The Seventeenth Century: The Rise Of Navies

Scale of Royal and other State Navies (displacement tonnage 000s)

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.

Prince Rupert Admiral and General-at-Sea: Revenge

There would not be another Revenge until the Newbury was renamed in 1660.

Like the stunned silence that follows the finale of a dramatic piece of music, or the last act of a great play, a pregnant pause hangs over the last act of the great Revenge tragedy and, as on those occasions when no one wants to be the first to break the silence, no order was given over the next fifty-nine years for a replacement to be constructed.

Perhaps what was also awaited was not only the time but the man, and the man who was to confer the famous name on another ship could overmatch Sir Richard Grenville in élan, dash and in lineage. He was, after all, the nephew of King Charles I.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, son of Frederick V, elector of Palatine and King of Bohemia, and of Elizabeth Stuart, is probably best remembered for his inspirational leadership of Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War, his precipitous charge at the Battle of Edgehill becoming a trademark for brilliance bordering on recklessness, his gleeful pursuit of the enemy leaving the Royalist centre dangerously exposed. After defeats at both Marston Moor and Naseby, the favourite was dismissed by his patron, Charles I, and, after the Royalist surrender, banished from England. The erstwhile cavalry commander now took on a different variety of steed and, as Admiral and General-at-Sea, he took command of the Royalist fleet in 1648.

After occasional skirmishes with the Commonwealth fleet round the British Isles, Rupert set sail across the Bay of Biscay to Lisbon, where he was welcomed by the newly crowned King John IV, who, while maintaining cordial relations with the English Commonwealth, was predisposed to support the English Royalist cause.

Rupert and the Royalist fleet proceeded to play a game of cat and mouse with the Commonwealth fleet under Bacon, sent to blockade Rupert. The Portuguese played a delicate game of attempting to aid Rupert without antagonizing the Commonwealth. After various brushes between the two fleets, and several unsuccessful attempts to get away, Rupert finally made his escape on 12 October 1650, much to the relief of the Portuguese.

After setting off into the Atlantic, Rupert sailed down the south coast of Spain, hunting English ships in ports such as Málaga and Motríl. Rupert in the Constant Reformation and his brother, Maurice, in the Swallow were not, however, to be found. At this point they were in pursuit of a merchantman, the Marmaduke, which was attempting to escape south towards the coast of Africa. This merchantman was, at 400 tons, well armed and full of fight. Rupert and Maurice caught up with her by nightfall and fierce hostilities flared in the morning. The battle raged until about midday when the Marmaduke finally surrendered due to the death of her captain.

The Marmaduke, now a prize, then accompanied Rupert and Maurice to Formentera. Not finding the other Royalist ships at the agreed rendezvous, the two princes and their prize sailed on towards Cagliari in Sardinia, whereupon the Constant Reformation became separated from the other ships in a storm. Maurice sailed to Toulon with the prize where he was eventually joined by Rupert, who had pulled in to Messina in Sicily to repair storm damage.

At Toulon, Rupert set about repairing and refitting the prize ship, which was renamed the Revenge of Whitehall. With this and four other ships, Rupert sailed on 7 May, deceiving the lurking Commonwealth fleet under the command of Penn by first sailing east and then doubling back close to the coast of Africa, before heading into the Atlantic.

Although there was some dispute among the captains as to their destination, they finally arrived at the Azores, an appropriate location for the second Revenge.

Rupert’s squadron landed at Sâo Miguel and he made this the base of his operations. Soon afterwards, however, one of his ships, the St Michael the Archangel, deserted and sailed off for England.

On 26 January, the squadron sailed for the Cape Verde islands, Prince Maurice having moved into the Revenge. After this, they sailed down to the Gambia where the Portuguese pilots managed to run both the Swallow and the Revenge aground. At this stage Marshall moved across to the Revenge.

At Mayo, in the Cape Verde islands, two English ships anchored near the Revenge, which promptly captured them and took their crews prisoner. This was to prove the undoing of the Revenge, for William Coxon, the mate of the Supply, one of the captured ships, organized the prisoners to take over the ship. Once this had been achieved, they sailed for England.

Thus ended the exploits of the second Revenge in the Azores, having revisited, like a ghost, the hunting ground of her illustrious namesake.

For Rupert, too, the time was approaching when he should return to northern waters. After a visit to the West Indies, Rupert’s squadron approached the Azores, only to be fired upon by the Portuguese authorities who had decided in favour of the English Commonwealth.

Rupert’s sally into the Mediterranean and the Atlantic was effectively a sideshow, with such little strategic interest as to be barely worth more than a few lines in a general history of the period. The interest it does have is mainly due to the sheer force of personality of Rupert and the passing presence of the ship named Revenge.

Rupert sailed to France and joined the court of the English King-in-waiting, Charles II. The captured Revenge was bought by the Admiralty in 1652 and renamed the Marmaduke. There would not be another Revenge until the Newbury was renamed in 1660.

While the Royalist fleet had been engaged on its somewhat fruitless diversions, significant developments were underway in the Commonwealth Navy, largely due to the skills and experience of two Generals-at-Sea, Robert Blake and George Monck.

Blake had led the hunt for Rupert in the Mediterranean and Rupert was fortunate to have escaped him, for Blake’s exceptional talents were to turn the English Navy into an elite fighting force and in the forthcoming First Dutch War he won three out of four engagements with the distinguished Admiral Tromp, between May 1652 and June 1653. George Monck, who had fought for Charles I and who was to be a lead player in the Restoration of his son, although primarily an expert on land warfare, employed his organizational and tactical skills to develop a formula for naval engagements, to be known as the ‘Fighting Instructions’.

A set of fighting instructions had been issued by Edward Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon (1572–1638) in 1625 for the expedition against Cadiz, and these contained one of the first references to fleet line ahead, though as has been noted above, a form of line ahead had been performed by Howard’s ships in their attack on the San Martín of the Spanish Armada. The realization of this tactical idea was to come in the first Dutch War, not only under the influence of Blake and Monck but of William Penn (1621–1670), whose formulation of fighting instructions was to be the basis of James Duke of York’s ‘Instruction for the better Ordering His Majesties Fleet in Sayling of 1673’.

To begin with, however, despite the previous attempts to formulate fighting instructions, the first engagements with the Dutch at sea, concerning disputes over the honour to the flag (as stipulated in the Navigation Act of 1651) were haphazard.

Salamis on Cyprus in 306 BC

Ptolemy’s fleet, the appropriated Phoenician navy, made the Egyptian dynast a powerful force in the Aegean.

The strategic location of Rhodes and Cyprus, as we have said, made control of both of them desirable. Cyprus was also rich in grain, copper, and especially timber, which Ptolemy needed for his fleet, and he and the other Ptolemies always worked to maintain some sort of influence over the island. Likewise, Rhodes was an important commercial center for Egyptian grain, and a transit point for all goods shipped to Egypt throughout the Hellenistic period. The large number of Rhodian amphorae found in Alexandria testifies to the commercial contacts between the two places, and the Rhodians probably furnished Ptolemy with warships and let him use their island as a port for his fleet. 60 Both islands had been allies of Alexander and had close ties to Ptolemy, but then again, the Rhodians had made alliances with practically every Successor at some point. Cyprus especially had been a bone of contention between Ptolemy and Antigonus for years, so if Demetrius were to take both islands he would strike a blow at Egypt’s economy and security, as well as assuring Antigonid control of the eastern Mediterranean.

In the spring of 306, Demetrius set out to Cyprus with 15,000 infantry, 400 cavalry, and at least 163 warships. En route he tried to win over the Rhodians, but they refused his diplomatic advances, preferring to maintain their amity (and trading prerogatives) with Ptolemy. Both Antigonus and Demetrius viewed the Rhodian reaction as a causus belli, and decided to deal with the island later. Demetrius sailed on to Cyprus, landing near Salamis with his infantry and cavalry. Close to that city he did battle with Menelaus, Ptolemy’s brother, who had 12,000 infantry and 800 cavalry, and defeated him. Menelaus escaped into Salamis and managed to send urgent word to his brother Ptolemy before Demetrius laid siege to the city. His enormous siege engines, taller than the ramparts of the city, included the fearsome, multistoried armored helepolis, designed by Epimachus of Athens; at over 100 feet high, with a 40-foot base, it could launch missiles weighing over 175 pounds a staggering 650 feet.

Ptolemy sailed at once to relieve his brother with at least 140 warships and 200 transport vessels carrying 10,000 troops. Landing at Paphos, he received reinforcements from some of the Cypriot cities and made plans to join up with Menelaus’ own fleet of sixty warships. But Demetrius moved quickly to barricade Menelaus in the harbor of Salamis, and then as Ptolemy arrived (probably unaware of Menelaus’ fate), Demetrius attacked him. Both fleets included huge quadriremes and quinquiremes, so their enormity of size, numbers, and the other armaments must have made the entire scene breathtaking in scale. The epic naval battle, characterized by daredevil prow on prow ramming of the warships and Demetrius’ use of catapults mounted on ships (reminiscent of Alexander’s use of siege towers and battering rams on boats at Tyre), provided “an excellent case study for how best to attack or defend a coastal city with the aid of a fleet,” and became a “textbook example” for the next century. Demetrius’ left wing successfully drove back Ptolemy’s right wing, enabling Demetrius to maneuver into the space and attack Ptolemy’s center, which also was pushed back (precisely what Ptolemy had intended to do to his opponent’s line). Ptolemy had no choice, given Demetrius’ relentless assault, but to retreat to Citium in utter defeat.

Ptolemy’s losses are not properly known, but at least forty warships and one hundred supply ships were captured and eighty damaged, with 8,000 men taken as prisoners of war, to Demetrius’ twenty ships damaged. Menelaus’ only option now was to surrender Cyprus to Demetrius, and Ptolemy to return to Egypt with his tail between his legs, although “not at all humbled in spirit by the defeat.” Thus Demetrius had his revenge for his defeat six years earlier at Gaza, and the Antigonids now became the dominant naval power. Among the captives at Salamis were Menelaus and Leontiscus (Ptolemy’s son by Thais), whom Demetrius allowed to leave unharmed and without a ransom. Another captive was the courtesan (hetaira) Lamia, who had accompanied Ptolemy to Cyprus, perhaps as his mistress, but had been left behind by him there. Although older than Demetrius and “past her prime,” she seduced him and became one of his numerous mistresses in Athens for many years.

Ptolemy would not regain his ascendancy in the Aegean until 294. He still had Egypt and Cyrene, and some cities in the Peloponnese, but these were far from the possessions he had painstakingly accumulated over the past sixteen years. Worse was to come later that year when, Antigonus and Demetrius decided to invade Egypt to topple him from power once and for all.

Soon after news of his son’s crushing victory at Salamis in 306 reached him, Antigonus, at the grand old age of 79, began to wear a diadem and took the title of king, the first of the Successors to do so. He then sent a diadem to his son in Cyprus and allowed him to be called king as well. Lysimachus, Seleucus, Cassander, and Ptolemy quickly proclaimed themselves kings so that they would not be considered inferior, as satraps, to Antigonus and Demetrius as kings.

Antigonus’ move formally ended the mirage of satrapal status. Although Justin claims the Successors had refused the title of king “as long as sons of the king [Alexander the Great] had been able to survive. such was the respect they felt for Alexander that, even when they enjoyed the royal power, they were content to forego the title `king’ as long as Alexander had a legitimate heir,” Alexander IV, the “legitimate heir,” had been put to death four years previously. That it took that long for the Successors to call themselves kings of their territories was perhaps because they had brought down the dynasty to which they had sworn allegiance and had lived under all their lives. The world of 306 was very different from that of 310, and appearance could now give way to the reality of kingship. Suddenly this new world went from no king to a multitude of them. Ptolemy’s army apparently acclaimed him king. Exactly when this occurred is unknown, and scholars are split into two camps over a date in 306 or 304.

The ancient sources seem to suggest that Ptolemy (and the others) became kings in the same year as Antigonus so as to match his authority. Since Ptolemy was an ambitious ruler, we would not expect him to have been content in a subordinate position once the others were calling themselves kings. In fact, Ptolemy even backdated his kingship to include his years as satrap after Alexander’s death in 323. But would Ptolemy have assumed the kingship in 306, when Demetrius had so recently and decisively defeated him off Salamis? This question has given rise to the belief that Ptolemy became king only in 304, after Demetrius’ lengthy siege of Rhodes had ended, during which Ptolemy had given the defenders valuable assistance and had also warded off an Antigonid invasion of Egypt. Thus he was again enjoying the sorts of victories that people would expect of a king. Moreover, the year 305/304 fits in with the chronology of Egyptian documents, which dated his kingship to that year, as the Egyptian year ran from November 7 to November 6, and the siege of Rhodes was over by the spring of 304. He may have become king on the first day of the Egyptian New Year in 305 (November 7), but did not celebrate his accession until the anniversary of Alexander’s death, which fell in the following year; this in turn became the anniversary of his accession.

Ptolemy I & II’s Military Forces

When Alexander left Egypt in 331 BC, he appointed two Egyptians, Doloaspis and Petisis, as governors – the second soon resigned – while Cleomenes of Naucratis, a local Greek, was in charge of collecting the tribute and governing Arabia. Four thousand of Alexander’s soldiers were stationed in garrisons at Memphis and Pelusium, with Pantaleon of Pydna and Megacles of Pella as garrison commanders (phrourarchoi), respectively, while the generals (strategoi) of the army were the Macedonian Peucestas and Balacros, according to Arrian (Anabasis 3.5.5), or Peucestas and the Rhodian Aeschylus, according to Curtius (4.8.4-5). In addition, Polemon was the admiral (nauarchos) of a fleet of thirty triremes, and the Aetolian Lycidas was in charge of the mercenaries (xenoi). The troops were probably Macedonians and Greek mercenaries, since their commanders were drawn from both groups. From the death of Alexander in 323 BC to the end of the fourth century BC, Diodorus is our most comprehensive source. According to him, Ptolemy went to Egypt without an army but with friends who were experienced officers. He also hired mercenaries with 8,000 talents he took from the Egyptian treasury (Diodorus 18.14.1). Two lucky events gave Ptolemy, still satrap, an opportunity to increase the number of his soldiers. First, his conquest of Cyrenaica in 322/1 BC with land and naval forces allowed him to hire Cyrenean soldiers (Diodorus 18.21.7-9). Ptolemy probably expanded his fleet by seizing ships abandoned by Thibron, the Macedonian commander vanquished in Cyrene, and by building new ones thanks to treaties with dynasts in Cyprus (320 BC). He also had access to building material as a consequence of his brief occupation of Coele-Syria (319/18-314 BC). Second, in 320 BC a large number of invading troops led by Perdiccas joined the Ptolemaic army, either expecting a better deal from Ptolemy or because they were left with no employer at Perdiccas’ death (Diodorus 18.21.7-9, 18.33-6). In addition, Ptolemy probably took over a few elephants with their mahouts.

A few years later, in 315 BC, Ptolemy was able to send 13,000 mercenaries and 100 ships to Cyprus and later to Caria, while keeping an army in Palestine (Diodorus 19.62.3-4). These mercenaries must have fought with Ptolemy at the Battle of Gaza (312 BC) along with newly hired mercenaries and armed Egyptians, for a total of 22,000 men including 18,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry (Diodorus 19.80.4). This victory gave Ptolemy forty-three elephants and 8,000 prisoners, mainly mercenary infantry, whom he settled in the Egyptian nomes (Diodorus 19.84.1-4, 85.3; Plutarch, Demetrius 5; Justin, Epitome 15.1). Even if Ptolemy acquired some of Antigonus’ soldiers in the years that followed, Demetrius’ defeat on land of Ptolemy’s brother in Cyprus, where Ptolemy had 12,000 infantry and about 800 cavalry in garrison, led to the loss of a third of them (Diodorus 20.47.3). Even worse was Ptolemy’s naval defeat in 306 BC at Salamis of Cyprus, where Demetrius captured 8,000 infantry on supply ships, along with forty warships, while eighty of Ptolemy’s warships were disabled.

On the strength of the naval forces and the discrepancies between the ancient authors and within Diodorus’ account (20.46.5-47.4; 47.7-52), see Hauben (1976): Ptolemy’s fleet consisted of 200-210 warships (no larger than quinqueremes) and 200 transport vessels carrying at least 10,000 men; Demetrius’ fleet consisted of 180-190 warships, but was qualitatively better with the heptereis and hexereis that Ptolemy II lacked, which had large decks with arrow- and stone-shooting catapults.

Ptolemy had to abandon Cyprus and Coele-Syria to Antigonus and lost a total of 16,000 infantry and 600 cavalry (Diodorus 53.1), plausibly half his army. Despite this defeat, his soldiers proclaimed Ptolemy king in response to Antigonus’ assumption of that title (Plutarch, Demetrius 18.1; Appian, Syrian Wars 54; Justin, Epitome 15.2.11), and in 305 BC he was able to defend the Egyptian border by using small nilotic ships maneuverable in the Delta, but also by attracting some of Antigonus’ soldiers with money (Diodorus 20.75.1-3, 76.7; Plutarch, Demetrius 19.1-3; Pausanias 1.6.6).

These episodes show that money was central to the survival of what was about to become the Ptolemaic dynasty and to the organization of its army. The events of 305 BC were probably the last opportunity to hire large numbers of Macedonians or Thracian soldiers. In the third century the foreigners joining the Ptolemaic army were voluntary, independent immigrants, groups of soldiers hired for or during specific events, and the descendants of these original soldiers. An army of 30,000-40,000 soldiers and 100 warships, all ethnic groups included, for the entire realm at that time, is a plausible estimate on the basis of the numbers noted above and the description of the Battle of Raphia in 217 BC. Intense international warfare remained the norm in the decades that followed and during the second generation of Successors. Ptolemy I’s main rivals were Antigonus and Demetrius; theirsuccessors, the Antigonids, remained Ptolemy II’s principal opponents onsea. Ptolemy I took oversome cities in Lycia and Caria but was stopped in Halicarnassus by Demetrius and had difficulty maintaining his garrisons in Greece: by 303 BC he had lost Corinth, Sicyon and Megara (Diodorus 20.37.1-2; Diogenes Laertius 2.115). But Ptolemy had become Rhodes’ devoted ally during the siege of the city by Demetrius in 305/4 BC, by providing at least 2,000 soldiers and food supplies (Diodorus 20.88.9, 94, 96.1, 98.1). During the Fourth War of the Successors (303-301 BC), he secured Coele-Syria but did not fight with the other Successors at the final battle against Demetrius at Ipsus. Seleucus did not formally renounce the rights he enjoyed to this region thanks to his military participation at Ipsus but neither, because Ptolemy was a friend and ally, did he ask him to leave it (Diodorus 21.1.5). This ambiguous status was the cause of the numerous Syrian Wars between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids in the third and second centuries BC. The region was essential to Egypt as a buffer zone, a platform for trade and a prosperous region to tax. Ptolemy returned to Egypt with Jews whom he garrisoned in Egypt, although the figure of 30,000 soldiers given by literary sources is an overestimation. In the 290s BC, while the other kings were attacking Demetrius’ positions, Ptolemy was able to take back Cyprus and to add Lycia and perhaps already Pamphylia, as well as Sidon and Tyre to his external possessions (295/4 BC). Since his defeat at Salamis he had built up his fleet again to at least 150 warships, which he sent the same year to defend Athens – unsuccessfully – against Demetrius (Plutarch, Demetrius 33-4). In 287 BC Ptolemy supported a rebellion against his rival with 1,000 soldiers dispatched from his bases in Andros and led by the Athenian Callias but ultimately opted for a peace treaty with Demetrius. Without winning any major naval battles, Ptolemy I had established a network of fortified bases in the Aegean and provided solid ground for a Ptolemaic thalassocracy. It is likely that he acquired Demetrius’ warships in Ephesus, but Lysimachus, who probably seized Demetrius’ fleet at Pella, was still a serious rival at sea.

Ptolemy II (285-246 BC): the challenge of a thalassocracy

After the death of Demetrius and that of Lysimachus in 281 BC, Ptolemy II had the most powerful fleet in the Mediterranean. It is in this context that he founded the League of the Islanders and became its first president, as has recently been argued by Andrew Meadow, who rejects the idea that the League was an Antigonid foundation of the late fourth century BC. Modern historians refer to the three decades that follow as the Ptolemaic thalassocracy. Ptolemy’s garrisons and fleet dominated the Aegean, but the low level of military engagement of the fleet and the quasi-absence of naval victories over Ptolemy’s main rival, the new king of Macedonia, Antigonus II Gonatas (283-239 BC), remained partly an obstacle to total control of the Eastern Mediterranean and the consolidation of an empire. Ptolemy’s expansion at the beginning of his reign against his rivals in Anatolia, during and after the Syrian War of Succession (280/79 BC), is visible in the epigraphic sources, and its precise development continues to be refined by new material. This success was valuable for consolidating Ptolemy II’s influence early on. He took the opportunity to display his power and wealth publicly by organizing a Greek festival, the Ptolemaia, in honour of his deified father. The delegates of the League of the Islanders met on Samos, a new Ptolemaic possession, to “[vote] that the contest should be equal in rank with the Olympic Games” and to send sacred envoys. The Ptolemaia took place every four years and attracted many visitors between 279/8 BC and at least 233/2 BC. A description of the Grand Procession is preserved in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (5.197c-203e) drawing on Callixeinus of Rhodes’ account, perhaps written a century after the fact. Which occurrence of the Ptolemaia this description represents is unclear. The most widely accepted dates are 279/8 BC, the first Ptolemaia, immediately after the Syrian War of Succession, or 275/4 BC, when Ptolemy II was preparing his troops for the First Syrian War (274-271 BC) after the failed attempt by Magas king of Cyrene to march on Alexandria. But it is unnecessary to connect this description with a military expedition, and the Cyrenean episode was not particularly remarkable: Magas had to cut his assault short because the Libyan tribes rebelled, and Ptolemy did not pursue the Cyrenean army because he had to suppress a revolt by his 4,000 Celtic mercenaries. In any case, Callixeinus reports 57,600 infantry and 23,200 cavalry in the procession, and other units were not present.

Rice, in her study of the Grand Procession, accepts these numbers as representing some percentage of the total army, because Callixeinus had access to official records for his account. In addition, she regards Appian’s very high numbers of troops as referring to men from the garrisons in Alexandria and the Delta and from nearby cleruchies: 200,000 infantry, 40,000 cavalry, 300 war elephants, 2,000 armed chariots, and arms in reserve for 300,000 more soldiers (Praef. 10). Thompson is far more cautious, suggesting that the entire army perhaps consisted of about 100,000 soldiers. Even before her, many scholars had questioned the numbers given by Appian and Callixeinus because the size of the army reported in 305 BC and in 217 BC at Raphia does not correlate with these accounts. Appian supposedly relied on the Royal Records (Basilikai Anagraphai) and Callixeinus on official records, but numbers are often dubious in ancient historians’ accounts. In both cases, for example, the figures for the cavalry are unrealistically high for Hellenistic armies, which usually had a cavalry/infantry ratio of one to ten. If Callixeinus’ total approximates the number of soldiers in the entire army, it probably exaggerates the number of cavalry as well as the number of men present at the Grand Procession. Even with lower numbers, the propagandistic effect of thousands of soldiers on parade remains fundamental, and the event was a clear demonstration of strength, which the ancient writers augmented.

Both Callixeinus and Appian also describe Ptolemy II’s naval forces, emphasizing that he had the most powerful navy in the Mediterranean, whether at the beginning of his reign (Callixeinus) or the end (Appian).They are more specific than Theocritus’ praise of Ptolemy II (Idyll 17, esp. 86-94). Appian’s enumeration follows his description of the land army and precedes his report of the size of the state treasury, 740,000 Egyptian talents, which is a significant juxtaposition: 2,000 transports (kontota) and other smaller ships, 1,500 galleys (triereis), galley furniture for 3,000, and 800 vessels (thalamega). These numbers are certainly exaggerated, as also for the land army.

By contrast, Callixeinus’ description of the Grand Procession includes 112 warships, 224ships, and 4,000ships for controlling the islands (numbers calculated on the basis of Athenaeus 5.203d). In total, there were 336 warships, one third of these being quinqueremes or larger ships, whose decks allowed for more catapults and marines. The bulk of the fleet still consisted of triremes. This description, however, indicates maximal capacity rather than actual numbers.

Military naval activity was concentrated in the Mediterranean, but the Ptolemaic navy was also active on the Nile and in the Red Sea toward the Indian Ocean. In the latter two regions it served as a police force whose mission was to protect trade, notably commerce in gold and ivory, and to facilitate the transport of elephants captured in the south for military purposes from 270 BC until the late third century BC. Troops were also transported on the Nile, as during the Nubian expedition organized around 275 BC, when Ptolemy II secured the Dodekaschoinos (the approximately 75-mile stretch south of the First Cataract) and perhaps even a larger share of the Kushite kingdom. Ptolemy II’s achievements in Nubia and along the Red Sea were remarkable. But his goals in these regions were in large part driven by his military needs in the Mediterranean. A survey of military engagements there allows us to assess the degree of Ptolemaic supremacy during the thalassocracy. The First Syrian War (274-271 BC) began with an attack on Seleucid Syria by the Ptolemaic army but turned into a threat of invasion of Egypt by sea and land by Antiochus I (Theocritus, Idyll 17.98-101), whose army included twenty Bactrian elephants. Ptolemy II and his sister-wife Arsinoe II went to the border to organize their troops (Pithom Stele, ll. 15-16), but Antiochus soon renounced the attack because of troubles in Babylonia. In fact, the outcome of the war – no details of the engagements are preserved – was a continuation of the status quo but was celebrated as a victory at the Ptolemaia of 271/0 BC, as is clear from Theocritus’ Idyll 17, composed for the occasion.

Ptolemy II turned to his other rival, Antigonus II, and tried to erode his naval power in the Aegean by making an alliance with Athens and Sparta in the name of Panhellenic freedom. In response, Antigonus attacked Attica in 267 BC, starting a war known as the Chremonidean War (267-261 BC) after the Athenian Chremonides, whose decree before the Athenian assembly sealed the alliance with Ptolemy and Sparta. Ptolemy sent a fleet led by his Macedonian admiral Patroclus with Egyptians on board who, according to Pausanias, were supposed to attack Macedonian soldiers on land from the rear only once the Spartans started the assault (Pausanias 3.6.4-6). But King Areus of Sparta found the situation too risky and returned home. Ultimately Athens had to capitulate and Macedonian garrisons were established in the Piraeus and on the hill of the Museion. Why the instigator of the war, Ptolemy II, apparently contributed so little to it has accordingly been debated at length. Archaeological evidence shows that Patroclus’ troops set foot in Attica and on the nearby islands of Keos and Methana and were thus more actively engaged than Pausanias claims. Above all, Patroclus’ fleet established a network of Ptolemaic garrisons in the Aegean, notably in Hydrea, Thera and Itanos in Crete. From the Ptolemaic point of view, the war was rather successful, whereas Patroclus’ expedition is often used as an example of the lower quality of Egyptian soldiers in contrast to Greeks and Macedonians. But Pausanias’ description makes it clear that the troops were not hoplites but marines or infantry on ships (nautai), who were not supposed to fight against a Macedonian phalanx on land. This suggests that Ptolemy did not intend a major military engagement on land at this stage and was hoping for a minimum of actual fighting, as was probably the case in the establishment of his garrisons. Either Ptolemy II was generally uninterested in military involvement and his only concern was to protect Egypt – one explanation put forward in this debate – or he was instead a fine strategist: he decided to let the others fight, so as to weaken his main rival first while securing proper bases from which to launch further attacks if opportunity presented itself.

Around the same time an army led by Ptolemy “the son” was consolidating Ptolemaic influence in Asia Minor, Miletus, Ephesus and perhaps Lesbos, events that no doubt triggered the Second Syrian War against Antiochus (260-253 BC). In this context Antigonus, who supported Antiochus, defeated the Ptolemaic fleet commanded by Patroclus at Cos (Plutarch, Moralia 182, 545b; Athenaeus 5.209e; 8.334a), either in 262 BC or around 255 BC; in 255 BC or perhaps 258 BC, the Rhodians won the Battle of Ephesus against the Ptolemaic fleet, this time led by Chremonides. But according to Walbank there is no clear evidence that Ptolemy lost control of the sea after the Battle of Cos. Delos, however, was now Antigonid – as Andros too would be by the end of the 250s (Plutarch, Aratus 12.2). Ptolemy was no longer leading the League of the Islanders, which soon dissolved, and he lost important cities in Asia Minor such as Miletus, Samos and Ephesus to Antiochus. Ptolemy II also lost territory in Cilicia and Pamphylia but proved a skilled diplomat, by sealing the peace treaty with the marriage of his daughter Berenice to Antiochus II. Ptolemy II was also able to consolidate his presence in the Black Sea by supporting Byzantium against the Seleucids and their allies in 254 BC. His influence expanded as far as Crimea, where a fresco with a galley, probably a five (penteres), with the word ISIS engraved on it was found in Nymphaeum. After the war Ptolemy II also settled a large number of soldiers in Egypt by granting them cleruchic land in exchange for military service, which suggests that it was becoming Ptolemaic strategy to demobilize and decrease the cost of the land army. Ptolemy II’s visit to Memphis can be connected with the distribution of land in the Fayyum. Around 250 BC, the Ptolemaic fleet was finally able to defeat Antigonus, according to Aristeas Judaeus (180-1) and Josephus (Antiquitates Judaicae [AJ] 12.93). We have no idea where the battle took place, assuming that it really happened. Finally, during the last years of his reign, Ptolemy began to support the Achaean League financially and was able to maintain some influence in the Cyclades, notably through the garrison on Thera, which was still in place under Ptolemy VI.

If by “Ptolemaic thalassocracy” one means a strong network of garrisons in the Aegean with a large fleet freely navigating between them, its peak can be situated in the 270s and its decline in the 250s, as is traditionally assumed, or even later. If the term also implies the ability to defeat rival fleets in naval battle, it is misleading. Even if the fleet was not as large as Appian claims, but rather of the size given by Callixeinus, one wonders why Ptolemy’s admirals were unable to defeat Antigonus at Cos. As nothing is known about the battle, we can only hypothesize about causes. But such a major defeat and the material loss it implies easily explain why the fleet was unable to stand against another enemy, the Rhodians, especially if the two battles took place in the same year. At least four criteria can be put forward to evaluate Ptolemaic naval capacity: (1) the material quality of the fleet, including the number and type of warships; (2) the crews and marines; (3) the skills and experience of the captains and admirals; and (4) luck. The only encounter for which we have a description of the Ptolemaic fleet is the Battle of Salamis in 306 BC, where Ptolemy I’s fleet was numerically inferior. In addition, he lacked the heptereis and hexereis that made Demetrius’ fleet qualitatively better; but by Ptolemy II’s time these issues were resolved, notably because Phoenicia, the source of the heptereis, was part of Ptolemaic territory. An anecdote reported three times by Plutarch about Antigonus indicates that the fleet of Ptolemy II or Ptolemy III outnumbered the Antigonid ships at the Battle of Cos (Plutarch, Moralia 545b) or Andros (Pelopidas 2.2), or at both (Moralia 182). In addition, innovations in naval tactics were readily available from engineers in Alexandria, as the Compendium of Mechanics of Philo attests. The experience of the crew, from oarsmen and marines to the helmsman and captain of a ship, was essential, and in times of international competition it was also costly. But Ptolemy II was certainly not inferior to Antigonus in terms of economic power. Both used ships with local crews, meaning that the Ptolemies employed Greeks, Phoenicians and Egyptians, whose functions were not limited to serving as oarsmen. The skills and loyalty of the marines and the captain were also essential. The only evidence for the ethnicity of the fighting troops on Ptolemaic ships concerns Patroclus’ fleet during the Chremonidean War and suggests that they were Egyptian. Van ‘t Dack and Hauben have proposed that the Ptolemies imitated the Persian model by adding a small number of nonEgyptian marines to each ship (Herodotus 7.96 and 184). They also suggest that the Ptolemaic fleet failed in naval battle because a large share of its crews and marines were of Egyptian origin. But the contribution of Egyptian soldiers to the establishment of garrisons during the Chremonidean War does not suggest that Egyptian marines were unskilled. The only evidence to assess the quality of Ptolemaic marines and sailors goes back to the capture of Ptolemy I’s forty warships at Salamis (Diodorus 20.52.6), where they surrendered without a long fight. Either the ships were so damaged that they could not escape, or they were defeated quickly. In any case, they were probably in an unfavorable position, because Demetrius’ larger ships carried more marines, making it easier to board ships that carried fewer. The third plausible reason for failure was the quality of the high command and the skills of many captains and helmsmen. Ptolemy II employed a Macedonian, Patroclus, as admiral of the fleet, and thereafter an Athenian, Chremonides, whereas Ptolemy I was commanding in person – still with no success. But as communication between ships was a general weakness of ancient naval warfare, the outcome depended in the end on the tactical and navigational skills of captains and helmsmen. In terms of ethnicity, these positions were mostly given to Greeks. The lack of detailed sources prevents us from asserting that Ptolemy’s commanders were on average less skilled than their opponents, but this might have been a factor in his failure. Finally, luck can be important, when an external factor such as a storm destroys part of a fleet before battle, although no such event is reported concerning the Ptolemaic fleet.

In conclusion, even if the reason for Ptolemy II’s failure in naval battle cannot be precisely determined, it was not caused by the use of Egyptians in his fleet. It appears that Ptolemy II’s successful strategy of establishing naval forces would have allowed him to truly dominate the Aegean, had he been able to defeat his main opponents at sea. His overall strategy – in continuity with his father’s policy – leaves open the possibility that Ptolemy II hoped to expand his empire further. This might be confirmed by Ptolemy III’s military undertakings at the beginning of his reign.

WWI Cruiser Warfare

Minotaur-class cruiser (1906) first class armoured cruiser, 14,600 tons, 4-9.2in, 10-7.5in

Challenger-class cruiser (1902) second class cruiser, 5,880 tons, 11-6in

In 1914 the Royal Navy had twelve designated cruiser squadrons (although one had no ships in it), all of which were based around, or entirely comprised of, armoured or first-class cruisers. By 1918 there was only one armoured cruiser squadron left in commission (the 2nd) and light cruiser squadrons comprised the majority of the cruiser force, the older and bigger ships having been retired to depot or base ship status.

The interdiction of an enemy’s trade on the high seas had always been a major facet of naval warfare. Whether it be Drake and Raleigh, licensed privateers plundering Spanish ships for the Virgin Queen in the sixteenth century, or Joseph Barss in the Liverpool Packet capturing fifty American vessels in the war of 1812, the disruption of an opponent’s trade was seen as a legitimate (and profitable) activity.

For most of the nineteenth century the British considered that their most likely opponent at sea would be the French, and vice versa. However, the French also observed that they were deficient in heavy ships (battleships) and unlikely to make up the deficit for reasons of cost and resources.

Out of this strategic conundrum was developed a new concept known as the Jeune École (Young School). Its adherents advocated a two-pronged strategy: first, the use of small, powerfully equipped units to combat a larger battleship fleet, and secondly, commerce raiders capable of ending the trade of the rival nation. Without overtly saying so, the plan was clearly aimed at Britain, the largest navy in the world at the time and heavily reliant on trade for economic prosperity and survival.

The French developed and commissioned a new class of vessel specifically designed as raiding ships for this role, such as Dupuy de Lome. Laid down in 1888, but with typical French lassitude not commissioned until 1895 – by which time her originality had been lost – she was capable of 23 knots, and intended to raid enemy commerce ships during extended cruises. She was the first true armoured cruiser, superior to existing British protected cruisers, especially in her relatively thick steel armour. She could control the fighting range with her superior speed and her heavy armament of multiple-calibre quick-firing guns, all of which were mounted in gun turrets which contrasted with her putative opponents, where guns were mounted in lightly  protected casemates or pivot mounts.

Such strategic thinking exerted a considerable influence on the development of smaller navies during the century, particularly as they tried to compensate for weaknesses in battleships. These developments were not lost on German navy planners either, especially the aspect of a war on trade. So it was that both Britain and Germany approached the war with this strategic intent of a war on commerce in mind. For Britain, the navy had not just to bottle up the North Sea but also had to both prosecute actions against German trade worldwide and protect British merchant shipping from interdiction by enemy raiders. Neither country was self-sufficient in food or vital war materials, and both assumed that the other could be severely incapacitated by a successful cruiser warfare campaign.

Cruiser warfare was planned to be conducted under so-called `prize rules’. These, originally drafted at the Treaty of Paris in 1856 and subsequently reratified at the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, stated in essence that passenger ships could not be sunk, crews of merchant ships were to be placed in safety before their ships could be sunk (lifeboats were not considered a place of safety unless close to land) and only warships and merchant ships that were a threat to the attacker might be sunk without warning.

The Treaty of Paris also gave legal basis to the concept of blockade. The agreement, among other things, permitted `close’ but not `distant’ blockades. A belligerent was allowed to station ships near the three-mile limit to stop or inspect traffic with an enemy’s ports; it was not allowed simply to declare areas of the high seas comprising the approaches to the enemy’s coast to be off-limits. Britain ignored this treaty in 1913, when it determined that its strategy against Germany would henceforth be based on a distant blockade.

Goods not permitted to pass through a blockade were designated as contraband. The definition of contraband was established by the Declaration of London in 1909 (and which Britain, in fact, never ratified). Three definitions of contraband were established: one of `absolute contraband’, namely, articles which were clearly war materials; and another deemed `conditional contraband’, which comprised articles capable of use in either war or peace. This `conditional’ list included items such as ore, chemicals and rubber, all of which were becoming increasingly important to any modern war effort. The third category was a `free list’, containing articles that could never be deemed contraband.

Following the lead of the Hague Conference of 1907, the Declaration of London of 1909 considered food to be conditional contraband, subject to interception and capture only when intended for the use of the enemy’s military forces. Among the corollaries of this was that food not intended for military use could legitimately be transported to a neutral port, even if it ultimately found its way to the enemy’s territory. The starvation of an enemy’s populace was therefore meant to be outlawed as a weapon of war. The House of Lords had refused its consent to the declaration, which did not, consequently, ever come into full force.

Jacky Fisher thought that the submarine changed the rules and made the international agreements irrelevant. In 1912, by then retired from the post of First Sea Lord where he had done much to bring the submarine into service, he presented a paper to the Cabinet. Fisher developed the argument that submarines would find adherence to prize rules impossible for a simple practical reason: a submarine could not capture a merchant ship, for it would have no spare manpower to deliver the prize to a neutral port; neither could it take survivors or prisoners, for lack of space: `. there is nothing a submarine can do except sink her capture’. If a merchant ship were armed, as was permitted by a conference in London in 1912, then a submarine was surely able to view her as a potential attacker and destroy the ship. Further, he asked, `What if the Germans were to use submarines against commerce without restriction?’

His view did not gain favour. Winston Churchill, supported by senior naval opinion, said it was inconceivable that `this would ever be done by a civilised power’. In this he was to be much mistaken.

To prosecute trade warfare, both the British and German navies thought that they would need cruisers to roam the seas, being the successor ship to the frigates of Nelson. These were long-range ships, designed to operate for considerable periods away from base and to defend themselves against similar antagonists, whilst being speedy enough to catch and destroy any prey. At the outbreak of war the Royal Navy had 108 cruisers, but at least half of them were obsolete and many had been decommissioned to the Third Fleet. Many more were unsuited to the job now required. In reality, only a few dozen were really appropriate for the task. In part this was because British cruiser design had gone down a dead end.

In 1888 a three-class system had been introduced, originally based largely on size, and influenced by the developments of the Jeune École. Armoured and first-class cruisers (many of which were still in use in 1914) were generally over 10,000 tons, and most carried two or more 9.2in guns and a large number of 6in or 7.5in guns. These were generally called `armoured cruisers’, but by 1914 were both unsatisfactory and obsolete as commerce raiders or for trade protection duties. Their size varied: the largest were as large and expensive as battleships, and often required a larger or similar size of crew owing to their need for more boilers (to give both speed and range) than a battleship, and at full speed they generally needed more stokers. Their need for considerable quantities of both men and coal made them less than useful in distant deployments. The surviving second- and third-class cruisers were distinguished mainly by their largest guns. The second-class cruisers generally all carried at least two 6in guns. The third-class cruisers carried 4in guns and were smaller ships.

The second-class cruiser went out of fashion after the Highflyer class of 1899-1900, and no new designs appeared until the Bristol class of 1909- 1910. These ships saw the older triple expansion engines replaced by turbines and coal power substituted by a mix of coal and oil. They were known as `light cruisers’. While the Bristol- and Weymouth-class cruisers only carried deck armour, the Chatham-class cruisers of 1911-1916 carried a belt of armour on the waterline. Light cruisers were excellent ships and ideal for commerce interdiction and protection. But they were also in great demand to serve with the Grand Fleet, acting as `the eyes of the fleet’, and were in short supply for other duties as a result.

There were also `scout-class’ cruisers, very lightly built and of short range, carrying even smaller guns than the third-class cruisers. They were sometimes used as `destroyer leaders’, but were eventually superseded by the increasingly seaworthy destroyers, whose faster speed made them much better and rather less expensive.

Jacky Fisher inherited much of this confused thinking when he became First Sea Lord in 1904. At that point there were fifteen classes of first-class cruisers including the Shannon class, the last Royal Navy ironclads to be built, which had a propeller which could be hoisted out of the water to reduce drag when under sail, and ten other classes of second-class vessels.

What is more, he knew that the Germans planned to use their fast passenger liners such as Wilhelm der Grosse and Kaiser Wilhelm – capable of 21 and 23 knots respectively – as 6in-gunned trade interdiction cruisers. At these speeds no British cruiser could catch them.

His response was twofold. First, to scrap 154 cruisers, sloops and other vessels `too weak to fight, too slow to run away’; and secondly, to introduce the super-cruiser, originally known as a Large Armoured Cruiser (LAC) which would combine high speed with heavy gun armament. These were the Invincible-class ships, 25.5 knots and eight 12in guns, launched in 1907. They made all other cruisers obsolete. The LACs were predators, able to outrun anything which had heavier arms and outshoot anything which could match their speeds. They were intended to work in pairs attached to a light cruiser squadron, hunting down enemy cruisers and protecting British trade. It was not until 1913 that they became regarded as the fast arm of the Grand Fleet (under Beatty’s urging) and were thus thrust into the line with the battleships – a role for which neither their design or armour protection equipped them – and were now commonly called `battlecruisers’. And so when war came, they were not allocated to the duty intended (except once at the battle of the Falkland Islands) and the paucity of the Royal Navy’s cruiser resource was once more thrown into sharp focus.

The consequence of this rather scattergun approach to cruiser design was that, despite the apparent numerical strength of the British cruiser force, the reality was a shortage of useful vessels and the most versatile type – the light cruiser – was in demand everywhere.

In order to make up the deficit, the Admiralty hit upon the idea of arming large passenger liners. These had the advantage of being generally speedy, and good sea boats able to stay on station for long periods. Their rather obvious disadvantage was that they were unarmoured, contained a lot of flammable material and presented a huge profile as a target to an enemy (Otranto, for example, attached to the 4th Cruiser Squadron on the outbreak of war, was nicknamed `The Floating Haystack’). Designated Armed Merchant Cruisers (AMCs) and armed with old and surplus 4.7in and 6in guns, they were pressed into service to fill the gap. Fisher was a fan, stating that `large mercantile vessels are the best scouts’, but he was in the minority.

Passenger liners were requisitioned by the Royal Navy for conversion at the beginning of the war. Initially, it was intended to include the very largest ocean liners, such as Aquitania and Mauretania, but it was found that their huge size precluded them from practical employment. The logistics involved in their heavy fuel consumption and in providing suitable ports for refuelling and resupplying was very limiting. Additionally, their massive silhouettes made them easily recognisable from long distances. Mauretania, although converted and armed, was never commissioned as an AMC, while Aquitania was commissioned for two weeks, which ended after she collided with the steamer Canadian in August.

The German navy, always at a quantitative disadvantage versus Britain, had hit upon the idea of arming passenger liners as far back as 1895. They had developed elaborate plans to put a large number of such ships into service, calling them Hilfskreuzer. However, the outbreak of war had caught the Kaiserliche Marine on the back foot and they had only three large passenger liners in the North Atlantic. Coupled with Vice Admiral Graf von Spee’s armoured cruiser force at Tsingtau and the light cruisers Karlsruhe in the Caribbean and Königsberg in German East Africa, these ships formed the entirety of the German commerce-raiding force at the commencement of hostilities (although they did have twenty-one submarines in home waters). It was to prove impossible for them to add to these ships in the early months of war, as the British distant blockade denied them access to the high seas and their passenger liners, well known before the war, were impossible to disguise as anything other than themselves.

The Royal Navy, in fact, credited the German programme with more success than it achieved and was convinced that, at the outbreak of war, every American Atlantic port would hold a German Hilfskreuzer ready to mount its guns and prey on British trade. Admirals Cradock and Stoddart, with the 4th and 5th Cruiser Squadrons respectively, were deployed off the eastern coast of the Americas and the mid-Atlantic to counter this perceived threat.

And so both sides went to war on each other’s vital trades with a mixture of the obsolete and obsolescent, the mongrel and the unlikely. This was cruiser warfare in 1914.

Carthage’s Navy

CARTHAGE Showing naval port.

Carthaginian Tetrere: The Marsala ship. Reconstruction by Michael Leek

Punic hepter. The dimensions of the holds of the military port of Carthage permitted only vessels of 4.80 m wide, the size of a trire, in the islet of the Admiralty with the exception of two holds of 7 Meters wide. The heavy units of Carthage seem to have been very rare, it is quite possible that there never was any deer in service in its fleet. The Hepter above, extrapolated directly from the Penteres of the fleet, did not exceed six meters in width, while embarking 420 rowers and 80 soldiers: It was the flagship of the fleet.

Carthage’s naval might started small. Its earliest known fleet, which joined an equal Etruscan force to fight the Phocaean Greeks of Corsica in 540, was only sixty penteconters strong. A penteconter (`fifty-oarer’) was the normal war-vessel of the time, rowed by twenty-five oarsmen on each side. Battles were invariably fought close to shore (warships could not stay out on the open sea for long stretches); their simple but stressful tactics aimed at piercing enemy ships with the penteconters’ bronze underwater rams or else shearing off one side of an opponent’s oars. The victors would be able to capture or kill survivors in the water or after pursuing them ashore, unless their own losses hampered them.

By the start of the fifth century, penteconters, though still used, were replaced as first-line warships by the trireme. This was a long, sleek and – with trained crews – highly manoeuvrable craft, rowed by oarsmen sitting in three banks, one above the other, each man wielding his own oar. Athenian triremes, the only ones known in any detail, each carried 170 rowers and a few (under twenty) soldiers and archers. The trireme was an eastern Mediterranean development: they were in use in Pharaoh Necho’s fleet in 600 BC, and by 525 formed part of the powerful navy of Samos, then allied with Persia. The Carthaginians probably adopted them some years after 540. Philippus, an aristocratic Italian Greek follower of the Spartan adventurer Dorieus, sailed to join him in Sicily in 510 with his own trireme and crew, which suggests that it was now in common use.

Carthage’s 200 warships for the invasion of Sicily in 480 were no doubt triremes, for Syracuse’s navy was just as large and the Syracusans had triremes. This warship remained standard, Mediterranean-wide, throughout the fifth century and well into the fourth. As in penteconters, the main tactic was to use the heavy bronze ram fixed to the bow below the waterline to smash into an opposing hull or its oars. This manoeuvre could be developed (it took skill and boldness) into what Greeks called the diekplous, the `passage’, whereby a fleet sailing line abreast sought to pass straight through the enemy line, then swing round so that each trireme could attack an opponent from the rear.

The next developments in warships were quadriremes (`four-oarers’) and quinqueremes (`fives’). Each kept three levels of seats for the oarsmen, but had four and five of these respectively. Diodorus credited the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius with being the first to build them, around 398, but they came into regular use only late in the fourth century. They then relegated triremes to secondary status: quinqueremes became the capital ships. Their layout is not certain in detail, as literary and archaeological details are thin, but each was fitted as usual with a massive bronze ram beneath the prow and most probably still had three banks of oars like the trireme. Two Carthaginian rams have been found (so far), along with over a dozen Roman ones, on the seabed just off Sicily’s west coast, relics of the decisive naval battle of the Aegates Islands fought in 241. Every bronze ram projects three horizontally layered ridges or flanges, powerful enough to crash through a thick wooden hull if driven at speed; practised oarsmen could then pull their ship back to let the victim founder.

The quinquereme’s much larger size apparently accommodated two men per oar on both the top and middle levels, while one rower on the lowest bench-level pulled one oar, but details are debated because no clear evidence survives. Its rowing complement numbered about 300, while the on-board soldiery would be several dozen strong. Thus a fleet of 100 quinqueremes could in principle carry as many as 40,000 men, not counting those on lesser companion ships. Quinqueremes were also big enough to embark war machines like catapults, themselves a fourth-century development. Manoeuvrability must have been more cumbersome than in trireme battles. Sosylus’ fragmentary account of a Hannibalic-war clash does attest that its Carthaginian ships were still using the diekplous, but it does not give numbers, ship-types or a location, and it is possible that those combatants were triremes.

In wartime, Carthage’s citizens went into the navy, along with some contributions (of unknown size) from coastal allies like Utica and Hippou Acra. As its population and wealth grew, so did its forces. The penteconter fleet in Corsican waters in 540 can at most have had 3,000 sailors. Sixty years later, the Sicilian expedition’s armada would have some 34,000 – if Diodorus’ figure for warships can be believed – and the crews of the supposedly 3,000-strong transport fleet would be still more numerous. Many of these crews were probably Carthaginians too. Between 100 and 200 remained the usual strength of a Punic fleet, when numbers are mentioned, before the first war with Rome. This suggests that until then, Carthage could normally put 17,000-34,000 trireme oarsmen to sea, accompanied by a few thousand shipboard troops who might be Carthaginians or Libyans and mercenaries.

Crew numbers must have gone up dramatically after 264, for according to Polybius and other sources, the Carthaginians launched fleets of more than 100 quinqueremes, and occasionally more than twice as many, to combat the Romans. Citizen numbers alone may not have been enough to man all these. If so, extra personnel were probably levied from the Libyphoenicians and Libyans. The manpower for smaller naval vessels and transports was an added need in all periods, with crews again probably not limited to Carthaginians.

For most of their history, the Carthaginians kept their navy in dockyards (neoria in Greek), which must have been sited on the city’s eastern shore or in the shipping channel dug from the lake of Tunis up to the city’s edge just below Byrsa. In 368, the neoria were ravaged by a fire severe enough to make Dionysius of Syracuse reckon that no Punic fleet survived, but he soon (and painfully) learned otherwise. In peacetime, existing warships were kept in ship-sheds, like those excavated in the circular enclosed harbour that was built in the third or second century. They could be launched swiftly when needed, so long as crews were available (and trained) and the necessary equipment ready.

Whether the state maintained skeleton professional crews between wars, and whether Carthaginian warships carried out peacetime naval exercises to keep them in trim, we are not told, but Sosylus’ remark about the skill of the Punic diekplous does suggest regular practice. We also know that early in the great mercenary and Libyan rebellion against Carthage, around 241-40, merchants from Italy doing trade with the rebels were intercepted by Punic naval patrols (which kindled a serious though brief diplomatic crisis with Rome). This happened soon after Carthage’s first Roman war had ended in a disastrous naval defeat, but plainly warships were still available for watching home waters.

Carthaginian Ships

Dreadnought Survival and Renaissance

The Renown class comprised a pair of battlecruisers built during the First World War for the Royal Navy, the Renown and Repulse.

The pace of Dreadnought construction among the naval powers continued for much of the First World War. Some were abandoned when it was decided to divert the materials and labour to other armament manufacture. Others were abandoned when the end of the war appeared to be imminent; still more were scrapped, some at an advance stage of construction, under the terms of the Washington Treaty of 1921. The interim period in the life of the Dreadnought, covering the years before and after this treaty, are covered in this chapter. The aborted ships arouse a special feeling of melancholy nostalgia. They were begun with such high hopes, were worked on for years with the skill and brains of many men, and were even sometimes launched amid the celebration and relief of that ceremony. All for nothing. On one day the riveters were at work in the great empty shell; the next their work was being heartlessly destroyed. But some of these interim Dreadnoughts were completed, and they were remarkable vessels. A few words must also be added about the “Dreadnoughts that never were” because they form an important part of the history of the ship, and strongly influenced future design.

Britain laid down no new battleships during the First World War. In 1914-1915 the 15-inch-gunned Queen Elizabeths and the “R’s” were augmenting the power of the Grand Fleet, and giving it the overwhelming superiority it enjoyed for the rest of the war. Besides, Britain was busily converting itself into a major military power. But there still remained a shortage of battle cruisers, and in the early months of the war they were evidently proving their worth. Nobody believed this more passionately than Fisher, now back in the Admiralty. The victory at the Falkland Islands, and Fisher’s enduring preoccupation with an invasion of the German coast, caused the laying down of five battle cruisers between January and June, 1915. One pair of these were to have been further “R”-type battleships, but their design was changed at the last minute. The other three were referred to by Fisher as “large light cruisers” in order to get them through the Treasury, and they had strange and colourful histories.

Fisher’s orders to the D.N.C. for the Repulse and Renown required the highest speed of any Dreadnought afloat and an armament of 15-inch guns. He was not very interested in how much armour they carried. What the Grand Fleet received as reinforcements twenty months later were two of the loveliest and certainly the fastest ships afloat. But after Jutland the Grand Fleet was less interested in speed, and much more interested in protection — which in the Repulse and Renown was less than that of the late Queen Mary. They were given rude names like White Elephants, and sent back for more protection, especially over their magazines. Both ships could do 32 knots in their early days, but the numerous reconstructions that punctuated their careers in war and peace (they were also nicknamed Refit and Repair) later reduced this by several knots. They were to have had eight 15-inch guns, but Fisher was in such a hurry that the last two pairs were not ready in time, so they went through life with a main armament of six 15-inch — another “first” for this class. Fisher also insisted on going back to small-caliber secondary armament. They were unique triple-mounted 4-inch. Another Fisher legacy, which lasted all their lives, was their high-speed manoeuvrability, which helped the Repulse in 1941 to evade attack after attack by Japanese torpedo planes, before she became the first capital ship to succumb to air power at sea.

But if the Renown and Repulse were unusual vessels and a breakaway from the line of the Dreadnought’s development, their younger cousins Furious, Glorious, and Courageous can only be described as bizarre — or as the “outrageous” class, as they were popularly named. They were later officially classified as battle cruisers, but in fact Fisher’s camouflage description was more appropriate. Courageous and Glorious each mounted a pair of 15-inch guns fore and aft, a secondary armament of eighteen 4-inch, again in triples, and were as fast, and as long, as the Renown and Repulse. Their reduction in displacement by some 8,000 tons was caused by their fewer heavy guns, and their almost total absence of armour plate. This was shallow and of only two or three inches on the belt, an inch or so on the decks, with serious consideration given only to the turrets and barbettes. The same general pattern was followed with the Furious, and provision was made for the same main armament. But instead a new weapon of unprecedented caliber was fitted, one fore and one aft, each capable of firing a shell weighing 3,600 pounds. This size of gun and weight of shell were not equalled until the Japanese Yamato and Musashi went to sea a quarter-century later. Immediately after the Furious was completed, and before she was commissioned, the forward 18-inch was removed and a short flight deck substituted — for seaplanes. “A trolley-and-rail method of launching was employed, the seaplane resting on a trolley which ran down a slotted rail fixed to the deck. On reaching the end of the deck, the trolley was arrested by two arms fitted with shock absorbers.” Later the other gun was removed and both were mounted on monitors for shelling Belgium and then shipped out to Singapore for shelling the Japanese. During her long life she was, then, called a large light cruiser, a battle cruiser, and an aircraft carrier; and in this last guise she sported in turn a flight deck forward, a flight deck fore and aft, a clear single flight deck when her funnels, bridgework, and mast were removed, and finally, for her Second World War service (which she survived), she was given a vestigial mast and bridge. Courageous and Glorious were also converted to carriers in the 1920’s, with the elimination of all their heavy guns and the retention of an offset mast and funnel.

As they were first built, these five curious ships were the epitome of the Fisher battle cruiser. It seemed only just, therefore, that four of them (the Furious was absent) were engaged in the last big-gun action with units of the High Seas Fleet on November 17, 1917. It was only a high-speed pursuit between minefields, and nothing much happened. The Glorious had one further distinction: she was the only battle cruiser which German battle cruisers tried to sink in the First World War and succeeded in sinking in the Second (Hindenburg and Moltke; then Scharnhorst and Gneisenau).

In 1915 three 15-inch-gunned battle cruisers were being built in Germany. The British Board of Admiralty therefore decided to offset the threat of these ships with something more formidable than Fisher’s “large light cruisers.” Four huge super-battle cruisers were therefore designed, and the first, the Hood, was laid down a few hours before Jutland was fought. The building of her sisters Howe, Anson, and Rodney was halted later when Germany gave up building Dreadnoughts altogether in favour of U-boats. The Hood, like the Vanguard of a later generation, was completed for war, but not in time for it. For some twenty years she was the largest, most beautiful, and most esteemed Dreadnought in the world. Few carried a heavier broadside, none were faster, none more graceful nor more formidable in appearance. Everywhere she was the cynosure of the maritime world. When she was sunk by a few shells from a German battleship, it seemed to many Britons that they had been deprived of a part of their naval heritage. As first designed she was to have had a main hull belt 33 percent thicker than that of the first battle cruisers; as she was completed, with the lessons of Jutland seemingly learned, it had grown to 12 inches, and was 9½ feet deep. Other protection was also on a scale with that of the Queen Elizabeths, with special emphasis on the protection of the magazines. This was inadequate to meet the rigors of 1939 artillery, bomb, torpedo, and mine. But there had been no time to give her the planned modernization before its urgent need was catastrophically proved by the Bismarck’s more modern 15-inch guns.

In the midst of a huge scrapping program in 1921, Britain became aware that her naval situation was being threatened by two of her friends, America and Japan, the reason being that these uneasy late Allies were themselves disputing maritime supremacy in the Pacific. Within a few years their vast programs of super-super-Dreadnoughts must wrest from Britain the crown she had worn since Trafalgar. In the face of extraordinary cost, which she could not afford, opposition from militarists, who believed the day of the capital ship was finished, and political pressure from the Treasury, and also the common people (for after all the war to end wars had only just ended), authorization was given for the construction of four battle cruisers. On October 21, 1921, amid great controversy, the keel plates of the four most powerful fighting ships in British history were laid. They were intended to carry the names Invincible, Indomitable, Inflexible, and Indefatigable, were to be of 48,000 tons, and to carry an armament of nine tripled 16-inch guns, all forward of the funnels, and sixteen 6-inch as secondary armament in twin turrets. The protection was to be on the scale, and on the “all-or-nothing” principle, established by the American Oklahoma; speed about 32 knots. They were, in fact, to have been the 1921 equivalents of the 1911 Queen Elizabeths: fast, well-protected, immensely strong, the perfect fast battleship rather than battle cruiser. Three and a half weeks later all work on them ceased, as a result of the Washington decisions. But by arguing at this conference that much of British capital-ship tonnage was out of date, and would have to be scrapped long before the “Battleship Holiday” prescribed by the conference had ended, the British delegate gained permission to build two battleships that would offset the advantage America and Japan had gained with their 16-inch-gunned Marylands and Mutsus. These ships, Nelson and Rodney, were scaled-down versions of the aborted new Invincibles, and were under construction a year after the battle cruisers were scrapped. In order to get down to the displacement limit of 35,000 tons, sacrifices had to be made, and these were mainly in the engine room, the horsepower being dropped from 160,000 to 45,000, the speed from 32 knots to 23 knots. There were small reductions in secondary armament, but the main armament remained the same, and unique in British practice in being disposed all forward, to economize in armour plate over the magazines, the centre of the three triple turrets being raised. Theoretically this disposition should have allowed the guns to be fired well abaft the beam, but in practice it was not possible, owing to blast damage to the bridgework and control towers. The most popular defence put forward for this arrangement, in the best Beatty tradition (he was First Sea Lord now), was that British ships did not run away and were therefore not interested in firing backward. Nevertheless, the restriction was a great handicap, and these two ships came in for much criticism because of their low speed and poor handling.

The last of the Oklahoma school in America were the three Marylands, mounting 16-inch guns and with an immensely high resistance level with their 16-inch main belt on the waterline. The completion of these fine ships spanned the Washington Conference, and the fourth of the class, Washington, although more than 80 percent complete, was used for target practice. These vessels, and their predecessors the Tennessee and California, were the first fruits of an unprecedented program of heavy-ship building in which the United States indulged, through uneasy peace, war and uneasy peace again, for some five years. Japanese naval rearmament, and the battleship race that inevitably followed, closely matched the German pattern. Fifteen years after the German Naval Act in 1900, Japan announced to the world a program of Dreadnought construction that could only presage some future attempt to undermine American influence and interests in Asia, from the Aleutians to the subcontinent of India. America replied with the California, Tennessee, and Maryland, laid down in 1916 and 1917, planned three more Marylands, six Indiana-class battleships, and six Constellation-class battle cruisers. Future construction of 18-inch-gunned battleships and battle cruisers was also in an advanced planning stage before the lunacy was ended.

The success of the British battle-cruiser engagements at Heligoland Bight, Dogger Bank, and the Falklands, the German hit-and-run raids against the English coast, and the general activity of this class compared with the inactivity of the battleships, led to a reappraisal of the battle cruiser in America, where it had previously been a despised vessel. In February, 1916, the president of the Naval War College, in the course of testimony before the Senate Naval Committee, gave his opinion that the United States should build no more battleships until two divisions of eight battle cruisers had been added to the fleet. Until the first was laid down five years later, the nature of these ships was debated more hotly and more openly than that of any other class of Dreadnought. The first plans called for ten 14-inch guns in two triple and two superimposed twin turrets, a displacement of 34,800 tons, a speed of 35 knots — and seven funnels. After Jutland, the vulnerability of these ships was criticized, especially as half the boilers were to have been disposed above the main belt. Many other people did not want to have anything to do with them: the battleship was the only capital ship worth having — none had been sunk at Jutland. “I believe the battle cruiser is a mongrel,” wrote a correspondent to the Scientific American five months after that battle. “There are only two real types, the fast scout and the floating fortress. The battle cruiser tries to combine both qualities, and as a result is neither … Pile on that armour,” he pleaded, “fourteen or fifteen inches thick.”

The ships remained in abeyance until after the war and until attention could be again concentrated on the dangers in the East. Then in 1919 new designs were drafted. The merits of the biggest gun and the heaviest armour were taken into account; and, as always, the answer was found in greater displacement. The chiefs of the bureaus of Construction, Steam Engineering, and Ordnance, after an exploratory tour round the European yards and fleets, decided that something closer to a fast battleship of the Derfflinger type would best suit America’s needs. The 1920 design for the Constellations reflected this. The protection and internal strength were increased; the boilers above the belt were placed behind armour, and speed was lowered to about 30 knots with 180,000 h.p.; displacement was increased to 43,500 tons, and the armament increased to eight 16-inch in pairs, supported by sixteen 6-inch. The keel of the first was laid on January 29, 1921.

Four months earlier, as proof of continued American confidence in the battleship, and continuing anxiety about Japanese plans, the United States Navy had under construction no less than nine battleships mounting 16-inch guns, and one new one in commission. Of these, three were of the 32,500-ton Maryland class, and six more were “ultimate Dreadnoughts” of the same displacement as the Constellations, with speed reduced to 23 knots, increased protection, and twelve 16-inch guns in triple mountings, as in the California. These had been authorized in 1917 and 1918, as the Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, Iowa, and South Dakota.

All that should now be added is that, of these twelve monster battleships and battle cruisers, only two were commissioned by the United States Navy — as the 33,000-ton aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga. Finally, a historical note for extremist addicts: the largest Dreadnought ever seriously contemplated for any nation was a mythical vessel proposed as a result of an inquiry included in the 1916 Naval Appropriations Act. The only limitation was that it should be able to pass through the Panama Canal. It was to have been of 80,000 tons, with an overall length of 975 feet, a speed of 35 knots, and a main protective belt of 16 inches. Fifteen 18-inch guns were to have been mounted in five triple turrets. 

The navy that came nearest to building the ultimate Dreadnought of these dimensions and power was the Japanese. Japanese naval architects had already produced some of the most radical, powerful, and effective Dreadnoughts, which denied in appearance and a multitude of radical features the old saw that the Japanese were a race of imitators. Not all their ships — and especially their heavy cruisers — were unqualified successes. And their piled superstructures may have had a frightening effect on the enemy, but they must also have terrified those who endured battle in them.

Japanese naval construction really got into its stride when the Russian war debts had been worked off, and the European naval powers were too busy to take much notice of what was happening. Besides a number of very fast destroyers and light cruisers, a Dreadnought program of vast dimensions was put in hand in 1915-1916. From the meagre information that was given to the world, it could be calculated that within little more than a decade Japanese naval power would dominate the Pacific. But the wording of the famous Navy Laws was so obscure and circumlocutory that it was difficult to tell for a certainty what would be the result. Its basis rested on “the 8-8 standard”; or an establishment of at least eight battleships and the same number of battle cruisers all less than eight years old. As Japan already had ten Dreadnoughts in commission or under construction in 1915, and the sixteen new ships of the 8-8 standard would be by no means obsolete when they were replaced in the first line, then it could be argued that Japan would have the most powerful fleet in the world by 1928 unless something was done about it. One consolation was that the Japanese were unlikely to have either the money or the shipbuilding facilities to manage such a gigantic program; on the other hand, when American intelligence from time to time picked up crumbs of information on new construction, the details were frightening.

The United States Department of the Navy thought it was at least one step ahead of its rival with its 16-inch gun when it was testing it at Indian Head in 1917. But Japanese development of a gun of the same caliber was in step, and the Mutsu and Nagato, with their two-knot superiority over the four Marylands, gave away little to the American ships in protection. What was more, the Nagato had joined the fleet by the end of 1920, and within a few months the Intelligence Department of the United States Navy had discovered the specifications of two improved and enlarged Nagatos (Kaga and Tosa, 39,900 tons, ten 16-inch) already under construction; four giant battle cruisers (Amagi, Akagi, Atago, and Takao, 43,500 tons, eight 16-inch), two of which had already been begun; and finally even larger super-battle-cruisers of 47,500 tons mounting eight 18-inch and sixteen 5.5-inch guns with a speed of 30 knots, which would be ready by 1927.

This news galvanized the State Department into activity and caused the convening of the Washington Conference, one of the shrewdest acts of modern American diplomacy. Under its terms, worked out amid heated controversy, there would be no more Dreadnought construction for ten years, ships would not be replaced until they were twenty years old, and when they were would be limited in displacement to 35,000 tons. Battle fleets were to be limited to the following tonnage: Britain, 580,450; the United States, 500,650; Japan, 301,320; France, 221,170; Italy, 182,000. All Dreadnoughts launched or on the stocks were to be scrapped, with the exception of three of the American Marylands and the Japanese Mutsu, to compensate for which Britain was allowed to build the Nelson and the Rodney. No one was much pleased by the result except America. The Japanese thought they were being frustrated, the British demoted, the Italians and French insulted. But they signed.

The Tosa was in fact launched and used as a target ship, the results being of great value when they tired of the “holiday” and began designing the Yamato and Musashi. Kaga and Akagi were both finished as large aircraft carriers. 

Most of the other naval powers had given up their uncompleted wartime Dreadnoughts long before this. The French Normandie class of five ships to mount twelve 13.4-inch guns in three quadruple mounts, with a speed of 25 knots, remained on the stocks for some eight years. Their guns were purloined by the army; some were bored out to 15.75 inches; others were reputedly captured by the Germans and used against the French. Only the last ship, the Béarn, ever took to the water, and she was finished as an aircraft carrier. The Italians began building in 1914 a foursome of super-Dreadnoughts based very closely on the Queen Elizabeths, but the need for these never arose, as the guns of the Austro-Hungarian battle fleet were as muted as the German.

After finishing repairs to the High Seas Fleet by the end of October, 1916, big-ship construction almost ceased in Germany. The Baden’s 15-inch-gunned sister ships Sachsen and Württemberg were never completed; nor were any of the seven battle cruisers. As improved Derfflingers, these would certainly have been formidable foes indeed. The first class of four, Mackensen, Graf Spee, Prinz Eiten Friedrich, and Fürst Bismarck were laid down in 1913, and would have closely resembled the Derfflingers, but with 14-inch guns. The main armament was increased again to eight 15-inch, arranged as in the Badens of which they were battle-cruiser equivalents, in the Ersatz-Yorck, Ersatz-Gneisenau and Ersatz-Scharnhorst, laid down in 1915. Few were launched; and after 1916 no new German Dreadnought was to take to the water until 1931.

This interim period in the Dreadnought’s life conveniently comes to an end with the 1920’s. The decade had begun in a frenzy of competition, when rumour and counter-rumour of greater and greater gargantuan designs had flooded the world’s admiralties and navy departments, along with argument and counter-argument about the battleship being doomed by the torpedo and high-explosive bomb. The torpedo plane was recognized as a serious weapon; General Billy Mitchell, General Giulio Douhet, General Hermann Goring, and Air Marshal Hugh Trenchard advocated the giant bomber as the supreme arbiter and supreme deterrent of the future. The Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet both died, and the Pacific replaced European waters as the area of the future struggle for maritime supremacy. But with the Washington Treaty safely signed, and with the rapid growth of technology and new and more sophisticated weapons, few people thought that there would ever again be battle fleet competition. But the last battleship race had not been run. The Dreadnought — still following the same Fisher-Cuniberti basic formula — was by no means dead. Twenty years after they had been broken up on the slips or sent to the scrapyards, ships as mighty in size and power as the stillborn Takao, Constellation, and Invincible were to join the world’s fleets and take part in the greatest maritime struggle of all time.

Sea-Power in the Seventeenth Century I

Changes in the distribution of sea-power among the states of Europe affected large areas outside Europe more directly than ever before. For Europe’s sea communications had encompassed the world. Besides the regular trans-Atlantic routes, little-frequented ones went across the Pacific to the Philippines and from the East Indies to Macao, Formosa and Japan. Commercial exchanges with Europe might require a cycle of as long as five years, quantities were minute, in some of these cases only one ship a year reached the final destination, but a regular pattern of trade existed. Originally the Portuguese had established themselves in the East thanks to a margin of technical superiority in sea- fighting, but by the late sixteenth century they were accustomed to peaceful trading in almost unarmed ships. After 1600 both they and the native traders were to suffer from the competition and incursions of heavily armed Dutch and English ships. In particular the heavier armament, superior organization and better seamanship of the Dutch East India Company enabled them to establish a commercial supremacy in Indonesia by 1650, despite prolonged and sometimes effective resistance by the Portuguese and others. Europeans did not control the trade of the Indian Ocean or Indonesia, even the Dutch never held a completely effective monopoly of the spice trade. Nevertheless they dominated important and profitable trades, because ultimately their naval power was greater than that of the native states. If Iberian power was eclipsed in the East, their monopoly of trans-Atlantic trade, still virtually intact in 1600, was also broken. By 1621 over half the carrying trade of Brazil was in Dutch hands, by the 1650s the Dutch and English were permanently established in the Caribbean and were establishing treaty rights in Brazilian and Portuguese trade.

Distribution of sea-power was itself changed by changing distribution of trade and also by technical developments in shipbuilding and the con- duct of war. Heavily armed ships from north-western Europe began to dominate the trade and warfare of the Mediterranean. The traditional galleys were still used in war, but together with sailing ships which more and more dominated the battles. By the 1650s the battle-fleets of the English and the Dutch were dominated by specialized fighting ships with two or three gun-decks, designed for inboard-loading and for increasingly heavy and controlled broadside fire, which in turn involved the gradual adoption of line-ahead formations. There was increasing professionalization of naval officers, though in wartime seamen from the merchant marine were essential to man the fleets which still also included merchant ships. Naval strategy turned more than ever on the protection and destruction of trade, and sea-power as always depended upon both trading and fighting fleets. But the maintenance of a fighting fleet was more expensive than ever before, requiring a larger permanent organization which could design, build and maintain specialized ships, unsuitable for trade. In 1639 before the Battle of the Downs Tromp’s strength had been trebled in a matter of weeks by fitting out merchant ships. Before 1642 hired merchantmen had usually made up more than half the numbers of English fleets. Their proportion in the Parliamentary fleets during the Civil War was much smaller; in the Dutch war Blake wished to keep it down to a fifth and in fact it seldom exceeded a third. After 1653 hired merchantmen might still play a decisive part in the war between Venice and the Turks but not in wars between great naval powers.

By the 1650s the distribution of sea power had changed decisively. In 1600 the Iberian kingdoms might still claim to be the greatest maritime power, their merchant fleet was second only to the Dutch and their combined naval strength greater than that of either the Dutch or the English. Even in the 1620s Spain was the strongest naval power in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic and could hopefully plan to challenge the Dutch in their home waters. The Habsburgs could even dream of dominating the Baltic in alliance with a revivified Hanseatic League. By 1659 Spain was weaker in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean than England or Holland and was soon to be outstripped by France. The technical changes of the period seem to have largely passed Spain by. In the 1630s the English and Dutch built the Sovereign and the Aemilia, prototypes of the heavy and medium ships of the future battle lines. The Spaniards still built relatively undergunned galleons, just as they failed to adopt newer types of fishing vessels and cargo carriers, although they were more receptive to the Dunkirkers’ example in developing fast frigates. Spain’s fleets were chronically short of gunners and seamen so that their ability to fight and even to survive the ordinary hazards of the sea were both impaired. Matters were even worse for the Portuguese on the Cape route, since they persisted in using unwieldy carracks of 1,000 tons or more, though well aware smaller ships would be more seaworthy. They then persistently overloaded and overcrowded them, despite regulations to the contrary and a shortage of seamen. Losses from shipwreck increased in the late sixteenth century and continued to be heavy until 1650, after- wards the rate dropped steeply; from 1590 to 1635 some 220 sailings from Lisbon resulted in the loss of thirty-four ships, while some 130 from India lost thirty-three.

The decline of Iberian sea-power did not happen because statesmen were blind to its importance, though the general contempt for sailors and their profession found in both Spain and Portugal may have contributed to it. As with so many problems which beset Spain, the need to maintain her power at sea was understood and analysed, but the resources for effective action were lacking. To renew the war against the Dutch Spain had to accept continental commitments and communications, sending troops and money from north Italy overland to the Netherlands. To secure these communications Spain had to subsidize and assist allies in the empire whom she could neither control nor afford. Spain’s maritime resources had to be concentrated on keeping her Atlantic communications open for her treasure-fleets and the western Mediterranean safe for the transfer of funds and troops to Genoa for Milan, Germany and Flanders. The failure to continue the land campaign against the Dutch with real success after the capture of Breda (1625) meant that the risk of the Dutch wearing down Spain’s Atlantic communications by the organized attacks of the West India Company increased. To counter this pressure Olivares wanted to erode Dutch sea-power by destroying her trade. Like his predecessors he would have liked to close the Straits of Gibraltar to the Dutch and English, but there was no real prospect of establishing an effective blockade. Hopes of a potentially much more decisive counter- stroke caused the revival of projects for attacking the Dutch in the most vital area of their maritime and commercial hegemony, the Baltic. In 1624 Olivares proposed to found a company with Flemish and Hanseatic participation which would have a monopoly of Iberian trade with the rest of Europe, thus undermining the entrepot trade of Amsterdam as well as providing a fleet of twenty-four ships to challenge the Dutch from bases in East Friesland. After 1626 this last objective was changed and the fleet was to be based in the Baltic in order to harry Dutch trade there. Sigismund III of Poland had long wished to build up a fleet and was anxious to ally himself with Madrid, but none of the Hanseatic towns would entertain the project for fear of offending the Dutch. In 1628 the arrival of Wallenstein on the Baltic coast roused fresh hopes, but he refused to accept Madrid’s terms for subsidizing a fleet. He was determined to keep complete control of it himself and to use it against the Danes rather than the Dutch. The Spanish envoys did buy some ships from the Hanse, but in 1629, to the fury of Sigismund, they were sent to Flanders. The main result of these projects was to disillusion Sigismund about Habsburg plans and promises and to encourage him to make his truce with Sweden. The only real damage to Dutch trade was done by the Dunkirkers. They seldom had more than thirty ships at sea at one time, but the admiralty records show that from 1626 to 1634 they captured 1,499 ships, sank another 336 (two-thirds or more may have been Dutch), and sold booty for £1,139,000 sterling, while losing fifteen royal ships and 105 privateers to the enemy. From the late 1630s the Dutch blockade may have been more effective in reducing losses, but it was never more than partially effective.

Although Spain beat off the first Dutch attacks on Brazil and the English attack on Cadiz, her Atlantic power suffered a great disaster when Piet Heyn captured and destroyed the treasure-fleet at Matanzas in Cuba in 1628. This not only financed the West India Company’s successful conquests in Brazil, but also destroyed about a third of the ships employed in Seville’s Atlantic trade. Between 1623 and 1636 the company took or destroyed 547 ships worth some 5,500,000 gulden. Spain made a last great effort to reconquer northern Brazil in 1638, when twenty-six galleons and twenty other ships were sent from Lisbon in September, later reinforced at Bahia to a total of eighteen Spanish and twelve Portuguese galleons, thirty-four armed merchantmen and twenty-three small ships. This armada was frustrated by unfavourable weather and irresolute com- mand and was scattered by the Dutch in January 1640 without achieving anything. This final failure to protect Brazil and the Caribbean from the Dutch was overshadowed by Tromp’s annihilation of the last Spanish fleet to challenge Dutch sea-power in the Channel at the Battle of the Downs in October 1639.

This Spanish effort was a last desperate gamble by planners who had lost touch with the realities of both Dutch and Spanish sea-power. Both before and after 1639 troops were taken to and from Flanders by sea, but this was done by taking risks and evading the Dutch, not by challenging them to battle. The fall of Breisach in 1638 and the consequent closing of the land route doubtless made some attempt at reinforcement by sea essential in 1639, while the French fleet’s incursions against the Biscayan ports also needed checking. But it was reckless to scrape together all available ships from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and then in- struct the admiral, Oquendo, when encumbered with the transport of 10,000 troops, to give battle if he met the Dutch, and stake everything on destroying their fleet. Of the seventy-odd ships which sailed from Corunna some thirty had been hired from foreigners (from Ragusa, Lubeck and Hamburg, apart from at least eight English transports). In all there were some fifty warships, as usual short of gunners and seamen; Tromp with twenty-four ships established such a decisive superiority in sailing and gunnery that he drove the Spaniards to take refuge off the English coast. In the final attack the Dutch had superior numbers, but the Spaniards mostly ran their ships aground without a fight, losing forty-three ships and 6,000 men. Ironically most of the troops and treasure did reach Dunkirk along with the only efficient part of the fleet, the original Dunkirk squadron; a result which could have been achieved without destroying a large part of Spain’s navy and all its reputation.

The composition and fate of Oquendo’s armada is only one symptom of Spain’s declining sea-power. The trend of Seville’s trans-Atlantic trade suggests even more serious structural changes; comparing 1616-20 with 1646-50 the tonnage employed had decreased by about half. In the later period only some forty per cent of the ships were Spanish built, roughly the same number were American built, while some seventeen per cent came from northern Europe; before 1610 most of the ships used had been built in northern Spain. In the late sixteenth century ships from northern Spain had predominated in the fisheries off Newfoundland; their share declined rapidly in the seventeenth century and was insignificant by 1650, as was their share in Spain’s European trade. The main source of Spain’s maritime strength had begun to fail even before being subjected to further stress by war. Dr Andrews has recently suggested that this failure was due to the Elizabethan war against Spain’s shipping. Although this never seriously interfered with the trans-Atlantic routes, by forcing Spain to concentrate all her resources on protecting them, it left shipping on shorter and coastal routes, especially on the approaches to Galician and Biscayan ports, unprotected against privateers. The losses in ships and seamen were certainly serious and, whether or not it decisively undermined Spain’s sea-power, it may well have contributed to the decline of her northern ports, along with shortages of timber.

When the revolts of Catalonia and Portugal followed less than a year after Oquendo’s defeat, it might have seemed dubious whether Spain could defend her own coasts. Luckily France, her nearest enemy, was not strong enough at sea to exploit the situation. Richelieu had been at pains to build up the French navy but he started from scratch; in the 1620s the crown had to hire foreign ships against La Rochelle, in 1635 there was a Channel fleet of some thirty-five sizeable ships, though many of them were foreign-built and the Mediterranean fleet had been increased from thirteen to twenty-two galleys. By concentrating her resources, especially those of the royal squadron from Dunkirk, first in Biscay, then in the western Mediterranean Spain held the French in check. French strength in the Channel declined after 1642 and Spain was able to concentrate more effectively in the Mediterranean so that the French were usually outnumbered. Despite much hard fighting in the 1640s they were never able to get command of the sea, or seriously interrupt Spanish communications. Spain’s superiority at sea helped her to reconquer Catalonia and prevented the French establishing themselves in Tuscany and exploiting the revolt of Naples. Consciousness of France’s growing naval inferiority to Spain after 1648 made Mazarin the more anxious to secure either a Dutch or an English alliance.

By the 1650s the decline of Spain and the failure to achieve a lasting revival of the French navy meant that the relative preponderance of the Dutch and English was greater and affected a greater geographical area than had been true of leading sea-powers in the past. There were now purely local balances of power between the states bordering each of Europe’s inner seas, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, but these ultimately depended upon the new powers of Atlantic Europe. The most striking local changes were in the Baltic. There Denmark had long been the dominant naval power, but Gustavus Adolphus built up the Swedish navy to protect his communications and control the Prussian ports. After his death its growth continued and in 1644 it decisively shook Denmark’s supremacy, though both sides also hired Dutch ships. Local supremacy passed to Sweden and Charles X wished to convert this into an absolute control of the Baltic, which would have been fatal to Dutch commercial hegemony. From 1649 the Dutch supported the Danes and in 1658 their fleet defeated Charles’ ambitions. The English were always jealous of Dutch power in the Baltic, but it was also against their interest to allow any local power absolute control. Thus in 1659 the local balance of power was dictated by the Dutch and English fleets’ ability to keep the area open to their influence.

In the western Mediterranean, as we have seen, Spain was still able to enforce her interests against her local rivals. In the eastern Mediterranean the Turks had been at war with Venice for control of Crete since 1645. In the first years of the war the Turkish fleets consisted almost entirely of galleys and the mixed fleets of the Venetians were more successful. In the 1650s the Turks used mixed fleets, but they suffered a severe defeat off the Dardanelles in 1656, losing forty-six ships and forty-seven galleys. However, the Venetians were unable to maintain an effective blockade of the Dardanelles and they never established command of the Aegean for any considerable period, while the effort of maintaining fleets there contributed to the final eclipse of Venice as a commercial and maritime power. If either the English or the Dutch put their naval strength, or even part of it, into the Mediterranean they could outclass any of the local powers. All they needed, as Blake and De Ruyter showed, was the use of ports which local rivalries could be relied on to provide.