Friday 2 September 2011

The home of the little mermaid, under rocket attack

On September the 2nd 1807 the Royal Navy destoryed the Danish navy while it sat at anchor in Copenhagen harbour, again. The first time that this had been done had been in 1801 by Lord Nelson (then a Vice-Admiral) under Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. It was in this battle that Nelson used the fact that he was blind in one eye to claim that he had not seen the signal to withdraw, as Admiral Sir Hyde Parker had expected when he put it up. The signal had been given simply to give Nelson the option of withdrawing without the danger of being shot like Admiral Byng. However as Nelson was one of the best examples of the rabid dog levels of aggression that had trained into naval officers since the incompetent Byng, so Admiral Sir Hyde Parker would have known it was an order unlikely to be followed.

The 1807 raid was conducted under the command of Admiral Gambier who ordered the city to be bombarded by mortars and rockets, unlike Nelson who had sailed his fleet right into Copenhagen Harbour to 'engage the enemy more closely' as he always signaled while fighting. The British bombarded the city for 3 days destroying almost a third of the city and killing 2000 civilians before the Danes surrendered.

Friday 26 August 2011

Investigating HMS Investigator

The Franklin Expedition was a very Victorian expedition, and that is why it failed. The idea was to use to massive technological prowess of Victorian Britain to try and forge a way through the mythical Northwest Passage over the top of Canada. The two mighty warships of the Royal Navy that were given with the task were at the leading edge of what was possible. They had steam engines for when there was no wind. They could make their own fresh water. They were packed with enough food, preserved using the newly created tinning process, that they could last for years without fresh supplies. The officer's quarters were even nicely decorated with coloured tile. Towards the end those that were left started eating each other.

The Franklin expedition headed off from britain to the sound of cheering crouds, and was never seen again. Neither were the rescue missions that were sent to find them. Nor the rescue missions for the rescue missions. The artic just ate them up.

At least they were never seen again until modern archelologists started to find them. One of the latest discoveries is the wreak of one of the rescue expeditions HMS Investigator which has been found by Parks Canada and is producing a wealth of information on the lives of sailors in the mid-Victorian period.

Thursday 25 August 2011

William Hall

On 27 August 1904 William Hall died aged 75. He had spent much of his life in the Royal Navy rising to the rank of Petty Officer. So far so unremarkable, many people became petty officers during the Victorian period. However William Hall was special as he was one of the first people from the Royal Navy to win the Victoria Cross, and the first black man from any service to do so.

His parents had been slaves who had escaped during the War of 1812 (when the Royal Navy burned the Whitehouse) with help from the navy. They settled in Nova Scottia and worked in the dockyards. William too started working in the dockyards, and then on merchant vessels before joining the Royal Navy in 1852. However he really became famous for his bravery on land rather than at sea.

Sailor's serving on land was not unusual in the Victorian period, Hall himself had already served as part of the Naval Brigade in the Crimea, due to the way that it had become so utterly dominant at sea. In 1857 the Sepoys in India mutinied, and the mutiny grew into a full revolt against British rule. At the time Hall was an Able Seaman on board HMS Shannon heading for China. They were ordered to go to India instead so that their guns could be used to help put down the revolt. The ship was towed 600 miles up the Ganges before guns where dismounted transported by the sailors to the siege of Lucknow.

The guns from the Shannon were brought up close to the Shah Nujeff mosque with orders to breach and clear the walls. A hail of musket fire and grenades rained down on them killing or wounding everybody except Able Seaman Hall and Lieutenant Thomas James Young. Despite this between them Hall and Young kept the gun firing, and for their bravery they were recommended for the Victoria Cross by their Captain, Sir William Peel, who had himself won the VC in the Crimea.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Whitehouse Blackened

During the Napoleonic Wars with France America was on the side of the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys, a link that had existed since the American War of Independence when the colonists had been supported by France. As always they were late to the fight declaring war in 1812. To begin with the British and Canadians fought a mainly defensive war to repulse the American invasion forces. With the war against the military genius Napoleon coming to its conclusion all available resources were deployed defeating the bigger and more dangerous opponent on the other side of the Channel rather than getting caught up in an adventure on the other side of the Atlantic, so the strategy was to keep the Americans out of Canada and use the Royal Navy to blockade their trade routes. This proved a sucessful strategy. The army and their Native American allies largely kept the Americans out of Canada, helped by American mistakes, with the Navy doing so well on the ocean that they ended up being paid tribute by some of the coastal towns and even buring Washington DC on August 24 1814.

However this was to be one of the few major sucesses on American soil. The Americans had learned from their mistakes in Canada and proved to defeat on their home ground. The war ground on to a stalemate. Once Napoleon had abdicated Britain got rid of its trade restictions with France and stopped impressing sailor's as it wound down its military in order to reduce government spending so that it could try and pay off the enourmous debts that fighting the long war with France had created. With the reasons for the war gone and nobody in a position for a decisive victory a peace treaty was signed in 1815.

Saturday 13 August 2011

How to Tie a Fast Bowline

A very fast way to tie the most useful knot on the water.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Morse Code

Somebody has made an interesting way of decoding Morse Code by breaking it down by walking through a tree of possibilities.

Saturday 30 July 2011

What time is it?

Via Maritime Compassa simple diagram for working out how many bells it is and which watch it is.