In 1795, the forces of Britain and Revolutionary France had been at war for over two years and the Royal Navy was engaged in a blockade of the main French ports. For their part, the French sent some of their faster ships out in an attempt to bypass the blockade and engage in guerre de course or commerce raiding against British ships along the east coast of England.
At 1000hrs on the morning of April 10th 1795, a British flotilla under the command of Rear-Admiral John Colpoys spotted three French vessels attempting to break out through the Bay of Biscay. The French vessels were led by the 32-gun Gloire and when they realised the British had spotted them, the French commander ordered his force to scatter in the face of the superior British force after the 74-gun HMS Colossus had started firing on them.
Gloire swung north-west while its two compatriots – Gentile and Fraternité – turned west with HMS Hannibal and HMS Robust in hot pursuit of them. Gloire had managed to evade much of the British force except for the frigate HMS Astraea under Captain Lord Henry Paulet, also of 32-guns, which managed to stay in sight of the French warship throughout the afternoon. Finally, at 1800hrs Astrea succeeded in bringing Gloire within range of its quarterdeck cannon and fired several shots which saw Gloire respond with its sternchaser guns.
For over four and a half hours the two warships exchanged cannon fire shot for shot until 2230hrs, when the Astraea finally managed to come alongside the Gloire allowing both to unleash the full fury of their armament on one another. Gloire’s gunners aimed specifically for Astraea’s masts and rigging in an effort to disable the British warship and indeed succeeded in inflicting enough damage on Astraea’s topmast that it eventually collapsed. The British gunners however, concentrated their firepower on the French ship’s hull to silence the opposing gunners or sink the French ship altogether. Among the wounded aboard the Gloire was its captain and at 2328hrs, after sighting two more British warships sailing toward him he ordered the French colours to be lowered signalling the ship’s surrender.
Both vessels were heavily damaged in the engagement with Astraea needing to return to port for repairs to the mast but incredibly had not lost a single man in the engagement even as the topmast collapsed. This was thanks in no small part to the Gloire’s captain ordering his men to try to disable the British ship. By contrast, the Gloire lost 40 men killed or wounded. Sufficient repairs were made to both ships to enable them to sail to Portsmouth for more permanent repairwork with Gloire being sailed by a British prize crew under the command of Astraea’s Lieutenant John Talbot.
More success for the British would come the next morning on April 11th. HMS Hannibal and HMS Robust had continued their pursuit of the Gentile and Fraternité through the night until they managed to surround the Gentile and force its captain to surrender without having to engage in battle. The captain of the Fraternité decided to turn back towards Brest and had his men throw their armaments overboard to lighten the vessel and increase its speed. After several days evading pursuing British ships the Fraternité succeeded in reaching its home port.
Both Gloire and Gentile were pressed in to Royal Navy service with HMS Gloire being kept on charge until 1802.
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A Spanish Navy warship, the Centinela, deliberately ignored radio calls from authorities on Gibraltar after it violated British territorial waters around the island on Saturday. This prompted the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron to dispatch one of its fast patrol boats, HMS Sabre, to order the vessel to leave. It has been reported by the press in Gibraltar that this led to a potentially dangerous situation when the British patrol boat came “within yards” of being rammed by the 1,200 ton Spanish warship.
The British Daily Express newspaper claimed a source within the Royal Navy told them;
Instead of leaving, she deliberately altered and re-altered her course. At one stage there was a real and imminent danger of collision.
The government on Gibraltar were quick to condemn the incident and criticised the Spanish Navy and government for the provocative act. Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said;
These silly but dangerous manoeuvres by a supposed Nato ally are operationally irresponsible, legally irrelevant and politically inopportune. They do nothing to create a positive environment for mutual co-operation and instead hark back to another century.
This latest incident comes ahead of a planned visit by Spanish King Felipe VI to the UK scheduled to take place in the middle of this month. It is the first time in over 31 years that a Spanish monarch has visited Britain but some MPs have called for the visit to be cancelled in protest to Spain’s continued disregard for Gibraltar’s sovereignty.
Conservative Andrew Rosindell, MP for the Romford constituency in Greater London, said on Sunday;
The people of Gibraltar are rightly nervous. They break the rules while we, in turn, welcome the King and Queen of Spain for a state visit. What kind of message is that for the people of Gibraltar? The people of Gibraltar are very unnerved, and rightly so. The Government needs to be much more robust.
Last weekend’s incident is only the latest in a long line of incursions in to the waters around Gibraltar by Spanish ships;
Tuesday July 7th 2015 – A Royal Navy RIB was damaged in a collision with the Spanish survey ship Angeles Alvarino in Gibraltar’s waters.
April 2016 – It was reported that a Spanish Guarda Civil patrol boat deliberately blocked a US submarine, USS Florida, as it sailed through Gibraltar’s waters forcing the Royal Navy to fire flares over the vessel to warn it off.
Sunday November 20th 2016 – HMS Sabre uses flares to warn off the Spanish survey ship Angeles Alvarino after attempts to contact it by radio failed.
Thursday April 13th 2017 – Royal Navy escorts patrol boat Infanta Cristina back to Spanish waters.
Saturday April 29th 2017 – The Spanish corvette ‘Cazadora’ entered waters off Gibraltar, where Royal Navy and local police launches sailed out to meet it.
Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed Britain’s continued support for Gibraltar’s sovereignty while the EU continues to demand that Spain should have influence over the British territory’s future after Brexit.
As the war of words between Britain and Spain intensifies over the future of Gibraltar following the triggering of Article 50 starting Britain’s process of leaving the European Union, a Spanish gunboat entered Gibraltar’s territorial waters today and was promptly intercepted by a Royal Navy patrol boat. The vessel was then escorted back to Spanish waters.
A spokesperson for the government of Gibraltar was quoted in the Press Association as saying;
The ship entered British/Gibraltarian territorial waters. It was met by the Gibraltar Squadron and invited to leave.
Gibraltar has been a British possession since 1713 when it was officially ceded under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht to Great Britain although it had been under a British occupation since 1704 when it was captured by Admiral Sir George Rooke. The Treaty of Utrecht helped end the War of the Spanish Succession which saw an alliance of European nations including Britain fighting against France and Spain which was then ruled by Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France.
In the treaty, Spain outlined that Britain now held dominion over;
The full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging … for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.
Modern-day Spain largely accepts that Britain has control over the island but the source of the dispute lays in the waters around “the rock” that are considered British. Spain claims this inhibits its fishing industry and presents an obstacle to its shipping. The Government of Gibraltar and the UK government disagree, a position largely accepted by the international community.
The Royal Navy maintains two fast patrol boats under the Gibraltar Squadron namely HMS Sabre and HMS Scimitar, to help secure Gibraltar’s shores and support military and civil vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar. These vessels are also supported by a small number of rigid inflatables one of which was damaged during an incident involving an intruding Spanish survey vessel in 2015.
While long the source of debate between Britain and Spain, the argument flared again when Gibraltar featured in a document last week outlining the plans for Britain’s Article 50 negotiations that suggested that Spain would be given a veto over any agreements that cover the British territory. British Prime Minister Theresa May and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have both reiterated that the sovereignty of the islands will be decided by the people who live there and it is clear they wish to remain British despite the island’s population voting against Brexit last year.
Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s from the Royal Air Force’s No.3 (Fighter) Squadron based at RAF Coningsby are set to be deployed to Romania. Four aircraft and up to 150 personnel (air and ground crew) will be based at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase in south east Romania for up to four months beginning on May 1st as part of NATO’s southern air policing mission.
The announcement was made by the British Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon who confirmed that Prime Minister Theresa May had sanctioned the deployment in an effort to reassure the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe who are now members of NATO that the alliance remains committed to their protection. The deployment is speculated to be in response to an increase in Russian air activity over the Black Sea that has kept the Romanian Air Force busy.
Fallon has said;
The UK is stepping up its support for NATO’s collective defence from the north to the south of the alliance. With this deployment, RAF planes will be ready to secure NATO airspace and provide reassurance to our allies in the Black Sea region.
The RAF has had a long history patrolling NATO’s border with Russia having led four deployments of fighter aircraft as part of the alliance’s Baltic air policing mission since 2004. In those instances the aircraft have largely been the sole air defence asset for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. However, Romania has its own fighter force built around the MiG-21 LanceR – an upgraded version of the legendary but increasingly ageing MiG-21 “Fishbed”. The fare more modern RAF aircraft will have to integrate in to Romania’s air defence network.
Romania will also host a large scale NATO exercise in July that U.S. Ambassador Hans Klemm said last week would include up to 30,000 NATO troops.
The deployment comes as news reports circulate in both Romania and Russia that Russian inspectors have today visited a military site in Romania to confirm it is no longer operational. The inspection is being carried out under the provisions of the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and while the location of the inspection has not been disclosed the Romanian Defence Minister insists that the inspection is a “normal” undertaking in relations between the two countries.
The Royal Navy Scimitar-class fast patrol boat, HMS Sabre, was forced to fire the flares over the Spanish research vessel Angeles Alvarino after it entered the territorial waters of Gibraltar without authorisation and then failed to respond to radio calls. The incursion occurred yesterday after midday and once the flares were fired the Spanish vessel left Gibraltar’s waters without further incident.
The Ministry of Defence issued a statement saying;
The Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters. We back this up by making formal diplomatic protests to the Spanish government.
This was the second time in three days that the Angeles Alvarino had entered Gibraltar’s waters without permission. The Angeles Alvarino, whose mission on behalf of the Spanish government is to conduct geological research of the seabed, is a frequent intruder in Gibraltar’s waters and as such the Royal Navy’s fast patrol boats are quite familiar with it. Last year a Royal Navy RHIB was damaged when it struck a survey probe dropped by the vessel.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was quoted in The Telegraph as saying;
I congratulate the Royal Navy for the work they have undertaken so far in very challenging circumstances in light of the reckless disregard for safety displayed by the official Spanish vessels involved. Diplomatic and political action must now support the excellent work undertaken by the navy personnel with limited resources.
British Army Warrior IFV on exercise in Polandlast year (yahoo news)
British Prime Minister David Cameron made the announcement during the NATO summit held this week in Warsaw, emphasising that Britain’s role within the alliance is in no doubt. Cameron revealed that the deployment will be broken down in to 500 troops being based in Estonia and 150 in Poland. He also stated that up to 3,000 troops will be made ready in the UK for rapid deployment to Eastern Europe should a situation arise that warrants their use.
According to The Telegraph, the British contingent will comprise of elements from the following units;
The 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade.
1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.
In terms of equipment, these units will include Challenger II Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) and Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs).
When questioned about what message this is sending to Russia, Cameron replied;
It’s a combination of defence and dialogue. We can’t close the door on Russia – we have to engage in dialogue with them. But Russia must be in no doubt that the NATO forces are lined up in Europe and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other.
David Cameron’s words were intended to emphasise that the UK’s uncertain economic and political future regarding Europe following the vote to leave the European Union will not impact on its role in maintaining security on the continent.