May 3rd 1813 – Admiral Cockburn’s Raid on Havre de Grace

On June 18th 1812, the 4th President of the United States, James Madison Jr, bowed to pressure from those in Congress who wanted war with Britain and signed the declaration. The calls for war came as a result of a number of skirmishes between British and American ships the former of whom were enforcing a blockade against Napoleonic France and despite the US being officially neutral the British still stopped American ships and even press ganged American sailors in to the King’s service.

While it would last until February 18th 1815, the subsequent conflict is still remembered as the War of 1812. With the majority of British forces committed to fighting Napoleon in mainland Europe, the British had little choice but to initially adopt a defensive strategy against the Americans until they could bolster their numbers with troops from Europe and the enlistment of local native American tribes to carry out a guerrilla-style campaign against American troops.

Admiral Sir George Cockburn raid havre de grace 1813 war of 1812 Royal NavyAt sea, the British fleet was under the command of Admiral Sir John Warren who in November appointed the recently promoted Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (pronounced Co-Burn, Right) as his second-in-command. Cockburn was an experienced officer having seen several actions throughout his career up to that time against the French and Spanish. Cockburn commanded a force of ships that were directed against disrupting US trade and naval/privateer operations along the northeastern US with the two-year old 36-gun fifth rate frigate HMS Maidstone carrying his flag.

On April 23rd 1813, Cockburn’s force captured Spesutie Island located in the Chesapeake Bay in the US state of Maryland. Recognising the fear his fleet had put in the local population he emphasized to them that as long as they did not oppose the British forces using the island as a base then they would be allowed to go about their daily lives. Reporting to Warren on April 29th following a raid on Frenchtown in which five American vessels were destroyed, he outlined his intention to attack any settlement along the American coastline in Chesepeake Bay which hoisted American colours or fired on his force.

A few days later, Cockburn was returning from Frenchtown, sailing to the north of Spesutie Island when he was fired on by US forces based in the town of Havre de Grace. In his report on the subsequent action which was reprinted in the London Gazette, Cockburn admitted that until he observed the gunfire aimed at him from the settlement he had largely disregarded it. Now, he decided that the settlement which was primarily defended by local militia groups should be punished for their resistance however the town was protected by shoal water that was too shallow for the larger of Cockburn’s fleet to sail over.

He therefore anchored his force off nearby Turkey Point on May 2nd 1813 and transferred over 150 Royal Marines to a flotilla of smaller boats that included a number of  rocket boats for fire support under the command of Captain John Lawrence of HMS Fantome. Lawrence and his men set off under the cover of darkness to carry out a dawn attack. HMS Dolphin (12-guns) and HMS Highflyer (8-guns), both former American privateers captured by the British and pressed in to service against their previous owners, attempted to sail with the boats to offer support but were only able to make it to six miles of the settlement because of the shallow waters.

As Lawrence and his men made their way towards the town, their presence was detected by the local population who warned the militia at Havre de Grace of the impending attack. The Americans decided to withdraw rather than fight a pitched battle with the British with less than 40 men remaining when Lawrence struck at dawn. The Americans manned a battery of cannons at Concord Point and it was here the main action was fought. Cockburn’s report describes what happened next;

Captain Lawrence, however, having got up with the boats, and having very ably and judiciously placed them during the attack, a warm fire was opened on the place at daylight from our launches and rocket boats, which was smartly returned from the battery for a short time, but the launches constantly closing with it, and their fire rather increasing than decreasing, that from the battery soon began to slacken, and Captain Lawrence observing this, very judiciously directed the landing of the marines on the left, which movement, added to the hot fire they were under, induced the Americans to commence withdrawing from the battery, to take shelter in the town.

Admiral Cockburn raid havre de grace 1813 war of 1812 Royal Navy

Lieutenant G. A. Westphal, who had taken his station in the rocket boat close to the battery, therefore now judging the moment to be favourable, pulled directly up under the work, and landing with his boats crew, got immediate possession of it, turned their own guns on them, and thereby soon obliged them to retreat with their whole force to the furthest extremity of the town, whither (the marines having by this time landed) they were closely pursued, and no longer feeling themselves equal to a manly and open resistance, they commenced a teazing and irritating fire from behind the houses, walls, trees, etc. from which I am sorry to say, my gallant first lieutenant received a shot through his hand whilst leading the pursuing party; he, however, continued to head the advance, with which he soon succeeded in dislodging the whole of the enemy from their lurking places, and driving them from shelter to the neighbouring woods, and whilst performing which service, he had the satisfaction to overtake, and with his remaining hand to make Prisoner,-and bring in a captain of their militia.

The captured American was Second Lieutenant John O’Neill who had put up a spirited defence which at one point included manning a cannon single-handedly until he was injured from the weapon’s recoil. He was captured along with two militia men as they attempted to escape to the nearby woods. During the entire attack there was only one fatality; an unfortunate resident of Havre de Grace who was killed when a British rocket exploded nearby.

Cockburn instructed his men not to pursue the Americans in to the woods. Instead they were to either seize or destroy American weapons that came in to their possession. Lawrence’s forces did however travel three miles north to destroy the ironworks centred around the Principio Furnace which was involved in manufacturing cannons for the American war effort. With Havre de Grace in British hands, the Royal Marines and sailors took to looting and vandalising the town, burning somewhere in the region of 60% of the entire settlement although the local church was spared.

The raid completed and Cockburn’s desire to punish the Americans satisfied, the British force then moved on up the Susquehanna River to attack an American supply depot. The residents returned to their gutted town, horrified at the destruction and accounts of the raid were widely circulated in the American press vilifying Cockburn especially. In response the British position argued that Cockburn and his men had done nothing the Americans had not done themselves in Canada, specifically the burning of York (modern day Toronto) a few days before the raid. Cockburn’s reputation for brutality amongst the Americans would later be solidified when over a year later he played a major role in the burning of Washington on August 24th 1814.



China warns UK about sending new carriers to the South China Sea

HMS QE 8The Chinese government have responded to Sir Kim Darroch’s claims that the UK plans to deploy its new aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to exercise the right to “freedom of navigation” despite renewed Chinese territorial claims. Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, made the announcement earlier this month when speaking at an event in Washington during which he said;

Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers on stream in 2020 and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific…And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.

Darroch made the announcement as the Royal Air Force sent a flight of Typhoon FGR.4s to Japan for historic military exercises as part of what both countries have said is a tightening of security ties. Japan is one of several countries at odds with China over territorial claims in the region and the UK’s new interest in working closer with Tokyo on security matters has not gone unnoticed by Beijing.

The Chinese state-owned news agency, Xinhua News, reported that if Britain was to get more involved in military operations that were contrary to Chinese interests such as deliberately sailing warships in disputed waters then it would not be in London’s best interests economically. Xinhua effectively reported that Chinese investment in the post-Brexit UK would likely be reduced in protest. According to the Asia Times, between 2005  and 2015 the Chinese invested £34.3 billion pounds in the UK with the highest profile project being the admittedly problematic China General Nuclear Power Company Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

peoples-liberation-army-navy-air-force-china-j-15-liaoning-carrierIf economical threats were not enough, this week saw the People’s Liberation Army Navy conduct their first major live fire exercise involving their own carrier, the Liaoning. The carrier deployed ten of its Sukhoi Su-33-inspired J-15 multi-role combat aircraft that carried out air-to-air and air-to-ground training including live weaponry. As well as the carrier, ten warships and supporting vessels also participated in the exercise showing that China is realising its ambition of becoming a major naval power.

The question therefore becomes what is more important to London; maintaining the special military relationship with the US under a Trump presidency which has promised to maintain “peace through strength” regarding China or encouraging Beijing to continue to invest in the UK post-Brexit and step back from its defence ties with the US and Japan?

It seems for the time being, despite Darroch’s choice of words in Washington, the UK is still sitting on the fence. The British embassy in Washington later stated that any British military forces deployed in the region would use “internationally-recognised air ways and waters” rather than conduct the more aggressive “freedom of navigation” operations the US and Japan carry out in areas disputed by China. That may change however if come January when Donald Trump takes office he demands London take a stronger approach to China.

Royal Navy’s new carriers will deploy to Pacific to exercise freedom of navigation


British ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, has told a Washington think tank that despite Britain’s current focus on the Middle East combating Daesh in Iraq and Syria there will be increased focus on the Pacific region as the two new carriers become operational around 2020. Speaking at an event in Washington attended by the Japanese ambassador to the US, Kenchiro Sasae, he said that Britain will play its part in maintaining the security and stability of the Pacific region with emphasis on maintaining the right to freedom of navigation.

Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers on stream in 2020 and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific…And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.

The first step in this renewed British military interest in the region has already been taken. In October this year, four RAF Typhoon FGR.2s from No.II(AC) Squadron landed at Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan to participate in Exercise Guardian North 16 with Japanese and US forces. The aircraft then flew to South Korea for exercises with Korean and US forces.

The Japanese ambassador added that during a meeting held at the Pentagon in Washington at the time of the exercise, the UK agreed to increase the level of naval cooperation with Japan and the US in the South and East China Sea as tensions continue with Beijing regarding territorial claims in the region. The ambassador said that Tokyo welcomed Britain’s increased focus on maintaining regional stability.

Darroch’s words come on the eve of President-elect Donald Trump taking up office in Washington on a pledge to build up the US military. Regarding China whom Trump has been deeply critical of, his advisers have said that the new US President will pursue a policy of “peace through strength” in the Pacific to challenge China’s efforts to assert its own authority over the region.


BREAKING NEWS: 10 US sailors detained by Iran

Tuesday January 12th 2016

In the last hour it has been revealed that Iran has detained 10 US sailors after their patrol vessels were stopped in the Persian Gulf

The BBC has reported that the Iranians have informed the US that the sailors were safe and “will promptly be allowed to continue their journey”. The BBC state that the incident happened near Farsi Island after one of the ships encountered mechanical problems.

NEWS: US “Official” to be involved in British defence review

Barack Obama David CameronBritish Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has confirmed a senior “US Official” will be directly involved in the upcoming strategic defence review which will look at all aspects of Britain’s defence. The confirmation comes as US President Barack Obama expressed his concerns over the the UK’s continuing defence cuts which look set to bring defence spending below the 2% of the GDP that NATO membership requires; a situation it must be said is not unique to the UK.

Fallon also confirmed that the UK were liaising with the US Department of Defense over Britain’s role in the international community which in turn will dictate how Britain’s defence spending will be undertaken over the coming years. US Defense Secretary, Ashton B. Carter, warned against further spending cuts to the UK armed forces declaring;

It would be a great loss to the world if [the UK] now took action that would indicate disengagement.”

With more and more NATO countries either unable or unwilling to meet the 2% requirement of NATO membership the US are understandably nervous about one of its biggest allies reducing its spending further especially in light of an increasingly aggressive Russia and the ongoing operations against Islamic State forces. At present only 8 of the 28 members of NATO spend 2% of their GDP on defence including, for the time being, the UK which is the second biggest spender on defence after the United States.

With the UK economy growing it might seem like meeting the target would be easier but in fact it’s not. If anything it’s more difficult as growth requires government investment in order to for it to be maintained. Add to this the financial uncertainty of Britain’s future regarding EU membership and even Scotland looking at a possible second referendum on independence means that never before has the future for the UK looked so uncertain and in such times, unless an immediate foreign threat to the UK appears, defence spending is going to fall low on the list of priorities.