Smuggling the Consul’s Family

In early August 1816, a growing number of British warships were assembling under the command of Admiral Edward Pellow, Lord Exmouth aboard HMS Queen Charlotte in the Mediterranean. Among their number was HMS Prometheus, an 18-gun sloop commissioned nine years previously. Despite being a relatively young vessel in the Royal Navy at a time when it was not uncommon for ships to serve for several decades, the Prometheus had already seen a good deal of action in the service of King George III.

During the Anglo-Russian War 1807–12, the Prometheus was part of a force that on July 7th 1809 captured six Russian gunboats, sank a seventh and captured 12 cargo ships laden with supplies for the Russian Army. The Prometheus had also encountered a number of privateers – armed ships owned and crewed by private individuals holding a government commission to capture or sink merchant shipping – the first being the French vessel Messilina off the coast of Pillau, Russia on August 2nd 1810. The Prometheus then fought an action against the French privateer Vengeur off Belize in 1812 and against an American privateer off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1814.

In 1816, the British government had turned their attention toward the problem of the Barbary States of North Africa who frequently took to kidnapping Europeans and forcing them in to slavery. Known as “the White Slaves”, their plight was largely ignored during the Napoleonic Wars which had ended a year earlier in 1815 because the British had worked with the Barbary States such as Algiers against Napoleon. Now, the situation had become a source of embarrassment for the British who felt compelled to respond not just on behalf of Britain but of the Christian world itself.

Barbary DeyThe Barbary States were ruled by a series of Deys; a term given to those who ruled over their people. There were three Deys spread along the Barbary Coast in 1816 whom the British had to confront in their efforts to free the “White Slaves” and prevent further kidnappings. They were located at Algiers (modern-day Algeria), Tripoli (Libya) and Tunis (Tunisia). Lord Exmouth had undertaken a diplomatic mission to the three Deys in early 1816 to negotiate for the “White slaves” release. He took with him a small force of Royal Navy ships to show that the British were prepared to take action if necessary and this was enough to convince the Deys of Tripoli and Tunis but the Dey of Algiers was not so easily swayed. Nevertheless, he did agree to release British-born slaves but refused to abolish the practice of taking Christian slaves altogether.

Exmouth returned to England believing his mission was a success but those beliefs were seemingly destroyed when on June 20th the first reports began to reach London of forces belonging to the Dey of Algiers having massacred Italian fishermen at Bona the previous month. The Italians were under the protection of the British which the Dey knew and his agreement with Exmouth should have extended to them. It would later transpire that the soldiers who carried out the atrocity had received confused orders but by then the desire for retribution amongst the British people had to be satisfied. Exmouth himself had to make amends for what was seen as being the failure of his diplomatic mission and so he sailed in force from Portsmouth on July 28th 1816.

Royal Navy gibraltar battle of algiers bombardmentAs his fleet assembled, Exmouth began to realise that some sort of action against the Dey was unavoidable and he had drilled his fleet intensively to prepare but this did present him with a problem. The British had established a consulate in Algiers and it was feared that the British consul, Mr Hugh M’Donell and his family would suffer immediate and likely brutal retaliation once the British fleet began their bombardment. Exmouth therefore ordered that one of his ships should enter Algiers and essentially smuggle Mr M’Donell and his family out the day before hostilities began. He selected HMS Prometheus to carry out the operation since sloops were frequent visitors to African ports and would not attract as much attention as a larger type such as a cruiser.

Prometheus was at that time under the command of Captain W. B. Dashwood and with the last diplomatic efforts exhausted, the Prometheus sailed for the North African city. With hostilities having not yet broken out, the ship was allowed to make anchor without interference but Dashwood and his men could sense the Algerian’s suspicion of them regarding their sudden visit. Indeed, the Dey’s men had interrogated numerous merchant captains over the preceding days and one Dutch trader had even told them of a force of British ships assembling out at sea.

With little time to waste, Dashwood ordered his men to begin the operation and two boats were sent ashore with 18 men each including the ship’s surgeon. The family had been secretly briefed on what to do when the Prometheus arrived and Mr M’Donell, his wife, his eldest daughter and infant made their way to a prearranged location to meet the men from the British warship. There they were split in to two groups, one for each boat. The two ladies found themselves being handed male sailor’s clothes in order to disguise them as two midshipmen and as they made their way to their boat they tried their best to mingle in amongst the men. The deception worked and the two women made it to their designated boat where they were rowed out to the safety of the Prometheus.

It was not so easy for the second group however for they had to contend with a baby which would surely arouse suspicion from the Dey’s men around the city as they made their way to their boat. The Prometheus’ surgeon therefore gave the baby a tonic to make her sleep very soundly and hid her in a basket of fruit which they then carried down to the shore. However, as they neared their boat the baby woke up and started crying. The game was up and the men found themselves swarmed by the Dey’s men who seized the surgeon, Mr M’Donell, the baby and seventeen of the Prometheus’ crew.

The fact they had been caught trying to smuggle Mr M’Donell and his family out left the Dey with no doubt that the British planned to attack and he threw the Prometheus’ men in to prison while Mr M’Donell himself was chained up in his own house. It was suspected at the time that a Jewish nurse employed by the family had betrayed them to the Dey although this was unsubstantiated. The Prometheus remained anchored in Algiers overnight in the hope the men would be returned but in the morning the Dey sent out a single boat to the warship. The boat carried Mr M’Donell’s baby daughter alive and well and much to the relief of Mrs M’Donell she was handed over to them without hesitation but they did have a message for Dashwood; his men the Dey had seized and Mr M’Donell would not be released.

Knowing that the British fleet, now supported by a small Dutch contingent, would be sailing in to Algiers in the coming days, Dashwood sailed the Prometheus out of Algiers to report back to Lord Exmouth that his rescue mission had only been partially successful. He had however used his time at anchor to conduct reconnaissance on the Dey’s defences to make sure that Exmouth’s fleet had the most up to date intelligence.

Royal Navy night battle of algiers bombardment

On August 27th 1816, Exmouth’s force of 27 warships sailed in to Algiers and carried out an intensive bombardment of the Dey’s ships and the harbour’s defences. The Dey lost a sizeable portion of his fleet and sustained heavy casualties amongst his men (exact figures are unknown since there was little in the way of record-keeping in Algiers at that time but it is believed to be in the hundreds). The Dey was forced to concede to British and Dutch demands and over 3,000 Christian slaves were freed as well as promises by the Dey to end the practice. His supporters blamed him for the disaster and he was overthrown a year later; the first of several coups in Algiers through the 1820s until it was colonised by the French in 1830.

Mr M’Donell would return to Algiers after the bombardment to continue his role as Consul-General and would survive a rather creative assassination attempt by one of the Dey’s successors when he was draped in a cloak by a plague-stricken woman.

 

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HMS Dragon rescues 14 stricken sailors from damaged British racing yacht

hms-dragon-type-45-daring-class-destoryer-royal-navy

HMS Dragon (Royal Navy)

HMS Dragon has been involved in the rescue of 14 sailors whose racing yacht was damaged in treacherous weather in the Atlantic ocean. The Type 45 destroyer was diverted 500 miles away from a routine tasking to provide the assistance to the crew of the 60ft Clyde Challenger racing yacht.

The Clyde Challenger had left the Azores on Sunday 5th February and was heading for the UK when it lost its mast in the heavy weather leaving it adrift at sea for over 20 hours before the Royal Navy warship arrived on scene at around 1430hrs today.

British and US aircraft assisted in tracking the yacht until the warship reached them. Having been taken aboard the destroyer the yacht crew were given medical checks but apart from a few scrapes and bruises they have been described as all being “alive and well”. Unfortunately, it was determined that the Clyde Challenger could not be safely recovered to the mainland.

NEWS: Soldiers and Chinook helicopters drafted in to aid emergency services in Cumbria

British Army Storm Desmond flooding

Troops in Cumbria aid rescue workers (Daily Mail)

With Storm Desmond hitting the UK hard, flooding in Cumbria became so severe that a major incident had to be declared resulting in the Army and Royal Air Force being drafted in to aid in emergency operations. Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters were used to ferry Army personnel and equipment in to the area who then joined forces with police, mountain rescue teams and firefighters all trying to reach those stranded in their homes.

Some 40,000 properties in the North West of England were still without power this morning, an improvement over yesterday’s 100,000. Water supplies in a number of towns were also affected by flood water and around 20 schools in the area shut their doors in the interests of safety for their students.

 

NEWS: British forces in dramatic rescue in South Atlantic

La Boreal Sea King

An RAF Sea King overs over the stern of the La Boreal (MoD)

A significant number of British military assets acting on behalf of the Falkland Islands government were involved in the rescue of up to 79 passengers off the crippled cruise ship La Boreal following a fire in the ship’s engine room. 347 passengers and crew were aboard the French owned vessel travelling between Grave Cove and South Georgia when the alarm was raised in the very early hours of the morning. The vessels owners have stated that the fire was quickly brought under control and that passengers were evacuated to life rafts as a precautionary measure.

In all, the British rescue effort involved two Royal Air Force Sea King search and rescue helicopters, two civilian owned support helicopters, a Hercules transport aircraft and a Voyager aircraft for command and control duties. Surface assets included the Royal Navy patrol vessel HMS Clyde supported by Dutch tugs which are chartered to British forces on the Falklands. The British rescuers had to act quickly as a north-westerly gale placed the crippled ship in danger of grounding on Cape Dolphin, East Falkland.

The rescue operation was coordinated from RAF Mount Pleasant on the Falkland Islands.

 

 

NEWS: Royal Navy rescue another 134 migrants in the Mediterranean

The Type 23 frigate, HMS Richmond, has been involved in the recovery of 134 migrants from a dinghy that was attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe. The ship’s company provided food and medical assistance to the migrants before they were taken ashore to Sicily. The frigate was operating as part of a multi-national fleet conducting operations in the Mediterranean.

The European fleet rescued more than 500 people from a flotilla of overcrowded and barely seaworthy vessels. A spokesman for the operation said that as well as the 134 men and women rescued by the Royal Navy, the Belgians recovered 258 people and the Slovenian Navy retrieved up 76 people. This was the third group of migrants HMS Richmond has rescued in less than two weeks and brings the number of migrants rescued by the Royal Navy up to nearly 8,000 since May.

NEWS: RFA Lyme Bay evacuates Bahamas island battered by Hurricane Joaquin

RFA Lyme Bay (marsecreview.com)

RFA Lyme Bay (marsecreview.com)

Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Lyme Bay has evacuated over three dozen people from Crooked Island in the Bahamas following Hurricane Joaquin devastating homes and destroying public services. The 16,000 ton Bay-class auxiliary landing ship dock (LSD(A)) began evacuation operations on Monday assisted by Bahamas local police. Lyme Bay used its landing craft to bring vehicles, personnel and supplies ashore and then evacuate the inhabitants off the island back to the safety of the ship.

The vessel’s embarked Lynx helicopter was also kept busy during the relief operation carrying out search operations over the island as well as evacuating four people with disabilities including an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Landrail Point on the west coast of the island to the local airport where they could then be flown to Nassau. On route to the island the Lynx from No.815 NAS was involved in the search for the container ship El Faro which had been out of contact with the shore for several hours. A US Coastguard aircraft spotted a field of debris on the surface and radioed the Lynx to investigate. Sadly the wreckage was confirmed as belonging to the missing vessel.

Having completed the evacuation of the western side of Crooked Island and provided assistance to local authorities in restoring basic services, RFA Lyme Bay has now left for Acklins Island to assist people there in the ongoing relief operations after Hurricane Joaquin.

NEWS: Award for military SAR crews as mission comes to an end after 60 years

The iconic yellow Sea King is bowing out (targeta.co.uk)

The iconic yellow Sea King is bowing out (targeta.co.uk)

As the search and rescue role is transferred from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force to civilian operators the military crews who will see the end of their vital duties have been given the Award of Honour from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots citing both courage and the highest standards of airmanship. The annual awards are regarded as being among the world’s most premier aviation accolades and are particularly noteworthy because the recipients are selected by fellow flyers.

Bristow Helicopters will become the leading provider of search and rescue (SAR) services in the UK, on behalf of HM Coastguard having been awarded the UK SAR contract in April 2015. As part of the contract Bristow have offered employment to the military crews many of whom have now signed their contracts with the company ready for when their respective units stand down and their military careers end. By the summer of 2017 Bristow will operate 10 coastguard helicopter bases around the UK which will bring to an end 60 years of military search and rescue in the UK.