June 01, 2007

Gratuitous Royal Navy Geekery Posting (TM)

Glorious First.jpg
HMS Defence at the Battle of the First of June, 1794 by Nicholas Pocock

Today is the anniversary of what became known as the Glorious First of June, in which a British fleet under Admiral Lord Howe (known as "Black Dick") took on a fleet of Jacobin Swine escorting a grain convoy about 400 miles off the coast of Ushant. The battle ended with six French ships of the line captured, a seventh sunk and the rest driven off in confusion. The Royal Navy suffered no permanent loss.

Although the grain convoy got through to France and the British fleet was unable to capture any more French ships in spite of an intense pursuit, the psychological victory of the British over the Frogs was tremendous. Simmering fears of a Revolutionary French invasion of Britain were quashed and the French never tried to run another large grain convoy past the Brits. The victory also increased in each side's mind the assumption of the superiority of the Royal Navy, an assumption that was to play a major factor in each country's tactical and strategic thinking over the next 20 years' worth of naval warfare.

Here's what I wrote last year to mark the occassion, with more linkies and greater detail about the fighting, the ships involved and the aftermath.

It's been a while since I dipped into my Royal Navy library. Perhaps it's time to start the cycle again. First off, of course, would be the legendary A.T. Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1763.

UPDATE: Speaking of such things, today is also the anniversary of the single-ship duel between U.S.S. Chesapeake and H.M.S. Shannon off Boston in 1813, famous now primarily for the dying words of the American commander, Captain James, Lawrence, "Don't give up the ship!" Here's what I wrote about that fight last year.

In a way, the early American single-ship action successes against the British in the War of 1812 was a direct result of earlier British victories against the French such as the Glorious First, insomuch as the Royal Navy had come to see itself virtually invincible and numerous captains had become rayther sloppy in the matter of gunnery, almost believing that the Brits would win every time as a matter of right. Captain Philip Broke, the commander of the Shannon, was no such fool, which is why he was able to pound the American ship into submission in a matter of 15 minutes.

Posted by Robert at June 1, 2007 08:55 AM | TrackBack

If Lawrence had crept out of port one dark and stormy night and spent a few months whipping his crew and ship into shape he might of had a chance. As it was Broke was fortunate in his choice of opponents, if he had crossed paths with Hull and the Constitution (for example) he would have been just another scalp over the young Navy's mantle.

Of course if a bullfrog had wings....

Posted by: carl at June 2, 2007 02:28 PM