Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie

Full-scale replica of a Dutch sailing ship – a VOC-ship in the Golden Century of Holland.

The “Prins Willem”, built in 1651 at Middelburg, Zeeland (the Netherlands) was one of the largest of East Indiamen to be constructed during the 17th Century.

Built to withstand long and often hazardous sea voyages, the East Indiaman enabled the Dutch East Indie Company to participate in the highly profitable trade with Asia and contributed to the Netherlands’ dominance of world trade during the 17th Century.

The “Prins Willem” was seconded to the Dutch Navy during the First Anglo-Dutch War. The ship was the flagship of Witte de With in the Battle of the Kentish Knock during the First Anglo-Dutch War.. After returning to the merchant navy, the “Prins Willem” made five journeys to South East Asia along the lucrative spice route, before being wrecked off the island of Brandon on the return voyage to the Netherlands in February 1662.

A full-scale replica was recently built in Holland and shipped to Japan to be a major attraction in Nagasaki Holland Village, in Omura (Japan), a Dutch-themed amusement center.

To maximize their competitive advantage, the government persuaded the many competing trading companies to pool their financial assets to create the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) in 1602. Under the charter granted by the States General to the VOC, the company was granted monopoly rights to trade and navigation for 21 years over the vast reaches east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. The company consisted of chambers (kamers) in six port cities-Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft, Enkhuizen, Middelburg, and Hoorn-made up of individuals chosen from the community of wealthy merchants and bankers. The chambers assigned from their members delegates to sit on the central board of 17 directors (Heeren XVII), the number allotted each chamber based on the regional representation of capital in shares contributed. Amsterdam held the largest number of seats at eight. The company was given the power to conclude treaties of alliance and peace, to wage defensive war, and to build forts and trading posts.

Backed by the government’s blessing, the VOC constituted the world’s first trading company based on permanent shares of capital. Fitted out with gunpowder and cannonballs, fleets were dispatched to the East Indies-more than a year’s journey away-to take Portuguese military/trading posts by force. In 1605 armed merchantmen captured the Portuguese fort at Amboina, in the Moluccan Islands, which the VOC then established as its first secure base in the Indies. In the midst of declaring dazzling dividends that jumped from 50 percent in 1606 to 329 percent in 1609, the company soon emerged as master of the spice trade. The Dutch seized Jakarta in 1619, renaming it Batavia and making it the administrative center of the Netherlands East Indies. Interloping English traders on Amboina were massacred in 1623. By the mid-17th century, the company operated as a virtual state within a state, the distance from the homeland and the wealth its ships brought home compelling the States General to leave the fi rm alone and give it virtually a free hand in the East Indies. The richest private company in the world, in 1670 the VOC counted 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, a private army, and 50,000 employees.

Employing ruthless methods to push their competitors aside, the company moved beyond the Indies to drive the Portuguese systematically from the trading posts they had held for a century in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on the South Asian subcontinent. By 1658 they held all of coastal Ceylon and, a decade later, they occupied isolated trading stations on the southern coasts of India. Moving farther afield, they founded Fort Zeelandia on Formosa (now Taiwan) in 1624, drove the Portuguese out of southern bases on the island and, in 1641, pushed the Spanish from northern holdings, before the Dutch in turn were expelled by Chinese arriving from the mainland in 1662. Regular trading relations were also established with Japan. From 1641 to 1854 the Dutch were the only Europeans permitted to trade there, exchanging European goods for Japanese gold, silver, and lacquerware from their isolated island post of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay.

Within only a few short decades, East Indiamen ships had won fame for the seemingly irrepressible daring of their captains and crews. South and east of Batavia they pressed on to within sight of western Australia’s barren shore and Abel Tasman (1603-59) sailed beyond the continent’s east coast to discover Tasmania, Fiji, and New Zealand. Jacob Le Maire (c. 1585-1616) and Willem Schouten (c. 1567-1625) sailed two vessels from Texel in 1615 west across the Atlantic, discovering a new route to the East Indies through Cape Horn, rounded for the first time on January 29, 1616, and which Schouten named for his birthplace. They sailed in search of gold, but they found none, leaving instead a legacy in new island discoveries, including the Admiralty Islands and the Schouten Islands in the southwest Pacific.

Enticed east by spices, the Dutch traveled west in search of salt, their sources in Portugal closed by Spain in 1621. The Dutch West India Company (Geoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnie, WIC) was chartered that year, under a central governing board of 19 members (Heeren XIX), to finance incursions into the Spanish and Portuguese Americas, where the Venezuelan coastal pans in particular furnished a fine natural salt with which to preserve the fishing fleets’ catch. Caribbean waters offered added benefits in goods from contraband trading with Spanish settlements and in booty seized from preying on Spanish ships. The capture by Piet Heyn (1577-1629) of the Spanish silver fleet in 1628 assumed mythic status in the Dutch historical memory.

Anxious to secure trading depots on Caribbean islands, the WIC occupied Curaçao, the largest of the Leeward Islands and one that had long been abandoned by the Spanish, in 1634. Aruba was seized in 1636 and the Dutch, together with the French, drove the Spanish from Sint Maarten, which they divided between them in 1648. Sint Eustatius (Statia) was colonized by the company in 1636 with settlers from Zeeland, and Saba with those from Sint Eustatius in about 1640. Colonies were founded in Guyana (1625-1803), Brazil (1630-54), Suriname (1667-1975), and Demarara (1667-1814). The WIC under its governor-general John Maurits of Nassau-Siegen (1604-79) made an especially vigorous effort to occupy northeastern coastal areas of Brazil. The Dutch transformed the region into a profitable colony, largely through sugar production, and Jewish merchants arrived to set up operations at Recife before Dutch colonizers were ousted by the Portuguese, the discoverers of the country, who returned in force in 1654.

Colonists on Sint Eustatius first planted tobacco but soon switched to sugar, and sugar plantations established throughout the Dutch Caribbean islands furnished the bulk of Europe’s supply in the 17th century. On Sint Eustatius as well as on Curaçao, the largest of the Leeward Islands, the WIC established slave depots for trade with the continental Americas.

A fashion fad in Europe for furs drew the Dutch north. In Dutch service, Englishman Henry Hudson (1565-1611) in 1609 sailed his De Halve Maan (The Half Moon), a brand-new ship with a crew of eight Englishmen and eight Dutchmen, up the river later named for him and, in doing so, laid claim to one of the most strategically significant slices of the North American mainland. The first permanent settlement of Fort Orange (just south of present-day Albany, New York) was founded in 1614 to trade directly with Native Americans for beaver pelts even before the settlement of New Amsterdam was made in 1626 on Manhattan island, famously purchased by Governor Peter Minuit (1580-1638) for 60 guilders ($24) worth of goods. Unlike elsewhere in their empire where the Dutch preferred not to plant settlements but rather to set up military trading posts at strategic spots to which the native inhabitants would come to trade, their North American territory became a real colony. Not only soldiers and WIC employees came but also ordinary settlers, who arrived intending to stay. Its history short (1614-64) and tempestuous, marked by wars with Native American tribes, threats from intruding Swedes and English, and, above all, neglect by a ruling company-wholly engrossed in the struggle against Spain-more intent on privateering and profitmaking than attracting emigrants, New Netherland managed, nevertheless, to bequeath a scattering of settlements from western Long Island up the Hudson and Mohawk rivers as far as present-day Schenectady, New York, that has left an enduring legacy in place-names, folklore, and English-language loanwords.

Under the auspices of the VOC, Jan van Riebeeck (1619-77) founded Cape Town, southern Africa’s oldest settlement, in 1652. At first a watering place for ships bound to and from the Far East, the Cape Colony saw settlers start to arrive by the end of the 17th century. By then a series of forts and trading posts dotted the West African coast, first serving as watering stations but soon also operating as slave markets to meet the constant need of Dutch New World plantations for such labor. Curaçao, in particular, grew wealthy on the trade. In 1637 the Dutch wrested Elmina from the Portuguese, their strongest fortification on the Guinea coast. They also sold captive labor to other nations, bringing the first 19 slaves, captured from a Spanish slave ship, to Virginia in 1619, and, from 1663 to 1701, Dutch traders held the state contract (asiento) for transport of African slaves to Spain’s American colonies. Global trading ties gave a cosmopolitan character to the major cities, especially those in Holland, that was probably unmatched in Europe. The Dutch acquired a fl air for foreign languages that they have retained ever since. A traveler remarked: “There is no Part of Europe so haunted with all sorts of foreigners as the Netherlands, which makes the Inhabitants as well Women as Men, so well versed in all sorts of Languages, so that, in Exchange-time, one may hear 7 or 8 sorts of Tongues spoken. . . .” (Howell 1753, 103).

Portuguese and Spanish in the Pacific

On September 20, 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific.

The opponents of this Portuguese trade monopoly were initially natural enemies as followers of the Prophet and therefore committed by the tenets of their faith to the forcible conversion of the infidel; the Portuguese similarly favoured extermination of such unprofitable material for their burning missionary zeal as the Muslims invariably were. Thus on both sides material aims which could vary in degree from honest trading ambitions to sheer rapacity, were given the cloak of piety. Portuguese guns would sink the ships of Muslim rivals with the blessing of the Church ; Mohammedan rajahs would take to ruthless piracy in the name of Allah. One consequence of the latter which arose when Mohammedanism spread to the ports of Western Java and southern Borneo, was the denial of these as stopping points for Portuguese ships on the run to and from the Spice Islands. When the seamen of East Borneo and Celebes, the warlike Bugis, took to unabashed piracy, the route became so dangerous that the Portuguese eventually preferred to accept the hazards of the Sulu Islands passage and the North Borneo coast.

In 1521, however, a new factor was introduced by the arrival at Brunei of a patched and battered carrack flying the flag of Spain, Portugal’s only serious European naval rival in that period. This was the Victoria, sole survivor of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition which was to complete the first circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan, a Portuguese who had been pilot to Sequeira at Malacca in 1509, had offered his services to Spain and had been commissioned to command a squadron sent to find a route to the Spice Islands by sailing westwards. Discovering the straits that bear his name, he had entered and named the Pacific Ocean and had been carried across it in the latitude of the trade winds to make landfall on the Philippine Islands.

There Magellan had been killed in a brush with the natives, but his flagship had continued the voyage westwards to arrive at Brunei. When fighting broke out there also, the ship was turned east again and after sailing through the difficult channels amongst the Sulu Islands, arrived at Tidore, to the west of Halmahera, and rival centre of the spice trade to the neighbouring Ternate. When the Victoria arrived home in 1522, Spanish claims to the Spice Islands were put forward.

The rival claimants, Spain and Portugal, were bound by the decision of Pope Alexander vi in 1493 by which the new world being gradually discovered was divided between the two countries. To the west of a line drawn from pole to pole passing 100 leagues to the westward of the Cape Verde Islands all would belong to Spain ; to the eastward all was to be Portuguese. Unfortunately the difficulty of establishing the longitude of a place even approximately with the means available at the time made it impossible to say where the demarcation line ran with regard to the East Indies; no agreement could be come to at a conference in 1524. Spanish efforts in the next few years were ineffective owing to the difficulties and hazards of the long haul across the Pacific. As a result of the Treaty of Saragossa in 1529 the Spaniards withdrew their claims for some years, selling their rights in the Moluccas to the Portuguese and fixing the dividing line seventeen degrees to the eastward of those islands. The King of Spain, however, reserved the right to annul his agreement, in which case arbitrators would decide the ownership of the Spice Islands. The Portuguese had, therefore, prepared against future trouble by building a fort on Ternate and espousing the cause of the Sultan against his rival on Tidore.

While the Portuguese were thus establishing, amidst unceasing conflict, their control of the East Indian trade, the pioneering genius and the commercial ability (or, as St Francis Xavier was to condemn it, the insatiable rapacity) of their seamen had been taking them ever further afield. In 1517 a squadron of seven ships under Fernando Perez de Andrade, victor of the sea-fight of 1513, arrived off Canton carrying a valuable cargo. Though the gun salute with which the Portuguese announced their arrival violated the code of conduct imposed on visiting foreign ships and Andrade had to make apologies for it, relations were thereafter friendly and permission to build a factory for the housing of goods on an off-shore island was granted.

Accompanying the expedition as ambassador was Tome Pires who had previously visited China and written an account of it in his Suma Oriental in 1515. From Canton, Pires was sent on to the Chinese court at Peking in September 1518, while Andrade, with part of his squadron, returned to Malacca. The remainder, in company with some Fiu-chiu Islands junks sailed on northwards to Ningpo where another factory was built and trade was opened with other parts of China, with fortified posts at Amoy and Foochow also.

This satisfactory opening of European trade with China was not to persist for long, however. The old bone of contention, China’s claim to the overlordship of all southern Asia, was brought out when Pires arrived at Peking. A letter from the deposed Sultan of Malacca had reached the Emperor, reminding him of Malacca’s vassal status and requesting Chinese assistance to eject the invaders. Pires, not authorized to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty in the same way, was put under arrest and conducted back to Canton, where he was to remain a prisoner until his death in 1540.

In 1521 Fernando de Andrade’s brother, Simon, arrived off Canton with another expedition. The high-handed arrogance which was the fatal defect of the Portuguese in their heyday was to cause his downfall. Just when negotiations for the opening of Chinese ports to trade were reaching a satisfactory conclusion, he offended the Chinese authorities by erecting a factory and fort on an off-shore island, without permission, ostensibly as protection against pirates ; and there he proceeded to exercise sovereign rights, demonstrated by his trial and execution of one of his sailors. A Chinese fleet of war junks attacked him, destroying all but three of his ships with which he was lucky to escape.

Nevertheless Portuguese trade with China through the former’s fortified posts at Amoy, Foochow and Ningpo persisted until 1545 when their aggressive behaviour finally led to their being expelled. The survivors, apparently learning their lesson at last, now adopted a conciliatory and suppliant attitude ; they were eventually permitted in 1557 to build a trading post on the island of Macao (in the approaches to Canton), which has persisted as a Portuguese colony to this day.

For the next fifty years the Portuguese enjoyed a monopoly of direct trade with China using their own ships, while at the same time Chinese junks traded to the Philippines, to Brunei, to Patani and occasionally to Malacca, though the extortionate charges levied there discouraged them. Another country opened up to Portuguese exclusive trade at that time was Japan; an expedition reaching Kagoshima in 1542 set up a trading post which enjoyed total absence of European competition for fifty years.

Far otherwise was the situation of the Portuguese in the Indonesian Archipelago. Besides the unceasing hostilities between Christian and Muslim in the Malacca Straits, with frequent full-scale naval expeditions by the Sultan of Atjeh against Malacca itself, the Portuguese hold on the Spice Islands was constantly under attack by the inhabitants and their rajahs, resentful of Portuguese arrogance and made desperate by their cruelty and greed.

Much of the Portuguese difficulties in the Spice Islands stemmed from their ruthless and often treacherous treatment of the native rulers and, conversely, from these Muslim rulers’ opposition to attempts to make Christian converts amongst their subjects. Indeed, Portuguese cupidity and missionary zeal were always at loggerheads to the frustration of the efforts of such as Francis Xavier, who laboured in the Moluccas from 1546 to 1548. The type of man sent out to govern the Portuguese settlements was more often than not bent on personal enrichment to the exclusion of other aims; or, if he bestirred himself to restrain the peculations of his subordinates he was liable to have a mutiny on his hands, and more than one governor was murdered for his pains. Throughout the century of Portuguese control of the Spice Islands, only one governor, Antonio Galvao 1536-40, left behind him a reputation for rectitude and fair dealing with the natives. He consequently returned poor to Lisbon, and there died in poverty.

In 1544 the ruler of Ternate, who claimed the overlordship of the Banda Islands as well as the Moluccas, made over Amboyna to the Portuguese who thereupon occupied the island, thus obtaining a more ample and secure base than the tiny islands of Ternate and Tidore, where strife was endemic, with the rival rajahs sometimes at war with each other, perhaps with the support of Portuguese or Spaniards, or in alliance with each other to attack the Portuguese strongholds.

The Spaniards had abrogated the agreement of 1529 in 1542 and had established prior and exclusive rights for themselves on Tidore. But for the next twenty years they were unable to follow this up. Though they could reach the area by sailing westwards across the Pacific from Mexico, until an eastward return route across the Pacific had been discovered, they would have had to return to Spain by completing the circumnavigation of the globe and thus to traverse waters dominated by the fighting galleons of their jealous Portuguese rivals. It was not until 1565 that a Spanish expedition of five ships, having landed the nucleus of a settlement at Cebu in the Philippines under Legaspi, was sailed northwards on the south-west monsoon by Andres de Urdaneta to discover the region of fairly constant westerlies between the parallels of 32 and 38 degrees north and so to reach the shores of California whence they could coast southwards to Mexico. Legaspi’s settlement at Cebu was considered an intrusion by the Portuguese, who showed their resentment by sending a squadron of ten ships to besiege it in 1568. They failed to dislodge the Spanish, however.

More of a threat to the Spanish colonizing efforts were the native Moros of the southern islands of the Philippines. Converts to Islam, they made formidable enemies and lived largely by piracy. In 1570, therefore, Legaspi moved his settlement to Luzon where he founded the city of Manila. There, after repulsing an attack in the following year by a Moro fleet, the Spaniards laid the foundations of a centre for both missionary work amongst the pagan inhabitants of Luzon and trade with the Chinese merchants from Fukien who brought their silks to exchange for Mexican silver. Neither of these objectives was possible amongst the belligerent Muslims further south and the Spanish left them discreetly alone.

After the foundation of Manila, Spanish ships again appeared in the Moluccas to dispute the Portuguese monopoly. By this time Portuguese misrule and the cruel cupidity of often mutinous forces had fanned the enmity of the natives and loosened the Portuguese hold on the Spice Islands. Amboyna had narrowly survived an attack by a Javanese force; the Portuguese fort on Ternate was besieged by forces under the Sultan of Tidore, a siege which was to end with its surrender in 1575. The Spaniards were then able to gain a foothold on Ternate for a time; the Portuguese shifted their spice trading headquarters to Tidore. An open struggle between the two Iberian powers was, however, avoided through the unification of the two countries under Philip II of Spain in 1580.

Enter the Dutch…

Future events were now casting their shadows before them. In 1579 Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, on her voyage of circumnavigation, had called briefly at Ternate, after refitting in Celebes, and loaded a quantity of spices. In the following year the Netherlands began its revolt against the rule of Spain. Both English and Dutch were soon to challenge the Portuguese/ Spanish claims to exclusive trading rights, though it was the Dutch who were to take the leading part in the East Indies.

Dutch procurement of the spices and other commodities of the East had for a long time been by means of their own ships sent to load them at Lisbon, and much of the supply of oriental pepper and spices to northern Europe had been in the hands of Dutch merchants. In 1585, however, Philip II gave orders for the seizure of all Dutch ships found in Spanish waters. For another nine years this regulation was to a great extent flouted so that no particular hardship was thereby suffered by the Netherlands.

The Dutch, whose trading and exploring ventures had been spreading far and wide, had, however, long coveted a direct share in the trade with the East Indies. In 1592, Huyghen van Linschoten returned from a nine-year sojourn in India possessed of all the necessary geographic and navigational information for the voyage to the East Indies which he published in his Itinerario in 1595. When Lisbon was finally closed to Dutch trade in 1594, therefore, it was not long before an expedition of four ships was organized which sailed in the spring of 1595 under Cornelis van Houtman, and arrived at the Javanese port of Bantam in June 1596.

Here they were amicably received; a treaty of friendship with the Sultan was concluded and a cargo of pepper was soon being loaded. Unfortunately van Houtman had neither the wit nor the manners to take advantage of this and strife soon broke out. As a result further supplies of pepper were refused at other Javanese ports and, when his crew refused to venture further to the Spice Islands, Houtman was forced to return with little profit.

Nevertheless the flood-gates of Dutch trade with the East Indies had been opened. Making use of the constant west winds, the `Roaring Forties’ south of the Indian Ocean, for their easting, which made them independent of the seasonal monsoons, they established the fastest route to a trading post set up at Bantam via the Cape of Good Hope and the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java. Thirteen ships took this route during 1598, returning with vast profits. Others, usually sailing in squadrons for mutual protection, followed. From Bantam they voyaged on to the Banda Islands and Ternate at both of which places they were welcomed and were able to establish trading posts. Peaceful trade being the expressed aim of the ship owners, invitations to assist the natives against the hated Portuguese were at first declined. But in 1600 the Admiral of one of these squadrons, Steven van der Haghen, made a treaty of alliance with the inhabitants of the island of Amboyna against the Portuguese, receiving in return promises of a monopoly of the spice trade.

Isabel Barreto de Castro

During the time of the discovery of America, most of the conquerors were males. However, there were also women, who for years they went unnoticed for the official historiography. Among them, there stands out Isabel Barreto de Castro. According to the chronicles, she was born in Pontevedra in 1567 – she was baptized in the parish of Santa Maria la Mayor. Since she was a young girl, she stood out for her restless spirit, and ended up embarking on the adventure of the New World. She left for the City of Reyes (present Lima) together with her family in 1585 and there she met the elderly Alvaro de Mendaña, with whom she got married.

The islands have been inhabited for thousands of years. In 1568, the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña was the first European to visit them, naming them the Islas Salomón.

Mendaña planned to travel again to archipelago to take possession of it, setting out in 1595 they went there from the port El Callao. During the trip, Alvaro of Mendaña died from malaria and Isabel Barreto took charge of the expedition. According to the chronicler, fleet pilot, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, who traveled with them, “(Mendaña) left by universal and named heiress by Governor to Isabel de Barreto, his wife, because of His Majesty he had commission with power to name whoever wanted to. ”

This is how Isabel de Barreto became the first female admiral of the Spanish Navy, as owner and mistress of the Santa Isabel galleon. According to documents of the time, the cruelty of the new admiral cost the hanging of several sailors that had contravened her orders. Again, in words of Quiros, was “of manly character, authoritarian, untamed, will impose her will despotic to all who are under her I send”. Isabel, accused of cruelty by the crew, demonstrated a strong personality with great leadership and great determination. She had an uncompromising attitude and managed to maintain severe discipline of the crew of tough and adventurous men, always willing to conspire and mutiny.

Subsequently, Isabel set course to the Philippines, where he contracted second marriage before returning to the viceroyalty of Peru. She remarried to general Fernando de Castro, again crossing the Pacific Ocean to Mexico, and then settled in Buenos Aires, where they lived for several years, before returning to Peru.

It is said that Isabel crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the last time to Spain to defend her rights over the Solomon Islands, because the King had granted the right to colonize the islands to Pedro Fernández de Quirós. She may be buried in Castrovirreyna (Peru) or in Galicia (Spain), in 1612.

Route of Mendaña/Barreto/Quirós 1595 expedition:

    El Callao, April 9, 1595.

    Paita (Perú), June 16.

    Las Marquesas de Mendoza (Marquesas Islands), July 21 – August 5.

        Magdalena (Fatu Hiva)

        Dominica (Hiva Oa)

        Santa Cristina (Tahuata)

        San Pedro (Moho Tani)

    San Bernardo (Pukapuka, Cook Islands), August 20.

    La Solitaria (Niulakita, Tuvalu), August 29.

    Solomon Islands:

        Tinakula, September 7.

        La Huerta (Tomotu Noi), Recifes (Swallow Islands), September 8.

        Santa Cruz (Nendö, Santa Cruz Islands), September 8 to November 18. They attempted to found a colony, where Álvaro de Mendaña died, October 18.

    Guam, January 1, 1596.

    Manila, February 11.


AM-34RN (4 X 970hp) – MTOW 22,600kg (49,8201b) – Normal Range 1,350km (840mi) – 12 SEATS. 180km/h (112mph). A special feature in the design was a tunnel that permitted air mechanics to crawl along the whole length of the wing, to inspect fuel tanks and cargo holds; and on one notable occasion, this was used to perform some unusual maintenance on one of the engines.

A Great Airplane

Bill Gunston, renowned technical aviation authority and compiler of encyclopedic volumes about aircraft, including a masterpiece on Soviet types, says this about the Tupolev-designed ANT-6, also known as the TB-3 or the G-2: “This heavy bomber was the first Soviet aircraft to be ahead of the rest of the world, and one of the greatest achievements in aviation history” and that, “the design was sensibly planned to meet operational requirement and was highly competitive aerodynamically, structurally, and in detail engineering.” This was in 1930.

A Big Airplane – and Plenty of Them

Give or take a ton or two, depending on the version, the ANT-6 weighed, fully equipped for take-off, about 22 tons. Most G-2s weighed 22,050-kg (48,500-lb). By comparison, the contemporary German Junkers-G 38 weighed 24 tons, but only two were built, compared with no less than 818 ANT-6s. Of these, the vast majority were for the Soviet Air Force, painted dark green, with sky blue undersides; about ten or twelve ANT-6s were allocated to Mark Shevelev’s Polar Aviation (Aviaarktika), and painted in the orange-red and blue colors. The four special versions prepared for the Papanin expedition, according to Tupolev historians, were in bare metal, probably to save precious weight. The British and French industries had nothing in the same league, and the U. S. A. had not yet thought of the B-17.

A Versatile Airplane

Too Designed primarily as a bomber, the type was adapted for other purposes. Design started way back in May 1926, wind tunnel testing was completed in March 1929, and Mikhail Gromov made the first test flight on 22 December 1930. Throughout its lifespan (production ceased early in 1937) it underwent many improvements, culminating in the ANT- 6A, specially modified for Dr Otto Schmidt’s Aviaarktika’s assault on the North Pole; and it was also used during the 1930s by Aeroflot, reportedly carrying as many as 20 passengers.


Item                                                    Kilograms

Empty Weight on Skis                          13,084

Radio and Navigation Equipment           297

Spare Parts and

Special Expedition Equipment                262

Crew of 8 (120kg each)                            960

Provisions for crew (20kg each)             160

Gasoline                                                  7,200

Oil                                                             640

Total                                                   22,603

(excluding cargo carried for ice station)

Weight Watchers

To equip the Papanin Expedition, every ingenious precaution was taken to avoid superfluous weight. Tents were of light-weight silk and aluminum. Utensils were of plastics or aluminum. The aircraft ladders were convertible into sleds. Special equipment such as the sounding line and the bathymeter were re-designed to save weight. Both the aircraft crews and the members of the expedition were eternally grateful for the innumerable contributions made by the ‘backroom boys’ in Leningrad, Moscow, and other sources of equipment supply.

How Much Extra

To carry even this finely tuned total weight of nine tons, divided between the four ANT-6 load-carrying aircraft, extra fuel also had to be taken, in addition to the provisions listed in the tables on this page. Almost two tons extra had to be carried by each aircraft. But the dome-shaped airfield on the plateau at Rudolf Island offered shallow slopes, down which the departing aircraft could gain speed and lift; and every item of nonessential equipment was stripped from the interior, and every non-essential item of personal effects was left behind.

Test Bombing

Landing a 24-ton aircraft on an ice-floe, no matter how big, was a speculative proposition. It was determined that the minimum ice thickness required was 70-cm (2-ft); engineers then devised a 9.5-kg (21-lb) ‘bomb’. It was shaped like a pear and fastened at its rear or trailing end was a 6-8-m (20-ft) line with flags attached. If the ice was less than 70-cm, the ‘bomb’ went straight through. If more, it stuck, and the flags, draped on the ice, indicated that landing was possible. This method was first utilized on the Papanin expedition.

The North Pole

The Preparations Aviaarktika had already reached ever northwards during the late 1920s and had spread its wings far and wide across the expanses of the Soviet Union, in those areas where Aeroflot had no reason to go, for lack of people to carry in a vast mainly frigid region that was almost completely unpopulated, except for isolated villages and outposts. Rather like expeditions on the ground, such as those to the South Pole, Otto Schmidt, assisted by his deputy, Mark Shevelev, pushed further beyond the limits, very methodically.

The northernmost landfall in the Soviet Union is the tiny Rudolf Island, an icy speck on the fringes of the island group known as Franz Josef Land (named after an Austrian explorer). At a latitude of 820 North, Rudolf is only about 1,300km (800mi) from the Pole and a good location for a base camp and launching site. Access to Franz Josef Land, while hazardous because of the severe climate and terrain, is feasible as the twin-island territory of Novaya Zemlya accounts for about 800km (500mi) of the distance from the Nenets region.

On 29 March 1936, Mikhail Vodopyanov set off with Akkuratov in a two-plane reconnaissance of the possible air route to Rudolf Island. Flying blind for much of the time, and having to contend with inconveniences such as boiling six pails of water before starting the engines with compressed air, they reached their destination, and reported that the conditions, while not ideal, were not impossible. On his return to Moscow on 21 May, Schmidt was sufficiently satisfied to make plans. He arranged for the ice-breaking ship Rusanoll to carry supplies to Rudolf, appointed Ivan Papanin to lead the assault on the Pole, and selected a combination of four ANT-6 (G-2) four-engined bomber transports, and one ANT-7 (G-l) twin-engined aircraft for the task. Vodopyanov was to be the chief pilot.

The Assault

The working party sent to Rudolf did their work well. In addition to setting up a base camp and a small airstrip on the shoreline, they rolled out a longer runway, with a slight slope to assist take-off, on a dome-shaped plateau about 300-m (I,000-ft) above the base camp. The squadron of aircraft flew up from Moscow, leaving on 18 March 1937. Reaching Rudolf, they began final preparations. The ANT-6s were estimated to need 7,300-liters (1,600-USg) of fuel for the 18-hour round-trip to the Pole, and 35 drums were needed for each aircraft. Ten tons of supplies of all kinds were to be taken, and elaborate steps were taken to design light-weight and multipurpose equipment.

There were frustrating delays, as they waited anxiously for Boris Dzerzeyevsky, the resident weather-man, to report favorable conditions, and for Pavel Golovin, pilot of the ANT-7 reconnaissance aircraft, to confirm Dzerzeyevsky’s forecasts, and to test the accuracy of the radio beacons. On one flight, Golovin was stranded for three days when he had to make a forced landing on the ice. But eventually, the expedition received the all-clear.

Flying an ANT-6 (registered SSSR-NI70), Mikhail Vodopyanov, with co-pilot M. Babushkin, navigator I. Spirin and three mechanics landed at a point a few kilometers beyond the North Pole (just to make sure) on 21 May 1937, at 11.35 a. m. Moscow time. Ivan Papanin, with scientists Yvgeny Federov and Piotr Shirsov, together with radio operator Ernst Krenkel, immediately established the first scientific Polar Station (PS-l) on the polar ice, on which they eventually drifted on their private ice-floe in a southwesterly direction until they were picked up off the coast of Greenland by a rescue ship on 19 February 1938.

Their Tiny Hands Were Frozen

During the final flight from Rudolf Island to the North Pole, Mikhail Vodopyanov realized that one of the ANT-6’s engines was leaking water from its radiator, with its precious anti-freeze liqUid disappearing into thin air. Vodopyanov’s trusted chief air mechanic, Flegont Bassein, together with co-mechanics Morozov and Petenin, crawled along the tunnel in the wing (see opposite and diagram below) and tried to stop the flow. They came up with an ingenious solution, by placing cloths over the leak, soaking up the outflow, squeezing them out into a container, and pouring the liquid back into the radiator. The engine kept going.

The mechanics did too, but barely. To reach the leak, they had had to force an opening in the leading edge of the wing, radiators obviously being exposed to the airflow. It was an act of fortitude that nearly cost them their hands.

Well-Earned Fame

After the various great flights made by Soviet aircraft, the pilots and crew were lavishly decorated, receiving many medals and testimonials in the Soviet tradition. Moscow witnessed receptions that were as impressive, if not quite so lavish, as those bestowed in New York on Lindbergh, Earhart, or Hughes. And they were well earned. Mikhail Vodopyanov, for example, had built up hundreds of hours of flying in remote parts of Russia, including the opening of the Dobrolet route to Sakhalin. He had pioneered the route to Rudolf Island, and had campaigned for aircraft landings on the North Polar ice, in opposition to other views that the Papanin party should be dropped by parachute. His crew members Mikhail Babushkin and Ivan Spirin had both flown big airplanes as early as 1921, in the Il’ya Murometsy, no less. Vasily Molokov had been one of the heroes of the Chelyuskin rescue, and his radio operator had been with him on the long Siberian circuit. Anatoly Alexeyev had flown on a relief party to the Severnaya Zemlya islands in 1934; while lIya Mazuruk and Pavel Golovin already had outstanding records. When the Soviet Union decided to Go For The Pole, it had the best cadre of trained and experienced pilots in the world to face the daunting challenge.

The Adoption of Crusade Ideology in Mesoamerica

Many motives drove Christopher Columbus to sail west toward the Indies, but one purpose that drove the westward voyage of this complex and often inconsistent man was the dream of converting the Great Khan of Cathay and joining with him in a final, great, and successful crusade against Islam, which in turn would usher in even greater events. In his so-called Book of Prophecies, a compilation of texts prepared essentially between 1501 and 1505 for the Catholic monarchs of Spain, Fernando and Isabel, the master mariner placed the discovery of the Indies into the grand divine plan for the forthcoming salvation of all humanity, the Final Judgment, and the End of Time. He argued that his voyage to the west had been the first step in the process of liberating Jerusalem, itself a necessary step in the unfolding of God’s plan of universal salvation. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not he actually believed these messianic prophecies (and it seems clear that he did), it is clear that Columbus was appealing to a widespread belief that the road to Jerusalem lay through the Indies. After all, he was appealing to two crusaders, the Catholic Monarchs Isabel and Fernando, who had conquered Granada on January 2, 1492, and who saw victory over the last Muslim stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula as another stepping stone in their God-sanctioned struggle against Islam, a struggle that was foreordained to result in triumph.

Even after it became clear that Columbus had not sailed to the Indies, at least some European churchmen continued to harbor the hope that the lands and peoples of the Americas would be the means for the liberation of Jerusalem and the destruction of Islam, and they apparently imparted that dream to at least some of their Indian converts. Festivals celebrating the victory of Christians over Moors became an integral part of Catholic religious culture throughout Latin America wherever Spanish and Portuguese missionaries brought the faith after 1492. Among these were the Tlaxcalans, whose religious pageants offer an important example of how thoroughly Catholic Christianity was assimilated in the New World.

The Tlaxcalans, themselves Nahuatl but nevertheless traditional enemies of the Mexica and their Aztec empire, had been defeated by Hernan Cortés in September 1519, and following that defeat they allied with the Spaniards in their march against the Aztec empire. Thousands of Tlaxcalans participated in the fighting and proved to be a decisive factor in the Spanish victory. A number of Cortés’s lieutenants married Tlaxcalan women of high birth, and despite initial reluctance to give up their ancestral deities, the Tlaxcalan chiefs were baptized as Christians sometime after July 1, 1520.

Mock battle pageants between “Christians and Moors” had been a popular expression of Reconquest realities and ideology in the Iberian Peninsula since at least the late thirteenth century. Now they were translated to the New World and its Christian converts.

We are fortunate to have a description of a Corpus Christi pageant performed by the Christian Indians of Tlaxcala in 1539 to celebrate the peace treaty between Emperor Charles V and the king of France and recorded shortly thereafter by the Franciscan missionary Fray Toribio de Benevente Motolinia in his History of the Indians of New Spain. In this elaborate pageant, which was composed at least in part by the Tlaxcalans but clearly with the help of their Franciscan mentors, the playwrights portrayed the future conquest of Jerusalem by the combined armies of Charles V’s European possessions and New Spain and the consequent baptism of its presumed occupier, the Muslim sultan of Cairo (although, in fact, Jerusalem had passed into Ottoman hands in December 1516).

Significantly, the pageant included several large and spirited mock battles, which apparently served to underscore the fact that holy war and the festivals that celebrated divinely mandated conflict and bloodshed were as much a part of this new religion of the Tlaxcalans as they had been when they and other Mesoamerican tribes conducted “Flower Wars,” preconquest battles fought for the purpose of capturing enemy warriors who were then sacrificed to a local deity. Often the sacrifice was either preceded by or took the form of a mock battle, when the captive was given an ineffective wooden sword with which to battle a fully armed adversary.

The most striking aspect of this pageant and its mock battles is that all of the combined crusader forces, European and Indian, fail to take Jerusalem despite their bravery. The Christians only succeed when the combined Indian forces of New Spain are joined in the fray by a heavenly patron on a brown horse, Hippolytus, a third-century soldier-saint on whose feast day, August 13, 1521, the Spaniards and their Tlaxcalan allies had captured Tenochtitlan. Indeed, just as the Tlaxcalans are led by Saint Hippolytus, the Spaniards, who now sweep to victory alongside these new Christians, are led by Santiago Matamoros- Saint James the Moor-slayer-on a horse “as white as snow.” Significantly, Santiago was the patron-saint of the Reconquista, the crusading wars of reconquest waged by Christian Iberians against the Muslims of Spain from roughly the mid-eleventh century to late fifteenth century.

According to legend, the apostle Saint James the Greater, whose relics were believed to have been miraculously transported to Compostela in northwest Spain, had initially appeared to lead the Christian forces of Asturias to victory at the mythic Battle of Clavijo in 844. He was also the namesake of the Order of Santiago, the most powerful of the Iberian military orders, founded in 1170 in Leon. Significantly, Hernan Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico, belonged to that order, as did many of his subordinates. And we are told by the sources that these conquistadors regularly shouted out the traditional Spanish battle cry, “Señor Santiago,” as they went into battle in the Americas.

The meaning of this Tlaxcalan pageant is clear. There is every reason to conclude that the Tlaxcalans were anxious to present themselves, and fellow Nahuatl converts to Catholicism (including their former enemies, the Mexica), as latter-day crusaders and as having accepted totally the Spanish crusading ethos despite whatever animosities they still harbored against their conquerors.

Moreover, the Tlaxcalans were fully aware, as were the Spaniards, that Cortés’s small army of Spanish soldiers could never have conquered the Aztec empire without the tens of thousands of Indian allies who marched with him, and chief among these were warriors from Tlaxcala. As a consequence, Tlaxcala became a privileged, largely self-governing province under Spanish colonial rule and was showered with honors and privileges.

The ideology of crusade was such a driving force in the Spanish conquest of Mexico that even the conquered and converted felt it necessary to claim identity with it. And what sort of crusade was that? By 1500, indeed well before that date, the crusade had metamorphosed into a struggle of apocalyptic proportions and with deep millenarian overtones. Put simply, it was a global, even cosmological, struggle between Catholic Christendom and Islam, heresy, heathenism, unbelief, and every manner of error, which included the “heathen errors and practices” of preconquest Mesoamerica.

Bibliography Gillespie, Jeanne. Saints and Warriors: Tlaxcalan Perspectives on the Conquest of Tenochtitlan. New Orleans: University Press of the South, 2004. Harris, Max. Aztecs, Moors, and Christians: Festivals of Reconquest in Mexico and Spain. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. Matthew, Laura E., and Michel R. Oudijk. Indian Conquistadors: Indigenous Allies in the Conquest of Mesoamerica. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. Motolinia, Toribio de Benevente. History of the Indians of New Spain. Edited and translated by Francis Borgia Steck. Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1951.

Portuguese Expansion-sixteenth century


Map of the Arabian Peninsula showing the Red Sea with Socotra Island (red) and the Persian Gulf (blue) with the Strait of Hormuz (Cantino planisphere, 1502).


A replica of Flor do Mar, Maritime Museum of Malacca.

Atlantic European states did not wait until they achieved complete technical predominance at sea to begin their maritime expansion. In the fifteenth century, maneuverable, open-ocean-capable, long ranged sailing merchantmen, armed with enough cannon to fight off galleys, navigated the seas and enormously expanded European commercial horizons.

The Portuguese were among the first to put the new technology to use. 16 Early in the fifteenth century they reached the Madeiras, the Azores, and the Canary Islands. By midcentury they had worked their way down the coast of West Africa as far as Senegal. In 1487 Bartolomeu Dias rounded the southern tip of the African continent-the Cape of Good Hope. Ten years later Vasco da Gama returned to the Cape, entered the Indian Ocean, and sailed as far as Calicut. By the end of the first decade of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese were fighting their way, not always with success, into the enclosed waters of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. In 1513 their first ships reached China, and in 1557 the Portuguese established themselves at Macao.

The Portuguese confronted the reality of the maritime revolution as they rounded the African cape and sought first markets and then dominance in the Indian Ocean basin. Portuguese commanders were quick to grasp the relevant geography of the region and identify all the choke points, where ships had to traverse narrow waterways: the Cape of Good Hope, the Bab el Mandeb at the entrance to the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Malacca through which the trade of India, the Indies, and eastern Asia passed. The Portuguese believed that if they could control these points, along with centrally located, fortified bases on the Malabar coast of India, they could destroy and disrupt local commercial traffic, divert the region’s trade to their own routes, and outflank and economically undermine the Islamic powers, especially the Ottoman Empire.

The Portuguese developed and executed a three-phase strategy. First, they quickly disposed of the navies of the Arabs and other regional powers, winning a major naval engagement off Diu in 1509. Second, they conducted a series of raids to destroy local merchant shipping. Third, under the direction of commanders such as Afonso de Albuquerque, captain general and governor of India between 1509 and 1515, they attacked several critical strategic points: they seized the island of Socotra near the entrance to the Strait of Bab el Mandeb (1507), Muscat and the island of Ormuz in the Strait of Hormuz (1508), and the approaches to the Strait of Malacca (1511), but failed to capture Aden (1513) and Jiddah (1517). The ambitious and largely successful plan disrupted, but failed to halt, commercial activity along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf routes, and diverted a great deal of traffic to the new routes opened and controlled by the Portuguese.

The Portuguese were nevertheless unable to consolidate their gains. Economic warfare did undermine the smaller local powers, such as the Mamluk regime in Egypt, but generally to the profit of their larger, more powerful Islamic neighbors, such as the Persians and the Ottomans. Portuguese successes induced the Ottomans to reinforce their southeastern sea flank; they checked the Portuguese at Jiddah in 1517. The Ottomans continued their naval buildup and launched several counterattacks, in the Red Sea in the 1530s and in the Persian Gulf in the 1550s. Despite some successes, the effort failed to break the Portuguese grip on the western basin of the Indian Ocean.

Portugal’s adoption of such an ambitious and bellicose maritime strategy, even though it could send no more than a handful of ships and a few thousand men to the region, demonstrated its faith in cannon-armed sailing ships. D’Albuquerque noted: “At the rumour of our coming the [native] ships all vanished and even the birds ceased to skim over the water.” Another Portuguese governor general advised his king: “Let it be known that if you are strong in ships the commerce of the Indies is yours, and if you are not strong in ships little will avail you of any fortress on land.” The keys, though, were not only ships but also cannon. “The Portuguese could have reached India without gunpowder,” John Francis Guilmartin, Jr., wrote, “but they could never have maintained themselves there or brought their cargoes back.”

There was also a third key to Portuguese success: loyal and able commanders willing to act on their own initiative and monarchs willing to trust those they picked for command. Until the invention of the telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century, states had little choice but to grant commanders operating on distant stations wide powers, often including not only military but also diplomatic and economic responsibilities. Fleets or squadrons dispatched halfway around the world could not be controlled in the same manner as a fleet of galleys operating in concert with an army. Only on-scene commanders, such as d’Albuquerque, could direct the early-sixteenth-century Portuguese effort in the Indian Ocean. Portuguese officials in India were too far from Lisbon to receive or to seek direction or reinforcements. It took months to send correspondence back and forth between India and Portugal, and even longer to outfit and dispatch expeditions. Ships often departed for the Indies without knowing the fate of those which had sailed the previous year. The king had little choice but to appoint commanders he could trust and in whose abilities he had confidence. He would give such men general directions and substantial independent powers, and send them on their way.

In the absence of communications, grand strategic command and control worked best if a state’s political and naval leaders shared an understanding of naval capabilities and long-range national goals. Since no state had ever before conducted sustained naval operations on a global scale, the process of developing this understanding was empirical. Throughout the sixteenth century the Portuguese, and other Europeans, gradually grasped the revolutionary change in the nature of sea power and developed concepts to guide the use of naval forces.

Longitude Problem


P.L. Tassaert’s half-tone print of Thomas King’s original 1767 portrait of John Harrison, located at the Science and Society Picture Library, London

The problem of the longitude, locating the east-west position of a ship on the open sea, was the classic technological problem of the early modern period, assaulted by many of the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution, including Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695), and Edmond Halley (1656–1742). The great astronomical observatories founded in the period, most notably the Paris Observatory and the English Royal Observatory at Greenwich, had the solution of the longitude problem high on their agendas. All failed, leaving the problem for the eighteenth century. If anything, it was of increasing urgency, given the expansion of the territory covered by European vessels. As the celestial bodies seemed to rotate around Earth from east to west, they did not seem to offer a way to know one’s position on it. Existing methods, based on observation of the Moon, or simply estimating the speed one had been traveling for a given time, were maddeningly and even dangerously imprecise. Most approaches to the longitude reduced the problem to that of finding the difference between the time on the ship, set by observation of the Sun’s meridian at noon, and the time at a fixed point, usually that of the home port. The difference in time could be translated into spatial terms as the difference in longitude between the two points. There were all sorts of bizarre schemes for this, but the two main approaches were using astronomical events to give the correct time and creating a clock able to give accurate time on a ship. If the home-port time of a celestial occurrence were known, all that would be necessary would be to compare the ship’s own time on observation of the occurrence. For example, if the time when an eclipse would occur at a fixed point were known, all that would be necessary would be to compare the time that the ship’s navigator saw the eclipse, and the distance between the two points would be known. This method was limited in its uses, however, as eclipses were quite rare. Galileo’s idea of using the frequent eclipses of the moons of Jupiter became dominant in geography and cartography on land, but the difficulty of observing Jupiter’s moons from a moving ship made it difficult if not impossible at sea.

The greatest eighteenth-century sea power, Great Britain took the lead in most eighteenth- century longitude schemes, although its colonial rival, France, was not far behind. Two unsuccessful longitude solvers, William Whiston and Humphrey Ditton (1675–1715), set forth a project in 1713 for the creation of a network of stationary ships over the seas, whose crews would fire guns at designated times, enabling passing ships to set their distances by factoring in their knowledge of the speed of sound. This idea was impractical on many levels, and never seriously considered. Whiston and Ditton’s lobbying of the British Parliament for a more active approach to the problem along with London’s maritime leaders whom they had organized resulted in the Longitude Act of 1714. This act established a prize of 20,000 pounds for a solution accurate to half a degree of a great circle around Earth; 15,000 pounds for a solution accurate within two-thirds of a degree; and 10,000 for a solution accurate within a degree. It also set up the Longitude Board whose ex officio members included the astronomer royal, the president of the Royal Society, and the first lord of the Admiralty, among others. The board disposed of funds to encourage promising ideas and was the first great institutional patron of science. It was deluged with solutions, most of them crackpot, and for the first decade and a half of its existence never met and concerned itself with little beyond sending out rejection letters. The French Royal Academy of Sciences meanwhile had used a bequest from the magistrate Rouille de Meslay to set up a prize of 125,000 livres for the longitude and other improvements in navigation, and were considerably more active, awarding 2,000 livres in 1720.

Serious eighteenth-century longitude ideas divided into two categories: the creation of an accurate shipboard clock and the astronomical method known as “lunar distances.” Lunar distances rested on the invention of a new astronomical instrument, the octant. This happened twice in 1731, with the independent work of the Englishman John Hadley (1682–1744) and the Philadelphian Thomas Godfrey (1704–1749). An arrangement of mirrors enabled a navigator to hold the distances between two celestial objects steady, even on the deck of a rolling ship. By observing the angular separation of the Moon and a given star, then comparing the time of observation with a table giving the times when that angular separation would appear from a fixed point such as London or Paris, the navigator could get the time differential and thus the longitude. All this plan required were accurate, mathematically skilled navigators and accurate tables of the extremely complex lunar motion, and legions of astronomers all over Europe set to work to provide the latter. Although the English and French scientific establishments poured effort and money into the project, the most accurate tables were the work of a German, Johann Tobias Mayer. Mayer’s death prevented him from claiming the prize, although his widow received 3,000 pounds from the board.

By comparison, the clock idea was somewhat old-fashioned. The leader in the creation of a navigational clock was a self-taught English clock maker of genius named John Harrison (1693–1776), who worked outside the London-based English clock-making establishment. Harrison had contacted Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley early in the project and enjoyed some support from the Longitude Board and the Royal Society. But he also faced opposition from a series of royal astronomers, including James Bradley and Nevil Maskelyne, who strongly favored lunar distances and were ex officio members of the Longitude Board, often supervising the trials. Harrison received several thousand pounds from the Longitude Board, at one point benefiting from the personal intervention of King George III (r. 1760–1820), but never won the prize he sought. The French, meanwhile, were also investigating the possibility of an accurate watch, led by the royal clock maker Ferdinand Berthoud (d. 1807). After shipboard watches were tested on voyages to Saint Domingue in 1769 and 1771, their use became common in the French marine.

In England Harrison was pitted against Maskelyne, the greatest exponent of lunar distances, who Harrison believed applied unnecessarily stringent conditions to the tests of the clocks and did not care for them properly when they were in his custody. Maskelyne’s annual Nautical Almanac and Nautical Ephemeris, first published in 1767, with its associated lunar tables, was the best available and put the lunar-distance method on a sound footing. This idea originated in the work of the Frenchman Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille (1713–1762) in the 1750s, but the French had never followed up Lacaille’s work. They did publish a French translation of Maskelyne’s almanac, beginning in 1772, a project with which Maskelyne cooperated even while the two countries were at war. The British navy required its navigators to be certified as proficient in Maskelyne’s method, although this was not consistently enforced at first. Updated, Maskelyne’s works served the international navigational community into the early twentieth century. It is due to Maskelyne’s lunar tables that the meridian of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich became the determining point for world time.

The lunar-distance method had the disadvantages of not being possible on moonless nights, and of requiring several observations and much tedious and difficult calculation. The chronometric method using timepieces eventually became the most common way to find the longitude. The problem was not the accuracy of the watches, particularly after Captain James Cook used a timekeeper based on Harrison’s on his second voyage, from 1772 to 1775, and enthusiastically testified to its merits (although he also praised Maskelyne’s almanacs). The difficulty was the cost of reproducing accurate timepieces. Late-eighteenth-century London watchmakers, most notably John Arnold (1736–1799) and Thomas Earnshaw (1749–1829), simplified Harrison’s designs and began mass production of accurate shipboard watches, which became the dominant way of finding the longitude by the 1820s. The Longitude Board itself was disbanded in the new Longitude Act of 1828. Its greatest prize was never awarded.

References Howse, Derek. Nevil Maskelyne: The Seaman’s Astronomer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Sobel, Dava. Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. New York: Walker, 1995.

The three ancient harbours of the Piraeus

The trireme shipsheds of Zea reconstructed as a model in Piraeus Museum.

Reconstructed view of the three ancient harbours of the Piraeus: Kantharos (today the main harbour), Zea (also called Pashalimani in modern times) and Mounychia (modern Mikrolimano). Note the ship sailing through the fortified harbour mouth of Kantharos.
Illustrator: Ioannis Nakas/© Zea Harbour Project