‘X Lighters’

A number [100] of large purpose-built `X Lighters’ had been developed by the Navy in the First World War and these contributed to the landings at Suvla Bay in 1915.

Although something of a military sideshow, the campaign at Gallipoli also made a contribution to the acceptance of the internal combustion engine for marine use. Anticipating the need to land troops and equipment on beaches here and elsewhere, the British Admiralty ordered large numbers of small landing craft. To ensure a shallow draught, these X-lighters were fitted with lightweight motors, many being hot-bulb engines. After the war, these X-lighters were sold off and many were converted for commercial use, giving some British coastal shipowners their first experience of the motor vessel.

The search for a more suitable landing craft continued after the war and this requirement was consistently emphasised in exercise reports. In the 1920s an inter-service Landing Craft Committee was established to study the design and number of craft required to conduct a landing on a hostile shore. Their first attempt at a landing craft was the Motor Landing Craft (MLC(1)) completed in 1926. This craft was not a success and was followed in 1928 by the MLC(10). The MLC(10) was a flat-bottomed craft powered by a water jet. It could embark 100 troops or a 12-ton tank, discharging them directly onto the beach via a steep bow ramp. The water jet gave it a relatively slow speed of only 5 knots and the boat’s flat bottom and bow ramp made it rather unseaworthy, handicaps that are common in modern amphibious craft. By 1934 the MLC had been thoroughly tested in a series of exercises and the design proved satisfactory. Two more vessels were procured and these were joined by six more, ordered as a result of the 1936 Abyssinian crisis.

X-Lighters in WWI and at Gallipoli

X Lighters

Displacement 200 tons
 Dimensions  105ft 6″ x 21 x 7ft 6″
 Guns Unarmed (The crew may have had side arms for self-defence or covering fire on the beaches)
 Machinery  steam or diesel engines, speed 8 kts
 Crew  4
 Builders  various
 Laid Down  1915
 Completed  1915- 18

American Civil War Ironclads

At the outset both sides were militarily weak. The North did have a clear advantage at sea, although its widely scattered force of 80 warships was totally inadequate for what lay ahead. On 19 April Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles launched a major construction program, which included ironclads. Washington also purchased civilian ships of all types, many of them steamers, for blockade duty.

In April 1861, upon the secession of Virginia, the South gained control of the largest prewar U. S. Navy yard at Gosport (Norfolk) along with 1,200 heavy guns, valuable naval stores, and some vessels. Among the latter was the powerful modern steam frigate Merrimack. Set on fire by retreating Union forces, she burned only to the waterline before sinking. The Confederates raised her and rebuilt her as the ironclad Virginia. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory hoped to offset the Northern naval advantage by ironclad warships capable of breaking the blockade, and he advocated commerce raiding, the traditional course of action of a weaker naval power against a nation with a vulnerable merchant marine. Mallory hoped to drive up insurance costs, weaken Northern resolve, and force the U. S. Navy to shift warships from blockade duties

Each side also constructed ironclads. The first were actually built by the Union to help secure control of America’s great interior rivers. Thanks to its superior manufacturing resources, the Union got its river fleet built quickly. In August 1861 the army ordered seven ironclad gunboats. Constructed by James B. Eads, they were the first purpose-built ironclad warships in the Western Hemisphere.

The so-called Peninsula Campaign set up history’s first battle between ironclads. On 8 March 1862 the Confederate ironclad Virginia sortied from Norfolk and sank two Union warships. That evening the Union ironclad Monitor arrived, and the next day the two fought an inconclusive battle, which nonetheless left Union forces in control of Hampton Roads. “Monitor fever” now swept the North, which built more than 50 warships of this type. The Confederates countered with casemated vessels along the lines of the Virginia, the best known of these being the Arkansas, Manassas, Atlanta, Nashville, and Tennessee. Also, the Confederacy secretly contracted in Britain for two powerful seagoing ironclad ships. These so-called Laird Rams were turreted vessels superior to any U. S. Navy warship, but when the war shifted decisively in favor of the Union the British government took them over.

Union Monitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confederate Ironclads

Confederate secretary of the navy Stephen Mallory also wanted another type of ship for something far different from commerce raiding, one inspired by the old ship-of-the-line but possessed of some modern twists: an ironclad, steam-powered warship with rifled guns. He believed technological superiority would allow the South to overcome the disparity in numbers. “Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the United States,” Mallory insisted, “prevent all blockades, and encounter, with a fair prospect of success, their entire navy.” They would allow the South to seize the naval initiative from its hidebound opponent. He eventually followed two routes to obtaining ironclads—buying them abroad and building them at home.

The Confederate Congress proved very receptive to Mallory’s ideas, voting $3 million to buy warships, including $2 million for ironclads. Mallory dispatched Lieutenant James North to Europe with instructions to try to buy a ship of the Gloire class, the innovative French ironclad commissioned in 1858. If this proved impossible, he should try to have one built. North, though, proved more interested in sightseeing than in doing his job. Mallory’s agents tried buying ironclads in Europe from May to July 1861, without success. The Confederate navy secretary decided to build them at home and signed deals for a few ships.26 Mallory also decided to build flotillas at various ports for their defense and gunboats for the Mississippi.

Building ironclads consumed most of the South’s naval effort. Mallory began studying the possibility of their construction in Southern yards in early June 1861. The first one arose from the burnt-out hulk of the USS Merrimack at Hampton Roads. The Confederacy had to do it this way because the South lacked the ability to build the ship it wanted from scratch. Mallory planned to use this new vessel, which became CSS Virginia, to clear the Union navy from Hampton Roads and Virginia’s ports. He generally believed that ironclad rams (which Virginia became) would be most useful for coastal defense. By late 1861, the Confederates had five ironclads in the works.

The Confederacy built ironclads to compensate for the enemy’s great numbers of warships. The South could not build oceangoing armored ships like Britain’s Warrior and France’s Gloire, but it could build slower, coastal ones like Virginia. These would, Mallory insisted, “enable us with a small number of vessels comparatively to keep our waters free from the enemy and ultimately to contest with them the possession of his own.” Mallory envisioned great but ultimately unrealistic achievements for Virginia. He believed that with a calm sea it could sail up the coast and attack New York City, causing such a panic that it would end the war. The Virginia’s success at Hampton Roads—ramming and sinking the USS Cumberland, then setting ablaze and driving aground the USS Congress—spurred Mallory to press the building of the CSS Louisiana in New Orleans, remarking that the “ship, if completed, would raise the blockade of every Gulf port in 10 days.”


Royal Navy Ships 1714–1815 I

It was for long an article of faith among naval historians that eighteenth-century British warships were inferior to their French and Spanish opponents, because British shipwrights remained wedded to craft traditions, while their Continental rivals were men of education who applied mathematics and science to the solution of their problems. This judgement flattered, and sometimes still flatters, a range of agreeable prejudices. It fitted the eighteenth-century upper classes’ admiration for France as the home of social glamour and prestige. It expressed British sea officers’ conviction that as men of honour they were both morally and practically superior to civilian technicians; it magnified their courage and judgement when they won, and excused their failures when they lost. It also increased their earnings when they were trying to sell their prizes to the Navy Board with a glowing endorsement of their virtues.

There are, nevertheless, several good reasons to reject the inferiority of British design out of hand. It is essentially an explanation of how France and Spain won the naval wars – which is not what we need to explain. In the century from 1714 more than half of all French warships (ships of the line and frigates) ended their careers sunk or captured, and the proportion rose steadily. In just over twenty years of warfare from 1793 to 1815, the French built 133 ships of the line and 127 frigates; and lost 112 and 126 respectively to enemy action or stress of weather. On average they lost a ship a month for twenty years. At first sight this does not suggest superior design. Moreover the comparison between ‘good’ French and ‘bad’ British design rests on the naive assumption that the two were directly comparable, that British and French designers were building the same size and types of ship, to fulfil the same functions – in other words that the strategic situations of the two countries were the same. This in fact is what many naval historians do assume: that the Bourbon powers, and subsequently Revolutionary and Imperial France, built their navies, and had to build their navies, to mount a frontal challenge to Britain for command of the sea, so that the opposing fleets may be considered as mirror images of one another. Command of the sea was the only thing worth striving for in the ‘Second Hundred Years’ War’, and Britain was the only enemy worth mentioning: in this view the historical function of the French and Spanish navies was to provide the Royal Navy with suitable opponents. These assumptions are extremely unsafe. As we have seen, there are good grounds for thinking that Maurepas and Patino were not planning to fight pitched battles with the British, and did not need ships designed for that purpose. The proper question to ask of all ship designs is not how well they compared with one another, but how well they corresponded to each country’s strategic priorities, and how wisely those priorities had been chosen.

Nor is it very useful to ask how ‘scientific’ the designs and designers of different countries were. It is still possible to encounter historians who put weight on the changing titles of the shipbuilders. In France ‘master carpenters’ (maîtres charpentiers) became ‘master constructors’ (maîtres constructeurs) and then simply ‘constructors’, before advancing to ‘constructor-engineers’ (ingénieurs-constructeurs) and finally becoming known as ‘naval architects’ (architectes navales), whereas in Britain warships were still being designed in the mid-nineteenth century by persons styled ‘master shipwrights’. The retention of a name drawn from the vulgar tongue, it is implied, must obviously indicate an unlettered craftsman confined to traditional rules, while a name derived from Latin must bespeak logic and education, and one based on Greek marks the summit of enlightened science. Perhaps it is still necessary to point out that the different titles of shipbuilders tell us something about their social aspirations, but nothing whatever about their working methods. Though British ship designers, like British professionals in comparable subjects such as architecture and engineering, continued to learn their business by apprenticeship until well into the nineteenth century, and though they were expected to spend a period working with their tools to understand the fundamentals of shipwrightry, the training they received in the mould lofts and drawing offices of the dockyards seems to have been in most respects as sophisticated as anything available in France.

There was, however, a real and important difference between Britain and France in attitudes towards ‘natural philosophy’, meaning science and fundamental knowledge in general. Mathematics lay at the heart of contemporary science, but mathematics was not an intellectually or socially neutral language. The mathematics of the ‘philosopher’ was pure mathematics: geometry, algebra, calculus. It was pure because it was abstract, and because it was essential to true science, that process of deriving universal truths from first principles, which Cartesianism prescribed. In social terms, this was the mathematics of the gentleman; one fully qualified for philosophy because he had no necessity to earn a living. It was very different from the vulgar utility of what in English was called ‘mixed mathematics’, the working calculations of men who had to work: men like bankers, tradesmen and navigators. The primacy of theory over practice, and of science over technology, was characteristic of France in the eighteenth century. The philosopher-mathematician alone was qualified to unravel the knottiest problems, and by tracing the fundamental machinery of nature he demonstrated his superior intellectual and social standing. ‘Tracing’ is the precise word, for geometry was a pure form of pure mathematics, and those whose subject could be expressed in geometrical terms enjoyed the highest scientific standing. It was a fundamental article of the Enlightenment faith that the philosopher was entitled and obliged to correct the work of the craftsman – this indeed was part of the official duties of the French Académie Royale des Sciences. As philosophers, gentlemen and mathematicians, its members were necessarily superior to mere practical experience. In naval architecture as in other domains, it was the duty of officers and philosophers to correct the vulgar errors of the shipwrights, by the application of pure mathematics.

The result was a series of studies by Leonhard Euler, Pierre Bouguer and others, deriving their prestige precisely from their remoteness from practical shipbuilding. The foundations they laid were built upon over the next two centuries to develop the modern science of naval architecture, but in the eighteenth century they had little to offer the shipwright. Most of their effort was devoted to the fashionable subject of hydrodynamics, and particularly the problem of the resistance of water to a moving hull, but since they ignored the existence of skin friction, which we now know to constitute virtually the whole of resistance at the speeds of which these ships were capable, their work had no practical value. More useful study was devoted to hydrostatics, which yielded the important definition of the metacentre, but French efforts to apply it in practice were not uniformly successful. The Scipion, Hercule and Pluton, launched at Rochefort in 1778 by Francois-Guillaume Clairin-Deslauriers, were among the first large French warships to have been designed on the basis of stability calculations. Unfortunately the sums were wrong, and the ships were too tender to carry sail. Much of their stowage had to be replaced by ballast before they could go to sea, sharply reducing their usefulness. Whatever else ‘science’ may have been doing in the eighteenth century, it was not an unmixed blessing to French naval architects.

One further general point about warship design needs to be made. Though ships may not have been directly comparable, naval architecture was highly competitive. Constructors constantly studied the designs of rivals at home and abroad, looking for ideas to borrow. In France and the Netherlands, so much less centralized in naval administration than Britain, these comparisons were often internal, between the rival traditions of the Mediterranean and Atlantic yards of France, and the admiralties of the United Provinces, but everywhere they were also international. All European navies were deeply involved in technical espionage, and in peacetime the French navy made a practice of sending its most talented constructors on extended visits to foreign, especially British, ports to learn everything they could. There is a particularly full and impressive report from the 1737 visit of Blaise Ollivier, master shipwright of Brest, with detailed comments on British and Dutch shipbuilding practice, much of which he admired and some of which he copied. All the European navies engaged in similar activities. In wartime they studied prizes; in peacetime they fished in the international market for warship designers. In 1727 the Admiralty of Amsterdam secured the services of three English shipwrights, with whose help it adopted ‘English-style’ designs – though naturally Rotterdam and Zealand declined to follow suit. In 1748 Ensenada, preparing to reform Spanish naval construction, sent Captain Jorge Juan on a major mission of industrial espionage to England. ‘His journey will be most useful to us,’ the minister wrote, ‘for in technical matters we are extremely ignorant, and what is worse, without realizing it.’ Juan returned with both information and a considerable number of shipwrights and artificers for the Spanish yards. English or Irish shipwrights became master shipwrights of Cadiz, Havana, Cartagena, Guarnizo and Ferrol. Throughout the eighteenth century the Danish navy, undoubtedly the world leader in technical intelligence, systematically collected copies of secret warship designs from every admiralty in Europe.

What seems to have been rare if not completely unknown in any navy was the literal copying of complete designs. Though statesmen and sea officers, impressed by foreign ships and ignorant of naval architecture, sometimes ordered ships to be built after the lines of a prize, it was in practice difficult if not impossible to do so. British hulls, for example, were more heavily timbered than French, so that a ship built in a British dockyard to the exact lines of a French design would displace more and float deeper. To maintain the same draught and freeboard, the British designer would have to adjust the lines, and so the ship would no longer be the same. In such cases the British designer might allow his superiors to believe that he had ‘copied’ a French design, or he might attempt to educate them in the complexities of naval architecture. Besides the lines, many other aspects of a foreign design would be changed to reflect British practice and requirements. The result might be a ship greatly influenced by foreign models, but it was never a slavish copy.

All these general considerations form a necessary background to any history of British warship design in the eighteenth century, but for thirty years, from the accession of George I in 1714 to the outbreak of war with France in 1744, British warships evolved slowly with little influence from outside. There were no Parliamentary votes for shipbuilding, so the practice of ’great rebuilds’ continued, though some of these ‘rebuilt’ ships were constructed years after their former selves had been broken up, in different dockyards, and without necessarily using any old timbers. The 1719 Establishment in principle dictated dimensions in detail, but in practice there seems to have been a slow but steady growth in dimensions. Some ships were built to the Admiralty’s 1733 proposal for a new and larger establishment, though it was never officially adopted, and the Ordnance Board blocked the heavier armaments which the Admiralty also wanted. Then the capture of the Spanish seventy-gun Princesa in April 1740, which took three British seventies six hours of hard fighting, caused considerable shock in Britain, and led to the adoption of a slightly larger 1741 Establishment, in conjunction with the heavier 1733 armament scheme. Soon afterwards the outbreak of the French war brought further shocks.

The main conservative forces affecting the British fleet were political and financial rather than technical. Neither the Navy nor Ordnance Board was enthusiastic about novelties which Parliament was not likely to favour, and still less likely to pay for. The Walpole administration kept up a large fleet, on paper and to a considerable extent in reality, and no one in the political world looked beyond numbers of ships to consider issues of quality and size. The Establishments were more an expression of this situation than an obstacle in themselves. The redoubtable Sir Jacob Acworth, Surveyor of the Navy from 1715 to 1749, did not take kindly to interference in the Navy Board’s business. ‘I have been in the Service fifty-seven years,’ he commented in April 1740 on complaints from Mathews,

and remember that the ships in King Charles’s time always decayed as fast, I am sure much faster, than they do now. But at that time, and long since, officers were glad to go to sea and would not suffer their ships to be complained of and torn to pieces in search for hidden defects.

The admirals resented it, and many would have agreed with Vernon that ‘the arbitrary power a half-experienced and half-judicious Surveyor of the Navy had been entrusted with had in my opinion half ruined the Navy’. But Acworth was no unthinking reactionary. He designed a number of ships whose underwater lines were based on theoretical concepts developed by Sir Isaac Newton. They were not a great success – a little more conservatism might have spared the Navy an unhelpful intervention from abstract science – but in many respects Acworth was a designer of talent. His ideas about the unhappy three-decker eighty-gun ships of the 1690s, and indeed about all the older British designs, stressed the importance of reducing topweight to improve stability and weatherliness. This was completely sound, and the admirals’ reactions may not have been unconnected with the fact that the tophamper Acworth wanted to remove consisted largely of their cabins.

The Bedford Admiralty arrived in December 1744 determined to reform British ship design together with everything else. Their chosen instrument of reform was a committee of senior officers under the chairmanship of Sir John Norris, directed to draw up a new establishment, and specifically to replace the three-decker eighties with a two-decker seventy-four-gun design. Although the committee consisted mainly of members of the Board or known opponents of Acworth, it was entirely dependent on him and the master shipwrights for technical advice, and proved as much a brake as a spur to progress. It moved some way in the direction of greater size, but flatly refused to abandon the small three-decker. The ships of the 1745 Establishment turned out to share many of the deficiencies of their predecessors: cramped, crank, overgunned and leewardly.

This impasse was broken by the sensation caused by the prizes of the two battles of Finisterre, above all the new French seventy-four Invincible. Maurepas’ new fleet was built around these seventy-four-gun two-deckers, with a lower-deck battery of twenty-eight 36-pounders and a main-deck battery of thirty 18-pounders. Though the Invincible was by no means the largest in her class (the Magnanime, taken next year, was considerably bigger) she was 50 per cent larger in tonnage than the standard British seventy-gun Third Rate, and fired a broadside 75 per cent heavier. The differences between these British and French ships arose almost entirely from the difference of size. Naval architecture is a question of balance: if two competent designers build rival ships of the same tonnage and type, one can only gain a marked advantage in any one quality, such as speed or armament, by sacrificing the others. Even a modest increase in size, however, permits a significant improvement in quality all round, and a 50 per cent increase ought to translate into overwhelming superiority. But increased size naturally means increased cost. British naval agitation to match or copy French designs was not so much a technical as a political campaign, directed at Parliament, to finance bigger and more expensive ships.

The Finisterre victories came too late in the war to have an immediate effect, but in 1750 the Sandwich Admiralty secured the Privy Council’s authorization to vary the 1745 Establishment as they thought fit, which effectively marks the end of the British shipbuilding establishments. In 1755, just as the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War released the Navy Estimates from peacetime financial limits, Anson was able to appoint a Surveyor of the Navy of his own mind, Sir Thomas Slade. From this date the Navy was in process of rapid transformation into a superficially French-style line of battle based on seventy-four-gun two-deckers.

There remained important differences, however, between British and French warships. British ships continued to be somewhat smaller in tonnage and shorter, but more heavily timbered and fastened. Their rig and lines performed best in going to windward, and in heavy weather. They were built to stand the strain of prolonged sea-time at all seasons, they were stored for long cruises, and they were built to fight. They were also built to last; relatively cheap to construct and maintain, they were the rational choice of a navy which meant to surpass its enemies both in numbers and in stamina. Their rig, masts, sails, cordage, blocks, pumps, cables, steering gear and fittings of every kind were greatly superior in design and quality. French ships of all classes were lightly built of inferior timber, fastened with nails instead of trenails, but their very long hulls were highly stressed in a seaway. In fine weather these ‘battle-cruisers’ with their long hulls and taunt rigs were fast off the wind, but their performance fell off rapidly when close hauled, or when wind and sea rose. What was worse French designers seem to have had something of an obsession with reducing the depth and weight of the hull, which made their ships light and buoyant, but directly weakened resistance to hogging, sagging and racking strains. Worst of all they actually believed that the working of the timbers increased the speed of the ship. Consequently these ships had high building costs, high maintenance costs and short working lives, which made France’s low investment in docks and yards all the more expensive. In close action French ships with their light scantlings were a death trap.

Some French observers were aware of some of the deficiencies of their designs. A warship, one constructor declared,

ought to be fast, so everything is normally sacrificed to that. They are lightly timbered in order to be buoyant and carry their guns high; they have fewer and weaker fastenings because the play of the timbers makes for speed… it is to be feared that these principles lead the king’s constructors to build ships of the line which lack some of the qualities of a real man-of-war. They are afraid of losing their reputations, because the height of success for them is a fast ship which carries her guns high.

French dockyard officers had to pick up the pieces, literally. The constructors, complained the comte de Roquefeuil, commanding at Brest in 1771,

are all frauds. They build ships which are very light, very long and very weakly fastened because they sacrifice everything to speed and that is the way to get it. The first cruise gives the ship and her builder their reputation… [afterwards] we have to rebuild them here at great expense for a second commission by which time they have lost their boasted speed.

It is not even clear that sacrificing so much to hull forms which were fast in certain circumstances was actually the best way to get high speed in practice. Modern studies suggest that the possible differences in hull form, within the inherent limitations of wooden ship construction, cannot account for the wide differences in recorded performance. The smoothness of the underwater hull, which was a matter of cleaning or coppering (and hence of docks), and the infinite variations of rig and trim which were under the captain’s control, were almost certainly worth more. This explains how frequently British ships were able to catch French ones even in conditions which should have favoured them, and why French prizes taken into British service seem generally to have been faster after capture than before. Moreover prizes were usually significantly altered. The ships were always rerigged and rearmed, and the holds (especially of frigates) were rebuilt to give increased stowage to allow for prolonged cruising. The hanging of the decks, the siting of hatchways and magazines, the stowage of boats and booms, the position and design of pumps and capstans were often changed. These alterations produced substantially different ships.

Mention of frigates calls us back to the other important innovation in mid-eighteenth-century warship design. The new French battle-fleet of two-decker sixty-fours, seventy-fours and eighties were unquestionably built to a common plan imposed from Versailles, though the actual hull designs differed from yard to yard. Small cruisers, however, were beneath the minister’s notice, and the constructors were left to build more or less what they thought fit. It seems therefore that the Médée of 1740, commonly regarded as the first of the ‘true’ or classic frigate type which formed so prominent a part of all navies by the late eighteenth century, was a product of Ollivier’s unaided genius. The essence of the frigate in this sense was a small two-decker cruising warship mounting no guns on the lower deck. This made it possible to carry a battery of relatively heavy pieces on the main deck, high above the waterline, where they could be fought in bad weather, as well as lighter guns on quarterdeck and forecastle. This general arrangement was not new, in French or British service. In 1689 Torrington had proposed

that these new frigates should for rendering them more useful for their Majesty’s service, be built in such a manner that they should have but one size of ordnance flush, and that to be upon the upper deck, whereby they will be able to carry them out in all weathers.

The resulting class of Fifth Rates were soon overloaded with guns, in the British style. They were succeeded in 1719 by a class of Sixth Rates carrying a battery of twenty 6-pounders (ten ports a side) in the same arrangement, but they too tended to become overloaded with guns as British officers watched with concern the growth in the power and size of foreign warships. When the outbreak of war with France in 1744 exposed British trade to attack by French warships and privateers, the small, slow and cramped British cruisers aroused widespread dissatisfaction in the Navy. Once again it was French prizes which provided the leverage to dislodge the Navy Board’s opposition. ‘As all our frigates sail wretchedly,’ Anson wrote to Bedford in April 1747,

I entreat your Grace that an order may be immediately sent from your Board to the Navy Board to direct Mr Slade the Builder at Plymouth to take off the body of the French Tyger with the utmost exactness, and that two frigates may be ordered to be built with all possible dispatch, of her dimensions and as similar to her as the builder’s art will allow; let Slade have the building of one of them.

The Navy Board mounted a stout defence of the small forty-gun two-decker as superior to French cruisers like the privateer Tigre to which Anson referred, and they had some grounds to do so, for the French designs had all the characteristic French weaknesses, being very long and flimsy. When Ollivier’s Médée was taken in 1744 the Navy Board refused to buy her, so she was sold as a privateer, and soon afterwards fell apart in the open sea. This was not what the Navy wanted, and in spite of Anson’s request for exact copies of a prize, this was not what it got. The visible superiority of French cruisers, at least in speed, provided the Bedford Board with the leverage it needed to overcome the Navy Board’s resistance, and the co-operation of dockyard shipwrights of a younger generation than Acworth provided the technical backing – but what they produced were not exact copies of French designs. It is clear from the surviving correspondence that during the 1740s the shipwrights were carefully comparing prizes with the fastest existing British designs (notably the yacht Royal Caroline), and using the untutored enthusiasm of Anson and his colleagues to back a move from the old short two-deckers to the first British ‘true frigates’, with longer hulls (eleven or twelve ports a side) giving a twenty-two or twenty-four-gun battery, initially of 9-pounders. These very successful ships were inspired by French prizes in a political as much as a technical sense. The differences of British from French design philosophy and performance were even clearer in the case of frigates than of ships of the line.

Using the standard shorthand method by which all navies classified their ships by the number of guns, the early British frigate classes were mostly twenty-eights, which were followed in the Seven Years’ War by thirty-twos. In the case of frigates, however, the number of guns is not a good measure, partly because it included the light guns on quarterdeck and forecastle which could easily be changed, but mainly because it concealed the most important factor, the calibre of the main battery. Though a thirty-two does not sound much more powerful than a twenty-eight, the twenty-eights had a 9-pounder main armament and the thirty-twos, 12-pounders, giving a broadside 50 per cent heavier. These ships in turn were followed in the American War by the first 18-pounder frigates, rated as thirty-sixes or thirty-eights, but with more than double the broadside of the twenty-eights. It is therefore most useful to refer to frigates, as many contemporaries did, by their main battery calibre, and especially to distinguish the 18-pounder ‘heavy frigates’ from their predecessors.

The smaller cruisers known as sloops developed in parallel with the frigate, of which they were essentially miniature versions with one less deck, carrying their battery on the open upper deck. By the time of the American War many of the smaller sloops were rigged as brigs rather than ships. The two-masted rig economized significantly in manpower and was perfectly satisfactory for most purposes, though more vulnerable to damage in action. As an alternative it was possible to rig vessels of this size (200 tons or so) as cutters or schooners, which were even more economical in manpower, but whose very big sails required expert handling. Smallest of all sea-going warships were the gunbrigs and gunboats, built in considerable numbers for Channel patrols and local defence during the Great Wars.

Royal Navy Ships 1714–1815 II

HMS Victory 104-guns on ‘The Fleet Offshore’, 1780-90, an anonymous piece of folk art now at Compton Verney.

The Royal Navy’s transformation in the 1750s and 1760s into a superficially French-style fleet based on seventy-four-gun line-of-battle ships and 12-pounder frigates was a belated recognition that the Dutch Wars were over. Political rather than technical weakness had arrested, or at least slowed, the evolution of British warships into types suitable for the oceanic warfare of the eighteenth century. The ships which Sir Thomas Slade designed during his fifteen years as Surveyor (1755–1771) were admirably adapted to Britain’s strategic requirements. Seaworthy, weatherly and tough, with stowage for long cruises, they were the ships needed to dominate European waters in all weathers, and to reach out if necessary to distant waters. By common consent, Slade was the greatest British naval architect of the century. His First Rate the Victory, one of the fastest three-deckers in the world, was the darling of British admirals for half a century, constantly kept in repair when a lesser ship might have been broken up and replaced. The Navy was still building ships to Slade’s designs well into the nineteenth century, and it was generally agreed (even by themselves) that his successors, though competent designers, never matched his genius.

It is important to understand, however, that at no stage from the 1750s was the Navy building as many ships as it needed. As the century progressed and the dockyards came to be devoted almost completely to repairs, prizes made an essential contribution to keeping up the numbers of the Royal Navy. Even if French ships were unsatisfactory, it was necessary to use them, and the Navy Board reduced its prices in proportion to their lower usefulness. There was moreover a high political value in filling one’s fleet with obviously foreign names, every one an advertisement for a victory. Many of these names became traditional in British service, even names like Foudroyant and Téméraire which mean nothing in English. At this day (2004) the Royal Navy still has three ships in service named after Louis XIV.

While the British were evolving new warship designs with the help of foreign borrowings, the Spanish navy was doing the same. The English and Irish constructors recruited in the 1740s were replaced twenty years later by French builders, as Spain’s foreign policy became aligned with France’s, and they in turn were succeeded in the 1780s by Spanish naval architects whose products were regarded by many British officers as the finest in the world. Spanish ships of the line were big, handsome, very well built and long-lasting, though not particularly fast. Meanwhile the French navy was not evolving. In the American War France had succeeded for the first time in imposing the sort of long-range cruising war, with a maximum of movement and a minimum of fighting, which favoured French designs. This confirmed the French navy’s already high sense of the superiority of its ships, and led in 1786 to the adoption of what amounted to an establishment, fixing the designs of all French warships. This was a political and scientific rather than technical or administrative move, the ultimate triumph of the gentleman philosopher (in this case the ex-artillery officer and geometer the chevalier de Borda) over the dockyard shipwrights. Borda could not design a ship himself, but he found a talented young constructor in need of a patron, Jacques-Noel Sané, who was ready to do what he was told. The Borda-Sané ‘establishment’ ossified French warship design into the 1820s.

Only a few French experts seem to have had some awareness of the dangers of immobility. Captain the comte de Kersaint, who visited England in 1785, urged that:

We must copy the workmanship of their shipwrights whose exact joints contribute so much to the longevity of their ships; we must copy the seamanlike proportions of their masts, the cut of their staysails, the strength of their rigging, the perfection of their blocks and cordage. We need their capstans, their cables, above all their anchors which hold better than ours. We must study their shiphandling, and copy their distribution of men for working ship. We must try to adopt their discipline and internal organization, that spirit of order and obedience without which there can be no navy or army.

Sané’s rival Pierre-Alexandre Forfait, who was in England in 1788, admired many details of British shipbuilders’ work, and regarded them as ‘more expert than ours’ in construction, if not design. He was especially dissatisfied with the extremely taunt French rigs, which were demanding in manpower, and destructive of the seakeeping, stability and weatherliness of the ships. All this was true, but the official Borda-Sané line was that the French navy had achieved perfection, and nothing could or should be changed. On a summer’s day in light airs a French ship fresh off the stocks still showed to fine advantage: ‘I never saw vessels sail as they,’ as Captain Lord Cochrane wrote to his commander-in-chief, explaining how his sloop had been captured: ‘everything is calculated for the Mediterranean, light sails, small ropes, prodigious masts and yards…’ – but this was a recipe for disaster in heavy weather.

The transformation of the British fleet in the mid-century required something like a revolution in attitudes. Afterwards, the Admiralty and Navy Board seem to have been more open to technical innovations great and small, including new types of ship and vessel. The 1757 landings on the coast of France, for example, revealed that ships’ boats were inadequate for large troop landings. On 7 April 1758 the Admiralty approved a design for a new type of ‘flat-bottom boat’ or landing craft. On the 26th the Board saw the first boat in action at Woolwich, and ordered twenty to be built for the forthcoming expedition. On 23 May the flat-boats were ready at Portsmouth, and on 8 June they led the landing at Cancale. From the issuing of the first sketch design for the new type to its first use in action had taken two months. These flat boats became a standard part of the equipment of all British amphibious operations.

In guns, as we have seen, the Ordnance Board grappled for much of the century with the problems of poor design, compounded by the industrial and technical consequences of the collapse of the Wealden iron foundries. There was no change in the basic patterns of naval guns until the American War, but there was a valuable technical innovation: gunlocks. Great guns had been fired since the sixteenth century with a linstock, which was a length of burning slowmatch held in a stick. Having pierced the cartridge in the gun, and poured priming powder into the touch-hole, the gun-captain touched his linstock to the priming powder to fire the gun. This was slow and dangerous and made accurate shooting from a moving ship impossible since the gun had to be fired from the side and did not reliably go off at once. Gunlocks were first issued not later than 1745, but spread only slowly, mainly it seems because they could not be fitted to the older patterns of gun. As late as the American War it seems to have been unusual for a ship’s whole armament to be fitted with locks. The gunlock, which was simply a modified form of the firing mechanism of a flintlock musket, was used in conjunction with a quill or tin tube filled with priming powder, which was pushed down the touch-hole to pierce the cartridge. With no loose priming powder the process of priming was quicker and safer, and the gun could be fired with a lanyard by the gun-captain standing in the rear, beyond the recoil but positioned to sight along the gun. This was an important aid to fast and disciplined firing, still not generally adopted in the French navy at the time of Trafalgar.

The first important innovation in gun design was also introduced during the American War. One of the new foundries established in the 1760s, at Carron, near Falkirk, developed an entirely new type of gun intended for the defence of merchant ships. The ‘carronade’ was a short, light gun with a large calibre but a very small charge. It could easily be handled by a few men, the small charge meant low recoil forces and allowed a simple swivel mounting, and at short range the large shot with low muzzle velocity had a formidable ‘smashing’ effect. Loaded with grape or canister instead, the carronade was a deadly weapon against boarders at close quarters. The Carron Company built up a healthy market during the American War among merchant ships seeking defence against privateers. It was harder to persuade the Navy that it might have a use for a short-range gun, and to persuade the Ordnance Board to deal again with a company which had acquired a reputation for incompetence and sharp practice. The company overcame these disadvantages with the powerful advocacy of Charles Middleton, a fellow-Scot (and possibly a shareholder). He in turn persuaded Sandwich, and in the teeth of determined opposition from the Ordnance Board and many of the admirals, they succeeded in having carronades mounted in a number of ships, usually in place of the light guns on quarterdeck and forecastle. The result was some spectacular victories, notably in September 1782, when the new 18-pounder frigate Hebe surrendered to the elderly forty-four Rainbow, which had been experimentally rearmed entirely with carronades. This was the fruit of surprise, and experience was to show that a ship with no long guns was very vulnerable to being attacked at long range, but as a supplement to a conventional main battery, especially for frigates, the carronade was a considerable addition of strength. Moreover French gun-foundries were unable to match the carronade for more than twenty years. Here, as in so many other areas of naval warfare, it was British technology rather than French science which made the difference in war.

The new Blomefield guns, and the new carronades, had reached the whole Navy by the end of the French Revolutionary Wars, though as late as the battle of Copenhagen in 1801 there were serious casualties from the bursting of guns of the old Armstrong pattern. The new cylinder gunpowder was on general issue from 1803, its greater explosive force requiring a reduction in powder charges. During the Napoleonic War a number of experimental lightweight guns were produced, intended to combine some of the advantages of carronades and long guns, but in action they proved unsatisfactory. A completely new weapon in European warfare was the rocket, as designed by William Congreve, and first tried in action against Boulogne in 1806. The rocket proved to be exceedingly inaccurate, but an effective incendiary weapon against large fixed targets, and frightening to horses or inexperienced troops.

During the Great Wars with France, while French warship design stagnated, British designs continued to develop. During the six years (December 1794 to February 1801) that Lord Spencer was First Lord of the Admiralty, there was a clear tendency for the size of British ships to grow. Under his successor John Jervis, Lord St Vincent (1801–4) there was a reaction to smaller, more old-fashioned designs, and a leaning to French inspiration. Partly this was no doubt a difference of generations: Spencer was a young civilian with no inherited prejudices; St Vincent was an old admiral of the generation formed by the experiences of the 1740s. St Vincent was also a Whig, identified with the traditional francophilia of the nobility at a period when Pitt and George III had captured patriotic Britishness. The generally poor performance of these French-inspired designs, and those of the exiled French engineer Jean-Louis Barrallier, finally discredited French ideas. They were particularly unsuitable for blockade stations because their narrow holds could not stow sufficient for the cruises of twenty weeks or more which were becoming commonplace. The big building effort of the Napoleonic War, necessary to replace the ships of the Anson-Sandwich generations as they finally wore out, was mostly based on adequate if uninspired British-style designs.

The most important innovations of these years were in building practice rather than design. The shortage of compass timber and knees, and the urgent need to strengthen older ships for extended lives, led to the adoption of a number of novelties from Gabriel Snodgrass, master shipwright of the East India Company, especially the use of diagonal riders, bolted down in the hold over the existing structure of old ships to stiffen the frames. This in turn was an essential element of the ‘system’ adopted by Robert Seppings, Surveyor of the Navy from 1813 to 1832, whose diagonal timbering allowed new ships of much greater length to be built without loss of rigidity. Also during the Napoleonic Wars many knees were replaced by iron plates bolted through simple chocks (wooden blocks). ‘Wall-sided’ ships, with vertical topsides rather than the traditional tumblehome, saved on compass timber for the toptimbers, gave more room within board, greater stability at large angles of heel, and a better spread for the rigging. Shortage of timber inspired the softwood-built ‘fir frigates’, which were light and fast but had very short working lives. More successful was the building of ships in teak at Bombay Dockyard during the Napoleonic War. Though difficult and expensive to work, teak is a superb shipbuilding timber which is virtually immune to rot and amenable to iron fastenings. During the lifetime of the master shipwright Jamsetjee Bomanjee the management and quality of workmanship of Bombay yard was very high, but after his death in 1821 the building programme was brought to an end by mismanagement, corruption, and the exhaustion of the Malabar teak forests. Other important innovations were in fittings. Davits made it much simpler and safer to put a boat in the water. New patterns of anchors, and the first chain cable, improved ships’ chances of surviving an onshore gale. Iron water-tanks, fitted permanently in the bottom of the hold in place of the traditional tiers of casks, saved the men much time and labour in watering, eased the ship by carrying weight lower in the hull, and saved space in the hold for other stowage.

The Spencer Admiralty was notably open to experimental designs. These included the double-ended sloops of Samuel Bentham, and Captain John Schank’s sloops with sliding keels, none of which were unequivocal successes, though the problem with Schank’s keels was maintenance rather than performance. Most radical of all was Lord Stanhope’s Kent Ambinavigator, which if she had worked would have been the world’s first steam warship. The American engineer Robert Fulton, having failed to interest the French authorities in his ideas for submarines, and his ‘catamaran’ (a sort of floating mine), came to Britain in 1804. The Admiralty was interested, and the ‘catamaran’ was demonstrated in a trial, but failed completely in action.

Another important innovation of the Spencer years was the widespread use of troopships. It had long been a common practice of the French navy, sometimes imitated by the British, to fit ships of the line temporarily as troopships by landing their lower-deck guns. Such ships were often described by the French term armé en flûte (‘fitted as a transport’). The usual British practice was to move troops overseas in chartered transports drawn from the merchant fleet. The disadvantage was the long delays involved in chartering, assembling and moving merchantmen under convoy. During the Great Wars the strategic situation often required Britain’s small forces of troops to be moved fast over long distances. Beginning in the 1790s, the Navy therefore built up a large force of naval troopships. These ships were drawn from the old two-decker classes of forty-fours and fifties, now too small for the line of battle and outclassed as cruisers by the new heavy frigates. To them were added prizes, some former East Indiamen, and some old Third Rates, too weak to carry their main armament but still fit for service in a less demanding role. With their lower-deck guns removed, the troopships had a spacious troop-deck suitable for infantry (moving cavalry and artillery was always more difficult). Under naval command, they could be assembled and moved swiftly. Their main-deck guns were equivalent to the armament of a frigate (though the crews were smaller), so that troopships could look after themselves against anything below a ship of the line. There were also some naval store-ships converted in a similar manner, which accompanied overseas squadrons operating in hostile waters.

We shall see that the Royal Navy experienced some unpleasant shocks when it went to war against the United States Navy in 1812. These were sometimes attributed to superior American ship design, but in fact the seagoing ships of the US Navy were frigates and sloops very similar to their British contemporaries. The US Navy was constructed in the 1790s to meet a threat from Algiers, and its three biggest ships were intended to outclass Algerine 18-pounder frigates. These were the 24-pounder frigates United States, Constitution and President; powerful ships with the scantlings of a small ship of the line. Though not fast (the President perhaps excepted) or good seaboats, they were well adapted to act as the ‘capital ships’ of a small navy. There were a few similar ships in both British and French service, either built as such or ‘razees’, cut down from two-deckers by removing a deck, but the major navies tended to have limited use for a slow cruising warship which cost as much as a ship of the line. To match the big American ships the Royal Navy hastily built or converted a number of ‘super-frigates’ of its own, including some remarkable razeed seventy-fours which carried a 36-pounder main battery with 42-pounder carronades on quarterdeck and forecastle. These ships were the idea of Captain John ‘Magnificent’ Hayes (one of a family of shipwrights, and originally trained for the same profession), who took the first of them, the Majestic, to American waters in 1814, and had the satisfaction of taking the President soon afterwards.

The only US warships which were to an extent original were the least successful part of the fleet, the gunboats, whose inspiration was political rather than professional. Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, believed fervently that armies and navies were ‘pillars of corruption’, destructive of the political purity of the Republic, and that ‘gun-boats are the only water defence which can be useful to us, and protect us from the ruinous folly of a navy’. Much derided by subsequent American naval historians writing in support of a deep-water battlefleet, the Jefferson gunboats were in fact serviceable craft, useful for local defence in conjunction with properly sited batteries. They had little effect on the outcome of the war, because they were the product of an ideological and strategic vision which proved to be quite erroneous.

If there is a single lesson which can be drawn from the study of warships and their weapons, it is that the only useful measure of quality is fitness for purpose, and that the strategic judgement of what functions a navy is meant to fulfil, is even more important than the technical skill of the designer. British ships were more successful not because British warship designs were individually outstanding (though some of them were), but because the British had achieved by the 1760s, and never subsequently lost, a fair balance between their strategic requirements and the ships they built to meet them. France built ships with some good qualities, and Spain built ships with many good qualities, but in both cases their governments committed their navies to wars which they had not been designed to fight, and were not equipped to win. Traditionally minded French and Spanish naval historians have often excused their defeat as inevitable, given the disproportion of forces and resources. In fact France and Spain combined were superior in strength for much of the American War and the Great Wars. It is not unreasonable to guess that the same amount of money, spent on ships more suitable for the purpose, might have built fleets capable of beating the Royal Navy. It has to be realized, however, that the ships were the expression of an ethos as much as a strategy. It was not merely ship design which France and Spain would have to have changed, but the very structure of their navies, their training, organization and discipline – and if it had been possible to change all these things, then they might have won even with inadequate ships, as the Royal Navy did in the 1740s.

George Crouch PT 1-4 and Scott Paine PT-9

The unusual hull shape of the Crouch-designed PT 1 is clearly visible in this view of the boat on the deck of a seaplane carrier. The whale-back form was carried along the full hull length, as in the CMBs.

On 11 July 1938, invitations to builders and designers (with the exception of inverted-V boat designers) were issued with prizes awarded for the winning PT boat designs given out on 30 March 1939. In an important note after winning the design competition for the smaller PT boat, George Crouch wrote that Hickman’s Sea Sled design would be far superior “in either rough or smooth water to that of the best possible V-bottom or hard chine design”. Earlier when Sea Sleds were specifically excluded, Crouch had informed the Bureau of Ships that the Sea Sled was the best type of vessel for the job. On 8 June 1939, contracts were let to the Fogal Boat Yard, Inc., later known as the Miami Shipbuilding Co., of Miami, Florida, for PT-1 and -2 “Crash Boats”, and to the Fisher Boat Works, Detroit, Michigan, for PT-3 and -4. These four boats were designed by George Crouch, and modified in some details by the Bureau of Ships.

PT 1 thru PT 4 based on the 25ft aluminum test model 9. Model was requested for use during training.

Original 3M2500s were left (port engine) and right (starboard engine). These were upgraded to two right 4M2500s in Jan 41. The engine and fuel tank compartment metal framing is all aluminum.

Construction: Considered superior and boat was 10% lighter than contract (light load 38,000 lbs – trial displacement 56,600 lbs). In comparison, sister boats PT-1 and PT-2 built in Miami were about 4,000-6,000 lbs heavier (not sure if this was due to construction or equipment). Items such as the portholes were light weight aluminum and the boat even used a lightweight Northill Anchor (same typed used by seaplanes).

Performance: Boat handled 8-10 ft waves very well and was compared favorably over PT-9’s pounding. Boat turned easily on a very close radius and gave a feeling of complete stability in turn (banked very well into turn). At 2000 rpm, boat turned in 4 1/2 boat lengths. Maintained a pretty constant 4 degree trim angle. Hump speed approximately 12-16 knots.

Big problem seemed to be the prop slip, which reduced the HP. At a top speed of 34 knots (2400 rpm with 3M2500s), boat was losing an estimated 450 HP. Two different sets of props were tested (first 25 x 23 and then 26 x 27) a third was requested (greater pitch and increased blade area) for model testing with the tests completed 5 months after the transfer of the boat to Lend-Lease. Hull performance graphs indicate the boat hull design would easily allow speeds up through 40 knots, however I could not find any follow on performance tests with the 4M2500s or if a third set of different size props were ever installed. Looking at all the early PT boat BuShips data, props, either having the wrong size (P and D), using race type wheels which wore out quickly, or suffering from excessive cavitation, seem to be a constant theme.

As far as critiques from the various reports, maneuvering and seakeeping were excellent, as were the cockpit layout and internal arrangement, however the boat’s small size (59 ft), restricted deck size due to the rolled chine and deck mounted mufflers, and the stern launched torpedoes came up on the negative. In response to the restricted deck, it was stated that the rolled chine gave this light weight boat great strength (it is true she never suffered the hull and deck problems of boats without the rolled chine). Since she planed early, not sure how well her design would have taken to weapons overloading and her small fuel capacity (1665 gal) would have also been a limiting factor. Lastly, having to run on 1 prop required excessive rudder to drive her at what turned out to be an inefficient speed (just below hump speed). Her best operational speed seems to have been about 25-26 knots.

Of note, PT-4 was built with two 3M2500s and was suppose to receive a centerline 700 HP Allison. Found no indication that this Allison engine was ever installed (initial trials done with just the two Packards).

PT-3 and PT-9 during test runs


Considering that the US Navy really had no idea what they wanted at the time of her contract, she did directly address the severe weight (transportation) requirements and incorporated many advanced features.

Some noteworthy design features.

– oak steam bent framing spaced every 10 and continues through barrel back.

– curved tumble home provides strength and stiffens hull, and eliminates normally weak deck edge to hull transition.

– double longitudinal planking provides lightweight strength and eliminates additional weight requirement of sandwiched cloth/canvas.

– use of carriage bolts to secure planking to lightweight framing, allows crew to tighten hull from inside.

– combination of framing structure with planking provided a very strong and mildly flexible hull.

– hull form is a warped plane design and overall narrow in design, but keeping the stern wide, in comparison to midships, seems to have minimized suction and stern squatting. Photos indicate that boat lifted up on step at a constant angle. As fuel consumed, weight would shift slightly forward.

– used two Packards for power (first PT Boat with these) For this design, the Navy required the engines to be mounted on a steel frame. In order to accommodate the engines, boat uses some sort of “v” drive. PT-3’s engine compartment construction has a forward and aft steel bulkhead with engine hoist. Hull and deck framing are wood. During the construction in 1939, both PT-3 and 4 were delayed by four months due to the unavailability of the new 3M2500 Packards.

– muffler system (although huge)

You can understand why this small boat was considered obsolete once the Navy figured out what they didn’t want (stern fired torpedoes), but I believe she was an important design worthy of note in PT Boat development and exceeded the designs of newer boats in frame and hull construction and showed the experience of George Crouch.

The hull is relatively straight chine aft of midships (widest part and transom only differ by 2 ft) and the back portion of the hull only has a slight change in deadrise. The hull is also not concave in form, you would expect suction loads to be on the lesser side and would not expect to see much squatting of the boat on plane. Trim angle on plane (from photographs) estimated at about 2.5-3°.

Because of the position of the fuel tanks (aft) and the weight of the engine room steel framing and engines, the center of gravity (CG) for PT-3 is pretty far aft. The center of buoyancy (CB) is guestimated at about 23-21 feet from the transom. As she starts to plane, CB would move aft and probably move very close to the boat’s CG which I believe to be about 20-18 feet from the transom.

She probably rides very well on glass calm based on other George Crouch designs. Deadrise is good at entry indicating potential for a smooth ride, however, in rougher sea states, her lack of a deep forefoot would probably result in some pounding forces, although the steep deadrise and slight convex shape of the bow would help. Having such a large hull sail area out of the water forward would probably make PT-3 very susceptible to beam wind forces when on plane. When operating at lower speeds, the CG being aft of the CB would probably make PT-3 susceptible to yawing motions in following seas. As for turning, she was probably good at slower speeds, but would suffer a bit at higher speeds due to not having the forefoot in contact with the water.

PT-3s actual hump speed is probably somewhere about 25-26 kts. Even with the steel framing in the engine room, weight saving building techniques are obvious, so she was intended to be a planing hull design.

PT-9        70′ Scott Paine Experimental Motor Torpedo Boat:

  • Laid down by the British Power Boat Co., Ltd., Hythe, Hampshire, England
  • Acquired by the Navy 24 July 1940, placed in service and assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron ONE (MTBRon 1) for evaluations
  • MTBRon 1, under the command of Lt. Earl S. Caldwell, USN, was the first squadron commissioned, and originally was made up of experimental boats
  • Transferred 8 November 1940 to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron TWO (MTBRon 2) under the command of now Lt. Comdr. Caldwell
  • MTBRon 2 tested the first 70′ Elco boats in Florida and Caribbean waters in the winter of 1940/41
  • Transferred to the Royal Navy 11 April 1941 and reclassified HM MTB-258
  • Transfer to the Royal Navy canceled, subsequently transferred to Canada 23 September 1942 and reclassified V-264 where she served in the Halifax and Gaspe area as a harbor defense force vessel
  • Reclassified S-09
  • Reassigned in March 1943 to Quebec for blackout patrols on the Saint Lawrence River
  • Reassigned in 1944 to Toronto, Ontario as a range control and safety vessel
  • Returned to U.S. custody 1 February 1945
  • Sold for scrap 5 September 1946Naval Vessel Register of 1 January 1949 lists transfer to the War Shipping Administration in October 1946.Specifications:
  • Displacement 55 t.
  • Length 70′
  • Beam 20′
  • Draft 5′
  • Speed 41 kts.
  • Armament: Four 18″ torpedoes and two twin .30 cal. Browning machine guns Torpedoes removed prior to transfer. Machine guns retained and eight depth charges added by Royal Canadian Navy
  • Propulsion: Three 1,500shp Packard V12 M2500 gasoline engines, three shafts Reengined with two 550hp Kermath V-12 gasoline engines.



The First Three Deckers

The most visible expression of seapower was the battleship. From the emergence of this distinctly strongly built and heavily armed type of warship during the first half of the seventeenth century, naval power was measured by the number of these vessels a state possessed. Typically, at the height of their power in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these three-masted, square-rigged vessels carried between 60 and 120 cannons in broadside batteries. From the 1650s, the English, Dutch, Swedes, Danes and French were well aware that squadrons of these ships had the greatest diplomatic impact.

The dominance of the world’s oceans by the British Royal Navy, which first outbuilt and then outfought its enemies with battleships, proved that seapower was measured by the battleship. The reality, as usual, is rather more complicated than this. To the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mind the role of seapower and the advantages of battleships were less obvious. The dominance of the battleship was based on its ability to appear in almost all the waters of the world in sufficient numbers for a long enough period to overwhelm local naval resistance. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, British battleships dominated most oceanic sea routes by concentrating on the terminal points of these routes. They prohibited equal concentrations of potentially hostile men-of-war and allowed a variety of smaller vessels to exploit the advantages of sea communications.

Since the sixteenth century, the heavily armed sailing warship was seen as a floating castle, impregnable except by another similar ship. Their size and firepower forced smaller, less well-armed vessels to keep at a discrete distance. Because the range of smoothbore cannon was very limited, even ships of equal force and size found it difficult to concentrate overwhelming firepower upon an individual enemy vessel. These ships could also absorb a fearful pounding from the iron cannonballs. With two or more enemy vessels around a warship, dividing the fire of defenders and restricting their manoeuvrability, a warship might be overcome by gunfire or boarding. By the 1650s the English were building their vessels rather larger and with a higher ratio of guns per ton than their Dutch rivals, but in all countries there was a general consolidation of the warship at under 1,000 tons and capable of carrying between 30 and 80 guns of different sizes. There was a great variety within this definition as the ability of merchant vessels to fight alongside purpose-built warships was still important when the principle tactic was to close and board the enemy in a melée. By the time the line of battle was firmly established as the standard tactical formation during the 1660s, lighter merchant ships and lightly armed warships became less able to sustain their place in a pitched battle, leaving the centre stage to the purpose-built line-of-battle ship ranging eventually up to 2,000 tons and carrying 120 large cannon.

Liners, battle ships of the line, or line-of-battle ships were the most powerful ships of the age of fighting sail. These ships were expensive, complex, and heavily armed and manned, and they carried great national prestige. Ships of the line ushered in the concept of the capital ship.

As gunfire supplanted boarding and the ram in naval warfare, it began to dictate naval tactics. Naval architects learned that heavy cannon were best positioned within a hull rather than mounted on deck or in ungainly castles built on the bow and stern. Locating the heavy guns within the hull balanced the vessel while keeping a low center of gravity. Since a ship’s most powerful battery lay at its sides, the most effective tactic in battle was to bring these sides to bear in a devastating broadside.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the largest warships acquired more than one gun deck and could accommodate up to 100 guns. When operating in tandem or in squadrons, the natural tactic was to form a line in order to expose the maximum number of guns to any potential enemy and protect the vulnerable, lightly armed bow and stern. Fleets during this time typically fought each other in matching line-ahead formations, exchanging broadsides. Line-ahead tactics dictated that the vessels in the formation be the most powerful ships available, for any ship casualty or break in the line could expose the ships ahead and astern of the break to end-on fire.

By the seventeenth century, France vied with Spain, England, and the Netherlands for control of the seas. King Louis XIV hungered for maritime commerce and naval power, and his finance minister and minister of the navy Jean Baptiste Colbert did his best to satisfy those desires. From 1661 until his death, in 1683, Colbert increased the size and number of French warships, improved training of naval officers, and ordered numerous charts prepared for better navigation. In 1666, he founded the Académie des Sciences, which became a forum for scientific matters, including navigation and ship design. In 1680 Colbert brought together prominent French shipbuilders to determine the best way to maximize speed, maneuverability, and gun positioning on board men-of-war. This group established standard dimensions for each class of warship and eliminated many of the rule-of-thumb methods practiced by private contractors.

During the 1700s Colbert’s campaign to promote navigation and shipbuilding bore fruit in the form of design research. French experimenters pioneered the use of model ship basins to test the performance of ship forms. In addition, the Académie awarded prizes for research on ship design subjects, such as the best method for diminishing the rolling and pitching of vessels or propelling a vessel without the use of sails.

French works on naval architecture became recognized as the world’s leading ship design treatises. Paul Hoste, a Jesuit professor at the Toulon Naval Academy, wrote Théorie de la construction des vaisseaux in 1697. His treatise laid the foundation for later works on naval architecture by employing the principles of statics and mechanics. In 1746 Pierre Bouguer completed his influential work, Traité du navire. Bouguer devised the trapezoidal rule for the mensuration of areas, which became the basis for many of the hydrostatic calculations that enter into modern naval architecture. In 1752, naval architect and instructor Duhamel du Monceau published Elémens de l’architecture navale. Monceau’s book became widely recognized as one of the eighteenth century’s best naval architecture treatises and was translated into Dutch, German, and English.

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.