CALEDONIA

A further 100-gun ship was ordered in 1794 to Sir William Rule’s design, and Caledonia was laid down on the first day of 1805 on the slipway recently vacated by the Hibernia. Earlier it had been decided to make her carry 120 guns, and the Surveyor amended his design to this effect. This draught shows the ship as completed, and is notable for the first appearance of the built-up or ‘round’ bow in a First Rate; even the traditional flat stern is more upright, and she has solid barricades along the upperworks. She was altered in the late 1820s, when she was widened, given a circular stern, and acquired a more uniform ordnance of 32-pounder guns on all three decks. Initially 63cwt guns were supplied for the lower deck, but this weight made her lower gunports too close to the waterline, and in 1831 the Admiralty instructed them to be replaced by ones of 55cwt. At the same time her galley was moved up to the upper deck, and her sick berth moved up to the middle deck.

In November 1794 a new First Rate was ordered for the Royal Navy. Although it was at first intended that she should be a 100-gun ship, Rule’s design was eventually altered to make her a 120-gun ship, the largest warship yet built for the British, measuring over 2600 tons. Later alterations saw nearly a foot added to her planned breadth, raising her size to over 2700 tons. With the urgent need for smaller battlefleet ships, which could be built quicker, she was not laid down until 1805, and was finally launched in June 1808. The Caledonia, as she was named, was an immediate success, widely regarded as the finest First Rate so far built. Most subsequent First Rates followed her design, and its essentials were to be maintained for almost the whole of the remaining sailing era.

Having looked at the way in which the basic concept of the First Rate (and its ordnance) was expanded over the last decade of the eighteenth century, we now need to retrace our steps a little to the start of that decade, and look at other events during that period, particularly the consequences of the fresh war which broke out in 1793. In early 1790 there were five First Rates, each of 100 guns, including the Queen Charlotte, lying finished on the stocks but not yet launched. Each had a complement of 850, which was reduced to 837 from 16 April 1794; eight carronades were added to the Establishment from 19 November 1794 – two 32-pounders (on the forecastle) and six 24-pounders (on the roundhouse). Under construction was a larger three-decker of 112 guns (still with 837 men), while even larger First Rates of 120 guns (and 865 men) were to be built by 1815. The remaining 42-pounders on some vessels’ gundecks began to be replaced by 32-pounders from 1790, although the process continued beyond the turn of the century.

The nominal strength of the Royal Navy was increased by three First Rates captured from the enemy during this time: the Commerce de Marseille, a French 120-gun ship brought away from Toulon in 1793; and two Spanish 112-gun ships captured off Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797, the Salvador del Mundo and the San Josef (retaining their names). Only the last proved of any real value as a fighting unit, but the Salvador del Mundo was commissioned for a short period of sea service.

On the other side of the balance sheet, the Royal Navy suffered its most grievous loss of the French Revolutionary War on 17 March 1800 when the Queen Charlotte, Lord Keith’s flagship in the Mediterranean, caught fire by accident and eventually blew up off Leghorn. The fire started aft around 6am and burnt for several hours before it became obvious that she was unsaveable. Major efforts by her consorts to save men as they abandoned ship were hampered by the fear of explosion, and some 690 were lost, including her commander, Captain Andrew Todd (Admiral Keith was ashore at the time).

A replacement to the same Hunt design (and repeating the same name) was ordered by Earl Saint Vincent’s incoming Board in July 1801, although the keel for the new ship was not laid down until October 1805 since priority was being given to ships which could be brought into service quickly. She differed little from her predecessor, except to mount a more extensive carronade establishment – fourteen 32-pounder carronades disposed two to the forecastle and twelve on the quarterdeck (reducing the long 12-pounder guns to a single pair of chase guns in each location), and six 18-pounder carronades on the roundhouse deck.

Although not launched until May 1810, the second Queen Charlotte was to have a long career. Following the Napoleonic War, she was re-rated as a 108-gun ship from February 1817. Eventually she was renamed Excellent (on 31 December 1859) as a gunnery training hulk, and was not sold to be broken up until January 1892.

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Union and USN Monitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Civil War USN

The United States was in basically the same geostrategic position as was Great Britain. The British Isles had no land borders to defend and could thus pour most of its defense funding into its navy. The United States had only two very weak military powers along its two land borders and could thus embark on a great naval construction program, centered on battleships, and relegate its army over the years to something about the size of Romania’s.

Yet of all the naval powers, the United States held on most tenaciously to the coast-defense idea. The armored warships of the new navy, in fact, commenced with the construction of no less than ten big-gun coast-defense monitors. The first five of these were virtually Civil War-era near-derelicts supposedly repaired but actually newly constructed in order to circumvent congressional refusal to allot monies for any new warships. (The fiscal situation was so dire that several Civil War monitors were given to shipbuilders as partial payment for the new monitors.) The remaining five new monitors were actually constructed openly as new warships, as Congress voted funds for the new navy. These bizarre warships were armed with 10- inch and 12-inch guns and were heavily armored. They would participate in the bombardment of Puerto Rico and in blockade duty during the Spanish-American War, fairly well fulfilling their coastal purpose. Within a few years, they were universally denounced in the service as practically useless; their one virtue in later years was that their very low freeboard made them excellent submarine tenders. (One unimpressed contemporary U. S. naval officer described monitor Monterey as “a double-acting, high-uffen-buffen, doubleturreted, back-acting submarine war junk. . . .,” drawing “fourteen feet of mud forward and 16 feet 6 inches of slime aft, and had three feet of discolored water over the main deck in fair weather” (Padfield, 129). The French and the Russians also built coastal minibattleships, in limited numbers, but no new monitors. The Royal Navy and the Italian Navy also built monitors, but these warships were primarily ad hoc expedients to mount heavy guns from uncompleted battleships.

Fighting with Hedgehogs

USS England off San Francisco, 9 February 1944.

Hedgehog thrower on HMS Westcott, November 1945.

Secretary Margaret Jackson was able to provide Colin Gubbins, Special Operations Executive, with remarkably accurate briefs on the success or failure of the sabotage missions that were by now taking place on a nightly basis. Wireless transmissions were received by the various country sections, where they were collated and forwarded to her. She, in turn, handed them to Gubbins when he arrived for work at Baker Street.

The situation at the first was rather different. It was a source of continual frustration to Stuart Macrae not to have any idea as to how and when their weapons had been used. In part, this was because they were too busy to enquire. As summer yielded to autumn that year, 1943, they found themselves working on ‘all manner of remarkable projects’. There were ‘bombs which jumped about on the ground, bombs which leaped in and out of the sea and rockets which fired bridges over roads’ – the latter being the latest invention from the drawing board of Cecil Clarke. Yet news of operations hardly ever reached the sheds and workshops at the far end of the lower lawn.

Macrae tried to keep tabs on successful limpet attacks, but even this proved difficult. Unlike Gubbins, he was not in regular contact with the army high command. As for Jefferis himself, he didn’t seem to care. Macrae increasingly found himself in the role of ‘a theatrical producer who had found an unwilling star’ – Jefferis – ‘and forced him to fame’. He felt rather guilty, for ‘whereas I had succeeded in making myself happy, it was obvious that I had done the opposite for Millis’. Jefferis wanted nothing more than to be left with his mathematics, his coloured chalks and the occasional tumbler of whisky.

His most complex invention, the anti-U-boat Hedgehog mortar, had started life when the two of them were still working in the War Office back in the early days of war. It had originally been intended as a sabotage weapon to be used in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain, but had slowly been transformed into an instrument of such complexity that it had required more than two years of fine tuning. The principal difficulty had been to calculate the recoil accurately, essential to the stability of any ship. One newly recruited engineer who found himself travelling in the company of Jefferis said that he ‘spent most of one train journey between Bath and London sketching furiously on empty cigarette packets’. As the train pulled into Paddington, Jefferis gave the hint of a smile: the mathematics finally made sense. And by the time the sea trials took place, the Hedgehog was near perfect. The mortars dived downwards in their streamlined casings and then homed in on their underwater foe.

This all took time and it was not until the spring of 1943 that the first Hedgehogs were being installed on Royal Navy vessels. When Commander Reginald Whinney took command of the HMS Wanderer , he was told to expect the arrival of a highly secret piece of equipment. ‘At more or less the last minute, the bits and pieces for an ahead-throwing anti-submarine mortar codenamed “hedgehog” arrived.’

As Whinney watched it being unpacked on the Devonport quayside, he was struck by its bizarre shape. ‘How does this thing work, sir?’ he asked, ‘and when are we supposed to use it?’ He was met with a shrug. ‘You’ll get full instructions.’

Whinney glanced over the Hedgehog’s twenty-four mortars and was ‘mildly suspicious’ of this contraption that had been delivered in an unmarked van coming from an anonymous country house in Buckinghamshire. He was not alone in his scepticism. Many Royal Navy captains were ‘used to weapons which fired with a resounding bang’, as one put it, and were ‘not readily impressed with the performance of a contact bomb which exploded only on striking an unseen target’. They preferred to stick with the tried and tested depth charge when attacking U-boats, even though it had a hit rate of less than one in ten. Jefferis’s technology was too smart to be believed.

The Americans proved quicker at embracing the Hedgehog, equipping large numbers of their ships in the final months of 1943. Among them was the USS England, which went into service in the Pacific shortly afterwards. She was soon to find herself caught in the opening shots of Operation A-Go, the Japanese quest for the total destruction of the American Pacific fleet in the spring of 1944. It was an operation driven by Admiral Soemu Toyoda, who knew that submarines would play a central role in the battle ahead. Indeed he said that ‘the success or failure of Operation A-Go depends on the submarines’. What he didn’t know is that he would be pitting his fleet against Jefferis’s mathematical genius.

Admiral Toyoda issued his pre-battle orders to Rear-Admiral Naburo Owada on 3 May 1944. Owada was commander of the Japanese submarine force, Squadron Seven, and he was instructed to launch ‘a surprise attack against enemy task forces and invasion forces’.

The Americans were quick to intercept the Japanese wireless transmissions: one of the first intercepts revealed that a lone Japanese sub, I-16, was heading towards the Solomon Islands. The I-16 was an enticing prize, one of the largest submarines ever built in Japan. She was almost 350 feet long and heavily armed with eight 21-inch torpedo tubes. She was so big that she could carry a small supplementary sub in her deckhouse. Moreover, she was commanded by the brilliantly gifted Yoshitaka Takeuchi.

American intelligence discovered not only the sub’s destination, but also her intended route and speed. This was immediately forwarded to the USS England, which set out in hot pursuit.

The England ’s executive officer, John Williamson, was one of the new breed of navy men: savvy, clean-shaven and passionate about the latest gadgets. With his large ears and goofy smile, he looked like a typical college geek. But he was a geek who was hungry for victory. And in Jefferis’s Hedgehog, he smelled triumph. Long before his vessel set sail from San Francisco, he had instigated a series of test firings in the harbour. ‘If it hit,’ he noted, ‘the concentrated power of its thirty-five pounds of TNT was enough to blow a two- or three-foot hole in a submarine’s three-quarter-inch rolled-steel hull.’ Unlike the depth charge, the Hedgehog only detonated on making contact with the submarine. ‘You knew you had scored a hit, and a devastating one.’

Now, as Williamson went in search of the Japanese sub, he felt ‘a heady mixture of excitement, eagerness and trepidation appropriate to new boys on the block’. One slip on his part and the England herself would come under attack from Commander Takeuchi’s torpedoes.

At exactly 1.25p.m. on 18 May, the England ’s soundman, Roger Bernhardt, gave a shout from the bridge. ‘Echoes sharp and clear, sir!’ The echo detection equipment revealed that the submarine was just 1,400 yards away. The chase was now on and the vessel began to shudder as the engines were cranked to full throttle.

Williamson was impressed by Takeuchi’s reactions, for he proved a skilled quarry. ‘At four hundred yards, the target turned hard left and kicked his screws.’ Takeuchi was making his escape, using a procedure known as ‘kicking the rudder’. This threw up disturbances in the water, distorting the sonar echoes and making the sub’s position impossible to pinpoint with accuracy. But Williamson had made it his business to locate subs, even in turbulent water. He studied the Doppler machine intently as he tried to calculate the exact depth of Commander Takeuchi’s sub. At precisely 2.33 p.m., he got a fix. A split-second later, he fired his weapon and the Hedgehogs roared away from the ship and upwards into the clear blue sky, forming themselves into a perfect ellipse and then entering the sea in symmetry, just as Millis Jefferis had intended.

‘No one said a word. All eyes were fixed on the water’s surface, everyone imagining the huge steel fish below.’ Everyone knew that unlike the old depth charge, the Hedgehog would only explode if it hit the sub.

Silence. Tension. And then – ‘V-r-r-oom ! We heard it again and again, in rapid-fire succession, four to six hits coming so fast on top of one another as to seem almost simultaneous.’ Williamson had just one word in his mind: ‘Bull’s-eye!’

Deep below the surface, Commander Takeuchi had been engaged in a desperate struggle to evade the England when his submarine was hit by six shattering explosions. Jefferis had spent months calculating the mathematical equation that would ensure his Hedgehog would strike with deadly precision. Now, that mathematics reaped dividends. As the I-16’s steel hull was punctured by multiple spigots, the rigid hull instantly and violently crumpled in on itself like a tin can crushed by a giant fist. Commander Takeuchi and his crew were engulfed in a catastrophic decompression that sucked in a high-velocity avalanche of water, along with twisted shrapnel from the crippled outer shell. Death was mercifully quick. There was no hope of escape.

There was jubilation aboard the England at the sound of the underwater explosions. The crew ‘broke out in cheers, everyone jumping and slapping one another on the back like a team that had just won a tournament game’. The cheering continued for fully two minutes, ‘and was just beginning to die down when all of a sudden we heard a giant wham !’ The sea erupted into angry wavelets and the England ‘shuddered violently and started rocking and reeling’.

Williamson’s first thought was that they had been torpedoed. He feared that Commander Takeuchi had somehow detonated his on-board torpedoes as a final, desperate act of revenge. In fact, it was the violent implosion of the submarine that caused the shockwaves. The men on the England were nevertheless terrified. The fantail of the ship ‘lifted as much as a foot, plopped heavily back in the water, while men throughout the ship were knocked off their feet and deck plates sheared loose in the engine room’. Williamson concluded that the aftershock marked the ‘cataclysmic certainty that we had heard the last of the Japanese submarine’. It left the men ‘sobered and subdued’. The Hedgehogs had made their job of killing very easy.

The submarine had been sunk at more than 500 feet below the surface and almost twenty minutes were to pass before the first wreckage began to appear. Williamson was staring intently at the sea when he saw some shredded cork insulation pop to the surface. It was followed by deck planking and the remnants of a filing cabinet. Next to float up was a prayer mat decorated with Japanese characters, a lone chopstick and a large rubber container holding a seventy-five-pound bag of rice.

There was increasing excitement on deck as more evidence of their ‘kill’ started floating to the surface. Everyone was awaiting the inevitable appearance of human remains. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, but they never arrived. John Williamson peered into the water and was quick to see why. ‘Soon a dozen or so well-fed-looking sharks were milling around the vicinity.’ Commander Takeuchi and his crew had fallen prey to two different enemies, one above water and one below.

A small oil slick soon appeared on the surface, evidence that the Hedgehogs had ruptured the sub’s fuel tanks. ‘The slick grew steadily in size until profuse amounts of oil were bubbling to the surface, along with more debris.’

All the detritus needed to be collected, for the US Navy would only confirm a ‘kill’ if there was evidence. One of the England ’s whaleboats was lowered and a few of the crew began collecting relics of the sub. Williamson was concerned for the men’s safety, for ‘there were a dozen or more huge sharks swimming excitedly through the floating debris, looking for blood and shredded limbs.’

Over the course of the next twelve days, Williamson achieved a record unbeaten in the history of naval warfare. He and his men sank a further five submarines, all destroyed by Hedgehogs. Each time, the effect was the same: a deep-water vroom, an oil slick on the surface and dozens of marauding sharks. One young mariner aboard the England confessed to being upset at the ease with which their Hedgehogs were destroying the subs. Williamson had a ready answer. ‘Son,’ he said, ‘war is killing. The more of the enemy we can kill, and the more of his ships we can sink the sooner it will be over.’ He added that ‘we are in a war that we must win, for to lose it would be far worse.’ It was a sentiment that could have come straight from the mouth of Millis Jefferis.

At the naval headquarters in Japan, Admiral Soemu Toyoda was still unaware of the catastrophe that had befallen Squadron Seven. He was eagerly anticipating the onset of Operation A-Go, aware that his submarines had a unique role to play. At 9 a.m. on 15 June he gave the order for battle, using exactly the same words as Admiral Togo had used to address his fleet on the eve of the famous Battle of Tsushima, thirty-eight years earlier. ‘The fate of the empire rests on this one battle. Every man is expected to do his utmost.’

As part of the general deployment, he sent an urgent directive to Admiral Owada: ‘Submarine Squadron Seven is to be immediately stationed east of Saipan, to intercept and destroy American carriers and transports, at any cost.’ Admiral Owada’s reply was succinct. Squadron Seven, he said, ‘has no submarines’. Jefferis’s Hedgehogs had claimed the lot.

Stuart Macrae was delighted when he was brought the news: indeed, it would remain with him for years. ‘The hedgehog was an out and out winner,’ he wrote. ‘It went into service rather late in the day, but was credited with thirty-seven confirmed submarine killings.’ What had begun as a sabotage mortar for use against the Nazis in Kent had been transformed by Jefferis into a devastating weapon of destruction.

Imperial Lessons

Alexandria, July 11, 1882. The British fleet under the command of Admiral Seymour bombarded the city. Featured warships “Sultan” and “Alexandra”.

The first successful attack by self-propelled torpedoes. The Turkish ship Intibah is destroyed by torpedo boats from Velikiy Knyaz Konstantin torpedo boat tender. A painting by Lev Lagorio.

During 1877–8 the Russians had been providing some torpedo action data during their struggle with the Turks around the Black Sea. The Turkish fleet dominated that sea simply by lying at anchor, as the Russians had no sea-going ironclads and no chance of getting any in while Turkish forts and ships’ guns dominated the narrows to Constantinople; so the Russians had no alternative to using torpedo boats for offensive operations, and they carried out a number of raids by night with specially constructed 15-knot boats some 50 or 60 feet long, carried by mother ships, usually fast merchantmen. However the earlier attacks were made with spar and towing torpedoes, and to get close enough without alerting the enemy with sparks from the funnels and considerable engine noise, they had to drop their speed to walking pace and creep in. Even so they did not escape detection, and were only successful on one occasion when they found the coastal monitor Siefé unprotected by the usual torpedo boat obstructions placed around the Turkish ships. Despite detection by the sentry, they pressed in under her turret guns as they misfired three times and touched a spar torpedo off close by the sternpost; the Siefé sank in a short time. As for the ‘Whitehead’, this was also tried and on one occasion on the night of 25–6 January 1878, the Russians claimed to have sunk a Turkish guard-ship anchored at the entrance to Batum harbour from 80 yards range; although the Turks denied any loss it is possible that this was the first Whitehead success in action. Despite the poor condition of the Turkish fleet and the great resolution of the Russian officers, these were the only effective torpedo attacks of the war. They were modest successes, and it was evident that torpedoes would be little use against an efficient fleet at anchor and guarded as recommended by the British 1875 Torpedo Committee, by nets, lights, Gatling guns and guard boats.

More important than any matériel lessons from the Russo-Turkish war were the strategic issues. Historically Britain’s policy in the eastern Mediterranean had been to support Turkey as a barrier against Russian expansion towards Britain’s Indian Empire and the overland links with that Empire through Mesopotamia or across the sands of Egypt. This policy had been stiffened since 1869 by the opening of the Suez Canal, which seemed to offer French and Russian ships, acting on interior lines from Toulon and the Black Sea, the chance to enter the Indian Ocean and play havoc with all British routes to the East, besides blocking Britain’s own short cut. This was the view of the military departments.

Parallel with this was the strong commercial view: the canal had cut several thousand miles off the routes around the Cape to India and the Far East, and had naturally gathered to itself an increasing volume of steam shipping; by 1875, when Disraeli made his celebrated purchase of Suez Canal shares, over two million tons of British ships were using the waterway every year, 75 per cent of the total traffic. Then, as a symptom of both commercial and military views—or simply as an expression of British expansionist vitality-there was the maritime chauvinist view which by its very nature exaggerated the position; thus The Times could write: ‘The Canal is in fact the sea’; everyone knew who was mistress of the sea! And the Bristol Times and Daily News could go so far as to say, ‘holding that [canal] we hold Turkey and Egypt in the hollow of our hands, and the Mediterranean is an English lake, and the Suez Canal is only another name for the Thames and Mersey.’ In fact the Canal was a part of the Turkish Empire.

When Russia declared war on that Empire in April 1877, Britain was immediately involved, both because there was strong support in the country for the Turks and against the traditional threat to their eastern Empire, and because the Canal, which by now carried three million tons of British shipping a year, might become the scene of warlike operations which would stop commercial traffic. Britain sent a note to Russia, asking her not to ‘blockade or otherwise interfere with the Canal or its approaches’, and moved her Mediterranean ironclad squadron to Port Said.

We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo if we do,

We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.

Russia, with her armies fully occupied in a movement around the Black Sea, shortly renounced her belligerent rights against the Canal as an ‘international work’, and agreed to exclude Egypt from her sphere of operations; the following day, as if by reflex, the British squadron weighed and steamed out of Port Said.

The next year, with victorious Russian armies approaching Constantinople Disraeli’s cabinet ordered an even more explicit demonstration: the British ironclad squadron was to steam up the Dardanelles and anchor off the city itself. This was called off temporarily at the request of the Turks who sought an armistice, but was carried out three weeks later while peace terms were being negotiated. It had no effect: Turkey was forced to give up her Balkan Empire to Russian influence, and allow Russia access to the Mediterranean, a defeat for British policy and prestige which threatened war, and a conference was called at Berlin to try and avert it. While preliminary discussions were being held, Disraeli couldn’t resist another naval show: he summoned 8,000 troops from India through the Suez Canal, covered by three ironclads at Port Said, to concentrate at Malta. This was the first time the Indian Army had been used for grand Imperial designs, and while the numbers were not impressive, the manner of their smooth and rapid transfer by water, and the potential of the vast continent they represented, were significant. The Times noted: ‘they revealed England’s capacity for the first time in her history to fight a great Continental war without an ally.’

The actual effect of Disraeli’s demonstration cannot be determined—all parties at Berlin wanted peace—but the upshot was a compromise: Russia gave back to Turkey a great slice of Bulgaria she had acquired at the peace conference, and Disraeli, in a separate convention, took Cyprus from Turkey; he returned to London satisfied that he had brought ‘peace with honour’. Historians have seen in this peace the beginning of an end to the British policy of maintaining the Turkish Empire against Russia at all costs, and—more important for the history of the battleship—the beginning of a new Russian interest in sea power. Four years later they brought out their first systematic naval plan, for 15 battleships, 10 cruisers, later raised to 20 battleships, 24 cruisers, and various smaller craft. The threat of these squadrons in alliance with France provided the main stimulus to British building for the rest of the century.

The same year, 1882, also saw the logical result of Britain’s strategic and commercial interest in the Suez Canal combined with her new-found ‘by jingo’ expansionism; she established military and political control over Egypt. That this happened under a Liberal prime minister, Gladstone, anti-imperial, anti-military, champion of self-determination for all peoples, violent opponent of all that Disraeli had so extravagantly stood for, is an indication of just how inevitable this move was.

It was provoked by a nationalist revolt, itself largely a response to the increasing Europeanization of Egypt since the Canal. When Britain and France sent warships to Alexandria and the Canal to protect their nationals and property and overthrow the nationalist leader, Colonel Arabi, the Egyptian army started throwing up fortifications and mounting guns opposite the ships as they lay at anchor. At which point the French government fell and the new administration, alarmed that the Egyptian crisis might be a sinister German plot to lure French troops from their own borders, recalled their squadrons. Britain was left on her own. Now, while Gladstone was opposed to unilateral action, and tried to seek a solution imposed by the European ‘concert of nations’, he was defeated by his service departments, who took a more practical view after anti-Christian riots and a massacre of 50 foreigners at Alexandria. It became imperative to restore European prestige, and Gladstone sanctioned a naval bombardment of the forts at Alexandria as the quickest and most economical way.

So it was that the first British armoured ships ever to fire their guns in earnest cleared for action on the morning of 11 July 1882, and steamed in to position opposite the forts. They were a diverse collection. Largest and most modern was the Inflexible, commanded by Captain ‘Jackie’ Fisher, a dynamic man already marked for the highest positions; next came the flagship of the Mediterranean station, the Alexandra, the ultimate in British belt-and-battery ships, then the similar Sultan and Superb, and one of the scaled-down versions, the Invincible, to which the commander-in-chief had transferred his flag because of her shallower draft; then there was the Temeraire with her unique arrangement of central battery and disappearing guns at either end above, and finally of the big ships, Reed’s double-turret, fully-rigged, Monarch. There were in addition one smaller ironclad and a number of gunboats. In all, the fleet mounted 43 heavy rifled muzzle-loaders on any one broadside, ranging from the Inflexible’s four 80-ton pieces down to 9-tonners.

Against them the forts mounted only 41 rifled muzzle-loaders, besides 211 obsolete smooth-bores which were little use against armoured ships. Nevertheless, if these batteries had been manned by skilled guns’ crews they would have had all the theoretical advantages: they had steady platforms not deranged by other guns firing alongside, their guns could be set accurately for distance, their shot could be ‘spotted’ on to target by the high splashes it made in the water, and they had the whole of a ship to aim at and damage while a ship had to make a direct hit on a gun or its embrasure to put it out of action.

The theoretical odds didn’t worry the British; it was a bright, clear morning, the sea barely rippled by an offshore breeze, and the guns’ crews, stripped to the waist as in the old days, were eager to give what they considered an Arab rabble a taste of British powder. As the Invincible made the signal for general action a rumble like thunder spread through the separate detachments opposite the forts, and great clouds of thick, white smoke burst from the black hulls of the ships, rising and hanging about the taut rigging, only dispersing slowly. Below, the loading numbers went through their heavy precision drill, now spiced with the urgency of real action.

Again and again, from the smaller calibres first, came ‘the full-toned bellow of an old-fashioned muzzle-loader’, then more dense smoke as the pieces slid back. In the tops officers peered through it to watch the shells rising and growing smaller towards the dun shore some 1,500 yards away, then reported where they landed to the officers of the quarters. Punctuating the continuous thud and chatter came the great concussion of the Inflexible’s turret guns followed by a rumbling sound as the great shells ‘wobbled in the air with a noise like that of a distant train’.

So it went through the glistening day in almost target practice conditions; at one stage when the splashes from the Egyptian shells moved too close it became necessary for some ships to shift themselves with springs from the anchor cables, and for others to weigh and steam to and fro, but the Egyptian reply was not enough to divert the guns’ crews. And gradually the sheer volume of ships’ fire, the exploding shells, the noise and the occasional direct hit which wiped out a gun and its crew, wore the defenders down. Having suffered some 550 killed and wounded, against only 53 British casualties, they evacuated the forts after dark and the sailors and marines walked in on the thirteenth.

They found only 15 of the rifles and nine of the smooth bores disabled by hits from the 1,750 heavy shells, 1,730 lighter shells and 16,000 Nordenfelt bullets fired, and only about 5 per cent of the fire had actually hit the target area, the parapets of the forts. The best shooting appeared to have been made by the two ships with hydraulic laying and training gear, the Inflexible and Temeraire; however, most of the guns of the fleet had mechanical elevating gear and this had proved too slow and clumsy for the smooth water conditions at Alexandria. Had there been any swell the gunlayers could have set the elevation and waited until the ship rolled the sights on target; lacking such customary help one ship at least had bodies of men moving from one side of the deck to the other to produce an artificial roll. The report from the captain of the Monarch illustrates some of the difficulties:

After the captain of the turret had ascertained and communicated the heel to the numbers laying the gun, the time necessarily taken to work the elevating gear, lay the guns by means of the crude wooden scales and make ready is so great that probably another gun or turret will have fired in the interim, and consequently the heel of the ship will be so affected that a relay of the gun is necessary unless a bad or chance shot is purposely delivered.

In addition, there were no more aids to fire control than there had been at the beginning of the century, when effective range had been 300 yards or less; there were no rangefinders, no telegraphs to pass orders or range corrections from the officers stationed aloft to watch the fall of shot, and messages passed by voicepipe were frequently inaudible in the din of battle. The giant products of the ordnance revolution had outgrown the methods of controlling them; had the bombardment of Alexandria failed it is just possible that this lesson might have been heeded, but as the firing had been infinitely better than the Egyptians’, and the victory had been clear-cut and most economical, the reports were filed and there is no evidence that any improvements followed.

The evacuation of the forts took the fighting and destruction into Alexandria itself, hardened the Egyptians behind Arabi and boosted the military and colonial departments in England, whose Cabinet representatives virtually took over from Gladstone and forced him to alter the emphasis of the campaign from a limited punitive demonstration by the Navy to a full-scale invasion by the Army. When the French again refused to co-operate unless the security of the Canal were threatened the British cabinet called in Indian troops; meantime a British admiral who had won a VC in the Crimean War for refusing orders to retreat, ignored instructions to wait for the troops, seized and held Suez with his own squadron, and unilaterally closed the canal. Next month the British army annihilated Arabi’s forces at Tel-el-Kebir, and Britain became sole master of Egypt. The Canal had become at last (almost) as British as the Thames and the Mersey.

These events in the eastern Mediterranean from 1877–82 illustrate the importance Britain attached to command in that sea and over Egypt, a vital link of Empire. This feeling, practical or paranoic depending upon viewpoint, was a major factor behind ironclad, or as they came to be known battleship, building programmes to the end of the century. The scale of these programmes was determined by Russian and French building which, at least in the former case, stemmed directly from the arrogant displays of British naval supremacy. It was well enough for British first lords and naval historians after this to complain that Russia was a ‘land power’ with scarcely any sea trade and therefore no need for a navy, but it was a remarkably one-sided view which expected any great power to take humiliations lying down. On the other hand British interests in the area seemed to practical men in England to demand protection: besides the four million tons of merchant shipping passing through Suez annually by 1882—over 80 per cent of total traffic—and the British investment in the area, there was the awful possibility of such a vital hinge of maritime strategy falling to France or Russia. In this sense the acquisition of real power in Egypt was a natural development of the policy or instinct which had given Britain chains of island and mainland bases from which to protect her shipping throughout the world. The flag had to follow trade.

Whether the Egyptian move was an essential consequence of maritime strategy, or a high-handed demonstration of naval power, or both of these and a bit of the bond-holder’s dilemma, whether it was part reaction to France’s pretensions to a North African empire or was itself powerful stimulus to European powers to carve up bits of the undeveloped world for themselves—as they did with increased frenzy during the following decades—for the purposes of this story it was provocation for a naval race. It not only upset the balance at the meeting point of East and West and extended Britain’s naval commitments, it provided France and Russia with sufficient envy and resentment to begin building programmes which might—at least in alliance—prevent future unilateral action by the ‘mistress of the seas’.

H.M.S. RODNEY PART I

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16-Gun Sloop of War

While has been six Rodneys, officially only four British warships have borne the name, the first ‘official’ being a ship of the line commissioned in 1810, here are the first three (3). Bearing in mind the Admiralty’s reluctance to recognise the cutter, it is strange the earliest battle honour attributed to Rodney comes from that vessel, which, a decade after Captain Rodney’s governorship of Newfoundland, garnered the tribute ‘Quebec 1759’. The Rodney cutter supported General Wolfe’s brilliant assault on Quebec and while she carried a mere four guns, they were adequate enough for the job of carrying despatches to and from the scene of battle. However, while the cutter earned the battle honour she was not believed to have been present when Wolfe scaled the Heights of Abraham to confront Montcalm, the British general losing his life in the process of achieving a great victory, ending French hopes of establishing control over much of Canada.

During the Quebec campaign Rodney was commanded by Lieutenant the Honourable Philip Tufton Perceval, an aristocrat of Irish descent. His father was John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, at one time tipped to be a future Prime Minister of Britain but who, instead, became First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1763 and 1766.

The Rodney’s commander was born on 10 March 1741, his mother being Catherine Cecil, a daughter of the Earl of Salisbury. Lieutenant Tufton Perceval was therefore not even nineteen when he took charge of Rodney; he was made a Master and Commander on 5 September 1759, receiving his promotion, and captaincy of Rodney, eight days before the climactic battle for Quebec. After his time in command of the cutter, Tufton Perceval no doubt moved on to larger ships, but does not seem to have distinguished himself greatly in his subsequent naval career, dying at the age of 54, on 21 April 1795. His half brother, Spencer, found greater success, as a politician, but in 1812, while serving as Prime Minister, was assassinated in the House of Commons.

In the same year the Rodney cutter sailed the St Lawrence, the man she was named after received promotion to Rear Admiral of the Blue and an appointment to command a naval force charged with containing a French invasion force in Le Havre. By this time Rodney’s reputation was mixed, to say the least. In 1762 he had ignored Army claims that Martinique could not be taken from the French and landed troops with Royal Navy guns and gunners to take the island’s chief stronghold, Fort Royal. The British soon subdued the fortress; a notable triumph achieved against the odds.

Following the end of the Seven Years War, in August 1764 Rodney was made a baronet and, aside from serving as Governor of Greenwich Hospital for five years, entered politics. It was not his first such venture, for Rodney had been elected MP for Saltash in 1751, a borough just up the River Tamar from Plymouth Dock, today known as Devonport and future home port of the Second World War-era battleship Rodney. Rodney the man was by 1761 MP for Penryn, another Cornish constituency.

Rodney’s campaign to be elected MP for Northampton in 1768, while successful in that it gained him the seat, was ruinously expensive and, taken together with his addiction to gambling, plunged him into dire financial straits. An appointment to command in Jamaica did not solve his money problems and, when he retired from the Caribbean in 1775, Rodney sought refuge in France to avoid the indignity of a spell in a debtors’ prison. The admiral lived in Paris until May 1778 when, with hostilities about to break out between Britain and France over the latter’s support for rebels in North American colonies, Rodney went home, able to pay off his debts thanks to a very generous loan from a French general. Ironic then, that Rodney’s return would eventually lead to a defeat that brought ruin upon France’s designs to enrich herself by taking British colonies. Rodney was appointed to command in the Leeward Islands in 1779, mainly because, although not universally admired, he was the best available at a time when talent was thin on the ground, partly because the Keppel-Palliser affair had prompted many senior naval officers to refuse service at sea. On the way to his new posting, Rodney was tasked with relieving the siege of Gibraltar, the resulting victory in the ‘moonlight battle’ of January 1780 raising his reputation to a new high. Once he arrived in the West Indies, Admiral Rodney was hopefully preoccupied with saving Jamaica from Franco-Spanish invasion. With lingering financial problems that a share in lucrative captures might solve, he was particularly keen on ships under his command taking prizes. This motive cast further disrepute on Rodney’s name, for it is reckoned money-seeking prompted him to organize an operation to seize the island of St Eustasius from the Dutch. Although this venture yielded a lot of treasure, various legal issues meant Rodney personally benefited little. Most serious was the fact that it diverted him from providing a proper defence for Martinique, which was taken back by the French.

A combination of disgrace, over his putting lucre before securing British possessions, and ill health forced Rodney to resign in 1781 and return home, but, as is the way with such things, he was accorded the honorary rank of Vice Admiral of Great Britain in early November. Such was the poverty of talent among Britain’s available sea-going admirals, Rodney was soon sailing again for the West Indies, returning to the post of Commander-in-Chief in mid-January 1782.

The next HMS Rodney was a 16-gun brig-sloop, with a ship’s company of fifty-one, in 1781 commanded by John Douglas Brisbane, who had been promoted to Lieutenant on 1 April 1779. This Rodney, the second and final ‘unofficial’, had been purchased in the Caribbean that year and may previously have been an American customs vessel, or even a locally commissioned ship, like so many of the Royal Navy’s smaller craft. She was no doubt named in honour of the commander-in-chief, in order to give physical form to Admiral Rodney’s status (and seek advantage in his favours).

The master and commander of the Rodney sloop-brig was the son of Captain John Brisbane, who had distinguished himself in action during the on-going American War of Independence. No doubt it was Captain Brisbane’s influence that won his son command of Rodney. Possibly the elder Brisbane was held in high esteem by Admiral Rodney but Lieutenant Brisbane was not blessed with good fortune, for Rodney would be captured on 3 February 1782 by the French, during a vain defence of Demerara in what is today Guyana. The area was originally settled by the Dutch West India Company, which reclaimed stretches of the coast to develop sugar and cotton plantations, using slaves to harvest the crops. In the 1590s Sir Walter Raleigh had searched in vain for El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, in the region’s vast jungles and, in 1781, the British – probably acting under orders from the money-hungry Admiral Rodney – regarded Demerara as such rich territory they seized it. The main aim was to prevent the Dutch from shipping Demerera’s highly desirable goods to rebel American colonies and instead divert it into British hands.

The new rulers constructed a fort at the mouth of the river, Fort St George, and began laying out a settlement around it, the beginnings of Georgetown, the modern-day capital of Guyana. In early 1782, Rodney, the 20-gun frigate Oronoque, sloops Barbuda, 16-guns, Sylph, 18-guns and Stormont, 16-guns, together with the schooner Henry, 6-guns, failed to deter a French expeditionary force composed of five warships led by the 32-gun frigate Iphigenie. The Oronoque would appear not to have had a full complement, perhaps due to disease, and of the nominal guns available across the force only 75 were actually capable of being manned. French firepower amounted to 140 guns, out-gunning the British by 65 weapons. In terms of available manpower, there were 380 British sailors and marines while the French mustered 1,500 soldiers and matelots.

The story of this obscure moment in British naval history can be found in the ‘Lieutenant’s Log’ of Tudor Tucker, at forty-years old a rather elderly Lieutenant, from the loyalist side of a family whose rebel scions included the first Treasurer of the USA, also named Tudor Tucker. Lt Tudor Tucker RN joined Rodney at the end of July 1781. By mid-August, Rodney was alongside in Antigua, where she went into refit and then sailed for Barbados, which she soon left. On Friday, 19 October, Rodney dropped anchor in the lower reaches of the Demerara river, which flows north for 230 miles from its source in the rain forests. She stayed there through the early autumn and into winter, as war clouds loomed ever more ominously on the horizon.

Wednesday, 30 January 1782 dawned fair, but a storm approached in the form of the French naval force. The Rodney was hailed by the Oronoque’s Commanding Officer, who told Lieutenant Brisbane of the enemy ships, which ‘he supposed intended to attack the river at some time.’

Brisbane called Lt Tucker over and ‘ordered by him to go on shore and take charge of the fort . . .’

Not long after, it was decided it should be abandoned, with Tucker instructed to spike the guns, but before he could complete the task, he was hailed from Rodney and told to return to ship. An attempt to break out into the open sea was planned. The Sylph and Henry had earlier sailed out from the river to see if there was any chance of the British naval force making it, but the French were too well positioned. Sylph and Henry retreated and brought back gloomy news. There was probably a council of war where it was decided the best course of action was to surrender. On 31 January, Lieutenant Tucker’s log noted that at 1 am Rodney

. . . weighed and made sail up the river in company with the Oronoke [sic], Barbuda, Sylph, Stormont and Henry . . . at 5 anchored . . . at 11 am a Flag of truce flew off from the Oronoke [sic] . . .

On 2 February Lt Tucker was ordered to come on board Oronoque and, in the early hours, tasked with taking an offer of surrender to the French commander. Sent off in a boat under a Flag of Truce, at 8 am going on board Iphigenie, Tucker delivered the letter, two hours later receiving a verbal reply, then setting off back up the river. But, when he went aboard the Oronoque, Lt Tucker found two French officers already there, having arrived an hour before him. Subsequently, Oronoque’s captain and the governor of Demerara went down the river to agree final terms. Sunday, 3 February dawned fair but it was a black day for the Royal Navy as, at 10 am, Tucker was told by Brisbane that capitulation of British naval forces had been agreed, with Rodney’s guns to be discharged and secured.

Admiral Rodney gained revenge for the taking of Demerara by defeating a Franco-Spanish fleet at the battle of The Saintes, on 12 April 1782, so ending the enemy’s dreams of conquering further British colonies in the Caribbean. Rodney deployed the tactic of cutting the enemy line that would reach its apex when used by Nelson at Trafalgar more than two decades later. But, what of Rodney’s Brisbane and Tucker? Their lives were but footnotes of British naval history, forgotten in the shadows of great victories like The Saintes. Neither man was destined to reach a ripe old age.

Released from captivity, Lieutenant Brisbane was put aboard one of the French warships taken as prizes at The Saintes, the captured vessels sailing for Britain in company with a large convoy of merchant ships in July 1782. By mid-September, they were off the Newfoundland Banks, hit by severe gales for three days during which the Ville de Paris, French flagship at The Saintes, sank with the loss of all but one sailor and Glorieux went down with all hands. The Rodney’s Lieutenant Brisbane was among those drowned. Following his release from captivity Lieutenant Tucker returned to his unspectacular career in the Navy, getting married in December 1784 and not receiving promotion to Commander until February 1796. He died four years later.

The third Rodney of this story – the first ‘official’ vessel of the name – was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line built by the private shipyard of William Barnard, on the River Thames, close to Deptford Royal Dockyard.

During an active warship construction life of some thirty-nine years, Barnard’s Deptford Green Yard, established in 1780, built twenty-six warships and a dozen East Indiamen. The Rodney was one of eight 74-gun ships constructed by Barnard, a type for which it had a good reputation.

Among them was the legendary HMS Orion, which saw action in the battles of the Glorious First of June (1794) Cape St Vincent (1797) and Trafalgar (1805).

The 1,754 tons third-rate Rodney was ordered by the Admiralty Board on 28 May 1808, for, despite the victory at Trafalgar nearly three years earlier, the French naval threat remained acute, particularly as the potential building capacity of shipyards under the sway of Napoleon remained even greater than Britain’s. To retain dominance of the oceans the Royal Navy needed supremely useful 74-gunners and so private yards like Barnard did well. The amount of wood devoted to constructing a ship like the 74-gun Rodney would make a modern-day conservationist weep, for 3,000 full-grown oak trees were used in the hull alone. Despite a heavy workload, Barnard completed Rodney in the remarkable time span of just 20 months. The new Rodney was launched on 8 December 1809, more than 17 years after Rodney the man had passed away.

The progression from humble cutter to a line-of-battle-ship, reflected the rise of the Admiral’s renown, for good or ill. It was no doubt hoped the name Rodney would indicate a good fighting spirit, rather than reflect the more controversial aspects of Rodney’s personality and reputation. After his success at The Saintes, Admiral Rodney was called home from the West Indies and dismissed from his post by a new government keen to show the country it meant to make up for the disastrous conduct of the war to retain America. When the success of The Saintes became widely known, and acclaimed throughout Britain, Rodney was given the freedom of many towns and cities, awarded the thanks of both the Commons and Lords, was made Baron Rodney of Stoke-Rodney and received the considerable pension of £2,000 a year. However, his financial difficulties pursued him into his retirement and he died on 24 May 1792, with debtors snapping at his heels.

As Rodney was being fitted out, rigged and also equipped with her weapons, and while her press gangs were scouring ports looking for sailors, many hundreds of miles to the south, British involvement in the Iberian Peninsula was hotting up.

Napoleon was attempting to use the Continental Blockade to shut European ports to British trade, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. However, the British Army was not large enough to contest Napoleon’s might on land across several theatres. It had become clear, despite the disastrous retreat from Corunna in January 1809, which saw the Royal Navy lift thousands of troops off the beaches – a forerunner of Dunkirk 130 years later – that Spain and Portugal still offered the best means of sapping the strength of the French Army and destroying the myth of Napoleon’s invincibility.

The warships that saw service in support of Wellington’s army in Spain were true practitioners of what today is referred to as littoral warfare. By dominating waters just off the shore they were able to keep land forces supplied and leapfrog enemy obstacles by taking troops up and down the coast. British warships also influenced events on land directly through bombarding enemy forts, cutting sea lines of communication to Napoleon’s troops, and supporting isolated pockets of friendly forces. Transport of troops by sea, and their re-supply, was so much swifter, less dangerous and wearing, than using the often atrocious roads of the Iberian interior. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy denied the French every advantage offered by the sea and forced them into an ineradicably hostile terrain where Spanish guerillas picked at their entrails like voracious vultures.

The Rodney was by the early summer of 1810 at Plymouth, with orders to join the Mediterranean Fleet and, in preparation for her first voyage into a war zone, was receiving stores and also taking aboard impressed men to bring her complement up to its full strength of 700.

Among those delivered to her was eighteen-year old Joseph Bates, a young American who had already seen many adventures since first going to sea as a cabin boy in 1807. From the moment he stepped aboard, Bates found his card was marked by Rodney’s First Lieutenant, who had received reports of his several escape attempts. The officer glared at him and growled: ‘Scoundrel.’

H.M.S. RODNEY PART II

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A Vengeur-class ship of the line

The Commanding Officer of the Rodney, Captain Bolton, warned his boat’s crews they would be flogged if they allowed Bates anywhere near their craft, in case he tried to escape again. The new batch of pressed men went down to dinner but a few hours later many of them, including Bates, were ascending Rodney’s rigging to unfurl sails. On sailing from Plymouth, Rodney set course down the Channel, to join the Mediterranean Fleet on its blockade station in the Gulf of Lyons, off Toulon. Rodney first stopped at besieged Cadiz, joining eight other British warships supporting the Spanish fleet with the objective of assisting the host nation’s vessels to set sail for Gibraltar where they were to be refitted, having been virtually confined to port since Trafalgar. Bates was sent to one of the Spanish ships, the Apollo, with 49 other sailors from the Rodney. After her refit at Gibraltar, Apollo set sail for Port Mahon, on the island of Minorca, which was once more being used by the Royal Navy as its main support base for the blockade of Toulon. Bates made another unsuccessful bid to escape, giving up and returning to the ship after finding he could not get off the island. He escaped flogging because officers in the Apollo were impressed that he returned voluntarily, but Bates soon rejoined Rodney, at Gibraltar.

In October 1810, an Anglo-Spanish force tried to take the fort at Fuengirola, which was held by Polish troops fighting for Napoleon. It was hoped this would entice the French garrison at Malaga to sally forth, enabling an attempt to recover that important port, but it all went horribly wrong, with the Poles refusing to surrender. Lord Blayney, commander of the landing force, was overjoyed to see a magnificent 74-gun British warship cresting over the horizon.

At this moment His Majesty’s ship Rodney, with a Spanish line of battle ship, appeared off the coast, and I learnt that they had on board the 82d regiment, one thousand strong, which had been sent from Gibraltar to reinforce me; my anxiety to receive them was of course very great, and boats were immediately sent off to assist in landing them.

Blayney went aboard Rodney, to dine with her captain and discuss plans for taking the fortress. The following day Rodney and other warships were moored broadside on to the shoreline, so their cannons could bear on the enemy positions. Polish cannon balls were soon whistling through Rodney’s rigging and there was some hesitancy among her topmen, who did not go up to furl the sails quickly enough for the officers’ liking. Because of such tardiness, all seamen were ‘ordered aloft, and there remained exposed to the enemy’s shot until the sails were furled.’

While in this condition, a single well-directed shot might have killed a score, but fortunately none were shot . . .

The Rodney’s 32-pounder guns spoke, belching flame and smoke, but the ebb and flow of battle placed British and Spanish troops in the line of fire, so she stopped her cannonade. The British lost the initiative altogether and were hurled back, with the hapless Blayney taken prisoner. When this happened Spanish and British troops fled down to the shore. Boats brought the dead and injured out to Rodney, the slaughter having lasted from 2 pm to sunset; Bates and his shipmates were tasked with washing the blood out of the boats and hurling corpses over the side. Meanwhile, Blayney suffered the indignity of watching Rodney and the other vessels vainly bombarding the fortress in which he was now held prisoner.

I went on the rampart, from whence I had a full view of the shipping. The fort was still firing at the Rodney, and at the boats with the troops, which approached close to the shore. A few minutes would have brought them to my assistance, and they would certainly have changed the fortune of the day in my favour; but fate ordered it otherwise. While thus absorbed in my own melancholy reflections, I could not help exclaiming, as I looked on the Rodney and Topaze, there is the ship where a few days since I dined in social friendship, and there the frigate which brought me to this shore, rejoicing in the sanguine hope of serving my country; all on board then, are free, while I am doomed to pass an indefinite period in captivity, deprived of the society of all those who are dear to me in the world!

Rodney and the other warships withdrew and headed east, but a storm blew up, one vessel ‘. . . dashed to pieces on the rocks of the Island of Sardinia, and nearly every one of the crew perished.’ With the gale abating, Rodney joined the fleet off Toulon.

For a time Rodney was in Port Mahon, as flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Fremantle, one of Nelson’s legendary ‘Band of Brothers’ who fought alongside England’s greatest naval hero at both Copenhagen, in 1801, and Trafalgar, in 1805. Fremantle had been made Rear Admiral in 1810 and yearned for action, having been ashore for some years. He joined the Mediterranean Fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, who regarded his subordinate as a dangerous talent to be kept in check. In early 1811 Fremantle expressed fears that Minorca was weakly garrisoned by the Spanish and could easily be taken, leaving the fleet off Toulon without proper support. Cotton decided that, as his subordinate was so concerned, he may as well have command of Port Mahon, and that is how Fremantle came to transfer his flag into Rodney from the 110-gun Ville de Paris. Fremantle was happy to receive an independent command and especially grateful to be away from his boss, writing home from Rodney to his wife:

Cotton is incapable of governing this fleet.

Fremantle, as was the custom, took a select group of supporters into Rodney, including all the officers of the Ville de Paris, a band, plus sailors to man small boats, in all sixty people. Orders soon began to fly out from Rodney, providing the jump-start needed to get the island’s dockyard working at a higher pitch, so it could begin refitting some of the fleet’s weatherworn ships.

Essential supplies were dispatched to ships on station off Toulon and when Spanish naval stores from Cadiz and Cartagena arrived, to ensure they did not fall into the hands of the encroaching French, Fremantle hammered out a deal to buy them. Of major concern was the fact that 300 of the 600-strong Minorcan garrison were French prisoners persuaded to serve in Spain’s Walloon Guards. In Rodney Fremantle brooded on the matter and wrote to Cotton that the Walloons ‘seem daily to be more disinclined to the English and I cannot too strongly impress upon you the importance of this place which can be carried by a Coup de Main.’ But the danger passed and Fremantle left Rodney in August 1811, sailing in the new 74-gun HMS Milford to become Britain’s chief naval representative at the Neapolitan court in Sicily. Ultimately, he commanded British warships during a successful campaign in the Adriatic, after a period in home waters returning to the Mediterranean as Commander-in-Chief, but dying at Naples in 1819, aged fifty-four.

William Henry Smyth, grandfather of the founder of the Scouting movement, Lord Baden-Powell, joined Rodney in the summer of 1811. Prior to this Smyth achieved renown when he transferred from Milford to command a Spanish gunboat in defence of Cadiz. It was probably for this excellent work that on 14 December 1811 Smyth was promoted to Master’s Mate. This remarkable twenty-three year old sailor, who was destined to be a noted hydrographer and an admiral, possibly used his time in Rodney, as she cruised off Spain throughout 1812, to collect data for charts still used by mariners as recently as 1961.

At least three of Rodney’s sailors had fought in HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. They joined Rodney at the beginning of August 1811, like Smyth drafted from Milford before the latter sailed for Sicily carrying Fremantle. It is likely they were switched for men the admiral wanted to take with him. Rodney’s Trafalgar trio were: Gunner’s Mate John Brown, from Ireland, in his thirties; Thomas Sedgwick, from Sunderland, County Durham, in the north of England, a Quartermaster’s Mate in his forties; Charles Thomas, in his mid-thirties, from Boston, America, who became a member of the Rodney’s Carpenter’s Crew. Fellow American Joseph Bates was, meanwhile, getting into trouble again, this time for hanging trousers up to dry behind Rodney’s maintop sail after his daily laundry. The ordinary sailors were required to present themselves in pristine smocks and trousers, but, with only three changes of clothes a week, and not enough time each day to wash and dry clothes before inspection, it was a tall order to avoid punishment for appearing in soiled garments. Therefore, Bates had the bright idea of hanging his clothes out in the breeze where they would dry in double quick time. However, the sail was furled sooner than expected, the enraged First Lieutenant demanding:

. . . whose trowsers [sic] are these found hanging in the maintop?

Not wanting to see his shipmates punished, Bates owned up. Receiving a savage telling off, he narrowly avoided a beating but was put on the so-called ‘black list’ for six months, which involved shining brass and iron work, plus carrying out other demeaning chores on top of daily routine. It all had to be fitted into time usually spent resting off watch or sleeping.

There was no punishment more dreaded and disgraceful.

Two years on from leaving London, Rodney’s officers decided it was time to refresh her reserve water supply, as down in the deepest part of the hold were casks filled from the Thames, not yet touched.

Young Joseph Bates was there when the bungs were removed, seeing his shipmates set light to the foul air that came out with a candle and recalling, ‘it would blaze up a foot high, like the burning of strong brandy.’

According to Bates the water was perfectly clear, the sediment having settled a long time ago. Some of it was drawn off and poured into glass tumblers for Rodney’s officers to taste. One of them held his tumbler up to a lantern and pronounced it ‘the purest and best of water’. Bates thought it tasted good, but he couldn’t help wishing he was drinking from the pure springs of Vermont or New Hampshire.

When it came to refreshing the minds of Rodney’s men, those that could read availed themselves of books from the ship’s portable libraries, which averaged two volumes for every ten men. Reading was allowed on every day except Sunday, which was reserved for a church service starting at 11 am. Bates, a born and bred Presbyterian, saw the prayers of Rodney’s sailors and marines as pure hypocrisy:

. . . how little their hearts were inclined to keep the holy law of God, when almost every other hour of the week, their tongues were employed in blaspheming his holy name; and at the same time learning and practicing the way and manner of shooting, slaying and sinking to the bottom of the ocean, all that refused to surrender . . .

The most notable encounter at sea for this Rodney came in the middle of a gale on 15 January 1812, when a ship was spotted off Cape Sicie, in the Gulf of Lyon, and the battleship set off in pursuit. Meanwhile, two British frigates – Apollo and Alcmene – were using subterfuge to patrol close to the coast, flying French colours. Mistaking these two men ‘o’ war for friendly vessels, the fleeing ship sought their protective custody, only to be boarded. All this commotion alerted the French to something untoward and they ordered out a dozen of their line-of-battle ships from Toulon. With Apollo and Alcmene in the process of snaring their prize, Rodney stoutly hove to and barred the path of on-coming French warships, which, seeing a British battleship standing in their way, decided the situation was not worth a fight and returned to port.

With extra manpower available, and carrying the senior officer, it was Rodney that put a crew aboard the prize, which was sailed to Port Mahon.

Later that year a severe storm battered Rodney badly while on station with the fleet in the Gulf of Lyons, Bates and his shipmates fearing the worst.

For a while it was doubted whether any of us would ever see the rising of another sun. These huge ships would rise like mountains on the top of the coming sea, and suddenly tumble again into the trough of the same with such a dreadful crash that it seemed almost impossible they could ever rise again.

Ten ships of the fleet were badly damaged, including Rodney, her captain instructed to take her back to Britain for repairs.

Her men were overjoyed – going home meant they would finally receive their pay and be allowed twenty-four hours leave ashore, many dreaming of roistering and whoring in the taverns of Plymouth. Bates, on the other hand, fantasized about finally escaping servitude in the Royal Navy. However, as the Rodney prepared to sail for Britain from Port Mahon, fifty of her sailors, including Bates, were called forward and told to get their things together, as they were transferring into the 74-gun HMS Swiftsure. She had just arrived and would in all likelihood serve three years on the Mediterranean station. Bates was plunged into utter despair:

I was doomed to drag out a miserable existence in the British navy.

Bates remained in Swiftsure until the war between Britain and America, provoked in large part by the former’s habit of pressing the latter’s citizens into service in the Royal Navy, broke out. He became a Prisoner of War in 1812 and, after incarceration in a prison ship, then Dartmoor, eventually arrived home in the USA, on 15 June 1815. A career as a merchant service captain followed, before Joseph Bates devoted himself to carrying out God’s work, taking part in the anti-slavery movement and helping to found the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He died in 1872 at the age of eighty.

By 1814 Rodney was flagship for Vice Admiral Sir George Martin, Commander-in-Chief Lisbon. Her commanding officer was Captain Edward Durnford King, who had distinguished himself while in command of the frigate HMS Endymion, encountering the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet off Cadiz in 1805 prior to Trafalgar, but escaping destruction by pretending to signal a Royal Navy force astern of him. In November 1814 Captain King was appointed to the 74-gun Cornwallis, but ill health forced him to resign his command and return home. Rodney returned to Britain with other ships of the fleet following the abdication of Napoleon in April 1814. Thirteen years later she was renamed Greenwich, so her previous name could christen a new vessel. The Napoleonic-era Rodney (now Greenwich) was decommissioned and sold off in 1836, ending a career in which she experienced no pitched battles at sea, but had played her part in maintaining pressure in the Iberian Peninsula, so helping to bring the little French Emperor down.

German WWII Destroyer – Z 10 Hans Lody

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Origin of the Name

On the outbreak of the First World War, Oberleutnant zur See (Reserve) Hans Lody, who had been declared medically unfit for military service, immediately volunteered for espionage duty. He arrived in England posing as an American, but he was soon arrested: the network of German secret agents in Britain had already been betrayed and eliminated. Lody was executed by firing squad for espionage at the Tower of London on 6 November 1914. Until 1945 a plaque in his honour was to be found at the gate of Lübeck fortress.

Career

Z 10 was a Type 1934A ship commissioned on 17 March 1938 by her commander,  Korvettenkapitän Karl Jesko von Puttkamer. She ran her speed trials over the measured mile off Neukrug between 30 November and 3 December 1938, achieving 37.8 knots from an output of 65,000shp at 370rpm per shaft.

Attached to 8. Zerstörerdivision, she joined the Fleet after working up and formed part of the escort and homecoming celebrations for the Condor Legion (Spanish Civil War) veterans on 30 May 1939. In August 1939, Korvettenkapitän Puttkamer was appointed Hitler’s Naval ADC and replaced by Korvettenkapitän Freiherr Hubert von Wangenheim.

After three day’s blockade duty off Danzig at the outbreak of war, Z 10 transferred into the North Sea to help lay the Westwall defensive minefield. While she was loading, a mine exploded, killing two and wounding six of her crew. During October, in company with Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and 6. Torpedobootflottille, Z 10 inspected neutral commerce in the Skagerrak and Kattegat, often in severe weather. In the operation of 27–29 October she suffered storm damage and lost one man overboard with three injured.

Hans Lody sailed on two offensive minelaying operations against the British coast, on 18 November to the Thames estuary and on 6 December off Cromer, where, with Z 12 Erich Giese,she fought a torpedo action against two British destroyers, one of these, Jersey, being hit and damaged. On 9 December Z 10 sailed to Wesermünde for a refit and did not emerge until 22 May 1940. Once operational she returned to Trondheim, and on 3 June was attached to the Fleet for ‘Juno’. During the sortie she torpedoed and sank the troop transport Orama (19,840grt), the largest ship to be sunk by a German destroyer. With Admiral Hipper, she returned to Trondheim on 8 June with survivors from the British vessels sunk.

On 13 June 1940 Lody was damaged in an air raid aimed at Scharnhorst and returned to Kiel for repair, but she was back on the 20th in time to join Z 7, Z 15 and the torpedo boats Greifand Kondor, escorting Scharnhorst to Deutsche Werke. After a call at Wilhelmshaven, she returned to Trondheim in company with Z 5 Paul Jacobi to escort home, on 25 July, the damaged battleship Gneisenau. During a course change in the Kattegat on the 27th there was a minor collision between Gneisenau and Z 10. After completion of the escort, Z 10 transferred to Wilhelmshaven, from where, on 9 September she steamed to the western end of the English Channel with Z 6, Z 14, Z 16 and Z 20 preparatory to Operation ‘Seelöwe’.

Z10 took part in the minelaying operation off Falmouth on 28 September 1940, and on 10 October, during an air raid at Brest, she received shrapnel damage and lost two crew dead and seven wounded to strafing. On 17 October she sortied into the Bristol Channel and received two shell hits from the enemy cruiser and destroyer force. Korvettenkapitãn Werner Pfeiffer was appointed Lody’s third commander in November 1940.

In the skirmish with five British destroyers off Plymouth on 29 November, Z 10 suffered splinter damage and was raked by anti-aircraft fire. On 5 December she left Brest in company with Z 20 Karl Galster for a refit at Wesermünde.

After leaving the yards in April 1941, Lody joined the Bismarck escort in the Great Belt on 19 May and was released into Trondheim on the 22nd, returning from there to Wesermünde. Between 11 and 14 June she helped to escort the torpedoed heavy cruiser Liit-zow from Egersund to the repair yard. On 1 July she sailed with 6. Z-Flottille to Kirkenes and carried out various escort duties, reconnaissance sorties and anti-shipping operations with the her sister ships before returning to Wesermünde at the end of September with boiler damage.

On 15 May 1942, together with Z 4, Z 27 and Z 29, Hans Lody escorted Lützow to Trondheim in Operation ‘Walzertraum’, arriving on the 20th and transferring with her northward to Altafjord on 2 July. While anchoring in Gimsöystraumen with Theodor Riedel and Karl Galster she grounded in uncharted shallows, as a result of which her double bottom was ripped open, the port shaft seized and both propellers received damage. After refloating, the two destroyers returned to Trondheim for survey and emergency repair, and on the 27th both were towed to Deutsche Werke, Kiel. The damage to Z 10 was so extensive that her decommissioning was seriously considered. Korvettenkapitän Karl Adolf Zenker was appointed commander in August 1942.

A boiler room fire broke out during engine trials on 15 February 1943, and not until 22 April was Lody sufficiently battleworthy to return to operations in Norway. Meanwhile Kapitän zur See Hans Marks had been appointed her fifth commander.

Lody was part of the force which dispossessed the Soviets of Spitzbergen between 6 and 9 September. While leaving Altafjord on 21 November, she collided with Erich Steinbrinck.Korvettenkapitän Kurt Haun was appointed commander in November 1943.

The period until April 1944 was spent on escort and minelaying missions out of southern Norwegian ports, and on 3 May that year Z 10 was laid up at Germania Werft, Kiel, for a refit that lasted until 18 February 1945. While working up in the Baltic afterwards she was attached temporarily to Admiral K-Verbände, the command organisation for the various one- or two-man midget submarines. Once more or less operational again on 5 April, Lody ran escort duties from Copenhagen to the Skagerrak, and on 5 May she sailed from Copenhagen to the Hela peninsula to embark refugees, returning in the huge convoy of 7 May with about 1,500 aboard. On the 9th, in company with Z 6, she was removed to Kiel, where she decommissioned the following day.

On 10 May 1945, under Royal Navy command but with German engine-room personnel, Hans Lody proceeded to Wilhelmshaven. On 6 January 1946 she arrived at Portsmouth as experimental vessel R 38, German engine room staff being requested of the Naval Officer Commanding, Wilhelmshaven, on the 19th, presumably to help operate the complicated machinery. The ship was scrapped at Sunderland three years later.