Ottoman Naval Gunnery in the Eighteenth Century

Ottoman ship-of-the-line which name is Peleng-i Bahri 1777s (Tiger-sea) with 58 guns

The first time cannons were used on Ottoman ships was during the siege of Constantinople to hit the city walls from the sea. Guilmartin, however, tells about a contemporary Turkish sketch preserved in Topkapi Palace showing two Ottoman siege bombards in action and he suggests that this may represent the earliest type of gun mount regularly used aboard galleys, considering the similarity to a German woodcut depicting the port of Venice and illustrating a book published in 1486. This woodcut shows a bombard, made of wrought iron or bronze cast in ‘hooped’ form, mounted on the bow of a galley tightly pinioned between heavy horizontal timbers lying alongside the barrel and supported by a much heavier vertical post to absorb the recoil.

If we take a look at Ottoman ships carrying cannons, irrespective of the century in which they were used, we see that among the ones powered with oars were galliot (kalite), brigantine (perkende), saika (şayka) with three guns, mahone (mavna) with 24 guns, galley (kadirga) with 13 guns and bafltarda with three heavy guns and several light guns. Among sailing ships carrying guns were sloops (şalope) of 12 guns, brigs (brik), ağribar with over 30 guns, corvettes (korvet) with 20–30 guns, barça with over 80 guns, galleons (kalyon) with 60–80 guns, three-decked galleons (üç ambarh kalyon) with 80–120 guns, frigates (firkateyn) with 30–70 guns, kaypak/kapak with 80–100 guns and uskuna with 16 guns.

In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, beside warships, merchant ships were observed to have guns as well. Guns required for the merchant ships owned by the state were generally provided from the Tophâne-i Âmire, while the ones for the private non-military ships were purchased or hired in return for a certain amount of money.

Considering the galleons constructed following the systematic adoption of sailing ships in 1682, we see that four out of ten galleons were 50 zira and had 80 bronze guns while the remaining six were 45 zira and had 60 guns. These sizes seem to be comparable to the ones of European ships.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, 112 guns were required for a three-decker built in 1700, and 130 guns for a big galleon kebîr kalyon constructed in 1701. The sizes of these guns were between three and 16 kiyyes. Broken guns or the ones needed to change were transferred to the Tophâne-i Âmire in order to be replaced with new ones. Broken ones were melted down to be cast into new guns.

Looking at the first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-rate Ottoman ships between 1736 and 1739, it is seen that the Çift Aslan, a first-rate ship, could carry 108 guns of 8-112, 22-48, 2-24, 30-18, 28-12, 18-8 pounders. The İki Bağçeli and the Büyük Gül Başh, two third-rate Ottoman ships, had 66 guns on board each. Sixty-six guns of the İki Bağçeli consisted of 4-112, 24-48, 2-18, 28-12, 8-8 pounders, while there were 28-24, 2-18, 28-12, 8-8 pounders on the Büyük Gül Başh. A fourth-rate ship, the Yaldizh Şiahin, carried 62 guns of 26-18, 28-12, 8-8 pounders; another fourth-rate ship, the Mavi Aslan, had 50 guns of 22-12 and 28-8 pounders. The Mavi Firkata, another fifth-rate ship, could carry 36 guns of 8 and 4 pounders.

Of course, these were not the only ships of the period in question. Panzac, in addition to mentioning the gun capacities of the ships between 1736 and 1739 as mentioned above, focuses on the ones operating in a more limited time period. To give the gun capacity of some other ships between 1737 and 1738, the following names can be mentioned: the Çift Kaplan with 102 guns, the Sipah-i Bahr with 98 guns, the Malika-i Bahr with 98 guns, the Yaldizh Hurma with 72 guns, the Deve Kuşu with 68 guns, the Şiadirvan Kiçh with 68 guns, the İspinoz with 68 guns, the Küçük Gül Başh with 66 guns, the Akrep Başh with 66 guns, the Beyaz At with 66 guns, the Al-qasr with 62 guns, the Zülfikar with 62 guns, the Selvi Bağçeli with 62 guns, the Yaldiz Bağçeli with 58 guns, the Ejder Başh with 56 guns, the Yildiz Kiçh with 54 guns, the Ay Bağçeli with 54 guns, the Sari Kuşlakh with 54 guns, the Kirmizi Kuşlakh with 52 guns, the Yaldizh Nar with 52 guns, the Baba Ibrahim with 52 guns, the La PremièËre with 46 guns, the La Seconde with 46 guns, the Küçük Şiahin with 46 guns, the Serçe Kuflu with 44 guns, the Beyaz Şiahin with 38 guns, the La Bleue with an unknown number of guns. The following table, drawn by Panzac, gives a general idea of the rates of the ships and the number of guns present on them for five different leading powers of the world between 1735 and 1740.

The Ottoman navy consisted of 33 ships: 27 ships of the line (of which four were three-deckers with 98–108 guns and 23 were two-deckers) and six ships of the fifth rank. In the second half of the eighteenth century, as the oared ship became obsolete, giving way to sailing ships such as the galleon, the three-decker, the frigate and the corvette, the number of cannons on the ships began to increase. Therefore, parallel to the growing need for ships, the manufacture and order of new cannons and ammunition increased. Ottoman documents often mention correspondence between authorities about the urgent need for the manufacture of cannons to be used on galleons and other types of ships in 1793–94. It became routine for new ships to be equipped with cannons and shells cast, manufactured and processed in the shell works and the Humbarahâne within the Tersâne-i Âmire.

The Ottoman authorities, including Sultan Selim III, were aware of the deficiencies of the naval ships in terms of gunnery. Selim III was so interested in contemporary war techniques and weapons that he wrote a treatise (risâle) on the subject. The second part of the treatise was on flares (fişlekler) and the third part on cannons (toplar). It seems that the Kaptan Pasha checked the treatise and stated that Ottoman naval ships were deprived of these flares and cannons, and ordered the procurement of these weapons.

Nationality Name Guns Category Type Acquired Fate Finished

Ottoman Empire Mahmudiye 128 First Rate Ship of the Line 1812/12/26 Broken Up 1822

Ottoman Empire Selimiye 122 First Rate Ship of the Line 1797/02/22 Broken Up 1841

Ottoman Empire Mesudiye 118 First Rate Ship of the Line 1798 Last Mentioned 1864

Ottoman Empire Fethiye 118 First Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Kebir Üç Ambarli 114 First Rate Ship of the Line 1715 Last known service 1720

Ottoman Empire Cift Aslan 108 First Rate Ship of the Line 1726 Disarmed 1737

Ottoman Empire Cift Kaplan 102 First Rate Ship of the Line 1728/09/01 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Fatih-i Bahri (A) 100 First Rate Ship of the Line 1746/02 Last known service 1751/11/16

Ottoman Empire Perr i Bahri 100 First Rate Ship of the Line 1746/02 Last known service 1751/11/16

Ottoman Empire Nusret-numa 100 First Rate Ship of the Line 1748 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Nasir-i Bahri (A) 100 First Rate Ship of the Line 1748 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Tijfet ul Muluk 100 First Rate Ship of the Line 1760 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Sipahi-i Bahr 98 First Rate Ship of the Line 1726 Disarmed 1737

Ottoman Empire Malika-i Bahr 98 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1726 Disarmed 1737

Ottoman Empire Fethiye 96 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1827 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Tesrifiye 96 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1834 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Fevziye 96 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1836 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Nir-i Sevket 96 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1842 Last known service 1850

Ottoman Empire Burc-u Zafer 86 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1770 Sunk in Action 1770/06/24

Ottoman Empire Peyk-Zafer 86 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1841 Last known service 1878

Ottoman Empire Meheng i Bahri 84 Second Rate Ship of the Line Unknown Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Hisn i Bahri 84 Second Rate Ship of the Line Unknown Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ziver-i-i bahri 84 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1751/01 Last known service 1751/01

Ottoman Empire Anka yi Bahri (A) 84 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service 1807

Ottoman Empire Ankay i Bahri 84 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service 1807

Ottoman Empire Tevfik Nyuma 84 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1803 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Sadd a Bahri 84 Third Rate Unknown 1807 Captured 1807/07/01

Ottoman Empire Badi-i Nusret 82 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1797 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Tavus-i Bahri 82 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1798/12/22 Last Mentioned 1825

Ottoman Empire Necm i Sevket 80 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1815 Last known service 1850

Ottoman Empire Kuh i Revan 80 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1819 Sunk in Action 1827/10/20

Ottoman Empire Arslan i Bahri 76 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1794 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Heybetendaz 76 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1796 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Besaretnüma 76 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1797 Burnt to avoid capture 1807/07/03

Ottoman Empire Kaplan i Bahri 76 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1799 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Seddülbahir 76 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1799 Captured 1807/06/30

Ottoman Empire Peyk i Mesiret 76 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1820 Wrecked 1854

Ottoman Empire Hilal i Zafer 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1781 Captured 1790

Ottoman Empire Mukaddeme i Nusret 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1787/05/31 Condemned 1801/03/28

Ottoman Empire Sehbaz i Bahri 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1793 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ejder i Bahri 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1793 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Asar i Nusret 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1793 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Sayyad i Bahri 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1797 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Kilidülbahir 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1799 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Mansuriye 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1803 Sunk in Action 1822

Ottoman Empire Mukaddeme i Hayir 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1807 Deleted from list 1857

Ottoman Empire Burc i Zafer 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1815 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Fatih i Bahri 74 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1819 Sunk in Action 1827/10/20

Ottoman Empire Feyz i Huda 72 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1789 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Bahr i Zafer 72 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1789 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire The Black Horse (A) 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1708 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire Siyah At Basli 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1708 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire The Dragon (A) 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1715 Disarmed 1737

Ottoman Empire Ejder Basli 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1715 Disarmed 1737

Ottoman Empire Çifte Ceylan Kiçli 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire The Two Gazelles (A) 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Yaldizli Hurma 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire The Gilded Date (A) 70 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire The Grey Horse (A) 68 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1732

Ottoman Empire Kula At Basli 68 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1732

Ottoman Empire Pertev i Nusret 68 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1793 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ziver i Bahri 68 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1796 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire The White Horse (A) 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1708 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Beyaz At Basli 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1708 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire The Great Rose (A) 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1710 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire Büyük Gül Basli 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1710 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire The Scorpion (A) 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1715 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Akrep Basli 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1715 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Sadirvan Kiçli 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire The Sprinkling Fountain (A) 66 Third Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Sugur Chitzli 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1732/09 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Ankay i Bahri 66 Second Rate Ship of the Line 1772 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Melek i Bahri (A) 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1776 Sunk in Action 1790/09/08

Ottoman Empire Melik ul Bahr (A) 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1776 Sunk in Action 1790/09/08

Ottoman Empire Melike Bahri 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1776 Sunk in Action 1790/09/08

Ottoman Empire Ejder-i Bahri 66 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1782 Foundered 1788/12

Ottoman Empire Hilal i Zafer 66 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1790 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Gulbang i Nesuret (A) 64 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1780 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Malbaik Nesuret 64 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1780 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Causse 64 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ifrit Basli 62 Third Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire The Demon (A) 62 Third Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Yaldizli Sahin 62 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1724 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Fethü’l-fettah 62 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1774 Last Mentioned 1790

Ottoman Empire Fethu l Fettah (A) 62 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1774 Last Mentioned 1790

Ottoman Empire Küçük Gül Basli 60 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1711 Last known service 1732

Ottoman Empire The Little Rose (A) 60 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1711 Last known service 1732

Ottoman Empire Rodos 60 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1770 Captured 1770/06/26

Ottoman Empire Meaid Fettuh 60 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1776 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Semend i Bahri 60 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Fatih i Bahri 60 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1791 Stranded 1799

Ottoman Empire Çifte Teber Kiçli 58 Fourth Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Two Halberds (A) 58 Fourth Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Mesudiye 58 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1772 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Feyz i Huda 58 Fourth Rate Unknown 1777 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Peleng i Bahri 58 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1777 Captured 1790/09/09

Ottoman Empire Hifz i Huda 58 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1777 Broken Up 1793

Ottoman Empire Tevifk i Ilah 58 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1777 Broken Up 1793

Ottoman Empire Medilli u Cedid 58 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1781 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Hüdaverdi 58 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1787/09/25 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Cedid-i Midilli 58 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Mansuriye 58 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1790 Sunk in Action 1790/09/09

Ottoman Empire The Two Pointed Sword (A) 56 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1710 Last known service 1732

Ottoman Empire Zülfikar Kiçli 56 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1710 Last known service 1732

Ottoman Empire Akçasehir 56 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire The Cypress Garden (A) 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1714 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Servi Bagçeli 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1714 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Ay Bagçeli 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1714 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire The Moon Garden (A)54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1714 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Sari Kusakli 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Yaldizli Nar Kiçli 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire The Star Garden (A) 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Yildiz Bagçeli 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Yellow Belted (A) 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire The Gilded Grenade (A) 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1737

Ottoman Empire Inayet i Hak 54 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1773 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Nüvid-i Fütuh 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1776 Broken Up 1793

Ottoman Empire Hediyyetul Muluk 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1777 Sunk in Action 1788/06

Ottoman Empire Nusret Ozdan 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1782 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ikab i Bahri 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Maadem e Bahr 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Meal ul Nusret Bahr 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Fuean i Bahri 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Besir i Zafer 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1784 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Nasir i Cenk 54 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1784 Sunk in Action 1788/06

Ottoman Empire Kirmizi Kusakli 52 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire Red Belted (A) 52 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire Nasir i Bahri 52 Fourth Rate Unknown 1776 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ceylan i Bahr 52 Fourth Rate Unknown 1777 Last known service 1801

Ottoman Empire Tilsim i Bahri 52 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Cerid i Zafer 52 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Bed i Nusret 52 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1785/06/02 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Badere-i-Zefee (A) 52 Fourth Rate Frigate 1799 Captured 1807/07/05

Ottoman Empire Bedr i Zafer 52 Fourth Rate Frigate 1799 Captured 1807/07/05

Ottoman Empire Al At Basli 50 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1715 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire The Red Horse (A) 50 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1715 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire Fakih i Zafar 50 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1784 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Sehber i Zafer 50 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1795 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Mesken i Gazi 50 Fourth Rate Ship 1796 Sunk in Action 1807/05/10

Ottoman Empire Burc i Zafer 48 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1790 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Mazhar Tevfik 46 Fifth Rate Unknown 1774 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Muradiye 46 Fifth Rate Frigate 1776 Sunk in Action 1788/06

Ottoman Empire Ejder Basli 46 Fifth Rate Ship of the Line 1776 Captured 1788/06/18

Ottoman Empire Korc i Zafer 46 Fourth Rate Ship 1778 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Seyyar-i Bahri 46 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1779 Sunk in Action 1788/06

Ottoman Empire Fatih-i Bahri 46 Fifth Rate Frigate 1779 Sunk in Action 1788/06

Ottoman Empire Sehbay i Bahri 46 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1783 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Sespay-i Bahri 46 Fifth Rate Frigate 1787 Foundered 1788/12

Ottoman Empire Sehper-i Zafer 46 Fourth Rate Unknown 1788 Sunk in Action 1788/06

Ottoman Empire Bodrum 46 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1788 Sunk in Action 1788/06

Ottoman Empire Günes Kiçli 44 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1711 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire The Sun (A) 44 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1711 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire The Bird Garden Caravella (A) 44 Fifth Rate Frigate 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Kus Bagçeli Karavele 44 Fifth Rate Frigate 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Mavi Arslan Basli 44 Fifth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire The Blue Lion (A) 44 Fifth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Last known service 1730

Ottoman Empire Pulad i Bahri 44 Fifth Rate Ship 1782 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Mur i Bahri 42 Fifth Rate Frigate 1775 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Mazhar 42 Fifth Rate Frigate 1778 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Iks Pay 42 Fifth Rate Frigate 1780 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Sekir i Zafer 42 Fifth Rate Frigate 1782 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ead e Hak 42 Fifth Rate Frigate 1784 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ir e Zafer 42 Fifth Rate Frigate 1784 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Murg i Bahri 42 Fifth Rate Frigate 1784 Foundered 1784

Ottoman Empire The Crown (A) 40 Fifth Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Taç Basli 40 Fifth Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Yildiz Kiçli 40 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Disarmed 1737

Ottoman Empire The Star (A) 40 Fourth Rate Ship of the Line 1717 Disarmed 1737

Ottoman Empire Bülheves 40 Fifth Rate Frigate 1796 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Bul Heves (A) 40 Fifth Rate Frigate 1796 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Uri Bahar 40 Fifth Rate Frigate 1807 Captured 1807/03/21

Ottoman Empire Ayet i Hayir 40 Fourth Rate Frigate 1807 Sunk in Action 1807/05/10

Ottoman Empire The Blue Caravella (A) 38 Fifth Rate Frigate 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Mavi Kiçli Karavele 38 Fifth Rate Frigate 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Yilan Basli 34 Fifth Rate Ship of the Line 1714 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire The Snake (A) 34 Fifth Rate Ship of the Line 1714 Last known service 1724

Ottoman Empire Mazhar i Saadet 34 Fifth Rate Frigate 1785 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Dad i Hakk 34 Fifth Rate Frigate 1785 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Uri Nasard 34 Fifth Rate Frigate 1807 Captured 1807/03/21

Ottoman Empire Erid Fettul 32 Fifth Rate Frigate 1772 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Perr i Bahri 32 Fifth Rate Frigate 1772 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Nejim e Zafer 32 Fifth Rate Frigate 1772 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Tim Zafer 32 Fifth Rate Frigate 1784 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Rehber i Nusret 32 Fifth Rate Frigate 1784 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Gvinet Hazat 32 Fifth Rate Frigate 1784 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Mashar Hidaet 28 Fifth Rate Frigate 1778 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Nusret Nüma 28 Fifth Rate Frigate 1791 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Zaver Küsa 26 Sixth Rate Corvette 1796 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Saika i Bahri 26 Sixth Rate Corvette 1798 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Aziz Fezzan 26 Sixth Rate Corvette 1807 Sunk in Action 1807/07/05

Ottoman Empire Lvitsa 26 Sixth Rate Corvette 1829 Captured 1829/01/28

Ottoman Empire Kaplan Basli 24 Sixth Rate Frigate 1774 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Ferah Nüma 24 Sixth Rate Corvette 1791 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Hediye i Hakini 22 Sixth Rate Corvette 1789 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Raad-i Nahri 22 Sixth Rate Bomb Vessel 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Cedid Bomba 22 Sixth Rate Bomb Vessel 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Sihab-i Sakib 22 Sixth Rate Bomb Vessel 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Berk-i Hafiz 22 Sixth Rate Bomb Vessel 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Berk-i Bahri 22 Sixth Rate Bomb Vessel 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Fara Numa 16 Unrated Corvette 1807 Captured 1807/03/21

Ottoman Empire Candia 14 Unrated Brig 1829 Captured 1829/01/28

Ottoman Empire Siyah Arslan Basli 0 Fourth Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Green Belted (A) 0 Fourth Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Yesil Kusakli 0 Fourth Rate Unknown 1717 Last known service 1717

Ottoman Empire Kerem-i Bahri (A) 0 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1786/10/26 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Peyk i Zafer 0 Sixth Rate Corvette 1786 Last known service 1786

Ottoman Empire Kerem-i Bari 0 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1786/10/26 Last known service Unknown

Ottoman Empire Serheng i Nusret 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Salabet Nüma 0 Sixth Rate Corvette 1790 Last known service 1790

Ottoman Empire Bidayetül Fütuh 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1790 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Hisn i Gurab 0 Sixth Rate Corvette 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Kaid i Zafer 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Murg i Bahri 0 Sixth Rate Corvette 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Has Gazat 0 Sixth Rate Corvette 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Cabbar i Bahri 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Berk i Hatif 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Berk i Bahri 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Bais i Nusret 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Cedid i Gümrü 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1791 Last known service 1791

Ottoman Empire Burc i Bahri 0 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service 1801

Ottoman Empire Berk (A) 0 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service 1801

Ottoman Empire Berk i Hatif (A) 0 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service 1801

Ottoman Empire Berk i Bahri (A) 0 Third Rate Ship of the Line 1801 Last known service 1801

Ottoman Empire Nesim i Futuh 0 Fifth Rate Frigate 1807 Sunk in Action 1807

The Introduction of Copper Sheathing into the Ottoman Navy

Copper sheathing of Cutty Sark

Ottomans seem to have been aware that the copper-sheathing technique, when it first appeared in Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century, had offered significant advantages. Among them were protection from wood-eating worm; the creation of a surface on which external weed and shellfish could not grow; an increase in sailing speed that not only reduced voyage times but made navigation easier, since if a vessel could move in light winds it was less liable to drift on ocean current; the applicability of copper sheathing to any shape or size of hull; providing an outer skin of copper protecting the hull to some extent; holding caulking materials in position; and reducing maintenance costs between voyages.

The disadvantages, such as high material and application costs, the risk of galvanic action and the deterioration of iron fastenings, and the fact that a coppered vessel could not be grounded in harbour without considerable risk to the sheathing and thus was restricted to harbours with water at all tides, could not prevent the Ottomans from adopting this technology. However, some of these disadvantages were unknown to them initially. The Ottomans learned about these as a result of prolonged naval experiences. Thanks to academic work from the 1950s onwards, the nature, type and properties of the molluscs and crustaceans hazardous to the timbers in the seas surrounding Turkey have been identified.

There is considerable evidence indicating the existence and application of this technology in ships built specifically in the reign of Sultan Selim III. There were at least 40 ships that were sheathed with copper between the years 1789 and 1802, mostly galleons, frigates and corvettes. This figure must have been higher considering the imperial edict issued in 1795–96. Indeed, it shows that the application of copper sheathing to ships proved to bear good results and it led the Sultan to order the authorities to try hard to outfit the remaining ships using this technology. Firmans ordering the copper sheathing of ships were issued repeatedly. For instance, in a firman dated 1795–96, copper sheathing and painting were ordered for river ships (ince donanma gemileri) when they were at anchor. Following the copper sheathing of Arslan- i Bahrî and fiehbâz-i Bahrî, the same application was ordered in 1795 for Pertev-i Nusret, Ejder-i Bahrî, Âsâr-i Nusret, Bahr-i Zafer and another three-decked galleon under construction. The estimate amount of raw copper required for all five ships was around 60,000 kiyyes. Since this process required casting very thin copper sheets processed twice, the copper coming from Gümüşhane would not be suitable; instead, that from Kastamonu or Ergani would be needed. It seems that copper-sheathing technology was limited to warships at the time.

Mahmut Raif Efendi described copper sheathing in his account as well. He wrote that all the shipmen shared the idea that copper sheathing was the best way to protect ships. He noted that three ships, a three-decker of 67 zirâ and six kâne, a frigate of 55 zirâ, a corvette of 37 zirâ, and a boat (filika) for the Sultan were launched in a single day, which was something previously unseen. The year before (1797), all of them had been sheathed with copper, and more ships were to be sheathed in 1798. Therefore, it would not be misleading to regard most of the ships, especially warships constructed after 1795–96, copper-sheathed. Also, the prize ships and the ones received as presents would increase the number of shipped that were copper-clad at the time.

The earliest document found during this study indicating the Ottomans’ application of the copper-sheathing technique dates back to 1792–93141 In that year, the Ottoman government ordered the copper sheathing of a new galleon, and copper merchants were ordered to prepare copper planks on certain models. Once the copper sellers saw the model, they declared that the production of the model was different and would be more difficult than the one they had used previously, and therefore it would require more labour and money. Then the merchants were presented with lumps of unrefined copper for the production of the copper plates for the sheathing of the galleon in question. They were given 55 akçes per vukiyye, whereas it had been 35 akçes in the past. However, since the new technique required the use of copper nails, which were expensive, they found a solution by producing a new type of nail made of raw copper and zinc (rûy-i mâye) mixed in equal proportions. In order to test the efficiency of the new nail, they first produced five or ten test nails. After applying them to the copper plates, the authorities were convinced that the new method would work, so copper merchants were commissioned to cast this mixture in return for 50 akçes per vukiyye. It is noteworthy that such a decision was taken with the collaboration of the port commander (liman reisi), the chief architect (baflmimar), the chief augerer of the naval arsenal (tersane burgucubaşisi) and copper merchants (bakirci esnafi). The raw materials were provided by the state from the mahzen-i sürb.

On 30 August 1795, 5,000 vuk›yyes of raw copper were demanded urgently from the Darphâne-i Âmire. For the copper sheathing of a three-decked galleon under construction at the naval arsenal, 10,000 vukiyyes of raw copper were required on 20 October 1801. Since there was not enough copper at the mahzen-i sürb, it was provided by the Darphâne-i Âmire, two-thirds of it low quality and one-third high quality. The cost, 6,666.5 kuruş, was met by the seferiyye akçesi.

It seems that copper sheathing caused further changes in the structure of materials used in the construction of ships. It was noted on 14 September 1796 that it was a tradition that bearing pintles (inecikler) mounted on the rudders of the imperial galleons were made of iron. However, this traditional application was changed with an imperial edict ordering the introduction of copper sheathing of the ships constructed at the Tersâne-i Âmire and other sites outside of Istanbul. From then on, the former iron bearing pintles of the sheathed ships were replaced by ones made of bronze (tunç). Four vukiyyes of tin (kali), 32 vukiyyes of raw copper (nühâs-› hâm) and 64 vukiyyes of zinc ferment or alloy (rûy-i maye) were needed for every 100 vukiyyes of bronze bearing pintles. Also, one k›yye of hark-i nâr was required for every ten vukiyyes of the product. It seems that new regulations were applied to a new frigate under construction on Limni on the same date. It was declared that eight bearing pintles for rudders (465 vukiyyes) would be produced by Dimitri, the chief founder at the Tersâne-i Âmire on 3 September 1796. The Ottoman authorities continued the copper-sheathing applications in the following years. On 3 January 1806, 30,000 kiyyes of copper were demanded from the Darphâne-i Âmire for the re-sheathing of five naval ships with copper plates (nühas tahta) and the repair of the copper elements of some other ships at the naval arsenal.

Foxtrot on the Brink

The Foxtrot class was the NATO reporting name of a class of diesel-electric patrol submarines that were built in the Soviet Union. The Soviet designation of this class was Project 641. The Foxtrot class was designed to replace the earlier Zulu class, which suffered from structural weaknesses and harmonic vibration problems that limited its operational depth and submerged speed. The first Foxtrot keel was laid down in 1957 and commissioned in 1958 and the last was completed in 1983. A total of 58 were built for the Soviet Navy at the Sudomekh division of the Admiralty Shipyard (now Admiralty Wharves), St. Petersburg.[1] Additional hulls were built for other countries.

In the Cold War era, that commitment began with the massive submarine construction programs initiated immediately after World War II-the long-range Project 611/Zulu, the medium-range Project 613/Whiskey, and the coastal Project 615/Quebec classes. Not only did these craft serve as the foundation for the Soviet Navy’s torpedo-attack submarine force for many years, but converted Zulus and Whiskeys were also the first Soviet submarines to mount ballistic and cruise missiles, and several other ships of these designs were employed in a broad range of research and scientific endeavors.

These construction programs were terminated in the mid-1950s as part of the large-scale warship cancellations that followed dictator Josef Stalin’s death in March 1953. But the cancellations also reflected the availability of more-advanced submarine designs. Project 641 (NATO Foxtrot) would succeed the 611/Zulu as a long-range torpedo submarine, and Project 633 (NATO Romeo) would succeed the 613/Whiskey as a medium-range submarine. There would be no successor in the coastal category as the Soviet Navy increasingly undertook “blue water” operations. Early Navy planning provided for the construction of 160 Project 641/ Foxtrot submarines.

Designed by Pavel P. Pustintsev at TsKB-18 (Rubin), Project 641 was a large, good-looking submarine, 2991/2 feet (91.3 m) in length, with a surface displacement of 1,957 tons. Armament consisted of ten 21-inch (533-mm) torpedo tubes-six bow and four stern. Project 641/Foxtrot had three diesel engines and three electric motors with three shafts, as in the previous Project 611/Zulu (and smaller Project 615/Quebec). Beyond the increase in range brought about by larger size, some ballast tanks were modified for carrying fuel. Submerged endurance was eight days at slow speeds without employing a snorkel, an exceptional endurance for the time. The Foxtrot introduced AK-25 steel to submarines, increasing test depth to 920 feet (280 m). The large size also provided increased endurance, theoretically up to 90 days at sea.

The lead ship, the B-94, was laid down at the Sudomekh yard in Leningrad on 3 October 1957; she was launched-64 percent complete-in less than three months, on 28 December. After completion and sea trials, she was commissioned on 25 December 1958. Through 1971 the Sudomekh Admiralty complex completed 58 ships of this design for the Soviet Navy.

Additional units were built at Sudomekh from 1967 to 1983 specifically for transfer to Cuba (3), India (8), and Libya (6). The Indian submarines were modified for tropical climates, with increased air conditioning and fresh water facilities. Later, two Soviet Foxtrots were transferred to Poland. The foreign units brought Project 641/Foxtrot production to 75 submarines, the largest submarine class to be constructed during the Cold War except for the Project 613/Whiskey and Project 633/Romeo programs.

(Two Project 641 submarines are known to have been lost, the B-37 was sunk in a torpedo explosion at Polnaryy in 1962 and the B-33 sank at Vladivostok in 1991.)

The Soviet units served across the broad oceans for the next three decades. They operated throughout the Atlantic, being deployed as far as the Caribbean, and in the Pacific, penetrating into Hawaiian waters. And Foxtrots were a major factor in the first U.S.-Soviet naval confrontation.


Standing on the deck of his submarine, staring at a strange-looking torpedo, Captain First Rank Ryurik Ketov flipped up the collar on the back of his navy blue overcoat to shield his neck from the cold. A fading September sun coated the waters of Sayda Bay and reflected remnants of orange and yellow from the sides of a floating crane. The crane hovered over Ketov’s boat and lowered a purple-tipped torpedo through the loading hatch. Within minutes the long cylinder disappeared into the forward torpedo room. Blowing into his gloved hands to keep his nose warm, Ketov glanced at the submarine’s conning tower. Three large white numbers were painted on the side, but Ketov knew this label held no meaning, except to serve as a numerical decoy for enemy eyes. The boat’s real designation was B4—B as in Bolshoi, which means “large.”

The handsome, blue-eyed Ketov inherited his B-4 Project 641 submarine—known as a Foxtrot class by NATO forces—from his former commander, who was a drunk. Tradition dictated that submarine captains who were too inebriated to drive their boats into port should lie below until they sobered up. First officers took charge and positioned a broomstick on the bridge in their captain’s stead. Atop the handle they placed the CO’s cap so that admirals on shore peering through binoculars would raise no eyebrows. Ketov stood watch with a broom more times than he could recall. He didn’t dislike vodka, nor did he disapprove of his CO’s desire to partake, but Ketov felt that a man must know his limits and learn to steer clear of such rocks when under way. He demanded no less of his crew. Unfortunately, as his appointment to commander required the approval of the dozen sub skippers in his group, and all of them drank like dolphins, Ketov’s stance on alcohol held him back for a year when he came up for promotion.

The Soviet navy formed the sixty-ninth Brigade of Project 641 submarines in the summer of 1962. Ketov and his comrade captains were ordered to prepare for an extended deployment, which they suspected might be to Africa or Cuba. Some wives, filled with excitement, anticipated a permanent transfer to a warm locale.

The four subs arrived in Gadzhiyevo at Sayda Bay a month earlier and were incorporated into the Twentieth Submarine Squadron along with the seven missile boats. Vice Admiral Rybalko assumed command of the squadron, and over the next thirty days, each boat was loaded with huge quantities of fuel and stores.

Now, aboard B-4, Captain Ketov coughed into the wind and turned to stare at the weapons security officer. Perched near the crane, the man shouted orders and waved long arms at the fitful dockworkers. The officer’s blue coveralls and pilotka “piss cutter” cap signified that he belonged to the community of submariners, but Ketov knew better. The shape of a sidearm bulged from under the man’s tunic, and his awkwardness around the boat made it obvious that he was not a qualified submariner.

Ketov also knew that the security officer came from Moscow with orders to help load, and then guard, the special weapon. Although he’d not yet been briefed about the weapon, Ketov figured this torpedo with the purple-painted nose, which stood in sharp contrast against the other gray torpedoes on board, would probably send a radiation Geiger counter into a ticking frenzy.

Ketov looked down at the oily water that slapped against the side of his boat. Attached by long steel cables, three sister boats of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet floated nearby. If one approached these late-model attack subs from the front, their jet-black hulls, upward-sloping decks, and wide conning towers with two rows of Plexiglas windows might look menacing. The silver shimmer of their sonar panels, running across the bow like wide strips of duct tape, might appear odd. The reflective panels of the passive acoustic antenna, jutting from the deck near the bow, might look borrowed from the set of a science-fiction movie. But the seasoned sailors on the decks of these workhorses were unmistakably Russian, and undeniably submariners.

Ketov strutted across the wooden brow that connected B-4 to the pier. Two guards, with AK-47 assault rifles slung on their shoulders, snapped to and saluted. Ice crunched under his boots as he walked toward a small shed less than a hundred meters away. Captain Second Rank Aleksei Dubivko, commander of B-36, matched his stride and let out a baritone grunt.

“Did they give you one of those purple-nosed torpedoes?”

“Yes,” Ketov answered, “they did.”

Although the round-faced commander was about Ketov’s height of five foot seven, Dubivko’s stocky frame stretched at the stitches of his overcoat. He let out another grunt and said, “Why are they giving us nuclear-tipped weapons? Are we starting a war?”

“Maybe,” Ketov said. “Or maybe we’re preventing one.”

Dubivko’s boots clicked on the ice as he hurried to keep up with Ketov. “We haven’t even tested these weapons. We haven’t trained our crews. They have fifteen-megaton warheads.”


“So if we use them, we’ll wipe out everything within a sixteen-kilometer radius. Including ourselves.”

Ketov neared the door of the shed and stopped to face Dubivko. “Then let’s hope we never have to use them.”

Dubivko let out a low growl and followed Ketov into the shack.

Inside, Captain First Rank Nikolai Shumkov, commander of submarine B-130, stood by the door. Only a few stress lines underscored his brown eyes and marked his boyish features. Next to Shumkov, Captain Second Rank Vitali Savitsky, commander of B-59, appeared tired and bored. None of them had slept much since their trip from Polyarny to Sayda Bay.

The tiny shed, once used for storage, offered no windows. A single dim bulb hung from the ceiling and cast eerie shadows inside. Someone had nailed the Order of Ushakov Submarine Squadron flag on one wall. The unevenly placed red banner, fringed in gold and smeared with water stains, appeared as if hung by a child in a hurry. In one corner sat a small stove that flickered with yellow sparks but offered little warmth. The air smelled of burnt coal.

One metal table graced the center of the room, where the squadron commander, Leonid Rybalko, sat with his arms crossed. Ketov noticed that the vice admiral shivered, despite being bundled in a dark navy greatcoat and wool senior officers’ mushanka cap. The tall, broad-shouldered Rybalko had a reputation for analytical brilliance and a smooth, engaging wit. A dedicated performer, Rybalko exuded the confidence and mastery of a seasoned leader.

To the side and behind Rybalko, the deputy supreme commander of the Navy Fleet, Admiral Vitali Fokin, fidgeted with his watch. Thin and lofty, Fokin kept his back straight. Ketov deduced that Fokin, given his close relationship with Fleet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, held the reins of what ever mission they were about to undertake. A slew of other officers filled the room, including Anatoly Rossokho, the two-star vice admiral chief of staff. Ketov suspected that Rossokho was here to define their rules of engagement about using the special nuclear torpedoes.

Vice Admiral Rybalko motioned for everyone to find a seat. He coughed and brought a handkerchief to his lips to spit out a clump of mucus. His face looked pale and sickly. He locked his eyes on each submarine commander one at a time. When he looked at Ketov, those few moments seemed like days.

“Good morning, Commanders,” Rybalko said. “Today is an important day. I’m not going to discuss mission details, as we’ve included those in your sealed briefings, which you will open under way. So instead we will focus on other aspects of your mission.”

Metal clanked as an attendant creaked open the front panel on the hot stove and dumped in another can of coal pellets.

Rybalko continued. “I’m sure you all know Admiral Fokin. He asked me to emphasize that each of you has been entrusted with the highest responsibility imaginable. Your actions and decisions on this mission could start or prevent a world war. The four of you have been given the means with which to impose substantial harm upon the enemy. Discretion must be used. Fortunately, our intelligence sources report that American antisubmarine warfare activity should be light during your transit.”

Ketov hoped that the ASW intelligence report was correct but feared that optimism probably overruled reality. He glanced at the other sub commanders. Dubivko and Shumkov wore excited smiles. Savitsky, who’d earned the nickname “Sweat Stains” because he was always perspiring about something, wrinkled his brow. Ketov, who received the title of “Comrade Cautious,” shared Savitsky’s angst. As adventurous as this might seem to Dubivko and Shumkov, Ketov knew Project 641 submarines were not designed for extended runs into hot tropical waters and had no business carrying nuclear torpedoes.

Rybalko imparted more information, concluded his speech, and asked if anyone had questions.

Ketov raised a hand. “I do, Comrade Admiral. I understand that our sealed orders provide mission details, but we share concerns about our rules of engagement and the special weapon. When should we use it?”

Vice Admiral Rossokho broke in. “Comrade Commanders, you will enter the following instructions into your logs when you return to your submarines: Use of the special weapons is authorized only for these three situations—One, you are depth charged, and your pressure hull is ruptured. Two, you surface, and enemy fire ruptures your pressure hull. Three, upon receipt of explicit orders from Moscow.”

There were no further questions.

After the meeting, Ketov followed the group out into the cold. A witch’s moon clung to the black sky and hid behind a dense fog that touched the ground with icy fingers. Ketov reached into his coat pocket and took out a cigarette. Dubivko, standing nearby, held up a lighter. Ketov bent down to accept the flame. Captains Shumkov and Savitsky also lit smokes as they shivered in the dark.

Between puffs, Ketov posed the first question to Captain Savitsky. “How are your diesels holding up?”

Savitsky cringed. “No problems yet, but I’m still worried about what might happen after they’ve been run hard for weeks. If they fail on this mission…” Savitsky’s voice trailed off as he shook his head.

Ketov knew that shipyard workers had discovered flaws in B-130’s diesel engines during the boat’s construction. The shipyard dismissed the hairline cracks as negligible, and Savitsky did not press the issue, as to do so would have resulted in his sub’s removal from the mission. Still, he fretted endlessly about the consequences.

Sensing his friend’s distress, Ketov changed the subject. “Have you seen those ridiculous khaki trousers they delivered?”

“I’m not wearing those,” Savitsky said.

“I wouldn’t either,” Shumkov said, “if I had your skinny duck legs.”

Savitsky snorted and threw his head back. “I’d like to see how you look in those shorts, Comrade Flabby Ass.”

“Right now,” Dubivko said as he pulled his coat tighter, “I’d rather look like a duck in shorts than a penguin in an overcoat.”

Ketov smiled and shook his head. “I’m going back to my boat, try on those silly shorts, and have a long laugh and a can of caviar.”

“And maybe some vodka?” Shumkov said.

“I wish,” Ketov said. “We cast lines at midnight.”

Shumkov nodded and said nothing.

Savitsky raised his chin toward Ketov. “Do you think we’re coming back or staying there permanently?”

Ketov shrugged. “All I know is that we can’t wear those stupid shorts in this weather.”

Back on board B-4, Captain Ketov sat on the bunk in his cabin and stroked the soft fur of the boat’s cat. “It’s time to go, Pasha.”

Over the past year, the calico had become a close member of B-4’s family. Like many Russian submarines, B-4 enlisted the services of felines to hunt down rats that managed to find their way on board, usually by way of one of the shorelines. Boats often carried at least one or two cats on board, and the furry creatures spent their entire lives roaming the decks in search of snacks and curling up next to sailors on bunks. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, headquarters decreed that cats were forbidden on this journey. Given no choice, Ketov found a good home for Pasha with a friend who could care for her and keep her safe.

As Pasha purred by his side, Ketov reached for a can of tuna. “The least I can do is give you a nice snack before we leave.”

Ketov thought about his mother, still living in the rural Siberian village of Kurgan. She’d lost her husband to one war; would she now sacrifice her first born son? When Ketov was thirteen, his father, who was an accountant with bad eyesight, was forced to fight in the battle at Leningrad. He was killed in his first engagement. Ketov became the man of the house and helped support his younger siblings and his mother, who earned a meager teacher’s salary. He could still not explain why, but the day he turned eighteen, one year after the war ended, he took the train to Moscow and enrolled in the naval college. He also had no explanation for why he’d jumped at the chance to serve aboard submarines. He only knew that, despite the sacrifices and often miserable conditions on the boats, no other life could fulfill him like the one under the sea.

A few minutes past midnight on October 1, 1962, Captain Ketov stood on the bridge of B-4 and watched Captain Savitsky cast off lines and guide B-59 away from the pier using her quiet electric motors. Captain Vasily Arkhipov, the brigade’s chief of staff, stood next to Savitsky in the small cockpit up in the conning tower. A flurry of snow mingled with the fog and dusted the boat’s black hull with streaks of white. Thirty minutes later, B-36, commanded by Dubivko, followed in the wake of her sister sub and disappeared into the darkness of the bay. After another thirty minutes, Shumkov, in B-130, followed by Ketov in B-4, maneuvered away from the pier. Ketov stared into the blackness as the three subs ahead of him, all with running lights off, vanished into the night. Then he heard the low rumble of B-59’s diesel engines, signaling that Savitsky had cleared the channel and commenced one of the most important missions undertaken by the Russian navy since World War II.

Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Early medieval Europeans received from their predecessors two broad ranges of wooden shipbuilding traditions, one in the Mediterranean and the other in the northern seas. At the same time Chinese shipwrights had already developed the central features of the design of the junk. Its watertight compartments, adjustable keel, and highly flexible number of masts each carrying a lug sail with battens, made the junk a highly versatile and reliable seagoing ship. Junks by the year 1000 were much larger than any ships in Europe or in the great oceanic area where a Malaysian shipbuilding tradition predominated. There, ocean-going rafts with outriggers or twin hulls and rigged with, at first, bipole masts ranged much more widely than vessels from any other part of the world carrying the designs and building practices across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar and around the Pacific Ocean to the islands of Polynesia. Along the shores of the Arabian Sea shipbuilders constructed dhows, relatively shallow cargo vessels rigged with a single triangular or lateen sail. The planks of the hulls were typically sewn together with pieces of rope, a loose system which made the hull flexible, and so able to handle rough seas, but not very watertight. There were also serious limitations on how big such hulls could be built, unlike junks where vessels of one thousand tons and more seem to have been feasible.

Mediterranean Practice

Roman shipbuilders followed Greek practices in building their hulls with mortise and tenon joints. Wedges or tenons were placed in cavities or mortises gouged out of the planks and held in place by wooden nails passed through the hull planks and the tenons. In the Roman Empire the methods of fastening predominated on all parts of ships, including the decks, and the tenons were very close to each other. The resulting hull was extremely strong, heavy, and sturdy so the internal framing was minimal. The hull was also very watertight but even so the surface was often covered with wax or even copper sheathing to protect it from attack by shipworm (Teredo navalis). Propulsion came from a single square sail stepped near the middle of the ship. Often the mainsail was supplemented with a small square sail slung under the bowsprit. Roman shipbuilders produced vessels of two general categories, round ships with length-to-breadth ratios of about 3:1 propelled entirely by sails, and galleys with length-to-breadth ratios of about 5:1 propelled both by the standard rig and by oars. Although it was possible to have multiple banks of rowers, in the Roman Empire there was typically only one, with each rower handling a single oar. Shipbuilders gave all those vessels at least one but often two side rudders for control.

As the economy declined in the early Middle Ages and the supply of skilled labor was reduced, the quality of shipbuilding deteriorated. The distance between mortise and tenon joints increased, and on the upper parts of hulls such joints disappeared entirely with planks merely pinned to internal frames. The trend led by the end of the first millennium C.E. to a new form of hull construction. Instead of relying on the exterior hull for strength, shipbuilders transferred the task of maintaining the integrity of the vessel to the internal frame. The process of ship construction as a result reversed, with the internal ribs set up first and then the hull planks added. The planks were still fitted end-to-end as with the old method but now to maintain watertightness they needed to be caulked more extensively and more regularly. The internal frames gave shape to the hull so their design became much more important. The designer of those frames in turn took on a significantly higher status, the hewers of the planks a lesser position. The new type of skeleton-first construction made for a lighter and more flexible ship which was easier to build, needed less wood, but required more maintenance. Increasing the scale of the ship or changing the shape of the hull was now easier. Builders used the new kind of construction both on large sailing round ships and oared galleys.

In the course of the early Middle Ages Mediterranean vessels went through a change in rigging as well. Triangular lateen sails were in use in classical Greece and Rome for small vessels. As big ships disappeared with the decline of the Roman Empire and economy the lateen sail came to dominate and square sails all but disappeared. Lateen sails had the advantage of making it possible to sail closer to the wind. Lateen sails had the disadvantage that when coming about, that is changing course by something of the order of ninety degrees, the yard from which the sail was hung had to be moved to the other side of the mast. In order to do that the yard had to be carried over the top of the mast, which was a clumsy, complex, and manpower-hungry operation. There was a limitation then on the size of sails and thus on the size of ships. It was possible to add a second mast, which shipbuilders often did both on galleys and on round ships since that was the only way to increase total sail area.

Northern European Practice

Shipbuilders around the Baltic and North Seas in the early Middle Ages produced a variety of different types of vessels which were the ancestors of a range of craft that melded together over the years to create one principal kind of sailing ship. The rowing barge was a simple vessel with overlapping planking. The planks could be held fast by ropes but over time shipbuilders turned to wooden nails or iron rivets for the purpose. That type of lapstrake construction for hulls meant that internal ribs were of little importance in strengthening the hull. At first shipwrights used long planks running from bow to stern but they discovered that by scarfing shorter pieces together not only did they eliminate a constraint on the length of their vessels but they also increased the flexibility of the hulls. At some point, probably in the eighth century, the rowing barge got a real keel and also a single square sail on a single mast stepped in the middle of the ship. The new type, with both ends looking much the same, was an effective open ocean sailor. Scandinavian shipbuilders produced broadly two versions of what can be called the Viking ship after its most famous users. One version was low, and fitted with oars and a mast that could be taken down or put up quickly and with a length-to-breadth ratio of 5:1 or 6:1. The other version had a fixed mast, few if any oars at the bow and stern which were there just to help in difficult circumstances, and a length-to-breadth ratio of around 3:1. Both types had a single side rudder which apparently gave a high degree of control. The Viking ship evolved into a versatile cargo ship which was also effective as a military transport and warship. Often called a keel because of one of the features which allowed it to take to the open ocean, it was produced in variations throughout northern Europe and along the Atlantic front as far south as Iberia.

The other types that came from early medieval northern shipyards were more limited in size and complexity. The hulk had a very simple system of planking which gave way over time to lapstrake construction. The hull had the form of a banana and there was no keel so it proved effective in use on rivers and in estuaries. The hull planks, because of the shape of the hull, met at the bow in a unique way and were often held in place by tying them together. Rigging was a single square sail on a single mast which could be, in the case of vessels designed for river travel, set well forward. The cog had a very different form from the hulk. While the planks on the sides overlapped there was a sharp angle between those side planks and the ones on the bottom. Those bottom planks were placed end-to-end and the floor was virtually flat. With posts at either end almost vertical the hull was somewhat box-like. The type was suited to use on tidal flats where it could rest squarely on the bottom when the tide was out, be unloaded and loaded, and then float off when the tide came in. There was a single square sail on a single mast placed in the middle of the ship. The design certainly had Celtic origins but it was transformed by shipwrights in the High Middle Ages to make it into the dominant cargo and military vessel of the North.

Shipbuilders, possibly in the Low Countries, gave the cog a keel. In doing that they also made changes in the form of the hull, overlapping the bottom planks and modifying the sharp angles between the bottom and side planks. The result was a still box-like hull which had greater carrying capacity per unit length than keels. The cog could also be built higher than its predecessors but that meant passing heavy squared timbers through from one side to the other high in the ship to keep the sides in place. Shipbuilders fitted the hull planks into the heavy posts at the bow and stern and also fixed a rudder to the sternpost which was more stable than a side rudder. In the long run it would prove more efficient as well. Cogs could be and were made much larger than other contemporary vessels. Greater size meant a need for a larger sail and a larger crew to raise it. To get more sail area sailors added a bonnet, an extra rectangular piece of canvas that could be temporarily sewn to the bottom of the sail. That gave the mariners greater flexibility in deploying canvas without increasing manning requirements. Riding higher in the water and able to carry larger numbers of men than other contemporary types cogs became the standard vessels of northern naval forces, doubling as cargo ships in peacetime.

While the two shipbuilding traditions of the Mediterranean and northern Europe remained largely isolated through the early and High Middle Ages, from the late thirteenth century both benefited from extensive contact and borrowing of designs and building methods. Sailors in southern Europe used the cog certainly by the beginning of the fourteenth century and probably earlier. Shipwrights in the Mediterranean appreciated the advantages of greater carrying capacity but they were also conscious of the limitations set by the simple rig. They added a second mast near the stern and fitted it with a lateen sail. They also changed the form of hull construction, going over to skeleton-first building. The result was the carrack, in use by the late fourteenth century. It was easier to build, probably lighter than a cog of the same size, and could be built bigger. Most of all the two masts and the presence of a triangular sail gave mariners greater control over their vessels and made it possible for them to sail closer to the wind. The next logical step, taken sometime around the end of the fourteenth century, was to add a third small mast near the bow to balance the one at the stern. The driving sail and principal source of propulsion was still the mainsail on the mainmast but the combination or full-rig made ships more maneuverable and able to sail in a greater variety of conditions. While older forms of ships, such as the keel or the cog or the lateen-rigged cargo ship of the Mediterranean, did not by any means disappear, the full-rigged ship came to dominate exchange over longer distances, especially in the form of the full-rigged carrack travelling between southern and northern Europe. Northern Europeans were slow to adapt to skeleton-first hull construction, in some cases even combining old methods with the new one. By the end of the fifteenth century the full-rigged ship was the preferred vessel for many intra-European trades, in part because of its handling qualities, in part because of its versatility, and in part because its crew size could be reduced per ton of goods carried compared to other types. The greater range also led to its replacing, for example, the simpler, lower, lateen-rigged caravel in Portuguese voyages of exploration along the west coast of Africa. Full-rigged ships in daily use were the choice for voyages of exploration and became in the Renaissance the vehicles for European domination of the ocean seas and for the resulting international trading connections and colonization.


The Arabian Peninsula, surrounded by the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf, had a geostrategic position in relations between East and West. Before the beginning of Islam in 622 the Arabs had had some nautical experience which was reflected in the Qur’an (VI, 97: “It is He who created for you the stars, so that they may guide you in the darkness of land and sea”; XIV, 32: “He drives the ships which by His leave sail the ocean in your service”; XVI, 14: “It is He who has subjected to you the ocean so that you may eat of its fresh fish and you bring up from it ornaments with which to adorn your persons. Behold the ships plowing their course through it.”) and in ancient poetry (some verses of the poets Tarafa, al-A‘sha’, ‘Amr Ibn Kulthum, and others). Arabs used the sea for transporting goods from or to the next coasts and for the exploitation of its resources (fish, pearls, and coral). However, their experience in maritime matters was limited due to the very rugged coastline of Arabia with its many reefs and was limited to people living on the coast. Because they lacked iron, Arab shipwrights did not use nails, but rather secured the timbers with string made from palm tree thread, caulked them with oakum from palm trees, and covered them with shark fat. This system provided the ships with the necessary flexibility to avoid the numerous reefs. The Andalusi Ibn Jubayr and the Magribi Ibn Battuta confirm these practices in the accounts of their travels that brought them to this area in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, respectively. Ibn Battuta also notes that in the Red Sea people used to sail only from sunrise to sunset and by night they brought the ships ashore because of the reefs. The captain, called the rubban, always stood at the bow to warn the helmsman of reefs.

The regularity of the trade winds, as well as the eastward expansion of Islam, brought the Arabs into the commercial world of the Indian Ocean, an experience that was reflected in a genre of literature which mixes reality and fantasy. Typical are the stories found in the Akhbar al-Sin wa-l-Hind (News of China and India) and ’Aja’ib al-Hind (Wonders of India), as well as the tales of Sinbad the Sailor from the popular One Thousand and One Nights. But medieval navigation was also reflected in the works of the pilots such as *Ahmad Ibn Majid (whose book on navigation has been translated into English) and Sulayman al-Mahri.

In the Mediterranean Sea

The conquests by the Arabs of Syria and Egypt in the seventh century gave them access to the Mediterranean, which they called Bahr al-Rum (Byzantine Sea) or Bahr al-Sham (Syrian Sea). Nautical conditions were very different in this sea: irregular but moderate winds, no heavy swells, and a mountainous coastline that provided ample visual guides for the sailors on days with good visibility. The Arabs took advantage of the pre-existing nautical traditions of the Mediterranean peoples they defeated. In addition, we have evidence for the migration of Persian craftsmen to the Syrian coast to work in ship building, just as, later on, some Egyptian craftsmen worked in Tunisian shipyards.

The Arab conquests of the Iberian Peninsula (al-Andalus) and islands such as Sicily, Crete, and Cyprus set off a struggle between Christian and Muslim powers for control of the Mediterranean for trade, travel, and communications in general. Different Arab states exercised naval domination of the Mediterranean, especially during the tenth century. According to the historian Ibn Khaldun, warships were commanded by a qa’id, who was in charge of military matters, armaments, and soldiers, and a technical chief, the ra’is, responsible for purely naval tasks. As the Arabs developed commercial traffic in Mediterranean waters, they developed a body of maritime law which was codified in the Kitab Akriyat al-sufun (The Book of Chartering Ships). From the end of the tenth century and throughout the eleventh, Muslim naval power gradually began to lose its superiority.

In navigation technique, the compass reached al-Andalus by the eleventh century, permitting mariners to chart courses with directions added to the distances of the ancient voyages. The next step was the drawing of navigational charts which were common by the end of the thirteenth century. Ibn Khaldun states that the Mediterranean coasts were drawn on sheets called kunbas, used by the sailors as guides because the winds and the routes were indicated on them.

In the Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic coasts of Europe and Africa, despite their marginal situation with respect to the known world at that time, had an active maritime life. The Arabs usually called this Ocean al-Bahr al-Muhit (“the Encircling or Surrounding Sea”), sometimes al-Bahr al-Azam (“the Biggest Sea”), al-Bahr al-Akhdar (“the Green Sea”) or al-Bahr al-Garbi (“the Western Sea”) and at other times al-Bahr al-Muzlim (“the Gloomy Sea”) or Bahr al-Zulumat (“Sea of Darkness”), because of its numerous banks and its propensity for fog and storms. Few sailors navigated in the open Atlantic, preferring to sail without losing sight of the coast. The geographer *al-Idrisi in the middle of the twelfth century informs us so: “Nobody knows what there is in that sea, nor can ascertain it, because of the difficulties that deep fogs, the height of the waves, the frequent storms, the innumerable monsters that dwell there, and strong winds offer to navigation. In this sea, however, there are many islands, both peopled and uninhabited. No mariners dare sail the high seas; they limit themselves to coasting, always in sight of land.” Other geographers, including Yaqut and al-Himyari, mention this short-haul, cabotage style of navigation. Yaqut observes that, on the other side of the world, in the faraway lands of China, people did not sail across the sea either. And al-Himyari specifies that the Atlantic coasts are sailed from the “country of the black people” north to Brittany. In the fourteenth century, Ibn Khaldun attributed the reluctance of sailors to penetrate the Ocean to the inexistence of nautical charts with indications of the winds and their directions that could be used to guide pilots, as Mediterranean charts did. Nevertheless, Arab authors describe some maritime adventurers who did embark on voyages of exploration.

Fluvial Navigation

Only on the great rivers such as the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile and, in the West, the Guadalquivir was there significant navigation. It was common to establish ports in the estuaries of rivers to make use of the banks to protect the ships.

Nautical Innovations

Two important innovations used by the Arabs in medieval period are worthy of mention: the triangular lateen sail (also called staysail), and the sternpost rudder. The lateen sail made it possible to sail into the wind and was widely adopted in the Mediterranean Sea, in view of its irregular winds. The Eastern geographer Ibn Hawqal, in the tenth century, described seeing vessels in the Nile River that were sailing in opposite directions even though they were propelled by the same wind. To mount only one rudder in the sternpost which could be operated only by one person proved vastly more efficient that the two traditional lateral oars it replaced. Although some researchers assert that this type of rudder originated in Scandinavia and then diffused to the Mediterranean Sea, eventually reaching the Arabs, it is most likely a Chinese invention which, thanks to the Arabs, reached the Mediterranean.

Toward Astronomical Navigation

The Arabs made great strides in astronomical navigation in the medieval period. With the help of astronomical tables and calendars, Arab sailors could ascertain solar longitude at a given moment and, after calculating the Sun’s altitude as it comes through the Meridian with an astrolabe or a simple quadrant, they could know the latitude of the place they were in. At night, they navigated by the altitude of the Pole Star. For this operation Arab sailors in the Indian Ocean used a simple wooden block with a knotted string called the kamal which was used to take celestial altitudes. They also knew how to correct Pole Star observations to find the true North. Ibn Majid, for example, made this correction with the help of the constellation called Farqadan, which can only be seen in equatorial seas.

The determination of the longitude was a problem without a practical solution until the invention of the chronometer in the eighteenth century. Arab sailors probably may have used a sand clock to measure time, because they knew how to produce a type of glass that was not affected by weather conditions. So they could estimate the distance that the ship had already covered, even though speed could not be accurately determined. The navigational time unit used was called majra, which the geographer Abu l-Fida’ defines as “the distance that the ship covers in a day and a night with a following wind,” a nautical day that it is the rough equivalent of one hundred miles.


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HMS Inflexible (1876)

Inflexible, 1876, as completed with sails for training. Note the torpedo launching chute over the stem.

The design concept of Inflexible was of a raft, the citadel, which would float if the ends were destroyed or flooded. The ends were closely subdivided and protected by a thick deck. A light, unprotected structure above provided accommodation.

In 1885 Inflexible’s sailing rig was replaced by two military masts.

In a letter to The Times of 1 January 1877, Edward Reed described the Inflexible as `… a huge engine of war, animated and put into activity in every part by steam and steam alone. The main propelling engines are worked by steam, a separate steam engine starts and stops them; steam ventilates the monster, steam weighs the anchors, steam steers her, steam pumps her out if she leaks, steam loads the gun, steam trains it, steam elevates or depresses it. The Ship is a steam being .’

The 1873 Estimates envisaged the building of a single, improved ‘Fury’ (in fact, this meant Fury, not yet renamed, with the modifications which made her Dreadnought). The problem facing Barnaby was stark; the 12.5in, 38-ton gun fitted in recent ships could fire an 820lb projectile through 15.7in of iron armour at 1000yds. Fury’s 14in belt (amidships) was already inadequate and, furthermore, both Woolwich and Elswick claimed that 50-ton guns were within existing capabilities with even larger guns in the near future.

The early studies retained the main features of Dreadnought with the two twin 38-ton turrets augmented by a number of smaller guns en barbette amidships. In one such study a single 50-ton gun in a turret was squeezed in amidships. The 14in belt was retained amidships but the thinner belt at the ends was omitted and a thick transverse bulkhead fitted at each end of the belt. Thus the much admired end-to-end belt of Devastation was already abandoned for what must have been a very small saving in weight.

By this time Woolwich was speaking with confidence of a 60-ton gun and Barnaby was driven to a more radical solution. The main requirements seem to have been set by Barnaby himself, though presumably after discussion with Board members and others. The armament was to consist of two twin turrets with 60-ton guns capable, if possible of being changed to 80-ton guns when available. White described the problem: ‘At first it was contemplated to have 60-ton guns and the ship was laid down on this basis. Finally, in 1874 it was decided to adopt 80-ton guns, which involved an increased weight aloft of 200 tons, and considerably modified the design, the draft and displacement having to be increased. There had been some previous instances of ships getting ahead of the settlement of their gun designs but never so serious one as this. Unfortunately, it was only the first of a long series of similar difficulties … .’ The armour was to be concentrated over a short citadel with a maximum thickness of 24in. She was to be fast – 14kts – and capable of using the Suez Canal at light draught (24ft 4in). Barnaby’s ideas were generally welcomed and the design was progressed incorporating some detail improvements mainly suggested by the DNO, Captain Hood, but with some later ideas from Barnaby. The following paragraphs describe the design as it finally evolved.

The design concept was of a very heavily armoured raft containing the machinery and magazines on which the two turrets were carried. The ends were protected by a strong armoured deck below the waterline, by close subdivision and by buoyant material whilst a light superstructure provided living space. Even if both ends were flooded, the armoured box was intended to have sufficient buoyancy and stability to float upright. This stability requirement led to a wide beam which, in turn, meant that the turrets could fire close to the axis past the narrow superstructure, limited by blast damage to the superstructure. She was fitted with anti-rolling water tanks to reduce the severity of rolling but these were ineffective.

The earliest studies of this configuration showed 60-ton guns though provision was made to mount 100-ton guns when they became available. Woolwich built an experimental 80-ton MLR which completed in September 1875 with a 14.5in bore. After tests, it was bored out to 15in and after further tests in March 1876 it was finally enlarged to 16in bore with an 18in chamber, accepting a 370lb charge. This gun fired a total of 140 rounds-215,855lbs of iron from 42,203lbs of powder – mostly against what was known as ‘Target 41’ which had four 8in plates separated by 5in teak. The standard system of grooving used with studded shell proved troublesome and in final form it had thirty-nine shallow grooves (‘polygroove’) with a lead gas check at the base of the shell.

The production guns-80-ton, Mark I-were mounted in twin turrets each weighing 750 tons and 33ft 10in external diameter. These turrets had an outer layer of compound armour with 18in teak backing and an inner layer of 7in wrought iron. The projectile weighed 16841b and when fired with the full charge of 450lbs brown prism powder had a muzzle velocity of 1590ft/sec and in tests could penetrate 23in of wrought iron in either a single thickness or two plates spaced. The interval between rounds was said to be between 2½ and 4 minutes. To load, the guns were run out and depressed against ports in the deck through which hydraulic rams loaded the guns. Two of these monstrous guns survive on the train ferry pier at Dover, though the turret design is rather different and an early studded shell is in the Naval Armament Museum, Gosport.

Inflexible’s citadel was protected at the waterline by a strake of 12in plate, 4ft deep, backed by 11 in teak containing vertical frames. Behind this was another 12in plate backed by 6in horizontal frames, filled with teak followed by the shell of two thicknesses of ⅝in plate. The total thickness of this waterline belt was 4lin, weighing 1100lbs/sq ft and this thickness was preserved in the protection above and below, the thickness of teak increasing as that of the iron was reduced. Above the waterline strake there was a 12in outer plate and an 8in inner plate whilst below the thicknesses were 12in and 4in.

It is not clear why the armour was in two thicknesses as a 22in plate was made by 1877 and it was already recognised that two plates are inferior to a single plate of the same total thickness. A test in 1877 showed that a single plate 17-17½in thick was equivalent to three plates of 6½in. The waterline belt of 24in in total was the thickest belt ever carried on a battleship but it was only 4ft high and would have been of limited value. It does not seem that this protection was tried in final form. It was claimed that this protection was invulnerable to guns similar to those she carried and even to the 17.7in, 100-ton Elswick guns mounted in Italian ships but it was clearly the end of the road for wrought iron as the weight was already at the very limit of what could be carried.

The protection for the ends was a very sophisticated combination of measures. The first line of defence was a 3in wrought iron deck, normally 6-8ft below the waterline. The space between this deck and the middle deck, just above water, was closely subdivided and used for coal and stores which would limit the amount of water which could enter from holes in the side. In addition, narrow tanks 4ft wide and filled with cork were arranged at the sides between these decks and extending 4ft above the middle deck. Inside these cork-filled spaces there was a 2ft coffer dam filled with canvas packed with oakum. All these fillings were treated with calcium chloride to reduce their flammability although tests showed this was not very effective. This scheme has much in common with that which Reed proposed to the 1871 Committee.

In 1877, Reed wrote to Barnaby and later to The Times claiming that calculations which he and Elgar had made showed that the stability provided by the citadel was inadequate if both ends were flooded. Despite a comprehensive rebuttal by Barnaby, an enquiry was set up chaired by Admiral Hope and consisting of three distinguished engineers, Wooley, Rendel and W Froude. Their investigation was extremely thorough, entering into aspects of naval architecture never previously studied.

Their report concluded that it was most unlikely that both ends would be completely flooded but that if this did happen, the Inflexible would a retain a small but just adequate margin of stability in terms of the GZ curve. Their comments on the difficulty of actually hitting the enemy ship are of interest – remember the Glatton turret and Hotspurs initial miss! They listed the problems as the relative movements of the two ships, the smoke generated (470lbs of powder per round), the rolling and pitching of the firing ship, the lack of any way of determining range and the deflection due to wind. In particular, they noted that it was customary to fire the guns from a rolling ship when the deck appeared horizontal at which position the angular velocity was greatest. (Note also that Froude had showed that human balance organs are very bad at determining true vertical in a rolling ship.) All in all, hits anywhere on the ship would be few and those in a position to flood the ends few indeed.

A shell exploding within the cork would destroy it locally but tests showed that a shell hitting light structure would explode about  of a second later during which it would travel 6-10ft, clear of the cork. The canvas and oakum filling of the coffer dam was quite effective at reducing the size of the hole made by a projectile passing through. Both the cork and the coffer dam were tested full scale with the gunboat Nettle firing a 64pdr shell into replicas. The Committee also pointed out that shells were unlikely to enter the space between the waterline and armoured deck except at long range when hits were even less likely.

Though the Committee thought it was unlikely that the ends would be riddled (filled with water) and even less likely that they would be gutted (all stores, coal, cork etc, blown out with water filling the entire space), they examined these conditions with extreme care. Stability curves were prepared and Froude carried out rolling trials on a 1-ton model both in his experiment tank at Torquay and in waves at sea. The movement of floodwater within the ship acted to oppose rolling in waves, as in an anti-rolling tank. The effect of speed on the trim of the flooded model was also examined. Their conclusion was that the ship should survive this extreme condition but would be incapable of anything other than returning for repair.

This investigation was far more thorough than any previous study of the effects of damage and owed much to White’s calculations and Froude’s experiments. It was the first time that GZ curves of stability had been drawn for a damaged ship and the importance of armoured freeboard was brought out and it must be a matter for regret that similar work was not carried out for later ships. With the invaluable gift of hindsight, one may suggest two aspects not fully brought out. The first was the vulnerability of the citadel armour itself, particularly bearing in mind the shallow 24in layer, in two thicknesses, and the increasing power of guns. The second point was the assumption that the watertight integrity of the citadel would endure even when multiple hits had riddled the ends. The Victoria collision was to show that doors, ventilation and valves do not remain tight after damage and Inflexible would probably have foundered from slow flooding into this citadel. Barnaby claimed that she was designed to withstand a torpedo hit with the centreline bulkhead giving only a small heel – but he did not envisage flooding extending beyond one transverse compartment.

However, it is difficult to see a better solution to the design requirement and the concept received some vindication from the battle of the Yalu Sea on 17 September 1894 when two Chinese ironclads, Ting Yuen and Chen Yuan, to Inflexible’s configuration, but smaller, received a very large number of hits and survived. To some extent, the 1913 trial firings against the Edinburgh may be seen as justifying the concept. Opponents of the Inflexible mainly favoured protected cruisers whose only protection was similar to that at the ends of the Inflexible which they derided. White gives her cost as £812,000 though other, much lower, figures have been quoted. There were two diminutives which call for no mention.

‘The Ship is a Steam Being’

Reed’s letter, quoted at the beginning of the chapter, referred to the increasing use of auxiliary machinery. Some early examples include; a capstan in Hercules (1866), hydraulic steering gear, fitted to Warrior in 1870, and a steam steering engine for Northumberland as well as the turrets in Thunderer and later ships. The number increased rapidly and Inflexible was truly a ‘steam being’. Her auxiliaries comprised:

1 steering engine

2 reversing engines

2 vertical direct fire engines

2 pairs steam/hydraulic engines to work the 750-ton turrets

1 capstan engine

4 ash hoists

1 vertical direct turning engine

2 40hp pumping engines, total capacity 4800 tons/hr 2 donkey engines for bilge pumping

2 steam shot hoists

4 auxiliary feed, similar to donkey engines.

2 Brotherhood 3 cylinder for boat hoisting

4 Brotherhood 3-cylinder fan engines

4 Friedman ejectors

2 horizontal direct acting centrifugal circulating pump

The list above does not mention ventilation fans but it is virtually certain that these were fitted. It was some time before satisfactory ventilation systems were developed. An electric searchlight was tried in Comet in 1874 and the first permanent fitting was in Minotaur in 1876. Inflexible had 800-volt d.c. generators by the US Brush company. These powered arc lights in the machinery space and Swan ‘Glow’ lamps elsewhere. The Swan lamps were connected in series and it was a year before the 800-volt system killed its first victim. She was even launched by electricity; when Princess Louise touched a button, a wire fused and the bottle of wine fell and weights crashed onto the dog shores.

Fire Direction and Radar Equipment on the Bismarck Class BBs

Weapons and Fire Control Systems

The designers of the Bismarck class adhered to the tried and tested main armament arrangement of two twin turrets forward and aft, the rearmost of each superfiring. The reason for this was the better field of fire and more effective sequence of salvos. The smaller calibres—the 15cm secondary artillery and the 10.5cm flak—followed the previous layout.

The concept of the 15cm gun was its role as a classic anti-destroyer weapon. It fired a theoretical eight, but in practice only six, rounds per barrel per minute, and was in no respects of any value as an anti-aircraft gun, having too slow a rate of fire and turret rotation speed and an inadequate angle of elevation. Together with the main armament, it was used on Tirpitz in an anti-aircraft role as it could put up a long-range barrage of time-fused shells to confront approaching bomber formations with a curtain of shrapnel.

German naval flak was inadequate, and lacked a gun which was capable of engaging both a fast bomber at high altitude and long distance and also a torpedo bomber closing in just above the wave tops. The planners had failed to grasp the concept of the multi-purpose flak gun. There would certainly have been room for them, but it was left to other navies to address the problem and to come up with workable solutions towards the end of the war. Of course, Germany already had an excellent flak gun, the 12.7cm Flak L/45 Model 34, which had a range, at 30 degrees’ elevation, of 10,497.3m, a shell weight of 23.45kg and a muzzle velocity of 829.97m/sec and which had given outstanding results against enemy bombers over the Reich.

The VDI-Memorandum (which had had handwritten comments added in April 1957 by former ministerial adviser Dipl-Ing Ludwig Cordes, from December 1942 Chief of the Official Group for Artillery Construction at Naval Command, a personality familiar with the whole subject inside and out) drew special attention to fire direction centres with the following notable conclusion:

There was no technical expert at Naval Command (OKM) charged with responsibility for this particular interest. Rulings were ultimately within the jurisdiction of a military centre, which led to frequent erroneous decisions.’


There were two different models. The 10.5cm model C33 guns of Bismarck were fitted in twin mountings, C31 forward and C37 aft. The guns differed principally in the coordination system for their target data. In themselves both weapons were flawless, but unfortunately when the C37 had been shipped, the necessity to install the fire direction equipment individual to each model of gun had been overlooked, with the result that, when the fire direction instructions were transmitted, Flak C33 fired at the target and Flak C37 at a point beyond it. The error here clearly lay with Kriegsmarine planning, which resulted in the linking of an incompatible battery to the control centre.

Flak Direction Centres

Until the end of the war, German heavy units were equipped with grossly inferior flak direction centres based on the Cardan ring system with a large revolving base. At a massive 40 tons, their weight tended to affect the ship’s stability. In battle, many defects came to light, for the Cardan ring system was very sensitive to underwater hits: even the lightest hits could cause a break in the ring, resulting in a total system breakdown.

As early as 1932 engineers had set out proposals for an improved and more suitable development which had a smaller and triaxial rotating base. Despite repeated reminders, it was not until 1942 that the new device was first commissioned, and the experimental prototype was eventually ready by the end of the war though never fitted aboard ship. Complementing a far superior handling capability and better armour protection, the new device had a weight of only 6 tons.

In 1933 proposals had been put forward for automatic fire direction mountings for 3.7cm and 2cm guns. This demonstrates how far-sighted the German weapons engineering industry was, but in this case nothing came of the proposals.

Radar Equipment

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Germany had two workable radar systems, Freya (2.4cm waveband) and Würzburg (50cm waveband). At the time, the Third Reich led the world in this field. This would change. In the autumn of that year the British built a 12m system and then concentrated their efforts on the centimetre wavebands. In 1943, they introduced the 9cm device known to the Germans as ‘Rotterdam’.

In Germany the industry was fragmented, and instead of drawing on the experience of well-established firms, new companies were set up and the Luftwaffe commandeered all new developments. In 1942–43 it was decided that no new developments in radars of wavebands less than 20cm were possible, and all research into that area was abandoned. Only when a ‘Rotterdam’ set fell into German hands was work resumed. None of the equipment built worked satisfactorily in service. Germany had ‘missed the bus’.

These few concluding remarks may be sufficient to permit a more critical assessment of German warship construction of the period than is normally the case. At their completion, the two Bismarck class units were the culmination of capital ship building, but they were already obsolescent. They were powerful and sturdy fighting ships, but not unsinkable. In their final form they were, asthetically, the crowning glory of German warship construction.

The destruction by Bismarck of the world’s largest capital ship of the time, the battlecruiser Hood, is an impressive testimonial to German naval gunnery. But in respect of this success, it must be remembered that it was achieved against a warship which had been laid down in the Great War twenty-five years previously—certainly modernised but unchanged in her basic structure.




Preliminary reconstruction of one of Khubilai Khan’s lost ships. The result of generations of Chinese engineering and development, these were the world’s most advanced warships duringthe Medieval period. He squandered his naval advantage with poorly executed attacks on Japan, Vietnam, and Java.

Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet

In Search of a Legendary Armada

by James P. Delgado (Author)

On October 19, 1274, a massive Mongol war fleet sailed into Hakata, Japan’s most important harbor for overseas trade. Chinese records of the time claim a thousand ships and more than twenty-three thousand soldiers, though modern scholars believe that the actual numbers of both ships and soldiers were considerably smaller. To the beat of huge war drums the Mongols and their allied Korean troops came ashore in small landing craft. News of the imminent invasion had well preceded the fleet’s actual arrival, and a substantial force of samurai, at least six thousand, awaited them.

Hand-to-hand combat began on the beach. Both sides took heavy casualties. Japanese sources claim that two thousand samurai died on the beach and in the pine grove adjoining the shore. The Mongol forces gradually pushed the samurai back into Hakata town. Fighting continued in the streets and alleys. By nightfall, the invading troops had taken and burned the port. The defending samurai regrouped in the hills above the town.

Through the early hours of night the commanders of the Mongol/Korean force debated tactics. One faction favored an immediate night attack to press their advantage. Other commanders argued that the troops were exhausted and needed sleep. Finally, it was decided to continue the battle in the morning, and the troops returned to their ships. In the morning, however, the fleet was gone from Hakata Bay. Japanese sources report that a strong, “divine” wind blew the ships out of the harbor and into the sea.

The likeliest scenario is that the fleet simply sailed away, its commanders aware of problems that the Japanese were not. The fleet was low on arrows, having used large numbers in taking two strategic islands on the way to Hakata. The commanders perhaps also wanted to reconsider their strategy. Struggling ashore and fighting hand to hand on a beach and in trees was probably the least favorable terrain for Mongol troops. They were superb cavalry, trained for plains battles, massed arrow attacks, and group maneuvers, but largely untrained in hand-to-hand sword fighting on foot, and avoided this sort of battle whenever possible.

The results of the first battle of Hakata were perhaps satisfactory to the great Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson. His strategy was straightforward: conquer all China and supplant the Song dynasty. By and large, the war was going well. Mongol armies had pushed the Song into far southern China. The destruction of Hakata meant that the Song would gain no revenue from trade with Japan.

This first battle of Hakata, however, produced no shipwrecks. Even the Japanese sources concede that only a few of the Mongol ships were beached by the mysterious wind that blew the fleet back to “their lands.”

Much had changed between the first invasion attempt in 1274 and the second invasion in 1281. Mongol armies had pursued the remaining Song forces into South China, defeated them, and captured and executed the last emperor. Kublai Khan was, indeed, ruler of a united China, with all the resources and the problems that entailed. He founded a new dynasty, the Yuan, and moved his capital from Karakorum, deep in Mongolia, to Beijing, the better to rule his new conquests.

Kublai Khan sent envoys to Japan, in 1279, demanding surrender. The bakufu, head of the alliance of Japanese nobles, had the envoys executed on the beach at Hakata. Kublai Khan and the king of Korea conferred and agreed the invasion force to conquer Japan would consist of one hundred thousand troops. The king of Korea agreed to construct an enormous fleet, which would carry Mongol and Korean troops across the Korea Strait to Hakata. Kublai Khan ordered a second fleet constructed on the Chinese coast, which would carry Chinese troops to join the Koreans and Mongols at Iki Island off Japan’s west coast.

For more than a year, in both Korea and south China forests were stripped for the ships and harsh taxes levied to equip them. The Koreans, eager to engage, sailed in early May 1281, knowing that the Chinese fleet was not ready. The samurai had constructed a stone wall along the beach at Hakata, which halted the invading force. In heavy fighting the samurai drove the Mongols and Koreans back to their boats. A stalemate set in, the samurai holding the beach and the port and the Mongols and Koreans holding the harbor. The samurai attacked the fleet in small boats, sometimes boarding, sometimes pushing fire-rafts to burn the invader’s ships. The attacks eventually forced the invading fleet into a compact defensive circle in the bay.

The Chinese fleet eventually did arrive but could not assist in the stalemate at Hakata. Instead, the Chinese attacked inland from Imari Bay, thirty miles south of Hakata. Samurai fought the Chinese soldiers in the inland hills, finally pushing them back to their ships. In the end a typhoon destroyed both fleets, which were at anchor through the height of the typhoon season. The fierce storm piled ship upon ship, driving them onto the rocky shore. Casualty estimates are, of course, speculative but run upward of fifty thousand men. Some thirty thousand Chinese soldiers were captured and enslaved. Both Chinese and Japanese sources agree that the second battle of Hakata Bay littered the bottom with wreckage.

The Mongols at War

The two opponents at Hakata Bay had quite different military and political backgrounds. Fifty years earlier Genghis Khan had reorganized bands of steppe cavalry into the most successful rapid strike force the world had ever seen. The important changes were in organization, discipline, and ideology. Genghis Khan reassigned the men of family and ethnic units into mixed units, thereby promoting loyalty to the larger Mongol goals rather than narrow family concerns. The units were arranged on a decimal system, with commanders over one hundred, a thousand, and ten thousand men. Cavalry practiced daily and honed their skills in frequent large hunts. Genghis Khan also enforced discipline on the welter of ethnicities that constituted his army. For example, looting after battle was prohibited on pain of death. The military goal was to annihilate the opposing force, and looting disrupted the process. Genghis Khan promulgated and practiced his belief in “world conquest”—his forces were destined to defeat all opposition and rule the entire world. This ideology is perhaps best exemplified by a letter from Guyuk, grandson of Genghis Khan, to Pope Urban IV. The pope, in an official letter, proposed an alliance between the European kings and the Mongols against Muslims, as their common foe. Guyuk replied:

Thanks to the power of the Eternal Heaven, all lands have been given to us from sunrise to sunset. How could anyone act other than in accordance with the commands of Heaven? Now your own upright heart must tell you: “We will become subject to you, and will place our powers at your disposal.” You in person, at the head of the monarchs, all of you, without exception, must come to tender us service and pay us homage; then only will we recognize your submission. But if you do not obey the commands of Heaven, and run counter to our orders, we shall know that you are our foe.

Mongol forces were mounted cavalry and used a short reverse-curve bow, which could be shot from horseback. With both hands occupied with the bow and arrow, Mongol cavalry had to control their horses with their knees, commands every horse knew and every horseman practiced from childhood onward. The reverse-curve bow was of composite materials, including wood, horn, and steel. It was enormously powerful, capable of penetrating armor at 150 yards. The preferred tactics of Mongol cavalry therefore avoided charges into well-entrenched positions. They much preferred tactics that included massed arrow attacks from outside the range of enemy weapons; the feigned retreat, which drew the enemy into ambush; or large-scale flanking movements, which resulted in attacking the enemy on three sides. These maneuvers depended on careful tactical coordination, usually by means of large signal flags. Mongol armies were, therefore, at their best in plains battles, with room to maneuver their horses and sweep in large formations.

Commanders of opposing forces quickly learned that they would likely lose a plains battle to Genghis Khan. Those who could, retreated to fortified positions. Genghis Khan’s first siege was in 1218 at Otrar, a typical Silk Road fortified town in what is now southern Kazakhstan. After establishing friendly relations with the king of the region, Genghis Khan equipped and financed a large caravan of Muslim traders to buy luxuries on the Silk Road and bring them for sale to his capital. Four hundred and fifty Muslim traders purchased silks, satins, carpets, and gems. When the returning caravan halted at Otrar, the governor of Otrar seized the goods and animals and executed the traders. In the colorful language of the Secret History of the Mongols (written shortly after Genghis Khan’s death),

The control of repose and tranquility was removed, and the whirlwind of anger cast dust into the eyes of patience and clemency while the fire of wrath flared up with such a flame that it drove the water from his eyes and could be quenched only by the shedding of blood. In this fever Cheingiz-Khan went alone to the summit of a hill, bared his head, turned his face toward the south and for three days and nights offered up prayer, saying: “I was not author of this trouble; grant me strength to extract vengeance.”

Genghis Khan divided his army, half attacking in the north of the kingdom to tie down the king’s forces, the other half investing Otrar, which had been reinforced with thousands of royal troops. Genghis Khan had no clever siege engines, no catapults or trebuchets, only tenacity. The army formed “several circles around the citadel,” fought the sallies from the city, and maintained the siege for five months. In desperation some of the town’s troops rode out and offered service to Genghis Khan. He saw their action as dishonorable and executed them as his troops poured through the undefended gate. “All the guilty and innocent of Otrar, both the wearers of the veil and those that donned kulah and turban, were driven forth from the town like a flock of sheep, and the Mongols looted whatever goods and wares were there to be found.” The Mongol troops eventually fought their way into the citadel and captured the offending governor alive. He was executed by pouring molten silver down his throat, just punishment for his greed.

Though the Mongols are famous for their sweeping cavalry strategies, a majority of Genghis Khan’s battles were actually fought against a fortified hill, palisade, or town. The Mongols quickly copied from their opponents a weapon of war new to them, the trebuchet, which utilized a heavy counterweight’s force multiplied by a long lever arm and an equally long flexible sling. Invented either in Europe or the Muslim West (though perhaps an improvement of an earlier Chinese catapult), the trebuchet hurled a heavy stone (generally more than 150 pounds) with enormous force, capable of knocking down men and horses like bowling pins and equally capable of crashing through gates and walls. Genghis Khan recruited and gave military appointments to Muslim technicians capable of building such a weapon.

Less than two decades later Mongol siege engines from the West and the technicians to build them had moved across all Asia and were attacking fortified cities in China. Only three years after Otrar, the Mongols were using siege engines on the eastern front in their campaign against the fortified cities of northern China. Thus, it is no surprise that the Mongols took great, fortified cities. Baghdad, one of the largest cities in Asia at the time, fell to the Mongols in 1258 (fifteen years before Kublai Khan attacked Japan). It is likely that the great Mongol fleet that attacked Hakata Bay carried siege engines such as the trebuchet in anticipation of attacking forts and fortified cities.

Mongol armies generally suffered defeats in only two circumstances. First, highly trained professional soldiers who knew Mongol strategy and tactics occasionally simply outperformed them. The Mamluks, full-time, trained slave-soldiers, were just such a force and defeated the Mongols in Egypt. Second, problems of adverse terrain limited the effectiveness of Mongol cavalry. Mountains were a serious problem for the Mongols. Horsemen could not wheel and move in large units. Ambush lurked in every defile. Even in defeat the enemy could disappear into the mountains, eliminating the Mongol tactic of annihilating the opposing army. Massed arrow attacks did little against mountain fortresses, which were also almost impossible to surround. Troops from the fortresses could often defend agricultural land nearby, which provided the fortress with food. The combination of mountains, fortresses, and resolute resistance, for example, made the conquest of Sichuan, a southwestern province of China, slow, difficult, and costly. Mongols fought in the mountains of Sichuan virtually every year for more than three decades before conquering it.

China’s coastal plain was equally difficult terrain for Mongol armies. Canals crisscrossed it, and the rice fields were flooded much of the year. Large-scale cavalry movements were impossible. Fortified cities were frequent and were connected by boat more than road. The Mongols had to adapt, and they did, incorporating Chinese and Korean leaders and infantry who knew how to fight in this watery terrain, so different from the dry steppe of the Mongol homelands. Mongol armies traveled by boat and learned siege techniques. They recruited artisans to build the powerful Chinese trebuchet. Chinese troops used gunpowder weapons extensively for the first time.

Samurai Warriors

On the beach at Hakata Bay were six thousand of the most highly trained, most professional, and best-equipped troops the Mongols ever faced. Samurai were the elite product of an entire social and economic system, just as were the Mongols. Within the fragmented Japanese political system, wars between elite families were frequent, and formal training in schools of the martial arts was mandatory for elite men (and a few elite women). A nineteenth-century text of one of these schools well illustrates the focus and rigor of samurai training. Students learned, for example, unarmed fighting, grappling, short sword fighting, quick sword drawing, stick fighting, dagger technique, the use of rope, and crossing rivers in armor on horseback. The training was as much mental as physical:

Because the beginner does not know how to stand with the sword in his hands or anything else, in his mind there is not a thing to be attached to. When he is attacked, without any deliberation he tries to fend off the attack. But gradually he is taught many things, he is instructed how to hold the sword, where to concentrate his mind and other things. So his mind will be attached to those things and when he attempts to attack his opponent, his movements will be awkward. However, as days, months and years pass, due to innumerable trainings, everything, as he stands, as he holds the sword will lose consciousness, in the end getting back to the state of mind he had in the beginning, when he did not know anything.

The samurai code of honor preferred single combat, which was almost certainly a detriment in their first encounter with the Mongols. Samurai quickly learned that Mongols were quite content to fire massed arrows at any opponent who sought single combat. The samurai also learned that their superior sword skills made up for lesser numbers in close combat. A recent scholarly book has persuasively argued that the samurai needed no “divine wind” to drive off the Mongol ships. They repelled the invasion based on their skills, armor, and training.

Shipbuilding in the China Sea

What sort of ships brought the Mongol invasion fleet from Korea to Japan? The evidence is meager but suggests that Korean long-distance trade ships were the likeliest carriers. The decorative back of a lady’s mirror from the period shows such a Korean ship, sails reefed, in roiling seas. Recovered timbers and planks of actual vessels show that these craft had an almost flat bottom. Shipbuilders attached successive planks of pine with overlapping edges and mortise-and-tenon joints. Elm was used for pegs to lock the mortise and tenons in place. Oak was used for a heavy yoke, which was set amidships and served as a sturdy cross member to stabilize the hull. Cross planks of oak were fitted low in the hull for the same purpose. Another layer of heavy oak crossbeams joined the upper planks of the two sides of the hull. The pattern of crossbeam support passing through the planks was apparently unique to Korea. Xu Jing, a Chinese emissary to the court of Korea, noted that the Korean ships were different from contemporary Chinese craft.

Both Chinese and Korean long-distance ships had a stern rudder, a large mast set amidships, and a smaller foresail. Sails were rectangular and reinforced with battens. Chinese and Korean ships used a windlass to raise the heavy anchor (as the scene on the Korean mirror shows). Korean ships had a planked deck, but it is unknown whether the space below the deck was divided into holds, as was typical of Chinese ships of the period. The mirror scene shows piled goods on deck and commodious cabins for the rich merchants who owned the goods. Korean sources assert that seventy people could comfortably sail on these ships. The current state of the archaeological, textual, and visual evidence does not permit even a speculation on the size and tonnage of these craft.

About the Chinese ships, which formed the second fleet attacking Japan, we have good material evidence. In 1974, Chinese archaeologists excavated a hull from the mud off Quanzhou Bay. The ship was amazingly intact from the waterline down. Coinage aboard dated the ship to 1272, only two years before Kublai Khan’s first attack on Hakata Bay. The ship was 113 feet long, with a beam of 32 feet, drew only 10 feet of water, and displaced about 375 tons. Unlike stereotypical Chinese ships with flat bottoms and ends, the Quanzhou ship had a keel, was V-shaped in section, and had sharp prow. Twelve bulkheads divided the hull, which also had stepping for three masts. A flat transom carried the rudder, rather than a sternpost. Iron nails secured the overlapping planking. The cargo of incense wood, pepper, and hematite suggests that this was a long-distance goods carrier, returning from Southeast Asia. Such a ship could have been impressed to carry troops to Japan.

In the last three decades Japanese archaeologists have been searching Hakata Bay for the physical remains of the battle of 1281. Tantalizing evidence has turned up, such as Chinese- and Korean-style anchors, Chinese ceramics, disc-shaped articulated armor, and weapons typical of Mongol fighters. Various scans of the bottom of the bay have revealed clumps of timbers, which are likely the remains of a ship or the mixed remains of several ships. Much of the timber is smaller than that used in big Korean trade ships, which suggests that the Mongols also commandeered coastal craft and probably even flat-bottomed river craft.

Archaeologists in 2013 located a section of an intact hull. Ultrasound scans revealed a thirty-six-foot section of keel with adjoining planking under only three feet of sediment just off the shore in Hakata harbor. Ceramics, stone anchors, and other artifacts surround the wreck. For now, it remains buried, awaiting future excavation.

In a larger geopolitical perspective, Japan, Korea, and the east coast of China formed a complex a maritime world, which was roughly the same size as Europe’s northern littoral. From Nagasaki, Japan, to Shanghai, China, across the Yellow Sea is five hundred miles, about the same distance as Scandinavia to England. Korea and Japan are only one hundred miles apart, roughly comparable to the twenty-five miles that separate England and France across the Channel. Over the centuries, just as the Scandinavians invaded England and the English used their ships to invade the French, so too did Chinese, Korean, and Japanese dynasties invade each other’s territory, trade with each other, sponsor piracy of each other’s shipping, ally in attacks on each other, call in each other to put down indigenous rebels, and constitute places of refuge for defeated or aspiring rulers.

Dynasties of Korea, Japan, and China sometimes chose to close their maritime borders, forbidding traders from entering and citizens from leaving. These legal prohibitions typically were not effective. Traders and travelers found ways to circumvent them. As also happened in Europe, local or regional powers in the China Sea region founded new ports beyond the reach of the central government. One of the most famous of such ports was Hainan Island off the southern coast of China, which served smugglers at the time of the Kublai Khan expedition and for several subsequent centuries.

Since the history of China is usually written as the history of dynasties, we might assume that the royal court of China was always the dominant power on land and at sea, but this is simply not the case. Periods of warring states were as frequent as periods of stable, large dynasties. The south of China was always difficult for a northern-based dynasty to integrate. Declining dynasties sometimes looked across the seas for a Japanese or Korean alliance.