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.


News Round-up – January 30th 2018


HMS Forth 2018 P222 offshore patrol vessel boat opv

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

General Defence News

How the UK armed forces would look if you started from scratch
(The Guardian)

Your Fitness Tracking App May Have Revealed the Location of Secret Army Bases

Gavin Williamson anger at Ministry of Defence for flying EU flags despite Brexit vote

Russia mocks Gavin Williamson’s attack warning
(BBC News)

Two UK pilots fly F-35 jet following training
(Naval Technology)

Arms deal watchdog to get new teeth to stop defence companies profiteering

Ministry of Defence loses up to £4bn on property deal under which it rents 7000 empty homes 

More than £1 billion spent on armed forces recruitment
(Daily Mail)

British Army News

Soldier Who Died At Deepcut ‘Needed Constant Watching’
(Forces Network)

Op-Ed: Has the British army gone soft?

Ex-Army Head Calls For Better Mental Health Treatment
(Forces Network)

Withdrawal Of Troops From Germany Could Be Halted And “When Not If” For Major UK Cyber-Attack
(Forces Network)

Chester MP joins British troops on border with Russia
(The Chester Standard)

DUP split over ‘amnesty’ for security forces, says Beattie
(Belfast Telegraph)

Inside the British army training programme for Somali soldiers fighting one of the world’s most feared terrorist groups

Defence jobs plea over £3bn vehicle contract
(BBC News)

Royal Air Force News

RAF to scrap twin-seat Typhoons
(IHS Jane’s 360)

RAF eyes the skies in Shetland
(Shephard Media)

RAF reveals reason why Coningsby jet declared ’emergency’ mid-air over the North Sea
(Lincolnshire Live)

Investigation into missing Corrie McKeague has cost £2.1m
(Norfolk Eastern Daily Press)

‘Tail spotter’ hobbyists counted on by UK, US militaries to watch for suspicious behavior
(Stars and Stripes)

Canada sends three aircraft to RAF Fairford centenary show
(Swindon Advertiser)

Royal Navy & Marines News

Royal Navy accepts OPV
(Shephard Media)

Royal Navy Helps Out Islanders on Still-Devastated Anguilla
(The Maritime Executive)

Navy’s new £3.1bn aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth hit by flood after mystery sprinkler system sparks flood
(The Sun)

Wanted! A Site For Retired Nuclear Submarine Waste
(Forces Network)

HMS Raleigh offers training for HMS Queen Elizabeth’s new workboats
(Naval Technology)

Royal Navy gets new sonar training facility
(Shephard Media)

Royal Navy museum searching for designer for new exhibition

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.

News Round-Up – October 24th 2017

HMS Queen Elizabeth UK F-35 Lightning II

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

General Defence News

UK must boost defence budget to ensure armed forces can protect ‘homeland’ against Russia

Fury as Iraq and Afghan veterans not honoured as conflict not deemed war

Ministry of Defence spent £800million fighting Isis in three years

Defence Secretary says Clyde shipyard’s have ‘certainty’
(BBC News)

Ministry Of Defence Staff Sacked Over Expenses Fraud
(Forces Network)

Watchdog has 111 pricing queries on UK defence deals
(Financial Times)

Book published to remember the Real Enigma hero from the Scottish Borders
(Border Telegraph)

Bigger payout for Afghan interpreters
(The Times)

Pak Army team strikes gold in Exercise Cambrian Patrol in UK
(Daily Pakistan)

British Army News

Plans to sell the Household Cavalry’s Hyde Park base to build luxury flats are axed
(Daily Mail)

Army insists it has not relaxed drug rules
(The Independent)

British Army’s advertising bill for recruitment rockets as manpower continues to fall

UK looks to replace Desert Hawk mini UAV
(IHS Jane’s 360)

Army explosive experts called to Sellafield nuclear plant
(The Independent)

British Army to Auction White Helmet Bikes

Life In The Parachute Regiment: Ready For Anything
(Forces Network)

207 Manchester Field Hospital given Freedom of the Borough by Bury Council
(Bury Times)

Family Of Murdered Soldier Awarded 60 Years After His Death
(Forces Network)

Royal Air Force News

RAF recruits cyber experts to probe planes’ weaknesses

Rumor of a British Bomber Crash In a Detroit Neighborhood Haunts a Listener

Flight medics receive pilot training
(AirMed and Rescue Magazine)

Landfill search starts again for body of RAF gunner Corrie McKeague

Trains forced to slow down near RAF Valley
(Daily Post North Wales)

MoD To Invest 90-Million In RAF Training Centre
(Forces Network)

RAF squadron prepares to march through Oakham to mark its 90th anniversary
(Leicester Mercury)

RAF wife walks along the Great Wall of China for RAF Benevolent Fund

Royal Navy & Marines News

UK to transfer ownership of Franklin shipwrecks to Canada
(Toronto Star)

Britain’s shortest servicewoman just bagged Royal Navy’s most dangerous job

Royal Marines Smash Speed March World Record
(Forces Network)

BAE and Cammell Laird to bid for UK’s £1.25bn Type 31e frigate programme
(Naval Technology)

These eerie pictures of Royal Marine Commandos training at Pentewan Sands will show you the forces in a different light
(Cornwall Live)

HMS Dragon will arrive on the Rock today
(Gibraltar Chronicle)

Engineering the future of rail and sea with Bond of Friendship between the Royal Navy and Darlington loco trust
(The Northern Echo)

Queen set to visit HMS Sutherland in celebration of ship’s 20th anniversary

Trafalgar Day ceremony marks 212 years since death of navy hero Admiral Lord Nelson
(The News)

Ex-WRNS member reflects on her time in what is a centenary year
(Northumberland Gazette)

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.

The Royal Navy’s Battle with Bolshevik Submarines in The Baltic, 1918 – 19

HMS Vindictive Royal Navy aircraft carrier Russian civil war 1918

Although she arrived halfway through 1919, HMS Vindictive played a major role in the last half of the fighting.

Even before the guns of World War I had fallen silent in Europe, the great powers were already finding themselves embroiled in another great conflict that was sparking up in the east. Having seemed constantly on the verge of revolution for two decades, the Great War finally broke the Russian Empire and on March 15th 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne and a provisional government was installed to replace him.

Then on October 25th, the socialist Bolsheviks under Lenin who had been in exile during the war rose up against the provisional government and seized power. Almost immediately, Russia descended in to civil war between the Bolshevik “Reds” and the “White Russians” – a loose alliance of factions each with their own goals but united in their desire to destroy Bolshevism. The old powers in western Europe such as Britain, France and Germany viewed the situation in Russia with horror, concerned that their own countries could be torn apart by their own Marxist uprisings. They therefore committed equipment, ships and troops to support the White Russians in fighting the Red Army and Navy.

Volk Bars-class submarine Bolshevik Navy

Russian Bars-class submarine

The Royal Navy had already been active in the Baltic Sea with a large submarine presence supporting their Russian Navy allies in preventing the import of iron ore from Sweden to Imperial Germany since 1914 but now those allies were likely to be hostile towards them if the Russian crews supported the Bolsheviks. Russian pride in their navy’s major surface combatants was still tainted by their defeat at the hands of the Japanese at Tsushima in 1908 and its ability to function had been further inhibited by the loss of experienced officers in the revolution and the general breakdown of discipline amongst the remaining crews. However, the Russian submarine force remained a significant threat with their smaller crews having a greater sense of loyalty to one another than in the bigger ships. They were also equipped with quite capable submarines built during the force’s expansion upon the outbreak of World War I such as the Bars-class which were armed with a single 57mm deck gun and eight 18inch torpedoes.

With Germany and the Bolsheviks negotiating for peace at the end of 1917, a flotilla of eight British submarines found themselves trapped between two hostile powers and were ordered to Finland where they remained until April 1918 when, with German forces closing in, they were taken to sea one at a time and scuttled. On November 11th 1918, World War I ended and the focus was now turned entirely to defeating the Bolsheviks including sending a British naval taskforce in to the Baltic. Dubbed Operation Red Trek and commanded by Rear-Admiral Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair, the taskforce sailed on November 28th and comprised of a number of fairly modern destroyers and cruisers as well as a number of submarines that had survived the First World War in the Baltic. Red Trek had four primary goals;

  • To contain Bolshevism.
  • To protect Britain’s interests in the region.
  • Maintain the freedom of the seas.
  • Prevent the newly declared independent states of Estonia and Latvia from being seized by Red forces or remnant German units.

Opposing Alexander-Sinclar’s taskforce was Russia’s Baltic Fleet that still included a number of capital ships such as the Gangut-class battleship Petropavlovsk but was seriously weakened by the manpower shortage and so did little to stop the British ships from landing troops and equipment in Estonia. The British did suffer their first casualty during this time however when the light cruiser HMS Cassandra struck a mine on December 5th near Saaremaa in the Gulf of Finland. The mine had been laid by the Germans during the war and the British were unaware of the minefield’s presence. Mines would prove to be the number one threat to the British in the coming year accounting for a number of losses.

Leaving five of his ships to support the Estonians, Alexander-Sinclair then sortied south to asses the situation in Latvia and lend support to that country’s security. The Bolsheviks decided to launch an attack against the weakened British force to punish them for meddling in Russian affairs sending a flotilla of their ships to attack them. This flotilla almost completely disintegrated as it sailed out to intercept the British due to a combination of poor leadership, even poorer discipline among the crews and generally low reliability amongst the ships to the point where only two destroyers – the Avtroil and Spartak –  made a valiant attack on their own. Unfortunately for the Bolshevik crews, courage did not translate in to success. During the engagement off Reval in Estonia, one crew got disoriented and ran aground while the other tried to make an escape but became surrounded and so elected to surrender rather than become martyrs.

The Bolsheviks worked hard over the next few weeks to address the problems typified by the whole affair and aware that if they were to succeed then they could brush away Alexander-Sinclair’s force with their battleships, the British sent the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Walter Cowan to the Baltic. Cowan was a forceful commander who wanted to exercise a more aggressive approach to tackling the Russians when he took over command of the mission in early 1919. His efforts were initially inhibited however by the harsh winter which slowed progress and lowered British morale considerably. The Bolsheviks put to sea again in May 1919 but were forced back by Cowan’s fleet leaving mines and submarines as the only real way they could fight the British.

One such Bolshevik submarine was the Bars-class Pantera under the command of 24-year old Alexander N. Bakhtin which left the port of Kronstadt on the night of July 23rd/24th. Bakhtin was one of the more experienced commanders amongst the Bolsheviks having served successfully aboard the Volk during the fighting with Germany. Bakhtin and his men had orders to attack British vessels off Kaporia Bight, the second submarine crew to be dispatched on this mission with the first, the Vepr, having been forced back to port with engine troubles. They did not have to wait long to encounter a British force spotting two British submarines travelling on the surface the next day. Keeping the sun at his back to conceal his position, Bakhtin launched an attack by firing a single torpedo at the furthest British submarine which spotted it early enough to evade it.

Pantera Bars-class submarine Bolshevik Navy

The Pantera (after the Russian Civil War)

Bakhtin then turned the Pantera on to the closer submarine, HMS E40, and launched two torpedoes in its direction. He then ordered his crew to turn away and dive deep in order to evade a counterattack. Again, Bakhtin’s efforts proved fruitless as the two torpedoes were quickly evaded by the E40 which continued turning until her bow was brought to bear on the diving Pantera. The E40 dispatched a torpedo towards the Pantera but had as much luck as the Russians with it passing alongside the Bars-class sub as it dived. A nearby British destroyer, HMS Watchman, conducted a depth charge attack but Bakhtin and the Pantera escaped back to Kronstadt.

Having been repaired, the Vepr made a second attempt to intercept the British a few days later on July 27th. Early the next day, the Vepr detected two British warships and fired a salvo of torpedoes towards them but without success. Having been detected, the Vepr attempted to escape as it was attacked with depth charges that inflicted significant damage on the submarine including to the electrics which plunged some of the crew in to absolute darkness. Despite having difficulty maintaining their depth due to damage, the crew of the Vepr managed to avoid destruction by the two destroyers – HMS Valorous and Vancouver – and later avoided an attempted attack by the British submarine HMS L15 to limp back to Kronstadt for repairs.

PLEASE NOTE – It is sometimes reported that the submarine involved was actually the Ersh but according to Geoffrey & Rodney Bennett in their book Freeing the Baltic 1918–1920 there is no evidence to suggest the submarine was in the area on July 28th 1919. Record keeping was not a priority in Russia at this time.

Despite the lack of success thus far on the part of the Russians, Rear Admiral Cowan was particularly concerned by the attacks and the potential they could have on his force which now included the aircraft carrier HMS Vindictive. As part of the effort to contain the Russian fleet, Cowan’s forces instigated a widescale mining operation around Kronstadt and neighbouring ports held by the Bolsheviks. Submarine nets were also deployed near his own harbours to protect his ships from being ambushed as they sailed in to the Baltic while the addition of the Third Destroyer Flotilla increased the number of British ships equipped with hydrophones to listen out for the submarines as they cruised submerged. Cowan committed most of his assets that were not directly supporting land operations to hunt and destroy the submarines including some of his cruisers and aircraft from Vindictive.

On July 30th, he ordered the planes from Vindictive to make a bold early morning attack on Kronstadt one of the aims of which was to target the submarine tender Pamiat Azova. Anti-aircraft fire over Kronstadt was very heavy but the pilots reported scoring a hit on the vessel and claimed a hit on a nearby drydock. It would later be learned that the pilots had mistook the oil tanker Tatiana for the submarine tender which remained undamaged. On August 18th, Cowan’s forces attacked the harbour with a force of coastal motor boats supported by Vindictive’s aircraft. This time they scored hits on the Pamiat Azova after which it sank and lay on its port side in the shallow water.

This aggressive reaction typified Cowan’s style as a commander and appeared to alarm the Bolsheviks to the point where their submarines didn’t venture out of port for the best part of the following month. In the wake of the attack on Kronstadt, it was late in the month when Bakhtin and the Pantera ventured out to face the British again. On August 31st, Bakhtin’s men sighted two British warships including the modern V-class destroyer HMS Vittoria under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Vernon Hammersley-Heenan and which had been configured for laying mines. Bakhtin and his men stalked the British ship for over a day spending much of the time submerged to avoid detection.

HMS Vittoria v-class admiralty destroyer Royal Navy

HMS Vittoria

Finally, the next day Bakhtin was presented with his opportunity to attack as the Vittoria and HMS Abdiel anchored off the island of Seiskari in the Gulf of Finland. Bakhtin fired a pair of 18inch torpedoes toward the British ship one of which missed but the other struck the side of the vessel blowing a hole in the hull. Less than five minutes after being hit, the 22-month old Vittoria had completely sunk taking eight of her crew with her. Bakhtin observed the Abdiel powering up and with depleted batteries, decided to withdraw rather than attempt to attack it too thus allowing the British ship to go to the rescue of their comrades who had survived the sinking of their ship.

Despite this victory, the Russian submarine threat was proving more of a concern for British sailors than their actual impact on the strategic situation. The main threat to British ships remained the many minefields that had been laid in the region with another V-class destroyer, HMS Verulam, being lost to one just three days after the Vittoria was sunk. Unfortunately for the British Admiralty and Cowan in particular, these losses had a profound impact on the already suffering morale of the British crews. The British government had repeatedly made claims that those British servicemen fighting in the Russian Civil War were volunteers but it seemed this did not extend completely to the Royal Navy. Many of the British sailors were quite sullen over the fact that the war they had joined up to fight was now over yet they were still being ordered to risk their lives in combat on behalf of a foreign nation. Added to this was the threat from the much-vaunted underwater menace that was the submarine which along with the hundreds of mines meant many sailors were left wondering if their ship would suddenly blow up from underneath them. This mood was only worsened by the freezing weather experienced in the early months of 1919, the poor conditions onboard many of the destroyers in which crews had to spend a considerable amount of time and Cowan’s repeated cancellation of shore leave in order to achieve his latest aims.

What started as a morale problem quickly escalated and even spread beyond the ships in the Baltic. The First Destroyer Flotilla was due to set sail for the Baltic Sea in early October 1919 but upon hearing this, over 150 seamen abandoned their posts and attempted to make their way to London to present their protests to Whitehall. Over 100 of them were arrested as they travelled by train but 44 of them made it to London although the effort was in vain and they too were arrested and imprisoned. The First Destroyer Flotilla was reinforced with volunteers from battleships and cruisers and set sail on October 14th although with only half the number of destroyers it had expected to have. Even if the crews reported to their ships there still seemed to be a conspiracy to stop them. Socialism was spreading amongst the working class in Britain after the Great War that was seen as a calamity brought upon them by the ruling classes. This led to support for the Bolsheviks and resulted in several refusals by dock workers to load ships headed for the Baltic.

Cowan’s biggest ships weren’t exempt from disruption by disgruntled sailors. In November 1919, discipline aboard Vindictive was seriously breaking down in the wake of cancelled leave during a stopover in Copenhagen, Denmark leading to Royal Marines having to break up a group of protesters. Later, two stokers were caught trying to sabotage the engines and when news of this got out it only encouraged further dissent leading to the captain enforcing harsh punishments on men he identified as ringleaders. The following month, aboard the cruiser HMS Delhi a quarter of the crew refused to report for duty.

By now the situation on land was becoming more and more hopeless for the White Russians and their foreign allies. While the Royal Navy had largely kept the Bolshevik fleet at bay, the failure of the White Russian General Nikolai Yudenich to capture Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and the continued collapse of anti-Bolshevik forces made the allies realise that the war was lost and in December 1919, Cowan began withdrawing his fleet. They had however secured the independence of Estonia and Latvia but it had cost 112 British sailors’ lives. Cowan would continue on in the Royal Navy commanding the Battlecruiser Squadron from HMS Hood before retiring as a full Admiral only to return to service in World War II. He was captured by the Italians in 1942 in Libya but was repatriated a year later. He retired a second time in 1945 and died in 1956 aged 85, the last of the Cowan Barons.

Alexander Bakhtin and his crew returned home as heroes with the Pantera itself finding a special place in the hearts of the revolutionary Russians, it being the first submarine of the Red Navy to sink an enemy vessel in combat. It later dispensed with its imperial-given name, instead adopting the name Kommisar and remained in service long after its surviving sisters had been withdrawn ending its days as a harbour training vessel.

Bakhtin however would not be so fortunate. His immediate fame was short lived when in 1924, two years after Lenin’s death and Stalin’s rise to power in the new Soviet Union, his noble heritage was made public and he was stripped of all his revolutionary accolades before being sent to the Solovki gulag in the Solovetsky Islands of the White Sea. There he endured five years of hard labour that seemed to considerably age him beyond his 34 years when he was released in 1929. Two years later he contracted tuberculosis and died almost unnoticed by the people of the revolution he had fought and killed for.

Russia threatens coalition aircraft over Syria after US Navy shoot down Syrian Su-22

Relations between the west and Russia regarding Syria has always been both problematic and risky but it threatens to become even more dangerous following the shootdown of a Syrian Air Force Sukhoi Su-22 “Fitter” on Sunday. This has prompted Russian officials to describe American, British and French aircraft operating over the war-ravaged country as potential threats. In a statement, the Russian Defence Ministry said;

All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.

Syrian civil war air force sukhoi su-22 fitterThe US took the extraordinary action against the Syrian Air Force on Sunday when the Su-22 (right) reportedly carried out a strike in proximity to US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The Syrian jet was shot down by a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet and is the first such air-to-air engagement for the type. The US military’s Central Command said in a statement that the shootdown was carried out in accordance of all established rules of engagement and in accordance with terms agreed upon by coalition partners.

However, the Russian Defence Ministry disagrees saying that the US acted in violation of the agreed upon terms of the de-confliction deal both sides pledged to honour. They also claim that the US made no effort to communicate with them before taking the action against the Syrian jet, describing the shootdown as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The Syrian government themselves also claim that the Su-22 was bombing Islamic State forces, not Syrian Democratic Forces, and accused the US of actually helping the terrorist organisation.

The Russians have since suspended their direct line of communication with Washington over the incident leading to their stark warning to the US-led forces. In the last few hours, Downing Street has appealed to the Russians to return to the previously established de-confliction arrangement so as to avoid any future confrontation between coalition aircraft and Russian and Syrian government aircraft.

The Pentagon in Washington responded strongly to the Russian threats made against Coalition aircraft with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford telling reporters;

I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations centre and the Russian Federation’s operations centre — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves.

Under Operation: Shader, the Royal Air Force has been engaged in gathering intelligence and conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. Tornado GR.4 and Typhoon FGR.4 combat aircraft along with Reaper drones continue to fly operations over the region from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

Typhoons deployed to Romania

RAF Typhoon no.3(f) squadronEurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s from the Royal Air Force’s No.3 (Fighter) Squadron based at RAF Coningsby have now deployed to Romania as part of the expansion of NATO’s air policing mission over Eastern Europe. Four aircraft and up to 150 personnel (air and ground crew) deployed to Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in south east Romania on Monday with the deployment expected to last up to four months. After a period of acclimation, the aircraft are reported to formally start operations by May 1st.

Images taken of the pilots taking off from Coningsby show that they are using the new £250,000 Striker II helmet which according to BAE Systems’ own website;

Striker II is a fully digital solution that provides today’s combat pilot with exceptional night vision and target tracking technology within a fully integrated visor-projected HMD system.

BAE Systems’ Striker helmet-mounted display system is based on the company’s unique two-part helmet design. It provides comfort, protection, and helmet stability for fixed- and rotary-wing platforms.

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 far more modern RAF aircraft will have to integrate in to Romania’s air defence network.

The deployment is part of NATO’s expanded effort to reassure its eastern members that it remains committed to their protection. It has also been reported in the Romanian press that the deployment of NATO fighters to their country is in direct response to a dramatic increase in the number of interceptions carried out by the Romanian Air Force of Russian aircraft over the Black Sea in recent months.

Romania will also host a large scale NATO exercise in July that U.S. Ambassador Hans Klemm said in March would include up to 30,000 NATO troops.

Typhoons to be sent to Romania to reassure Eastern European allies

typhoon_2657017bEurofighter 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.