A substantial examination of war at sea through the ages
On a planet covered with water it is inevitable that the oceans and seas would become great highways of transport and trade and great battlegrounds as nations resolved their animosities and sought to expand their boundaries. Conflict at sea is nearly as old as great conflict upon land and indeed it would be the most significant development in warfare until man took to the skies during the Great War. This interesting book charts the progress of war at sea from those earliest times. Beginning with the legendary defeat of the Persians by the Greeks at Salamis in 480 B. C this history charts naval battles through the ancient period to Actium in 31 B. C and Svold Island in A. D 1000. Sluys in 1340 is examined followed by the defeat of the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto in 1571 and the destruction of Spanish aspirations to invade Elizabethan England with their great Armada in 1588. As the age of sail progress's the reader is guided through 'The Battle off the Gunfleet' in 1666, Saint's Passage, 1782 and the monumental conflict off Cape Trafalgar that was Nelson's finest and final hour. The modern age concerns Lisa, 1866, Yalu, 1894, Santiago de Cuba, 1898 and finally the crushing of the Imperial Russian fleet by the Japanese at Tsu-Shima, 1905. From the age of the galley and hearts of oak to the ironclad battle steamer here is the history of for man's battles for dominance of the waves. Includes diagrams and battle plans.
As ship passed ship there was a thunder of artillery, a rattle of small arms. Then a brief lull till the guns of two more opponents bore on each other. But in this cannonade the English had the advantage of the heavy blows struck by their large-bore carronades at close range, and the fact that their gun-mountings enabled them to keep a passing ship longer under fire than was possible for the French gunners. In De Grasse’s ships, crowded with troops, the slaughter was terrible.<br>
As the fight went on and the French ships came under the crushing fire of adversary after adversary, it was seen that it was only with difficulty the officers kept the men at the guns. In this first hour of the fight the French began to throw the dead overboard to clear their encumbered decks, and a strange horror was added to the scene, for shoals of sharks that had followed the fleets to pick up anything thrown overboard now swarmed around them, lashing the water into foam as they struggled for their human prey.<br>
At length the leading English ship was abeam of the rearmost of De Grasse’s fleet. Over some six miles of sea the two battle lines extended, every ship ablaze with fire-flashes from her guns and with the dense smoke-clouds drifting around the English vessels and wrapping them in the fog of war. If the battle was now to be fought out on the old traditional method, the fleets would clear each other, wear and tack and repass each other in opposite directions with a second exchange of fire. But now came the event that made the battle of the Saints’ Passage epoch-making in naval history.<br>
What precisely happened is wrapped in a fog of controversy as dense as the smoke-fog that enveloped Rodney’s fleet at the decisive moment. One thing is certain. The old admiral suddenly changed all his plans, and executed a new manœuvre with the signal he himself was disobeying—the order to engage to leeward—still flying from his flagship. The act was the sudden seizing of an unexpected opportunity. But some of the merit of the new departure was due to Rodney’s right-hand man, his “Captain of the Fleet,”<br>
Sir Charles Douglas. Douglas was one of those whose minds had been influenced by new theories on naval war, which were just then in the air. In Britain a Scotch country gentleman, John Clerk, of Eldin, had been arguing for some time in pamphlets and manuscripts circulated among naval officers against the formal methods that led to indecisive results. His paper plans for destroying an enemy were no doubt open to the criticism that they would work out beautifully if the enemy stuck to the old-fashioned ways and attempted no counter-stroke.<br>
But the essence of Clerk’s theories was that parallel orders of battle meant only indecisive cannonading; that to crush an enemy one must break into his line, bring parts of it under a close fire, not on one side, but on both, and decide the fate of the ships thus cut off by superior numbers and superior gun power before the rest could come to their help. His plans might not work out with the mechanical exactitude described in his writings, but they would tend to produce the close mêlée, where the best men and the steadiest fire would win, and after such an encounter there would not be merely a few masts and spars shot away, and a few holes to be plugged, but the beaten side would be minus a number of ships sunk, burned, or taken, and condemned to hopeless inferiority for the rest of the campaign.<br>
Clerk was not the only man who put forward these ideas. A French Jesuit professor of mathematics had worked out plans for securing local advantage of numbers in a sea-fight at close quarters; but while French naval officers laughed at naval battles worked out with a piece of chalk and a blackboard, British sailors were either themselves thinking out similar schemes or were beginning to think there might be something in the Scotch laird’s diagrams.<br>
It was at the critical moment when the two fleets lay side by side in parallel lines on opposite courses, wrapped in the battle-smoke, that Douglas, looking out through a gap in the war-cloud, saw that a sudden flaw of wind blowing steadily from the south-east was flattening the French sails against the masts and checking their speed. The same sudden change of wind was filling the English sails, and the masters were squaring the yards to it, while the Frenchmen to keep any way on their ships had to bring their bows partly round towards the English line. Between the Glorieux, the ship immediately opposed to Rodney’s flagship, the Formidable, and the next Frenchman in the line, the Diadème, a wide gap was opening up. Douglas saw the chance offered to his admiral.