When I set up my “Dawlish Chronicles” website, www.dawlishchronicles.com, some two years ago I included a section called “Steam, Steel and Strife”, which can be accessed via the “Conflict” button on the home-page. In this section I intended to post articles related to naval history which were directly germane to the Dawlish Chronicles novels themselves. As time went on however, and as my researches continued, I found it regrettable that not all that I came across could be directly or indirectly used in my novels. It seemed a pity to let this information go to waste, the more so since it was likely to be of interest to a large number of naval and history enthusiasts.
I have now accordingly reorganised the listing. The “Conflict” page (click here to access) now represents a portal to listings of articles in three historical periods and sequence. These are:
The Age of Fighting Sail
The articles under this heading relate to naval and other history between 1700 and the early 1830s. In this period sailing warships reached their zenith of perfection and the professionalism of naval officers and men was to be a determining factor in the fate of empires. Articles include accounts of battles, of shipwrecks and survivals and of unusual aspects of naval-related life.
This is the largest section. The period covered is from 1837 to 1901 and it was characterised by great political change, scientific discovery and technological innovation. As it started steam was still a novelty at sea and the Royal Navy was commanded by veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. When it ended, steam propulsion, steel construction, electricity, and the deployment of armour, torpedoes and huge guns had resulted in ships which in many cases would live on to fight in World War 1. Articles cover topics as diverse as battles, biographies of leading figures, maritime disasters, weaponry, Arctic exploration and much else. It is the world in which Nicholas Dawlish makes his career.
These articles are mainly related to the early decades of the 20th Century. Topics include the rise of the Imperial German Navy, conflict between Russia and Japan, the Balkan Wars and World War 1 itself, when naval warfare was to develop in ways not previously envisaged or possible. There was still a surprising role for sailing craft (in destroying U-Boats!) but aircraft had also arrived on the scene, playing an unexpected role following a mutiny on a Dutch warship.
The range of topic is huge and varied and out of over 50 articles I chosen some examples at random – I hope they’ll encourage you to explore further!
The Most Ferocious Frigate Action Ever? HMS Quebec vs Surveillante, 1779
Single ship actions, usually between frigates, are remembered as some of the most dramatic actions of the age of fighting sail and they figure as central elements in the naval fiction of Forrester, Pope, O’Brian and others. Perhaps the most dramatic of all single-frigate action was fought not during the Revolutionary or Napoleonic Wars, but when French was locked in conflict with Britain during the American War of Independence. ..
Lonely Lives and Deaths – French Napoleonic Prisoners of War in Britain 1793-1815
The plight of prisoners of war during the period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was particularly poignant. Over 100,000 of them were brought to Britain during the wars with France that raged from 1793 to 1815, with only a one-year break in 1802/03.The article tells how many ended up in a small Hampshire town and about the legacy they left behind
HMS Indefatigable vs. Droits de l’Homme 1797
The Royal Navy of the Victorian era was dominated by memories of what had been achieved in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and indeed up to the mid-19th Century the navy was still commanded by officers who had seen service in their youths under commanders such as Nelson. This article describes one of the most ferocious actions of those years.
The End of Fighting Sail – Sidon, Beirut and Acre 1840
Though steam propulsion was first applied to warships, on a small scale, in the late 1830s, it was to take another half-century before sail was finally abandoned by the world’s navies. 1840 was however to see the last major action by the Royal Navy in which a sailing wooden line-of-battle ship, of a type almost identical to those which fought under Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, was to play the leading role.
Britain and France confront Argentina: The Battle of Obligdo 1845
Today, when one thinks of naval combat between British and Argentinian forces the Falklands War of 1982 is the case most likely to come to mind. An equally fierce engagement did however occur 137 years earlier and, though it is largely forgotten in Britain today, is commemorated annually in Argentina by a national holiday on each 20th November.
Mallet's Monster Mortar and the Birth of Seismology 1854/56
The need for massive weapons for breaching fixed land defences was dramatically illustrated during the Crimean War's Siege of Sevastopol in 1854/56. One response, by a forgotten Victorian genius, was the creation of the largest weapon constructed up to that time. Two examples remain and visiting one of them impelled me to write this piece. But there was more to the story than weapony alone, for the engineer responsible was to found the science of Seismology and to prefigure weapons used with devastating effect in WW2.
Coast Defence Ships - Big Bangs in Small Packets 1870-1951
For some eighty years from 1870 small, slow, powerfully armed and heavily armoured "Coast Defence" ships represented the backbone of many small navies, and even found limited use in much larger ones. This long article describes this now largely-forgotten type of warship and the dramatic fates of some of them.
HMS Shah vs Huascar 1877 - an indecisive but significant single-ship action
An obscure single ship action off the coast of South America, though inconclusive, was of enormous significance for future naval warfare. It involved a British cruiser, HMS Shah, and the Huascar, a rebel Peruvian ironclad which still exists today, though in another navy.
The ramming of SMS Grosser Kurfürst 1878
For more than four decades from the mid-1860s almost all warships were built with bows designed for use of ramming as an offensive tactic. In practice the ram proved to be more of a hazard to friends than to enemies, and there were numerous cases of serious damage being inflicted, sometimes fatally, in collisions. One such incident occurred in sight of the English shore in 1878, resulting in sinking of the newly completed German ironclad Grosser Kurfürst with the loss of some 270 lives.
Though it is likely that many in her crew disliked the task assigned them it is fair to say that the mission on which HMS Wasp was engaged at the time of her loss was one of the most inglorious ever undertaken by the Royal Navy.
Pride, Folly and Superb Seamanship - HMS Calliope at Apia 1889
The unlikely location of Samoa saw a confrontation between American and German naval forces in 1889, with a Royal Navy warship as neutral observer. This stand-off had the potential to launch a shooting war which would have had immense impact on subsequent world history. But then a hitherto unexpected player, Mother Nature herself, dealt the deciding hand...
The varied career of the Dutch protected cruiser Gelderland 1898-1944
In 1900 a young queen sent a cruiser to rescue a fugitive South African president. The vessel involved, the Gelderland, was to have a very varied career thereafter, culminating in a battle off Finland against the Soviets in 1944. It's quite an amazing story...
A sea battle you've never heard of: Elli 1912
... and it was in a war that's been largely forgotten. But the clash of the Greek and Ottoman Turkish navies at the Battle of Elli in 1912, and the savagery of the two Balkan Wars of 1912-13, were to give a foretaste of what was going to happen on a much larger scale a year later. A notable aspect of the battle is that it mixed outdated relics of the ironclad age with ultra-modern vessels, some of which were to go on to play active roles in both World Wars.
Though the “Age of Fighting Sail” ended around 1840 as regards major warships, small sailing craft were to play a very important role in World War 1 in Britain’s battle against Germany’s U-Boats. And some of the sailing craft were very small indeed and operating them demanded courage of the highest order.
The Mutiny on De Zeven Provincien - and its dramatic ending 1933
This event merits coverage since it is little known of outside the Netherlands and because its significance goes far beyond its immediate circumstances. The mutiny was to be terminated in a most unexpected way, by the aggressive deployment of air power at sea for the first time since the Great War.