Category Archives: France

Confederate Commerce Raiding Effects

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 1238-1257:

Altogether during the war, eight Confederate commerce raiders captured and destroyed some 284 Union merchant ships valued at more than $25 million. Most of them were sailing ships, and a third of them (97) were taken by either the Alabama or the Florida.

In assessing the impact of these rebel raiders, as in assessing the impact of the blockade, numbers alone cannot tell the full story. William Dalzell, whose 1940 history The Flight from the Flag remains a classic, argued that the ripple effect of those 284 lost ships went well beyond the immediate impact of sunken ships and lost cargoes. The success of the Florida and the Alabama in particular led to a significant jump in maritime insurance rates, which reduced the profit margin even for ships that never encountered a rebel raider. Moreover, the rebel raiders engendered such fear within the American maritime community that many merchants abandoned American-flag ships altogether and shipped their goods in foreign bottoms. Facing a dearth of customers, American shippers either sold out or reregistered their ships in foreign countries. Whereas in 1858 only 33 American-built vessels registered as British ships, a total of 348 did so in 1863. Thus while the raiders sank or burned some 150,000 tons of Union shipping, they were also instrumental in provoking the transfer of another 800,000 tons to foreign registry. In all, nearly a million tons of merchant ships-half of the U.S. merchant marine-ceased to fly the American flag. In the fall of 1863, a reporter for the New York Herald noted that of the 176 ships then in New York Harbor, only 19 of them flew the American flag. The others flew the flags of England (93), Bremen (20), France (10), Denmark (6), Hanover (6), Hamburg (6), Prussia (4), Belgium (3), Norway (3), Austria (3), Holland (2), and Sweden (1). Indeed, American-flag shipping dropped nearly as spectacularly during the war as southern cotton exports. While the blockade reduced southern cotton exports from 2.8 million bales in 1860 to 55,000 in 1862, rebel commerce raiders effectively reduced Union shipping from 2.2 million tons in 1860 to fewer than 500,000 by 1865. Considering that the South invested considerably less in building and equipping its handful of raiders than the North did in establishing and maintaining the blockade, the southern decision to adopt a strategy of guerre de course [war on commerce] seems more than validated.

On the other hand, the raiders’ impact on the economy of the North was not nearly as devastating as the impact of the blockade was to the economy of the South. The hundreds of American-owned ships that adopted foreign registry to avoid being targeted by the rebel raiders were not lost, merely reflagged. During Britain’s wars with France earlier in the 19th century, much of its trade shifted to American-flag vessels to prevent their capture by French privateers. American commerce in this period had thrived as a result, but so, too, had the British economy. Now the situation was reversed, and during the Civil War much of America’s trade shifted to British-flag vessels. In both cases, the home economy continued to prosper. An editorial in the New York Sun in March of 1865, only weeks before Appomattox, noted “There never was a time in the history of New York when business prosperity was more general, when the demand for goods was greater, and payments more prompt, than within the last two or three years.

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Two D-Days: Saipan vs. Normandy

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 540-541:

The American buildup for the invasion of Saipan (code-named Operation Forager) occurred simultaneously with preparations for Overlord; measured by firepower, the Saipan invasion fleet was even larger than the one devoted to Normandy. Raymond Spruance commanded the overall invasion force that included Pete Mitscher’s powerful Task Force 58, which by now consisted of fifteen carriers, seven battleships, eleven cruisers, and eighty-six destroyers. It would provide cover for an invasion force that included fifty-six attack transports and eighty-four LSTs carrying 127,571 soldiers and Marines. The employment of eighty-four LSTs in the Pacific at a time when Eisenhower was scrambling for just one or two more for Normandy was powerful evidence that the Germany-first principle had been virtually abandoned.

The invasion of Saipan also required a much longer sealift than at Normandy. While the invasion forces for Neptune-Overlord had to leap fifty or a hundred miles across the English Channel, many of the transports and amphibious ships loaded up at Pearl Harbor, more than thirty-five hundred miles from the target beach. For Neptune-Overlord, the LSTs could, and did, shuttle reinforcements and supplies to the beaches in a near-constant rotation for weeks after the initial landings. For Saipan, by contrast, the men, the equipment, the supplies, and the ammunition all had to cross the broad Pacific in a single giant stride. Eisenhower had warned Marshall that a shortage of LSTs at Normandy could mean that his invasion force might be stranded on the beach for as long as three days without resupply. By design, the men who invaded Saipan would be stranded there for three months before significant reinforcements or supplies could reach them, though of course the Japanese, too, would have to fight the battle with what they had on hand, since Saipan would be virtually cut off from support.

Like the men who invaded Normandy, the would-be invaders of Saipan first had to load the landing ships and landing craft; it was hard work, and dangerous, too. On May 17, as work parties were off-loading 4.2-inch mortar ammunition from LST-353 in Pearl Harbor, one of the mortar rounds detonated. The explosion ignited nearby barrels of gasoline, and the entire ship went up in a thunderous fireball, setting off a number of explosions on nearby ships. A witness recalled that “whole jeeps, parts of ships, guns, equipment, shrapnel, fragments of metal, all rained down on the waters of West Loch.” Before it was over, 168 men were dead, and six LSTs and three LCTs had been completely destroyed. It was just nineteen days after the loss of three LSTs off Slapton Sands in the English Channel. To replace the lost vessels, eight LSTs were transferred from MacArthur’s command. No doubt Ike wished it had been that easy for him.

The Saipan invasion force departed Pearl Harbor during the last three days of May. While en route, the tedium was broken by a not altogether unexpected announcement: “Now hear this. The invasion of France has started. Supreme Headquarters announced that the landings to date have been successful. That is all.” The news provoked loud and sustained cheering, and no doubt boosted the morale of those who were about to conduct their own D-Day.

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Improvised Invasion Fleets, 1942

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 335-337:

The Allies’ material shortages, especially in shipping, compelled them to improvise. The British had three full-sized aircraft carriers and three smaller ones to cover their assigned targets, but the Americans had only the Ranger. To supplement her, they constructed flight decks atop four oilers and redesignated them as auxiliary carriers. Significantly smaller than regular carriers, and lacking a hangar deck, they could still embark thirty planes each, though all of them had to be carried on the flight deck.

Troop transports were another problem. What few landing ships the British possessed had been lost at Narvik and Dunkirk, and many of the American transports were half a world away, running supplies into Guadalcanal. It was a zero-sum game: ships needed for one undertaking necessarily had to come from someplace else. As the official British history of the campaign puts it, “The transports, store-ships, and auxiliaries of all sorts which had to be taken out of circulation seriously upset the Allied shipping programme throughout the world.” The Allies cobbled together what they could. To carry soldiers to North Africa, they relied heavily on prewar cruise ships; the British even commandeered ferryboats from the Glasgow-Belfast run. Similarly, American civilian cargo vessels metamorphosed into “attack transports.” In effect, the invasion fleets for Torch were jury-rigged (as the Americans put it); in the British idiom, they were “lash-ups.”

Of course, the packed troopships and laden cargo vessels required a substantial escort in order to cross the several thousand miles of hostile ocean to the invasion beaches, and that, too, meant withdrawing forces from other theaters. Britain could escort its contingent only by relying heavily on the Home Fleet, as it had for Pedestal, committing three battleships (Duke of York, Nelson, and Rodney), the battlecruiser Renown, five cruisers, and all five of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers plus thirty-one destroyers. To obtain them, the Royal Navy reduced the escorts for the transatlantic convoys and suspended convoys to Russia altogether. The escorts for the American troopships, which would sail directly to North Africa from the East Coast of the United States, included three battleships (Massachusetts, New York, and Texas), seven cruisers, and thirty-eight destroyers. More destroyers would have been desirable, but in the late summer of 1942, destroyers were in demand everywhere, including the Solomon Islands.

Once the troopships and cargo vessels arrived at the target beaches, there was the additional problem of getting the men, their equipment, and their vehicles from the transports to the beach. The Marines who had landed at Guadalcanal had benefited from years of practice landings during the 1930s, and their assault on Guadalcanal had been almost routine; they merely had to climb over the sides of their landing boats and wade ashore. The assault in North Africa, however, would involve soldiers, not Marines, and on a much larger scale. To get them from ship to shore, they would have to climb down rope or chain nets from the transports into small plywood boats that would carry them several miles to the beach.

The vessels needed to accomplish that were also in short supply. The British version of this type of small landing boat was called “landing craft, assault” (LCA), and the American version was called “landing craft, personnel” (LCP). Each was capable of carrying thirty-six soldiers at a time, and their navy crewmen were to shuttle back and forth between ship and shore until the landing force was established. Because the American LCPs had been designed and built by Andrew Jackson Higgins, nearly everyone called them Higgins boats (a practice that will be followed here). Later in the war, both the British and American versions would have armored drop-front bows that would enable the soldiers to run directly from the boat out onto the beach, but the early models were simply rectangular plywood boxes with a motor on the back, and when they ground up onto the sand, the men, each of them carrying between sixty and ninety pounds of gear plus their rifle, had to climb out over the sides into waist-deep water before making their way to the beach, as the Marines had done at Guadalcanal.

Getting armored vehicles ashore was a bigger problem. The campaigns in France and Flanders in 1940 had demonstrated that ground combat in the Second World War meant the use of armored vehicles, specifically tanks. Getting tanks from ship to shore was a far more difficult problem than carrying soldiers. The British had experimented with tank-carrying ships that were converted from shallow-draft oil tankers used on Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. Like so many innovations, this one had originated in the fertile mind of the prime minister, and the vessels were dubbed “Winstons” (smaller versions were called “Winettes”). What made them distinctive was their massive bow doors, which opened like a giant cupboard. After running up as close to the beach as they could get, they opened their big bow doors and deployed a long ramp. In theory, tanks and trucks could then drive out from their commodious hold directly onto the beach. The concept was certainly valid, as later models of such ships demonstrated. The early versions, however, were cumbersome and difficult to unload, and they had proved disappointing, and nearly disastrous, during the ill-fated raid on Dieppe.

The Americans attacked the problem differently, appropriating a large cargo ship, the Seatrain New Jersey, that had been designed to carry railroad cars from New York to Cuba, and modifying it to carry tanks. She was not a true amphibious ship, however, since her deep V-shaped hull did not allow her to steam up onto a beach, and she could unload her cargo of tanks only if she had access to a working harbor.

Carriers, battleships, cruisers, troopships, cargo ships, destroyers, and landing craft: altogether, the British and Americans employed nearly six hundred ships, plus the small Higgins boats, to execute this first major strategic counteroffensive of the war. From the start, the commanders had to scramble to find the manpower, the equipment, and especially the shipping to make it happen. The nickname “Operation Shoestring” that had been used to describe the Guadalcanal landing might just as easily have been applied to Torch.

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Atlantic Convoy System, 1939

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 107-110:

The British response to the U-boat threat was to establish a convoy system. Though convoys had been used by maritime powers to protect trade since the Age of Sail, the Admiralty had been initially reluctant to embrace the concept during the First World War. After all, a convoy conveniently clustered all the merchant ships together, thus creating a target-rich environment for a stalking U-boat. Then, too, convoys necessarily had to proceed at the speed of the slowest vessel. Despite these apparent defects, however, the events of 1917–18 had proved that convoys were by far the most effective countermeasure to a U-boat threat, and in 1939 the British established a convoy system even before the war began.

From the start, each convoy was identified by a code that indicated its origin, destination, and numerical sequence. The first outbound convoy from Liverpool, for example, was OB-1. Eventually, regular convoys were established for routes from Gibraltar (HG), Jamaica (KJ), Freetown, Sierra Leone (SL), and scores of other places, though the busiest and most important route was the transatlantic one between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and either Liverpool or the Firth of Clyde (Glasgow) in Scotland. Eastbound convoys from Canada to Britain were designated as HX convoys (homebound from Halifax), and westbound convoys were ON convoys (outbound to North America). Typically they consisted of twenty to forty merchant ships organized into seven to ten columns of four or five ships each. To avoid collision in rough seas or heavy fog, the ships in each column steamed at intervals of four hundred to six hundred yards, and the columns themselves were a thousand yards apart. As a result, a forty-ship convoy filled a rectangle of ocean five miles wide and two or three miles long, an area as large as fifteen square miles.

The merchant ships were under the supervision of a convoy commander, a civilian who was usually a retired Royal Navy officer and who rode one of the merchant ships as commodore. His job was to maintain order within the convoy and issue the periodic course changes by flag hoist or blinker light that kept it zigzagging across the sea, a protocol designed to throw potential attackers off their stroke. Maintaining order in a convoy was often difficult since civilian merchant captains were unused to making the precise tactical maneuvers required to reorient forty ships simultaneously on a new course. The commodores necessarily had to adjust their expectations of instantaneous execution when ordering a course change.

In the van and on the flanks of this large rectangle of ships, and often maneuvering independently as well, were the armed escorts. If Dönitz was frustratingly short of operational U-boats, the British were equally deficient in the number of available escorts. Destroyers were the most effective convoy escorts, but destroyers were needed everywhere, and the heavy losses during the Norway campaign and especially off Dunkirk meant that the Royal Navy had a severe shortage of these critical workhorse warships. To make up the shortfall, all sorts of vessels were called into service for escort duty.

Among them was a new type of small warship called a corvette. Because the first generation of corvettes were all named for flowers, they were known as Flower-class ships and they bore such unwarlike names as Azalea, Begonia, Bluebell, and Buttercup. At only 940 tons each, they were tiny and carried only a single 4-inch gun on their foredeck plus twin .50-caliber machine guns; against virtually any conventional warship they were all but helpless. They were not only small, they were also slow. With a maximum speed of sixteen knots, corvettes were no faster than a surfaced U-boat. They were nearly as uncomfortable as well, especially in the volatile North Atlantic, where even in a moderate sea they bounced around like so much flotsam. A crewman on the Rhododendron recalled that being on a corvette “was like a terrier shaking a bit of rag. The old ship [would] corkscrew up on top of a wave and you’d be up and you’d look down into this trough and you’d think crikey, and the next thing you’d be down in there and a bloomin’ great wave’d come over the top.” That, plus the fact that a crew of fifty men was crammed into a 190-foot hull made service in a Flower-class corvette a challenge to one’s constitution and endurance. The novelist Nicholas Monsarrat, who served three years in corvettes, vividly recalled the challenge of simply eating a meal: “When you drink, the liquid rises toward you and slops over: at meals the food spills off your plate, the cutlery will not stay in place. Things roll about and bang, and slide away crazily.” Standing topside watch was an ordeal. “Every night for seventeen nights on end,” Monsarrat wrote, “you’re woken up at ten to four by the bosun’s mate, and you stare at the deck-head and think: My God, I can’t go up there again in the dark and filthy rain, and stand another four hours of it. But you can of course.”

On the plus side, the corvettes were inexpensive, could be built quickly, and had both Asdic [early sonar] and depth charges. Churchill extolled them as the “Cheap and Nasties,” meaning that they were cheap to build and nasty to the enemy. Fifty-six of them were laid down prior to September 3, 1939, and forty-one more soon after the war began. Eventually, Britain and Canada built 269 of them, including 130 for the Canadian Navy. Despite their floral names, minimal armament, and cramped quarters, they played a crucial role in sustaining Britain’s maritime lifeline to the outside world.

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Results of the 1940 Battle for Norway

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 57-60:

Mackesy, with the rest of the Narvik invasion force, landed at Harstad, near Narvik, on April 15. There was more than a little confusion getting ashore, and the landings took longer than anticipated. In one case, it took five days to unload two ships, and meanwhile German aircraft continued their harassing attacks. The Furious, along with the newly arrived Glorious, flew two squadrons of British aircraft ashore, but they had little luck against the Luftwaffe, which claimed six British ships. Pressured by Churchill, [Admiral of the Fleet Lord] Cork urged Mackesy to undertake a land assault, but Mackesy, whose troops were floundering in snow up to their waists, was not to be hurried, and instead began a slow encirclement of the city. As he had with Forbes, Churchill then pressed Cork to undertake a bombardment of the town with his big ships. Cork did so on April 24, though with little effect. By the end of the month the British, French, and Poles had thirty thousand men in the Narvik area, yet the Germans continued to hold the town.

Even as the allied buildup continued, unambiguous intelligence began to arrive in London that a far more serious buildup was taking place on the Continent, where German armored divisions were gathering along the border with France and Belgium. Though the land war in Europe had remained quiescent since the fall of Poland in September, it now appeared that the Germans were about to initiate a major offensive. That led Chamberlain and the rest of the cabinet, including Churchill, to wonder if the Royal Navy was not overextended in Norway. As early as April 24, the day that Cork’s naval forces bombarded Narvik, the cabinet secretly voted to terminate the Norway campaign. The government shared this decision with the French, though they did not tell the Norwegians.

In the first week of May, Chamberlain called for a vote of confidence from the House of Commons. Somewhat defensively, he asked members “not to form any hasty opinions on the result of the Norwegian campaign,” which by now had become an apparent quagmire. Chamberlain narrowly won the vote but, recognizing that a change in government might revitalize British morale, he resigned anyway. Most of the errors of the Norwegian campaign could be traced to Churchill’s unfortunate meddling, but his reputation as an ardent and unyielding foe of Nazism (which he often pronounced as if it derived from the word “nausea”), made him the only suitable candidate as Chamberlain’s successor, and on May 10, the king asked him to form a government. As prime minister, Churchill also kept the portfolio of defense minister in his own hands, and of course he continued to exercise significant influence over naval affairs, so throughout the war he had near complete dominance of military and naval strategy as well as government policy.

On that same May 10, German armored columns, backed up by tactical aircraft, charged across the frontiers of France and Belgium. The swiftly unfolding campaign in France necessarily became Churchill’s most immediate priority, though he still hoped to complete the capture of Narvik before withdrawing from Norway. In part, he wanted to destroy the ore piers and railroad facilities there, but he also hoped that the seizure of Narvik would somehow validate the decision to go into Norway in the first place, which would demonstrate that the campaign had not been a complete failure—another Gallipoli. He replaced the cautious Mackesy with the more energetic Claude Auchinleck, and pressed Lord Cork to “get Narvik cleaned up as soon as possible.”

The Allied ground attack on Narvik took place on May 27. Hitler ordered the German defenders to fight to the last man, though they withdrew inland instead, destroying the railroad tunnels as they did so, thus actually aiding the British objective of making Narvik all but useless as an ore terminal. By the next day, Narvik was at last in British hands, though by then its importance had been overwhelmed by events elsewhere, and almost immediately the British prepared to evacuate not only Narvik but all of Norway. Norway’s King Haakon VII accepted a British offer to carry on a government in exile and was spirited out of Tromsø (along with fifty tons of Norway’s gold reserves) on June 1. At least as important, a handful of Norwegian warships and more than a thousand merchant vessels joined him. Given the worldwide dearth of shipping—on both sides—that was a significant boost to the British war effort.

Admiral Raeder had achieved his goal. Norway—or at least the principal port cities of Norway—had been occupied. To accomplish it, however, he had risked most of his surface navy and it had been severely crippled. Three cruisers, including the brand-new Blücher, and all ten of the destroyers sent to Narvik plus a dozen other ships had been sunk, and nearly every major combatant that survived the campaign had been damaged. By June 1940, the Kriegsmarine had fewer than a dozen surface combatants that were fit for service, and it no longer posed a meaningful threat to the Royal Navy in the North Sea or anywhere else. Raeder was also disappointed by the political outcome in Norway. From the start he had hoped that once the shooting stopped, it would be possible to adopt “a warm and friendly attitude” toward the Norwegians. Instead, Hitler’s appointed deputy treated Norway as a conquered province, a circumstance that gnawed at Raeder, who repeatedly tried to convince Hitler to adopt a more conciliatory policy, though with no success.

Finally, and ironically, the circumstances that had made Norway important enough to justify risking the entire German navy changed dramatically almost immediately. Once the Wehrmacht overran France, Dönitz’s U-boats obtained access to French ports on the Atlantic, which made those in Norway of little value, and the seizure of the enormous iron mines in French Lorraine made the mines in northern Sweden far less important. In the end, despite what looked to many like a German victory, Raeder had risked everything, lost much, and gained little.

The British, too, lost much in the Norway campaign, and for them there was one more tragedy to endure. On June 8, the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, accompanied by two destroyers, Ardent and Acasta, was returning to Britain from the evacuation of Trondheim. The Glorious had just recovered a squadron of Hurricane fighters from Norway that had managed to get aboard despite the fact that RAF planes lacked trailing hooks to catch the arrester wires. With her deck crowded with the Hurricanes, she had no fighters aloft when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau suddenly appeared on the horizon. Raeder had sent the battlecruiser twins to sea four days earlier under Wilhelm Marschall with orders to attack British shipping off Narvik. Though it was too late for that, Marschall stumbled into an unforeseen opportunity. With the Hurricanes crowding her flight deck, the crew of the Glorious could not get any fighters or bombers aloft. There was no explanation at all, however, for the fact that there were no topside lookouts on duty that day; the captain of the Glorious, Guy D’Oyly-Hughes, did not even order general quarters until twenty minutes after the German warships were in sight. The result was that the Glorious achieved the inglorious distinction of being the first aircraft carrier in history to be sunk by surface gunfire. Only thirty-four minutes after the Scharnhorst opened fire, the Glorious rolled over onto her starboard side and went down.

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Dangers of Cod Fishing

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 113-116:

One of the worst enemies of cod fishermen, especially in the days before radio, was fog. Since cod grounds are zones where warm and cold currents meet, fog is commonplace. It can be so thick that the bow of an eighty-foot vessel is obscured from midship. A lantern on the bow cannot be detected 100 feet away. Fishermen drift in a formless gray, tooting horns and blowing whistles, hoping other craft hear them and avoid collision. But the greatest danger was for the dorymen.

From the seventeenth century to the 1930s, the common way to fish for cod and other groundfish was to go out to the Banks in a ship and then drop off small dories with two-man crews. The Portuguese, who were infamous on the Grand Banks for the harshness of their working conditions, used one-man dories. Europeans would cross the ocean in large barks built for deck space and large holds; New Englanders and Nova Scotians went out in schooners that could swiftly run back to shore to land fish; but all the dories were the same: twenty-foot deckless skiffs. The dorymen would generally use oars, and occasionally sail power, but they had to provide their own sails. Often they or their wives made them by sewing together flour sacks.

Being competitive with each other, dorymen sometimes secretively took off to grounds they had discovered. Many dorymen drowned or starved to death or died of thirst while lost in the fog, sifting through a blank sea for the mother ship. They tried to fish until their boat was filled with fish. The more fish were caught, the less sea-worthy the dory. Sometimes a dory would become so overloaded that a small amount of water from a wave lapping the side was all it took for the small boat to sink straight down with fish and fishermen.

To seagoing people of the North Atlantic, the hardships and bravado of dorymen were legendary. In 1876, Alfred Johnson, a Danish-born Gloucester doryman, responding to a dare, sailed his sixteen-foot boat from Gloucester to Abercastle, Wales, in fifty-eight days, the first one-man North Atlantic crossing ever recorded. Nova Scotians still recall a nineteenth-century doryman who was lost in the fog for sixteen hours before being found—the Nova Scotian survival record. But the most famous Nova Scotian doryman was Howard Blackburn, who immigrated to Gloucester. On January 23, 1883, Blackburn and his dory mate rowed away from their ship to longline halibut and became lost in a snowstorm. His mate froze to death, but Blackburn shaped his fingers around the oars so that he would still be able to row after he lost feeling in his hands. He rowed 100 miles and reached Newfoundland with the frozen corpse of his mate on the stern. Though the misadventure cost him all his fingers and most of his toes, he went to sea in sloops designed for his disability, set a thirty-nine-day, one-man Gloucester-to-Lisbon record, and even rowed the Florida coast with oars strapped to his wrists.

Not only dories were lost. Whole ships went down. John Cabot’s was the first of many. The number of Gloucester fishermen lost at sea between 1830 and 1900—3,800—was 70 percent greater than all the American casualties in the War of 1812, and this from a town of about 15,000 people. On February 24, 1862, a gale swept Georges Bank, and 120 drowned in one night. In the 1870s, as schooners became shallower and carried more sails, making them even faster and more beautiful, but much more dangerous, Gloucester losses became horrendous. These shallow, loftily rigged “clipper schooners” did not stand up well in gale winds. In 1871, twenty schooners and 140 men were lost. In 1873, thirty-two vessels and 174 men were lost, 128 of them in a single gale. An easterly gale on the banks in 1879 sunk twenty-nine vessels with a loss of 249 men.

The ports that sent fleets to the Grand Banks held religious ceremonies before the beginning of what was called “the campaign.” In St.-Malo, in late February, fifteen days before the Terre-Neuvas sailed, the cardinal of Rennes came to the port to say mass before the fleet. A wreath was tossed to sea to remember the fishermen who had been lost in previous campaigns.

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China Envy in Late 1700s

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 9-11:

There were good reasons why the East India Company did not do anything else that might put their little foothold in China at risk. In the eyes of Europeans in the late eighteenth century, the empire of the Qing dynasty was an unequaled vision of power, order, and prosperity. It had long been, as Adam Smith described it in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations, “one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous countries in the world.” Smith believed China to have been at a stable climax of development for eons—at least as far back as Marco Polo’s visit in the thirteenth century—which meant that although it did not have the capacity to develop any further (an advantage he reserved largely for Europe), it nevertheless showed no signs of retreating from its pinnacle of prosperity. “Though it may perhaps stand still,” he insisted, “[China] does not seem to go backwards.”

Enlightenment champions of reason saw in China the model of a moral and well-governed state that needed no church—a secular empire, founded on rational texts and ruled by scholars. “Confucius,” wrote Voltaire with admiration in his Philosophical Dictionary of 1765, “had no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be a prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions.” In reading extracts from Confucius’s works, Voltaire concluded, “I have found in them nothing but the purest morality, without the slightest tinge of charlatanism.” The state that had been founded on those works was, he believed, the oldest and most enduring in the world. “There is no house in Europe,” he observed, “the antiquity of which is so well proved as that of the Empire of China.”

China’s political unity in the later eighteenth century was dazzling not just to British economists and French philosophers but to Americans as well, once they began to emerge as a nation of their own. In 1794, a U.S. citizen of Dutch descent, who had served as interpreter for an embassy from the Netherlands to China, dedicated the published account of his voyage to George Washington, celebrating in particular “the virtues which in your Excellency afford so striking a resemblance between Asia and America.” China was for him the standard by which Western countries could be measured: Washington was virtuous because he exhibited some of the qualities of a Qing dynasty emperor. The highest hope that the writer could muster for the future of his new nation was that Washington, in his “principles and sentiments,” might procure for the United States “a duration equal to the Chinese Empire.”

These were not just Western fantasies. China in the eighteenth century was not only the most populous and politically unified empire on earth, but also the most prosperous. The standard of living in its wealthy eastern and southern cities was easily a match for the companion regions of western Europe, as was life expectancy. To measure by the consumption of luxury goods such as sugar and tea, the quality of life in eastern China in the 1700s appears to have left Europe behind. At the same time, however, due to the Qing government’s tight strictures on foreign trade and residence, China was also seen from outside as impossibly guarded and remote, “the only civilised nation in the world,” as one British writer put it, “whose jealous laws forbid the intrusion of any other people.” The immense riches of the empire were—to the eternal frustration of westerners—always just out of reach.

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From Habsburg to Bourbon Spain

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 195-197:

The state of Spain was embodied in the weak and imbecilic Charles II, the last of the Habsburg line and a monarch incapable of male issue. Upon his death in 1700 there followed a war among the European powers to decide the Spanish succession. Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV of France, eventually acceded to the throne of Spain, but his right to it was recognized by his enemies at the price of important concessions set out in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Flanders and the Italian dominions were lost to Austria and Savoy; Great Britain kept Gibraltar and Minorca, and was allowed the exclusive right to supply African slaves to the Spanish Indies, and to an annual shipload of merchandise for trade with the American colonies; Portugal retained her smuggling centre of Colônia do Sacramento on the east bank of the River Plate. These concessions to Britain and Portugal underscored Spain’s imperial debility, since they infringed, at least for a time, the monopoly of trade with the Indies, which she had done so much to defend. Spain’s sovereignty was now reduced to the Peninsula and her realms in America and the Philippines.

This curtailment of power, though humiliating, at least unburdened Spain of dynastic possessions in Italy and the Low Countries which had drained her over the past two centuries. The Treaty of Utrecht, in fact, forced Spain to relinquish the Habsburg concept of empire, based as it had been on an essentially medieval vision of a supranational constellation of kingdoms under a single sovereign pledged to the defence of Catholic integrity in Europe. The new dynasty of French Bourbons would rule Spain as a European nation state among others, and her still very substantial dominions overseas would be regarded as resources to be exploited economically so as to strengthen her position in the theatre of European power politics. Over the course of the new century, therefore, the Bourbons were to recast the aims and methods of Spanish imperial government.

The spirit of reform significantly altered the ideological basis of the Catholic monarchy, which the Habsburgs, having taken it over from Ferdinand and Isabella, had developed as the guiding principle of their imperial statecraft. The peculiarly Spanish symbiosis of Crown and Church, which endowed the Catholic monarchy with its monopoly of legitimacy, gave way under successive Bourbon kings to a more stringent absolutism of French regalist inspiration. According to this new doctrine of the divine right of kings, the monarch was invested with the authority to rule by God Himself; his power, therefore, was not limited in principle by religious and ethical sanctions upheld by the Church, and much less so by the more ancient, medieval sense of contract with or obligation to his subjects which was still latent in Spain and which had always been much closer to the surface among the conquistadors and their successors in the Indies.

The new regalism permitted the monarch to do what the Habsburgs had been restrained from doing by the force of religious counsel: it allowed the Crown to frame policies on pragmatic grounds of national self-interest. Impracticable chimeras upon which Catholic Spain had spent so much blood and treasure – the defence of orthodoxy against Dutch rebels and English schismatics, the crusade against the Turk, the protection of Indian rights in the New World – no longer needed to be pursued beyond reasonable limits, for the light of reason had to be allowed to filter through the blinds that kept Spain in her neo-medieval ‘darkness’. And yet, those blinds could not be removed altogether; the Catholic Church was too well entrenched in the state and society and, in any case, the Bourbons realized the value of the Church as both a pillar of the social order and a unifying factor in a far-flung empire.

The ideology of the Bourbon reformers has been aptly called the Catholic Enlightenment, for it was a cautious attempt to adjust to the scientific and rationalist spirit of the eighteenth century without disturbing the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.

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Napoleonic War Surplus in Venezuela

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 216-217, 220:

THE ORINOCO WAS BUSTLING with outsiders. Admiral Brion, who was living in one of the lavish mansions on the waterfront, was overseeing a veritable whirl of activity along the river. … War supplies, too, were suddenly becoming plentiful. In June, a British ship delivered clothing and supplies for ten thousand men; days later, Brion himself brought in a valuable cargo of arms. By the end of July, a large ship had sailed in from London, followed by a brig from New York, bearing enough muskets, pistols, gunpowder, swords, and saddles to outfit an entire army. Bolívar purchased any and all such supplies, paying for them however he could—with mules, fruit, tobacco, livestock. “Arms have been my constant concern,” Bolívar had written to Luis López Méndez, his agent in London, but now they were flowing to him in abundance. So much so that at times there was no need for the equipment. One shipment arrived with fine leather saddles for Páez’s cavalry—saddles his wild horsemen would never use. The remnants of Wellington’s war with Napoleon, nevertheless, were beginning to put Bolívar’s troops at striking advantage. Within a few months, he had stored away fifty thousand stands of arms.

Wellington’s victory had provided something else to the republic: regiments of seasoned war veterans. As irony would have it, British soldiers who had fought alongside General Morillo’s officers in Spain were now enlisting to fight against them in Venezuela. The two years that followed the Battle of Waterloo saw a vast reduction in the size of the British army. In April of 1817, the London Times reported that half a million ex-soldiers were coming home to Britain’s greater population of 25 million. In good times, this would have been difficult enough; but these were not good times—England and Ireland had suffered famine, riots, rampant unemployment—and soldiers were returning to almost certain poverty. When Bolívar’s London agent López Méndez announced he wanted to recruit experienced soldiers to fight in the revolution, he found himself flooded with applicants.

Bolívar … allowed any of the foreigners appalled by the conditions of his post to leave without reprisals or recriminations. The ones who remained would prove to be an invaluable infusion of grit and dedication. Within a month, he would be sending for more. Within five years, fifty-three ships would bring more than six thousand volunteers from Britain and Ireland to serve in South America; 5,300 actually arrived. The ones who made it up the Orinoco to the plains quickly learned that making war in that faraway terrain was no easy way to earn money. Their contributions made a great difference to the revolution in that precise moment in history. Bolívar was convinced of it. He was known to say that the real Liberator of Spanish America was his recruiting agent in London, Luis López Méndez.

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Civil War Butchery in Venezuela, 1813

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 151-154:

A British traveler in the service of Spain now noted a marked change in Caracas. Spaniards were being dragged to the dungeons, made to surrender their wealth to patriot coffers. The unwilling were taken to the marketplace and shot. Not outright, but limb by limb, so that onlookers could watch them wriggle as musicians struck up lively airs. These spectacles caused such merriment that the multitude, provoked to an obscene frenzy, would finally cry, “Kill him!” and the executioner would end the victim’s suffering with a final bullet to the brain. A Spaniard in agony had become a source of amusement, a ready carousel of laughs.

Outside Caracas patriots hardly fared better. The “Legions of Hell”—hordes of wild and truculent plainsmen—rode out of the barren llanos to punish anyone who dared call himself a rebel. Leading these colored troops was the fearsome José Tomás Boves. A Spanish sailor from Asturias, Boves had been arrested at sea for smuggling, sent to the dungeons of Puerto Cabello, then exiled to the Venezuelan prairie, where he fell in with marauding cowboys. He was fair-haired, strong-shouldered, with an enormous head, piercing blue eyes, and a pronounced sadistic streak. Loved by his feral cohort with a passion verging on worship, he led them to unimaginable violence. As Bolívar’s aide Daniel O’Leary later wrote, “Of all the monsters produced by the revolution . . . Boves was the worst.” He was a barbarian of epic proportions, an Attila for the Americas. Recruited by Monteverde but beholden to no one, Boves raised a formidable army of black, pardo, and mestizo llaneros by promising them open plunder, rich booty, and a chance to exterminate the Creole class.

The llaneros were accomplished horsemen, well trained in the art of warfare. They needed few worldly goods, rode bareback, covered their nakedness with loincloths. They consumed only meat, which they strapped to their horses’ flanks and cured by the sweat of the racing animals. They made tents from hides, slept on earth, reveled in hardship. They lived on the open prairie, which was parched by heat, impassable in the rains. Their weapon of choice was a long lance of alvarico palm, hardened to a sharp point in the campfire. They were accustomed to making rapid raids, swimming on horseback through rampant floods, the sum of their earthly possessions in leather pouches balanced on their heads or clenched between their teeth. They could ride at a gallop, like the armies of Genghis Khan, dangling from the side of a horse, so that their bodies were rendered invisible, untouchable, their killing lances straight and sure against a baffled enemy. In war, they had little to lose or gain, no allegiance to politics. They were rustlers and hated the ruling class, which to them meant the Creoles; they fought for the abolition of laws against their kind, which the Spaniards had promised; and they believed in the principles of harsh justice, in which a calculus of bloodshed prevailed.

EVEN AS DECEMBER CAME AND went—even as Spain crept out from under Napoleon and Ferdinand resumed his teetering throne—the butchery in Venezuela continued. It is altogether possible that the Spanish nation, emerging from its long night of terror, had little idea of the carnage that consumed its colonies. For Bolívar, a war to the death was a retaliatory measure; he had believed it would unite Americans against foreigners. The result was quite the opposite: Americans turned against Americans—Venezuelans took up weapons against their neighbors—and the revolution became a racial conflict, a full-fledged civil war.

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