Power struggles around the Baltic Sea

Excavations in the major Nordic Viking towns of Hedeby, also known as Haithabu (in Schleswig), and Birka (near Stockholm), and at other sites have revealed an extensive trade in the Viking Age from the Baltic region and further down towards the Black Sea along the many river systems. Novgorod in Russia occupied a central place in the Vikings’ trading network. From 1157, Finland was under the Swedish crown.

Cape Arkona was conquered in 1168 from the local Wendic tribes and the whole island of Rügen became a Danish fiefdom which was included in the dioceseofRoskildeuntil1325. During the reign of Valdemar the Conqueror in the thirteenth century, parts of current Estonia were subjected to the Danish crown. The capital was called Tallinn, which is derived from the Estonian words Taani Linn, meaning `Danish town’. The conquest was encouraged by the Catholic Church, which at the time was seeking to increase its power and influence eastwards. From the opposite side, the Slavic population was spreading the Greek/Russian Orthodox faith and for centuries the River Narva was the border between these two faiths. The River Narva runs from Lake Peipus northwards and flows into the Gulf of Finland. It was on the west bank of Lake Peipus in 1242 that the canonised Russian national hero Alexander Nevsky defeated the German knights.

From 1241, the Hanseatic League, and above all Lübeck, started to be an economic power in the region. It lasted for the next three hundred years. Visby on Gotland played a special role as a natural centre for the Baltic trade – Gotland was Danish from 1361 to 1645. Danzig (now the Polish town of Gdansk) later evolved into the centre for all trade in cereals in northern Europe, and the German knightly orders and the Hanseatic League were firmly in the driving seat in this part of the economy. The power of the orders of knights began to wane in the 1550s as a result of the Reformation.

The Danish King Frederik II restored the Danish presence in Estonia in 1559 when he bought the diocese, which included Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Near the mouth of the River Narva lie two towns: Estonian Narva on the west side and Russian Ivangorod on the east. There is a fort belonging to each settlement. Danes, Swedes, Poles and Russians have fought in this area throughout the centuries for land, trade and ports. Narva was founded in 1222 by Valdemar the Conqueror and remained in Danish hands until Valdemar IV Atterdag’s sale of Estonia to the Teutonic Order in 1346. Among the Estonian regions, the island of Saaremaa remained in Danish hands the longest – right up to the Peace of Brömsebro in 1645.

Sound dues and power relationships in the Baltic Sea

From 1429, the Danish king extracted `Sound dues’ from ships that passed Kronborgat Elsinore (Helsingor).Almost all transportation of large amounts of goods over longer distances took place by ship. As maritime and trading nations, the Netherlands and England were very interested in the significant trade in the area. This gave rise to the classic problems of power and rights. Those coastal states which were strong enough wanted to enforce a principle of mare clausum, ie a closed sea, where only the coastal states were involved in the trading. The weaker powers and the intruders wanted a mare liberum, a free sea where trading was open to all. This battle for dominance of the Baltic Sea affected Danish and Swedish foreign policy and the Latin name was often used: Dominum Maris Baltici. It led to wars for hundreds of years and the Netherlands and England, in particular, used their naval power to support a policy in favour of the weak powers in the Baltic Sea. The aim was to ensure that no single nation got total dominion over the coastal reaches in the straits. The wars between Sweden and Denmark were mainly about trading rights in the Baltic Sea and all rights were based on the power that each state could put behind its demands.

Poland and Lithuania

From 1386 right up to Poland’s dissolution in 1795, Poland and Lithuania were united and at times the two countries formed a strong polity. Formally, it was the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a union in which Poland was the dominant partner. The Teutonic knightly orders were kept in check by the Polish king, who defeated them at Tannenberg in 1410; Moscow was captured and was under the domination of the union from 1610 to 1612 – the nation stretched all the way to the shores of the Black Sea at certain periods.

The Swedish wars

From about 1560 until 1660, Sweden carried out a dramatic expansion of its territories and consolidated its power in what are now Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark and Norway. A large part of the Baltic coast thus fell into Swedish hands. The Swedish army was partly financed by export earnings from iron and arms. Generally speaking, the Swedish armies were very strong, but the Swedish navy was sometimes poorly led and in a worse shape than the Danish. In 1644, the Danish navy was almost wiped out by a Swedish-Dutch fleet and the subsequent Peace of Brömsebro was the beginning of the collapse of Denmark’s foreign policy. When the next war broke out, the King of Sweden came from Torun, in what is now Poland. He gathered together some scattered Swedish forces and immediately marched west. A strong Danish-Norwegian fleet could usually maintain the security of the Danish islands, but not Jutland and Scania, and when in 1658 Danish territorial waters became ice-bound, the Swedish army crossed the ice and thereby won the war. In this way, Denmark lost the provinces of Scania, Halland and Blekinge in southern Sweden, all of which had constituted an integral part of Denmark since the Viking age. The Swedish wars were very much about the right to maritime trade. Shipping paid Sound dues to the Danish king. During the Scanian War of 1675-1679, the Danish-Norwegian navy transported a large army over to Scania, but it was defeated.

Russia becomes a Baltic power

In 1558, Russia fought her way out to Narva and started trading from there. The Swedes captured Narva in 1581 and forced the Russians back from the Baltic Sea again. One of the reasons for the Great Northern War from 1700 to 1720 was a Russian desire to regain access to the Baltic Sea and thereby to the extensive trade in the area. During this war, Sweden was crushed as a great power. Because of the intervention of the great powers, Denmark did not get its lost lands back, despite a renewed attempt at reconquering Scania. Russia captured the River Neva estuary in 1703. The Baltic states were incorporated into the Tsarist Empire in 1721 and from this year, Russia became a significant power in the Baltic Sea.

The Napoleonic wars

The Napoleonic wars also reached the Baltic region. In 1801, Britain had prepared a punitive action against the second League of Armed Neutrality. This consisted of the three naval powers of Russia, Sweden and Denmark, which, thanks to a joint convoy system, were earning enormous sums trading with everyone, including the warring parties. The action against Sweden and Russia was called off after the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, when it became known that the Russian Tsar Paul I had just been murdered.

The siege of Copenhagen and the subsequent bombardment in 1807 was due to British demands for the surrender of the Danish-Norwegian fleet, together with the merchant fleet, both of which Britain did not want to fall into Napoleon’s hands, as this would pose a significant threat to Britain, particularly of French invasion across the English Channel. The subsequent gunboat war in Danish and Norwegian waters was a series of pinprick operations directed against Royal Navy and commercial ships. Britain had to obtain imports of hemp, mast poles, timber and much more from the Baltic ports to maintain the Royal Navy, as well as her merchant ships, and it was too expensive and too dangerous to sail around the North Cape and obtain the goods in Arkhangelsk. But the Danish-Norwegian resistance did not have any significant impact on Britain, whose fleet sailed in and out of the Baltic Sea with large convoys. The Royal Navy was simply too strong.

In 1809, Sweden had to cede Finland, which then became a Grand Duchy with the Russian tsar as Grand Duke. At the conclusion of peace in 1814, Sweden got Norway as compensation for the loss of Finland.

The Schleswig Wars and the Crimean War

Prussia and Denmark fought two wars over the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein (Slesvig-Holsten). The end of the First Schleswig War from 1848 to 1850 was not brought about by the action of the Danish army and navy – Russian diplomatic pressure, supported by a strong Russian Baltic Fleet, persuaded Prussia to end the war.

The Crimean War (1853-1856) took a small detour to the Baltic Sea, when British and French naval forces bombarded the Russian forts at Bomarsund on Åland and in Helsinki. This event revealed Denmark’s impotence: two major naval powers just sailed through the Danish straits and did what they pleased. It was the direct reason for the United States demanding the abolition of the Sound dues. They were lifted in 1857 after an international conference.

During the Second Schleswig War in 1864, Prussia only had a modest fleet, and therefore the Austrian fleet in the Adriatic was called in to provide assistance. At the Battle of Heligoland on 9 May 1864, the force was turned back by a Danish squadron under Orlogskaptajn Edouard Suensson before it came into the Baltic Sea, but this war was lost on the ground to an army against which the Danish forces were powerless. From the Danish point of view, the naval victory was the only bright spot of the war, but irrelevant when peace terms were dictated.

Germany rearms at sea

In the late nineteenth century, Germany began a naval rearmament which was primarily directed against Britain and France. It was also intended to support Germany’s ambitions for empire and its growing number of colonies in China, the Pacific Islands and Africa.

Russia and its fleets

In relation to Russia, the Baltic Sea should not be seen in isolation, but also considered in conjunction with the country’s ambitions in other maritime areas. The Russian tsars sought for years to get access to the oceans. Russia started as a small city-state around the city of Moscow and was expanded gradually and very slowly during centuries of struggle against diverse invading forces, such as the Mongols, the Teutonic orders of knighthood, Swedes, Turks, Lithuanians and Poles. From 1555, it was possible to establish maritime trade with English merchants from Arkhangelsk via the tsar’s newly established Muscovy Company, but the area was not inviting for either industry or traffic on a large scale. Peter the Great’s victories over Sweden gave Russia access to the sea in the Baltic. In 1703, Peter founded the new city of St Petersburg on the estuary of the River Neva, which became the country’s capital as early as 1712. From here, Russia had access to conduct maritime trade in the ice-free periods from May to December. English merchants could now buy their Russian goods via St Petersburg and avoid the expensive and dangerous voyage up to the Barents Sea.

The two oldest Russian fleets are the Baltic Fleet and the Black Sea Fleet, which originated during Peter the Great’s reign. The Pacific Fleet was established in 1860, but after the defeat by the Japanese in 1905, it was not re- established until 1932. In the northern area, a naval force was established in 1916 that could co-operate with the Allied transports. In 1933, it received the status of a flotilla and in 1937 of an independent fleet, the Northern Fleet. At the outbreak of war in 1941, a modest number of submarines and destroyers were based here.

The outcome of the Russo-Japanese War 1904/1905 was a disaster for Russia and its population and it contributed to both the February and the October revolutions in St Petersburg in 1917. 3 The human sacrifices and the economic consequences were both enormous. When the Pacific Fleet was defeated by the Japanese fleet, the entire Baltic Fleet was sent to Vladivostok and Port Arthur. It was a relocation which took more than seven months, as most units had to sail south of Africa. In the end, the naval force was destroyed by an inferior, but ably-led, Japanese naval force in the Battle of Tsushima Strait in May 1905. After 1905, Russia thus had no Baltic Fleet, and there were therefore no forces available to protect St Petersburg.

Russian analyses in 1909 concluded that an attack on the capital would naturally come by sea. Following a major commission, work was begun in 1914 on the Peter the Great naval fortress in what is now Finland and Estonia. The plans also included sketches for a small fleet. In this way, according to the plan, it would be possible – with limited use of warships – to hold an invading enemy at a distance from St Petersburg simply by fortifying the entire entrance to the Gulf of Finland. Twenty-five forts were built on the Finnish side and seventeen on the Estonian side, where the artillery had a calibre of between 2in/57mm and 14in/355mm. In 1912, the Russian State Duma adopted a long- term building programme which should have lasted over eighteen years. Twenty-four battleships, twelve battlecruisers, twenty-four light cruisers, 108 destroyers and thirty-six large submarines were to be built.

The Baltic Sea during and after the First World War

When the First World War broke out, the German navy got its best ships ready for the battle against the Royal Navy, while they could make do with the older and outdated vessels against the Russians. To relieve the Russians, but also to put maximum pressure on the German economy, industry and fleet, the Royal Navy from 1915 onwards sent a number of submarines in through the Sound to the Baltic Sea. These submarines were supported at Russian bases.

Russian military participation slowly ground to a standstill because of domestic social upheavals near the end of the war. The Germans made a very large and successful landing in October 1917, when a landing force of 23,000men captured Saaremaa and the nearby island of Muhu. The Germans actually won the war on the Eastern Front, partly because of Lenin’s seizure of power in Russia one month later, but the outcome of the war was decided on the Western Front where the Germans lost during 1918. With the end of the war and the Russian Revolution, a special situation arose in the Baltic region. Two of the losers from the First World War were no longer strong naval powers. As losers, they came together in co-operation during the following decade.

In Sweden, German naval rearmament leading up to the First World War had been followed with some concern, because this development had reduced Sweden to a secondary power. Russia had been Sweden’s natural enemy for centuries and, with the revolution and Russia in chaos, this threat was suddenly eliminated. Sweden could therefore save on military spending after the First World War and went towards apparently problem-free times in the 1920s and 1930s.


Genoa Naval Strength 15th Century

Genoa, 1481, by Cristoforo Grassi. A display of naval strength in a celebration of the recapture of Otranto from the Ottomans. Genoa was a major maritime power but, like Venice, was under pressure from the Ottomans, losing its bases of Amasra (1460) and Kaffa (1475) on the Black Sea, and Samos (1550) and Chios (1560) in the Aegean, although Corsica was retained until sold to France in 1768. Genoa focused on galley warfare and in the sixteenth century aligned with Spain, providing much of its naval power, as at the Battle of Preveza in 1538. Captured by the Ottomans in 1480, Otranto, in south-east Italy, threatened to be a base for expansion but the new sultan Bayezid II faced opposition from his brother Jem and therefore adopted a cautious international stance. Otranto was abandoned in 1481.

The seeming inevitability of the advance of Turkish power in the Balkans was made plain to the rulers of Europe by the crushing defeat of a crusading army, mainly made up of French and Hungarian contingents, at Nicopolis in 1396. Most Bulgarian and Serb lands were now ruled by the Ottomans with the Byzantine Empire confined to small areas around their cities of Salonica and Constantinople. At first this confirmation of the establishment of a major new power in the area seemed to have little influence on the rivalries of naval powers. Venice benefited from extending her rule over coastal towns which sought her protection rather than that of the declining Empire. In this way Venice became the ruler of Durazzo and Scutari in Albania, Lepanto, Patras, Argos, Nauplia and even briefly Athens. To many Venetians an important reason for undertaking the task of governing these places was to prevent them falling into the hands of the Genoese, who were still seen as hostile to Venice.

Venice was able to recover her dominant position in trade in the Levant and enjoy the prosperity this brought, not because of her `command of the seas’ or the superiority of her galley fleet but because the Turkish advance in the West was halted by the need to deal with the forces of Tamerlane in Central Asia. In the first years of the fifteenth century, therefore, naval warfare in the eastern Mediterranean, apart from the continuing problem of widespread, low-level commerce raiding, consisted largely of shows of force by both Venice and Genoa each intending to overawe the other. Documents from the archives of both Genoa and Venice reveal clearly the degree of mutual suspicion which existed. Throughout 1403 the Venetian Senate was authorising its galley captains to keep a close eye on the Genoese fleet which, or so the Senate believed, had sailed from Genoa. Carlo Zeno, who was now captain general of the Gulf, was given special permission to pursue his own course rather than one prescribed by the Senate for this purpose. He was also given permission to take any Genoese property or vessels if they did harm to the property of Venetians to the value of more than 10,000 ducats. This was the sum of the damage already suffered by merchants in Rhodes and Cyprus which was the subject of negotiations. Later in June 1404, the news of a fleet of three cogs and two galleys being prepared in Genoa, led the Senate to forbid the ships of Pietro Contarini and Fantino Pisani from leaving Venice till 8 July when they might expect to have more information and be able to make better arrangements for the vessels’ security. A month later in Genoa one Niccolo da Moneglia was given permission by the governor of the city to take reprisals against Venetian ships. The most revealing of this series of documents is the deposition of Costantino Lercari taken in February 1407 when the Genoese authorities were investigating the loss of three of their galleys, part of the expedition of Marshall Boucicaut, off Modon in 1404. Lercari was the patronus of the galley on which Boucicaut sailed and therefore was an eyewitness of the events he describes. From his account, on one level relations between the cities were cordial. He describes the Venetian fleet coming out to meet the Genoese with every sign of honour and the two fleets then sailing together into the harbour and anchoring together. He himself was then involved in discussions with Carlo Zeno, the Venetian leader on the possibility of some joint action presumably against the Turks, though the details of this are not made clear. Zeno declined on the grounds that he could not exceed the very tightly drawn terms of his commission from the Signoria, making the remark that his `lordship did not give such long reins to its captains as was the custom of the Genoese’. The Genoese then left Modon but the seeming amity did not last with both sides becoming suspicious of the other; Lercari in fact has a story that the Venetian bailus in Nicosia was sending the Saracenos (the Turks) news of the Genoese movements. Finally when the Genoese wished to go into Zonchio to take on water, Zeno refused to let them enter the port and appeared with all his galleys ready for battle with lances and crossbows to hand. Boucicault then ordered his men also to arm but not to strike the first blow. When the Venetians attacked with cannon (bombardis) and crossbows battle was joined and in the ensuing melee the Genoese lost three galleys.

The use of cannon in fact is probably the most significant feature of this encounter almost the last in this area between the rival cities. As the century progressed the ability to deploy artillery was increasingly the deciding factor in war at sea. This did not only mean guns mounted onboard ships but shore batteries which could greatly hinder the use of galleys and other vessels to support or bring relief to the besieged in coastal towns. This was made abundantly clear during the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Venetian galleys were unable to contribute effectively to the defence of the city because of the weight of the Turkish onshore guns deployed against them. The fall of the Byzantine Empire stimulated the development of an Ottoman navy. Using the port and dockyard facilities which had long been in existence in or near the city and largely Greek seamen and shipwrights the Ottoman Empire came to dominate the waters of the eastern Mediterranean as it already dominated the land. The Venetians who, with the Knights of St John from Rhodes, the only other naval power of consequence active in these waters, were faced with a new and aggressive opponent; an opponent who, unlike the Genoese, controlled the greater part of the interior of the Balkans. Venetian bases in the area, without which the operation of galleys was more or less impossible, were vulnerable to attacks both from the sea and from the land. The predominantly amphibious character of naval warfare which is clear from the beginning of our period perhaps became even more noticeable in the second half of the fifteenth century, with battles fought in close conjunction with the taking of port towns and their hinterland.

Genoa and the Sea: Policy and Power in an Early Modern Maritime Republic, 1559–1684 (The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science) Paperback – December 17, 2012

Genoa played an important and ever-changing role in the early modern Mediterranean world. In medieval times, the city transformed itself from a tumultuous maritime republic into a stable and prosperous one, making it one of the most important financial centers in Europe. When Spanish influence in the Mediterranean world began to decline, Genoa, its prosperity closely linked with Spain’s, again had to reinvent itself and restore its economic stature.

Thomas Allison Kirk reconstructs the early modern Mediterranean world and closely studies Genoa’s attempt to evolve in the ever-changing political and economic landscape. He focuses on efforts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to revive shipbuilding and maritime commerce as a counterbalance to the city’s volatile financial sector.

“This book treats a neglected subject―the maritime policy of an early modern Mediterranean state―with a new and refreshing approach.”―American Historical Review

“The essence of this book is Kirk’s detailed understanding of the economics of shipbuilding and trade, as they affected the diplomatic and economic fortunes of the city of Genoa.”―English Historical Review

“Genoa and the Sea succeeds in reintegrating the Genoese republic with its citizen bankers, its galley slaves, its competing clans and moneyed families in a fascinating, if dense, narrative of transition and transformation… Kirk has demonstrated the rich resources available for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Genoa, and should inspire much further research.”―Historian

“Not only a valuable contribution on the history of the republic of Genoa but also a new perspective on the changing Mediterranean world and the relationship of the Mediterranean with the rest of Europe during a period of sweeping transformations.”―International Journal of Maritime History

“An important contribution to the historiography of early modern Italy and its decline in the seventeenth century.”―Journal of Modern History

Major Surface Combatants Modern US Navy

The US Navy has brought sixty-two Arleigh Burke class destroyers into service to date. The earlier ships – Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) herself is shown at the top – lacked a helicopter but the later Flight IIA ships – depicted by Gravely (DDG-107) above – were modified to provide this facility and additional VLS cells. These can be used to fire a range of munitions, notably Standard and ESSM surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles and the ASROC anti-submarine weapon.

Arleigh Burke Flight I ship USS Fitzgerald with TACTAS (tactical towed array sonar) in the center of the fantail, no helicopter hangars, and distinctive stacks.

Arleigh Burke Flight IIA ship USS Mustin without TACTAS in the center of the fantail, but with aft helicopter hangars, Phalanx CIWS mount and different exhaust stacks.

The last twenty-five years have seen a marked reduction in numbers of major surface combatants in service across the world’s navies. This trend has been combined with a tendency for these remaining combatants to have grown greatly in size and sophistication. The reasons for the numerical decline – the end of the Cold War and a sharp reduction in the need and willingness of the main protagonists to pay for such ships – are not hard to understand, but the trend towards larger, more complex ships warrants further explanation. So far as size is concerned, design influences such as improvements to accommodation and other crew facilities, the additional space utilised by stealth techniques, and even the impact of greater use of modular equipment. The increased focus on expeditionary activities, far from home bases, has also tended to emphasise further the benefits of volume for accommodation, fuel and stores.

Meanwhile, greater sophistication has been driven by evolving threats and the availability of technology, increasingly assisted by developments in consumer electronics, to provide an effective counter. Of these threats, that posed by saturation attack from anti-ship missiles had commonly been perceived as the most severe by the latter half of the Cold War. During this time, the expansion of the Soviet naval bomber force armed with stand-off air-to-surface missiles had particularly exercised US Navy planners. The capability of such systems, albeit of Western origin, were vividly demonstrated by the success of Argentine Exocet missile attacks on Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor in the 1982 Falklands War. By this stage, however, the US Navy was already on the point of deploying its new Ticonderoga (CG-47) class cruisers, which provided a potent answer to the problem.

Existing warships had been vulnerable to air attack because defensive missiles needed a dedicated fire-control radar to guide them onto any target identified by the main search-and-surveillance radar. Essentially, each engagement required a separate fire-control radar throughout its entire course and only a small number of such radars could be carried. The Ticonderoga class were the first equipped with the Aegis weapons system, including its associated AN/SPY-1 electronically scanned or ‘phased’ radar arrays. The greater flexibility and precision of phased arrays – which use electronics to form and direct their radar beams – allowed Aegis to direct modified Standard series missiles (the Standard SM-2) towards incoming threats via mid-course guidance. This avoided the need for a separate fire-control radar until the final stages of an engagement. At this stage, ‘slaved’ illuminators were used to guide the semi-active Standard missiles onto the relevant target. This permitted a far greater number of incoming targets to be engaged than previously. The system’s precision and automated nature also allowed for fast reaction times. This is useful against ‘pop-up’ missiles – such as those fired from a submerged submarine – that may be a more likely threat in post-Cold War naval scenarios.

It was to be some years before other navies deployed weapons systems of equivalent capability to Aegis. Congressional reluctance to release the technology outside the US Navy meant that ten years were to elapse before Aegis was deployed by a foreign navy – onboard Japan’s Kongou (DDG-173) in 1993 – and only a handful of fleets have acquired the system to date. Moreover, Aegis’ sophistication was such that it was to be a further decade still before equivalent systems were developed by the main European navies, commencing with the Dutch De Zeven Provinciën in 2002. Initially largely installed in dedicated air-defence ships, phased arrays and their associated control systems are now increasingly common in all types of new surface combatants as the relevant technology becomes more affordable. Some of the emergent navies are also developing similar systems, rather than relying on imports from the United States or Europe. Notable examples include China’s Type 346 series of active phased arrays and the Israeli EL/M-2248 MF-STAR.3 The latter is being used in conjunction with the Indo-Israeli Barak 8 surface-to-air missile system onboard the new Indian-built Kolkata class destroyers.

Whilst this expansion of warship building and associated maritime technology industries to new countries has been another trend in 21st-century warship construction, it is important to note that its influence on major surface combatant design remains quite limited. With the exception of China – and possibly India – most major warship classes remain heavily influenced by prototypes and, certainly, weapons and systems developed in the traditional naval hubs of the United States and Europe. Even China, it is reported, has first relied on technology extracted from Russia and the West to build its own indigenous capabilities. Although it seems likely that this will change in future as emergent economies continue to broaden their skills, it remains a fact that the majority of the twenty-first century’s major surface combatant designs are essentially of Western or Russian origin.

Construction of major surface combatants for the US Navy since the end of the Cold War has been dominated by series production of the Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class destroyers. Displacing nearly 9,000 tons in their original guise, the class is a multimission combatant with an emphasis on anti-air warfare. Preliminary design studies for the class started in the late 1970s as part of plans to replace older surface escorts. An important aim was to develop an affordable complement to the Ticonderoga class cruisers, the target cost being three-quarters of that of the larger cruiser. Principal sacrifices to achieve this aim included a reduction in fire-control illuminators (used in the final stages of an engagement) from four to three, omitting a helicopter hangar and air-warfare command and control facilities and a reduction in Mk 41 VLS missile cells to ninety from 122. Otherwise, the ships benefitted from being a purpose-designed platform for the Aegis system – the Ticonderoga class was a modification of the existing Spruance (DD-963) class hull – with a broader, more stable hull, improved survivability features and a significantly reduced radar cross-section. Propulsion is by means of a traditional COGAG plant. The lead ship was procured under the FY1985 construction programme. She was launched in September 1989 and commissioned on 4 July 1991.

Twenty-eight of the original Flight I and slightly modified Flight II Arleigh Burkes were completed between 1991 and 1999 before production switched to the modified Flight IIA design. These ships are around 500 tons heavier than the early ships and remedied a major perceived weakness of the original design by incorporating a hangar for two helicopters. They also have an additional six VLS cells. Thirty-four of this upgraded variant, benefitting from a series of incremental improvements as production progressed, were delivered from 2000 to 2012 before construction was halted in favour of the radical new Zumwalt (DDG-1000) class. However, a subsequent decision to terminate the Zumwalt programme – largely on cost grounds – meant that further orders were placed for the Flight IIA type from FY2010 onwards for delivery from 2016. Eleven additional ships will be built to this design before construction switches to a further improved Flight III variant, which will incorporate Raytheon’s improved air and missile defence radar (AMDR) in place of the SPY-1 arrays. AMDR – now designated AN/SPY-6 – will be particularly useful in improving capability against the threat from ballistic missiles. Ballistic missile defence (BMD) has become an important additional role for Aegis in the twenty-first century given the proliferation of first-generation tactical systems such as the Russian ‘Scud’. The greater potential of more recent ballistic weapons – not least China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile – means that an array conceived with this threat in mind is now desirable.

The longevity of DDG-51 class production is a tribute to the flexibility inherent in the original design, which now has the longest production run of any post-Second World War US Navy surface combatant. This has also brought the benefits of economies of scale from a long production run, with current ships costing around US$1.6bn – US$1.7bn per unit. However, there are signs that scope for further growth in the current design is now limited in terms of both internal volume and electrical generation and distribution capabilities. For example, although generation and cooling capacity is being increased in the Flight III ships, the version of the AMDR to be shipped is smaller and less-capable than that initially envisaged in a purpose-built ship. The Arleigh Burkes are also arguably expensive to operate compared with more modern, optimally-manned designs in spite of efforts to reduce crew size. For example, current complement of a little over 300 in the Flight I variant compares with c.190 in a British Type 45 air-defence destroyer.

The US Navy did have the answer to many of these issues in the Zumwalt class, a lean-manned (c.150 crew) cruiser-sized vessel of c.15,500 tons full load displacement incorporating a series of innovations in terms of hull form (use of a tumblehome hull), propulsion (integrated full electric propulsion), signature reduction, weapons systems and sensors. Armament includes two 155mm Advanced Guns Systems (AGS) optimised for shore bombardment and twenty quad Mk 57 peripheral VLS cells that are distributed around the ship’s outer shell to enhance survivability. A Dual Band Radar (DBR) similar to that specified for the new carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) was also originally planned but Raytheon’s AN/SPY-3 array has now been modified to perform all the functions intended for DBR as one of a number of cost-saving measures.4 However, an original programme that envisaged twenty-four ships being procured from FY-2005 onwards has ultimately seen production truncated at just three vessels as costs have spiralled upwards. Current estimates suggest total programme expenses of over US$12bn or more than US$4bn per ship. All-in-all, it seems that the US Navy were overly ambitious in attempting to introduce too many innovations simultaneously in one class of ship. At the same time, a renewed effort will have to be made to progress from the basic Burke hull sometime soon if the US Navy is not to lose its qualitative edge to foreign designs.

In the meantime, the DDG-51 design has formed the basis of Japan’s Kongou and Atago (DDG-177) classes, as well as the somewhat larger South Korean KDX-III Sejongdaewang-Ham type. The Aegis/SPY-1 combination has also been used in Spain’s F-100 Álvaro de Bazán class ‘frigates’ and their Australian Hobart class near-sisters. Finally, a ‘cut down’ version of the system, featuring smaller SPY1-F arrays with fewer than half the individual elements found in the standard panels, has been used in Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen class anti-submarine orientated frigates.

Post War German Submarine Legacy

In the fall of 1945, the victorious Allies faced a series of issues. The first was the newly developed atomic bomb and what it portended for future wars, and specifically if in time atomic power could not only be harnessed to propel submarines, but to deliver atomic weapons from them. The second was the growing tension between the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, which would soon become an undeclared “cold war,” and the role that submarines would play in this. Another issue was the next steps in the development of the submarine.

The United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union possessed fleets of submarines that had just helped them win the world war. Other powers also possessed submarines, though not to the same extent. Yet all of these submarines were, while suited for the undersea war just fought, not ideal for any future conflict. Wartime experience had shown that the next generation of submarines had to be faster, quieter, spend less time exposed and vulnerable on the surface, and be capable of diving deeper than subs had hitherto gone. Consideration also needed to be given to the new types of weapons, particularly rockets and missiles, and how they could be adapted to submarines. In addition, a new oceanic strategic frontier, the Arctic, had opened during the war, and future conflicts might well require submarines that could extensively navigate and fight beneath the ice.

For some of the winning powers, particularly the United States, there was also a necessary reduction in force to be weighed, as hundreds of boats were no longer needed and wartime reservists, volunteers, and draftees were returning to civilian life. There was also the matter of the large numbers of captured German U-boats and Japanese submarines, including hundreds of incomplete Midgets and Kaiten, and how to assess their technologies effectively while also quickly demilitarizing the former Axis powers. One technology that the United States wished to assess was the snorkel as adapted by the U-Bootwaffe, as well as superior German hydrophones, specialized anti-sonar rubber coatings for U-boat hulls, and an alternate method of powering a submarine, the Walter engine.

The Walter, named for its inventor, Hellmuth Walter (1900–80), was an air independent system for propulsion (AIP). While earlier inventors such as Payerne, Monturiol, and others had worked with a variety of AIP systems, Walter’s early work with marine engines suggested that an oxygen-rich fuel would negate the need for an external air supply or air from tanks. The source Walter settled on was hydrogen peroxide, which with the right catalyst (permanganate of lime) spontaneously combusted to release oxygen and high-temperature, high-pressure steam. Walter patented his research in 1925, and later, in 1940, used it to develop an experimental submarine. That craft, the V-80, was a 76-ton, four-man submarine capable of reaching 28 knots submerged.

From these beginnings, Walter’s propulsion system was integrated into larger U-boats, Type XVII craft. Three of these boats, U-1405, U-1406, and U-1407, were completed by the war’s end, with two others still under construction. The Type XVIIs also featured a more hydrodynamic hull form to reduce drag and increase speed, and in trials they reached 22–23 knots while submerged. Another advanced U-boat class, the Type XXI, also a streamlined, hydrodynamic craft, had three times the battery capacity of a Type VII, and was capable of running completely submerged for two to three days before recharging, which was done submerged by extending the snorkel and running the diesels for about five hours. These “elektroboote” represented yet another innovative German design that the war’s end had prevented the Nazis from deploying in large numbers – only two went on combat patrol. The advanced U-boats, however, played a role in determining the submarine designs of the future for the victors of the war.

The captured boats

While their crews scuttled a number of U-boats at the end of the war, a large number of boats, some of them not yet completed and still in the yards, were surrendered to the Allies. In all, some 154 U-boats made their way into Allied hands. Several were studied carefully, while others were assembled and sunk during Operation Deadlight between late 1945 and early 1946. In all, the British scuttled 121 U-boats off Lisahally, Northern Ireland, the last being U-3514, sunk by gunfire and an experimental antisubmarine weapon in Loch Ryan on February 12, 1946. Others were sunk later, such as U-1105, a modified Type VIIC boat covered with a rubber skin to foil Allied sonar. After transfer to the United States and testing in Chesapeake Bay, the US Navy used a depth charge to sink U-1105 off Piney Point, Maryland, in September 1949. The United States also examined a variety of captured Japanese craft, including four I-boats, among them the giant seaplane-carrying submarines I-400 and I-401, all scuttled off the coast of Hawaii in the spring and summer of 1946. A handful of Midgets and Kaiten were also examined, and a few were saved as war trophies, while hundreds of other smaller Japanese subs including Kairyu and Kaiten were destroyed with demolition charges and scrapped.

Among the U-boats examined by the Allies were eight boats surrendered to the Royal Navy and subjected to tests by the British, notably the Type XXVII boat U-1407, which the Navy commissioned as HMS Meteorite to test its Walter propulsion system, and retained in the fleet until 1949. Based on these trials, the British built two experimental boats, HMS Explorer and HMS Excalibur in 1954 and 1955. The United States took two surrendered U-boats, the Type XXI boats U-2513 and U-3008, commissioned them with American crews, and tested them in 1946–48 to learn more about the secrets behind their fast speeds. The effort was high profile; in December 1947, President Harry Truman visited U-2513 at Key West, Florida, becoming the second American President (Theodore Roosevelt was the first) to ride on a submarine.

When the tests were completed, the boats were scuttled, U-2513 by rockets off Key West, Florida, in September 1951 and U-3008 off Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, in 1954. It was subsequently raised and sold for scrap in 1956. The result of the American tests of the German U-boats was the Greater Underwater Propulsion Project, or GUPPY. While the GUPPY project and its British counterpart were still on the drawing board, however, the US focused its attention on the question of the atomic bomb and the submarine.

The Royal Navy, in addition to building its own two versions of the Type XXVII U-boat, also launched a streamlining program of its large wartime S- and T-class submarines in the 1940s and 1950s. Two new classes of diesel-electric boats were designed that would gradually replace the warhorse S- and T-boats. The first was the Porpoise class of 1955, and the second was the Oberon class of 1959. Britain launched eight Porpoises between 1956 and 1959, when the Oberons replaced them, and launched 27 of the latter for service in the navies of the UK, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and Chile. Modeled after the Type XXI, the Porpoise boats were 290ft long, displaced 2,080 tons, and were powered by two Admiralty standard range 16-cylinder diesel generator sets (with snorkel) and 5,000hp electric motors capable of reaching 12 knots on the surface and 17 knots submerged. With all-welded construction and improved steel for the hull, the Porpoises could dive deeper, had a patrol endurance of 9,000 nautical miles, and were also fitted with an oxygen replenishment system with carbon dioxide and hydrogen scrubbers to enable them to stay submerged for days – and up to six weeks with their snorkel deployed. The first Oberons, launched between 1959 and 1964, were basically improved versions of the Porpoise, with tougher steel hulls for deeper diving, better detection equipment, and the use of fiberglass – a first in British subs – in their streamlined superstructures. Additional boats built after 1964 included those for foreign states, and a number remained in service through 1988.

The American experience followed that of the British, focusing on greater speed for submarines both on the surface and submerged – and the necessary changes to both hull form and propulsion systems to increase speed. The wartime Balao and late-war Tench classes had served well, but were too slow and had insufficient range when submerged for the postwar mission of the US Navy, which was increasingly seen as a likely confrontation with the Soviet Union, either through the Cold War or a scenario where the “cold” war turned into a hot one. The Soviets had captured a number of advanced U-boats, were assessing the Type XXI boats and Walter engines, and their prewar build-up of a submarine force suggested a postwar program to build advanced submarines in large numbers was inevitable. This posed a threat that the United States was ill-prepared to deal with, especially if large numbers of Soviet submarines found a way to make a transpolar approach under the Arctic ice, or they poured faster, less exposed boats in large numbers into the North Atlantic and North Pacific from submarine bases.

Greater Underwater Propulsion Project (GUPPY)

The Greater Underwater Propulsion Project (GUPPY) to modify the submarine fleet was inaugurated to start to meet the challenge, while naval designers also determined the form of the next generation of American submarines. Two Balao class boats, USS Odax and USS Pomodon, were the first “Guppy” boats, and their conversion, completed by 1947, involved removing anything that created flow resistance on the hull, including the deck gun and the wooden deck, enclosing the conning-tower and bridge in a streamlined “sail” (known as a “fin” to the British), smoothing the lines of the bow, folding in the bow planes, and also increasing battery capacity for greater underwater endurance. The removal of the boats’ auxiliary diesel engine and generator, and the ammunition magazine for the deck gun, and the reorganization of some compartments provided the necessary room.

While there were “bugs” to work out, the first Guppies’ flow resistance had been cut by 50 percent. Later Guppy II modifications added a retractable snorkel, new higher-capacity batteries, additional air-conditioning to handle increased heat in the boats, and new sonars; in the 1960s, the Guppy III program cut older boats in half and added a 15ft section housing then modern electronic and fire-control systems that increased their length to 327ft and surface displacement to 1,731 tons. Guppy III modifications also added a larger fiberglass sail and three domes for PUFFS (BQG-4) passive ranging sonar. In all, 55 submarines underwent Guppy conversion, four of them for transfer to Italy and the Netherlands. In addition, 19 other boats underwent a lesser modification as “fleet snorkel conversions,” while other boats were modified and converted to a range of different categories – cargo (SSA), guided-missile (SGA), hunter-killer (SSK), transports (SSP), radar pickets (SSR), targets (SST), and miscellaneous auxiliaries (AGSS). In this fashion, the US Navy retained a number of its wartime boats well into the 1960s and early 1970s. It decommissioned its last wartime-built submarine, the Guppy II-converted USS Tiru, on July 1, 1975.

While US Guppies were transferred to some powers, others, including France, pursued their own fast designs. The French Navy received three U-boats at the end of World War II, including a Type XXI and a Type XXIII. The Type XXI, U-2518, was recommissioned as Roland Morillot in 1951 and served until 1967. Working with what they had learned from operating Morillot, the French then designed the Narval class, and launched six of these fast diesel-electric boats between 1957 and 1960. The Narvals continued to serve into the 1980s, and made a series of noteworthy missions to demonstrate submerged endurance and under-ice Arctic incursions to 72 degrees north.

The Soviet Union also pursued faster submarines, drawing on the design of captured U-boats. Six Type XXI boats transferred to the Soviets after the war were recommissioned, along with four Type VII U-boats, to serve in the Soviet Navy. Soviet designs followed the diesel-electric model with Project 611 (NATO codename Zulu) boats. Based again on the lessons learnt from the Type XXI, the Zulus were 295ft-long, 1,875-ton, streamlined, fast boats with increased battery-power that gave them speeds of 16 knots submerged and 18 knots on the surface. Between 1952 and 1957, the Soviets placed 26 Zulus in service, and in 1956, modified six of them to fire a single R-11 (NATO codename SCUD) missile, making these the world’s first ballistic missile submarines. The next diesel-electric Soviet submarine class, the 1958 Project 629 (NATO codename Golf), introduced larger, 2,794-ton boats with inbuilt missile silos, but at that time the Soviet Union was pursuing another trend – the nuclear-powered submarine.


A galley which Ottoman Sultans used at inshore waters. Built at the end of the 16th century. Length: 40 m; Width: 5.70 m. It is reportedly the only original galley in the world. (Maritime Museum, Istanbul).

On August 14, 1571, a gigantic ship’s pennant of silk damask passed through the congested streets of Naples. Embroidered to the pope’s commission, it was the standard of Christendom, to fly from the tallest mast in the fleet of the Holy League as it sailed into battle. The pope’s banner with a huge golden figure of Christ nailed to the cross loomed over the stocky Spanish soldiers who carried it in procession from the steps of the Church of Santa Clara. As the blue flag moved through the Neapolitan crowds, an unnatural stillness gripped all who watched it go by. An hour before, inside the church, the assembled nobles, officers, monks, and priests had stood silent and unmoving, all their eyes on the admiral of the Holy League, Don John of Austria. Arrayed in cloth of gold, scarlet satin, and white velvet, the young admiral knelt before the altar as the pope’s representative, Cardinal Granvelle, handed him his staff of office and pointed to the great banner behind him. “Take these emblems,” the cardinal exhorted, “of the Word made flesh, these symbols of the true faith, and may they give thee a glorious victory over our impious enemy and by thy hand may his pride be laid low.”

Below the cross of Christ were the emblems of the king of Spain and of the Holy Father, Pope Pius V, with the badge of the Republic of Venice, all linked by a great golden chain, symbolizing the power of faith that bound them together. From that chain, in slightly smaller scale, hung the pendant crest of Don John. The emblems marked a brief moment of unity. For the first time in more than a century, Christendom had combined in force to do battle with the power of “Islam.” The war was sanctified, waged under the protection of the golden figure of Christ. The pope had declared that those who fought in this struggle were to be granted the same plenary indulgences as earlier Crusaders fighting to secure the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. All who died in the shadow of this battle flag would be spared the worst rigors of purgatory.

Eight hundred miles to the east a similar, if less public, ceremony had already taken place. From the treasury of the imperial palace in Constantinople, a bulky bundle wrapped in silk had been brought from Sultan Selim II to Ali Pasha, admiral of the Ottoman fleet. It also contained a flag, but one colored a vivid green instead of the lambent Christian blue. Even larger than the banner that Pope Pius V had entrusted to his commander, this was one of the most potent emblems of Islam. Upon its surface the ninety-nine names and attributes of God had been embroidered in gold. It was reputed that these were repeated no less than 28,900 times. The giant Kufic characters were surrounded and interlaced with endless reiteration of those same names, in a smaller script, so that from a distance the whole surface of the pennant appeared a shimmering network of golden filigree.

The two commanders were opposites—in rank, status, and experience of life. Don John was the acknowledged natural brother of the king of Spain, Philip II, and the by-blow from a few months Emperor Charles V had spent with a young widow called Barbara Blomberg in the imperial city of Regensburg. Don John had come to Naples from fighting a savage war in the mountains of southern Spain, to command the largest fleet ever assembled by Christian Europe. He had never fought at sea before. By contrast, Ali, the Kapudan Pasha of the Ottoman fleet, was a veteran of galley warfare, feared throughout the Aegean and into the far west of the Mediterranean. His origins were more humble, as the son of a muezzin, a mosque servant who called the faithful to prayer. But the two leaders, for all their differences, had much in common. They were like twin paladins from an epic poem: yearning for battle, chivalrous, and honorable. Fate decreed divergent destinies for them. One would die with a musket ball through the skull, his head then hacked off and stuck on the point of a pike. The other would return in triumph, honored and feted, his victory celebrated with paintings, engravings, poems, coins and medals, essays and learned disquisitions through more than four centuries.

Stories of their encounter abound, some closely following facts, others embellished to make a better tale. Quite where history ends and legends begin is still unsure. The battle they fought in the Gulf of Lepanto has a double character: the event itself and its burgeoning afterlife. This afterlife, the mythic Lepanto, came to stand as a synecdoche for the contest between the Islamic and the Christian worlds. In deciphering the meaning of Lepanto, we may find a point of entry into those deeper mysteries. The greater struggle had deep roots. For almost a thousand years the Christian world had felt threatened by the power in the East. Sometimes, with the Crusades in the Levant, for example, in Sicily and in Spain, Christian Europe had taken war to the enemy. Over the centuries a brooding sense of Muslim threat came to mesmerize Christendom. By the sixteenth century conflict was accepted as the natural and inevitable relationship between East and West. Like a child’s seesaw, the rise of the East required the fall of the West. In 1571, the two adversaries sat roughly in balance.

Scholars reinforced a common belief in the danger and evil of “Islam.” The Muslims, according to the Venerable Bede, who wrote in the eighth century, were descended from Hagar, the prophet Abraham’s concubine. Many Muslims believed that she and her son, Ishmael, lay buried under the Kaaba, the great black stone in Mecca, which was the focal point of the Islamic faith. Christians, however, were descended from Abraham’s lawful offspring, Isaac. Worse still than the stain of bastardy, an even darker curse hung over the people of the East. Christians inferred that while all men traced their line back to Adam and Eve, the Muslims were the lineal descendants of Cain, thrust from the presence of God for murdering his brother Abel. For his crime, Cain bemoaned that he would “be a fugitive and a wanderer upon earth … and everyone who finds me will slay me.” They had been forced to dwell “east of Eden.” Between the children of Cain and the other descendants of Adam, there could be only mutual slaughter and revenge for the primordial crime of fratricide. So this struggle grew from a long tradition of atavistic hatred between the peoples of the West and East.

What this meant in practice it is hard to say. Naturally, Christians in battle routinely insulted their enemies as the “sons of Cain,” as “misbegotten,” or “Antichrist.” Muslims decried their enemies with equal vehemence. Conflict between East and West seemed permanent, inevitable, preordained, as much for the Christians as for the Muslims. Yet it did not destroy the skein of mutual economic and political interests that dominated the Mediterranean and the Balkans, the border and boundary between the two worlds. Trade and commercial interests were constantly in play, especially in the case of Venice and the other city-states of the Adriatic, which preferred to negotiate with Muslim power rather than fight it.

The Christian powers in the Mediterranean had much to fear from an Ottoman Empire intent on expansion. The desire for a great victory went beyond political calculations, and not only for the pope, the architect of the grand alliance. After the capture of Constantinople in 1453, many Christians were convinced that the triumphant advance of Islam could only be part of God’s plan. The Islamic scourge was a means to chasten mankind to a better sense of its faults and flaws. Were Christians being punished for the sins of declining faith and, latterly, schism? For more than a century Christian Europe had resisted the Islamic onslaught, but had won few decisive victories. What better sign of renewed divine favor could there be than a great and annihilating victory over the forces of darkness?

Victory was also much in the minds of Sultan Selim II and his advisers in Constantinople. Although the armies of “Islam” had continued to press forward against the infidel, the pace of advance had slowed. Selim’s grandfather and namesake had brought vast territories in Egypt, Arabia, and the Levant into the Ottoman domain. His father, Suleiman the Lawgiver, had captured the fortress island of Rhodes, Belgrade, and Budapest, and held the Hungarian plain almost to the walls of Vienna. Suleiman had destroyed the Kingdom of Hungary in a single day on the battlefield of Mohacs in 1526. Yet Suleiman too had his setbacks. He twice failed to capture Vienna—in 1529 and 1566—and the island of Malta had withstood all the Turkish efforts at storm and siege. In the Mediterranean, the great naval battle in 1538 at Prevesa, just off the Greek mainland north of the Gulf of Lepanto, produced no decisive result.

The Ottoman state was built upon a theory of infinite expansion, and annual war to advance its frontiers. Without conquest it would decay. Moreover, all good Muslims were duty bound to extend the Domain of Peace, and that burden weighed heaviest upon the sultan. Selim II had committed himself to advance the boundaries of righteousness by seizing the island of Cyprus, which was under the rule of Venice. He used the pretext that privateers had sailed from the island to harry his shipping and the coastal towns of Anatolia. By late 1570, it seemed likely that the island would fall to his armies. Even so, he desired much more than the capture of an island. The sultan demanded a dramatic victory from his commanders, another Mohacs. Thus, his admiral, Ali Pasha, knew that he had to achieve the complete destruction of the Christian fleet, and return laden with trophies, slaves, and booty.

The two adversaries gathered their forces from far distant points in the Mediterranean. Throughout the summer of 1571, little clusters of ships moved toward the designated meeting points: Messina for the Christians commanded by Don John, the Aegean for the sultan’s war fleet under Ali Pasha. They were galleys, a type of ship built for the specific conditions of the Mediterranean. Galley warfare occupied its own universe, utterly different from battles fought between the sailing ships of the Atlantic. Long, sitting low on the water, frail by comparison with their solid northern counterparts, war galleys appeared to be able to move regardless of the force or direction of the wind. Although these slender craft carried two or three large triangular sails, their main motive power was banks of oars that extended out forty feet or more from either side of the ship, both banks pulling in unison so that the boat moved forward swiftly in what seemed a series of rhythmic spasms. In their element, with a calm sea and a following wind, they resembled gigantic water beetles skittering on their long legs over the surface of the water. Although the galleys were faster under sail than when they depended on their oars alone, their power of maneuver came from the rowers. It meant that a galley never risked being blown ashore onto a rocky coast, which was a constant danger for the clumsy deep-hulled merchant sailing ships. A galley could move almost as fast backward as it did forward and, with its shallow draft, could negotiate shoals that would strand other sailing vessels.

Over the centuries galleys had developed many forms, some designed to carry cargo, but by the mid–sixteenth century they were evolving for a single purpose: war. The Mediterranean war galley had been adapted over many generations, from the Greek triremes that destroyed the Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis, almost two thousand years before. After 1500, some galleys acquired superstructures at bow and stern, to house guns and fighting men. But the essence of the galley remained the same. As in classical times, galleys were merely a floating platform from which men could board and overcome the crews of other ships, an insubstantial shell for carrying the oarsmen and men-at-arms. Originally, as in the rowing skiffs and caïques to be found in every Mediterranean port, each man had pulled his own oar, but this became a costly option since oars had to be made from expensive well-seasoned timber, much of it imported from northern Europe. From the mid–sixteenth century a new style of rowing appeared that reduced the number of oars. Three or four men, sometimes as many as five, would sit side by side on benches, all pulling in unison on a single massive sweep. It was easy thereafter to add more men to increase the force behind the oars.

The power of a war galley lay in its personnel. Aboard each one would be a number of well-equipped professional fighting men, a battle crew. On Muslim and Venetian ships, many among the rowing crew were also armed and would join the melee. Of the Venetian oarsmen, who were volunteers, those on the end of each bench had a sword and short pike close at hand, while the second man had a bow and a quiver of arrows. As the ships closed, they would leave their oars to the third man and gather, ready to swarm across onto the deck of their victim. No merchant vessel loaded with cargo could hope to outrun a galley pursuing at full speed. Most tried, because the alternative was dire. The galley attack resembled that of a hawk swooping to snatch its prey. The sharp beak of the galley would come closer and closer to the fleeing ship, so close that the crew of the doomed vessel could see its nemesis preparing to board. At that point, many ships yielded; any that continued to run would be showered with arrows or musket fire and the crew killed. For reasons of economy the great bow guns of the attacking galley were rarely used.

Galleys were raptors, living off weaker and less well armed vessels.

Like the carnivorous dinosaur the war galley dominated its environment. But like the dinosaur, it grew progressively larger and more powerful to compete with its own kind until, like the dinosaur, it became increasingly immobile. The tactical power of the Mediterranean war galley, with the teeth and jaws of Tyrannosaurus Rex, depended on a continuous supply of flesh and blood.

Unless a galley could keep its rowing benches filled it could not survive. Much of the ceaseless raiding and predation was to seize not cargo but manpower. When a Muslim vessel took a Christian ship, all non-Muslims aboard would be immediately enslaved. Often the crew and any passengers would be the most valued prize. Some could be ransomed, and others sold for a good profit in the markets of North Africa or Constantinople.

If a Christian galley intercepted a Muslim ship, exactly the same transactions would take place. All non-Christians would be made prisoner and put to work at the oars. But Spanish, French, and Venetian ships preyed as frequently on the ships of other Christian nations. There were many excuses that would permit a war galley to seize a merchant vessel. They might search a Christian ship for “contraband,” claiming that the crew was trading with an enemy. The Knights of St. John, sailing from their fortress island of Malta, were feared by all, Christian and Muslim alike. If they stopped a Christian ship in eastern waters, they would examine the cargo minutely for anything that could be termed illicit. When lacking anything more obvious, they were in the habit of uncovering “Jewish clothing” during a search, indicating that the ship was trading with the Jewish population of Muslim ports. This justified the expropriation of the whole cargo, and the enslavement of the crew.

A floating fortress, the galleass

A floating fortress, the galleass was the ultimate and unwieldy result of an effort to combine both oars and broadside, taxing human muscle to the limit. Heavy cannon and high bulwarks made them dangerous attackers – and also impossible targets, for if they could not run down an enemy, they had little need to run away from one.
Battle of Lepanto.
If the siphon itself had perished with the fall of Byzantine Empire in 1453, other incendiary weapons had not. Both sides had men trained to throw clay pots filled with flaming oil, animal fat or quick lime to set the enemy decks ablaze or render them perilously slippery. Arms and cannon threw hollow iron balls filled with burning matter onto enemy vessels, and the flaming shower of sparks from the bomba marked the efforts of the Spanish vessels. The galleasses used their oars to wear ship as required to bring their stern, broadside or bow guns to bear on the targets offered, while the great height of their wooden sides rendered them practically immune to Turkish efforts to board them.
The goal of both fleets was to envelop the other, and fierce fighting raged on the flanks of each line. Gunpowder and thick armour began to make a difference in the Christians’ favour. As the Turkish marines perished, another calamity befell their ships. The Christian slaves on the benches of the Turkish fleet began availing themselves of weapons dropped in the carnage and attacking their former masters. While the ships were so embroiled, they lost all propulsion and hope of manoeuvre or escape.
Still the Turks fought on. Ali Pasha’s command squadron forced its way through to a cluster of Christian flagships in the centre of Don Juan’s line. Even the commanders became involved in the fighting: a septuagenarian Venetian nobleman too weak to span his own crossbow picked off individual Turks from the masthead while Ali Pasha himself bent a bow in the final surge of the fighting.
Faced with the very real threat of destruction in the forthcoming battle, the Venetian Republic added a new and innovative element to their preparations. By one recounting, six of the largest merchant galleys in the Venetian state-operated fleet stood by in one of the Arsenal’s storage basins while the preparations for the impending battle reached a fever pitch. It occurred to some inspired soul that these huge vessels could be used to carry freight rather more lethal than their usual cargoes of silks and spices.
No other shipyard in the world could have effected so sudden and drastic a conversion. The traditional emphasis on bow armament shifted under the pressure of necessity. Workman equipped the six galeazas (large galleys), with specialized fighting structures at the bow, the stern and along the sides to hold the largest cannon available from the Republic’s stockpiles. The resulting ‘galleass’ was quite literally a castle on the sea. At the bows of the ships, the high, protected forecastles bristled with cannon. These were balanced by similar armament in the substantial aftercastles. Nine or so periers, or full cannon, jutted out along each side – the guns and their carriages were mounted above, below or even among the oarsmen. On a lighter galley meant for speed and manoeuvre, such weaponry could never have been accommodated. With the creation of the galleass, however, the broadside was born.
Our detailed knowledge of the construction of the galleasses comes from specifications for later versions of these formidable hybrids. These were 49m (160ft) long and 12m (40ft) wide – twice as wide as the lighter galleys. Six men pulled each of the 76 heavy oars, and the decks were protected from boarding by the high freeboard, the long distance from the water to her deck being a difficult obstacle for an attacker to surmount. A galleass’s battery probably contained five or so full cannon firing a ball weighing 501b (22.7kg); two or three 251b (11.3kg) balls; 23 lighter pieces of various sizes and shapes; and around 20 rail-mounted swivel guns, used to slaughter rowers and boarding parties. The heaviest Venetian galleasses could fire some 3251b (147.4kg) of shot in every salvo. Five standard galleys would have been required to carry a similar armament.
The new leviathans did require towing by their smaller counterparts to achieve any sort of speed of manoeuvre – but this was no problem in a large fleet of galleys; the wind could provide the same impetus it gave to Edward III’s cogs at Sluys. Certainly on later examples, three huge lateen sails, each on its own mast, loomed above the deck. The exact size and armament of the six prototype galleasses at Lepanto is not known, but their performance is well documented. The Venetians were about to surprise the Turks.

Submarine Rescue

The US Navy’s Mystic docked to a Los Angeles class attack submarine.

Rescue operations and escapes from sunken submarines have made up an important part of this history of underwater disaster, and rightly so. For it is man’s steadfast fortitude in the face of impossible odds that gives purpose to what would otherwise be no more than a macabre catalogue of material and human destruction.

Until 1939 the United States had, in general, adopted escape routines similar to those employed by the Royal Navy with the emphasis on individual survival. But the success of the Squalus rescue turned thoughts towards multiple escapes with the aid of externally controlled diving bells. And this aspect of underwater survival was given additional impetus in the post-war period with the advent of nuclear-powered vessels and the greater depths at which they are designed to operate. Development, however, was slow. And it was only after a major disaster that the necessary funds were made available.

Within days of the Thresher tragedy a Deep Submergence Systems Review Group was set up to assess the situation and it was given a generous five-year period in which to come up with the answer. Its brief was to ‘develop a deep-submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV) which could operate below the collapse depth of our fleet submarines and which could search for and rescue surviving personnel.’

The value of the bathyscaphe Trieste had already been recognized a number of years before the Thresher went down and the US Navy had purchased the vessel from Professor Auguste Piccard in 1957. Its potential was vividly illustrated in 1960 when it reached a depth of 35,800 feet in the Challenger Deep in the Marianas and it was clear that the new DSRV must be based on a combination of the bathyscaphe and the McCann rescue-bell. By 1966 the Review Group’s plans had matured sufficiently for orders to be placed with Lockheed for the first two Deep Submergence Rescue Vessels. DSRV-1 was laid down on 24 January, 1970.

On delivery in August, 1971, it was found that DSRV-1 had cost a staggering $41,000,000 to develop and it was small consolation that DSRV-2, completed the following year, had halved this prodigious expenditure to a mere $23,000,000. Both vessels carry a crew of three and are capable of lifting twenty-four survivors on each ascent. Like the McCann bell the DSRV seats itself onto a special escape hatch on the submarine’s hull and, thanks to improvements in technology, a watertight coupling can be obtained with the sunken boat listing up to 45° from the horizontal.

The two prototype DSRVs weigh 35 tons, have an overall length of 49.2 feet, and diameter of 8 feet. Their conventional cigar-shaped appearance is misleading, for the onlooker sees only the outer shell. Inside this fibreglass casing are three interconnected spheres made from HY-140 steel which contain the operating crew, the rescue chamber and airlock, and the passenger space. Using a combinatior of propellers and thrusters the vessels can made a 5-knot maximum on their special electric motors and have a diving endurance of 12 hours at 3 knots. Their depth limit is stated to be 5,000 feet.

Unlike the McCann rescue diving-bell, which has itself been updated and can now accommodate eight survivors from a maximum depth of 800 feet, the DSRV is launched from a submerged mother submarine and survivors are transshipped to the parent vessel under water instead of being returned directly to the surface. Both launching and recovery take place at approximately 500 feet but the technical thinking behind this rather unusual system of operation is not known.

It was planned to put six DSRVs into service and they were to be supported by three mother-ships – the submarines Halibut, Finback, and Hawkbill. Two DSRVs were to be based at each of San Diego, Charleston and New London and, in the event of a Subsunk emergency, one vessel would be flown to the mothership nearest to the disaster in a giant Lockheed C-5 jet cargo aircraft backed by a specialized road transport unit.

But despite the grandiose programme set out by the Deep Submergence Systems Review Group only two of the original DSRVs, now named Mystic and Avalon, were built and nothing more has been heard of the other projected units. One reason for this failure to construct any further DSRVs was officially attributed to a cost over-run of 1,500%. Sceptics, however, questioned the value of the DSRV on other grounds, pointing out that as they were intended to operate below the crushing depth of the crippled submarine there were unlikely to be any survivors still alive to be rescued. However, within the limits of safe submergence, that is to say where the hull of the submarine remains intact, there is little doubt that the DSRV will prove to be a useful rescue vehicle, especially at depths below 800 feet, the maximum safe diving limit of the latest McCann-type rescue bell.

As it happens there have been no disasters in recent years to test the practical viability of the DSRV under operational conditions, but in September, 1986, Mystic took part in an exercise off Stavanger during which she evacuated a substantial number of ‘survivors’ from an American submarine as it lay ‘disabled’ on the floor of the Norwegian Sea. The exercise, which included a piggyback ride to the rescue zone by the Mystic clamped to the outer casing of the submarine Billfish, proved a complete success. As similar exercises now take place on a regular basis and include both American and NATO naval forces the prognosis for survival in the event of a major underwater accident is decidedly better than it was even a decade ago.

Until the recent establishment of the UK Submarine Rescue Service the Royal Navy continued to put its trust in the free-escape system and the collapsible twill trunk which, it will be recalled, Ruck-Keene had wanted to scrap nearly fifty years ago. As this history of underwater disasters has demonstrated it is a system that has had both successes and failures. But instruction in free escape procedures still remains an important and integral part of the submarine training programme at Fort Blockhouse where every prospective submariner is required to make a free ascent in the escape tank that forms such a prominent feature of the Gosport landscape. Training is for real and, although all possible safety precautions are taken, the occasional tragic accident still occurs. And even as these words are being written British newspapers are carrying reports of a fatality during a routine underwater escape simulation in the Fort Blockhouse training tank.*

Immersion suits have been updated in design and remain standard issue, and it is interesting to note that Britain’s first nuclear submarine, Dreadnought, was designed to incorporate one-man escape chambers similar in concept to those suggested by the Ruck-Keene Committee back in 1946. Clearly, even at that time, individual escape was still the Admiralty’s preferred policy in the event of an underwater accident.

Until recently the only significant change in the Royal Navy’s approach to submarine survival was the switch to BIBS – Built-in Breathing System – similar in principle to Momsen’s pre-war central oxygen manifold pioneered by the US Navy. This obviates the necessity for individual breathing apparatus and is intended for use during the dangerous flooding-up period. A mixture composed of 60% oxygen and 40% nitrogen is fed into the central manifold from pressurised cylinders and survivors can draw their requirements through flexible rubber mouthpieces. A demand valve ensures that the mixture is not wasted and there is also provision to tap into the manifold for the inflation of life-jackets.

But despite the elaborate equipment and the rigorous training that goes with it, the free-escape method is of doubtful utility at depths approaching 300 feet. And it needs hardly be added that most nuclear submarines habitually operate a depths far below 300 feet.

The Royal Navy, however, is now following in the footsteps of its American cousin and since 1983 has retained on permenant contract a manned submersible, LR5, owned by a commercial company, Cable & Wireless Marine, with technological backing from another private concern, Rumic Ltd. LR5 is 9.8 metres in length and has a beam of 3 metres. Its pressure hull is constructed from glass-reinforced plastic and it is powered by a 10 HP 120-volt DC motor with an endurance range of six to ten hours and a maximum speed of two knots. The vessel’s four-man crew are all civilian specialists.

LR5 is intended to form an integral part of the NATO submarine rescue organization and may find itself working alongside the Italian mini-submersible MSM1 or one of the American DSRVs. In addition to this manned submersible the Royal Navy also owns and operates Scorpio 45, a remotely controlled unmanned underwater vehicle whose primary function is to carry out television and video surveys of a sunken submarine and to transfer life-support stores and equipment to survivors via the boat’s escape hatch. Such stores would include oxygen candles and carbon-dioxide absorbant to keep the air inside the submarine breathable for the duration of the rescue operation.

The Royal Navy’s Submarine Escape and Rescue Project only came into being in 1992 and at this early stage it is not possible to provide a detailed account of its work. Its stated purpose is to support the Flag Officer Submarines and the Submarine Escape Training Tank at Fort Blockhouse (HMS Dolphin); to provide rescue facilities and develop escape and rescue equipment; and to act as the focal point for all operational and material aspects of submarine rescue. Suffice it to say that the establishment of such a service by the Ministry of Defence Support Command demonstrates that the authorities now recognize the need for instant response and the application of advanced technology in the pursuit of submarine safety. And so far as the Royal Navy and NATO are concerned it augers well for the future.

Before closing this review of the latest developments it must be added that several other navies are now organizing search and rescue systems on the lines of those being pioneered by Britain and the United States. Italy, as befits the nation that first created the mini-submarine and the human torpedo, has its own submersible MSM1; Russia and Japan are both building their own DSRVs; while Korea is procuring an LR5K from Britain. Australia, Libya, Finland, Pakistan and Taiwan are all in the process of acquiring some form of underwater rescue vehicle in the near future.


Despite the end of the Cold War there are still some 30,000 men living and working beneath the surface of the sea every hour of the day and night as the submarines of the world’s navies ply their lawful occasions. At this precise moment submarines are cruising beneath the icecaps of the North Pole seeking each other out in a monstrous game of hide-and-seek. Others are stalking the depths of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans ready to release their megaton missiles on receipt of a coded signal from Washington, Moscow, London, Paris and, in all probability, Beijing. Still more are nosing the warm waters of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, patrolling the coastlines of Latin America, guarding the shipping routes of southern Africa, moving stealthily through the China Sea and carefully quartering the vast wastes of the Indian Ocean.

All, regardless of nationality, run the same risks of death and disaster. For the submariner of 1995 shares the self-same dangers as the submariner of 1905. And like his predecessors in history he carries out his duties with the same dedicated vigilance remembering always that ‘a trifling mistake can be a possible cause of serious danger’.

In the words of the old naval prayer: Deliver us, O Lord, from the perils of the sea and the violence of the enemy. As we recall the disasters of the past let us all say a fervent amen to that.