Post War German Submarine Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

The captured boats

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

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

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

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

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

Greater Underwater Propulsion Project (GUPPY)

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A floating fortress, the galleass

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

Submarine Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

380/45 Model 1935 gun

The Richelieu was a French battleship launched in 1939; this one and her twin Jean Bart were built as a response to the Italian Littorio class and conceived …

The 380/45 Model 1935 gun was the most powerful ever mounted in a French battleship. It was a built-up gun similar in construction to the 330/52 fitted in Dunkerque and Strasbourg. Published drawings show an A tube and loose liner inside a double row of overlapping hoops at the breech end.6 Later guns had fewer components (see schematic drawing and caption). The configuration and operation of the Welin interrupted screw breech block were essentially unchanged from the 330/52.

The 380mm Mle 1936 APC7 shell weighed 884kg and had an initial velocity of 830m/s. The ballistic cap housed a dye bag which served to colour the shell splashes in order to facilitate spotting when operating in company with other ships; a small burster and nose fuze ensured dispersion.8 The shells supplied to Richelieu contained a yellow dye; Jean Bart was assigned orange.

The quadruple turret was designed by Saint Chamond and was a development of the earlier 330mm model, the principal difference being that conical rollers were used in place of ball bearings for training. Like the 330mm turret, it was divided into two separate gunhouses by a central bulkhead, which in the Richelieu class was increased to 45mm thickness. The guns were in pairs, and although each gun was in a separate cradle the relative movement of the guns in each pair was again limited. The guns could be loaded at any angle, and the maximum angle of elevation was 35 degrees, at which the 380mm Mle 1935 had a theoretical range of 41,500 metres. Training and elevation were powered by Léonard circuit electric motors with hydraulic drive, each pair of guns having a single elevating motor with individual drive gear. RPC was to have been fitted for both training and elevation; however, the failure of the Sautter-Harlé-Blondel system fitted in Dunkerque and Strasbourg (see p.40) resulted in a loss of confidence in the application of this technology to heavy armoured turrets, and it was never fitted.

The magazine layout and the loading/replenishment arrangements were modelled on those of the 330mm turrets (see drawings). A total of 832 AP shells were provided – slightly fewer than in Dunkerque and Strasbourg (896 rounds). As with the 330/52 gun, the propellant charges were in quarters, which for a gun of this calibre made them unusually heavy. The overall replenishment cycle proved slower than anticipated, and during gunnery trials in spring 1940 the big guns achieved a rate of fire of only 1.3 rounds per minute.

French gun construction

The construction of the French 330/52 and 380/45 guns was a mixture of modern and traditional methods. The guns were of built-up construction, with complicated assembly and many more component parts than contemporary British and US major-calibre guns. They were built by the Fonderies de Ruelle, the establishment near Angoulême responsible for the design and construction of all French naval guns and shells.

Early French naval guns dating from before the Great War were built up using large numbers of ringshaped hoops for strength to compensate for the inferior steels available – the special (HLE) steels had elasticity values of only 35-45 per cent, well below those available to the other major navies, which meant that the gun could withstand a maximum internal pressure of only 2700kg/cm2. It was a French engineer, Malaval, who in 1912 proposed auto-fretting as a means of increasing the strength of the barrel while reducing the number of component parts. During the assembly process the hoops were heated to high temperatures, slipped over the gun tube and allowed to cool. As they cooled they contracted, until at the end of the process they were squeezing the gun tube inside with a pressure of many thousands of kilos per square centimetre. By using this ‘pre-stressing’ technique it was possible to make a gun barrel more resistant to internal pressure. An experimental 100mm gun built using these techniques was found to be able to sustain an internal pressure of 5000kg/cm2.

All French naval guns built from 1922 were autofretted, and improvements in the quality of French high-tensile steels (to 60-70 per cent elasticity) made possible further reductions in the number of components.

A document recently discovered at the Archives de l’Armement at Châtellerault makes it clear that there were two variants of the 380/45 gun:

– a Mle 1935 C/35 with 31 components: an A tube, a breech bush, twenty hoops, a breech ring, four tubes to the muzzle ending in the muzzle bush, and a locking ring. The ‘stepped’ loose liner with the rifling was held in place by a ring screwed into the breech end of the A tube.

– a Mle 1936 C/35 with only 20 components: the number of hoops was reduced from twenty to ten and the number of tubes to the muzzle from four to three.

The Welin ‘interrupted screw’ breech block opened upwards automatically when the gun ran out. It was hydro-pneumatically powered and was balanced by counterweights. Opening and closing times are given as 3.5 seconds. An automatic lock with a magazine for ten electric tubes was fitted.

The propellant charges were in quarters, and both the dredger hoist cages and the upper cage hoists had three compartments, each of the upper two housing a pair of charges with the Mle 1936 shell in the lower compartment. The guide rails for the upper cage hoists had a distinctive curved profile to enable loading to take place at any angle of elevation, the electric chain rammers being carried on an extension from each of the gun cradles. (In practice, the guns were generally reloaded at 15 degrees elevation to avoid the shell becoming jammed in the breech when the other guns were fired.) Maximum elevation for the gun was 35 degrees. A spanning tray to protect the screw threads of the breech cavity ran in and out automatically, and the complete ramming time was 13.5 seconds.

The magazines and shells rooms for each pair of guns were on the same deck at opposite sides of the barbette, with those for the left-sided pair on the reinforced (30mm) inner bottom and for the right-sided pair on the deck directly above. Ammunition was fed by a shell and cartridge ring to a dredger hoist, one for each pair of guns. The hoist serving the lower level had two extra cages to compensate for the longer transit time.

When the dredger hoist cage arrived at the working chamber the shells and charges were transferred laterally to waiting positions directly beneath the guns, and were then transferred using rammers to the corresponding gun loading cage of the upper hoists, of which there was one serving each gun.

United States Civil War (1861-1865) – Naval Warfare II

USS Kearsarge

On 19 June 1864, one of the most famous nineteenth-century naval battles occurred, but on the other side of the Atlantic. By the spring of 1864 the Alabama had traveled an incredible 75,000 miles over nearly two years and was in need of repair. On 11 June the Alabama arrived at Cherbourg, France. Her captain, Raphael Semmes, hoped he might be able to use French government repair facilities for an overhaul. While Semmes waited for official word, the Union screw steam sloop Kearsarge under Captain John A. Winslow arrived. The two ships were nearly equally matched, and Semmes decided to do battle. In the ensuing fight the Alabama succumbed to superior Union gunnery. In October the Florida was also taken, in violation of Brazilian neutrality.

The Union navy, meanwhile, was capturing the remaining Confederate seaboard ports. Early on the morning of 5 August 1864, Rear Admiral Farragut led 18 ships against the heavy Confederate defenses guarding Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the process securing the surrender of the powerful CSS Tennessee. For all practical purposes, this battle ended blockade-running in the gulf.

Along the South Atlantic coast the Confederate ironclad ram Albemarle for months dominated the North Carolina sounds. In April 1864 she sank one Union gunboat, and in May she dispersed a squadron of seven Union gunboats. The ram was a considerable threat to Union coastal operations, but in a daring boat expedition up the Roanoke River in October, young Lieutenant William B. Cushing sank the ram with a spar torpedo.

Wilmington, North Carolina, was now the last remaining principal Confederate port for blockade-runners and a main overseas supply link for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. With the Albemarle disposed of, aggressive Vice Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the largest number of ships in U. S. Navy history to this point, moved against Wilmington in conjunction with a sea lift of troops. One attack at the end of December failed, but a second in mid-January was successful.

On land new Union general in chief Grant accompanied his field army as it drove south toward Richmond in 1864. Lee parried Grant’s blows and inflicted casualties equivalent to the size of his own force, but his forces never recovered from the relentless Union attacks. Grant sought to get in behind Lee at Petersburg south of Richmond, but Lee was too quick for him and the two sides settled down to a long siege.

As Grant attempted to take Richmond and destroy Lee, Major General William T. Sherman took Atlanta and then drove east to the sea, cutting a swath of destruction through Georgia to Savannah. He then turned north through the Carolinas to join Grant. Lee then broke out of Petersburg and attempted to escape west. Cornered at Appomattox Court House, he surrendered on 9 April 1865. Some Confederate ground units held out for weeks, and the Confederate raider Shenandoah continued her depredations against the Union whaling fleet until the end of June, but the war was over and America soon disarmed. The U. S. Army went from 1,000,000 men under arms at Appomattox to only 25,000 by the end of 1866. In January 1865 U. S. Navy blockading squadrons had 471 ships mounting 2,455 guns; by December they numbered 29 ships carrying 210 guns.

Albemarle (Confederate Navy, Ironclad, 1864)
Confederate ironclad ram during the 1861-1865 U. S. Civil War, one of a number of powerful Confederate ironclad casemated vessels. The Albemarle was the first of a two-ship class constructed by Gilbert Elliot at Edward’s Ferry on the Roanoke River, the other being the Neuse. Laid down in April 1863, the Albemarle was launched in July and commissioned in April 1864. She was some 376 tons, 139′ between perpendiculars (152′ overall length) x 34′ x 9′, was driven by two screws from two steam engines with 400 horsepower, and could make in excess of 4 knots. She had a crew complement of 150 men. Armed with only 2 x 6.4-inch rifled guns, she had 6-inch armor. Damaged at launch, she was taken to Halifax, North Carolina, for repairs and completion.

The Albemarle was finished in time to participate in a Confederate Army assault led by General Robert F. Hoke on the Union blockading base at Plymouth, North Carolina. Early on the morning of 19 April 1864, the Albemarle attacked and sank one Union gunboat, the Southfield, and drove off another. She now controlled the water approaches to Plymouth and could provide valuable assistance to Confederate Army moves ashore. In the afternoon of 5 May, accompanied by the gunboats Bombshell and Cotton Plant, she engaged a squadron of seven Union gunboats off the mouth of the Roanoke River. The Bombshell was captured early in the action and the Cotton Plant withdrew up the Roanoke. The Albemarle continued the action alone, disabling the USS Sassacus. Fighting continued for some three hours until darkness halted the action.

The Albemarle posed a great threat to Union coastal operations because her shallow draft enabled her to escape the larger Union ocean-going ships, and she easily outgunned smaller Union coastal craft. For months she dominated the North Carolina sounds. On the night of 27 October 1864, 21-year-old Lieutenant William B. Cushing sank the Albemarle at her berth, using a spar torpedo mounted on a steam launch. Destruction of the Albemarle enabled Union forces to capture Plymouth and gain control of the entire Roanoke River area. It also released Union ships stationed there for other blockade duties.

Very low freeboard, mastless, turreted coastal ironclads developed in the U. S. Navy during the 1861- 1865 U. S. Civil War. Swedish-American inventor John Ericsson’s monitors were utterly unlike any previous U. S. warship. Captain Cowper Coles of the British navy, however, had designed and had built two mastless, coastal ironclads that actually preceded the Monitor. Further, Coles’s ship design and turret technology were superior to those of Ericsson. Ericsson’s turret rotated on a spindle and was thus liable to jam, but Coles’s rested on rollers below the waterline and rotated freely. Further, the first Monitor and its initial follow-on class had a unique “raft” upper body that worked water through the joint with the underwater hull, a fault that doomed the original Monitor during a moderate gale. Finally, U. S. armorclads were protected by laminated 2-inch thick plates; U. S. mills could roll nothing thicker. By contrast, British mills at the time could manufacture plates of up to 6 inches.

The Monitor’s ability to hold her own against CSS Virginia in the first ironclad-to-ironclad clash in history, the 9 March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, caused the U. S. Navy to contract quickly for some 55 ironclads along her lines. The first, the Passaic-class, numbered no less than ten units and were the first ironclads anywhere to have more than two built from one set of plans. They were awkwardly armed with one 11-inch and one 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbores (SBs). The Passaics were followed by nine Canonicus-class monitors, distinguishable by the removal of the objectionable upper-deck overhang and an armament of two matching 15-inch smoothbores.

Roanoke (2 x 15-inch SB; 2 x 11-inch SB; 2 x 150-pounder Parrot rifles), a cut-down wooden sloop, mounted no fewer than three turrets. But this top weight was too much for the wooden hull, and Roanoke was limited to harbor defense duties at New York. Large, iron-hulled, twin-turreted Onondaga mounted one 15-inch smoothbore and one 150-pounder Parrott rifle in each turret and served as a powerful deterrent to Confederate ironclads on the James River. None of the later large Union monitors, iron-built Dictator and timber-constructed Monadnock, Agamenticus, Miantonomah, and Tonawanda, saw battle.

Eminent engineer James Eads designed four whale-back, double-turreted monitors of the Milwaukee-class, a hybrid design featuring one turret on Ericsson’s system and the other on Eads’s unique design (4 x 11-inch SBs), in which the guns’ recoil would actually drop the entire turret floor below the waterline, where the ordnance could be safely reloaded, then elevated and run out by steam power.

Two single-turret monitors designed by Eads for work on Western rivers, Osage and Neosho (2 x 11-inch SBs), were unique as the world’s only paddle-wheel monitors. A slightly different version, Ozark (2 x 15-inch SBs), was screw propelled.

The Union Civil War ironclad program ended on a note of farce with the 20 light-draft Casco Monitor class. Ericsson drew the original plans, but they were greatly modified by Inspector of Ironclads Alban Stimers. All drew far more water than designed and proved useless.

Timberclad (U. S. Navy, Ships, 1861)
Early Civil War warships, part of the river navy created by the U. S. government to fight on the inland waters in the West. Commander John Rodgers was sent to the western theater with instructions to secure such a force. By 8 June 1861 he had negotiated contracts to buy and convert three wooden side-wheel freight-and-passenger Ohio River steamers into gunboats. These were the Tyler (four years old and weighing 420 tons), the Lexington (one year old and weighing 362 tons), and the Conestoga (two years old and weighing 572 tons). Their conversion was carried out at Louisville, Kentucky, by the Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company of Cincinnati.

The three were paid for and under the control of the War Department. Commanded by navy officers, they were later controlled by the navy. The steamers were reinforced to enable them to carry heavy guns, and 5-inch-thick oak was installed to provide protection against rifle fire. This resulted in their being known as “timberclads.”

The three gunboats arrived at their base at Cairo, Illinois, in mid-August 1861, and were soon in service. On commissioning, the Conestoga mounted 4 x 32-pounders; the Lexington had 2 x 32-pounders and 4 x 64-pounders (8-inch shells); and the Tyler had 1 x 32-pounders in the stern and 6 x 64-pounders (8-inch shells) in broadside.

USS Tyler Gunboat

The three gunboats were an effective stopgap measure until new ironclads could be brought into service. They saw useful service in battles and operations along the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. The Conestoga was lost in a collision in March 1864; the other two survived the war and were sold in August 1865.

USS Pittsburgh (1862-1865) stern wheeler, ironclad gunboat.

A steam-powered vessel driven by a stern-mounted paddle wheel and developed primarily for inland waterway systems. Until eclipsed by the railroad, the stern-wheeler, along with the side-wheeler, represented a near revolution in inland transportation. Inland river systems have numerous hazards to navigation, including shallow depth, swift currents and rapids, sandbars, underwater snags, seasonal changes in water depth, rocks, and twisting channels. The stern-wheeled riverboat with a shallow draft, flat bottom, and narrow beam, driven by a high-pressure steam engine, made river shipping and travel not only regular but relatively swift.

Stern-wheelers had four key advantages over side-wheeled vessels: They drew much less water, had less beam for superior maneuverability on smaller waterways, and were quicker and cheaper to build. Although often associated with the trans-Appalachian American West and rivers such as the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Columbia, stern-wheelers were reliable vessels for both freight and passenger service throughout much of the world. In the United States the 1850s were the “Golden Age” of the stern-wheelers in terms of speed, quality, and grandeur.

As naval vessels during the American Civil War, stern-wheelers and side-wheelers played a key role in the Union successes of the western campaigns. Besides serving as gunboats, the river fleets served as troop transports and munitions carriers. They ferried wounded and prisoners of war in addition to carrying food and forage for the field armies.

Mediterranean Lords and Merchants 13-14th Centuries

By the end of the thirteenth century Catalan ships had a good reputation for safety and reliability; if a merchant was in search of a ship in, say, Palermo on which to load his goods, he knew he would do well to choose a Catalan vessel, such as the substantial Sanctus Franciscus, owned by Mateu Oliverdar, which was there during 1298.28 Whereas the Genoese liked to divide up the ownership of their boats, the Catalans often owned a large ship outright. They rented out space to Tuscan wheat merchants or slave dealers, and sought out rich merchants who might be willing to lease all or part of the ship. The shipowners and merchants of Barcelona and Majorca inveigled themselves into the places where the Italians had long been dominant. In the 1270s, the middle-class widow Maria de Malla, from Barcelona, was trading with Constantinople and the Aegean, sending out her sons to bring back mastic (much valued as chewing-gum); she exported fine cloths to the East, including linens from Châlons in northern France. The great speciality of the de Malla family was the trade in furs, including those of wolves and foxes.30 The Catalans were granted the right to establish fonduks governed by their own consuls in Tunis, Bougie and other North African towns. There were big profits to be made from the overseas consulates. James I was outraged when he discovered in 1259 how low was the rent paid to him by the Catalan consul in Tunis. He promptly tripled it. Another focus of Catalan penetration was Alexandria; in the 1290s the de Mallas were seeking linseed and pepper there. In the fourteenth century, King James II of Aragon tried to persuade the sultan of Egypt to grant him protective authority over some of the Christian holy places in Palestine, and the sultan promised him relics of Christ’s Passion if he would send ‘large ships containing plenty of goods’. The papacy, with the outward support of the king of Aragon, attempted to ban the lively trade of the Catalans and Italians in Egypt; those who traded with the Muslim enemy were to be excommunicated. But the king ensured that two Catalan abbots were to hand who could absolve merchants trading with Egypt, subject to payment of a swingeing fine. These fines developed into a tax on trade, and produced handsome revenues: in 1302 fines on trade with Alexandria accounted for nearly half the king’s recorded revenues from Catalonia.

Far from suppressing the trade, the Aragonese kings became complicit in it.

Naturally the Catalans wanted to challenge the Italian monopoly over the spice trade to the East. Yet their real strength lay in the network they created in the western Mediterranean. Catalans, Pisans and Genoese jostled in the streets of the spacious foreign quarter of Tunis, a concessionary area full of fonduks, taverns and churches. Access to the ports of North Africa meant access to the gold-bearing routes across the Sahara; into these lands, the Catalans brought linen and woollen cloths from Flanders and northern France and, as their own textile industry expanded after 1300, fine cloths from Barcelona and Lleida. They brought salt too, which was plentiful in Catalan Ibiza, and in southern Sardinia and western Sicily, but was in short supply in the deserts to the south, and was sometimes used there as a currency in its own right. As thirteenth-century Barcelona began to boom, they ensured that there were sufficient food supplies for a growing city. Sicily early became the focus of their trade in wheat, carried in big, round, bulky ships, and they were so successful that as early as the 1260s they began to supply other parts of the Mediterranean with Sicilian wheat: Tunis, which had never recovered from the devastation of the North African countryside by Arab tribes in the eleventh century; Genoa and Pisa, which might have been expected to look after their own supplies; the towns of Provence. A business contract of the late 1280s simply demanded that the ship Bonaventura, recently in the port of Palermo, should sail to Agrigento where it was to be filled up with ‘as great a quantity of wheat as the said ship can take and carry’.

The Catalans specialized in another important cargo: slaves. These were variously described as ‘black’, ‘olive’ or ‘white’, and were generally Muslim captives from North Africa. They were put on sale in Majorca, Palermo and Valencia, and sent to perform domestic work in the households of their Catalan and Italian owners. In 1287 the king of Aragon decided that the Minorcans were guilty of treachery, declared the surrender treaty of 1231 void and invaded the island, enslaving the entire population, which was dispersed across the Mediterranean – for a time there was a glut in the slave market. The luckier and better-connected slaves would be ransomed by co-religionists – Muslims, Jews and Christians all set aside funds for the ransoming of their brethren, and the two religious orders of the Trinitarians and Mercedarians, well represented in Catalonia and Provence, specialized in ransoming Christians who had fallen into Muslim hands. The image of the young woman plucked off the shores of southern France by Saracen raiders was a stock theme in medieval romance, but the Catalans were perfectly ready to respond in kind; they muscled into the Mediterranean trade networks through piracy as well as honest business.

Meanwhile, Majorcan ships kept up a constant flow of traffic towards North Africa and Spain. A remarkable series of licences issued to sailors intending to leave Majorca in 1284 reveals that ships set off from the island almost every day of the year, even in the depths of January, and there was no close season, even if business was livelier in warmer months. Some of these ships were small vessels called barques, crewed by fewer than a dozen men, able to slip quickly across to mainland Spain time and again. More typical was the larger leny, literally ‘wood’; lenys were well suited to the slightly longer run across open water towards North Africa. The Majorcans were pioneers, too. In 1281 two Genoese ships and one Majorcan vessel reached the port of London, where the Majorcan ship loaded 267 sacks of fine English wool, and the Majorcans continued to trade regularly with England well into the fourteenth century. The Phoenicians had never had much difficulty in escaping through the Straits of Gibraltar, bound for Tartessos, but medieval ships battled with the incoming flow from the Atlantic and the fogs and contrary winds between Gibraltar and Ceuta. They also battled, literally, with the rulers of the facing shores – Marinid Berbers in Morocco, the Nasrid rulers of Granada in southern Spain. These were not hospitable waters, and the opening of the sea route out of the Mediterranean was as much a diplomatic as a technical triumph. Raw wool and Flemish textiles could now be brought directly and relatively cheaply from the north straight into the Mediterranean, bound for the workshops of Florence, Barcelona and other cities where the wool was processed and the textiles were finished. Alum, the fixative most easily obtained from Phokaia on the coast of Asia Minor, could be ferried to cloth workshops in Bruges, Ghent and Ypres, avoiding the costly and tedious trek by road and river through eastern France or Germany. The navigation of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic began slowly to be tied together, even if there were constant crises, and Catalan war fleets often patrolled the Straits. By the early fourteenth century, Mediterranean shipbuilders were imitating the broad, round shape of the northern cogs, big cargo vessels that tramped the Baltic and the North Sea – they even adopted the name, cocka. Down the coast of Morocco, too, Catalan and Genoese ships found markets full of the grain they craved, where the inhabitants were keen to acquire Italian and Catalan textiles; by the 1340s these boats had penetrated as far as the Canary Islands, which the Majorcans tried (and failed) to conquer.

Predictably, the Majorcan merchants, subject to their own king after 1276, decided they wanted their own consuls and fonduks. This was one of many sources of tension between the two brothers, Peter of Aragon and James of Majorca, who divided up James I’s realms. Sailors and merchants were not slow to exploit these tensions. In 1299 a scoundrel named Pere de Grau, who owned a ship, was accused of stealing a tool box from a Genoese carpenter in the western Sicilian port of Trapani. Tit-for-tat, Pere insisted that in fact the carpenter had stolen his longboat. The matter was brought before the Catalan consul, but Pere scathingly stated: ‘this consul does not have any jurisdiction over citizens of Majorca, only over those who are under the dominion of the king of Aragon’. As fast as the Catalans extended their trading network across the Mediterranean, it threatened to fragment into pieces.

The fall of Acre in 1291 shocked western Europe, which had in fact done little to protect the city in its last decades. Plans to launch new expeditions abounded, and among the greatest enthusiasts was Charles II of Naples, after his release from his Catalan gaol. But this was all talk; he was far too preoccupied with trying to defeat the Aragonese to be able to launch a crusade, nor did he have the resources to do so. The Italian merchants diversified their interests to cope with the loss of access to eastern silks and spices through Acre. Venice gradually took the lead in Egypt, while the Genoese concentrated more on bulky goods from the Aegean and the Black Sea, following the establishment of a Genoese colony in Constantinople in 1261. But the Byzantine emperors were wary of the Genoese. They favoured the Venetians as well, though to a lesser degree, so that the Genoese would not assume they could do whatever they wished. Michael VIII and his son Andronikos II confined the Genoese to the high ground north of the Golden Horn, the area known as Pera, or Galata, where a massive Genoese tower still dominates the skyline of northern Istanbul, but they also granted them the right to self-government, and the Genoese colony grew so rapidly that it soon had to be extended. By the mid-fourteenth century the trade revenues of Genoese Pera dwarfed those of Greek Constantinople, by a ratio of about seven to one. These emperors effectively handed control of the Aegean and the Black Sea to the Genoese, and Michael’s navy, consisting of about eighty ships, was dismantled by his son. It was assumed that God would protect Constantinople as a reward for the rejection of all attempts at a union of the holy Orthodox Church with the unholy Catholic one.

The Genoese generally tolerated a Venetian presence, for war damaged trade and ate up valuable resources. Occasionally, as in 1298, pirate attacks by one side caused a crisis, and the cities did go to war. The battle of Curzola (Korčula) that year pitted about eighty Genoese galleys against more than ninety Venetian ones. The Venetians were on home territory, deep within the Adriatic. But Genoese persistence won the day, and hundreds of Venetians were captured, including (it is said) Marco Polo, who dictated his extraordinary tales of China and the East to a Pisan troubadour with whom he shared a cell in Genoa. The real story of the Polos was not simply one of intrepid, or foolhardy, Venetian jewel merchants who set out via Acre for the Far East, accompanied by the young Marco. The rise of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century led to a reconfiguration of the trans-Asiatic trade routes, and opened a route bringing eastern silks to the shores of the Black Sea, although the sea-lanes through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea continued to bring spices to Alexandria and the Mediterranean from the East Indies. Once they had gained access to the Black Sea in the 1260s, the Genoese and Venetians attempted to tap into this exotic trans-Asia trade. True to form, the Venetians were more interested in the expensive luxury items, while the Genoese concentrated on slaves, grain and dried fruits, local products of the shores of the Black Sea. Good-quality wax was also in high demand, to illuminate churches and palaces across western Europe. The Genoese set up a successful trading base at Caffa in Crimea, while the Venetians operated from Tana, in the Sea of Azov. In Caffa the Genoese collected thousands of slaves, mostly Circassians and Tartars; they sold them for domestic service in Italian cities or to the Mamluks in Egypt, who recruited them into the sultan’s guard. The spectacle of the Genoese supplying the Muslim enemy with its crack troops not surprisingly caused alarm and displeasure at the papal court.

The Genoese despatched Pontic grain far beyond Constantinople, reviving the Black Sea grain traffic that had helped feed ancient Athens. As the Italian cities grew in size, they drew their grain from further and further afield: Morocco, the shores of Bulgaria and Romania, the Crimea, Ukraine. Production costs there were far lower than in northern Italy, so that, even after taking into account the cost of transport, grain from these lands could be put on sale back home at prices no higher than Sicilian or Sardinian imports. Of those too there was still a great need. The Genoese distributed grain from all these sources around the Mediterranean: they and the Catalans supplied Tunis; they ferried grain from Sicily to northern Italy. One city where demand was constant was Florence, only now emerging as an economic powerhouse, a centre of cloth-finishing and cloth-production. Although it lies well inland, Florence depended heavily on the Mediterranean for its wool supplies and for its food; it controlled a small territory that could produce enough grain to feed the city for only five months out of twelve. The soil of Tuscany was generally poor, and local grain could not match the quality of the hard wheats that were imported from abroad. One solution was regular loans to their ally the Angevin king of Naples, which gave access to the seemingly limitless grain of Apulia.

These developments reflected massive changes in the society and economy of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean. By 1280 or 1300, population was rising and grain prices were rising in parallel. Local famines became more frequent and towns had to search ever further afield for the food they needed. The commercial revolution in Europe led to a spurt in urban growth, as employment prospects within towns drew workers in from the countryside. Cities began to dominate the economy of Mediterranean western Europe as never before in history: Valencia, Majorca, Barcelona, Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpellier, Aigues-Mortes, Marseilles, Savona, Genoa, Pisa and Florence, with its widely used and imitated gold florins, to name the major centres in the great arc stretching from the Catalan lands to Tuscany. Aigues-Mortes, rich in salt, whose appearance has changed little since the early fourteenth century, was founded in the 1240s as a commercial gateway to the Mediterranean for the kingdom of France, which had only recently acquired direct control over Languedoc. King Louis IX eyed with concern the flourishing city of Montpellier, a centre of trade, banking and manufacture that lay, as part of a complex feudal arrangement, under the lordship of the king of Aragon. He hoped to divert business to his new port in the salt lagoons, which he also used as a departure point for his disastrous crusade in 1248. In the event, Aigues-Mortes soon became an outport for Montpellier, which avoided French royal control for another century. The Venetians had their own distinctive answer to the problem of how to feed the 100,000 inhabitants of their city. They attempted to channel all grain that came into the Upper Adriatic towards the city; the Venetians would have first choice, and then what remained would be redistributed to hungry neighbours such as Ravenna, Ferrara and Rimini. They sought to transform the Adriatic Sea into what came to be called the ‘Venetian Gulf’. The Venetians negotiated hard with Charles of Anjou and his successors to secure access to Apulian wheat, and were even prepared to offer support to Charles I’s campaign against Constantinople, which was supposed to depart in 1282, the year of the Sicilian Vespers.

As well as food, the big round ships of the Genoese and Venetians ferried alum from Asia Minor to the West; the Genoese established enclaves on the edge of the alum-producing lands, first, and briefly, on the coast of Asia Minor, where the Genoese adventurer Benedetto Zaccaria tried to create a ‘kingdom of Asia’ in 1297, and then close by on Chios, which was recaptured by a consortium of Genoese merchant families in 1346 (and was held till 1566). Chios not merely gave access to the alum of Phokaia; it also produced dried fruits and mastic. More important than Chios was Famagusta in Cyprus, which filled the gap left by the fall of Acre. Cyprus lay under the rule of the Lusignan family, of French origin, though the majority of its inhabitants were Byzantine Greeks. Its rulers were often embroiled in faction-fighting, but the dynasty managed to survive for two more centuries, supported by the prosperity Cyprus derived from its intensive trade with neighbouring lands. Massive communities of foreign merchants visited and settled: Famagusta was the base for merchants from Venice, Genoa, Barcelona, Ancona, Narbonne, Messina, Montpellier, Marseilles and elsewhere; its ruined Gothic churches still testify to the wealth its merchants accumulated.

From Cyprus, trade routes extended to another Christian kingdom, Cilician Armenia, on the south-east coast of modern Turkey. Western merchants supplied wheat to Armenia by way of Cyprus, and they used Armenia as a gateway to exotic and arduous trade routes that took them away from the Mediterranean, to the silk markets of Persian Tabriz and beyond. Cyprus enjoyed close links to Beirut, where Syrian Christian merchants acted as agents of businessmen from Ancona and Venice, furnishing them with massive quantities of raw cotton for processing into cloth in Italy and even in Germany, a clear sign that a single economic system was emerging in the Mediterranean, crossing the boundaries between Christendom and Islam. Some of the cotton cloth would eventually be conveyed back to the East to be sold in Egypt and Syria. Trade and politics were fatefully intertwined in the minds of the Lusignan kings. When King Peter I of Cyprus launched an ambitious crusade against Alexandria in 1365, his grand plan included the establishment of Christian hegemony over the ports of southern Anatolia (of which he had already captured a couple) and Syria, but a sustained campaign in Egypt was far beyond his resources; the expedition turned into the unwholesome sack of Alexandria, confirming that what had been proclaimed as a holy war was motivated by material considerations. Soon after his return to Cyprus, King Peter, who knew how to make enemies, was assassinated.