April 10th 1795 – Capturing La Gloire

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.

Royal Navy capture of La Gloire April 10th 1795 by Thomas Whitcombe 1816For 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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News Round-up – March 28th 2018

HMS Ocean

Here are some of the latest British military news stories making the headlines this past week.


General Defence News

General Sir Nicholas Carter appointed head of British armed forces
(Sky News)

British defense secretary visits Estonia
(ERR News)

MBDA deal may lead to British drone, Apache helo carrying Brimstone missile
(Defense News)

Ministry of Defence lab streamlines titanium process, halves the cost
(Cycling Industry)


Army News

Head of Army warns UK as NATO expels 7 Russian staffers
(Daily Mail)

How one British soldier has helped to name 90 Argentine war dead he buried, 35 years after Falklands War
(Telegraph)

Troops move to Wiltshire ‘should stop’ says ex-Army chief
(BBC News)

One in five of British troops is not FIT enough to fight for their country, shock figures reveal
(The Sun)

Teenage army recruits make 50 allegations of ill-treatment at college
(The Guardian)

Fort Lee exercise teaches value of operationalizing contract program
(Fort Lee Press Release)

Hero British soldier Ben WILL have his care paid for as MoD agrees £7m payout 
(Daily Mail)


Royal Air Force News

Taking to the skies in a RAF Tornado
(BBC News)

We are at forefront of challenge to Russian threat, says RAF chief
(Times & Star)

More commemoratives for the centennial of Britain’s Royal Air Force
(Linn’s Stamp News)

Missing airman Corrie McKeague investigation to be passed to cold-case squad
(The Guardian)

Stevenage’s MBDA wins £400 million missile contract for RAF Typhoons
(Comet 24)

US Navy Blue Angels seek new “Fat Albert” from British Royal Air Force
(Pensacola News Journal)


Royal Navy & Marines News

Royal Navy HMS Ocean Decommissioned
(The Maritime Executive)

Royal Navy appoints its new Second Sea Lord in Portsmouth
(The Portsmouth News)

Royal Navy has FIVE ships ready for operations as vessels ‘cannibalised’ for parts
(Express)

Jeremy Corbyn’s number two in Plymouth to discuss future of the Royal Navy
(Plymouth Herald)

RCIPS helicopter and UK Navy head off Haitian migration
(Cayman Compass)

University Challenge As UK’s Royal Navy Boat Squadron On Tour
(Afloat)

Ridley Scott’s ‘The Terror’ turns macabre Arctic history into an engrossing fight for survival
(Los Angeles Times)


Disclaimer: All news stories are the property of their respective publishers. Any opinions expressed in the articles are of the person making them. An effort is made to vary news sources as much as possible to avoid political bias.

HMS Hotspur (1870)

Although largely overshadowed in naval history by battles such as Trafalgar, the Battle of Lissa in 1866 was for a time one of the most influential naval engagements of the 19th century. Also known as the Battle of Vis, it took place on July 20th 1866 in the Adriatic between the navies of Austro-Hungary and Italy and was one of the first major engagements between ironclad warships. Naval gunfire during the course of the battle, especially from the Italian fleet, proved largely ineffective due to the superiority of the Battle of Lissa ram shiptarget ship’s armour leading to a series rammings by opponents which proved far more destructive.

Observers the world over looked to the battle as an example of how modern naval warfare was to be conducted and concluded that while every effort should be made to address the problem with the guns, ramming would in the meantime become a major part of naval warfare. Even before Lissa, some naval leaders were already coming to this conclusion with the French proposing dedicated ram ships that took advantage of steam propulsion to propel them in to an enemy as early as 1840. However, it was not until after the battle that most navies began to take the tactic seriously in the industrial age leading to the retrofitting of rams to existing ships and the addition of a ram on nearly every new major warship then being designed or under construction. Most rams protruded several feet ahead of the ship and below the waterline, something that would cause more than one tragic collision over time.

Even in the wake of Lissa, few countries took the concept of dedicated ram ships seriously but the British Royal Navy saw great value in their application. Work began on designing such a vessel within a year of Lissa and the design for HMS Hotspur was finalised and authorised in 1868. A number of considerations were made regarding the mission of the vessel. With the ram being considered the principle means of attack, it was expected to survive more than one ramming during a major engagement and so was reinforced by an extension of the armour belt.

As well as the ram, Hotspur was designed to carry a single 12inch (305 mm) 25-ton muzzle-loading rifle forward of the superstructure. This weapon was intended to allow the Hotspur to rake a rammed enemy vessel with gunfire should the two ships become stuck on one another as happened on at least one occasion at Lissa. Alternatively, the gun could fire at a target the Hotspur had missed with its ram or defend itself against counter attack while the ram was brought to bear. While rotating turrets were becoming a common fixture on warships at the time, the designers of Hotspur were concerned that the bearings on which such turrets rotated would not survive the violence of an impact against another ship. Therefore they designed a static armoured gunhouse in which the weapon would be located on top of a rotating turntable. The gun would then be aligned to one of four gun ports to aim at the enemy – two to starboard and two to port – however the gun could not be fired directly ahead at the ship the ram was heading for. The 12inch gun was supported by two muzzle-loading 64-pounder (160mm) weapons in open mounts positioned aft.

HMS Hotspur 1870 royal navy ram shipConstruction of the Hotspur was undertaken by Robert Napier & Sons of Glasgow in their shipyard at Govan on the River Clyde. The design featured a short but prominent forecastle that gave way to a waist with a railing before meeting the long main deck that extended to the stern. Hotspur had a typical complement of 209 men, displaced 4,331 tons and was powered by 3,500 indicated horse power Napier reciprocating steam engines that drove two propellers. The Royal Navy commissioned Hotspur in to the fleet on November 17th 1871 but quickly proved something of a disappointment. While the new warship displayed excellent manoeuvrability, something important for attacking a warship taking evasive action, the vessel was unfortunately significantly underpowered and was unable to overtake or often even match the speeds of the ships that were its intended target. Commissioned the same year as Hotspur, the 7,749-ton French ironclad Océan had a top speed of 13 knots compared to the British vessel’s best speed of 12.65 knots despite being over 3,000 tons heavier.

This fact cast an unfavourable light on the vessel since it was clear it could not adequately perform its intended mission namely supporting the main fleet in a major engagement. However, some suspected that the Royal Navy actually had a more aggressive role in mind for the vessel but had kept it to themselves so as to avoid the fury of the growing number of radical voices in Parliament such as John Bright who had staunchly opposed the Crimean War and and any foreign policy that was aggressive in nature. Once in service, one mission conceived for the Hotspur was to attack ships moored in port possibly in a preemptive strike. In this capacity, the ram ship’s relatively poor top speed was less of an issue but such an attack would have to be carried out with significant support from conventional warships to destroy or decoy enemy defensive fire. MPs such as Bright feared the development of such offensive weapons would provoke an arms race or encourage an opponent to make their own preemptive strike first.

Joining the fleet, Hotspur spent much of her early life in reserve or conducting trials to develop tactics for other ram ships then under construction such as HMS Rupert which was built along similar lines as Hotspur but featured a rotating turret. In the second half of the 1870s, Imperial Russia was expanding and under Tsar Alexander II had waged a series of conflicts with the Ottoman-Turks aimed at reclaiming lost territories and reestablishing a Russian naval presence in the Black Sea. The perceived threat this posed to British shipping in the eastern Mediterranean upon the outbreak of yet another Russo-Turkish War in 1877 was enough to warrant a significant build-up of British naval forces in the region and this included Hotspur.

HMS Hotspur 1870 royal navy ram ship 2

On February 14th 1878, Hotspur and nine other ironclad warships were instructed by the British government to transit the Dardanelles with the aim of reaching Constantinople to protect British lives and ships that had gathered at the city. Under the command of Admiral Geoffrey Hornby, the force went in two waves with Hotspur and Rupert both being in the second wave. Poor weather helped conceal their journey from eyes on the shore and this included the Turkish defensive gunners who were on a war footing and Hornby’s force had not yet received permission from the Turkish authorities to sail through. In the end, Hotspur and its compatriots steamed through unmolested although one ironclad, HMS Alexandra, ran aground and had to be towed back to open water by HMS Sultan.

Being moored off Constantinople, the crew of Hotspur and the other British warships could actually see the tents of the Russian Army outside the city. The combined firepower of the British force was enough to discourage the Russian artillery units from engaging them but soon news filtered down that the Russians planned to float mines at the British ships as they operated in the Sea of Marmora should Britain join in the war. Fortunately, the Russian desire to negotiate grew stronger than the desire to sink British warships and the crisis began to wind down.

Hotspur returned to Britain and put in to Devonport, Plymouth where it sat waiting for a major reconstruction to be undertaken. The work finally began in 1881 and was undertaken by Laird & Sons of Birkenhead in Merseyside. The work was primarily concerned with up-gunning the ironclad to make it a more flexible warship and saw the addition of a second 12-inch gun. The two 64-pounders were replaced by two 6-inch rifled breechloading guns and these were backed up by eight 3-inch guns and eight machine gun mounts.

Two years after the reconstruction was completed, in 1885 war loomed with Russia once again. On April 7th 1885, news reached Britain that Russia’s troops had attacked an Afghan fort as they expanded across central Asia. With Aghanistan providing a buffer between the Russian Empire and the British Empire in India, the attack sparked a diplomatic crisis and the Royal Navy mobilised the Particular Service Squadron, again under Admiral Hornby and including the HotspurHotspur, under the command of Captain Francis Durrant, expected to sail for the Baltic but mediation between the two superpowers by the Afghans themselves helped avoid war.

Shortly after the crisis passed, Hotspur found itself sailing off North Wales as it undertook guard duties for the port of Holyhead until 1893 after which it was once again put on the reserve list. It should have been the end for the ship at that point but it was given a new lease of life when it was reactivated in 1897 and made ready to sail to Bermuda to take up guard duties there. Hotspur remained at Bermuda throughout the last years of the 19th century and in to the 20th century when the ship would provide the backdrop to a tragic mystery.

Commander Frank Garforth assumed command on September 15th 1900. His career had been marred by an incident in which several sailors were injured and he was held responsible aboard another dedicated ram ship, HMS Conqueror, earlier that year. On November 7th 1901, his lifeless body was discovered floating in the sea and it remains unclear exactly how he died. He was replaced by Commander Robert H. Travers who remained in command until 1904 when the Hotspur was finally scrapped in Bermuda by which time the concept of dedicated rams was long dead as naval guns improved.

January 28th 1941 – Italian submarine sinks British steamer Urla west of Ireland

The discussion of Britain’s battle with Italy during World War Two is often confined to the Mediterranean and North African theaters. However, Mussolini’s forces also attacked Britain directly and even committed aircraft to support the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. An even less-known fact is that Italian submarines supported the German Kriegsmarine in their siege of Britain in an effort to strangle her of vital war supplies from across the Atlantic.

One such Italian submarine was the Marconi-class Luigi Torelli which was launched five months before Italy would declare war on Britain and France in support of Germany. After completing its shakedown cruise and the training of its crew the Luigi Torelli sailed for German-occupied Bordeaux to join up with the small Italian submarine flotilla based there. Italian fortunes in the Atlantic didn’t often mirror their German counterparts but the Luigi Torelli would prove an exception when over the course of January 15th-16th 1941, the submarine attacked and sank three ships from a convoy over 400 miles west of Rockall; a British islet west of Scotland and south of Iceland. A fourth ship was attacked but escaped destruction.

Four days before this incident, the 17-year old 5,198-ton steamer Urla departed Halifax in Canada with convoy HX 102 carrying a load of steel and lumber bound for Manchester. The crossing was not an easy one for the 42 men of the Urla which struggled to keep pace with the rest of the convoy. The North Atlantic weather had battered HX 102 and a number of ships had to turn back to Canada to join HX 103 when the weather improved. The Urla pressed on but soon found itself straggling behind the others by the time the convoy approached the British Isles toward the end of the month.

Urla Luigi Torelli north atlantic submarine sinking italian navyOn January 28th, the Urla had the misfortune to stumble across the Luigi Torelli on patrol to the west of Ireland (Right). The Italian submarine fired on the Urla, scoring a direct hit on the ship which soon began to sink but incredibly not before all 42 crewmembers managed to safely launch their lifeboats.

While the war was over for the Urla, it was far from over for the Luigi Torelli. The Italian submarine would be on the receiving end of an attack when on the night of June 3rd 1942, it was bombed by an RAF Vickers Wellington using its powerful Leigh light searchlight 70 miles off the Spanish coast. It suffered considerable damage but managed to reach the port of Avilés in the north of neutral Spain but was damaged again shortly after in an attack by a Royal Australian Air Force Short Sunderland as it attempted to reach Bordeaux forcing it back to Spain for more repairs.

In 1943, the submarine was one of four Italian boats assigned to join a German mission to the Far East to sneak through Allied naval patrols to acquire vital war material from the Japanese in Asia. During the mission, the Italian government joined with the Allies and the submarine was interned by the Japanese. It was then taken on charge by a mixed German-Italian crew to combat the Allies in the Far East under the German flag as U.IT.25. It served the German Navy in the Far East up until Germany’s surrender in 1945 after which the submarine was then taken on by the Japanese as I-504. The submarine and her Italian sister Comandante Cappellini were the only two ships to fly the flags of all three main Axis powers during the course of World War II.

With the war nearly over, the service life of I-504 was relatively short. Based in Kobe, Japan it was damaged in a major air raid on the city by USAAF B-29 Superfortress bombers on July 15th 1945; less than 24 hours after its new Japanese captain had assumed command. The I-504 is credited as probably the last warship of the Axis powers to score a victory over the Allies when in the waning days of the war its deck guns shot down a B-25 Mitchell bomber that was raiding the harbour.

On August 30th, the I-504 was formally surrendered to the Allies ending the submarine’s war for good. On April 16th 1946, the submarine was taken out in to the Kii Channel east of the city of Tokushima and scuttled. A sad end to the story of an incredible warship.

 

The First Changing of the Queen’s Guard by the Royal Navy at Buckingham Palace

Royal Navy sailors have performed the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace for the first time in the ceremony’s 357-year history. Eighty-six sailors from 45 Royal Navy ships and establishments spent a month preparing ahead of the first ceremony on Sunday morning.

Representing many branches of the Royal Navy, the Senior Service’s traditional navy blue uniforms have replaced for a short period, the distinctive red tunics worn by the Foot Guards. Starting at Buckingham Palace in full show of the general public, they are also set to Mount Royal Guards at Windsor Castle, The Tower of London and St James’s Palace over the next few weeks.

“The last time the Navy had an operational role guarding the Queen was with Elizabeth the first, when Sir Walter Raleigh was appointed Captain of the Queen’s Guard in 1587,” said Captain of the Queen’s Guard, Lieutenant Commander Steve Elliot and Raleigh’s successor in the role. “So it goes back a little while.”