Saturday 2012-03-24

The Command of the Ocean by N A M Rodger

whoever commands the ocean, commands the trade of the world, and whoever commands the trade of the world, commands the riches of the world, and whoever is master of that, commands the world.
-- John Evelyn, 1674, prolegomenon
Calendars are a notorious trap for the unwary.
-- A Note on Conventions
1. This is why the British Treasury, no enthusiast for wanton innovation, still dates the tax year from Old Lady Day, 6 April.
-- Notes to the Note on Conventions
The Rump government did not pretend to have, or to desire, the support of the people at large. On the contrary, it gloried in being a godly remnant which had crushed all its enemies with the help of God alone.
-- A Mountain of Iron
All Europe stood aghast at the murder of an anointed king, and the Peace of Westphalia had freed the powerful armies and navies hitherto engaged in the Thirty Years' War for operations against England...
Private men-of-war with commissions from the exiled Prince of Wales, now proclaimed by his friends as Charles II, sailed from port in Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Isles, France, and Flanders to capture English merchant ships, financing the Royalist cause, cutting sharply into the Customs revenue which formed a major prop of the Commonwealth's shaky finances, and undermining its claims to be an effective government.
-- A Mountain of Iron
English shipowners, who had prospered during the troubled times of the Thirty Years' War as neutral shippers with well-armed ships, were half-ruined by the civil wars, and altogether ruined by the return of general peace in 1648. Dutch shipowners were now free again to deploy their formidable advantages: unarmed cheaply built ships with small, ill-paid and ill-fed crews which translated into low freight costs, backed by the most sophisticated economy in Europe, with developed banks, insurance and stock markets.
-- A Mountain of Iron
Voting power in the States-General (of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces = the Dutch Republic) was in proportion to tax revenue.
-- A Mountain of Iron
the ordinary meaning of hoisting a broom to the masthead was that the ship was for sale.
-- A Mountain of Iron
(George) Monck had been a pre-war officer of the English and Dutch armies, and was the first professional soldier to join the naval command. Portland was his first sea battle, and naval affairs were new to him, but he recognized chaos and indiscipline when he saw them.
-- A Mountain of Iron
the 'Barbary States' as they were known in Christian Europe -- were nominally dependencies of the Ottoman Empire, but in practice semi-independent states which kept up a permanent state of war for motives very similar to Cromwell's. They too had soldiers (their Turkish garrisons) all too apt to intervene in politics if not distracted by foreign war.
-- Cromwell's Hooves
Their (the Dutch) defeat would have been even heavier if the ensuing pursuit had not been called off during the night by one of the Duke of York's courtiers, acting without orders on a plea from the Duchess to keep him as far as possible out of danger...
The usual manning and victualling problems, compounded by plague in England...
-- Terrible, Obstinate and Bloody Battle
Both Charles and James were keenly interested in the Navy, and in time they became expert in it. Unlike every sovereign before and after them, they were willing and able to transact much detailed and technical business themselves.
-- Amazement and Discontent
No detail was too small for him (Samuel Pepys): the proper quality of bewpers for flags, the precise scope ofa glazier's contract, the method of measuring blocks, the gauge of Stockholm and Russian tar, the sizes and patterns of hinges and fastenings. Master shipwrights might be unable to measure timber correctly, masters attendant ignorant of the proper widths of sailcloths, clerks of the cheque incapable of calculating wage costs, but Pepys made himself master of all.
-- Amazement and Discontent
For the English East India Company the accession of William III was a disaster on two fronts: abroad, because it was forced into a very uneasy alliance with its hated rival the VOC (dutch east india company); at home, because the company had been so close to James II.
-- Notorious and Treacherous Mismanagement
Next day a shift of wind gave the French the weather gage and the opportunity to renew the action, but the majority of Toulouse's senior officers persuaded him that 'what we did yesterday will suffice for the reputation of the Navy and the king's arms', and the French fleet returned to Toulon. Only a minority understood that they had fought for a tangible strategic objective, Gibraltar, which a final effort might well have regained.
-- An Additional Empire
The mouth of the Channel is most unsafe, Ushant being foggy and 'surrounded with dangers in all directions', the Scillies low-lying and also surrounded by reefs...
The Scillies themselves were laid down about fifteen miles too far north on contemporary English charts, and there is a variable and unpredictable current tending to set ships to the northward. All these factors, compounded by remarkably careless navigation, were implicated in the great disaster of 22 October (1707), when Shovell's returning squadron ran on to the outer rocks of the Scillies in the dark. The admiral and the ship's companies of three ships of the line were lost. Shovell ws perhaps the only truly popular English admiral of the age, beloved by officers and men, respected by politicians of all parties. His death caused a profound shock, and led in due course to the 1714 Longitude Act, offering large prizes for a practicable method of fixing longitude at sea.
-- An Additional Empire
'The misfortune and vice of our country', Shovell told Nottingham, 'is to believe ourselves better than other men... but experience has taught me that 'tis, without a miracle, number that gains the victory...'
-- Strife and Envy
Seafaring was a hard life, but not exceptionally deadly. It has been calculated that the mortality amonth English merchant seamen overall in these years was about 4.5 percent a year to disease, 1 percent to shipwreck and 0.5 percent to accidents. In European and Atlantic trades the death rate was well below 1 per cent -- much healthier than ashore-- but it rose to 10 per cent in East Indiamen and up to 25 percent in slavers.
-- Our Mob
Since the sixteenth century, ships had been steered with a whipstaff...
The whipstaff ws fragile, unmanageable in heavy weather, and allowed only restricted helm movement (about 7 degrees either side of amidships). At some date in the late 1690's English ships began to adopt the steering wheel, which doubled the arc of movement of the rudder, and allowed the ship to be steered by up to ten men in heavy weather, standing on the quarterdeck, beside their officers, with a clear view of sails and binnacle...
the French navy was thirty years behind in adopting it.
-- Great Frigates
The joint Anglo-Dutch signal book of 1689, which with modifications remained in British service for a century, consisted essentially of references to paragraphs of the Fighting Instructions.
-- A Strong Squadron in Soundings
(1749-1758) There were numerous manuals on navigation, gunery, naval architecture and other technical subjects; and a growing interest in tactics and signalling; but the literature on naval warfare in general consisted of a handful of works translated out of French, none of which dealt with strategy in any coherent fashion.
-- A Scandal to the Navy
Finally when the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Pitt's tactless and arrogant brother-in-law, presented the Board's request for clemency to George II, he implied that the king, as a coward himself, ought to have compassion on the admiral. That sealed (John) Byng's fate, and he was shot on his own quarterdeck on 14 March 1757.
-- A Scandal to the Navy
the fate of Byng taught them that even the most powerful political friends might not save an officer who failed to fight...
Byng's death revived and reinforced a culture of aggressive determination which set British officers apart from their foreign contemporaries...
-- Myths Made Real
Behind all naval activity, of course, lay finance, and that in turn divided into the capacity to tax, and the capacity to borrow...
the 'Financial Revolution' was virtually completed in 1715 by the issue of the first undated or perpetual annuities
-- The Great Wheels of Commerce and War
The real killers at sea were fevers, especially typhus in cold weather, and malaria, yellow fever and other tropical diseases in warmer climates...
Throughout the eighteenth century British naval officers' fanatical attention to the cleanliness of their ships and men aroused the astonishment of visiting foreigners, but it had unquestionably good results in limiting disease.
-- The Great Wheels of Commerce and War
He was poor by the standards of an English peer, a crippling practical defect in the expensive business of high politics, and a damaging moral blemish which implied dependence if not corruption.
-- The Battle of the Legislatures
At home and abroad, the independence of the thirteen North American colonies in 1783was taken to mark the end of Britain's brief and precarious period as a major power. The loss of the colonies would inevitably mean the loss of the transatlantic trade, and hence of the financial resources, seamen, and sea power which they sustained. The ArchDuke Leopold told his brother Joseph II of Austria that Britain now ranked no higher than Denmark or Sweden in the European scale
-- The British Lion has Claws
For the future sea officer, the most important means of ensuring a successful career was to be born at the right moment, ideally about twenty years before the outbreak of a major naval war.
-- A Golden Chain or a Wooden Leg
Peter Warren, born in 1703, was the third son of a bankrutp Irish Catholic msall landowner. Following a common survival strategy of their class, the Warrens brought up their younger sons as Protestants, and Peter followed his uncle Matthew Aylmer, who had already converted in the same way and prospered in the Navy. That in turn connected him with Aylmer's son-in-law Sir John Norris, who ensured that his wife's cousin was employed through the peacetime years, mainly in the Americas, though they were at Copenhagen when Norris made him post in 1727. By good luck with prizes and seizures, judicious investment in local commerce, and a fortunate marriage with a New York heiress, Warren was already a wealthy man when the battles of the War of Austrian Succession gave him a fortune in prize-money. When he died at the early age of forty-eight in 1752, he was worth about 160,000 pounds.
-- A Golden Chain or a Wooden Leg
(Sir Gilbert) Blane's work was important ntonly for what he achieved but for how he was and how hedid it. It was a radical novelty that a physician should prefer folk wisdom to classical learning, and bolster his arguments with an unapologetic appeal to experience expressed in statistics: 'it has appeared from our reasonings concerning the nature of medical investigation, that important practical truths can be ascertained only by averages expressive of the comparative results of numerous individual facts."
-- Dividing and Quartering
The Navy was conservative in its habits, and both officers and men continued to dine at noon or soon after well into the nineteenth century, long after fashionable dinners ashore had drifted later in the day.
-- Dividing and Quartering
As before there were often a number of women amongst those living aboard. Their presence was unofficial, and they made their own arrangements with the purser for food, but many captains were content that they should be there...
One related subject beloved of some modern writers deserves a brief mention: homosexuality seems to have been rare, intensely disliked by the men, and very difficult to conceal afloat.
-- Dividing and Quartering
in many respectes Acworth was a designer of talent. His ideas about the unhappy three-decker eighty-gun ships of the 1690s, and indeed about all the older British designs, stressed the importance of reducing topweight to improve stability and weatherliness.
-- Science versus Technology
It is important to understand, however, that at no stage from the 1750s was the Navy building as many ships as it needed. As the century progressed and the dockyards came to be devoted almost completely to repairs, prizes made an essential contribution to keeping up the numbers of the Royal Navy.
-- Science versus Technology
It is not unreasonable to guess that the same amount of money, spent on ships more suitable for the purpose, might have built fleets capable of beating the Royal Navy. It has to be realized, however, that the ships were the expression of an ethos as much as a strategy. It was not merely ship design, which France and Spain would have to have changed, but the very structure of their navies, their training, organization and discipline -- and if it had been possible to change all these things, then they might have won even with inadequate ships, as the Royal Navy did in the 1740s.
-- Science versus Technology
The expedition arrived in the Caribbean early in1794. Its commanders, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Grey and Vice-Admiral Sir john Jervis, were excellently chosen; familiar with the waters and with combined operations, friends (and Whig political colleagues) of one another. Together they acttied with energy annd success, Martinique was taken in March, S Lucia and Guadeloupe next month, and Port-au-Prince, capital of Saint Dominigue, in June. By the beginning of the sickly season all the French Windward Islands were in British hands, and it seemed only a matter of time before the rest of Saint Domingue followed. The French planters, who had rapidly adjusted to the commercial opportunities of British rule a generation before, were Royalist in sentiment, and horrified by the emancipation of their slaves which the French government decreed in February 1794. Itmight have seemed hard to alienate them from British rule, but Grey and Jervis were equal to the challenge -- as the naval surgeon Leonard Gillespie reported: "The French say, they expected to find, under an English government, an end to confiscation and oppression, and a peaceable enjoyment of their properties. But to their great regret, they find their situations very little bettered; and a change only from one set of oppressors to another."
-- Order and Anarchy
(Ye are all slaves!)
Meanwhile the Frrnech had hteir own difficulaties. The organization and discipline of the fleet had slid further under the 'Directory' which succeeded the fallen Jacobin regime in August 1795. The navy's reputation among informed Frenchmen was of fathomless incompetence and cowardice. The triumphant generals of the French army, who had beaten every nation in Europe, took it for granted that nothing would be achieved at sea until they took command.
-- Order and Anarchy
Most serious of all, in light of subsequent events, was the Culloden mutiny of December 1794. The ship had grounded the previous month, and the men claimed she was unseaworthy. A surrender was negotiated, not by the Culloden's own hot-tempered Captain Thomas Troubridge, but by another officer, Captain Thomas Pakenham, who was well-known for his humane sympathies. It was afterwards believed by seamen throughout the Navy that Pakenham had given his word that the men would not be punished, but the Admiralty broke it, and five men were hanged. After this, no seaman would believe an officer's word of honour. An essential bond of trust had been severed...
the Admiralty's reaction to the rumour of discantent was to order the fleet to sea. This gave the signal for the outbreak of the mutiny of 16 April. The mutiny consisted essentially of a collective refusal to obey the order to weigh anchor. Fro the next week the fleet was immobilized by the mutineers while a body of elected delegates, two from each ship, negotiated first with Bridport, and later with the Board of Admiralty itself...
The necessary legislation wasss now set in motion, but the motions of Parliament were too slow for the seamen, who became increasingly suspicious that they had been deceived again. On 7 May the mutiny broke out anew...
The reconciliation was completed with ceremonies on 15 May...
Meanwhile another mutiny had broken out among the ships at the Nore...
The Nore mutiny was then on the verge of collapse, but it was saved by the mutiny of Admiral Adam Duncan's North Sea Squadron off Yarmouth on 27 May...
The 'terrifying scene' of the great mutinies, as Lady Spencer called it, 'the most awful crisis that these kingdoms ever saw', in the words of Lord Arden, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, demanded explanations....
-- Infinite Honour
The seamen, generally speaking, throughout the mutiny, conducted themselves with a degree of humanity highly creditable not only to themselves, but to the national character. They certainly tarred and feathered the surgeon of a ship at the Nore; but he had been five weeks drunk in his cabin, and had neglected the care of his patients... The delegates of the Agamemnon showed respect to every officer but the captain; him, after the first day, they never insulted, but rather treated with neglect.
-- Lieutenant Edward Brenton of the Agamemnon, Infinite Honour
The mutiny of the frigate Hermione in September 1797 was a spectacular and unique event, and of the very few which apparently conforms to the popular stereotype of a brutal captain driving his men to extremities. In fact the conduct of Captain Hugh Pigot was not simple brutality, but inconsistent and irrational brutality. Men could put up with a good deal so long as they knew where they stood, but Pigo was completely unpredictable. Worse, he directly attacked the moral foundations of shipboard society. In the final incident which triggered the mutiny, he threatened to flog the last men down from aloft. They would necessarily be the yard-arm men, the most skillful topmen, with the dangerous and critical job of passing the reef-earrings. Pigot was punishing men for being the best, and when three men fell to their deaths in their haste to get down, he called to 'throw the lubbers overboard'. It was the worst insult in the seaman's vocabulary, and this final degradation drove the men mad. They seized the ship and murdered most of the officers.
-- Infinite Honour
In the immediate aftermath of the mutinies, the admiral (Earl St Vincent) was at least as concerned to occupy his men as to fight the Spaniards. At night he sent boats even closer inshore, and in early July, attempting to push a bomb vessel within range of the Spanish ships, he brought on a series of vicious hand-to-hand boat actions. (Not yet Lord) Nelson was conspicuous in this fighting and narrowly escaped death. It was extraordinary that a rear-admiral should risk his life in a lieutenant's place, but there were good reasons. Discipline and morale were shaky, there had been examples of cowardice among both officers and men in the boats, and (Nelson saw) it was necessary that a flag-officer should lead from the front.
-- The Second Coalition
At noon on 1 August the British were close enough to Alexandria to see the harbour crammed with French transports, but no sign of the men-of-war. The only other anchorage on the coast was Aboukir Bay twenty miles to the northward. By mid-afternoon the French fleet was in sight, anchored in the bay in a single line.
Bonaparte had ordered the fleet to a position convenient for the army's purposes, and seemingly did not much care what happened to it, though he subsequently falsified the record to conceal his responsibility.
-- The Second Coalition
Amongst thinking officers two strands of opinion may be distinguished. The socially and politically conservative deeply regretted that the folly of Lord Howe and the Admiralty had provoked the great mutinies and had shown seamen their strength. They feared the consequences to society if common men, afloat or ashore, learnt to act collectively and politically...
These officers objected to cheap postage being allowed to seamen, since reading and writing was bound to encourage men to think, and they deplored allowing the men to subscribe to patriotic collections, a political act which should have been limited to the propertied classes.
-- A Thinking Set of People
Cleanliness remained an obsession, and virtually all ships were cleaned daily, but sweeping was tending to replace scrubbing decks on some days of the week to reduce the evils of damp. All good officers aimed to work their ships with a minimum of noise, 'so that when a loud and general order comes from the mouth of the captain every man may hear and comprehend'
-- A Thinking Set of People
Swimming alongside the ship was popular in fine weather, usually in a sail triced up to a couple of studding-sail booms, since many sailors could not swim, and the danger of sharks had to be considered.
-- A Thinking Set of People
Because of the wide range of age, experience and ability, and the entire absence of any official training scheme or curriculum for the boys, there was an enormous variety in what they might be doing. We meet a midshipman of fourteen taking charge of a watch, and another of the same age still sucking his thumb. There were boys of eleven or twelve risking their lives in a boat action one day, and playing marbles on the poop or building a model ship the next.
-- Honour and Salt Beef
With the rising social status of the Navy, captains were under growing pressure to take, and keep, young men who were not all cut out for naval life...
"He is of no more use here as an officer than Bounce is, and not near so entertaining."
Bounce was the admiral's dog.
-- Honour and Salt Beef
The Convoys and Cruizers Act of 1708 laid down a division of prize-money which was in force for a century. The commander-in-chief took one-eighth, the captain a quarter, the master and lieutenants , the warrant officers and petty officers one-eighth each, and the remaining quarter was divided among teh 'private men', seamen and marines.
-- Honour and Salt Beef
It was captains and admirals, however, who couldreally make hteir fortunes...
In eight years commanding frigates during the Revolutionary War Captain J S Yorke took at least fifty-six prizes, of which thirty-four who accounts survive earned him over 30,000 GBP. His pays was 146 GBP a year....
The admiral got 81,000 GBP, four captains 40,730 GBP each, and every seaman received 182 GBP -- ten years pay...
Two successive commanders-in-chief made about 300,000 GBP in prize-money during their careers, Rainier entirely and Pellew largely on this station.
-- Honour and Salt Beef
Trafalgar achieved more than that, however. Napoleon had no sooner thrown away his fleet than he realized how much he needed it to break out of the strategic limitations of his situation, and spent the rest of his reign in a futile andimmensely costly attempt to reconstruct it.
-- Gain and Loss
"I have always found that kind language and strong ships have a very powerful effect on conciliating people," he (Collingwood) wrote, and his judgment in balancing the two was unequalled.
-- A Continental System