral or deepwater combat. Because the LTTE vessels were rogue ships, naval officers claimed the right to protect themselves when they came under attack from the Pigeons. The loss of their supplies of weapons, ammunition and medicines was a major logistical defeat for the Tigers.

The Vice Admiral was equally voluble about the navy’s logistical achievements, especially the supply to Jaffna. The city was an icon to both sides in the war. The Tigers occupied it in 1986 and the Indian forces managed to briefly and precariously occupy it in 1987; it returned to rebel control from 1989 to 1995. The army regained the city in 1995. Thereafter its long siege was as symbolic to the Colombo government as Leningrad (now St Petersburg) was to the Soviets in the Second World War. It had to be held at all costs.

The navy escorted a converted cruise ship they dubbed the Jetliner to resupply the city. It took five to six hours to pass LTTE controlled coastline on the dangerous journey from Trincomalee up the northeast coast to Jaffna. The western route is not navigable, except by very small boats or hovercraft. The Jetliner, heavily armed itself with machine guns, was typically escorted by over twenty ships and boats, to deter Sea Tiger raids. Beechcraft aircraft and UAVs tracked the convoy. It left early in the morning and, once in Jaffna, had to organize a very quick turnaround, thirty minutes, so as to traverse the LTTE coast before dark on the return journey. Over forty tons of cargo and approximately 3,000 troops were transported once or twice a week. The whole of the navy and indeed most of the top brass in defence HQ would be on alert until the convoy sneaked past the dangers of LTTE artillery and sea attack. Jaffna was also supplied by air but only the navy could provide the heavy lift of sufficient men and equipment to keep the city in government hands.

‘If the ship had gone down, we would have lost the war,’ the navy commander admitted.

The navy was also proud of its actions during the final phases of the war. The Vice Admiral insisted the navy did not use any naval gunnery to attack the LTTE remnants in the Cage, but it did take extensive risks from last-ditch suicide boats to rescue thousands of civilians from the beaches as they tried to flee Tiger punishment squads and the Sri Lankan army envelopment.

The navy endured heavy fighting — some sea battles lasted fourteen hours — and many early reverses in ships sunk. The navy leadership was also targeted by Black Tiger squads. On 16 November 1992 the head of the navy, Vice Admiral W. W. E. C. Fernando, was killed in Colombo by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle who drove into the Admiral’s staff car. In October 2007 a truck bomber killed an assembly of 107 off-duty sailors, one of the most deadly suicide attacks of the war. In all, the navy lost over a thousand of its personnel in the conflict. Nevertheless, it finally achieved sea dominance because of its small-boat concept in defeating the Sea Tiger swarms, and the major interdiction of LTTE supplies. It was a four-dimensional war – a land, air and sea and underwater fight. The navy did not develop a sophisticated anti-mine warfare capability, however. The Tigers used frogmen with mines and semi-submersibles to destroy navy ships. The Tigers were trying to develop submarine warfare; various crude prototypes were captured by the army in the last stages of the war.


Portugal and the Changing Art of War


Portuguese kings needed more revenue by the late fourteenth century especially because of their escalating military costs. These cost increases were mainly a consequence of developments in the technology of warfare. Chain mail, long worn by knights, was being steadily replaced by more expensive plate armour. Fortifications were being re-designed and strengthened to better withstand sieges. Perhaps most important of all, the introduction and escalating use of the crossbow amounted to a revolution in weaponry. Systematic recruitment and training of crossbowmen (besteiros) probably began in Portugal during the first half of the fourteenth century, but progressed slowly. The process required complex organisation on a national scale, but was an essential step towards the creation of a permanent royal army. Units of crossbowmen were raised on a quota basis by the Portuguese municipalities. The archers were recruited primarily from the sons of tradesmen, not members of the nobility or their retainers, and they were equipped with their weapons directly by the crown.

Though in the struggle against Juan of Castile a substantial proportion of Joāo I’s army still consisted of feudal levies, the presence of the crossbowmen enabled Nuno Álvares Pereira to apply one of the most important lessons of the Hundred Years War – namely, that well-trained, disciplined bowmen drawn up in sound defensive positions could devastate slow-moving knights on horseback. So it had been at Crécy and Poitiers – and so it was at Aljubarrota. On that memorable field the Portuguese army, though smaller than that of Castile, was more coherent, better led and perhaps more advanced on the road to modernisation. While Portugal did not retain these advantages for long, they were nevertheless crucial in 1385, when the kingdom’s need was greatest.

Early in the fourteenth century the still more revolutionary powder weapons were introduced; but they were then too unreliable and therefore slow to gain acceptance. However, by the start of the fifteenth century cannon were proving their worth, especially in siege warfare. Under the early Avis kings they were gradually incorporated into the nation’s arsenal. Firearms and gunpowder were kept strictly under crown control, with a central arsenal maintained in Lisbon. Cannon were used to great effect by both Afonso V and later monarchs in Morocco. They were also mounted on warships.

The English also remained active in Spain, fighting against Castile as allies of Navarre, Aragon or, in the 1380s, Portugal. In 1381-82, for example, Edmund Langley, Earl of Cambridge, led 1,500 men-at-arms and 1,500 archers (mostly English but including Gascons and Castilian exiles) in an invasion of Castile alongside the King of Portugal, while some 4-800 English archers under 3 esquires were in the Portuguese army at Aljubarrota. The largest English expedition was that of1386-87, when the Duke of Lancaster, pressing his own claim to the throne of Castile, invaded Galicia and León in alliance with Portugal, his forces totalling as many as 2,000 men-at-arms, 3,000 archers and perhaps 2,000 further foot-soldiers.

With so many French and English troops around it is hardly surprising to find the Spanish states very soon beginning to emulate their military organisation and techniques. As early as 1372, for instance, we find King Fernando of Portugal stipulating that his vassals were in future expected to field troops equipped either in the French or the English manner. Full reorganisation was in hand by 1382, when both Portugal and Castile laid down new rules for the raising and administration of their armies. Fernando entirely abolished the Moorish military nomenclature that had been used for hundreds of years and replaced it with the current Anglo-French terminology of his allies. The ancient office ofalferez mor (Chief-standard-bearer), the military commander-in-chief in the king’s absence, was abandoned and replaced instead by a Constable (Condestabre) and a Marshal (Marichal).

Portugal, normally fielded only some 2-3,000 men-at-arms in the 14th century, plus at the most 10-12,000 infantry. Even in the Toro campaign as late as 1475 she put only 5,600 horse and 14,000 foot in the field, as compared to Castile’s 4,000 men-at-arms, 8,000 jinetes (spelt with a ‘g’ in Portugal) and 30,000 infantry in 1476.

The Military Orders

After 1275 the Orders had been gradually taken over by the aristocracy, and then by the crown, and were subsequently stripped of much of their wealth. In addition they were sapped of their strength by their use in the civil wars that so racked the Iberian kingdoms; in 1354, for example, the anti-Master of Calatrava, Pedro Estevaiiez Carpenteiro, mustered 600 lances against Pedro the Cruel’s own appointed Master, Diego Garcia de Padilla, brethren of Santiago, Calatrava and Alcantara fighting on both sides in the Trastamaran conflict of the 1350s and 1360s. It is hardly surprising, then, that one modern authority should state that ‘by 1330 all the Orders were smaller, weaker, more dominated by the kings and nobles and less effective against the Moslems’. By the end of this era their very independence had been stripped from them too; in Castile the crown effectively took the Masterships of Calatrava, Santiago and Alcantara for itself in 1487, 1493 and 1494 respectively.

Nevertheless, the Orders could still muster substantial forces throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. Calatrava alone housed 150 freyles caballeros (brother knights) in 1302, in addition to which the Order had 40 commanderies by the end of the 14th century and 51-56 by the beginning of the 16th. The Order’s Grand Commander and Castellan respectively raised forces of 500 cavalry and 1,200 infantry, and 1,200 cavalry and 800 infantry, against one another in 1442, while the Master raised 400 cavalry and an unknown quantity of infantry from the Order’s Andalusian estates alone 40 years later. Excluding its Portuguese commanderies the Order of Santiago could field some 250 freyles in the 14thcentury, and 400 freyles and 1,000 lances from its whole 84 commanderies by the 16th, while the Master of Alcantara was able to raise as many as 1,500 horse and 2,500 foot in 1472. Froissart tells us that even the Portuguese Order of Avis, of which the Mastership had been at the disposal of the crown since 1385, had 200 brethren. In fact the numbers of each Order’s brethren seem always to have been proportionately small, and most of the troops they raised were actually vassals or mercenaries. Thus brethren are frequently to be found in the role of officers commanding units of infantry or crossbowmen, or even artillery (of which the Orders had their own). The actual command structure of each individual Order was headed by its Master (Maestre or Mestre). His deputy was the Grand Prior (Prior Mayor; in the Order of Calatrava the Gran Prior came below the Clavero), after whom came the Grand Commander (Comendador Mayor); the Castellan or Key-bearer (Clavero), assisted by a Sub-Ciavero and a Quartermaster (Obrero); and finally the Alferez or Standard-bearer of the Order. Organisation of individual commanderies remained as before, except that most now only contained 4 brethren, not 12.

All this meant that well before the end of the fifteenth century waging independent war was inexorably moving beyond the means of even the greatest of magnates – unless they could act in unison with powerful outside forces. Great nobles might still retain a capacity to put into the field significant forces, but were at a growing comparative disadvantage to the crown. This was graphically demonstrated by the downfall of the duke of Braganc, a in 1483. From the time Joāo I became firmly established on his throne, no Portuguese noble dared to offer a direct challenge to the king militarily. The only exception was Pedro, the beleaguered ex-regent, who was easily overwhelmed at Alfarrobeira in 1449. Nobles who sought to get rid of a king were thereafter more inclined to try assassination. This helps to explain why from the time of Afonso V monarchs and their families were usually protected by a royal guard approximately 200 strong. In short, there is no doubt that by the Avis era advances in the art of war strengthened the king vis-à-vis the nobility and contributed significantly to Portugal’s advance towards modern statehood.


Prior to the arrival of the English and French in the mid-14th century, Spanish warfare depended for success on fast-moving raids and the systematic use of siege warfare, and though pitched battles were not exactly unknown they were certainly extremely uncommon. The Spanish therefore lacked the training and experience to meet du Guesclin’s and the Black Prince’s companies of veterans on anything like equal terms, and the latter consequently had a low opinion of them. Froissart says of the Spanish: ‘It is true that they cut a handsome figure on horseback, spur off to advantage, and fight well at the first onset; but as soon as they have thrown 2 or 3 darts, and given a stroke with their lances, without disconcerting the enemy, they take alarm, turn their horses’ heads and save themselves by flight as well as they can. This game they played at Aljubarrota.’

The reference to their throwing of darts is significant, because this was characteristic of the skirmishing style of warfare that the Spaniards had been involved in with their Moslem neighbours for centuries. It had even led to the evolution of a special troop-type-the jinete-whose light armour, low saddle, short stirrups and nimble horse put him on an equal footing with the light, javelin-armed horsemen of Granada. The role of the jinete in battle was identical to that of his Moslem counterpart-to charge towards the enemy, discharge his javelins, and wheel away again before he could reply. In addition jinetes patrolled the flanks and rear of the army and cut down fugitives. At Trancoso and Aljubarrota in 1385 and at Salamanca in 1387 the Castilians employed their jinetes to outflank the Portuguese and fall on their rear. At Najera too they were positioned on the flanks of the Franco-Castilian army, probably with a similar plan in mind, but on this occasion they proved utterly ineffective in the face of the Black Prince’s longbowmen. Their one success against the English was at Ariñez in 1367, where a large body of jinetes under Don Tello surprised Sir William Felton’s company of some 100 or 400 men-at-arms and archers on a hillside. Chandos Herald tells us how Felton himself charged them on horseback, ‘and the Castilians followed him on all sides, throwing lances and javelins at him. They killed his horse under him, but Sir William defended himself fiercely on foot, though it was of little use for he was killed in the end.’ Don Tello then turned on the rest of Felton’s company: ‘the Spaniards launched many attacks on them, pressing them hard and hurling javelins and lances and spears. And that brave band of men … charged down more than a hundred times with drawn swords and made them retreat, nor could the Castilians harm them by throwing lances and darts.’ In the end it took the French marshal d’Audrehem’s men to finish the action, these dismounting and attacking on foot once they arrived on the scene. The moral here is that although the jinetes had succeeded in pinning the English company down, it nevertheless took dismounted men-at-arms to successfully conclude the engagement, and prior to the coming of the French and English, Spanish men-at-arms were not prepared to dismount in battle. Even afterwards they dismounted only reluctantly, though it is noteworthy that the elite Order of the Sash accompanied du Guesclin’s vanguard on foot at Najera. That the Spanish nevertheless recognised the tactical potential of dismounted men-at-arms is clear from the fact that Pere IV, King of Aragon, categorically forbade his troops ever to attack Castile’s French mercenaries once they had dismounted, recommending (rather negatively) that they should keep their distance and wait until the French had remounted before attempting to attack them.

In the field Spanish troops, like those elsewhere in Europe, drew up in 3 battles (batallas), which were divided into so many quadrillas or squadrons, each commanded by a knight called a quadrillero. The best troops were stationed in the centre and at the extremities of the line, and the infantry (crossbowmen, javelinmen and slingers) were drawn up in front. Compared to the English or French they delivered disordered charges, both on horseback and on the rare occasions that they dismounted. The Granadines made the most of this weakness when they actually took the Castilians on in the field in open combat, resorting to sudden feigned or real charges by bands of yelling horsemen whose intent was to disorder, panic or draw the enemy in disorganised pursuit, at which the Moslems would wheel and hurl their javelins at them at close range.


More unusually, the Portuguese crown also developed one of the most effective fighting navies possessed by any contemporary European monarch in this period, its only serious rival being that of Castile. The origins of this Portuguese navy are obscure, though there are fleeting mentions of crown warships as early as the mid-twelfth century. In 1317 King Dinis, concerned to defend the coast and shipping from Muslim corsairs and to mount his own offensive operations, contracted with the Genoese Manuel Pessagno to establish a permanent galley fleet based in Lisbon. This was a far-sighted, long-term investment, for navies even more than armies could not be created overnight. During the next few decades, the Portuguese crown accumulated the necessary resources and experience to sustain a permanent fleet and to begin to build up a great naval tradition. In the fourteenth century, the navy consisted mainly of galleys for which rowers were recruited from Portugal’s coastal communities; but it must at times have also included various kinds of sailing ships.

The high cost and technical proficiency needed to maintain galley squadrons meant they were a military arm which only the state could sustain. Already in 1369 King Fernando possessed thirty-two galleys. Later, galleys played a key role in the successful defence of Lisbon by Joāo of Avis in 1384. Portugal also developed a capacity to move substantial military forces by sea using sailing ships. This capacity made serious campaigning in North Africa possible – and without it the famous Ceuta expedition of 1415 could not have been mounted. Moreover, it was Portuguese success in building and manning ocean-going sailing vessels that made possible the country’s role in early Atlantic exploration.

Canadian Navy WWII

HMCS Haida is a Tribal-class destroyer that served in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) from 1943 to 1963, participating in World War II and the Korean War. She was named for the Haida people. The only surviving Tribal-class destroyer out of 27 vessels constructed for the RCN, Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy between 1937 and 1945, Haida sank more enemy surface tonnage than any other Canadian warship and as such is commonly referred to as the “Fightingest Ship in the Royal Canadian Navy”. Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1984, she now serves as a museum ship berthed next to HMCS Star, an active Royal Canadian Naval Reserve Division, in Hamilton, Ontario. In 2018, Haida was designated the ceremonial flagship of the RCN.

The HMCS Halifax, commissioned in November 1941, was a Flower-class corvette that served in World War II. Ships like these were produced specifically for convoy protection.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) consisted of only 6 destroyers, 5 minesweepers, and 2 small training ships. During the war, it underwent a rapid expansion, astonishing for a nation of only 11 million people. By 1945, the Canadian navy was the third largest Allied navy in terms of numbers of warships. Its core force consisted of 2 light carriers, 2 light cruisers, 15 destroyers, 60 frigates, and 118 corvettes. In all, it counted a total of 363 vessels, most of which were built in Canadian shipyards. Yards on the St. Lawrence River, Great Lakes, and Atlantic and Pacific coasts produced 70 frigates, 122 corvettes, 194 minesweepers, and numerous trawlers, motor torpedo boats, motor launches, and landing craft. From a permanent force of 1,774 men and 2,083 reserves on the outbreak of war in September 1939, the RCN expanded to some 100,000 personnel (6,700 of them women) by the end of the war in 1945.

Throughout the war, the Canadian navy’s primary function was convoy protection. In the gale-swept North Atlantic, RCN ships played a crucial role in the long struggle against German submarines. Having expanded so rapidly, the RCN suffered from poor training as well as a dearth of advanced equipment. Early in 1943, Canadian corvettes and frigates were sent to English bases, where they were fitted with new radar, sonar, and high-frequency direction-finding detection gear. In addition, the crews underwent intensive training in antisubmarine tactics and warfare.

Of particular value was the Western Approaches Tactical Unit established in Liverpool in February 1942, which trained escort captains and commanders in a common doctrine of convoy defense. Practical training was provided by exercises against Royal Navy submarines. As a result, by mid-1943, the Canadians fought much more effectively in the Atlantic arena. Still, these deficiencies led to the replacement of the chief of the naval staff, Vice Admiral Percy Nelles, with Rear Admiral (later vice admiral) George C. Jones.

The Canadians organized the massive convoys that set out from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. In 1943 the ocean area off Canada and Newfoundland, which had been under British and then U. S. strategic control, became a strictly Canadian theater under Rear Admiral Leonard W. Murray, commander in chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic. He now controlled all Allied ships and aircraft involved in protecting Allied convoys in the region.

As radio interception and the breaking of German codes assumed major roles in the war against the submarines, the RCN Operational Intelligence Centre proved a key Canadian capability. By 1944 also, Canadian ships were providing a majority of close escort in the North Atlantic convoys. In all, the RCN provided eight mid-Atlantic support groups and escorted more than 25,000 merchant ship voyages with 180 million tons of cargo from North America to Great Britain.

Built to a British design stressing mass production, the Flower-class corvette was the mainstay of the escort fleet. Displacing 1,245 tons at full load, this ship was armed with a 4-inch gun and 40 (later 70) depth charges. The Flower-class ships proved to be miserable seaboats, however, taking on water and rolling furiously; and, at 16.5 knots, they were too slow for offensive operations.

A far more effective escort was the River-class frigate, weighing 1,920 tons at full load. The River-class ship could make 21 knots and mounted two 4-inch guns, a Hedgehog mortar, and 126 (later 150) depth charges.

While protecting the Allied convoys was the chief Canadian contribution to the war effort, the RCN also made significant contributions in other area. Canadian destroyers assisted in the Dunkerque (Dunkirk) evacuation of Allied soldiers from France and then protected Allied merchant ships in British waters. Three passenger liners were converted into auxiliary cruisers to help hunt down Axis commerce raiders in the North Atlantic, Caribbean, and North Pacific.

The acquisition of four large British Tribal-class destroyers (the Athabaskan, Haida, Huron, and Iroquois) gave the RCN additional capability for surface warfare operations. At full load, the Tribals displaced 2,519 tons (later 2,710 tons) and easily made 36 knots. Formidably armed for their size, they mounted six 4.7-inch cannon, two 4-inch dual-purpose guns, and four 40-mm antiaircraft weapons. They also carried four torpedo tubes. Two other Tribals (the Micmac and Nootka) were launched at Halifax in 1943 and 1944, respectively. The Canadian Tribal-class ships saw heavy action, especially in spring 1944 in the English Channel against German destroyers and heavy torpedo boats (900-plus tons). In the course of these battles, the Athabaskan was lost on April 29, 1944.

The RCN contributed 17 corvettes to Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of northwest Africa. RCN ships also played a considerable part in the Normandy invasion. Some 10,000 officers and seamen and 109 RCN warships participated in Operation NEPTUNE, landing 45,000 troops on the beaches. The Canadian contribution included 15 destroyers, 11 frigates, 19 corvettes, 16 minesweepers, and 30 landing craft.

In 1944, the Canadians acquired two British light aircraft carriers, the Magnificent and Warrior (displacing 14,000 and 13,350 tons, respectively). Both saw action overseas, with the RCN thereby acquiring valuable experience in naval aviation. Their 40 aircraft were wholly British, however. The RCN also secured two light cruisers from Britain, the Uganda (in August 1941) and the Ontario (in July 1943). The Uganda took part in the Battle of Okinawa.

In the course of the war, the RCN lost 24 ships sunk and 2,024 men killed. At the same time, the Canadian navy played an important role in the Allied victory by destroying or capturing 42 Axis surface warships and helping to sink 33 submarines.


The Canadian commander-in-chief Country: Canada Years: 1896-1971 Leonard W Murray played a huge role in the Battle of the Atlantic. He helped Canada’s navy evolve from a fleet of only ten ships in 1939 to 332 vessels and the third largest Allied navy in 1945 Starting the war as deputy chief of naval staff, he later held the titles of commander of the Newfoundland Escort Force and then commander- in-chief of the North-West Atlantic. In a role often underappreciated in the annals of history, the Canadian Navy helped the Allied Atlantic supply lines to Britain to remain open even when the U-boat wolf packs were on the hunt. A former Royal Navy midshipman, Murray controlled movements from his command centre as he successfully navigated the precious convoys of Corvette-class ships across the hazardous Atlantic. He was a skilled tactician who was appreciated and respected both by his fellow officers and the men he commanded. He was also a talented motivator who managed to track down former Royal Navy officers across Canada and successfully coax them back into the fold.

Many of the men in the Canadian navy were inexperienced in this sort of warfare and it was Murray who ensured they were up to standard. In return, Murray had a huge admiration for his men, who braved the Atlantic crossings with rations that often consisted of just salted beef and tomato juice, the latter chosen specifically to avoid scurvy. During the war, Murray spent little time at sea, instead calling the shots from his desk as he dedicated himself to a minimum of 15 hours’ work a day. He had a close relationship with the British admiralty and secretly visited the UK to request the construction of destroyers specifically for Canada. Under Murray’s stewardship, the Canadian navy improved significantly and it was eventually responsible for almost half of all Allied convoy escorts in the Atlantic.


The Canadian navy’s first ever recruit Years: 1892-1951 Country: Canada Having been in the Canadian navy since its inception in 1910, Percy Walker Nelles was the ideal candidate to spearhead his country’s role in the Battle of the Atlantic. The long-standing chief of the naval staff wasn’t a brash dynamic leader like some and was instead a quiet man who was devoted to his work and to his country. After successfully navigating the navy through the worst of the Great Depression in the interwar years, Nelles got down to the task of developing a navy that in 1939 only had 3,604 men at its disposal. Thanks to Nelles, the navy was soon ready for war. His greatest contribution was coordinating the Canadian landings in France as he led the Canadian invasion force from London. His relocation to Britain came after a disagreement with naval minister Angus Lewis Macdonald over how significantly the navy should be expanded. After a 36-year naval career, he was bestowed the rank of admiral upon his retirement in 1945.

The Royal Canadian Navy and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945

The Dutch Navy Warships of the Napoleonic Era

An watercolour of a small Dutch frigate shown, from two angles in a common convention of ship portraiture. She is flying the ensign of the Batavian Republic, dating it between 1796 and 1806.

Prince Frederic of 64 guns late revolution Dutch ship taken at the Cape.

Built in 1777 for the Admiralty of the Maas, Prins Frederik was originally rated as a 60-gun ship; she has only twelve ports a side on the lower deck whereas thirteen was the norm for 64s. Despite the spelling on the draught, with the establishment of the Batavian Republic the ship was renamed Revolutie and reverted to an anglicised version of her original name on capture. Like many Dutch prizes, the ship saw no frontline service in the Royal Navy, being converted to a storeship in 1797 and then hulked as a convalescent ship at Plymouth in 1804 before being transferred to Berehaven in Ireland as a floating hospital. The hulk was sold in 1817.

The largest Dutch 74 captured in this period was the 1565-ton Washington, taken by Admiral Mitchell’s fleet in the Texel in 1799. This dismantling model of the ship is built to the curious scale of I/41, and is assumed to be Dutch-made. The Admiralty Collection also contains a Dutch plan of the ship, and it may be that both items were captured with the ship. Although renamed Princess of Orange, the ship was never commissioned in the Royal Navy but was hulked at Chatham until broken up in 1822.

After about 1714 the Netherlands possessed what its own historian described as ‘a second-rate navy’. The country’s relative economic decline left it without the resources to match its Great Power legacy, but the navy, although no longer an arbiter of the European political balance, was left with significant commitments around the globe. Much of the colonial empire remained, while the Dutch merchant marine was still a major carrier of the world’s trade. To defend both in straitened times became a serious problem for Holland’s naval leaders.

For most of the century the circle was squared by an alliance with Great Britain that effectively absolved the United Provinces from building a battlefleet. The navy therefore concentrated on producing ships for colonial policing and trade protection, which translated into an emphasis on small two-deckers. Of 64 guns and less (the majority in the 50-gun range), these were cheap to build and man, but powerful enough to deal with those like the Barbary states who regularly threatened Dutch commerce, while providing a two-decker ‘presence’ on foreign stations.

The policy fell apart during the American War when the Netherlands found themselves in conflict with their erstwhile allies. In 1780 there were only three ships that could be considered fit for a modern line of battle, and the country’s elders decided on a mammoth construction programme aimed at building a genuine oceanic battlefleet for the first time in nearly a century. Given the meagre and moribund nature of the existing naval administration – still divided into the five traditional autonomous admiralties – the programme of about 75 battleships and 40 frigates was hopelessly optimistic. Large numbers of ships were launched, but post-war political upheavals did not help with regular finance, and the quality of timber employed and the standards of workmanship left much to be desired. As a result many of the ships that were completed had short active lives. The lack of experience was most clearly manifest in the smaller admiralties, the worst example being the two Friesland 74s built at Harlingen which proved too large to get out of the harbour.

It was with the residual ships of this programme that the Netherlands went to war in 1793. An official list, divided by admiralty, gives the following numbers of serviceable ships available at the end of 1792. There was the nucleus of a battle squadron in seven 70/74-gun ships, armed with main battery 36pdrs, but at less than 1600 tons they were very small for their rate. The majority of the fleet (27 ships) still comprised the old 66-gun rate, like the Prins Frederik, most of which carried 24pdrs and did not exceed 1350 tons. The remainder of the ‘line of battle ships’ were made up of seven 56-gun ships, averaging about 1050 tons, which usually carried an 18pdr main battery.

Although the Netherlands began the war on the side of the allies, France invaded the low countries in 1795, and in a famous incident French cavalry captured much of the Dutch fleet, frozen in its ports. A pro-French puppet state called the Batavian Republic was set up, and the country changed sides. Taking on the Royal Navy with this old-fashioned and inefficient force was simply disastrous, and although the Dutch, as always, proved the most obstinate opponents in battle, by the end of 1799 twenty-three of the above ships had been captured or destroyed, plus two more recent vessels. Not that the prizes were of much value to their captors: in general they were too small and poorly built for frontline service, so the more seaworthy were converted to troopships and store carriers; a few became floating batteries, guardships or stationary flagships, but many were simply hulked. They last saw widespread service during the invasion scare of 1803–5 when anything that could float was dragged into the defence of the British coasts. In 1803 Lord Keith’s dispositions for the Thames approaches included: Texel, Vlieter, Leyden, Beschermer and Batavia as floating batteries; Gelykheid was stationary flagship in Yarmouth Roads, with Utrecht serving the same function for Keith himself in the Downs. During the Trafalgar crisis, when the new First Lord instructed Keith to reinforce Cornwallis with five ships, the latter replied unequivocally ‘The Utrecht is not manned, nor fit to leave the Downs…’

Very little new construction was possible in the republican years, so that by 1800 there were only sixteen Dutch battleships available, although ten were now of larger types obviously designed under French influence. Dutch shipbuilding was obstinately conservative for much of the eighteenth century; this has been attributed to the outmoded system of decentralised admiralties or to the restrictive effects of small dimensions, but the navy also missed the acid test of real wan This is most obvious in Dutch cruiser design, which persevered with pre-frigate layouts long after the advantages of the frigate-form had been perceived by virtually every other serious navy. The old two-decker 44 was an economical convoy escort, but its sailing qualities (especially to windward) were poor in comparison with a frigate, yet there were still ships of this type being built in the 1780s. Even when the frigate-form was adopted there was an almost wilful refusal to grasp the benefits of a lower topside: the usual Dutch frigate had more headroom on the lower deck, which was also given more freeboard than conventional frigates, resulting in a height of side not much less than a small two-decker – and the same tendency to sag to leeward.

Along with about seven 40s (presumably two-deckers), the 1792 list includes fourteen 36s (about 700 tons; main armament of twenty-six 12pdrs) and fourteen 20/24s, like the Daphne, of 500–550 tons (twenty or twenty-two 9pdrs). Very similar to British post ships, with full quarterdeck and forecastle, the latter were especially vulnerable in any war with a big navy, since they could neither fight nor escape a proper frigate.

The viability of 12pdr-armed frigates was also being eroded in a world where the 18pdr ship was increasingly seen as the norm. Nevertheless, the Dutch continued to build such ships, albeit rather larger, into the first decade of the nineteenth century, the 850-ton Helder being launched at Amsterdam in 1803. A few of the larger frigates were armed with 18pdrs, but the Tholen, taken in 1796, carried only twenty-four on the main deck instead of the twenty-six or -eight common in other navies. Perhaps under French influence, the Batavian Republic built at least one 24pdr frigate, the Amphitrite at Amsterdam in 1797; at 1181 tons she was a little small for that weight of metal, and after capture she was eventually reduced to 18pdrs. Like the battleships, in general Dutch frigates did not see much active service after capture.

The remainder of the fleet in 1792 comprised: two ship sloops, six brigs, eight cutters, five other small craft rated ‘brigantun’ (12–20 guns), one 10-gun schooner, five advice boats (‘adviesjacht’), five 12-gun ‘hoekers’, three 6-gun gunboats, one 10-gun schooner and a bomb vessel. Some of the cutters were very large, at up to 20 guns, and one, Braak was converted into a brig in British service.

French domination of the low countries increased after Napoleon came to power and in 1806 be appointed his brother Louis King of Holland. The Dutch had already been co-opted into contributing invasion craft to the Boulogne Flotilla, and ship construction became increasingly French in style. Indeed, when Louis quarrelled with his brother and abdicated in 1810, France simply took over the remaining Dutch navy. When the British invaded Walcheren in 1809, among the ships they found building was Fidèle, a typically French-style 40-gun frigate, which was brought to Britain for fitting out.

Russian Ship Types and Classifications – Age of Sail

Russian squadron visits Spithead August 1827

The Russian sailing navy at the height of its power and efficiency: during a state visit to Britain the Russian squadron at Spithead mans the yards in honour of the Duchess of Clarence, 8 August 1827. Drawn with meticulous attention to detail by Henry Moses, all the Russian ships are identified. From left to right, they are: Sisoi Velikii (74); Iezekiil’ (74); Tsar’ Konstantin (74); Merkurii (44); Kniaz Vladimir (74); Gangut (84), then the British royal yacht Royal Sovereign under sail; Aleksandr Nevskii (74); Azov (74); Sviatoi Andrei (74). Elements of this squadron were to fight with distinction a couple of months later at Navarino.

The sterns of four Russian ships of the line built between 1700 and 1763 show in detail the elaborate style of decorative wood carving still in vogue in Russia during the first half of the eighteenth century at a time when the sterns and quarter galleries of other European capital ships were becoming simpler and more utilitarian in the interest of economy and efficiency in battle. As warship design became more functional and less concerned with vulgar (and expensive) display under Catherine II, this level of decoration declined in the Russian navy as it had done so earlier in other European navies: top left, Goto Predestinatsiya 1700; top right, Ingermanland 1715; below left, Slava Rossii 1733; below right, Sviatoi Evstafii Plakida 1763.

This includes major seagoing warships present. Shallow-draught vessels intended solely for inshore and amphibious warfare and naval auxiliaries are not included. Coverage of the larger oared and rowing frigates has been included here on account of their size and firepower and their seagoing capabilities. The same reasoning applies to bomb vessels which were designed to accompany the battle fleets at sea. The categories covered below are all types familiar to the most casual students of sailing warships and our remarks are largely confined to elements of their construction and utilization unique to Russian conditions and in some degree of variance with normal practice elsewhere.

Line of battle ships

During the formative years of naval development, Russians followed British usage and formally divided their capital ships into four, and later three, Rates.

Unlike the British, no attempt was made to assign rates to cruising ships. The following official Rates were in effect prior to the reign of Catherine II:

Inventory of 1727

First Rate 90–100 guns

Second Rate 80–88

Third Rate 66

Fourth Rate 54

Establishment of 1732

First Rate 70–100

Second Rate 66

Third Rate 54

Establishment of 1750

First Rate 80–100

Second Rate 66

Third Rate 54

It should be noted that these ratings were formal categories and never achieved general circulation in the Russian naval circles of the period. Formal establishments of ships after 1750 describe capital ships solely in terms of the number of guns that they were rated as carrying. The sole exception to this practice was that ships carrying 100 guns or more were always referred to colloquially as First Rates within the fleet. Note also that `ships of the line’ will also be found referenced variously throughout the text as `line of battle ships`, `line ships` and `capital ships` solely in the interests of avoiding rhetorical tedium. Ships of the line shared certain basic features with several lesser warship types such as frigates, ship sloops and corvettes. These types were all collectively referred to as `ships` or `ship-rigged vessels` and had three square-rigged masts and from one to three continuous gun decks. The feature that distinguishes ships of the line from frigates and the like was their having been designed to `stand in the line` and withstand the firepower of any and all enemy warships. Some ships of the line were effectively rendered obsolete as ships being built in Russia and elsewhere became larger and more powerfully armed. In the British Royal Navy, these ships, such as 50s and 64s, were usually relegated to colonial service where they could be usefully employed as flagships and prestige ships. Russia lacked significant colonies throughout most of this period and dealt with their older ships of the line by converting them to floating batteries for stationary defence or employing them as troop transports or hospital ships. Many ships designated as frigates were in fact more powerful than some smaller ships of the line, but they were never intended to operate as `line ships`. No detailed discussion of capital ship evolution is possible at this point, but the following production table for all Russian purpose-built line of battle ships completed between 1700 and 1860 reflects the overall production of the Russian Navy as well as highlighting the differences in emphasis between the Baltic and Black Sea fleets, with the Black Sea fleet leaning more heavily on larger capital ships, and the Baltic possessing a more balanced mix of types:

*This total includes Sea of Azov ships for all categories and treats them as components of the Black Sea fleet.


Russian frigates were more functionally specialized than those found in Western navies. Readers accustomed to thinking in terms of Fifth Rates and Sixth Rates or 9pdr frigates, 12pdr frigates, 18pdr frigates and the like will need to familiarize themselves here with terms appearing in the body of the text, such as `battle frigates’, `heavy frigates’, `training frigates’, `small frigates’, `rowing frigates’, and even `newly invented frigates` (Novoizobretennye Fregaty). While it is true that standard 12- and 18pdr frigates of the type built in Western European navies were also built in moderate numbers throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Russia, they were steadily eclipsed after 1785 by much heavier 24pdr ships of a type not found elsewhere in significant numbers until the post-Napoleonic period.’

Part of the explanation for the Russian predilection for specialized frigate categories lies in the very different and variable operating environments experienced by their regional navies in both the Baltic and the Black Sea. Not only were there differences between the operational demands and expectations placed on cruising vessels in inland sea environments in general, with fewer opportunities for engaging in the traditional scouting, raiding and commerce protection functions of frigates operating in oceanic environments, and greater opportunity for inshore operations of an amphibious nature, there were also significant differences between the requirements imposed by the very different Baltic and the Black Sea environments, both natural and political.

It should be borne in mind that the categories presented below do not necessarily represent formally established categories. They do, however, reflect clearly defined lines of development in the Russian navy, and are being described here for the sake of clarity of communication in the pages that follow. Numerical totals for the frigate category are subject to considerable interpretation and the figures given below should be treated as informed approximations, especially with respect to the smaller and older categories. Many ships classed as frigates by Russia were too small to merit this classification by Royal Navy standards, but most of the ships included here were designed for cruising and scouting purposes, regardless of their size or armament. A total of 274 ships fall within the frigate category, 190 in the Baltic, 78 in the Black Sea, and 6 in the Caspian.

Battle frigates

A term briefly in vogue in the Black Sea to describe ships falling below the level of line of battle ships, but intended to participate in the line of battle against similar Turkish ships. In practice, this term quickly gave way to the following term:

Heavy frigates

A term applied to large and heavily armed 24-, 30- and 36pdr frigates found in significant numbers in both the Baltic and the Black Sea fleets. These larger ships were more numerous in both theatres than the smaller standard 18pdr frigates; but their respective popularity in the Baltic and the Black Seas arose from rather different tactical requirements and emphases. In the Black Sea, where the type was first introduced, heavy frigates were not regarded as traditional cruisers suited for scouting and raiding, but were rather the direct descendants of the previously described battle frigates and were intended to supplement the line of battle against similar Turkish ships. In the Baltic, on the other hand, heavy frigates were quite ironically the direct design descendants of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus, specifically designed by af Chapman to take its place in the line of battle, and captured by the Russians during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-91. Russian heavy frigates built along the lines of the Venus were utilized in traditional frigate roles and not as battle line adjuncts as was the case with the Black Sea heavies.

During the period between 1770 and 1860, a total of 85 heavy and battle frigates joined the two Russian fleets, almost all of them armed with 24pdr cannon and ranging between 141 ft and 174 ft in length.

Standard frigates

These were similar to frigates found elsewhere in terms of size and capabilities. The same distinction between the older cruising vessels having two fully or partially armed gun decks and the later `true’ or `classic’ frigates of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic War periods, with unarmed lower decks and improved speed and handling characteristics, was found in the Russian Navy as elsewhere. The difference for Russia was that the design transformation that occurred in the 1750s for the navies of France, Spain and Great Britain apparently did not make its way to Russia until the Vos’moi class of 12pdr frigates entered service in the late 1770s in the then Sea of Azov flotilla and the Briachislav class of 18pdr frigates in the mid-1780s for the Baltic. The inspiration for the first Russian 18pdr frigates of the Briachislav class in 1784 probably came from ideas absorbed by Russian students returning from Great Britain in the early 1780s, quite possibly with the plans for the British Arethusa class frigates in hand – their armament and dimensions were suspiciously similar. As indicated above, these `true frigates’ were built in smaller numbers proportionally than in other navies where there was an ongoing requirement for large numbers of cruising vessels in scouting and commerce protection (and commerce destruction of course). Russian frigates had smaller areas to patrol in their confined inner seas and very little in the way of merchant ships requiring escort in the navy of a country lacking any significant investment in overseas trade, and so they were never required in the numbers found in the Atlantic navies.

Between 1773 and 1860, only 36 standard or `classic’ frigates armed with 18pdr guns and ranging between 121 ft and 150 ft in length were completed for both the Baltic and Black Sea fleets, less than half the number of 24pdr heavy frigates completed for the two regional fleets during the same general period. In the interests of completeness, it should also be noted that a total of 60 earlier cruising ships, all bearing the multifunctional name of `frigate’ were also completed for service in the Baltic between 1705 and 1785, including 18 obsolescent 12pdr ships of the Pavel type constructed between 1773 and 1785, just prior to the introduction of true frigate types.

Small frigates

A descriptive term rather than a formal category, these ships were intermediate in size and power between standard frigate types and corvettes and sloops. In the British Royal Navy, the vessels constructed after 1770 would probably have been rated as ship sloops. Between 1702 and 1761, 17 small ships classed as frigates and ranging between 65 ft and 94 ft in length were completed in the Baltic. Between 1762 and 1845, an additional 38 small frigates of the more classic type with a single gun deck, but ranging between 90 ft and 130 ft were completed, 19 in the Baltic, 13 in the Black Sea and 6 in the Caspian. Armament varied widely in this category, with small frigates carrying between 8 and 32 guns of as little as 6pdr calibre to as much as 30pdr (when rebuilt as `newly invented frigates’; see below).

Training frigates These purpose-built ships were limited to the Baltic fleet. They would normally have been rated as sloops or corvettes in most Western navies and are included in the totals given above for the larger `small frigate’ category. These ships were not intended to act as naval combatants, but rather as fully equipped peacetime training ships for young naval recruits. Fourteen ships were formally designated as training frigates during the age of sail.

`Newly invented frigates` (Novoizobretennye Fregaty) The phrase `newly invented’ does not transfer well from Russian to English and might more readily be rendered as `rebuilt` or `redesigned’. The frigate designation is probably not entirely appropriate for this small collection of short-lived Black Sea ships, five of which originally fell within the category of purpose built shallow draught frigates, while the others were comprised of a hotch-potch of converted pinks, cutters and merchantmen that were rebuilt as `frigates’. The purpose-built frigates chosen for the conversion programme were originally shallow-draught ships built in shipyards along the Don River and armed with 12pdrs and generally resembled conventional deep-water frigates. These highly specialized warships were found to be incapable of dealing with more heavily gunned Turkish ships in the opening phases of the Russo-Turkish War of 1788-90 in the Liman. In order to derive some value from their construction when their deficiencies became apparent, they were rebuilt in 1788 with reinforced hulls and enormously powerful (for their size) 30pdr batteries bored out hurriedly from available guns of lesser calibre. The concept of adding very heavy guns to shallow draught vessels in order to use their enhanced combination of firepower and manoeuverability to compensate for the Russian lack of line of battle ships in the Liman was the result of the fruitful and co-operative relationship that grew up between Samuel Bentham, a British mechanical engineer and later Inspector General of the Royal Navy, and the formidably talented Prince Potemkin. The resulting vessels resembled later nineteenth-century ships armed with gunnades and they proved an effective short-term solution for the Black Sea fleet, although they sacrificed a good deal of their scouting and cruising capabilities in their search for greater short-range firepower, becoming de facto coastal defence ships. A total of twelve `newly invented frigates’ of all types were converted in 1788 to meet the demands of the Russo-Turkish War. They were all disposed of in the early 1790s as newer, more carefully thought-out heavy frigate types began entering service in the Black Sea; but they set the tone for future generations of heavily armed Black Sea frigates with their deliberate substitution of heavy ordnance for more conventional cruiser qualities.

Oared or rowing frigates The shallow coastal waters of the northern Baltic mandated the construction by both Swedes and Russians of large fleets of small rowing vessels similar in function to Western gunboats. These small craft could not operate in deepwater environments, but they could do serious damage to larger sailing ships becalmed in the shallow-water environments of the northern Baltic and made helpless by the vagaries of the Baltic winds. Rowing frigates provided something of a link between the traditional deep-water sailing navy and the gunboat squadrons. They were as large and well armed as true frigates, but were at the same time shallow-draft vessels unsuitable for deep-water use and with sweeps capable of facilitating movement during calms and of manoeuvring successfully against smaller and more agile gunboats. Twenty-six of these handsome and unusual ships were completed between 1773 and 1823, ranging between 130 ft and 144 ft in length. The early ships carried 24pdrs and the final rowing frigates carried 36pdrs, an unprecedented armament for a frigate.

Corvettes and ship sloops

To English-speaking readers, corvette is simply the name used by the French for the British ship sloop and both designations refer (in this time period at least) to three-masted ships similar in layout to frigates but smaller and with fewer and lighter cannon. Both terms were in use in the Russian sailing navy, but they had separate and distinct meanings, although both types were alike in being three-masted ships of generally similar size and armaments.

Corvettes were purely combat ships with sharper lines than corresponding sloops. They were operationally attached to battle groups and employed as scouts, avisos and cruising ships. Corvettes were more popular in the Black Sea where they took on many of the functions reserved to frigates in the Baltic in the absence of adequate numbers of standard frigate types. A total of 15 corvettes entered service in the Black Sea after 1800 as opposed to only 3 for the Baltic and 4 for the Caspian.

Russian ship sloops were broader of beam and better suited for carrying cargo and supplies than corvettes. They retained the capability for assuming scouting and cruising functions if called upon, but were generally employed as armed store ships. After the Napoleonic Wars ended, ship sloops came into their own when they were found to be ideally suited for hydrographic survey work, foreign exploration and global circumnavigation. No sloops are found in the Russian Baltic or Black Sea fleets in the eighteenth century (unless one includes the `small frigates’), although three were built in Kamchatka. Between 1804 and 1818, 21 ship sloops were built for the Baltic and one lone sloop joined the Black Sea fleet in 1823. Ship sloops were not built in quantity in the Black Sea fleet because the closing of the Bosporus to Russian warships negated their potential for long-range service.

Snows and brigs

Snows and brigs were close cousins. Both had two large square-rigged masts; but the snow in its final incarnation in the second half of the eighteenth century also carried a small, short third mast called a trysail mast immediately abaft the main mast carrying a spanker that could be operated independently of the main mast’s sails. The trysail mast was not readily apparent to the uninformed observer due to its close proximity to the main mast and snows were sometimes referred to as `two- and-a-half mast’ ships. Russian snows built in the first quarter of the eighteenth century were originally based upon Dutch designs and were equipped with sweeps for inshore operations. Illustrations indicate that the rig of at least three early snows, two Lizets and the similar Munker (My Heart), all designed by Peter I and named after his daughter Elizabeth, carried traditional three-masted ship rig with a fully developed mizzen mast in place of the trysail. Other contemporary snows, such as Adler of 1705, are shown with more traditional snow rig. This may indicate Peter’s personal preference for three-masted ships, whatever their size, or it may reflect a variability in the rigging of early snows that would indicate that the designation may have had more to do, at this time, with hull design, size and intended employment than with a particular rig. Russian snows were popular in both the Baltic and Sea of Azov during the first quarter of the eighteenth century, but are not found thereafter. Their decline in popularity in later years mirrors a similar phenomenon in the Royal Navy during the same period and one wonders if there was a connection here, as in other areas, with the Russian employment of large numbers of British shipwrights and officers. A total of 22 snows were completed between 1700 and 1711, 16 in the Baltic and 6 in the Sea of Azov. One final snow was completed for the Baltic in 1723, almost as an afterthought.

Brigs did not begin to appear in the Russian navy until the very close of the eighteenth century, but they became extremely popular during the first half of the nineteenth, gradually edging out the slightly larger corvettes and ship sloops in both the Baltic and Black Sea. The development of the brig as the primary low-end ship best suited for inshore patrol, routine escort and scouting activities parallels a similar process in the British Royal Navy from about 1780 on. To quote Robert Gardiner from Warships of the Napoleonic Era, three-masted sloops were `more seaworthy, more habitable, longer ranged and better armed than the old two-masted type, and the ship rig must have conferred some advantages in battle – three masts would have made them less vulnerable to damage aloft than two. But the one quality the new-style sloops did not possess was speed.’ Besides having an important edge in speed, brigs required smaller crews as a result of having only two masts to the ship sloop’s three. The downside of the two-mast arrangement was a greater vulnerability in battle since the loss of a single mast was of more importance in a two-masted vessel than it was in a ship with three masts.

The nineteenth century saw a flowering of the type, with 37 being built for the Baltic, 26 for the Black Sea, 19 for the Caspian and six for Okhotsk. With few exceptions, brigs were between 90 ft and 105 ft in length and armed with all carronade batteries.

Cutters and schooners

Both cutters and schooners are small ships with largely fore- and-aft rigs, one or two masts, and a very light armament sufficient only for overwhelming the smallest of opponents. The two types developed in the later part of the eighteenth century as highly manoeuverable ships capable of patrolling close inshore and interdicting smugglers and pirates and the like. As a largely self-sufficient nation without much in the way of trade or foreign commerce, Russia in the eighteenth century had relatively little use for vessels of this type. After 1800, and particularly after 1820 as Russian naval horizons expanded, particularly in the areas of coastal surveying and exploration, cutters and schooners found an increasing role in naval affairs. Both types came within the same general size range, although schooners were probably a bit larger on the average. Between 1790 and 1860, the Baltic fleet acquired 27 two-masted schooners ranging between 35 ft and 105 ft, while the Black Sea fleet acquired 24 between 1772 and 1849 ranging between 75 ft and 119 ft. For reasons not immediately apparent, one- masted cutters were decidedly more popular in the Baltic, where there were a total of 42 vessels acquired between 1786 and 1826 as against only four for the Black Sea fleet and two for Okhotsk. Cutters in Russian service were as heterogeneous a group as schooners, with lengths varying between 51 ft and 99 ft and armament between 12 and 32 guns. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Russians stopped building cutters with the accession of Nicholas I, apparently preferring the slightly larger two-masted schooner.

Luggers and tenders

Luggers and tenders were classified as light warships by the Russians and are included in this section for this reason.

Bomb vessels

Russian naval operations were frequently conducted in support of amphibious objectives and bomb ships, both purpose-built and improvised, were built in some numbers for both major fleets and for the Caspian flotilla. Although designed for shore bombardment, these ships were deep draught vessels, designed to accompany and work with battle fleets at sea, and not for the close-in, shallow water work of prams and gunboats. In appearance, they were clumsy-looking vessels, with heavily reinforced decks to bear the weight of their heavy ordnance.

Seven bombs were built in the closing years of the seventeenth century for the Sea of Azov. The Baltic fleet acquired a total of 18 purpose-built bombs, two converted ships and two ships purchased abroad for a total of 22. The Black Sea built nine, converted eleven and purchased five abroad. Bombs were quite reasonably also found in the Caspian flotilla, where amphibious operations were common, and four ships were launched in 1808.

The French Navy in the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697)

The action at La Hogue in May 1692 formed a crucial scene in the wider context of the Battle of Barfleur. This was a naval battle of the War of the League of Augsburg [Nine Years’ War], 1689-97, fought between an Anglo-Dutch and a French fleet. It was not finally brought to a conclusion until 24 May in the Bay of La Hogue, in the course of which the French flagship ‘Soleil Royal’ as well as the ‘Triomphant’ and the ‘Admirable’ were burned by the English. The centre of this dramatic scene is occupied by a group of six French ships burning. A seventh is shown burning on the shore. They have been attacked by the boats of the Anglo- Dutch fleet which are also attacking another group of ships further round the Bay of La Hogue, one to the left which is also burning. On the extreme left in the distance the Allied fleet can be seen at anchor. In the right background a third lot of shipping is burning near a town. An odd feature of the picture is that two of the ships in the nearest group wear white flags with a blue cross, a flag associated with 17th century French merchant ships. The painting is signed ‘Diest fe.’ Diest, Adriaen van Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection

Until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England installed William of Orange as King of England, the French Navy had few issues to plan for as the Dutch were only aggressive when France chose to start a war (mainly on land), while the English were allied with France for much of the time. The events of 1688 changed this, uniting the two maritime powers, and for the first time in decades threatening a challenge to the dominant French superpower. Forthwith the role of the French Navy altered from supporting the army in campaigns against the Dutch to safeguarding French commerce against the likely aggression of the combined Anglo-Dutch forces. A building race ensued, while at sea the Navy began its campaign by a successful operation to land and supply the army of King James in Ireland. This culminated in the inconclusive Battle of Bantry Bay in May 1689, an action which led to a formal declaration of war.

France rapidly consolidated its battlefleets, bring the Toulon-based Flotte du Levant around to the Atlantic coast and joining the existing Flotte du Ponant at Brest. By 1690 France was clearly on its way to equalling, if not overtaking, the combined strengths of the allied English and Dutch Navies in the Channel. William of Orange’s priority had been to land his ground forces at Carrickfergus in June 1690, leading to his success in defeating James at the Battle of the Boyne on 11 July. Meanwhile Louis ordered his Vice-Amiral du Ponant, Comte de Tourville, to enter the Channel with his 84 ships (and the 15 galleys under the Chevalier de Noailles).

His initial remit had been to attack the English at Plymouth, Torbay and Portland, and then to attack the enemy’s main base at Portsmouth before proceeding to the Straits of Dover. However, these instructions were later amended by Louis, instructing Tourville to seek out the enemy fleet and do battle wherever the opponents met. A major battle in the Channel (off Beachy Head – known to the French as Béveziers) on 10 July pitted 70 French vaisseaux (plus 5 frégates légeres and 18 fireships) against 34 English and 22 Dutch ships. The English lost only one ship (the 70-gun Anne) while the Dutch lost a total of 7 ships and 3 fireships. While most English ships were undamaged, the majority of the remaining 15 Dutch ships were severely damaged and required dockyard repairs before they could face the French again. The battle demonstrated the capabilities of the French fleet; its victory in that battle gave the French control of the waterway for almost two years.

Seignelay, Colbert’s son and successor, died in November 1690. His replacement, the Comte de Pontchartrain (Louis Phélypeaux), who was also the Controleur général des finances, began by continuing Colbert’s strategy, but lacked Seignelay’s prime interest in the Navy and long awareness of naval affairs. The French naval campaign of 1691 was dominated by the `Campagne du Large’; Pontchartrain’s instructions to Tourville, issued on 26 May 1691, instructed the latter to cruise for three months in the Western Approaches (the entrance to the Channel) and to try to capture the homebound merchant fleet en route from Smyrna (Izmir). The French fleet, comprising 73 ships (plus 21 fireships) sailed from Brest in June and returned in August from this `distant cruise’ without fighting a fleet action, but since 1690 the Allied strength had improved both in quantity (92 ships) and in quality. The French advantage was lost by 1691. In 1692, without waiting for the completion of the major battlefleet units under construction, Louis ordered the fleet’s commander, Comte de Tourville, to put to sea and challenge the Allies, even though the French at that time were numerically inferior to their opponents.

A realisation by Louis soon after of the tactical error came too late, as Tourville had followed his orders, and the countermanding message from Louis failed to arrive in time. The resulting contest off Barfleur resulted in a bruising defeat for the French, even if no ships were lost in the actual battle. The retreating French fleet was split up, with twenty ships making for the safety of Brest, while three heavily damaged ships, including Tourville’s flagship Soleil Royal, were stranded at Cherbourg, while another twelve sailed east and took refuge in the port of La Hougue. All fifteen were boarded and set on fire a few days later by the Allies.

The losses sustained to the battlefleet at Cherbourg and at La Hougue, while not in themselves catastrophic (French construction was able to fill the gaps with even more powerful 1st and 2nd Rank ships) had significant tactical and strategic consequences. The fact that the destruction at La Hougue had been carried out by ships’ boats rather than by fireships convinced the French that building new fireships was a waste of resources; those on order or projected were cancelled, and on the limited occasions France employed fireships thereafter, they were always converted purchases or prizes.

Notwithstanding the major efforts to achieve battlefleet superiority until 1692 (which ironically would have achieved success by 1694 if continued), Louis XIV was always more concerned with continental strategy than maritime dominance, and Pontchartrain’s views were closer to the King’s than Colbert’s and Seignelay’s commercial and naval strategy. During the financial crisis of 1693-94, Pontchartrain ceased ordering large battlefleet units, and in October 1693 wrote to the intendants at each major dockyard to tell them that no new battlefleet vessels were to be begun, although those already building could continue. The procurement strategy turned instead to vessels which – together with French privateers – could disrupt English and Dutch commerce. Indeed, as part of this strategy, a considerable number of battlefleet units were loaned out to partnerships put together for privateering on a strictly commercial basis. While causing concern in the allies’ mercantile interests, this was never enough to affect the outcome of the war.

Moreover, it was now realised that France’s strength in naval construction could be undone if their Ponant and Levant Fleets were kept separate. Initially, the allies maintained a posture of concentrating warships in the Channel, to ward off invasion attempts and control commerce, a strategy held since Elizabethan times; this left France, even with its (temporarily) reduced naval strength, in control of the Mediterranean. William III adopted a policy, against the urging of his Council and naval commanders, that would challenge France in Mediterranean waters and – more importantly – would deter any attempt to deploy the Levant Fleet northwards. He dispatched an Anglo-Dutch fleet (under Adm John Berkeley and Lt-Adm Philips van Almonde) into the Mediterranean in 1694, and ensured that it wintered there – in Cadiz Bay, where an English base was established to shelter and repair the fleet. As a consequence, the Levant Fleet was confined to port at Toulon, or at best able to operate in the Western Mediterranean only. And as a result, maintaining control of the Straits of Gibraltar became a permanent aim of the English.

Pontchartrain’s son, Jérome Phélypeaux, the new Comte de Pontchartrain, was awarded the survivance of his father’s office three years later. When Louis de Ponchartrain received the top-ranking position of chancelier de France (Minister of Justice), Jérome in September 1699 became Secretary of State for the Navy, but with only the mere addition of the portfolios of the Colonies, the Sea Fishing, the Maritime Trade and the Consulates: therefore, he was to become the politically weakest Secretary of State for the Navy of the reign.

The Century of The Rise of Navies

The ‘Royal Prince’ and other Vessels at the Four Days Battle, 1–4 June 1666

The seventeenth was the century of the rise of navies.

At the start of the century the commercial exclusivity upon the great waters attempted by Portugal and Spain was already gone. The determining race for power and mastery upon the seas had begun, with the Iberians already seen as the weakening participants in the race against the swiftly rising powers of England, Holland and France. Navy had not yet resolved into any firm concept of permanent standing navies. War at sea depended upon any existing warships being hastily supported by armed merchantmen.

Sea fighting itself remained in its brawling infancy still heavily influenced by galley fighting. Nowhere had there yet arrived any firmly defined tactical rules for sea battle manoeuvre, or set rules governing use of sail and wind in battle. Much less were there sustained ideas embracing grand oceanic strategy. Ocean was still too large a vision for comfortably adjusted existence in most Western minds, which were yet too obsessed with the religious convulsions of Europe to be seriously distracted by a goal still too abstract. Terrestrial conflict was the principal menace. Military power, land fighting and armies, therefore naturally remained the predominant concern, diminishing the role of navies and their professional evolution. But since the struggles on land were seldom far removed from the Atlantic coasts or the Narrow Seas of north-western Europe, the Channel and the North Sea, it was in those confined waters that Western naval development had to find its evolution.

All of Europe was convulsed by the last great surge of religious and dynastic upheaval at the heart of which burned the bitter enmity between Bourbon France on the one hand and the alliance of the Hapsburgs of Austria and Spain on the other. Europe was plunged into crisis, and from crisis into prolonged war. The conflict that raged from 1618 to 1648 became known as the Thirty Years War, more cruel and savage than anything so far.

Out of that bloody upheaval would emerge a new Europe, and with it new and different concepts of naval strategy. The Thirty Years War might well be regarded as the signal period that delivered naval strategy to the Western mind, bringing with it the concept that the deployment of naval power could seriously hamper or affect the battle fortunes of the land, and with it the fate of nations and the destiny of empires. And it restored the Mediterranean to a central role in Western maritime history.

It was with France, however, under Louis XIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, that the strongest effort to restructure naval power was begun. He laid down a programme for a fleet of some forty major warships, half of them 34-to 40-gun ships. But Richelieu’s greatest contribution may have been his innovating establishment of the principle of a navy on two seas, with an Atlantic fleet at Brest and a Mediterranean force at the new naval base he established at Toulon. France’s own Mediterranean naval strategy was thereby set in motion, with dramatic impact when France finally entered the Thirty Years War in 1635.

Richelieu had seen his new base at Toulon as a key to defeat of the powerful Austro-Spanish armies that were fighting the Dutch in the Lowlands and the Germans east of the Rhine and would be fighting the French along their own German frontiers once France became fully involved. Richelieu’s surprising and original strategy centred upon Toulon as a means of cutting Spanish supply and reinforcement of its armies inside Europe. For Spain the shortest route for maintaining her armies inside the Continent was from Corunna up through the Narrow Seas to the Spanish enclave of Dunkirk and on to the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium). But that had become impracticable. The Dutch with their experienced and belligerent navy controlled the Narrow Seas.

Denied the direct supply route through the Narrow Seas Spain’s alternative route of reinforcement and supply had to lie through Genoa. From there they passed to Milan and thence through various Alpine passes to the valley of the Rhine. Toulon became Richelieu’s base for cutting communication between Spain and Genoa, thereby undermining the whole Spanish-Austrian campaign inside the Continent. That shift of the Brest fleet to Toulon initiated the great strategic deployment that would prevail in French naval policy in the future as it shifted fleets to match requirement: if not Brest to Toulon, then Toulon to Brest. Toulon became a name, a strategic determinant, to be coupled eventually with that of Gibraltar. The two were to become the opposing points of critical strategic command in the western basin of the Mediterranean. From the Straits to the Italian peninsula they would create a maritime reach of ‘transcendent importance’ where, in Mahan’s memorable words, preponderant naval power determined gigantic issues, swaying the course of history again and again in successive wars of that century and thereafter when ‘it was not chiefly in the clash of arms, but in the noiseless pressure by the navies, and largely in the Mediterranean, that the issues were decided’.

In the Thirty Years War the western Mediterranean thus assumed a new significance in the power struggles of Europe that it was never to lose.

In reply to the French example Charles I set out to match Richelieu’s naval construction programme, the controversial expense of which was to contribute to the circumstances that cost him his crown and his life. The British navy’s real future was moulded by his usurpers. For revolution, civil war and regicide in England were to deliver a wholly new concept of navy and naval administration. New ideas and new commitment were infused by the rigorous military minds that had come to control England’s reconstituted Commonwealth destiny.

For the British, Oliver Cromwell and his soldier-generals fathered the modern navy. Cromwell delivered to the quarterdecks of a new fleet of ships military commanders, colonels who were called generals-at-sea, some of whom were to establish themselves in the front rank of Britain’s greatest sailors. It was these soldiers who set the English navy on its evolutionary course towards its greatness in the century ahead, and who by deciding that universal supremacy at sea was the navy’s rightful goal helped to mould the particular prowess that went towards ensuring its achievement.

The unique distinction of Cromwell’s sailoring soldiers was that they were to combine pride of seamanship with drilled military efficiency and crisp tactical command, without imposing any distinction of land commanding sea, which remained the inclination of the French and the Spanish. With Cromwell there finally arrived the full commitment to a standing navy. The established tradition of composing a navy in an emergency by hurriedly arming merchantmen was abandoned. A standing navy meant ships built by the state and maintained by it only for naval purposes, the principal of which became defence of commerce. For Julian Corbett no change in English naval history was greater or more far-reaching than that. ‘It was no mere change of organisation; it was a revolution in the fundamental conception of naval defence. For the first time protection of the mercantile marine came to be regarded almost as the chief end for which the regular navy existed, and the whole of naval strategy underwent a profound modification in English thought…the main lines of commerce became also the main lines of naval strategy…what they were really aiming at was the command of the sea by the domination of the great trade routes and the acquisition of focal points as naval stations.’

The Dutch, with their command of Europe’s carrying trade and their expanding colonial empire across the world, had shown the way, notably with their seizure of the Cape of Good Hope. Their squadrons were protectively posted wherever their trade moved. And it moved everywhere, nourishing the wealth of their tiny state. The example was too powerful to be ignored.

A new class of warship had emerged, the frigate, small, fast-sailing, flush-decked ships that originated from the dockyards at Dunkirk where design was affected by the demands for the privateering vessels built and stationed there. Frigates were among the first ships ordered for the Commonwealth navy, whose reconstruction had passed from the hands of politicians to professionals. Aboard the new wooden walls pay and conditions for sailors were improved.

After the turmoil of the Thirty Years War the Dutch republic, the now wholly independent United Provinces, might have seemed to be the natural ally of the English military republic. But the mercantile strength and naval power of the Dutch had aroused both the ire and the envy of Cromwell’s Commonwealth.

Released from the burden of war, Holland was left free to concentrate upon the accumulation of wealth and power from its vast mercantile resources. Its merchant fleet totalled ten thousand vessels employing 168,000 seamen. England scarcely possessed a thousand merchantmen. The carrying trade of most of Europe, from the Baltic to the Levant, and including much of England’s, was with the Dutch. They now had the monopoly of the eastern trade, having seized many of Portugal’s Asian possessions. They held the monopoly of trade with Japan. Their colonial possessions in the East extended from India to include Ceylon and the whole of the Indonesian archipelago. They had colonies in West Africa, South America and, notably, held New Amsterdam in North America. In 1652 they seized the pivotal point of east–west trade, the Cape of Good Hope. Backing them was a strong navy led by experienced seamen.

All of this Cromwell was driven to challenge, despite a desire for a compact between the Protestant states as a caution against the rising power of France.

By 1653 England was at war with the Dutch, the first of three wars that would follow in quick succession before the end of the century. With Spanish sea power now in permanent decline, the English–Dutch wars represented the beginning of the final process of elimination between the three surviving naval powers, Holland, England and France, for command of the sea.

These Anglo-Dutch wars were radically different from any that preceded them, the real beginning of modern naval warfare. They changed the tactical and strategic character of naval war and rivalry, being sea war between equals, between sailors of the highest professional proficiency and commitment, and fought within a confined sea space that demanded exceptional tactical skill.

With these wars mercantilism had arrived in full, determining manifestation. It would be the motor of a new age of oceanic commercial rivalry dedicated to ruthless elimination of opponents. Mercantilism was the conviction that oceanic commerce compelled narrow self-interest, the need to overtake or drive out rivals in trade and colonial possession, and to deny access wherever profits were greatest, particularly in the East and the Caribbean. Mercantilism was the fever that had developed naturally and ever more rapaciously through the seventeenth century as sea power diversified and the Dutch, the English and the French as well as others began intruding upon Spain and Portugal’s attempts at global exclusivity. Elizabethan piracy and privateering had been mercantilism’s first offspring. Established naval power became the next.

This first of the Dutch wars was an uneven affair. It saw the rise of the foremost of the Dutch admirals, Tromp, de Ruyter and de Wit. They were opposed by the British commander in chief Robert Blake and a new general seconded to the navy, General George Monck. It was a war in which the English and the Dutch were evenly matched in strength and seamanship. But by concentrating on control of the vital approaches to the Dutch coast the English cut off Dutch trade and brought Holland near to ruin. It was left to Cromwell in 1654 to allow a generous peace, for fear of wholly ruining a potential Protestant ally against France.

The Western world had come to yet another point of pivotal change. Cromwell died in 1658. In 1660 Charles II was restored to the English throne. A wholly different Europe had arisen from the destruction of the Thirty Years War. The chaotic age of religious tumult and its savage wars was over. Spain, the source of so much of it, was in rapid and permanent decline. The power of the Austrian Empire too was crippled. Hapsburg Austria, humbled by the defeat of its overambitious lunge for Continental power, now found itself facing an ambitiously ascendant France to the west and to the east continuing assaults against its empire from the Ottoman Turks.

In France Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, set out to transform France’s naval power and character as profoundly as Cromwell had changed that of England. When Colbert took office in 1661 he visualized a huge navy of ships ranging from twenty-four to 120 guns. In 1664, as Colbert’s vast naval programme was being laid out, the Dutch and English were again at war. The English peremptorily seized New Amsterdam, or New York as we now know it. There was no quibbling about motive. General Monck laid it out bluntly: ‘What matters this or that reason? What we want is more of the trade which the Dutch now have.’ This short war stands as one of the most significant in naval history.

The circumstances were different from the last. The Commonwealth Navy was now Charles II’s ‘Royal Navy’, with his brother, the Duke of York, the future James II, as Lord High Admiral of England. Restoration had brought demoralizing factional tensions within the navy. But Monck, who had helped organize the king’s return from exile, was still afloat, commanding the larger division of the battle fleet, with Prince Rupert, the Duke of York’s cousin, the other division.

The war was fought in the Narrow Seas and essentially settled through three battles, which together defined basic naval tactics for the next hundred years. For it was this war that made visible, clearly and distinctly for the first time, that grand vision of two battle fleets passing parallel in strict line of battle while firing broadsides at one another: the Line. Naval warfare had so far lacked any clear directional control. In action the impulse was towards melee with the ships of the various squadrons breaking off into individual engagement. Clear, firm instructions covering the movements of a fleet in action were yet to emerge. But Cromwell’s soldier-admirals, with their rigorous military minds, had made the first serious effort to approach naval battle formation and tactical strategy as a matter of ordered, scientific procedure that required strict compliance. Their instructions were issued in 1653 during the first Dutch war. One of these was that ‘all the ships of every squadron shall endeavour to keep in line with the chief, unless the chief be…disabled…Then every ship of said squadron shall endeavour to keep in line with the admiral, or he that commands in chief next unto him…’ That battle code was amplified in 1666 by the Duke of York, who strengthened the instructions for keeping the line. But it was only towards the end of this second war that the line made its first full appearance before a surprised maritime world. It did so with one of the greatest battles in naval history: the Four Days Battle in the first week of June 1666.

Mahan described the battle as ‘the most remarkable, in some of its aspects, that has ever been fought upon the ocean’. Certainly nothing was ever to match it for horror and endurance: four days of near ceaseless fighting, seven thousand dead, nineteen ships lost. Only at Jutland in 1914 would Britain suffer as severely.

The fleets were huge, the English with some eighty ships, the Dutch with around one hundred. Fought in the Narrow Seas, in the waters bounded by Dover and North Foreland and Calais and Dunkirk, the action veered indecisively from one coast to the other over four days until it exhausted itself, with the Dutch admiral de Ruyter having the better of the English in the final action. The loss of the English over the four days was the greater of the two, with five thousand killed and three thousand taken prisoner. They lost seventeen ships. The Dutch lost two thousand men and two ships. The English had had the worst of it but it was de Ruyter who preferred to withdraw before carrying it into a fifth day.

The courage of the English was the more remarkable for the fact that the Royal Navy under Charles was in a poor state. There was no money. The sailors were hungry, rations were short. Pay was years in arrears. Maintenance aboard ship and on shore had been low. Those conditions had induced some three thousand English and Scottish sailors to sell their services to the Dutch. Shamelessly and derisively they had shouted their dollar price to their brothers from the decks of the Dutch ships.

What the battle would always stand for above everything else was its vivid display of the new tactic of line. General Monck had at the start signalled for ‘line of battalia’. The close-hauled ‘line’ thereafter was performed with a skill and perfection that hardly suggested its novelty. One French observer, the Comte de Guiche, marvelled at the admirable order of the English. Nothing equalled their order and discipline, ‘leading from the front like an army of the land’.

Line represented the final rejection of the lingering influences of galley fighting. Right into the Four Days Battle the Dutch, like all others, still preferred that for battle their ships should continue sailing in line abreast, as galleys did, with consequent melee. But with the English the primacy of the big gun had become established and they had come to put emphasis upon their broadsides, which for maximum effect meant that gunfire should be positioned directly opposite the enemy, a beam of it, that is, parallel to it, unloading shot at its rigging and into its sides.

Why would the seemingly obvious have taken so long to evolve? The idea of line was, nevertheless, old. The first suggestion of it had shown in fighting instructions prepared by Sir Edward Cecil, one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s commanders in the fleet Raleigh took to Guiana in 1617. Cecil suggested that in action the whole fleet should follow the leading ship ‘every ship in order, so that the headmost may be ready to renew the fight against such time as the sternmost hath made an end, by that means keeping the weather of the enemy, and in continual fight until they be sunk…’ But the concept received little favour. Fighting instructions for a fleet remained vague or absent. By 1618, however, it was plainly recognized that sea fighting had changed from all times before. A Commission of Reform had described the demise of galley traditions by reporting that ‘sea fights in these days come seldom to boarding, or to great execution of bows, arrows, small shot and the sword, but are chiefly performed by the great artillery breaking down masts, yards, tearing, raking, and bilging the ships, wherein the great advantage of His Majesty’s navy must carefully be maintained by appointing such a proportion of ordnance to each ship as the vessel will bear’.

There were sound reasons for line of battle by the time of the Dutch wars. The sizes of navies and of ships were both at a stage of rapid growth. Greater size of fleets brought forward the problem of battle confusion. The smoke and melee arising from a denser concentration of ships locked in battle than in former times made signals and instruction more difficult during action. Huge opposing fleets produced intensive close action on a scale never before experienced. This demanded order upon confusion.

The second Dutch war expired with a peace in which Britain acknowledged the supremacy of Holland in the East Indies but retained New York and New Jersey, thereby joining all her colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America. It was an outstanding prize for a war in which Britain could by no means claim to have been entirely victorious. The greatest gift of the war, however, was line, shared by all.

Although the rest of the seventeenth century was convulsed by the dynastic and military upheaval that accompanied the domineering ascent of Louis XIV, it offered nothing to naval development. France had now been raised to the height of the new power assembled for her by Colbert. Louis XIV wanted sea power, colonial empire and dominance of oceanic trade. France looked set for an eventual challenge to English ambition in all of that. But by focusing on the Continental domination Louis forfeited what Colbert was striving for on his behalf.

The final quarter of the sixteenth century saw Europe convulsed by its greatest sequence of dynastic wars, the last of which, the War of the Spanish Succession, changed the map of Europe and colonial possession.

The sickly Spanish king, Charles II, a Hapsburg, had died and in his will declared Louis XIV’s seventeen-year-old grandson Philip, the Duke of Anjou, to be his heir, possessing an undivided Spanish empire. Louis XIV began to rule Spain from Versailles on behalf of the adolescent Philip of Anjou, now Philip V of Spain. For England and Holland France’s command over all Spanish possessions became intolerable provocation. On 15 May 1702, England, Holland and Austria declared war on France. This war, like its immediate predecessor, was also to be a war of land battles, marked by an absence of notable naval action, except for a single battle at the very end.

The Duke of Marlborough, in charge of the combined English and Dutch forces, demanded a strong Mediterranean squadron to go out to seize Toulon. The response by Sir George Rooke, the admiral appointed to command the Mediterranean squadron, was obstructive. When early in 1704 Rooke unavoidably found himself in the Mediterranean his performance initially was dismal. He made no show at Toulon. The French fleet there under Admiral Comte de Toulouse had been reinforced by the fleet from Brest. Rooke felt that the combined fleet was too powerful for his squadron and retreated towards the Straits of Gibraltar where, peremptorily, as if to compensate for the lack of anything to show before he returned home, he seized Gibraltar, on 23 July 1704. That brought Toulouse with his Toulon fleet down in an effort to recapture the Rock. He met Rooke off Malaga. This, the only naval battle of the war, was hard but indecisive. The combatants drifted apart and made no further contact, which was just as well since Rooke had used up all his ammunition.

The Treaty of Utrecht concluded the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713 and, in addition, gave England the island of Minorca where Port Mahon provided a key base from which to operate against Toulon. England’s Mediterranean situation gained further advantage under Utrecht as Spain lost Sicily and Naples to Austria, with Sardinia going to another ally, Savoy. This meant further strategic limitation upon France and its navy within the Mediterranean. Austria acquired the Spanish Netherlands, which for England removed the fear of France on the Scheldt and the North Sea coast. As icing upon the cake of prizes England had Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Hudson’s Bay ceded to her by France. The war had been as costly to Britain as to the others, yet she had emerged from it wealthier than before, her trade flourishing and her credit unsurpassed.

With France, however, the situation was bleak. Regardless of her immense domestic resources, she was in a state of ruinous depression. Reconstruction of the country’s naval and economic fortunes required a long peace. Holland was the worst off. Her naval strength and commerce had suffered badly from the war, the cost of which had drained her wealth. She would never recover the commercial supremacy of the past two centuries.

England had now become Great Britain: the union of England and Scotland in 1707 had made it so. Usage of ‘England’ would now begin to fall away in official though less so in common use. A new dynasty occupied the English throne. Queen Anne died in 1714 and was succeeded by the Hanoverian George I.

Britain could with much satisfaction review the evolution of her own maritime accomplishments after such a tumultuous century. A standing, professional navy was solidly established.

For all, a powerful new stream of history had begun to flow, and mingled with it a different sense of the underlying power and significance of naval strength.

Italian Navy 1940

Of the various design teams from the subordinate powers that were pressed into action around the globe, arguably none managed to produce a range of vessels under the treaty limits with more flair and panache than the Italians. Encouraged by the fascist dictatorship that Mussolini had erected after becoming prime minister in October 1922, the Italian Navy needed no second bidding to create something of a stir in the Mediterranean. Apart from the appearance of their ambitious 10,000-ton cruisers – TRENTO and TRIESTE – in 1927, units of the new light `condottieri’ type Giussano class (5,110 tons) were achieving sea trial speeds of roughly 40 knots by 1930 without sacrificing armaments to do so. Their new destroyers were soon going even faster, even though they were notoriously poor sea keepers and rolled viciously in bad weather. Speed was, of course, an extremely useful asset for any vessel to have at her disposal, but better protection for her crew was imperative if she was to be combative as well as swift and be able to make any lasting impression on those that she would be employed against.

Wartime shortages and the British blockade had made the situation critical in some areas even during Italy’s nine months of “non-belligerence.” In January 1940 the nation had possessed only twelve days’ worth of coking coal for blast furnaces (which suffered damage if allowed to go out), and some individual facilities had access to no more than a single day’s supply in reserve. The situation could only grow worse as the war progress, and Italy moved from being a bystander to being a participant, with the much greater consumption of strategic materials implied therein. By the summer of 1943 Germany had provided the Italians with some forty million tons of coal, one of the few areas in which their allies largely kept their economic agreements. The Germans had also supplied the Italians with 2.5 million tons of various metals during the same period, but even this was not enough to prevent key factories in Milan and Torino from reporting, in 1942, that for every five hours worked they stood another hour idle for lack of raw materials. Oil remained an even greater problem area. By a careful policy of purchasing abroad and stockpiling during the pre-war years, the Italian Navy had managed to amass some 1,800,000 tons of oil in reserve by June 1940. At a projected wartime consumption rate of 200,000 tons per month for full operations, that would be the equivalent of nine months’ supplies. The Army and the Air Force were in much worse shape, each having access to about 100,000 tons of petroleum products (including lubricants). Although the needs of these latter two services did not approach the prodigious thirst for bunker oil of the Navy’s big ships, their holdings nonetheless amounted to no more than a few months’ supplies. Essentially, the Army and Air Force had managed to stockpile just enough to survive the short war Mussolini predicted in late May 1940, and nothing more. The Army’s situation was so bad that in 1939, when the first Italian armored divisions were formed, and deployed to their defensive home stations, none of these units had access to enough fuel for more than 120 miles’ driving. As war approached the Army had undertaken plans for establishing and stocking large fuel depots in North Africa, a perhaps rather rare piece of strategic foresight which would have proved immensely helpfull to the Axis cause in that theatre had it been implemented. But in the face of the climate of scarcity described above this kind of planning represented little more than wishfull thinking, and Italian as well as German motorized units in the desert were to suffer severe fuel shortages which by the second half of 1942 came to seriously hamstring even their tactical capabilities. During the war overall Italian oil imports fell to one-fifth of the country’s normal peacetime usage! In spite of its own energetic preparations, the Navy, which had much higher consumption rates, was the service which was hit the hardest by this drought in liquid fuels. The Regia Marina, which had eaten up a good share of the pre-war military budget (each new battleship cost roughly 850 million lira, for example), was probably the best-equipped branch of the Italian armed forces. The Italian Navy had its share of serious technical shortcomings and difficulties, primarily its unpreparedness to fight an air-sea war, lacking radar, aircraft carriers, or an air force of its own. Still, the Italian battle fleet boasted some impressive ships. The two brand-new Italian battleships, the LITTORIO and the VITTORIO VENETO, were among the best in Europe when they went fully operational in August 1940. At 41,000 tons, they each mounted nine 381-mm/15-inch guns, managed a remarkable speed of 30 knots (equivalent to roughly 34.5 mph), and were very well protected, as both ships demonstrated by surviving hits of all kinds– torpedoes, shells, bombs, even rocket-propelled glider bombs– during the war. They were also among the best-engineered battleships in the world at the time of their introduction, and proved fairly efficient for their size. The Italians also had four small battleships (CAVOUR, CESARE, DORIA, and DUILIO), which dated back to the First World War, but had all since been modernized and up-gunned. (The improvements involved removing one 305-mm/12-inch gun turret, boring out the ten remaining guns to 320-mm/12.6-inch calibre, and modifying the remaining turrets to permit the guns a greater elevation. The ships also received new engines, giving a top speed of 28 knots, and additional protection below the waterline, the latter upgrade however proving insufficient, as single torpedo hits sank the DUILIO and the CAVOUR at Taranto). The Regia Marina could in addition deploy seven modern heavy cruisers, all armed with eight 203-mm/8-inch guns, four of which (TRIESTE, TRENTO, BOLZANO, GORIZIA) were very fast (35 knots or more) but lightly armored for their size, and the other three (ZARA, POLA, FIUME) of normal speed (32 knots) but somewhat better protected. The Italian Navy had sizeable fleets of light cruisers (many of them remarkable for their high speed), destroyers, smaller destroyer escorts, and submarines, with a fair percentage of modern designs in all these categories. But as the war progressed, lack of fuel began to drastically curtail the Navy’s very ability to operate. As mentioned, the Italian naval command estimated wartime needs at about 200,000 tons of oil per month. This meant a nine-month supply at the start of hostilities. However, when war was declared the Navy was immediately forced to turn over 300,000 tons from its own stocks for Air Force and civilian usage. With France tottering and the British ground forces already fled from the continent, Mussolini was at this stage gambling on a short war. When the conflict dragged on much longer than the Duce had confidently predicted, the Regia Marina was forced to scale back its actual consumption to 90,000 tons per month, then to 60,000 tons. This was reaching an absolute base level, however, since the crucial convoys to North Africa, which the Italian Navy made its top operational priority throughout the war, in themselves required about 175,000 tons of fuel every three months, if they were to be properly escorted. Vigorous British opposition made the provision of such escorts imperative, but if the Italians were to continue putting their full efforts into the convoy activities on the level demanded, there would be virtually no fuel left for anything else. And, indeed, by the second half of 1942 even submarine sorties were curtailed by fuel shortages, so that only a small percentage of the boats in operational condition were able to actually deploy on war patrols (for instance, of 55 boats theoretically available to attack Allied shipping to French North Africa after the “Torch” landings in November 1942, less than a dozen subs were actually used for these missions due to lack of fuel). The crisis became so acute for the surface vessels that as early as spring 1942 the Italians had to resort to pumping fuel out of their battleships and cruisers, leaving the big ships immobilized in port, in order to keep the vital escorts running. Likewise, in 1943 Italian mine-laying efforts also came to a virtual halt, as even these small vessels were emptied of their fuel to permit continued operations by the escort craft. The severe shortages had, of course, all kinds of operational ramifications, none of them good from the Italian point of view. After June 1942, when the mere fact of their sortie forced a British convoy to Malta to turn back, the battleships were essentially confined to port due to lack of fuel– they would not come out again until Italy surrendered, and they dashed to Malta to give themselves up. Training throughout the fleet suffered as well, and in fact had been cut back due to fuel shortages even in the pre-war years. Practically all of the oil the Italians received during the war came from Romania, either directly in the Italian purchase of the scanty amounts still up for sale outside of the German-Romanian trade agreement, or indirectly through the Germans. In Axis joint planning, their German allies undertook to fulfill the Italian Navy’s needs (at the Merano naval conference and thereafter), but the Germans proved woefully unable to keep their promises in this matter. By the spring of 1943, by which time the Regia Marina’s own stocks had long been completely exhausted, the Italian Navy in one month received from its allies only 24,000 tons. The “paralysis” of the Italian fleet many non-Italian authors complain about was obviously at least as much a matter of material than of psychology.

When the Italians joined the war on the side of the Axis on 10 June. 65 Although four of its six battleships were not immediately operational, the Regia Marina Italiana (Royal Italian Navy) still had seven heavy cruisers, fourteen light cruisers, sixty-one destroyers, 144 torpedo boats and 117 submarines at its disposal from the outset. As such, its deployment in the Mediterranean and the Aegean was bound to complicate the Allied war effort in these seas and through its active presence in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean potentially compromise the safe operation of the Suez Canal as well. Dudley Pound and his trusted VCNS Tom Phillips certainly believed that with the French Navy apparently out of the equation, the Italians could make things very uncomfortable for the British in the Mediterranean. While they were in favour of withdrawing the fleet from Alexandria, neither Churchill nor his combative C-in-C Mediterranean, Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham, would hear of it. Churchill’s fervent support for an active presence in the Mediterranean was crucial in convincing the COS to endorse the decision to retain the Alexandria base for the time being. This left Cunningham with a fleet that was certainly capable of holding its own in the Eastern Mediterranean, but whose scattered units looked acutely vulnerable at both Malta and Gibraltar without substantial French support and with the Spanish dictator General Franco weighing up the option of abandoning neutrality in favour of joining the Axis Powers as Hitler and Mussolini fervently wished he would.

It was with unalloyed relief that both Cunningham and Somerville put their recent confrontations with the French behind them and sought to take the fight to their real enemy – the Italians – in the Mediterranean during the next few weeks. An initial 105-minute engagement between the two fleets took place off the southeast coast of Calabria during the afternoon of 9 July. Although indecisive, the Battle of Punta Stilo demonstrated that Admiral Inigo Campioni’s capital ships were fast and were well supported by light forces that had `outnumbered, outgunned and outranged’ Cunningham’s own cruisers. When the numerical advantage enjoyed by the Italians in all types of aircraft was also factored in, Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet looked decidedly shorthanded and desperately in need of a modern carrier if it was do something more than merely hold its own in these waters. Churchill wanted much more than a mere stalemate in the Mediterranean and was prepared to support the call for reinforcements to be sent to Alexandria so that the fight could be taken to the Regia Marina. His enthusiasm for doing so was heightened by the action off Cape Spada (Crete) on 19 July and in the Gulf of Bumbah (off Tobruk) on the following day when a mixture of Allied warships and carrier aircraft got much the better of the Italians. What these three encounters in July revealed was an underlying inconsistency in the performance levels of the Italian Navy. While it could be good on occasion, it could also be demonstrably lame on others. It was a mercurial condition that afflicted the other services too, and left both friends and enemies alike wondering just what to expect from the Italians in the war.

Although it was tempting for those in Whitehall to dismiss the bombastic Mussolini as a preposterous poseur and his military as more of a liability than an asset to the Axis cause, the fact was that both were still perfectly capable of complicating the strategic picture for the British and they demonstrated this art to perfection by invading British Somaliland at the beginning of August. Once again the British were forced to retreat and conduct the latest of their series of evacuations – a small scale affair from Berbera to Aden – within a few days. Success in one theatre was quickly followed by failure in another. Throughout the war Italian combined arms operations routinely promised more than they actually delivered. Too often the degree of liaison between the services or the level of competence of any one of them left much to be desired. Above all, however, the failure of the Italian military to make the most of its geographical position was to be a recurring and galling theme for the fascist leadership. An early example of what was to come was shown in late August when an important Allied reinforcement convoy (Operation Hats) sailed through the heart of the Mediterranean to join Cunningham’s Fleet at Alexandria defying and evading aerial reconnaissance, submarine patrols and an Italian Fleet bristling with five battleships, thirteen cruisers and thirty-nine destroyers that had been deployed to detect and destroy it.

New major ships delivered to the Italian Navy during the war. The chief of these were the last eight big destroyers (1,820 tons) of the SOLDATO class (the first batch of eleven had entered service just prior to the war), and the three fast but very small cruisers of the “Roman Generals” class (because that’s what they were named after). None of these ships was available before 1942, and the Italians didn’t have much luck with the cruisers. The first one to come into service, the ATTILIO REGOLO, had only been operational for two months when it had its bow blown off by a British submarine’s torpedo while returning from a minelaying mission in November 1942, putting it out of action for six months. The TRAIANO had not even gone fully operational before it was sunk in its Sicilian harbor by a British underwater assault team using methods deliberately copied from the Italian special shipping attack units, this in January 1943. The SCIPIONE, while passing through the straits of Messina to take up a new assignment as a minelayer in the Ionian Sea in July 1943, was attacked in these narrow waters by four small British motor torpedo boats. But this time the Italians got the upper hand, and the SCIPIONE, with some very accurate shooting, sank two of its assailants and set another one on fire.

There was one aspect of naval warfare in which the Italians were indubitably the world leaders in 1940-43, not only in theory and practice, but also in the development of the relevant technology. That was in special attack methods, particularly geared toward destruction of enemy ships in their harbors via penetration by small undersea or surface units. The Italians lumped these methods under the title “mezzi navali d’assalto” or “naval assault craft.” The Italians had indeed pioneered the modern applications of this field during the First World War, when they produced some remarkably sophisticated devices (including one which crawled like a tank over the ocean floor) and had scored a stunning success with the sinking of the Austrian battleship VIRIBUS UNITIS. In 1940 these special assault methods were divided into four categories. The first of the “mezzi navali d’assalto” were the “explosive motorboats” (“motoscafi esplosivi”). These were exactly what the name implied, small, fast boats (of very shallow draft to aid in negotiating potentially blocked harbor entrances), filled with explosives, which were to be rammed into enemy ships. Unlike the later Japanese “kaiten,” this was not intended as a suicide mission. The operator of the boat, once zeroing in on his target, locked the steering mechanism, and then, at about 100-200 yards away, rolled off a special platform built on to the back of the boat for this purpose, and swam like hell in the opposite direction (exceptional swimming ability was one of the prerequisites for inclusion in the elite force formed to employ these various attack methods). Although five of these craft were later sent to the Black Sea, their most memorable employment was in a raid on Suda Bay, the main British naval base on Crete, in March 1941. Six boats, deployed from the destroyers CRISPI and SELLA, managed to enter the harbor, and these sank a tanker and a freighter, as well as damaging the heavy cruiser YORK so badly that the ship had to be beached, and although later used as a sort of semi-floating headquarters (thus leading to later claims by German Stuka pilots that they had “sunk” the cruiser) it never sailed again.

The most dangerous, and most successful, of the Italian special attack craft were the “piloted torpedoes” (“siluri pilotati”). Also known as SLC’s (for “Siluro a Lenta Corsa” or “Slow-running Torpedo”), these were small underwater vehicles, which looked very much like a torpedo, on which the two crewmen sat, straddling the craft as if on horseback and breathing with “scuba” type oxygen tanks. A small electric motor drove the device at a top speed of 4.5 knots, although the normal operating speed was half that, and the “torpedo” could dive to about 100 feet (30 meters). The craft could travel under its own power for up to 15 miles, though more often 10-12 miles under actual operating conditions (at top speed, however, the battery ran out after about four miles). The “piloted torpedo” had a detachable, 661-lb (300 kg) magnetic warhead (early in the program lighter warheads were used, but the 300 kg was both the most common and the most effective), fitted with a time fuze, which was attached to the underside of the target vessel. The Italian specialists who operated them called them “maiali” (“pigs”), because when attacking a ship they looked like piglets suckling at a sow’s belly. A number of Italian subs were specially fitted to transport and launch the “siluri pilotati.” Seven Italian submarines were converted for various special attack operations at one time or another, but of these only four (originally the IRIDE, GONDAR, and SCIRE, later the AMBRA as a replacement after the first two of these were sunk) were actually employed on “live” missions with this equipment. The conversion for all four of these boats involved the installation of three watertight containers on the sub’s deck, each holding a single “piloted torpedo,” which could then be prepared for action while dry and launched by the submarine while submerged.

A third class of the “naval assault craft” were the midget submarines (“sommergibili tascabili”). The RMI experimented with both a two-man and a four-man version (the two-man called the CA, the four-man the CB). The CA was slow in reaching operational service, but twelve of the four-man type, the CB, were eventually built before the surrender to the Allies. At 36 tons, these little craft had a top speed of 7.5 knots surfaced or seven knots submerged. They could achieve a range of up to 1,400 miles on the surface (at three knots), but only about 50 miles submerged. Armament consisted of two external 17.7-inch torpedo tubes, mounted in much the same fashion as on the MAS torpedo boats, and in fact the CB, with its rather high foredeck and low, streamlined bridge, when surfaced bore an uncanny resemblance to the MAS. Six of the midget subs were sent to operate against the Soviets in the Black Sea in May 1942, and they had some success there. In June 1942 the CB-3 sank the Russian STALIN-class submarine S-32, and a few days later the CB-2 sank the smaller Shchuka-type sub Shch-306. One CB-type midget was lost during operations (to air attack while in port), the survivors eventually given to the Royal Romanian Navy. The Germans praised the dedication to duty demonstrated by the crews of these little boats on extensive patrols blockading the Soviets in Sebastopol during the Axis conquest of the Crimea. The final special attack tactic worked out by the Italians was the use of what were called “Gamma men.” These were not machines, but humans– strong, trained ocean swimmers, wearing flipper fins on their feet and towing small magnetic mines attached to their belts. They were usually carried to the scene of their assaults in submarines (some being deposited behind enemy lines in Tunisia by this method of insertion as late as the opening weeks of 1943, although in this case without much result).

However, there was at least one notable incident, Franco Maugheri and the SIS (naval intelligence), involving a bit more cloak-and-dagger stuff. In July 1943, an experienced Italian “frogman” named Luigi Ferraro, helped by SIS agents who accompanied him on the mission, made his way in disguise to Alexandria, his suitcases full of magnetic mines and diving gear. By staying on the move, he managed to remain undetected by the authorities long enough to mine (after long swims from remote beaches to the anchorages) two ships at Alexandria, and two more at Mersina in Syria. Three of the four vessels were sunk, the British saving the fourth when they discovered the mine attached to its hull before it exploded. Ferraro also managed to make his getaway. It is worth noting that Italian intelligence had a pretty fair network of agents and informants in Egypt, who in particular kept them regularly informed of shipping movements at Alexandria and Aboukir (although one of their greatest successes, the sinking of the two battleships at Alexandria, remained unknown to them for several weeks, as all of the crews of the “piloted torpedoes” involved were captured, and the ships settled on the bottom at their shallow berths still looked like they were afloat at first glance in aerial reconnaissance photos).

The Italians formed a special unit to employ the “mezzi navali d’assalto,” which was given the cover name 10th MAS Flotilla (“decima mas” to the Italians). The unit did have a few MAS boats assigned to it, both to legitimize the cover story and also to assist in operations (for example, the attempt on Malta of July 1941, of which more later). It also included the specially-modified submarines described above, and had other larger naval units attached as necessary (for example, the two destroyers used in the Suda Bay operation and the fast transport DIANA for the Malta attempt). The original commander of the 10th MAS was Commander Giorgini.

The Italian Navy did indeed fight the powerful British Royal Navy for 39 months in the Mediterranean– and fought to something like a draw, with wild swings of momentum and dominance, from the summer of 1940 until the fall of 1942, when the balance swung to the British for the last time. And it did so with minimal German assistance, at least in the surface war (German submarines achieved a few spectacular successes when they first appeared in late 1941, but proved a minor factor in the long run– the most palpable German contribution to the Mediterranean sea war was arguably in the air). Likewise, the Italian merchant fleet provided the bulk of the transport that kept the North African theatre operational for almost three years (with almost entirely Italian escorts), in a grueling convoy war that consumed considerable resources on both sides. But the reach of the Regia Marina ranged much further than the Med, Aegean, etc. Italian submarines operated in both North and South Atlantic, in the Caribbean, off the coasts of the United States and Brazil. They cruised on missions to the Indian Ocean and back, and in fact often enjoyed their best success in these various waters more remote from Europe proper (for example, during the “happy time” for German U-boats off the US coasts in early 1942, five Italian subs also operating in American waters between them sank 14 ships totalling 88,000 tons, a fairly merry outing as well. The most successful Italian submarine of the war, in terms of tonnage sunk, the LEONARDO DA VINCI, sank six ships totalling 58,000 tons on a single cruise into the Indian Ocean and back, accounting for roughly half its total in the war). The Italians were also the first navy in the world to operate submarines in the Red Sea. Italian subs and blockade runners (and the colonial sloop ERITREA) sailed into the Far East, some of them all the way to Japan and let’s not forget that small detachment of Italian marines stationed in China between the wars.